Maybe Covid-19 Wasn’t All That Bad

We should always look for the silver lining, and when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I started thinking today about all the changes Covid-19 brought about and I started to realize that as bad as the pandemic was, there were things I accomplished. I finally got that Little Library built. During the pandemic, it became my wife’s total focus. We now have neighborhood children putting in book requests to their favorite librarian, Ms. Debi. The treat bags and notes ay have something to do with her popularity.

And there are all the things I learned, useful things. Top on the list would be Zoom. Before Covid-19, I would resist Skype calls, Duo calls, and any other virtual calls. Then came the pandemic and suddenly, virtual meetings, virtual gatherings, even virtual game nights, became the norm. I am proud to say, I am now a Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams wizard. Seems strange to say I am a virtual expert. Does that mean, not really, just imaginary?

Another learned process, making wearing a mask a fashion statement. I admit that when it started, I wasn’t too stylish. But as time went on we all got pretty clever and fashionable. We wore masks sporting our favorite logos, coordinated our masks with our ensemble, and even found ways to make them almost sexy. I for one, sort of miss donning my various masks now that I have been vaccinated. Thanks to Covid-19’s mask wearing mandates, I will be better prepared to rob a bank if I ever decide to go rogue.

And then there is the improvements to my office décor. Pre pandemic, I hadn’t really thought about my shelves. Once I started Zooming (is that a word?), I started seeing it as my backdrop on my zoom calls. Time to clean up my act. Off to storage, went a lot of the memorabilia, unread books, and just piles of paper and files. Thank you Covid-19!, my office is quite impressive these days.

Six feet used to be a rough estimate that was anywhere from way too short to ridiculously long. A couple of months of pandemic rules, and I can now nail six feet to within a couple inches. I feel like a walking ruler. Want to know how long that putt was?, I got it. Need that board cut to six feet?, leave that tape measure in your tool belt. Admit it, how many times during the last year did you find yourself moving that extra three inches to put six feet between you and that other person.

There were a lot of other little lessons learned. I have now mastered the art of separating the wafer section from the wine pod in those little communion cups. I discovered that you can actually party outside in the middle of winter with snow falling as long as you have that fire pit going and the now all important patio heater. I actually drove seventy-five miles to a Lowes to find mine. I am even looking forward to this fall when I can fire it back up and party. I might even invite more than ten people.

I know it wasn’t at all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. I have developed skills that were clearly lacking and as an added bonus, I now know every dog and every dog walker in the neighborhood. Admittedly, I will see if I recognize them without their masks.

And one final observation, it seems that as we learned to stand six feet apart, we somehow all grew a little closer.

Becoming a Dad

I became a father on April 21, 1984. Bailey was born that morning after a long previous day and night of waiting for her. We had to make a decision that morning to continue trying or to consider a C Section delivery. That decision was taken away when it became clear we had to do an emergency surgery to bring Bailey into our world.

At the time, becoming a father was a scary thing. I was worried that I would not be a good father. I thought I might be ill prepared for the role and thus not able to do what was needed to be the father Bailey would need. This was a huge responsibility I was about to take on and was I willing to make the life style changes that it would require. As I look back on that fear, I realize how selfish that was. I was more concerned about me than what I actually needed to be concerned about.

The surgery was successful and within moments of the delivery, Bailey was in my arms and my world and my worries changed. In that moment, as her tiny hand found my finger, my world became her world and I transitioned from worried father to fully engaged dad. It now all made sense. To be a father simply took the act, but being a dad was a gift that was bestowed upon you by that moment you connected with the life you had helped create. Of course my life would change. I had a whole new person to share it with. That fear of responsibility was replaced by the excitement of being part of a whole new journey.

I spent the next several hours bonding with and falling in love with our little baby girl as my wife recovered from the surgery. These were precious moments that shaped the rest of my relationship, moments where I learned the difference between being a father and being a dad. By the time my wife was able to hold our child, her life was all ready being mapped out. She would be given adventures to make her strong. She would be given opportunities to grow in every possible way.  She would be given support in whatever choices she made. She would be loved.

