Road Trippin’ Down Under: To Board and Not Be Too Bored

If you were hoping that this post will be the one where you finally get to read about Australia, I have bad news for you. We’re not even halfway there yet.

But don’t despair. As a wise if somewhat aimless individual once put it: Life is supposed to be a journey, not a detonation.

If you are chuckling to yourself, I thank you. I am deeply grateful to you for embracing the whimsy. If you’re irked rather than amused by the reference to explosive devices, please accept my condolences on your flagging sense of humor. If you have no idea what this section of the post is about, you should probably take a nap and read it again when you’ve had some rest.

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t the least bit worried about detonations before, during, or after this trip. Despite the 96% chance that Homeland Security had failed to detect a bomb or gun on the person of one of our fellow travelers (as discussed in Travelers’ Advisory on March 4 of 2016) I was less concerned about someone hijacking and/or blowing up the plane than literally any other travel hazard you could name. Same goes for mechanical failure and operator error. None of that even entered my mind either before or after we’d made it through security.

No. Boredom was going to be my real enemy that day, I knew. Followed closely by discomfort. Which is why I arrived armed to the teeth with reading material—six magazines, one paperback and a Kindle loaded with multiple novels and an electronic Scrabble game—and pain reliever, eye drops, facial wipes and chewing gum. If I was going to survive this trip, I was going to need plenty to do, and I would need to do it without a throbbing head, dry eyes, oily skin, and furry teeth.

The Jarhead had suggested that I lie lay down and try to sleep. According to him, I would handle the heat, the crowds, and the lack of a shower during our 11-hour layover in Abu Dhabi better if I were well rested. Of course, we both knew that what he meant was that I would be a much better travel companion if I was well rested. But we both also knew that sleep for me was not an option. I find it hard enough to sleep at my usual time in my own bed and in an empty room, so there was zero chance I was going to fall asleep in a cabin room full of strangers at five o’clock in the evening.

And so, I kept to my own game plan and spent just over 12 hours reading, eating, drinking, playing Scrabble, and trying not to watch the clock. Aside from trying not to obsess about the time part, it reminded me a lot of my babysitting days when I would stay up all night doing whatever I wanted—only better, because it involved champagne, French Cheese and fine chocolates instead of soda, Cheez Whiz, and frosting, and because these things they were delivered to me personally by well-dressed people with great hair and exotic accents. I felt like an extra on the set of a Bond movie, or a passenger on the Orient Express. It was fabulous.

And the fun continued for several hours AFTER we landed in Abu Dhabi. For those who are unfamiliar with the city—as I was until I looked it up on Wikipedia—it is one of seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates. It is the largest of the seven emirates, and sits on an island in the Persian Gulf.  According to Lonely Planet ( it boasts “The world’s largest hand-loomed carpet, the fastest roller coaster, the highest high tea, the tower with the greatest lean, the largest cluster of cultural buildings of the 21st century” and “isn’t afraid to challenge world records.”

Now I don’t know about any of that, since we never left the terminal. Although it might have been cool to take a tour of the city, we would have had to find a driver to take us around since, as I understand it, the traffic there is about as bad as it is in Naples. On top of that, we would have had worry about getting back to the terminal and through security in time to make our connection to Australia. So it just made sense to enjoy it from within the confines of the business class lounge.

I know. Poor us.

Seriously, though. Walking into that place was like stepping into the most elegant hotel room on the universe’s most elegant space station, or wandering into the most elegant secret lair of the world’s most elegant evil overlord. Decked out from top to bottom in ultramodern architecture, furnishings and artwork it felt more like we had landed on another planet instead of another country, or walked onto the set of some futuristic film instead of an airport, and I kept expecting the cast of Gattaca or Oblivion to come walking in and sit down to at one of the extravagantly appointed dining areas.

But no luck. In fact, besides the impressively neat and efficient staff (who kept whisking away our used dishes, napkins and tableware almost the second we set them down) the only other folks we saw, were other tourists (although, for all I knew, they were famous tourists but just not famous in America.) Which was probably a good thing since I was wearing rumpled traveling clothes, no makeup, and nearly two-day old hair by that point. Not exactly how one imagines oneself when running into famous actors—from any country.

So instead of chatting with celebs and becoming the next Hollywood It couple, the Jarhead and I lounged around and sampled the food and drink on offer at each of the three—yes, three—international dinner buffets. Avid fans of ethnic cuisine of all descriptions, we happily devoured all the familiar Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, European and Asian food we could find, and eagerly—if gingerly—sampled several of the unfamiliar ones—and found not one bad bite in the bunch.

The only down side to enjoying a lavish meal in a lavish setting with lavish seating, is that it puts the Jarhead in a state of lavish sleepiness. Consequently, it wasn’t long before he was struggling to hold his eyes open and I was struggling to hold his attention and maintain my sanity.

And so, with a headful of flat hair and nothing else to do but use the ladies’ room (which turned out NOT to be the relaxing experience one would expect to have in such an gloriously outfitted facility, owing to the presence of an irritatingly fastidious attendant, who kept walking up and down the room and furiously sweeping, wiping, and scrubbing the stalls almost the second they were vacated, making it very difficult for some folks—not saying whom—to do their business) I approached the salon and spa, to see what fun there might be to have there.

