The Great Atlanta Shutdown

Since I don’t have any photos ready to post and it’s currently 1:27AM, I am resorting to sharing a few iPhone images I took from inside my rental car on my way to the Atlanta airport a week and a half ago.

I made a colossal error in judgment.  I knew that Atlanta had gotten into gridlock a week ago last Tuesday.  What didn’t occur to me was that they might still be in gridlock the next day.  When my flight from Chattanooga to Atlanta (on the way to Orlando) cancelled, I thought it was perfectly reasonable to rent a car to drive the 100 miles to the Atlanta airport and catch my flight to Orlando.  I wasn’t going into downtown Atlanta, just around the outer belt.  How bad could it be?

All went smoothly for the first 55 miles–it took about an hour to get just over half way to the airport.  Then, everything came to a full stop.  I spent the next 5 ½ hours trying to get to the next exit, which was about 3 miles away from where I first stopped.

At first, I thought patience was best.  I turned off the car to save fuel.  I sat in the midst of what had become a semi parking lot.  We all sat.  Then we sat some more.  A man on a bicycle appeared–he rode between the rows of parked cars for no apparent reason other than, perhaps, to be able to tell the tale of how he rode on the freeway.

Then the ATVers started buzzing by on the side of the road.  They were having the time of their lives.  The rest of us were sitting.

As calm and patient as I was feeling, the growing realization that I was going to need to heed the call of nature sometime within the next hour created a new sense of urgency–the clock was ticking.

I drove on the shoulder.  I hate this.  But, driving on the shoulder in order to exit the highway is really a favor to all.  One less car stuck on the road.  I got within a half mile of the exit when suddenly we all came to a stop yet again.

Eventually, after a man walked down to the ramp and determined a route through the parked semis to access the ramp, a line of us followed an SUV through gaps between trucks, weaving our way through until at last we were free.  It took another 3 hours to get to the airport over the back roads.

The experience of driving past hundreds of abandoned cars, some of which were sitting in the middle of traffic lanes, made me feel like I had been transported to the middle of a sci-fi thriller movie set.  Unfortunately, I also felt like part of the cast.

 

Gratitude

“. . . in this huge mound of data there was also story after story of men and women who were living these amazing and inspiring lives.  I heard stories about the power of embracing imperfection and vulnerability.  I learned about the inextricable connection between joy and gratitude. . .”

“Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.”

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

And so, in honor of what may be the most important holiday of all, allow me to practice:

I am grateful for the mountains.  I have stood on top of Mauna Kea and watched the sunset from above the clouds.  I have hiked the ridges of the Canadian rockies amongst the Big Horn sheep.  I have climbed Half Dome and slept on Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite.  I have crossed the Continental Divide, and skied more mountains than I can remember.  I have hiked 14,000 feet up Mt. Albert, called in a mule deer with the scent of blueberry pancakes in the San Juans, watched hoarfrost form on the Blue Ridge, and watched mist rising off the Smokies.

The mountains bring me home.  They remind me my feet are on the ground–and that they can take me to amazing places.  The mountains teach me I am small and my problems smaller.  They fill me with calm and inspire me with wonder.  I am grateful for the mountains.

I am grateful for the trees.  I have gulped their oxygen in moments of panic as well as intense exertion.  I have sat silently and listened to their songs.  I have climbed within their swaying arms, held high and safe above the ground.  I have showered under them, swung from them, curled up in their shade for an afternoon nap, and frolicked in their brilliant leaves.  I have witnessed their generosity–Pileated Woodpeckers tucked into a cavity, baby trees suckling on the corpse of a former giant, Bloodroot springing from the rich nutrients of rotting leaves.  Trees connect me to the air and root me to the earth.  They remind me that great strength sometimes comes from flexibility and patience.  I am grateful for the trees.

I am grateful for the oceans.  I have bobbed along the surface in a quiet cove, peering at the underwater marvels through a snorkel mask.  I have floated for miles with the tide on a flimsy blow-up raft, I have kayaked with green sea turtles and swum with wild dolphins just by chance.  I have watched the sun sink into its nightly bath and watched it rise from the sea, fresh and new again.  I have eaten from the bounty of life the sea provides.  The ocean buoys me up, pushing me to the surface, reminding me I can float.  It soothes me with its endless rhythm and delights me with its underwater surprises.  I am grateful for the oceans.

 

Many Views

A common expression in corporate conversations is “taking a 30,000 foot view” or some such derivation that might also be expressed as “looking at the forest instead of the trees.”  Often, the follow up comments include something along the lines of, “but the devil is always in the details.”