Seven years later, my wife and I would welcome the birth of our second child, this time by natural delivery but no less dramatic. I would be given a chance to do it all again and this time to help my older daughter become the big sister. Kathryn was welcomed into our world on April 26, 1991 and just as her sister became part of our plans, so too did Kathryn become part of our family plans. Like her sister before her, she would be encouraged to find her own space, to be part of our adventures, to be loved for who she was and would become. To be honest, I think Kathryn took her role to be the one who would make the adventures bigger.

It is with purpose that I have recounted this story on Father’s Day. It was and will always be my greatest honor to have been a father who understands what it takes to be a dad.

Reflections on Time

We go through decades in our lives. If you are reading this, you’ve gone through at least one. In that first decade we learn a lot, some would argue most, of what we will need to survive our remaining decades. We learn that hot things can hurt. That counting will help us figure out how far we still need to go, though asking the question “are we there yet” holds a lot of pleasure for the questioner. We figure out that food comes in an incredible variety of forms and delivery systems and that we are often forced to eat some of the foods even though we don’t like them. We hopefully learn to play nice and to vow to practice that in the decades to come every chance we get and with everyone we meet even when they haven’t learned this lesson as well.

In our second decade, we anxiously await our teens and when we finally achieve them, we have no idea what to do with them, especially the hormones. We hopefully learn to drive, though it is becoming questionable whether future generations will ever need to drive the car at all. In the last part of the decade, we get to vote which is all too often filled with disappointment, sometimes even when our candidate wins. Make no mistake here, you still need to vote. No vote means you are only allowed to be disappointed. And as that second decade comes to an end, you are given the keys to adulthood and the admonition “go get a job kid cause you’re on your own”. Ah the sweet smell of freedom and the lure of the wild.

Decade three starts the trip of wonder. We wonder about everything as we wander through our twenties. We try out our wild side, three hours of sleep and a recovery plan seem perfectly natural. We figure out our tolerance for risk, and generally amass the mistakes we will refer to in our later decades as lessons learned. This is the decade where we will explore our sexuality (god I miss that, but maybe not), decide to decide what we might be, and as we approach the end of the decade, come to the realization that this was the decade when we actually grew up.

Thirties, these are the years we re-find and re-define ourselves, not that it is the final time we will do that. We either find our soul mate or decide that we would rather fly solo. We settle down, maybe even buy a house and, if we are up to it, make it a home. It is during our thirties that we will likely start our families. It is the decade where we will claim we left our wild days behind, no matter how wild we still remain.

Our fifth decade is the decade we will look back on and want a mulligan. Not because we messed up, but because it was the decade we played young people’s games and held grown up jobs. We were in our prime and still full of energy, energy we likely needed to deal with our children. We make actual grown up decisions and start building our bucket lists.

Then comes our sixth decade. We come to the realization that like it or not, our wealth determines both our success and status all the while learning that it still can’t really buy happiness. We learn that money can buy us time and maybe offer more choices, but happiness comes from the people around us and our connection to family and friends. We start to spend a little too much time with the “what ifs” and the “if onlys”. We start counting our gray hairs and spending time trying to look once more like we did a decade earlier. If we are lucky, as we approach the end of this decade, we start to appreciate who we are and the person we have become. We may even accept who we are as the better version of who we were.

Decade number seven brings you the respect of age and the realization that your journey through the first six decades have left you tagged as “experienced”. Experience somehow equates to wisdom and wisdom redefines you as a commodity. Your children refer to other people your age as “old” but not you, and all it took to earn that dignity was paying for a college education or two or three and being there through every crisis they faced on their journey through the earlier decades. This is the decade you will likely experiment with retirement as a title. And, if all has worked out, you will travel and start checking off some of the more possible things on your very long bucket list.

And that brings me to tonight at midnight. It is upon that momentous tick of the minute hand that I will enter my next decade. I cannot tell you what it will hold or how it will define me but I enter it knowing certain truths. I am a better version of the me I have sometimes been. I have in fact learned from the mistakes I have made and have applied them to my decisions that followed. I feel good, even valued for the help I have given to those I have met along the way. I have raised, with the help of their mother, two beautiful successful daughters. I have been blessed to be part of the lives of two equally impressive, uniquely inquisitive, challengingly energetic grandchildren of whom I am so incredibly fond. Do I wish I could be forty something again, of course, but then all these things that I am so grateful for would not have happened yet and possibly wouldn’t. I will not trade what I have for a what if. I am possibly and finally content.

