Saturday, April 30, 2011

On the road again

[Note that the following was actually written on Thursday, Apr. 28; just didn't manage to get it online before now.]

Well me and my little 15-year-old Toyota which, according to the first mechanic I took it to for its annual inspection, needed $700 worth of work done before it would pass inspection (happily, a second opinion garnered me a 'pass,' and all I had to pay was the $12 fee...but, you know, the car probably does need work)...the two of us just returned from another whirlwind trip to upstate New York. Seven and a quarter hours there, on Monday, six and a quarter hours returning, on Wednesday. Wasn't kidding about the whirlwind.

It took me longer going because I decided to vary my route from the usual down-to-Massachusetts-across the state-via-the-Mass Turnpike-around-Albany-then-straight-out-Route-88-to-Oneonta. I needed this trip partly because I needed a break from my routine, and going the same way I always go didn't seem like enough of a break-with-routine. So I went the scenic route, across New Hampshire and Vermont, then around Albany from the north, rather than the south, and out Route 88.

I knew it would take longer, and suspected I would have to exercise a lot of patience, because of all the winding roads that make passing poky drivers impossible, but I didn't count on how tired I would soon feel, and how interminable the stretch from the Vermont border down to Albany would seem. What really made it kind of a waste was that New Hampshire and Vermont on Monday were as much in very early spring mode as Maine -- no leaves on the trees, no flowering trees or shrubs, not much in the way of green grass. And it was overcast, cool, sporadically raining all day. So I wasn't experiencing New England at its best, in the middle of summer lushness, or autumn splendor, or as a glittering winter wonderland. Just a countryside trying to shake off winter, and not quite there yet.

I announced to my little hand-held tape recorder that I always take with me when I travel that New Hampshire and Vermont were not places you should drive through, to get from A to B, but rather places you should visit, when you have plenty of time, can stop whenever you see something that attracts your eye, like some of the antique stores that are practically cheek by jowl along Route 4 in NH, but are much in evidence everywhere

When I finally reached Oneonta I drove past a depressed-looking Budget Inn and Super 8 Motel, and checked into the more presentable Holiday Inn. My room cost me about $60 more than I'd hoped to spend, but whaterya gonna do. The room was fine, very clean, the bed very comfortable, but I noticed after I'd gotten settled in that the little refrigerator, when running, made a very loud hum. I knew I should call the front desk about it, but I suspected their solution would be to have me move to another room, which I really didn't want to have to do. I was tired and hungry, needed to get some dinner so I could get to bed, so I decided I could live with the hum. However, after I'd had that dinner -- about which more in a moment -- had sat propped up in bed to watch my latest police drama enthusiasm (The Chicago Code) and then settled down under the covers to go to sleep, I discovered I couldn't live with the hum, or at least couldn't get to sleep with it. Which meant I would have to unplug it, but it had several perishable snack items in it, necessary for this girl who has to eat every time she turns around.

So, heaving a large sigh, I got up, got the plastic ice bucket, walked down the hall (in my nightgown which I hoped anyone seeing me would think was a lounging outfit) to the vending and ice machine alcove, filled the bucket with ice which I then transferred to my little travel cooler, transferred the food to the cooler, made another trip to the ice machine so I could put my Dr. Pepper and bottled water in it to keep them cold, and finally settled in to sleep. And then a rip-roaring thunder storm arrived...

The dinner in the hotel's "cafe" -- where I went because the young people who had checked me in at the front desk said it was "awesome" -- was unfortunate. I ordered the trout, as I like to have fish when I dine out, because I have it so rarely at home. But when it came (finally), and I started in on it, it was warm only, not hot, and after a few bites I decided it wasn't fully cooked. But once again I hesitated to send it back, because I didn't want the bother, or the delay. But when the waitress -- who had been unavailable anyway, since she'd delivered my dinner to me, as she'd been out at the maitre d's desk, chatting with some fellow -- finally put in another appearance, when she ushered a woman and her daughter to a table (and note that we were the only ones in the place), I did bring the situation to her attention. She insisted on taking it back, assuring me that it wouldn't take long for the chef to produce another one. And sure enough, after a shorter wait than the one that had resulted in my undercooked fish, I got a perfectly cooked fish.