When you look at a map, you can lay out a course that takes you in the most direct line to where you want to go.  But when you get on the road, street signs are missing or roads are closed and sometimes you find yourself well off-course in spite of your plan.  Even with technology, sometimes the GPS thinks a private road is a public one and advises me to drive through locked gates.  As it turns out, the most direct route is often not the easiest.

On my recent trip to Portland, we went on a little venture to the Washington coast and Astoria, Oregon.  We stopped at overlooks, visited lighthouses, and went up to the Astoria Tower.  Each of these vantage points provides a different view.  The ocean forms waves that slide smoothly up onto the beach while they batter and splash against craggy coastline cliffs only a hundred yards away.  From our thousand foot view (give or take), neither looks particularly harrowing or dangerous, but because we’ve been up close to both situations, we can readily guess which one would be the best place to, say, try to land a boat.

I am reminded of a presenter who once talked about the tendency to rely on historical information when deciding what to do next.  He said, “you can’t drive while you’re looking in your rearview mirror.”  I’d like to think we all check our mirrors every once in a while.  Without metaphorically checking our rearview mirror, we might think we could land safely amongst the rocks.  And without a map, we might not know if we went 100 yards further, we could land smoothly in the sand.

As we stood on the grounds of the Astoria Tower, I imagined Lewis and Clark for a second time that day.  I imagined being the creator of the map for previously uncharted lands.  I imagined explorers standing and staring at the river below as it makes its final turn before colliding with the Pacific Ocean.  I wondered if they were able to predict how long it would take to get from where they stood to the river shore.  I wondered how many surprises they encountered once underway.

I suppose life has not changed much if you look at it from 100,000 feet.  In spite of the myriad of gadgets that make navigation easier, we still must each create our own map for our lives.  The endless number of choices we now face can overwhelm even the most intrepid explorer.  When you come down to the 100 foot level or so, the main difference between then and now is probably that we do far more exploring from a seated position.

Dismal Nitch

This week has been another vacation week (I got a bit behind on using my vacation days this year).  This time, I left Pat and Tisen at home and travelled out to visit family in Portland, Oregon.  Portland is one of my favorite parts of the US–this is a trip I look forward to every year.

While visiting the Oregon coast, we stopped at Dismal Nitch across from Astoria, Oregon.  Dismal Nitch is an easy rest stop to access these days–a long, long bridge from Astoria to Washington makes it a really interesting drive with fantastic views.

But, when it was named by the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was no picnic.  Traveling by boat, the craggy harbor became a dangerous place for the explorers and their team.  They were stuck out in the rain for 6 days, waiting for the weather to clear so they could safely navigate the rocks and other hazards that have made this area among the most dangerous waters in the country.

I pause as we stand along the fence at the rest area, looking out at the Cormorants, Seagulls, and Pelicans.  The face of a seal suddenly pops through the surface of the water.  I stand there wishing I had my 100-400mm lens.

And then, it occurs to me, I feel mired.  I think about Lewis and Clark sitting in that same spot, cold, wet, and probably hungry.  I think about them bobbing about on rough seas and waiting out the stormy weather.  I wonder if they felt it was hopeless.  I wonder how long they were prepared to wait before making their move.  I wonder if they saw seals and pelicans and thought of them as signs of hope.  All of this flashes through my mind as I realize the difference between me and people like Lewis and Clark is that they took the safest course for the duration of a storm and then moved on.  I seem to confuse safety with long-term direction.

I took some photos of the dismal nitch.  The clouds gray and swirling above relatively still water created a nearly monochromatic scene.  I stared out over the waters, hiding the dangers of shoals and debris that had sunk more than its share of ships.  It looked so peaceful.  Tranquil.  A cormorant stood on the stump of what might once have been a pier, spreading its wings and flapping them.  He couldn’t wait for them to dry so he might fly again.

Perhaps we are all like the cormorant.  We dive in, get wet, and then have to hang out and dry out before we can jump back in.  Perhaps some of us have to hang out longer than others before we’re willing to take the next plunge.  I metaphorically flap my wings and wonder just what kind of drying time to expect.  By my count, they’ve been drying for at least 8 years.  I find myself wondering if the Cormorant ever forget how to swim.

Meet Up

Surely this is Olympus?

Surely this is Olympus?

Today was full of nostalgia.  It started off with a visit with friends.  One of those friends is a young woman I’ve known for 23 years now–since she was 7.  I didn’t realize I’d known her for 23 years until we sat down and figured it out over breakfast.  But there I was, flipping back and forth in my mind between the 7 year-old Karen the day I met her and the 30 year old wife and mother sharing breakfast with me.