By the time you read this I will have crossed the milepost and will be beginning my 70th trip around the sun. Send me no gifts for all I ask is that you take the time to think about the decades YOU have crossed and vow to make the next one just a little better than the last. Promise to do one more good deed than the last time. Help one more person than before and look for the good in the people around you so they may see the good in you.

The Christmas Carol

Thanks to the pandemic cancelling the usual Christmas Season get togethers, my wife and I have had a lot of time to watch movies. I will admit that many of them have been Hallmark or Hallmark inspired films. If you follow my blog, you will undoubtely have seen my attempt at writing a Hallmark script. Still no word from Hallmark as to when they might consider making that one. We have also made sure to include the classics in our watch list. To that end, we have already checked off Holiday Inn, (appalled at the racial undertones), White Christmas, The Santa Claus, and last night’s movie, The Christmas Carol.

The Christmas Carol holds special meaning for me. This was the movie I would fall asleep to in my dad’s arms Christmas Eve. Later in life it became the movie during which my children would do the same thing with me. It was a important part of my family’s traditions and became a big part of my daughters’ traditions. Some day I hope to make it a tradition with my grandchildren. For this reason, The Christmas Carol is by far my favorite Christmas movie and in truth one of my all time favorite movies of any genre. There are many versions of this movie and rightfully so because it is such a classic. Through the years, it has been remade countless times, but fortunately the message has remained basically unchanged. Though I have several versions that I favor, due to a fear of having to debate their merit with my readers and thus missing the point of this blog, I will tell you I watched YOUR favorite version last night, whichever one that was.

What is it that makes this movie so classic? I suppose we could credit the author of the book it is derived from, Charles Dickens. That alone would make it classic. But it is the message that sets it apart and makes Christmas time its perfect setting. The movie tells the tale of how the lure of riches had led a person to a complete lack of empathy for his fellow man, leaving him empty and angry. As the Spirits of Christmas past, present, and future revealed the flaws of Ebenezer Scrooge’s choices, it reminds us of the importance of the decisions we make. As Scrooge faces the darkest possible endings to his life’s legacy, he utters these words: “Are these the shadows of things that WILL BE or are they the shadows of what MAY BE?” He clings to a potential redemption hidden between the lines of the answer; if things remain unchanged then these shadows will remain unaltered. There was that hope that if he could change, then perhaps the past could be erased and those shadows coud be altered.

This movie offers a message of hope for us all. It is its redemptive nature that inspires us to become the best version of ourselves. Whether we are satisfied with the life we have fashioned or whether we wish for more, we can always improve as long as we alter those behaviors of the past. No matter my mood going into the viewing of this movie, I always emerge from it renewed and filled with hope that not only can I change, but so can the people around me and the conditions we all live in. There has never been a year where we need this message more than this one. The year 2020 has been determined to leave us divided, distressed and anxious. We face the economic stress and the general fear generated by the pandemic. We face a culture of continued racism, some blatant, some covert, that leaves us divided and less than the great country we should be. We generally question our ability to accomplish a collective effort to make things better, all too often failing to take even the first steps we could and need to as individuals.

The Christmas Carol reminds me that I can change; that we can change. We can be better for the collective whole, but first we must be part of the change. We must vow to not waste any message of hope. We must act on that hope, individually to start and then collectively to continue. 2020 does not have to be the shadow of things to come but rather a reason to make the changes that will make 2021 the year we heal. Christmas is a season of hope and renewal, a reminder that the past is the past and that the future has not yet been written.

So go get your favorite beverage, maybe pop some popcorn, and then put on a DVD of the movie or find it on streaming, but view The Christmas Carol through my eyes and pledge to be the Spirit of Christmas Future.

Still so much to be thankful for

There will be no Thanksgiving family gathering this year. No real Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. No little feet running around our house emptying the toy box all over the great room. No toasts at the dining room table. And yes, no dropping of the apple crisp on the driveway. That would be a little inside family story for another time. The dinner will be replaced with a zoom family gathering, air hugs and a hope that things will change soon. Soon being a relative word.

