Monday, May 25, 2009
Instead, I am at my parents' house, sleeping late like a freshman on summer break.
On Thursday, my pulmonologist told me I have pneumonia.
And that he would not recommend I travel outside the U.S. for a month.
This, as you can imagine, was not in my plans. My plan was to be landing in Tokyo on Wednesday morning. My plan was to be swing dancing in the Akasaka neighborhood on Wednesday night. Thursday: Tokyo Fish Market, maybe a Japanese baseball game, tea, tofu, wandering the streets and drinking it all in. Friday: train to Kyoko. Monday: train to Nagaski. June 10: flight to Amsterdam.
I moved my British Airways flight, having stupidly NOT bought flight insurance, yesterday to June 26. I should be OK to travel by then, barring a broken leg or some other inane illness. I fly into Paris. I fly out of London on Aug. 5. Things could be worse, I tell myself daily. It will be a wonderfully memorable trip.
But still, I feel like I'm mourning the death of a little piece of my life. The weeks I was going to spend traveling in Japan, the June weather in Amsterdam and Rome and Cinque Terre. Times in a new place are always so much more vivid than the ordinary tick-tocks of everyday life. I expected those memories to be stamped, like my passport, on my brain for decades to come.
These forgettable days on my parents' sofa, sipping plenty of liquids, watching the Food Network, waiting to get well — what I would give to trade them in for a view of the Japan Alps.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
This is my second time driving cross country, and America's interstates and technology have changed since 2001 (January 2001, I should say).
Some of the things that were different ...
— Starbucks all along the interstate. I was stunned the first time I saw the familiar green logo on the blue rest stop signs. You don't go long on an American highway these days without a chance to throw down $4.50 for an iced mocha thingie. Some are even 24 hours. I really appreciated a guaranteed clean bathroom and a place to plunk down my laptop and look for a place to stay in a town ahead. Sure, it's corporate and uniform ... but sometimes, a little consistency is a blessing. It makes you feel a little bit more at home when you are far from it.
— Internet and cell phone magic. Back in 2001, driving from Maryland to San Diego, my sister and I loaded up on AAA books. We had piles in the trunk. When we neared a city, one of us (whoever wasn't driving) would take a map and a guidebook and try to find a reasonable hotel in a reasonable distance ahead. None of that this time. I relied on a MacBook laptop, a wireless card (which was unbelievably helpful — wifi spots can be hard to dig up), an iPhone with Google maps, and ...
— Hotwire.com. Except for one glitch in Irvine, this site was my savior again and again. I found reasonable prices for really, really nice places. (And I didn't have to think about the location — you select an area and the stars and the price, and then they tell you where exactly it is.) I didn't care so much about the fancy soaps and origami-folded toilet paper (seriously), I just wanted somewhere I would feel safe and sleep well. My favorite spot was in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I stayed in a lovely boutique hotel called Indigo. It was so nice, I ended up reading by the pool instead of driving three-and-a-half hours each way to the Grand Canyon. Oops!
— La Quinta. The other strategy is to rack up your rooms at the same brand. La Quinta does a great job of rewarding you with free or discounted stays. In Omaha, I booked a nice room (normally over $100) for $30 using my points. Sweet!
— iPhone apps. These were so helpful, especially Yelp, which clues you into local spots to eat that won't be on any interstate sign. I also like the MLB app, which kept me in touch with baseball scores and upcoming games. The Around Me app was helpful sometimes, like when I was in the middle of Texas and desperately needed to know if a gas station was up ahead. (Whew, it was!)
— Google, Google, Google. The maps especially. How did we all function before Google maps?
— Aerobed. Totally great sleep in a pinch!
And some things were just the same ...
— Gas prices. I snuck in my trip with perfect timing. When I left Norfolk in March 2009, gas was about $1.79 a gallon, about what it was in January 2001.
— My 1998 Honda Civic. Yup, same car. Can't beat 'em.
— Reliable AAA. The one disaster came when I hit a monster of a pothole in Chicago. My first flat tire, I thought. Time to test out whether I can change one myself, right? Wrong. TWO flat tires. On the same side. Calling AAA! They rescued me in no time.
Now I'm on to Phase II of this big break before school starts in the fall. If all goes well, I'll be on a plane to Tokyo in less than a week. Two weeks in Japan, followed by six weeks in Europe. No laptop this time, but I'm hoping I can post via the iPhone's international data plan. We'll see!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I rolled into town on a rainy, dreary day and almost thought about skipping the ballgame entirely. But when you are at the end of the line, you can't cop-out now.
I was staying by the airport (Hotwire, $40-something). The highway in went through a tunnel carved out of a big hill. On the other side loomed a city skyline, a treat for Interstate-weary eyes.
The PNC Park, where the Pirates play, is right on the Allegheny River. I parked in downtown and walked over the yellow Roberto Clemente Bridge.
Roberto himself awaits you at the foot of the bridge.
At first, I hesitated going to my seat — so many close spots wide open for the taking in the nearly empty park. But then I realized... they were all wet. Very wet. At least the seat I paid for, I could ask the usher to wipe down without feeling like a sneaky fan.
So I walked up and up to a section beyond home plate and found the usher. She looked at my ticket and asked: "Have you gone to your seat yet?"
"Uh, no..." I say, thinking... that's why I'm asking for a towel!
"It's one of the top three rows. It'll be dry."
Turns out that (1) seating in the nosebleed section is glorious when it's under the overhang on a rainy night and (2) the nosebleed section at PNC Park is non-existent. I mean, the seat was right over the diamond and fabulous. Hello, baseball!
I can't wait to go back.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Twins. It's also apparently '80s night, which is why I ran into a gang
of Storm Troppers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And here I thought
that was just ordinary apparel at Comerica Park...