Why we travel

We travel because at some point in our lives we become aware of our own mortality. We won’t be here forever, so we need to get busy doing things we love while we have the time and the ability. For the athletic and adventurous, that might be mountain climbing or running the bulls in Pamplona (nope, not for me). For the introspective, that might be exploring places and learning things you’ve never encountered before (yep). Everyone has something that speaks to their soul, and when you start seeing the end of your runway, you go after that something to the extent of your resources and ability.

Perhaps some people realize this early in their lives, but for me it took about 40 years. Travel, exploration and learning are about the only things really worth doing other than being close to your family. And your friends. Everything else is just passing time.

I mention this because someone I knew a bit died yesterday – a good man who had lived a long and, as far as I know, a good life. Rest in peace, Rajah. And that’s after my football buddy Joe who I knew quite well died a month or two ago. Recognition of one’s mortality – that gets your attention.

Yesterday’s Cabo sunset is featured above. Rajah’s last day on Earth. That sunset is a fitting sendoff.

Saturday night SITREP

This was the longest, toughest door-to-door trip to Cabo in 20 years. Thanks, COVID!

Everything was slow, inefficient, late and frustrating. We did have a few Special Circumstances – a two-kid family behind us on the flight that took their behavioral cues from the old Tasmanian Devil cartoon, an hour waiting on baggage (!!), and a check-in process at the resort that can only be described as Escher-esque. One step forward, three sideways and two back. What used to be a relaxing transition from Socal to Cabo has become a long, patience-challenging slog through lines, risk management forms, and good service gone bad. One more example, our room service dinner order – we didn’t want to go out and brave The World again – is an hour late. Not just “it’s been an hour”, but it’s been an hour longer than promised. Two hangry travelers.

Yeah, OK, this is a (very) first world problem, but living in the first world used to mean something. So far this trip it means wait, wait, wait…and test your patience. Happy to say my patience has held up quite well in all my interactions with The World, but it’s challenging. No casualties thus far.

Heading south

Today is a travel day. An hour to the airport, a short two hour flight to Cabo and about an hour to the resort. By 430pm Cabo time we hope to be watching whales and a sunset. Sounds pretty good to me.

Between the increasingly bad news about the South African variant outbreak and the continued dry, fire-danger Santa Ana weather in Socal, I’m a bit stressed out. Can’t do anything about either of them, but…perhaps a change of venue will make a difference.

It seems odd that traveling 1000 miles south would be a remedy for someone sick and tired of hot dry weather, but the ocean climate in Cabo is a far cry from the oppressive dry heat we’ve got in Socal. A smaller home in Point Loma, PB or even Oceanside is starting to sound a lot better to me.

I *am* looking forward to exploring the capabilities of my new Fuji S-X10. Some long photography walks are on the agenda.

Black Friday

Black Friday, indeed. So far today the stock market is down 900 points (about 2.5%) on the news that a new, vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant has emerged in South Africa. This news triggers lots of questions:

  • Is this situation now permanent? Are we stuck with SARS-CoV-2 in one form or another for decades? (Yes, probably).
  • Is the overly agile mutation ability of COVID-19 natural or (a frightening thought) designed by humans in the Wuhan labs?
  • Given that we’re probably going to see many more variants, how many people will COVID-19 actually kill before we get back to some new balance? We’ve recorded five million deaths worldwide so far (probably low), so where will we end up? 10M? 15? The Black Death (bubonic plague) pandemic of the 14th century killed between 75 and 200 million people, so COVID still has a ways to go to become the deadliest ever.
  • What will authorities and risk managers (governments and corporations) do in response? Will we need to wear masks in close quarters (like on airplanes) forever?
  • Is there something unusual going on in South Africa, something that generated the new variant?

On the last question, the answer is yes, probably. South Africa’s vaccination rate is really low – 28% of the population has had one dose, 24% two doses. So their population is pretty much wide open for virus spread and mutation. A large rise in cases, if not a variant, is predictable.

Sadly, this news will probably just adds fuel to the anti-vaxxer fire, as one of their favorite arguments is that “you can still catch COVID after vaccination, so why bother”. Perhaps we should just rename the variants as a different disease.

And the timing of this event is pretty bad for yours truly. We’re about to leave on trips to Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. On one hand I don’t want to over-react/panic, but on the other hand…yikes! Is international travel stupid at this moment?

And if you do travel, take your vitamin D! This NIH study showed that vitamin D deficient people are 80% more likely to catch COVID than those with sufficient vitamin D in their systems

All this will be in the back of my mind as I spend today watching sports – The Match, which should be an entertaining golf event, a UK basketball game (go Cats!), and the Duke-Gonzaga basketball game (go Zags!). There’s nothing I can do about this unsettling Black Friday news, so might as well be entertained.