In this year of the pandemic things have had to change. Traditions had to be put off for now and our routines have been anything but routine. In that setting, how can there be anything to be thankful for? That’s the challenge. In a year where nothing has been normal, where masks became a necessity and not just part of a Halloween costume, where travel plans have become “should we staycation in the kitchen or the living room?”, where a sneeze comes close to clearing the room, how can we find something for which to express our thankfulness?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite sometime; ever since my wife and I returned from an island trip in March. We returned to the states on March 13th, just as the pandemic, that thing in China, became our pandemic. I remember thinking this would be a short inconvenience and that all our summer plans would be just fine. That was then. Now we wonder if next summer’s plans will be altered. I for one don’t believe they will. Call it optimism, but that’s one of the things I am thankful for, but I will save that thought for now.

I do have things to be thankful for, our family is still intact. There were a few scares this year and my daughter and her fiancée did have to cancel their wedding, for now, but we have made the best of our family quarantine bubble and still managed some visits, limited, but still we got some time together. I am thankful that I have two beautiful, successful daughters who have chosen great men to be their partners. Two incredible grandchildren who never cease to amaze and amuse me. A wonderful wife who has been by my side for forty plus years and who has been my quarantine release and Amazon Prime binge watching date these past eight months. I am thankful for finally having the time to finish projects that have sat, sometimes for years, waiting to be tackled. They smile back at us every time we use or relax upon them.

I am thankful that we have rediscovered close to home destinations as airplane flights gave way to road trips, as exotic trips gave way to local parks, and, as hotel stays gave way to cottage days. I am thankful for so many things that I had started to take for granted. In our isolation, our world got smaller and we realized that there were so many amazing sites and scenes literally in our back yards. And I am thankful for my neighbors. With all the walks necessity made us take, I rediscovered my own neighborhood and the friendly people who lived inside those houses, the reason we chose this neighborhood in the first place.

I am thankful that the election is finally over. The painful political fighting, the divisiveness that any election creates, and all those irritating political ads we were subjected to, done, over and gone. Hopefully we can move on and find common ground and better causes to expend our efforts and resources on. And then there’s the vaccine, in fact the vaccines plural. This is not just a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s an honest hope for an exit from this isolation, soon. But most of all, I am thankful for the optimism. Though we sometime feel we can’t go on much longer, we always find some hope (the vaccine), some new way to do something (virtual learning, meetings and gatherings), some collective ways to pull together for a solution (healthcare workers and teachers). We are an innovative bunch. Setbacks are just forks in the road. We assess our problems, make our choice, and move on. We don’t live in the past but instead learn from the mistakes and vow to correct those that we can and set a new course to avoid the ones we can’t. I am thankful for that kind of optimism and the opportunities that it creates.

Thanksgiving won’t be the same this year, but it’s not gone and certainly not dead. We will find new ways to celebrate, to gather safely, to protect each other. We will find the things to be thankful for as long as we are willing to look for them, to recognize them, and to use them to give us the ultimate thing to be thankful for; HOPE.

Air hug your family, visit, if even just virtually, count your blessings and make a list of the things you are thankful for. You just might surprise yourself with the length of the list.

Happy Thanksgiving in the Year of the Pandemic. Look at it this way, we have at least made history.

I Need a Drink

When this is all over, this Coronavirus thing, I need a drink. Not that I can’t have one in my home and not that I haven’t. Just last night, with the temperature dropping toward the upper 30’s, my wife and I set up lawn chairs, six feet apart, invited our neighbors, no more than four, to set up their chairs, six feet away, and we shivered through a COVID 19 style cocktail party. For now this appears to be the norm for social gatherings. Save for the strange process of passing ten feet to the right and waving to anyone you meet on your walk, all other interaction has been relegated to the internet. I have zoomed and duo-ed to the point of being a disinterested third party and have listened to every classic song sung to new lyrics on Facebook. I have avoided the news like a, well…. plague, and finished my house projects well ahead of their time. I am a little worried I’ll end up creating a to do list for my neighbor’s house.

