Saturday, July 31, 2010

Homeward Bound Q &A

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I am doing the same slow trip home -- and telling myself that I should try hard to enjoy this and not worry about being ready for action again first thing Monday morning. I'll arrive home sometime on Monday.

I have always loved and depended on both Mapquest and Google Maps, sort of alternating between the two and comparing. But neither did a good job from Indiana to Oshkosh. Last night I did the route in reverse on both Mapquest and Google Maps and never really understood the route. So today I just played it by ear and did the whole thing just by signage.

Perhaps they try to keep you off tollroads. I did have to pay 80 cents four times, but I'm willing to do that in order to have a clear route. I was stuck for about an hour in traffic, really bad, 2 mph for miles traffic... and it was in a construction zone but that couldn't explain it all -- and then I came upon this horrific accident with several cars and a huge truck which was sideways, partially on the highway but across a lane and smashed up. When I see that, I always think "if I had gotten up earlier" or "if I had not stopped for breakfast" or whatever, would that be me in that accident?

So look at the first photo of the motorcycle. The traffic was so slow that I had a chance to talk to these people. Their license plate says Washington state, and I asked them if they had ridden all the way from Washington State. I was surprised when the man, who was driving, tilted up his face screen and he was about 60. He told me yes, all the way. I asked where they were headed... Washington DC. I said, "Sounds like fun."

And then I thought SOUNDS LIKE FUN?? It sounds like torture, but I think what I was reacting to was just the adventure of it.

So I had this brilliant plan. I wanted an audio book to listen to. Mary had given me one for the trip out, which I loved, and then (as per her instructions) passed it along to someone else. I remembered that Cracker Barrel has audio books AND, of course, chicken fried steak. I could kill two birds with one stone.

I stopped at Cracker Barrel for a late lunch, got my chicken fried steak and then went to browse the books, was happy to see that they are unabridged, but then I noticed that you RENT them by the week and turn it over at the next Cracker Barrel when you're finished.

This overly helpful (if that's possible) young Cracker Barrel girl approached me with her literary suggestions. I told her I wanted to buy, not rent, as I live in NYCity and we have no Cracker Barrels there.

"That's impossible," she said. And off she went to find the Cracker Barrel corporate map. Well, sure enough. No Cracker Barrels in Manhattan. She then went to ask the manager if I could buy instead of rent.

As it turns out, you buy first, at retail, and then they refund you. Unfortunately, the retail price of most books, very few of them I'd heard of, was $40 and I really didn't want to spend that.

Then the helpful girl wanted to know my route and she was plotting the hours of the books vs the time of my trip. She clearly wanted to make a sale.

Then Joel mosies over. My buddy explains what she's doing, and he tells me there's no Cracker Barrels in California due to a trademark infringement with Cracker Barrel cheese which is made there. Then he added, "And the Cracker Barrel restaurant doesn't want stores in California because their minimum wage is too high" and I said, "Cracker Barrel should pay you a living wage" and he agreed.

I decide I don't want the pressure of an audio book I have to return so I head to my hotel. I literally am out of clean clothes -- no, make that wearable clothes, so when I check in I ask for a room near the "guest laundry" and she complies, purely by accident since I'd already been assigned a room.

I ask her what the machines take and she snorts and says "I have no idea." Like "why are you asking me that?" It was as if I had asked her how many moons Jupiter has, or how do you say pickle relish in Armenian? I thought that was a very appropriate question.

Turns out it's $1.50 for wash, and $1.50 to dry. I bought two little boxes of Tide for one dollar each.

Oh, and as if the traffic back up wasn't annoying enough, I was keeping pace with this RV. I hate hate hate incorrect apostrophes. This should not be The Hoover's. It should be The Hoovers. It annoyed the hell out of me and I kept having to see it. If you ever run into Richard and Dannalene (The Hoovers) at the RV Camp, let them know they should correct their spare tire cover.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wisconsin's Giant Mosquitos

The mosquitos have been bad this year -- day and night. Yesterday, I was having a meeting with three other people -- folding chairs pushed in a little circle on the grass. One of the people mentioned how bad the mosquitos were, and another fellow pulled out a pack of baby wipe-style cloths that had insect repellent. We all took one and were wiping our faces and arms and I said if anyone is looking at us, we must look like a weird religious sect that does some sort of cleansing ceremony prior to the meeting.

