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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: November 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Old Blog -- train trip to Seattle -- Jan 1, 2007

It’s Jan 1, 2007, and I’m in the train station in Emeryville, California, outside Oakland, waiting for the 10:15 pm overnight train to Seattle. It’s a 20 hour train ride, my first overnight train trip anywhere. Apparently, the train is running late. And I’ve gotta say, from appearances of the train station, train travel is far less interesting here than it is in Europe. I’m kinda worried about someone lifting my computer or camera equipment or Ipod while I sleep on the train.

So I’m sitting here writing this and watching ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ on my computer. Strange, unique little flick. One of the characters in the film, the boy in the dysfunctional family, has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force Academy. He’s apparently gotten this idea from the readings of Fredrick Nietzsche, who he reads constantly. As I’ve never read any Nietzsche, and more shockingly given my book addiction don’t even own any, I have no idea whether this vow of silence idea is somehow grounded in one of his books or not.

And in one of the amusing sidelights of travel, across from me in the train station is a guy currently reading Nietzsche’s Good and Evil.’ I love travel. Shit like that never happens in your hometown. Then again maybe it does, but you are so oblivious to the world when you are humming along in your regular routine that you don’t bother to look up and see the things in front of your face. Travel has a unique way of just putting you off your usual rhythms enough to provide you with the opportunity to break out of normalcy and see with a different sight.

Spell-check is a wonderful and simultaneously annoying feature of our modern, computer driven world (I’m sorry, but my mind works like this – multiple thoughts at the same time – branching out and back – makes sense to me, but must frustrate the fuck out of my friends, because I cannot tell a story worth a shit in my scatterbrained fashion).

I can’t spell at all. My mother is a wonderful speller, or at least so she says. Its not often you get to verify that particular boast from a parent – not often I edit her writing and its pretty easy to spell most everything you are ever going to get in a greeting card. Nonetheless, I’ll give her credit for it (like her claim that she’s never gotten a speeding ticket) and move on. I’m not one to begrudge someone from a little occasional boasting.

I no doubt have disappointed her in a variety of ways, not providing her grandchildren yet being one that manages to come up with exasperating frequency, but I think the fact that I can’t spell at all is much higher up on her list than any other reasonable person would put it. She blames it on my kindergarten and first grade schooling in Milwaukee, where apparently I went to some new, cutting edge, public school where they were using different teaching methods and didn’t teach us to spell phonetically. How do I know this fault of mine, and the cause she attributes it to, is on her list of lifetime disappointments? Because I think I’ve heard the story of the non-phonetic teaching from her about twenty-five times or so in my life.

Ahhh, back to spell-check, a true love/hate relationship. Since I can’t spell, I have to say that spell-check is a godsend. Without it my disjointed prose would be both disjointed and not in the English language, thereby doubling the annoyance of anyone happening to read it. That’s the love part of my literary affair with spell-check, but as sometimes happens, true love also gives rise to a occasional spot of hatred, in this case my absolute dread of seeing the word-processing program underline a misspelled word.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve become so dependant on spell-check that I barely make an effort – often just typing in a very rough approximation of the word I am trying to use and just letting spell-check offer me suggestions on demand – and so, in fact, I actually encourage these underlined words. But I just can’t let them sit there, underlined, without immediately using spell-check to correct the spelling. Right then. Not when I’m done with the paragraph, or frankly even the sentence. If I get one of those underlined words as I’m typing, I have to stop – have to – and crank up the spell check to see how to spell it. And because of the ease of spell-check, I also have no incentive to actually learn how to spell these words that I routinely misspell.

I think it’s likely that I’ll go to the grave without ever spelling restaurant correctly.

Yea, I know. I might need some therapy.

And I’m wrong again. My impression of US train travel from seeing the station is going has been quickly disabused. The seats on this train are big. There is lots of room to stretch out and there are also nice footrests on these chairs. I think it’s going to be exceedingly easy to sleep. I’m also less concerned about my shit getting stolen than I was before I got on – now watch when I wake up, something will be gone. And I really do like the herky-jerky movement of a train and the feeling you get of actually chewing up miles when its moving, sort of why I like driving. Plane travel is necessary, but you lose a lot of the experience of getting places by just flying over them, instead of driving or training along on the surface.

Before I boarded the train, I had a familiar knot in my stomach. It happens at the beginning of every solo trip I take. When I was in the terminal in Atlanta or Chicago, or wherever I was, before I was to board my first solo flight to Europe, I felt the same way, but more pronounced. I’d never taken a solo trip and I was going to a place where I didn’t speak any of the native languages – 5 years of German study aside in high school and college. I had no plan, no itinerary. I had a plane ticket into Munich, back from Lyon, a reservation for a rental car, a hotel reservation for the first night in Munich, and a Lonely Planet guidebook for Western Europe.

