Pre-Travel Rituals

The All Important Travel Notebook Selection Process

As long as I can remember, I have loved travelling. When I was a kid there was nothing more exciting that going on a weekend fishing trip with my dad or spending the weekend at Grandmom’s. Later there was the uber-excitement of a camping trip with my friend Eddie or with the Boy Scouts.

Ever since those distant days of young travel, I have partaken in a pre-travel ritual. And I have noticed that over the years those rituals have changed a great deal.

Preteens

Ask Mom where clothes are

Ask Mom what this “laundry” thing is

Pack everything in house in shopping bag

Allow Mom to repack sensible items like toothbrush and pants

Say goodbye to siblings as though I would never see them again

Teens

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Fast Food

It occurred to me over an ice cream sandwich that I eat very fast.

OK, the ice cream sandwich is an extreme example since it was roughly the size and width of a dish sponge. Though the restaurant in Karlin was somewhat full, I had no idea what the people were doing at the tables. It’s an ice cream sandwich restaurant and ice cream sandwiches are the only items on the menu. It took me one minute to eat it, which for pragmatic reasons couldn’t have been dragged out any longer (ice cream melts). Are they lounging at the tables waiting to indulge in a second sandwich? For me, entry, ordering, sitting, eating, paying, and leaving was all completed in about 4 minutes.

Still, this isn’t far from the norm for me. I grew up with three siblings, so eating was always a hybrid of speed race and contact sport. More than once we walked away from the table with split lips and indigestion. I don’t know if that’s why my dining experiences are over in moments, but they often are.

When I cook at home, which is 90% of my meals, I often find myself victim to the common complaint that I cook for an hour and then I’m not hungry. I pick at salad, veggies and hummus, or crackers and cheese while I cook, so perhaps that’s the reason. But even when I do sit down to eat it’s usually over in just a couple of minutes. I thoroughly enjoy food, but I suppose I fall into the category of those who eat to live rather than vice versa.

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The Pools of Southern Florida and Mountaintop Monasteries

When my dad and I talk about holidays, it’s usually about the same talk. I mention a place that I will visit, if that place resides within the acceptable parameters of Western Europe and there has been no terrorist activity there in recent memory, he asks about my schedule and the food.

If it resides outside of those barriers, he mentally scans all of the terrible things he’s ever heard about the place and then magnifies it by 6,000. Then he goes like this:

“Oof, Dame, I don’t know…are you sure about that? Is [enter non-EU nation here] safe? Didn’t they have problems last year?”

“Yes. Last year it got pretty hot.”

“Oh man. I don’t know. That could be a problem.”

As with many people, his parental disapproval only strengthens my resolve and forces me to dig in on my intent. I then double down with a cavalier attitude regarding the safety quotient of the location. “Yes, that’s right. There’s a war there, so what? It’s in the north, I’ll be in the south. No problem.” Also, I take this tack because have learned that there is nothing I can say that will stem the tide of his anxiety.

Some of this might lead one [read: those who do not know me] to believe that I am a rather adventurous fellow. Yes and no. I do go on trips that involve adventure, but when on a trip I am more adventurous than in my normal life. Far more adventurous.

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Development of a Hooky Day

‘I was not playing hooky. I was giving home schooling a test run.’

In my permaquest to avoid needing pants with a 45 waist and a motorized scooter, I do a lot of physical activities throughout the week. I swim, run, do resistance training, and two nights a week, I do aikido, which is a form of Japanese martial arts. While I thoroughly enjoy aikido and almost always go, there are days when I wake up and know I don’t want to do it in the evening. It’s then that I lay the seeds for a hooky day, which I cultivate and develop throughout the day in a series of clever and subtle text messages to my friend PJ, who also does aikido.

9 a.m. (the mention)

Me: Are you going to be at school today?

PJ: Yeah, should be in an hour.

Me: Cool. You going to Aikido?

PJ: Yeah. You?

Me: I think so, yes.

11:30 (development of topic, introduction of sour mood)

Me: Are you going for one hour or both hours tonight?

PJ: Probably both. I don’t have an early morning tomorrow. You?

Me: Both too. Man, are we allowed to strangle students?

PJ: I wish. Who’s pissing you off?

Me: Who isn’t?! Sometimes I am astounded by rudeness. Oh well.

14:00 (setting the opportunity)

Me: Are you heading straight to Aikido from work?

PJ: Yeah, I have my stuff with me. You?

Me: No, I am heading to the other building, so I’ll go from there. It’s nice out!

PJ: Yeah it is. June.

Me: Yeah. Nice. Fresh air.