Karen and Chris

Karen and Chris

It was the first time I met her new daughter, just born in March.  She’s a happy baby.  Smiling and cooing and doing cute baby things.  I will have photos from today eventually, but I need to get them downloaded and post-processed first and I forgot my card reader–I’ll have to find one tomorrow.

Since I don’t have new photos to post, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane from the last time I saw my friend and her husband.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 years since I last saw them.  We went hiking with them in Montana when Pat and I were out for a visit.

IMG_8111One of the things Pat and I did while we were in Montana was take a helicopter ride over Glacier National Park with some other dear friends who accompanied us on part of the trip.  We flew over the mountains, above the clouds that surrounded the peaks.  I think of these photos whenever my young friend talks about her job.  She’s a paramedic and flies on life flights over the same mountains I paid to see.

I sometimes visualize her in an emergency medical chopper over these same mountains.  I am part jealous and part afraid.  Such beautiful sights so often, and to get paid to see it to boot!  On the other hand, it seems like such a dangerous thing to do, rushing out into this unforgiving landscape in a tiny helicopter to try to save someone.  I am impressed all over again every time I think about it.

Sun breaks through

Reconnecting with this friend and her extended family (4 generations were at breakfast together) reminded me how wonderful family is.  I found myself missing my own family as well as this adoptive family I was able to spend the morning with immediately upon leaving.

I started winding through history, remembering cute things Karen and her twin sister and younger brother did when I spent 2 summers babysitting them.  I also remembered all the hard times having this group of people in my life helped me through.

I managed to slip back into the present moment enough to enjoy one of the nicest parts about meeting the whole family:  getting to watch Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Great-grandma and Great-grand dad all making faces at the newest addition to the family.  They were all adorable in their face making approaches.

No--we are not climbing that

Good Eating

The moon over Nice as we entered the restaurant for dinner

The moon over Nice as we entered the restaurant for dinner

After the first long day of the conference in Monaco, a group of us made our way back to Nice for the evening. One of our group was familiar with a restaurant in Nice where he had had his anniversary dinner a few weeks earlier.

He was an interesting guy.  An American fluent in several languages in and of itself makes him an anomaly.  Reminds me of the old joke:  What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?  Trilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages?  Bilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks 1 language?  American.

He was living in Europe for about the third or fourth time and moved from groups of people from Italy to groups of people from Germany to groups of people from France with an ease that I envied.  Going to dinner with him was an experience.  He was able to understand food in another language.

An old church just outside the restaurant in Nice

An old church just outside the restaurant in Nice

Translating a menu is one of life’s biggest challenges.  Unless the exact same dish exists in one’s native country and the person who translates knows the correct name in both languages, most translation is lost.

Even when I hadn’t forgotten 90% of the French I once knew, I couldn’t understand a French menu.  I knew if it was fish or chicken or beef, but not what they did to it.  When I started learning Italian, I didn’t even get far enough to determine whether I was ordering tomato soup or tomato sauce (that led to some interesting surprises).

Sitting with someone who could actually understand and describe what a dish was was quite refreshing.  Although, in the end, after much discussion about the menu, we decided to order a 5-course chef’s pick dinner.

Waiting on the train the next morning in Nice Ville train station

Waiting on the train the next morning in Nice Ville train station

This turned out to be a great decision.  If I were a food critic, I could probably describe the meal in terms that would make your mouth water.  Since I am only a food enjoyer, I can only say that each course seemed to get better.  However, 5 courses is a lot, even in France (where the portions are smaller than in the US).  By the time we were done eating, I felt like the easiest way back to my hotel would have been to have someone tip over my chair so I could just roll my way down the street.

As it turned out, I might have been right.  There were no taxis to be had and we had 4 people going to 3 different destinations.  In the end, the two colleagues going to the same place were driven by the owner of the restaurant while the 3rd colleague walked me back to my hotel where a taxi had been ordered to meet him when available.  We sat in the lobby a long time waiting for that taxi–it was after 1AM by the time it came.

I was very happy I’d planned to take the train to Monaco the next morning–it gave me 2 extra hours of sleep.

The sun setting behind office buildings at the end of the day in Monaco

The sun setting behind office buildings at the end of the day in Monaco

 

Nice to Monaco

Street scene between Monaco train station and the conference

Street scene between Monaco train station and the conference

One of the challenges of having a conference in Monaco is getting there.  While the conference was relatively small–less than 2000 people–there wasn’t sufficient housing (at least not within most corporate budgets) for everyone to stay in Monaco.  As a result, those of us who booked late had hotels in Nice.