Hard to describe the feeling. Not fear, per se. More a trepidation of the unknown. And I liked it.

I vividly remember saying to myself “ok, you booked it – let’s fucking do this” and striding forward as if I was some 17th century explorer about to seek an unknown continent. Makes me laugh a little bit looking back, and if you haven’t done any solo travel it might seem laughable, but there is a totally different feeling of exploration when you are embarking on a solo trip verses one with friends or family.

So, as I sat in the Emeryville train station and heard the announcement over the loudspeaker that the 10:15 train to Sacramento, Portland and finally ending up in Seattle was pulling up, I packed up my stuff and walked outside to the platform. As the train stopped, I got that feeling – that anticipation of the unknown in the pit of my stomach – and it was like an old friend reminding me of why I love to travel.

And as I sit on this train around midnight typing this, looking out the windows as the lights of houses and small towns very slowly move by in the window, and listening to my Ipod (the single most indispensable travel aid yet created), I have my usual follow-up to the anticipation feeling – the smile of contentment from a journey begun.

January 2, 2007

First impressions are not always lasting impressions. Indeed, I slept well on the train and woke up round dawn as the train crawled through the snowy, hilly terrain of Northern California. I am a fan of US train travel as much as the European version.

Grandfather and granddaughter across the aisle from me. He put the granddaughter in the inside chair, protecting her from whatever may come. Her first train trip also?

Klamath Falls, Oregon. The train stopped here for five minutes to board new passengers and allow those on the train to get off to stretch your legs or take a quick smoke break, since the entire train is no smoking. I hopped off the train to see if I could take any good pictures in this industrial looking spot. No great luck on the picture front, but as usual something unexpected on the road – the strong smell of someone getting high, so strong I knew it couldn’t be too far from where I stood. Sure enough, I turn to my right and among the scattering of smokers was a middle aged bearded man wearing a skullcap and his female companion taking deep drags off a joint. About 10 feet away stood the train conductor assigning seat numbers to those passengers newly embarking at the stop. Tolerance in the Northwest or merely total olfactory oblivion on that part of that conductor?

And the long, slow rhythm of the train as it chewed up the miles all the way up the coast. Cars driving on the roads next to us. The tracks cutting through evergreen forests with snowcapped trees. As I plow through a couple books, occasionally taking time out to write, look out the windows, and observe my fellow passengers.

One of my best friends on the planet, Ken Kendrick, picked me up at the train station in Seattle. As I walked up to say hello, he greeted me back with, “Good to see you Hod. Why the fuck did you take the train?”

“For so many good reasons.”

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Golf Trip in Ireland -- 2007

* I believe there are small happenings in all of our lives that make us reflect on larger topics in deep and profound ways. Some merely bring old memories to life, while others make you contemplate your future.

One day you drive by an apartment complex, have a flashback about your college years and then the friendships and experiences you had there wash over you like an incoming wave. Or you hear a song on the radio and immediately find yourself laughing out loud while remembering a crazy friend that loved that band. Someone mentioning how much they hate their job over drinks after work hits you as a hammer of realization that you are also dissatisfied in yours and you resolve to start exploring other options, although the thought had before never crystallized itself clearly.

Every time I hear Tom Cochraine’s song “Life is a Highway,” I think of a spontaneous weekend trip I took to Ocean City, Maryland, when I lived in D.C. Some cover band played that song a couple times that weekend in a bar, as I chased around the woman that invited me on the weekend with her friends. Can’t remember anything about her – but can remember that song. When I hear Kansas, I think of my high school friend, Cullum Clark, who was obsessed with that band back then. I wonder what music he is into now. The Cars equals Tad Fordyce. Oingo Bongo equals John Lynch. Ah ha (I’m not going to look up the spelling, because its embarrassing that I acknowledge having listened to them) equals Diane. And Nora Jones is the incredibly fond memory of a jewelry box, tickets, and a surprise phone call from Memphis. Twice.

And so on. I have a very crowded skull.

My father took my brother and I on a golfing trip this summer to Ireland. Just the boys. As my mother would put it, a good bonding experience. We rented a large mini-bus to tote around our golf clubs, luggage and the three of us. The roads in Europe are quite narrow and tough to navigate and the size of this vehicle didn’t make that any easier.