Today I took my whole bottle of Bactine with me. When I was packing to come here, I threw it in at the last minute because I remember a year where I got bitten between the toes and was nearly driven mad by the itching trying to go to sleep that night and not having anything to put on the bites. So all day when someone I was talking to was itching uncomfortably, I would whip out my Bactine. They were so grateful. I felt like Florence Nightengale on the battlefield. I saw some butt ugly bites today... Men's white ankles under their socks with big red bites.

I advised that the Bactine takes about three minutes to take effect, but it will stop the itching. Just getting out of my car this afternoon to come back to the hotel, I got bitten on the face and neck so it's my turn for the Bactine.

I'm off tomorrow heading East. Have to check Google maps and find a hotel to stay in. Homeward bound.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More from Oshkosh

Just back in my hotel room, zooming through email before I meet a colleague for dinner. I don't normally go for cutesy signature lines, but this one did make me smile as it seems as if every meeting I've had here, I'm the only one without an iPad.

Sent from my PC, although I really want an iPad

My friend and I did celebrate Bratfest 2010 at Mr. Cinders. Both of us confessed it was the highlight of this event for us, which says how burned out we are.

Back in New York, my friend Stephanie and I pay homage to her cardiologist each time she salts the nacho chips when we go to our favorite Mexican restaurant. Today my friend and I didn't have the bacon wrapped tenderloin (keeping cardiologists in business for years to come), but we did have our yearly bratwurst. When I pulled back the bun of mine to apply the mustard, I see that at Mr. Cinders, bratswurst is served with a big helping of butter, melting down the bratwurst. Hard to imagine, really, but it is. A Manhattan cardiologist would get his own chest pains over that one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All is Well

[photo: I have about a 15 mile drive from my hotel to the show, and this is a typical view -- farmland on both sides; everything is very green.]

Since you're not supposed to talk business on a personal blog, I will say that all is well. I have four press events to do successfully -- either a lunch or breakfast followed by a news conference and now I've done three of the four. I have to say that I am good at this -- at making sure the food is there on time, that there's enough food and also ensure that the company gets the right and enough people. I do enjoy getting a big turnout and then pointing out to a client a press conference with two people in attendance. I want to make sure they don't take what I do for granted.

So for the past two days, I've gotten up at 5:30 which is definitely not me. I have my last media breakfast tomorrow and then on Friday, I have to be on site at 6:45 for another client's breakfast where I have to hand out surveys to their members in attendance.

After the rain practically washed out the show, it has been sunny and warm -- really very pleasant, in fact.

Here's an odd culinary fact about this part of Wisconsin and maybe all parts, but I've never seen it anywhere but the Dairy State. It is not uncommon to be served a hamburger with a scoop of butter on top. And it's also not uncommon to be served french fries with sour cream to dip instead of ketchup.

I have my yearly bratwurst here, and that happens tomorrow. Years ago, a colleague and I were overlooked for thanks in this somewhat fancy dinner, where every employee and consultant was mentioned except him and me. So for ten plus years, we've recognized each other by going out for bratwurst at this place called Mr. Cinders, so called because of the charcoal grill. We call this annual lunch Bratfest (a popular Wisoncsin event)and toast each other. So Bratfest 2010 takes place tomorrow. I'll photograph it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Welcome to Wisconsin

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Here's a sign you wouldn't see in New York. Mmmmmm... give me a side of those cheese curds. I'm not quite sure I know what cheese curds are -- at least not the kind you'd eat in a tent.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Safe Arrival

I've made it to my destination with a whole lot of traffic in Chicago. I have to look at a map as I believe Google maps took me on an odd route. I got off a main highway, to a smaller route which went for a few miles through a really rough neighborhood -- the type with tire stores, awning manufacturers and Chinese food places with bars on the windows.