16:30

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Eulogy for a Fitbit

Bela the cat Mourns Gary the Fitbit

Oh Gary. I guess at least we saw the end coming. Last week when you couldn’t achieve the right time, I knew there was a problem. Your display then went binary and then you split a little in the middle. I tried resetting you a few times, but we both knew it was over. As all friends must say goodbye, so must we.

I’ll always remember the time I tried you on in Target, the first time I took you out for a walk, the first time you rewarded me with a buzz to celebrate my first 10,000 steps. The addiction was spurred. I knew instantly that you were a game changer and you did not disappoint. I never left the house without you, I wore you in the house. You replaced that Swiss Army watch easily, for how could Seth think he could hold a candle to you, he only tells the time and the day of the month, and half the time he got that wrong. Where would I be without a constant knowledge of my steps, floors climbed, heart rate, sleep patterns, calories burned, and miles sloughed? Pbbt. Somewhere way back in the twentieth century.

Not only have you seen some serious strides in my health, you have played my obsessive nature like a fiddle to force those strides. Remember when you suggested getting off the tram a few stops early to log extra steps? Brilliant. Then you whispered in my ear that escalators are a fitbitter’s wet dream, even the big league ones out of the Náměstí Míru and JZP metros? And then that time when you mentioned that if I cut out lifts altogether I’d gain several thousand more steps per day. And never, Gary, did you laugh at me as I walked around my living room with a book after dinner on a low step day or marched around my bed at 11:57 p.m., trying to beat the buzzer.

Oh there were bad times, of course. I got yelled at once for (accidentally) using you during sex. Well, technically I got yelled at for noting down the activity results. But weren’t they fascinating!? Who’d have known that you gain steps while shagging? And floors, no less! Then there was last summer at my parents’ house, where I amassed about 50 steps a day. We understood together that a sedentary life was for neither you nor me, so we rallied. We took those afternoon walks every day in that awful Philadelphia humidity to the leers of neighbors, which was really part of the fun. Remember when three people asked if I needed a lift somewhere? Boy did we laugh. Then we got ice cream.

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Survivor

I was paddling up the Vltava River in southern Bohemia on Saturday afternoon and it was as awesome as you now imagine. The river coaxed us past 900 year old towns tucked into the thick green of serene canopy.  Castles, villages, and camps dotted the riverside, bringing us at once into its nature and history, as if we were now a part of everything that had happened on this river since ancient humanity began travelling along and living alongside it. I had never felt so relaxed and alert.

And then we hit a rock and I was fairly certain that we were going to die in a (somehow) fiery ball of terror and paddles. The rock pinballed us against another one and we ended up turned completely backwards moving at what I now perceived to be breakneck speed. My subconscious then edited out the screech I emitted, replacing it with a more befitting manly grunt. Looking at a river while moving in the opposite direction and trying to navigate, I made a sort of inner peace.

I’m a city guy. And as a city guy, I long ago came to terms with the fact that I am no Marlboro Man. I mean, I have certainly done my share of outdoor activities, screamed like a banshee hurtling towards earth, camping far beyond that of the “park and camp” variety. I love the outdoors, well, I love them in theory and from afar. A moment ago, being on water surrounded by trees and greenery in the near distance gave me an Om moment, but if I ended up in the water or if I were pushing through the brush that is so attractive from afar it would beckon a different religious experience built of crude language and epithets. Though this may be a natural environment, it is not my natural environment.

I know how to carry myself in a city, I know where to go and what not to do. I know who not to follow into an alley or who not to ask for directions to an ATM. I have the public transport pickpocket instincts of a cynical cat, and if someone so much as glances at my wallet I stare at them until they get off the tram in utter shame to presumably take up a new trade. I have learned the value of wariness, and watch with a head shake as others are entranced into conversations with drunks and perfume dealers. It’s out here in the nature that I am as useless as a dildo made out of sour cream.

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My Doppelganger

Title: My Existential Angst

I’m on the tram sweating audibly into a small puddle on the floor. I am capable of sweating in biblical proportions and pretty soon I expect to see pairs of animals running alongside the tram. In the hopes of distracting myself from the misery caused by traveling through a steaming hot city in a metal box with no shade in sight, I am looking at the faces of pedestrians. Happy, cool pedestrians.

Then I see a guy I know as an acquaintance. He’s the husband of another acquaintance, a nice enough chap. He’s short and brown-haired, he’s stocky. He is swinging his arms as he huffs along down the street in the determined yet stuttered stride of the short-legged. It then dawns on me that he looks exactly like me. He is my Doppelganger. This troubles me.