Dad took the first driving shift, from the Dublin airport up to Northern Ireland, which is where we were headed for our 1st round of golf that afternoon. Not great planning. We were scheduled to fly overnight to Europe, get in a van, drive three hours to Northern Ireland, check into the hotel, and play 18 holes. All of that fully jet-lagged. Day one on a European trip really shouldn’t involve anything that involves your mind, and even less, anything that requires some sort of physical coordination. I was up for a little sightseeing, a couple meals, some afternoon caffeine to stay awake as long as I could, then time at a classic Irish pub and an early night to bed. No such luck.

So we started driving up to Northern Ireland, on the left side of the road, of course. It started to rain lightly. We were on a major divided highway until we get close to Belfast, then we had to take regular roads through various towns, with frequent roundabouts interspersed every couple of miles. I’m actually a big fan of them, as they seem to make traffic flow much faster and easier than stop signs and stoplights, but the problem is navigation. A typical roundabout is not like a four-way stop in the States. There are usually four, five or six different turnoffs you can take. The signs have combinations of road numbers (route A6) and lists of towns that you’ll get to if you take that road (Aberdeen/Killarny/Greenville). There isn’t a lot of consistency from roundabout to roundabout what sort of signs you are going to see, which obviously leads to more navigation problems.

Long ago, my parents lived in London for about six months. Between that experience and an earlier golf trip to Scotland a few years back, my brother and I figured that my father could handle the particular difficulties of driving in Great Britain. We were wrong.

The directions we got from the company that booked our trip were wonderful. They were the sort of turn-by-turn directions you rarely get traveling abroad and they should have been easy to follow. As we came up on a roundabout, I’d tell my father “we need to take the 3rd turn towards Aberdeen. It might be labeled A5 also.” He was having problems merging into the traffic of the roundabout (the cars currently on the roundabout have the right of way) and then for whatever reason, he was even having problems getting off at the correct exits, although we had the right of way. And he was getting frustrated. At the rain. At the size of mini-bus. At the directions. At me.

We finally got to the town where we were supposed to stay for the first three or four days of the trip and tried to find the hotel. The directions were not as precise in the town as on the road getting there, but since it was such a small town, I didn’t think we’d have too much trouble finding the hotel. Almost every road was one way. We whipped around the city a couple times and couldn’t find it. Not only couldn’t we find the hotel, my father was having a tough time keeping up with the traffic – he almost turned down the wrong way on a couple one way streets and seemed to be having trouble remembering which way he had already been before as we circled around. As his anger mounted, we decided to just go to the golf course, play, and get specific directions from the there back to the hotel.

The course was beautiful. It was perched on a hill overlooking the North Sea. But we were dead-tired and on about the 5th hole the rain started coming down harder. We decided to call it a day after nine holes and go check into the hotel. We got good directions, got back, checked in, ate dinner and got a good nights sleep.

The next day we set off to find the next golf course booked for us and my father wanted to drive again. I’d written off his driving problems the day before on the effects of jet lag on all of us. I was wrong. We were in a more rural part of the country, but the same problems reoccurred again and again – difficulties on the roundabouts, troubles merging in and out of traffic, and the inability to follow my navigation instructions. When we got the course, I turned to my brother and said, “I think I need to drive from here on out.” He nodded in somber agreement.

Right then, I had one of those moments. My father was old. It hit me hard.

I need to back up and tell you, my father was a kick-ass driver. Of his many talents, driving was one of the first ones I remember as I was growing up. He was a native Chicagoan and he could drive in any type of conditions. I vividly remember going to Dallas Maverick basketball games when I was in my early teens with him and him exiting off the highway onto the access road, looking to his right past all the traffic for the game clogging up the road and saying, “we need to get over these four lanes of traffic before that stoplight up there” with a gleam in his eye as he relished the challenge. That stoplight only looked like it was about 100 yards away and there wasn’t anyone wanting to let you in front of them. And he made it. Easily. The guy could drive. And he loved doing it. It was just another way to compete against the world – and he was a winner.

Now he couldn’t compete in this arena, at least not nearly as well as he used to be able to. The only legitimate explanation was that he was getting old, but I’d never thought of my father as old. I’d made the obligatory jokes with him about his age for years. I’d been calling him “old man” for a decade, but I really never thought of him as truly old before this moment.

It was the first time that I really thought about him dying. Happens to all of us, of course, but I think that those of us that were raised by fathers that we admire, subconsciously look at them as almost immortal. That myth was shattered in my mind on those roads in Ireland, and as must flow from that, I began thinking about my own mortality as a result.

One of the many differences between golf on the British Isles and back in the State is the lack of golf carts over there. You either have a caddy or you sling the bag over your shoulder. Either way you are walking mostly alone for three hours. There is plenty of time to think as you walk and play for those three hours. We had ten days of golf yet to go. And I knew what I was going to be dwelling on for a lot of that time.

I need to do something to make him proud of me before his time comes.

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