Going Out Your Own Way

There’s a reason — aside from getting helpful birthday reminders — to endure the political stuff and the paid ads and still participate on Facebook:  sometimes you’ll see a story that you missed the first time around.

I saw this article about Norma Jean Bauerschmidt on my Facebook news feed today, thanks to a posting by Dr. Golden Bear.  It’s old news, dating from last year, but the underlying message is timeless and bears repeating.

hotairballoonFor those who missed the story, Miss Norma was 90 years old when she received the news that she had uterine cancer.  Her only treatment option, which wasn’t likely to produce much in the way of positive long-term results, was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  Miss Norma decided to chuck the treatment and live her remaining days traveling the United States.  She ended up on the road with her son, daughter-in-law, and their dog Ringo for about a year, visiting multiple states and national parks, taking her first hot air balloon ride (where the photo accompanying this post was taken), and trying her first taste of oysters, before the disease forced her into hospice and eventually led to her death.  Thousands of people followed her exploits on a Facebook page called “Driving Miss Norma.”  She died on September 30, 2016, and you can see her obituary here.

It’s a great story, and it made me wish that I had the opportunity to meet Norma Jean Bauerschmidt.  When people are faced with such end-of-life decisions, there is no right or wrong answer — you just have to be true to yourself.  Miss Norma chose the path that was right for her, and thousands of people were made a little bit better thanks to her decision.

One part of the story linked above particularly touched me.  During her year of travels, Miss Norma was often asked which spot was her favorite.  She always responded:  “Right here!”  It’s a good reminder about the importance of living in the present.

Random Hotel Decor

This week I stayed at one of those pop-up hotels you see in many suburban communities.  This one was in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, one of the suburbs of Philadelphia.  From my experience, the hotels cater to an itinerant population of lawyers, salesmen, accountants, and other business people during the week, and soccer moms and traveling team parents over the weekend.  They’ve become the vagabond way stations of modern America.

The lobby of this hotel includes a seating area with a wall that includes shelves with the “decorations” shown above.  Is there a rhyme or reason to the choice of objects, their color, their form, or their positioning?  If so, I couldn’t discern it.  It looks like a combination of the kind of random “accent pieces” you see at furniture showrooms, mixed together on shelves.

The implicit message was clear:  you’re in the generic zone, weary traveler!  This isn’t home, so don’t get too comfortable.  Pass by quickly, without a second glance, and move along.  

So I did.

Pet Stop

It’s become increasingly common to see people traveling with pets these days.  Whether it is service dogs or dogs taken along for comfort or company, canines are a much more frequent sight on airport concourses than they used to be.

All of which leads to the question of what the pooches do when they feel the call of nature.  The Philadelphia airport answers the call with a small astroturfed area complete with retrieval bags and a bright red fire hydrant.  

Chatterboxes

As we boarded our flight from Houston to Columbus last night, I noticed that an older guy in the row across from us was switching seats so a young woman could sit next to another young woman.  “What a nice gesture by that guy,” I thought.

By the end of the flight, I was cursing him.

These two high school students talked non-stop during the entire plane flight, in that kind of high-pitched, high-speed Valley Girl patois that you just can’t ignore no matter how hard you try.  And believe me, I tried. They apparently were returning from some kind of field trip, and they were raring for a complete download.  It was an extraordinary exhibition of yakking.  I can’t imagine flapping my gums for a solid two-and-a-half hours, even if I had something important to say.  These two girls clearly weren’t concerned about that; no incident was too small, no event too mundane, no observation too trivial to escape their prattle.

How do you feel about holding hands?  I’d rather put my arm through the guy’s arm, wouldn’t you?  I don’t like it when they try to put their fingers through your fingers.

I really prefer rum-and-cokes.  I bet I had five of them.

I’m one of those teacher’s pet students who never gets into trouble even when I do something wrong.  One time I literally punched a guy and nobody did anything about it.  And I was like, whatev!  I’m a good student and I guess I get to do what I want!

Omigod!  My knee got so sore.  And when I looked down at it, there was a red mark on it!

The little snippets from the torrent came flooding over to our side of the plane, and by the end of the trip you could tell that everyone within a three-row radius was gritting their teeth, hoping that the flight would land before their brains turned to mush and restraining themselves from bursting out:  “For the love of God, could you please stop talking!”

But there were no outbursts, because people heading back to their homes in the Midwest are polite to a fault.  But when the plane landed, you could feel an inner cheer from our fellow travelers, and as we walked through the quiet terminal, on one of the last flights of the night, we all shared a single thought:  silence never sounded so good.

Cart Culture

Ambergris Caye, where we’ve spent the last week, is an island.  It is home to a few  large trucks, a handful of minivans that serve as taxicabs, and lots of bikes and motor scooters — but by far the primary mode of transportation is golf carts.  They’re everywhere, and in San Pedro, the big town on the Caye, the carts are lined up and carefully locked with all kinds of mechanisms — chains, padlocks, and variations of The Club — as people go about their daily business.

One thing about golf carts:  although they seem puttery and slow and therefore safe, they remain motor vehicles, as capable of a fender bender as any car.  And, with no seat belts or other forms of passenger restraints, they can be dangerous in a collision.  We saw a rear-ender where a little girl in the trailing cart went flying into the windshield and came up stunned and crying.

For the most part, Kish and I stuck to bikes and our feet.

Sunrise, Sunset

When you go on a beach vacation, oohing and aahing about the sunrises and sunsets is an ironclad requirement.  There’s something about the combination of sun, clouds, water and a distant horizon that just grabs you — especially if you’re a landlocked Midwesterner.

Here at our resort in Belize, the sunrise part is easy.  Our cottage faces east, and when Old Sol peeks over the horizon you notice it immediately.  Step outside the front door, walk out onto the beach, and voila! 

The sunset requires a bit more work.  Just to the west of our resort is a kind of inlet, with small islands and plants dotting the surface.  You have to walk off the resort property, cross a dusty road, and stand and wait.  In some ways, it’s more visually interesting than the ocean.  Quieter, too — without the crashing surfing you can hear the birdsong and the lapping of the rippled water.  It’s a striking setting.

We’ve really enjoyed our trip to Belize, which ends today.

Sand Dollars

The basic Belizean unit of currency is called a “dollar,” but the $20 bill has a nice picture of a younger Queen Elizabeth on it, rather than Andy Jackson.  And if that’s not jarring enough, the dollar coin is a weighty hexagon — also with the Queen’s visage.  It would be a cool ball marker on the golf course, but it doesn’t seem like real money, does it?

After a while, you really don’t care.  It’s beach money.  Call it sand dollars.  You’re not taking it back to the states with you, and then trying to exchange it at some midwestern bank branch with a befuddled clerk trying to figure out the “exchange rate.”  If you brought it back, it would just end up in that box with the weird change in it, right?  So spend it while you can.  On your last day of Vay-Kay, head down the beach to that nice bar where the beer was especially cold, and give the barkeep and the cook an especially generous tip.  They deserve it!

The goal, ultimately, is to spend every paper and metal scrap of vacation currency before the departure plane leaves the runway.