So back to my opening tirade. When this is over, I am going to spend every chance I get going out to eat in crowded, noisy restaurants. Going to drinking establishments, be they bars, saloons or even corner taverns where I can watch sports on their wall to wall TVs all the while talking to total strangers about everything and anything while sitting mere inches away from my newest friends. Isolation can be a good thing for introverts and for flattening the curve, but for me an extra extrovert, it is becoming a death sentence. Death by isolation. I saw a Facebook rendition of Adele’s “Hello” sung to COVID 19 lyrics and I totally identified. The only difference being that the singer had abandoned even the act of wearing pants while I still have mine on, at least at this point. Check in on me in another two weeks of this, and I might have followed suit or the lack of. Apologies for that visual.

There is a point here, isn’t there always? The economy is going to need an incredible boost when this is over. I for one am going to cease on-line shopping for at least a little while. I will avoid take-out where possible and I will do anything in my power to single handedly drag the economy back from the edge. I will never again complain about a crowded restaurant or a noisy bar. I will drink in the ambiance of foo foo boutiques and volunteer to go to grocery stores and even go shopping with my wife.

These are desperate times. In short, I need the old normal…..I need a drink…..preferable with friends…..lots of friends…..maybe friends with hugs.

Wind in the Trees

For those of you who were never aware, I grew up on a small dairy farm just outside of Appleton Wisconsin. Yes, as my high school classmates so often reminded me, I was a “hay seed.” All though an often painful handle to accept, I later became comfortable with the moniker, but not until later in life when I looked back at the memories it evoked and the undeniable aspect of my character that it became.

Being a particularly beautiful day today, I was out on the deck of our home when the wind picked up and began rustling through the leaves of the trees that line our backyard. It was the sound of that wind through the trees and the cooling effect of it on my face and arms that brought back the memory. It poured over me and gently floated me back to a time when I was about ten or eleven years old. In this memory, I am back there with my brother, sitting under the grain trailer in the middle of one of our fields, a stem of timothy grass danging from the corner of my mouth and that reminiscent wind rustling through the trees, cooling us on a hot July afternoon. We are waiting for the combine my dad is operating to fill with the oats I and my brother will haul back to the grain building on our farm.

Though this was hard work for us when other boys our age were off playing sand lot baseball or down swimming in the river on a hot and lazy summer afternoon, it was none the less a very pleasant memory. It took me back to a time when things seemed so simple and so peaceful. When I still had an entire lifetime ahead of me. It was time spent with my brother and my dad. It was a time, even if I was a hay seed, that I was glad to be a farm kid and being told by my dad that he was proud of me.

Memories are like that. It can be the simplest thing that evokes them. The words of a song or a glance at an old picture may be all that’s required to take us back to a particular time or place. For me, it was the rustling of the wind through the trees on a warm spring morning. The key is to choose to hold onto those memories that evoke a sense of peace and calm. Of happy times with friends or family, or even just the beauty of someplace we once visited. Though it is often difficult to forget the harsher memories, we don’t need to go back there and we certainly should avoid reliving them. Choose instead those memories that take you back to a place of contentment. A time of wonder and opportunity.

We are more in control of our attitudes than we believe. Evoking positive, peaceful memories is an easy thing to do. Memories can calm us and even inspire us. And here’s a thought. We have the ability to both recall and create our memories. The next time you travel, the next time an activity feels special, the next time an event is especially emotional, sense the world around you in the moment. Take in the smell and sounds that surround you. Observe the people sharing the moment with you. Create the details of a memory worth recalling.

Listen to the wind. It might be calling you back.

Sign Said, Last Gas for at Least 200 miles.

It was to be a simple trip. My daughter Bailey and I would be attending her cousin’s wedding in Bishop, California. After a late flight into Las Vegas and a night on the infamous Strip, we picked up our Pontiac G6 that next morning at the car rental agency. From there it was a four hour drive across the desert to our destination in the mountains of California. Except for a modification to my brother’s speed in the lead car, he thought the speed limit was 95 when in fact that was the interstate’s numeric designation, the trip was uneventful. We stopped for lunch in Beatty, Nevada half way across the desert and arrived in Bishop by mid afternoon.