The options included manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, and hair care. Since I needed my hair washed more than I needed my nails painted, my skin resurfaced, or my body manipulated by someone who hadn’t at least bought me dinner, I decided to go for a wash and blow out.

I almost didn’t go through with it, to tell the truth. Even though it was only going to cost me about $35, the thought of waltzing into a salon and paying someone to shampoo and style my hair sounded downright decadent to me. So, hoping he would talk me out of it, I walked back over to the semi-conscious Jarhead (semi-conscious only because the news was on and he was half-listening for the weather before allowing himself to drift off to sleep) and laid out my plan. To my dismay, he said that sounded like a good idea if it would make me more comfortable.

Damn him, I remember thinking. I had hoped he would have forgotten how much I hate the feeling of flat hair. Now I had no reason not to take the plunge. Oh well, I said with a shrug as I headed back to the salon. At least I would look lovely and refreshed when we landed in Perth.

I’m not sure what went wrong during the conversation between me and the gorgeous Syrian man who stood behind me at the stylist’s station, but SOMETHING sure did because I definitely did NOT look lovely and refreshed when he finished doing my hair. In fact, although I hadn’t thought it was possible, my hair looked even flatter than it had when I first entered the salon. I literally looked like Janice from the Muppet Show: all face, no hair.

I kid you not. All I would have needed were a pair of false eyelashes, some lipstick, and a couple of wires to attach to my wrists, and people would have been clamoring for my puppet autograph. It was that bad. So bad, in fact, that I almost went to the bathroom to wash my hair. And I probably would have it I hadn’t been worried that the stylist would walk through the lounge later and have his feelings hurt upon seeing my freshly washed and wavy hair.

So, instead I walked back over to where the Jarhead was dozing and waited for him to open his eyes and start laughing.

If I didn’t die of boredom waiting for him to wake up, that is. Which was a distinct possibility. But his reaction will be totally worth it, I told myself as the minutes ticked by. Just hang in there.

An hour later I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I bumped his foot with my purse and pretended it was an accident. He opened his eyes and I said I’m sorry. And when his fog cleared, he opened his eyes even wider. “Have you already had your hair done?” he asked, looking at his watch and then back at me.

Although I didn’t get the shock and horror I was hoping for, at least he was awake.

“Yep,” I admitted with laugh. “It’s awful, isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s awful. It’s just…not…you.”

Aww. He was so sweet and considerate, I almost felt bad for disturbing him.



Road Trippin’ 2015: Home, James! And don’t spare the horses.

We crawled out of bed later on our final day in Anchorage than we had at any other point in the trip, and possibly later than either of us had gotten out of bed in our entire lives. Which makes sense, since we had also gone to bed later than usual the night before and, more importantly, we had become a couple of wimps in the years since the days when we routinely stayed up late.

It’s not as if we intended to stay up all night and sleep all day. In fact, neither of us even realized how much midnight oil we were burning each evening until we woke up the next day and wondered why we were so damned tired. And so, each day, we would wake up a little later than we had the day before and stayed up a little later than we had the night before until, by the end of our trip, we were going to bed at dawn and getting up at dusk.

It’s easy to let that sort of thing happen to you when you’re on vacation—especially if you’re on vacation in Alaska in August, where it is still a bit light out after your normal bed time and the sun starts to come up again around three in the morning. It’s even easier to let that sort of thing happen when you’re an insomniac who needs a pitch black room filled with white noise in order to fall asleep, since it requires you to wear an eye mask to block out the setting sun and to run a fan to block out normal household noises, which subsequently prevent you from noticing the rising sun and hearing the sound of other people getting up in the next day. So, you continue going to bed and sleeping increasingly later in the day until you eventually wake up with the day more than half over.

Of course, the foregoing does not apply to the Jarhead, who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat in any position and on almost any surface, and could sleep for more than a week if he had nowhere to be and didn’t have the bladder capacity of a much smaller mammal. Although he would wake with the sun like he does at home, he took advantage of my heretofore undiscovered ability to sleep during the day by popping across the hall to the restroom and hopping back in bed to catch a few more z’s until my own bladder decided it was time to wake me up.

As a result of all of this, we didn’t have time to go poking around any hills, rivers, or golf courses looking for bears before it was time to meet LaVon for dinner and head to the airport. This bothered me a bit since the Jarhead is so keen to see a bear, but at least I didn’t have to fret about whether having slept in that morning would keep me from getting to sleep that night. Since our flight was a red eye and I can’t sleep without my CPAP, fan and eye mask anyway, I had planned to read though the flight back to Minneapolis. The Jarhead, meanwhile, had planned to sleep through the flight and then awaken bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to drive home in the morning.