Thankful

It’s Thanksgiving Day, an American holiday that is a little less warped by commerce than most. Thanksgiving was always and maybe still is my favorite holiday, with lots of food, football, relatives and naps. These days there’s a little less of each, but the basic outlines are still there, intact.

There’s a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving 2021. First, I’m thankful that it’s not 2020, an absolute shitshow of a year. The pandemic emergency is winding down, the disease isn’t the death threat it was a year ago. We have vaccines and therapies for those intelligent enough to get them. It appears we’ll never be rid of COVID-19, but it’s not the mysterious existential threat it started out as.

As always, I’m thankful for family and friends. One of the only good things that happened (great thing, actually) in 2020 was Jesse’s birth, so the immediate family welcomed a new member. He’s a joy, and so is grandson #1. And on that subject, very thankful that the pandemic that’s taken 800,000 American lives (!) has so far passed by my immediate family. Knock on wood. Get the booster. Wear masks, wash your hands. Whatever it takes.

I’m definitely thankful to be healthy (mostly) and strong, not something every 65+ person can say. I’m not really doing my part to stay that way, so that needs to change. And I’m especially thankful that my mind is still sharp. Now that I have time to reflect on life (post retirement), reading, writing and thinking are a real pleasure.

I’m thankful that Kathryn and I have the resources to travel and enjoy retirement. We live a privileged life, in the literal sense of the word. We worked hard to get here, but so do many others who still struggle. We are fortunate.

2021 was a much better year than 2020, and 2022 looks to be even better. Kathryn and I will venture to the top and bottom of the world in 2022, crossing North and South polar boundaries. In between we’ll see the grandkids a lot and try to stay healthy. That’s a lot to look forward to.

Season’s greetings

Aaaand, it’s the holiday season. I experienced my first season’s greeting while I was shopping for Thanksgiving dinner today at Costco.

Costco was packed – I expected that. I was patient, cruising around for a parking spot, expecting it to take a while and it did. I finally homed in on a lady in a Maserati (it’s Socal, natch) who was about to leave and parked myself in the right place to get her spot. I was there 2-3 minutes when an older woman came from the opposite direction and signaled like she was going to take the spot.

The geometry was such that I was able to pull up and speak with her through our open windows.

Me: “Ma’am, maybe you didn’t see me, but I’ve been waiting for this spot. This one is mine.”

Her, looking angry: “My signal is on. You saw me.”

Me: “Yes, that’s why I wanted to let you know.”

Her (angrier): “Well you’re very rude.”

Her, as she was pulling away: “You’re a f’ing asshole.”

Me, thinking as I pulled into the spot: “So I’m the rude one?”

Not a great way to start a holiday shopping trip. I just don’t understand people any more.

A long drive and a forest walk

Up and about at 530am Eastern time for the second day in a row. Not sure why, but this sleep pattern is going to play hell with my return to the west coast. Years of jet lag sleep debt may be catching up with me.

Long day yesterday due to the pilgrimage to Ashland and back. Had a nice day, got to watch the UK game with my Dad and then shared a very nice meal with Emily, Greg, the kids, brother Mike, Em’s mom and her husband Bill. I’m thankful that we have a relationship that allows us to gather divorced-then-extended family in one place and enjoy it.

A highlight of the day for me was a walk I took at the assisted living facility. I needed to stretch my legs before hitting the road again, and there’s a nice trail down the hill leading to a hidden lake (pictured above) . It was a perfect day for a walk – cool but not cold, sunny with a perfect slanting light. Walking to the lake and back I felt at home and at peace in a way I never feel anywhere else. The eastern woods are home to me – I suppose running through those hills during my childhood imprinted the place in me, and I really felt it yesterday. The oak, poplar, walnut, maple and ginko trees are the bold, broad strokes of the forest. The finer strokes are the smaller dogwoods, redbuds, grapevines and hollies. The moss and lichens on rocks and north sides of trees soften everything, as does the deep carpet of leaves. Even the parasitic mistletoe add a splash of color to the Fall forest. An eastern forest is really a holy place for me. I’m not a religious person, but being in the forest is a spiritual experience for me. (That and the first bite of a warm Spaulding’s doughnut.) Suffice to say I enjoyed my walk.

Strange days

Strange day yesterday. Turns out it’s OK to carry an assault weapon in a crowd downtown and kill a couple of people if they frighten you. No consequences (other than a couple of families missing a loved one). I think US law needs to change on this one.

And we had a woman President for about an hour and a half yesterday. That’s an historic first, and the nation didn’t collapse or even notice. Good for us.