That turned into a bad residential area, then to a nicer residential area, then into Lake Shore Drive and I was right on Lake Michigan. It's such an odd sight because it looks like the ocean, the waves are as big as the ocean and it just seems weird to go from corn fields to something that looks like it belongs on the East Coast. I wondered why no one was in the water until I heard on the radio that the beaches were closed because of the flooding rain and sewage overflowed.

So I made it, trying to have a positive attitude about being here, trying to think of the people I like who I will see. But as I checked in, there were two typical showgoers -- straight from central casting -- in front of me -- you know, the slightly angry thin and wiry white guys in their 50s. They were trying to get a room. It annoyed me because one of them said "If worse came to worst, we'll take a king size bed" and sort of chuckled -- and you know the subtext was "not that we're gay or anything" and the only thing they had was a suite for $149. I would have grabbed it -- It had a king size bed and a pull out sofa that was queen size.

Here they are, the night before the huge show, you don't have a room, a decent hotel has a suite, and they bitched about the price. They didn't want to pay that much. They pointed to a sign that said something like "rooms from $69" and the desk clerk said... "the sign says FROM $69" -- and they bitched about well, maybe you should add "yeah, and up to $149." Then they left, disgusted, as if the hotel clerk was trying to rob them.

I have to say for this show, hotel rooms are so in demand that you make a reservation a year in advance, pay months in advance so it was amazing that any room was even available.

I swear I try to arrive with positive attitude and I wasn't even checked in and I was annoyed. My wish is that they dicker and bicker and end up having to sleep in a parking lot. If you can afford to come to this show, you can afford a $149 hotel room.

Moment of synchronicity: I had passed some historical sign and I was thinking about an event and realized that I had reggae playing on the CD. Just as I said to myself, "My thoughts don't match this music...Reggae has nothing to do with American history..." Bob Marley starts singing the song "Buffalo Soldier."

Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta
There was a buffalo soldier in the heart of America
Stolen from Africa, brought to America
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival

Buffalo soldiers were freed blacks who served in the army starting in 1866, up to the Spanish American War. The generally accepted explanation about their name is that the Native Americans called them that because the soldiers' curly brown hair resembled that on a buffalo.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Same Hotel Chain/Different Location

I have to say I like this chain.

My room is similar to last night's with some upgrades: note microwave, refrigerator, coffee maker and flat screen TV (over desk). There's about two feet to the wall on one side of the bed, and two feet to the window seat on the other. About three feet from the foot of the bed to the desk.

The chain policy also is free high-speed Internet and also free local AND long distance calls. Also free continental breakfast.

There's probably a name for this, but the blue "runner" on the bed comes off, of course, and the blanket is in between two sheets so you don't get that yucky bedspread full of every conceivable (and some inconceivable) bodily fluids. It just feels so much cleaner without a bedspread.

The entire room is clean, fresh, new and all this for $64.

Historical Ohio/Sunny Indiana

Move my car on the map from Pennsylvania, clear through Ohio, and halfway through Indiana.


T-shirt that made me smile: "I don't have ADD. It's just that I... Oh look, a Squirrel!"

Most disturbing sight: An Amish man drinking a cup of Starbucks. I'm thinking maybe he was Mennonite, or maybe he was an Orthodox Jew. A friend of mine who is/was an Orthodox Jew told me that outside of New York, people ask him if he's Amish, but I don't think Orthodox Jews wear big brimmed straw hats. When I saw this man today, I thought of that John Mellencamp lyric, "Ain't that America?"

Wisest for me to avoid (and I did, but was tempted): A farm stand labeled "Homemade Amish Bakery"

Tourist Site easy to Avoid: The Little League Museum. Jingoism meets prepubescent testosterone.

Presidential Sites Signage I passed: the William McKinley National Monument -- check the photo to see what I missed. He and his wife are buried there. Also in Ohio: The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. It made me realize that I know nothing about him, and started thinking I believe he was president in the 1870s and his wife's name was Lucy. Just googled her, and she's an interesting character. She was the first First Lady to be a college graduate. Wikipedia says his presidency was "uneventful."

Also in Ohio: Thomas Edison's birthplace.