The next two days passed quickly and on Sunday, after the wedding festivities had wound down, Bailey and I left for Las Vegas. A few facts pertinent to the story. It was late Sunday afternoon, I had not driven the rental since we had arrived on Friday and we no longer had the accompaniment of my brother as he was staying a few days longer. These facts will play heavily in the events that were to follow.

Bailey and I are known to have a habit of visiting sites that are near our route when traveling. This Sunday afternoon would afford us an opportunity to pass near “The Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Groove”. Some of these trees were over 3000 years old.

We had crested the first of our three mountain passes when we came upon the road to the grove. Not being able to resist, we took the turn off and headed toward the site. Poor planning step one, the road into the grove was over 10 miles one way. We arrived at what we thought was the grove only to realize it was a vista just below and the actual grove was still another mile or so up the grade. As we started our climb, I noticed, somehow for the first time, the fuel gauge on our G6. The gauge was already nearing the “E”. Poor planning step two, not having driven the vehicle all weekend, we had not considered our fuel supply. We were now faced with a critical decision. Drive back to Bishop, some 50 miles behind us or count on a gas station somewhere ahead. At the time the decision seemed obvious and, poor planning step three, we chose to drive on. Had we been paying attention on the drive out from Vegas, we would have been painfully aware that the only gas station had been in Beatty complete with a sign that said, next gas at least 200 miles. This was the same Beatty that was still some 100 miles ahead. Did I tell you the gauge was nearly on “E”? By the time we reached the highway we had left to drive into the grove, the low fuel light was now on and the gauge was glaring back at us on “E”.

Time to update you on our conditions, beside the fact that we were counting on something that didn’t exist, we still had two more mountain passes to clear. Add to that, mountains don’t tend to offer great cell service and mountain passes even less. Needless to say, we had no cell service, a car reading empty, and 100 miles to go.

At this point, the science of physics becomes important. Cars run on fuel, altitude climbs are hard on mileage efficiency and wind resistance only makes matters worse. Here, in no particular order, were our scientific conclusions, coasting was better than driving, braking causes resistance, using the AC reduces mileage and rolled up windows create less wind resistance. Did I remind you the temperature was in the upper 80’s. The last two decisions, no AC and rolled up windows, were tough ones, but we were determined to make it to Beatty even as the vehicle was warning us otherwise. As to the coasting and no braking conclusions, you would be shocked by the speed a 3000 lb vehicle can reach coasting down a winding mountain pass. You would be further amazed at how long we could let this go each time before lightly using the brakes to bleed off some of our speed. One of our conditions was now working in our favor for the moment. It was late Sunday afternoon and we had the road to ourselves. But this also meant that when the car would be finally completely empty, WE WERE ALONE.

We somehow made it up the last pass and were now coasting down the last grade where we could see Interstate 95 off in the distance.
This highway would lead us into Beatty or at least put us in proximity of fellow travelers. But what seemed to be in reach was just another mirage. Distances in the mountains and now down on the desert floor can be deceptive. What seemed to be right there was actually close to 20 miles ahead. Down on the desert floor, no more coasting available and more heat than we could take, we were willing the car to reach for the interstate. If we could get there, then maybe we could at least be saved. As we neared the entrance to the interstate, the road took a jog back to the north before winding onto the interstate. Off to our right was a long abandoned bordello and a parking area that ran along the edge of the interstate. The needle on the fuel gauge had long ago passed “E” and the decision became easy. We left the road, shot through the abandoned parking lot and up the side of Interstate 95, easily cutting off another half mile. Desperation was now becoming our co-pilot.

We were now on the interstate and had at least the occasional car or two to give us comfort. We also had picked up cell service again and the first call went out to Triple A. A pleasant voice took our call but informed us that if we were still running there really wasn’t anything they could do. We would need to call back when we are actually out of gas and stranded. My daughter asked where the agent was located and when she replied New Jersey, Bailey told her that we weren’t. Once she explained where we actually were and that we had just passed a sign that told us Beatty was another 60 miles ahead, she responded with a phrase closely resembling the phrase Steve Martin gets from Bunny at the rental desk in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And so we motor on. We are now down to considering drafting the next semi we can find.