The solution was to send large tour buses to the hotels in Nice to pick up those who were staying there and then drive everyone over to Monaco.  In the morning rush hour traffic, the drive took a good hour and a half.  The bus had little A/C and most of us were feeling like we needed a second shower by the time we arrived at the conference site.

Lovely view while stuck in traffic on the bus

Lovely view while stuck in traffic on the bus

The really sad part of the bus ride was that we didn’t take the coastal road, so we didn’t get to see some of the best views.  At one point, we were stuck in traffic for a good 15 minutes while overlooking a lot that looked like it was used for industrial waste.  Not exactly the kind of thing you hope to get to see when you go to the French Riviera.

We did get an occasional glimpse of the sea, but it was infrequent.

Looking for things to take pictures of through tinted bus windows resulted in creating some really strong vignetting in the images.  I don’t know how much more pronounced this effect was due to the camera being an iPhone vs using a DSLR, but all of the images through the bus windows were the same.

A quick glimpse of the sea from the bus

A quick glimpse of the sea from the bus

When at long last we reached the conference site, we got to experience modern office buildings butted up against the rising hills of the landscape.  There is not much about Monaco that makes you think there should be office buildings there.  It created a surprise effect.

In the end, what i learned from the bus ride was to take the train.  The next day, I slept in instead of getting up extra early to catch the 7:15AM bus.  I caught a train much later–a 10 minute walk from my hotel.  I rode in comfort along the coastal tracks, enjoying views of the sea the entire way (except when we went through the many tunnels).  It cost 3.70 Euro to ride the train.  The entire train trip took 20 minutes.  And, I happened to sit next to 2 other people attending the same conference who knew how to get there from the train station, so I made it there on time without getting lost.

Office buildings in Monaco

Office buildings in Monaco

Nice Dinner

Almost a view of the beach from a cafe in the afternoon

Almost a view of the beach from a cafe in the afternoon

Are you tired of my Nice-as-in-pleasant vs Nice-as-in-France puns yet?  I’ve got a few more up my sleeve . . . :-)

My first day in Nice, the name of the game was to stay awake.  Unfortunately, on my walk around town in the afternoon sun, I got hot.  This led to stopping in a sea-side cafe and having a beer.  Even more unfortunately, the only food I could get mid-afternoon was a bowl of olives.  While beer and olives are actually tasty together, olives are not very filling.

City street - lots of pedestrians

City street – lots of pedestrians

I sipped my no-longer-cold-beer for nearly an hour as I slumped gradually lower and lower in my cafe-style chair.  Eventually, I decided I needed to walk or I would be sound asleep on the cafe floor.  But once I started walking, I didn’t know where to go.  I decided it was a good time to return to my hotel room to check email now that the US was getting into work.

Courtyard on way back to hotel

Courtyard on way back to hotel

I sat down on my bed, logged in, and made it through the emails that had arrived.  The next thing I knew, I was startled awake by a sunbeam that had found its way through a crack in the curtains.  The sunbeam had managed to make its way into my eyes in part because the sun was now low in the sky.  I discovered I’d nodded off for a couple unexpected hours.

Views as the sun sets

Views as the sun sets

Concerned I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night if I didn’t get up and get some dinner, I splashed some water on my face and made my way back down to the seaside.  With the wind blowing across the French Riviera, the evening called for outdoor dining.

Back at the seaside area, I stopped and read menus at each restaurant across from the beach, hoping to find something appealing, but even more, hoping to run into one of my colleagues so I wouldn’t have to eat dinner alone.

Courtyard at sunset

Courtyard at sunset

In the US, I don’t mind eating dinner alone.  If I want company, I sit at the bar and usually end up in conversations with interesting people before the meal is over.  If I want to be alone, I sit at a table.  In Spain, France, and Italy, there don’t seem to be restaurant bars to eat at.  Eating alone at a table seems to be the equivalent of painting a sign on your face that says something like, “I am lonely and desperate and will be amazingly receptive to even the tiniest bit of attention.”  (To put it in G-rated terms.)

Dramatic dinner preparation at a nearby table

Dramatic dinner preparation at a nearby table

On this evening, it was my waiter who was overly attentive.  He was actually quite sweet, but it got awkward when I wanted to leave and he kept delaying bringing me my check.  Once I was safely on my way, I was glad I’d made it out regardless–it was a lovely night to be out walking and I did sleep through the night.

Night lights.  Notice the purple glowing man on top of the pole

Night lights. Notice the purple glowing man on top of the pole

Nice Views

The lovely "beach" in Nice

The lovely “beach” in Nice

If yesterday I attempted to make you feel sorry for me for having to travel to Nice and Monaco, today I might make you jealous.