Welcome Sign: I sort of get a kick out of the billboards that welcome you to a particular state -- and Indiana's calls itself "the crossroads of America." No, it isn't. Isn't Times Square the crossroads of the world?

Checking Out

OK, I couldn't resist photographing the decorations on the way out.

It took me about 20 minutes to check out with one person in front of me because it was this 50ish-year old woman (with tattoos) who clearly didn't know how to work a computer and she would grumble and sigh and grumble and sigh and then someone would come by and she'd ask them what she was doing wrong, and they'd say, "Oh, you have to press ENTER" or something like that -- not complicated. She'd try again and mumble to herself, "Why isn't this working?" and someone would come by again and they'd say, "You have to move the cursor to the box..." This was basic stuff. I didn't really care that I was standing there and she kept looking at me worried and apologizing... so I had time to soak in the decorations.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rainy Pennsylvania

If you imagine one of those old movies where they move a little cartoon car across a map, you can move my little car to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. But my car's not so little... the rental car woman this morning upgraded me to a premium car, without even asking. I'm not quite sure why -- I was a bit discombobulated when I walked in because my street was closed due to subway construction so I had to schlepp my bags to First Avenue, then get a cab and I wasn't going that far, but the street closure made it a roundabout route. I had a great driver who actually thought I overtipped him but I was just grateful that he cheerfully put this giant suitcase in and out of the trunk.

So she upgraded me. While I was waiting for my car, this older Australian couple was returning theirs. This was their first trip to the US and they came to New York and then drove to the Great Smokey Mountains -- it just sounded like an odd combination. I always wonder what people think of this country -- they appeared to love it and love their time in Tennessee.

I have decided that with Mapquest and Google Maps, you need to add an hour for every three hours they say. Has anyone ever made it in the amount of time they say? I couldn't have stopped for more than 30 minutes total -- didn't even have to get gas, and it was more like seven hours, not five.

I was thinking that I don't think they allow for any kind of traffic -- there was a long jam up where everyone had to get into one lane and it took forever, and then you drive for miles on the one lane and there's not a worker or machine in sight. Drove in and out of a few bad thunderstorms, and it's raining here now.

When I get to Wisconsin, I am staying for the week in a Microtel. I had never stayed in one, just thought of it as a chain -- but when I was making a hotel reservation for tonight and tomorrow night, I found a good rate at a Microtel.

Well... DUH ON ME about the hotel. When I pulled up, it looks fine; it looks like any other medium grade chain hotel. The lobby is annoyingly decorated with cheap USA-type decorations, as if they are left over from a July 4th party... still didn't think anything of it, or the name... Continental breakfast area looks the same... Go to my room, am pulling my huge bag, juggling my purse, the room key, still holding the car keys, have to go to the toilet and I gasp. The room is TINY.

I had to laugh because the MICRO in Microtel didn't connect in my brain. Just never thought about why the chain is named this. Bear in mind that I think it's small based on someone used to NYC apartments! It's small. Actually it's sort of cozy, like a room on a boat with a place for everything and everything in its place. If this was your room on a cruise ship, you'd think "Wow, it's not that small."

The TV is on top of the closet which is more like a double locker. But it's very clean, very new, very sparkly and I thought if I had to give up new, clean or size, I would gladly give up size. And it's all mine for $62. And the cable includes both
Travel Channel and Animal Planet so I can watch Whale Wars and my ghost program. Now, that's living!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Coming Soon -- Another Road Trip

I leave tomorrow for 10 days of a business trip. Will be driving to Wisconsin. I have gone to this convention for 30 years, every July, literally... I just couldn't face that same flight, that same gate, that same walk to the rental car garage in Milwaukee. I'm doing it slowly -- 15 hours of driving over 3 days. Hope I have a good adventure. And by that I mean a pleasant adventure.

I am fairly organized for this trip -- the mistake I made on my last road trip was not bringing enough music and so I was going through all my CDs tonight -- hadn't looked at them in a while, and I was like What?? Why did I buy this? I didn't recognize some of them.

More later from PA.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I write like...

Mary just called me about a website she heard about on NPR. It's called I Write Like... and you submit a writing sample and instantly it tells you what famous author you write like.