About this time my wife calls from our safe and cozy home back in Wisconsin. She is checking in on how we are doing. Being the considerate and wise daughter I raised her to be, Bailey tells her we are just great and that we will be in Beatty soon, under her breath, “one way or the other.” Any whiff of what was really going on and we would have been subject to an embarrassing lecture and then an Air Force rescue in the Nevada desert. And so we motor on.

The Pontiac G6 has decided it too refuses to give up or the fuel gauge has been set extremely conservative to thwart the effort of optimistic drivers like us, pushing the limits. Either way, the road mileage markers become more and more promising and then suddenly, from a slight crest in the highway, we view Beatty up ahead. Still five or six miles distant we begin to believe we will make it. Fear has now been replaced with determination to complete this epic record. At about a half mile out we spy the gas station up ahead on the right. We can take the jog to the left, turn at the light and head back down to the gas station. Or, we can cut through the motel parking lot, across an alley, through the grocery store parking lot and roll up to the pumps. Of course, we chose the later. As we pulled alongside the pumps, and as God is my witness, the car stuttered once and shut down. Bailey and I jump from the car and with fists held high, yelling at the top of our lungs, did our gas dance around the now quiet vehicle. One gentleman looked at us and said “that drive across the desert can be a killer.” We just replied “Oh Yeah! Don’t we know it!”

Beatty NV motel

It was a year latter, and we were on a family vacation in Hawaii. The car rental agent said we would be getting a Pontiac G6, but he wanted to upgrade us at no cost to a little larger car. Bailey and I looked at him and in unison said “we’ll take the Pontiac.”

Was it automotive ingenuity or just dumb luck? Or maybe, was it a car with a soul that said no one gets stranded in the desert on my watch. Either way, an epic story and a happy ending.

The Gripes of Wrath

I was involved in a discussion recently that reminded me of a story. Two stories in fact. The discussion was about the two different approaches people will take when seeking assistance. But let me tell the stories first.

The first story involved my daughter and I. We were traveling out to California for a family wedding. To get where we needed to be, we had to fly into Las Vegas and then travel by rental car across the desert to my sister’s home located between two mountain ranges in California. That by the way is a story to be told another time. I had reserved a room on-line in a Vegas hotel and found my daughter and I in the lobby of the hotel just before midnight. We stepped in line behind two women who were traveling together, and like me had not only reserved their room, but had prepaid for it. They were now in a heated argument with the only hotel agent available at this time of night. Their discussion, more than lightly laced with expletives, centered around their demand for a room other than the one they had already paid for. With a little eavesdropping, the conversation was loud enough that it was almost impossible not to eavesdrop, I picked up that though they had prepaid for the room assigned to that offer, they wanted a room that was larger and offered a view of the Vegas Strip. To make matters worse, they were demanding that they would get this upgrade for the same price. The agent was attempting to explain to them that there was nothing she could do as the offer they had paid for was through a third party. The bottom line was that they didn’t care, were unwilling to listen and had now decided to blame all of their problems on this poor agent. After what seemed like an unbearable amount of time and with the line behind us growing exponentially, a second and third agent were called in to pick up those of us waiting patiently, well reasonably patient. As I stepped up to the new agent, I leaned across the desk and said how bad I felt for the poor agent still being harangued by the two women. “No one deserves that kind of treatment.” She gave me a wink and then said just loud enough that the arguing women would hear, “I notice that you are staying with us for one night and reserved a room through our front desk. It appears I will be able to upgrade you at no cost to one of our nicer suites.” With that we were quickly registered and given the room key to a very nice three room suite on one of the upper floors with a view of the Strip brightly lit up below. My only chagrin was that I was sharing this lovely suite with my daughter as opposed to my wife who was forced to stay behind to cover her teaching duties. We had a good laugh about how most of the amenities would be wasted on us but were none the less impressed with our treatment.