But here's the corker. Even cooked sufficiently it wasn't all that good. The seasoning combination was not a success. I would have to say that garlic does not work well with trout. And the crowning glory to the evening was that I felt compelled to eat as much of the second fish as I could, since I'd asked for it; but since I'd already consumed probably a third of the first fish, as well as a cup of (really quite delicious) corn chowder, and two (really quite delicious) small, warm rolls, I was uncomfortably stuffed when I got up from the table. Ah, well.

I'll tell you about some of the positives of the trip tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I do believe I'll win, I do believe I'll win, I do I do I do believe I'll win

When I was at the convenience store earlier I impulsively bought two lottery tickets, one for the Powerball game, and the other a Megabucks ticket. This is something I do very, very rarely, mainly because I know it to be a waste of my money, but also because I feel awkward doing it, as a result of almost never doing it! I don't know the proper terminology, or even (until recently) the proper procedure. And you know me and hating to appear foolish.

But there was no one else in the store at the moment but me and "Rusty," the (female) cashier, and I wasn't worried about appearing foolish to her. I was just going to buy one ticket, but when she asked "Do you want the Powerball or Megabucks (which is the first time I knew the two were not the same), I thought, what the heck, in for a penny, in for a pound.

So do I really expect to win? Well, no. I do know that the odds of my winning are absurdly small (more likely to get struck by lightning, isn't that how it goes?); besides which I am too much the eternal pessimist. But I'd like to be some-one who expected to win. Isn't that what all those self-help gurus say, "You've got to envision what you want to happen, and it will," and “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” (that one is a direct quote from PBS's irritating Dr Wayne Dyer). Well, I have lots of times envisioned myself winning the lottery -- know exactly what I'd do with all that money, in what order -- but obviously I must take the additional step and occasionally play, in order to win.

What it all comes down to, I think, is faith. I simply am not a person of faith. And to get through this life with anything approaching equanimity, it seems to me that one really does need to have faith in something. If not in a loving, merciful god who will take care of you, than in yourself, or in the various forces at work in the universe ("It'll all work out in the end," "Things have a way of working out," etc.) That's what those people who play the lottery for literally years, and finally win, have. Faith that eventually God will answer their prayers, or that that mysterious thing called Luck will finally look their way.

It's the same kind of faith that people have who keep sending out manuscripts they've written, even though they get rejected time after time. They believe that eventually someone will like what they've written, and help them to publish it. I have never had that faith, and so have tended to give up after a few tries -- then maybe I'll try again a few times, after a few years have passed -- then give up again in discouragement. Never get published that way, never win the lottery.

I'm inclined to think that the ability to have faith -- which produces hope -- is the most important characteristic one can have in life. Even more than compassion, which I think is extremely important, even more than energy, which is necessary to get anything accomplished, one must have faith, or one is likely to be saddled with a negative outlook on life.

But it has to be real; you can't fake faith. Aye, there's the rub.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Desperate times call for desperate measures

Is anybody else wondering why the Japanese don't just bury the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant? A physicist from City University of New York, Michio Kaku, was recommending that on CNN (which I don't get, but I saw it on YouTube). I have been watching NHK, the Japanese news station, for the past couple of weeks, and they keep reporting that the radiation in the sea water beside the plant is "280,000 times the legal limits set by the government" -- on Saturday, April 3rd, it was 7.5 million times the legal limit! -- but the government keeps insisting there is no "direct danger to human health." What about all those fishermen who make their living from the sea? The Japanese eat huge quantities of fish, and other seafood. And now South Korea is getting concerned about the higher levels of radiation reaching their waters.

Then there are the higher levels of radiation found in the soil in the area of Fukushima, and various foodstuffs (spinach, milk). Things just don't seem to be getting any better -- every time you turn around there's a new crisis, a new complication -- and this has been going on for a month! Kaku was saying in his interview that it was time for the "Chernobyl Option" -- burying the plant in a mound of concrete, sand and boron. When the interviewer asked why the Japanese government wasn't ordering that this be done, Kaku said the government was "out of touch with reality." It's beginning to look like that is indeed the case. I feel so bad for the Japanese people. It isn't enough to be devastated by a giant earthquake and tsunami -- to lose everything you own, and quite possibly a number of loved ones -- but then to have the very air you breath, the soil under your feet, the water all around you, made unsafe for who knows how long, while 50 exhausted power plant workers are giving up their lives for what is obviously a lost cause (it is extremely unlikely the plant can be salvaged to generate power again)...well, I'd say it was time for all those brave, stoic people to stop being so stoic, and get a little angry. Bury the damn power plant.