For personal writing, I cut and pasted the "Remembering Bud" entry below and my almost instant analysis was that I write like David Foster Wallace. Actually I'd not heard of him, but here's what Wikepedia says:

David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008) was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He was widely known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest,[2][3] which Time included in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list (covering the period 1923–2006).[4]

I read on and saw he committed suicide. That might not be a good omen for me.

Undeterred I submitted the first five paragraphs of an article I wrote for a trade magazine. It came back that I write like James Joyce! Wow, I hope my clients appreciate that.

So give it a try, and let me know who you write like.

ps. the illustration is James Joyce.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Remembering Bud

Bud was an early boss of mine. She was a beautiful older woman, with silvery gray hair that she wore sort of pinned up in this bun. She was a widow. The year I graduated from college, I worked in a hospital, at night, in the accounting department typing (yes TYPING!!) bills for the outpatient department. I believe my hours were 5 pm to 10 pm.

Anyway, today I was having a new mattress delivered. I had planned it for today because my cleaning woman comes today and changes my sheets and so I planned it that the delivery would be in the morning and the clean sheets would be applied in the afternoon. No muss, no fuss... for me. No wasted energy of taking sheets off and then putting them back on.

When my mattress was delivered, I was patting myself on the back for my organizational cleverness. The angel on my shoulder was telling me what a genius I am to have this work out, while the devil on my other shoulder piped up with how incredibly lazy I am to have plotted this.

And now we're back to Bud.

She once said to me, "The laziest people in the world are also the most efficient because they will figure out the easiest way to do something." This is why I loved this woman -- she made my laziness a virtue.

I was thinking about her and I have to say she was one of the first independent women I knew... she wasn't the "poor widow" but she was this dynamic woman who was living a life she enjoyed. One day, on the way to work, I had a fender bender car accident. No one was hurt, but it was my first car accident and it really shook me up. I called Bud, voice trembling, saying I'd be late for work because of the accident and she told me to not even think about coming to work, that I should go home and pour myself a stiff drink and relax. I couldn't believe it. It never occurred to me that I not go to work and it was great to just go home.

On this night shift, there were Bud, me and one other woman. I can't remember her name, but she looked and talked like Fannie Flag -- deep southern accident. Whenever it was stormy, very cold or raining this woman would say, "Tonight's the night to be in bed with a good book or a good man, and you know which one I want..." and she'd look at me expectantly.

And I'd think... good book? good man? Hmmmm... both have their virtues. But all these 30 plus years later, on a stormy dark night, I often say to myself, "Tonight's the night to be in bed with a good book or a good man."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Take Me Away

I was reading a column Stephen King writes -- this week was about summer books, and he gives these disturbing statistics:

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

42 percent of college grads never read another book after college.

Growing up, my parents both read -- my mother loved the old Perry Mason books by Erle Stanley Gardner. I loved just reading the titles... they were all The Case of like The Case of the Careless Kitten, odd names like that. I never read them. It seems as if there were dozens of them.

As a child, my reading was mostly comic books and Landmark books (those were the young adult history books). We would go to the library at school once a week, and you could take out one book.

The first grown-up book I read was in 5th or 6th grade. It was about Lizzie Borden who took the axe and you know the rest. Small type, no pictures, and I was hooked.

I remember when my brother was young (are you reading this, Sam?) and he would only read sports books, Guiness book of World Records, type books... and I knew that he would someday outgrow that and he did. I think he was about 12 when he discovered Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

Then he went on a reading blitz and kept reading that same book over and over... I think he read it seven times in a row. Finally I said, "Don't you want to read something different?" and he said, "Do you only look once at the Mona Lisa?" I remember being stunned since that was a pretty sophisticated answer for a child... and it shut me up too.

A few years back, The Old Man and the Sea was celebrating its 50th anniversary and I sent Sam a copy of the book which he read -- now for the eight time... and he told me that when he first read it, he identified with the boy, and now he identifies with the Old Man.

That's the sheer pleasure of reading that these folks are missing. Is there anything better than being transported by a book -- either to Perry Mason's courtroom or to a tiny fishing boat?