Marriott Pool

Before I drive home my point, there is a second story. Last winter, my wife and I had decided to take off for a quick jaunt down to Florida for a brief four day get away. I had again reserved a room, along with our airline tickets, at the Marriott World Resort. Upon arrival, we checked in at the front desk to get our key. The young man waiting on us pointed out that the room was actually booked through a third party and that we were subject to the rooms set aside for that company. He pointed out that they would all be on the lower floors and could only offer a stunning view of the back of the resort and the parking garage. Believe me, at this point my earlier Vegas experience clawed its way back from the recesses of my memory and into my frontal lobe. I had a choice. I replied that I now understood my predicament and that it would be alright. I would chalk it up to lesson learned. What happened next surprised us both. The agent asked what had brought us down to Florida? We explained that we had both just retired, had gotten restless and with winter crushing us, just needed a change of scenery. His response was that he was going to check on any available room and then get cleared to upgrade us. The result after a brief five minute wait, a spacious room on an upper floor complete with a balcony and a view of the pools and surrounding gardens. No additional charges were levied and he then asked if we would prefer a bottle of red or white wine as a show of appreciation for choosing their hotel chain.

Now by this point you are thinking I am either an awesome negotiator or the world’s luckiest traveler. The truth of the matter is that I am neither. What I learned from my Vegas experience and that I have always known to be true is that you get a lot better service when you earn it as opposed to when you demand it. All too often I have witnessed the irate customer taking out their frustration on the one person least likely to have the authority or ability to do anything about it. I have been in a service career of one type or another all of my life and I know how much more likely it was that I would go the extra mile for someone who had earned it. When I find myself on the receiving end of service, I try to make sure I am at least attempting to earn good service. If the two women in Vegas had only considered their position, they too might have received an upgrade instead of even steeper resistance by the agent dutifully following the rules. They chose the gripes of wrath instead of a spoonful of sugar and for all I know are still arguing with the agent to this day. Okay, that might have been an exaggeration. If my wife and I had chosen to demand a better room of the Marriott, I am positive we would have spent our four days admiring our view of the parking garage while sipping our complimentary can of soda. Don’t get me wrong. I am not guaranteeing you an upgrade or a ticket to the promise land just for not complaining. There’s always the Gripes of Wrath if you enjoy going down that rabbit hole, but just consider how much better you and everyone else will feel with a little civility. Choose wisely the next time you have the chance. Parking garage or balcony overlooking the pool might just be the result.

Snow Storm Heroes

It snowed last night. Not a small, push it off the driveway type but a real snow storm. As you know if you follow me, I had a knee replacement four weeks ago. Things are progressing but not to the point where I was going to be the answer to how does the driveway get cleared?

It was about 6:30 am when I heard it. That distinctive sound a snowblower makes in the still softly falling snow. Conner, our neighbor from down the block, was just completing a run down the sidewalks of our street and about to turn around on his way back for the second sweep. Shortly after, another snowblower could be heard. This time it was my 80 something year old neighbor across the street. Without his yet done, he was busy clearing mine.

Have I done anything to deserve this? In my mind, I would say no. Sure I have been a good neighbor and I have answered the occasional question related to my career expertise and yes I lend a hand when needed. But did I deserve this red carpet service?

I think it is a combination of things that moved these two neighbors to help out. One I would call the snow storm phenomenon. There is something magical about a storm that just brings people together in a common cause. Nature reminds us that in that moment we are subject to the power of the storm and it brings us together in a spirit of camaraderie to take back control. We form up outside our abodes and conquer the task of cleaning up. Borders are dropped and all needs become our common needs.

The second thing, that impulse that made my neighbor cross the street to clear my driveway before his, was empathy. He knew I had had this surgery and had vowed to my wife and I that he would be there for me if I needed anything. This is a drive that exists in each of us. Though we don’t always get the chance to follow it, it is so important that when the opportunity arises, we let that drive help us rise to the occasion. Don was there for us when we needed him the most. No hesitation, no mine first attitude, he just came across the street and rescued us.

Sometimes it just takes a little adversity mixed in with a snow storm to help us see those around us as the friends and heroes they are. We had two such people visit us this morning and I will vow to pay it forward. That is once I get rid of these crutches.

As a footnote, I will admit that I missed being out there in the storm showing off my snow blower and being part of the neighborhood snow warriors. But it was a pretty warm and cozy view watching it unfold from my bay window.