Like many men, I consider myself far better looking than is evidential in the aesthetics of my biological makeup. This guy is OK looking, but he’s not exactly handsome. Reason states that if I am his Doppelganger and he’s not handsome, well, guess what? I am seeing what everyone else is seeing. A short, stocky dude chugging down the road like a Hobbit heading towards a tavern. And if that’s what we all see when he’s walking down the road, that’s what they all see when I’m walking down the road.

As a side issue, this damages my (I think reasonable) perception of my life as a movie. Let’s be honest, people. We all do it. We have a voice over bespeaking thusly of drama to come or just come above an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. And why not? Our lives are essentially movies, aren’t they? A mix of cringe and romantic comedies, moments of erotica, drama, adventure, and horror, interrupting the 97.3% of our lives that encompasses watching Frasier, scrolling Facebook, and asking people what they want to do that night.

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The Blind Eye

We are at our favorite pub and we are drinkless. It’s been about thirty minutes since we had a beer. Though I should be concerned about the fact that I am starting to twitch, I am focusing on the waiter. Waiters. There are three of them. Apparently the guy who was working the garden service was reassigned to the inside, and as an act of rebellion he is actively not looking at us.

Part of the training to become a Czech waiter must be developing an ability to look at a table of people and not see them. The waiter has looked at our table, the wall behind us, the post next to me, the window, the Bozkov advertisement to our left, but not us. We have obviously displeased him by not only our existence, but the fact that we are existing at this pub and thirsty.

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Zen and the Art of Not Responding

Om. (Matryoshka Doll acting as Stand in Buddha)

I am doing my dishes. I do them slowly, think about each dish, each spoon. I try to notice each tomato chunk and each coffee ground. I breathe in and out, feel and enjoy the warm water. When I have finished becoming one with my bowls, dishes, and utensils, I go back to my computer.

Still, at the top of the screen is a white strip and the phrase: not responding. If you have a computer, you understand this the most frustrating of all computing messages. So I go to water and become one with my plants. My computer is turning me into something of a Zen Master of household chores.

Even if we remove the context of failing technology, the term not responding elicits aggravation. When someone doesn’t respond to your texts, calls, messages. When students, friends, or family don’t respond to a question or point. When the president’s douchy evasion experts simply don’t respond to impossibly direct questions. The list goes on.

Out to dinner with a friend the other night, his four-year old daughter started playing with a similarly aged boy. Things were fine and dandy until it was time to eat, at which time neither the boy nor my friend’s daughter seemed willing to give up their play. They, of course, did what little kids do when they don’t want to hear the laments of their parents: they completely ignored them. And so the boy, glazed in a layer of mucus that will require shots of some sort, climbed on our table while my friend’s daughter offered him pizza. My friend tried to talk reasonably to them both, who, like my computer, were not responding, and then he failed to gain the boy’s parents attention, who, buried in their respective devices, were (you guessed it) not responding.

While his frustration cup runneth over, I considered telling him that my cat doesn’t respond either. I scratched that idea, then thought of telling him to go do some dishes. His facial expression suggested that I keep my mouth shut, which, in a ringing endorsement to social intelligence websites, I did.

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How to be British

Me Beneath an Insanely Accurate Sign

As part of a summer English course run through a local Czech newspaper, I wrote a series of fictional blog posts in which I assume the identity of a British expatriate. Once you’ve stopped snickering, you can imagine that this was rather challenging. Like any writer worth his salt, I had to know my subject and that meant brushing up on what it means to be British.

First off, I thought about the British in my life. A lot of my entertainment intake is British, for example my preferred crime solvers, Lewis, Morse, and Sherlock. There are times I’ve thought Bernard Black was my spirit animal. After I finally understood the accents, I started laughing my ass off at every episode of Spaced.

As a majority of the ESL course books teach British English, I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it. There’s the horrendous u (as in colour), and the tragedy that is –re (as in centre. disgusting). I changed my prepositions and my collating verbs, so instead of taking a walk on Main Street, I had a walk in the High Street. I already said lifts and flats, but knew I had to be careful with a substantial range of lexicon, like autumn, hob, and bugger.

But being British is more than words and language. I sat down with a cup of coffee and a notebook and pen and brainstormed a list. How to be British. With little to go on, I then looked up an article on The Guardian which offered tips. This put my mind at ease, since it appeared that I was already a bit British. I never accept a compliment without immediately self-deprecating, the very thought of someone jumping a queue makes me want to immolate them, and yet instead of acting on those impulses, I instead glare at their neck and imagine their biscuits snapping off and settling on the bottom of their tea.

However, a How British are You test on The Guardian suggested that I was abjectly American. (Who the hell is Emmeline Pankhurst and what the…bloody hell is Mr. Whipple ice cream?) Still, cultural understanding is more than a recitation of trivia or facts, so I decided to step up my game for a few weeks in cultural understanding.

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