I arrived in Nice around 9AM on Monday morning.  When I arrived at my hotel, my room wasn’t ready yet, but after only a few minutes in the lobby, I was given a key and sent upstairs.  This was a good thing because having not slept a wink on the flight over, I was about to nod off in the lobby.

Interesting building on my round-about way to the shore.  Using HDR created ghost of a pedestrian in my shot.

Interesting building on my round-about way to the shore. Using HDR created ghost of a pedestrian in my shot.

I climbed into bed and set my alarm so that I’d get in a nice 2 hour nap.  Or should I say a Nice  2 hour nap?  In either case, I have found that it’s best not to sleep more than 2 hours when I arrive in a new time zone, especially when traveling in an Eastward direction.

I woke up before my alarm went off.  I jumped out of bed feeling panicked that perhaps I had missed a meeting.  I logged in immediately to see what emails I’d gotten since falling asleep.  Given that it was only 7AM back in the Eastern US, I hadn’t received much of anything.

The fake peninsula (created by shooting panoramic with iPhone default camera app)

The fake peninsula (created by shooting panoramic with iPhone default camera app)

After convincing myself I hadn’t missed anything, I jumped in the shower to discover it was one of those weird adaptations of a tub with a curtain on hooks shooting out from the post the shower head was installed on like a star.  I pulled the curtain around me, but it only went about ½ way around.  I did my best not to spray the entire bathroom.  This might explain why the toilet (and toilet paper) were in another room–it could be the only way they stay dry when someone showers.

Fake inlet (also created by shooting panoramic with default iPhone camera app)

Fake inlet (also created by shooting panoramic with default iPhone camera app)

Feeling wide awake and fresh, I threw on some casual clothes and went out to take a walk along the shore.  Unfortunately, I was somewhat disoriented and walked the wrong direction.  By the time I found the shore, I wasn’t feeling so fresh anymore.

But, the beach was lovely.  The wind was blowing and the air was fresh.  What more could an American on a business trip ask for?

A plaza along the way to the beach

A plaza along the way to the beach

I experimented with panoramic shots on the shore with my iPhone.  I ended up creating a peninsula out of the rocks I was standing on and turning the shoreline into an inlet because of the effect of shooting panoramic.  It was kind of fun.

A more realistic view of the beach

A more realistic view of the beach

Nice Hotel

My view

My view

My recent business trip took me to Nice, France and Monte Carlo, Monaco.  I know it’s hard to feel bad for someone who just went to the French Riviera, but I’d like to point out a few facts that make me sympathy worthy:

  1. I arrived Monday morning and departed Thursday morning after 2 hard days of work,
  2. I stayed in Nice, but the conference was in Monaco, resulting in a 1 ½ hour bus ride from hell during rush hour traffic on Tuesday morning,
  3. Pat couldn’t come with me
  4. Tisen couldn’t come with me
  5. I spent 40 hours traveling in exchange for 72 hours on the French Riviera.
OK, so it's a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

OK, so it’s a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

If that’s not enough, let’s talk about my hotel room.  First, I had a sense of deja-vu when I arrived at my hotel.  I didn’t remember where I stayed the last time I was in Nice (in May of 2006), but when I walked into the lobby, I was pretty sure it was the same hotel with an updated decor.

These chairs were "updated" with orange slip covers looking like they're in desperate need of a cleaning

These chairs were “updated” with orange slip covers looking like they’re in desperate need of a cleaning

Unfortunately, the updated decor stopped at the lobby.  I had to chuckle at the orange shag carpet and matching accessories in my room.  I did not, however, chuckle at the tiny little room with a toilet, and only a toilet, in it.  Fortunately, I discovered a bath tub and sink in a separate room opposite the toilet room.

I tried hard to remember whether the toilet was separate from the bath and sink the last time I was in France.  I never did manage to come up with that memory, but everyone I talked to had the same arrangement no matter what hotel they were in, so I guess it’s a French thing.

Now I understand why some people call it a "water closet"

Now I understand why some people call it a “water closet”

The view from my room left something to be desired.  From the window, I could see the back of 3 surrounding buildings and the shed for the trash bins for my hotel.  This is not the kind of view one hopes for when staying on the French Riviera.  Especially not when one read that the hotel in question was a 4-star hotel.  I suspect the person who awarded the 4 stars was the owner’s mother.

I don’t mean to complain.  After all, it was a trip to the French Riviera that I didn’t have to pay for.  But no matter how glamorous it sounds to say “I’m going to the French Riviera,” the reality was far from glamorous.

One last look at the view from my window

One last look at the view from my window