The House passed the second Build Back Better (man, I hate that phrase) bill yesterday, but now they’re sending it to Manchin and Sinema-land for edits and votes. That may take a while. But I have to hand it to Biden and Pelosi – they’re getting things done. If only the people they’re actually helping (low and middle income) would notice and give them credit.

The Cats won the game last night, but it was an ugly win. They looked bad in the first half, but thankfully woke up in the second. Lots of talent, but the jury is still out on this team.

Science.org, a reputable source, has a new article out that says COVID originated in the Wuhan live animal market after all, and thinks they’ve identified Patient Zero. Interesting. Their research indicates that the zoonotic vector was racoon dogs (what the hell is a racoon dog, and why would anyone eat one?), not bats. Even more interesting. But I still can’t get over the coincidence that a virology lab experimenting with SARS coronaviruses was right down the street.

It’s strange to think that in December 2019, the world changed dramatically and no one knew it. A disease infected humans and animals in a Chinese market. No matter where it originated (nature or lab), it escaped into the world and the human population. Two years later millions of people are dead and the disease is only moderately under control. Where were you when the world changed?

In December 2019 I was in KY trying to find a way to get my Dad under some kind of care, beginning his transition to assisted living. That was incredibly lucky – he and Phyllis would not have survived the early days of the pandemic alone (can’t prove it; just know it). In those days he was drug-addled and in poor health, making poor decisions. The timing of it all is…strange.

And finally, strange human behavior. I’ve stumbled upon the Youtube channel “Karens in the Wild“, with a stream of entertaining, horrifying, and depressing behavior caught on video. I’ve become pretty cynical about people post-Trump and post-pandemic, and the Karen channel just reinforces that cynicism. There are a lot of disturbingly hateful people out there.

TWoT definitely doesn’t suck

This just in. Episode 1 of The Wheel of Time was very, very good. The screenwriters did a good job portraying the events of half a book in the first 30 minutes. Moraine and Lan were perfect, Perrin, Egwen and Mat pretty good and Rand…the jury’s still out. He reminds me too much of Christian Haydensen, the awful precursor to Darth Vader.

But the scenery, the trollocs, the visualization of the One Power…all good.

Episodes 2 and 3 will have to wait – Kentucky plays hoops in a little while, so off to Parlour we go to get some crowd vibes. But this first TWoT sample bodes well for the series. Jordan would be happy.

UPDATE: Parlour was a bust tonight. Two on a scale of ten. Had to work hard to get the UK game on screen (their reputation was a big UK hangout), and waited over an hour for no pizza. Server and bartender blew it off as “normal”, while people all around me got their food and left. Not happy, but managed to leave with grace. No casualties.

Walked down to Fork and Barrel and had the exact opposite experience. Great service, great food, a chat with the owner, the game on TV at my request – all while they were dealing with a much larger crowd. Management matters. I voted with my credit card and F&B was the big winner. I’ll give Parlour another chance sometime, but this was a bad night for them.

Peak charging

Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve hit peak charging. I have so many devices to charge that (a) something is *always* out of power, and (b) I’m running out of places to plug them in. I travel with an iPad, a MacBook, an iPhone, an Apple Watch, a standalone camera, the Bose noise cancelling headphones…it’s out of control. And we wonder why Apple is worth a trillion dollars.

I do like my gadgets. It’s a side effect of being an electrical engineer – every one of these things is a modern miracle, in terms of the electronic design and manufacturing. It’s an age of wonder – except for all the damn batteries.

And speaking of “age of wonder”, the Wheel of Time premiers today! I could watch it right now if so inclined. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t suck.

Autumn dropped by for a visit

The temperature dropped about thirty degrees on my second day in KY. It definitely felt like Autumn today. Fortunately, the heat pumps on our new place work just fine. Brisk outside, cozy inside.

Tomorrow I get to see my first UK hoops game while in the state, in quite a while. Not sure where to watch it, but Parlour is reputed to have a strong UK crowd. It’s been a long time since I saw a UK game in a rowdy crowd of fans, and I’m looking forward to it. Go Cats!

On a completely different topic, a movie I saw on the flight here was unexpectedly great. It started slowly, but got better, and better…the last 10-15 minutes were epic. The Good Liar, starring Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren. Highly recommended.

Tonight I’m watching a semi-demented Netflix movie called “The Trip”. It’s Norwegian, dubbed into English and stars Noomi Rapace. It’s a very dark comedy set in a cold, remote Norway forest. Remind me to not buy a wilderness cabin. Not exactly “Chariots of Fire” or “The Way We Were”, but I’ve seen those a few times.

I have managed to get a few shots of nice Fall colors – just a bright tree here and there, maples and ginkos. Pictures to follow.