It was a great plan, and it would have worked out perfectly, were it not for the toddler in the row immediately behind us who seemed bent on getting into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest sustained screaming fit in the history of mankind. I don’t fly a lot—maybe once or twice a year—but NEVER in my life have I had such a terrible flight. On some flights I’ve taken, a child has cried as the plane took off but would stop once we hit our cruising altitude and his or her ears popped. Other times a child or two has fussed a bit here and there, but even if it happened more than once—and even if the sound was ear-splitting—you at least could count on it being brief and, therefore, not likely to drive you to the brink of madness. This child—I kid you not—literally screamed through the entire flight and at the highest pitch in the history of human vocalization, and—in case you missed it earlier—was seated immediately behind us.

Now I like kids. And under almost any other circumstances, I would have been the first to offer my assistance to the poor thirty-something dude who had to misfortune of having to travel solo with that child and his or her slightly older sibling. But after the first hour, I was ready to pull my hair out by the roots and stop that screaming by any means necessary.

I won’t go so far as to say I almost killed him, but it nearly killed me to resist the urge to kill SOMEONE. In fact, it is fair to say that, were it not for the unlimited quantity of free alcohol we received from our incredibly sympathetic flight attendant things would not have turned out so well. Because if we would have had to deal with that kid’s screaming without the aid of liquor, I would have lost my mind, the plane would have been diverted to Seattle (assuming we got THAT far) and the Jarhead would have spent the last day of his vacation trying to get me out of police custody (or not, depending on what I had done, how much sleep he’d gotten beforehand, and how much it cost to get me sprung.)

The flight attendant’s strategy to deplete the airline’s liquor supply for the sake of my sanity, while noble, generous, and one hundred percent effective, was a risky one. Especially given how belligerent and/or violent someone people become while under the influence of alcohol, the plan may have backfired, and she may have found herself not only helping her passengers cope with a screaming child, but also managing a hot, blonde mess in a murderous rage.

Fortunately, I’m a happy drunk and the Jarhead is a sleepy drunk. That, combined with the complimentary personal entertainment devices we received and the flight attendant’s willingness to let us move to a pair of empty seats three rows forward, made the situation more tolerable if not better.

The singular benefit of having not slept a wink all night was that I was dead on my feet by the time we got to the car the next morning. This, along with the power outlet that allows me to use my CPAP in my car, made it possible for me to doze all the way home without worrying about how fast the we were going or wondering which of the various lakes, rivers, hills, valleys, and buildings we might crash, smash, or splash into along the way. This, in turn, gave the Jarhead the rare opportunity to drive as fast as he wanted from Minneapolis to Oshkosh without interference—at least from me.

And so, roughly four and a half hours after leaving the airport, I awoke in front of our house and only steps away from my beloved bed. Upon parking in the garage, we ditched our bags and the car, and dragged our butts, my CPAP, and my eye mask up to our room. Not wanting to sleep through the entire day again—and risk not being able to sleep that night—we set the alarm for twelve thirty, threw off our traveling clothes, and fell into bed.

Maybe it was the booze talking. Or maybe it was the fatigue. Or maybe it was an alternate personality that had grown out of the trauma from suffering through all that screaming the night before. Whatever it was, for a few short hours, in that room in our empty old house, I was glad our kids are grown and that I didn’t have to feed, bathe, burp, look after or listen to ANYBODY under three feet tall.

It was short lived, of course. I’m already back to privately imagining the various names my babies will give their babies. But for that brief moment, I was footloose and fancy free—and I liked it.

In fact, the only lasting effect I’ve observed from that trip is the impact it has had on our plans for future vacations. At the moment, anything involving air travel is out, as is any activity that puts us at risk of being in the immediate vicinity of a screaming toddler. That’s going to make all three of my dream vacations a bit tricky, of course, since you can’t exactly walk, drive, or ride a bike to Australia, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico.

One solution to this dilemma might be for the Jarhead to get his pilot’s license so we can fly wherever we want without having to deal with screaming children. It’s an interesting idea, but I doubt he’ll go for it. Not only would getting a pilot’s license be a fairly complicated—not to mention expensive—approach to managing a relatively infrequently occurring issue, it’s likely to lead to other more serious problems for both of us. After all, as nuts as I get riding along as he drives a car through mountains and around and across large bodies of water, one can only imagine what a nightmare it would be to have me riding shotgun as he pilots a plane high in the air above them.

So maybe we just need to wait and let the memories of that horrible flight fade with time. Perhaps after a while we’ll be game to fly again without fear that we’ll wind up seated in front of another screamer. That sounds a lot less expensive and dangerous than buying a plane and arranging for the Jarhead to learn how to fly it. Unfortunately, given how long it might take for me to shake my memories of that kid’s spine-rattling scream to fade, the pilot’s license might be the faster option.

Well, that’s it for the latest road trip. Thanks for tuning in and playing along. To paraphrase the airlines, I know you have a choice when it comes to your personal entertainment, and I appreciate your patronage. So, enjoy your day, and have a fabulous Thanksgiving!

P.S. Be sure to check back in the coming weeks for the next wave of rants, raves, and riffs, including the “The Rest of the Story” (where I’ll provide updates on some previous posts, like “On the Fence,” “A Very Special Cat,” and “Product Liability”) and my tribute to George Thorogood entitled “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer (or, How I Survived the Holidays.)”