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Straws, camels, and the safety of home

It's a full four days since my Westercon trip ended, yet I'm still working on regaining my equilibrium following the upheavals of the trip. It was such a mixed affair — the travel delays were utterly tiresome, yet they also brought the delight and luxury of time with Bob Berlien and Kathy Routliffe in Chicago. Offsetting the missing luggage and the cracked windshield were the wonders of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the delight of meeting new friends like Cath Jackel, and the pleasant company of all too many people I see all too infrequently. I'm glad I went, much as I regret all the problems involved with the trip itself.

The low points all bottomed out at the profound annoyance stage rather than ever turning into an actual crisis or truly significant problem. Well, until the end, when I ran out of the ability to cope with any more before the world was through giving me more to cope with.

The flights home were on time, and it was sheer luxury to board a "real" airplane — a 757 — after being squeezed into one of the commuter jets from Calgary to Chicago. Well, a luxury until we hit some turbulence shortly after takeoff and my seatmate splashed water onto my laptop in the process of trying to drink down the level in his before splashing more onto himself. Thank goodness it wasn't his wine.

I wasn't happy, but I also wasn't too worried at first. It hadn't been a lot of water, and the PowerBook G4 has a wide expanse of sealed space around the track pad. Most of the water hit there. I held the computer upside down in the hope that the water would drip off rather than in, and eventually wiped off what I could with the dry parts of my T-shirt.

I became more concerned when the track pad went erratic while I was trying to put the computer into sleep mode, and I ended up shutting the whole thing down for the next couple of hours. I tried mentally calming myself; I travel with a mouse; my first laptop had served me well for a year and more after the track pad flaked out, everything would likely be all right. And if it wasn't? Well, that was one of the risks of traveling with a laptop, wasn't it?

Shortly before the end of the trip, I pulled out the mouse and booted my computer. Only nothing happened. Then we were descending and all electronics had to be turned off and stowed. I think that was the final straw. My usual coping strategies weren't working so well, and I could feel my composure crumble. Yes, I had a current backup copy of the file I'd been working on. Yes, my other backups were reasonably current. Yes, it's only computer equipment, not anyone's life. But it was also only a day of Westercon missed, and only luggage gone walkabout, only a cracked windshield, only layers of misinformation from airline employees, and only a sense of rats gnawing away at me from every direction. Nibbled to death by mice, intensified.

Tears were flowing down my cheeks by the time I made my way to the baggage claim area. A couple other flights landed at roughly the same time. Somehow the monitors managed to include information about what carousel their luggage was unloading at, but it took 20 minutes and more before a loudspeaker announcement told me and my fellow passengers where ours could be found. Much though I felt like my coping mechanisms were gone, they weren't, really. I made a couple of phone calls, talked through the worst of the immediate frustration, recognized that driving 80 miles in such fragile shape wasn't going to work and decided to find a hotel room for the night if I didn't bounce back a good bit by the time the shuttle returned me to my car. Much as I wanted to be out of that airport, I also decided to sit down for a few minutes and give my laptop another chance to boot...or not.

Relief. It booted. The track pad was even back to working normally. It looked like I still had a laptop after all.

The shuttle service to the off-site parking area was as exceptionally good on the way back to my car as it had been on my way out. I'm unlikely to fly out of Providence again anytime soon given the multitude of annoyances I encountered there on this trip (my first from that airport), but I'll heartily recommend PreFlight parking there, and am inclined to try them elsewhere.

While I was clearly doing better, getting lost four times trying to find the highway home demonstrated that I wasn't up to anything close to my normal levels of competence yet. When it first became obvious I was going the wrong way, I pulled off at a convenience store, picked up some milk and caffeine, and called my dad for our usual Wednesday night conversation. That helped, but I constantly monitored "hotel" vs. "keep driving" options every bit of the way home, including during my drive through Sturbridge, just 12 miles from Toad Woods. Light rain, just like the night I hit the deer back in 1997, didn't help.

The title of this journal entry came to me while driving west on the Mass Pike. Each problem, taken one by one, was little more than a straw. But in those short, few days of supposed vacation, they added up to more than this camel had the ability to bear. Much as I wanted to be home, to have this particular trip surely done with, I was keenly aware that the safety of home is an illusion, too. Heaters explode, houses burn down, medical emergencies come whenever they darned well please, and people can die anywhere. Yet I was reaching for something that would mark the trip as done, wanting whatever further problems might await to be part of something else.

When I was a child, I somehow had the idea that home was an ally-ally-in-free place. In particular, I thought that if you were speeding in your car and the police put on their sirens to you pull you over, that they couldn't follow you onto your property. I still remember a vivid dream from 40+ years ago, sitting in the back seat of our 1956 Buick Special as my father raced toward home, sirens blaring behind us. I woke up from the dream shortly after we pulled into the driveway, safe and sound.

There were several things odd about that dream. My family was law-abiding; I don't remember either of my parents ever getting a speeding ticket. Police officers were the good guys, and sirens were to be obeyed, not run from. While I've yet to be ticketed in my 35 years of driving, and still obey sirens, I'm no longer as naively trusting of the police. Yet, as much as I know the safety of home is an illusion, it's still one I somehow believe in, all the way down to my core. Layered on top of that is the sense that home is something I also carry with me wherever I go. Home, and the ability to deal with whatever life sends my way. Sometimes by dealing well and smoothly...sometimes by pretty much falling apart, but still getting through it all, as I did last Wednesday night. Moment by moment, step by step, reaching for the bright bits of goodness and doing what I can to maximize my enjoyment of them.

I got out to check for mail after pulling into the top of my driveway. The wind was blowing through rain-sodden trees, and my first thought was "I'm in the woods." It was a marvelous welcome home.

A mere four hours later, bombs were exploding in London. I checked the lists brisingamen compiled, grateful to see so many friends and loved ones on the People Safe lists.

The mixed bag feeling continues. Here's the good, here's the ugly, here's more of both, with an added helping of everyday chores to keep up with. Now what to do with it all? Something more than just getting through it, I hope, but even that counts as an accomplishment some days. Some days like these.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2005 11:05 am (UTC)
the delight and luxury of time with Bob Berlien and Kathy Routliffe

Indeed. I envy you.
Jul. 11th, 2005 12:12 pm (UTC)
Now what to do with it all? Something more than just getting through it, I hope, but even that counts as an accomplishment some days. Some days like these.

Yeah. That.


And also that. Glad you're home again, and glad to read your writing of the journey and return.
Jul. 11th, 2005 02:28 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful Icon Picture

I am glad you are home with no more excitment
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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