The Road is Calling

I grew up a Californian. The ocean, mountains, valleys and deserts all have a certain lure; the automobile was my ticket to ride, the vehicle that took me to all these majestic places. From my earliest days, the road was calling, begging me to explore.

I was on wheels at an early age…first a tricycle, then I learned to ride a bike when I was only five…motorcycles when I was 10. Sailing was introduced to to me when I was 8, and I became a water rat. An early dream to fly became reality in the early 90s. But my first love, the road, was always calling.

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Even though I grew up in the muscle car era, hot rods had no appeal…sports cars like those I read about in Road and Track and Car & Driver were my dreams as a teenager. My dentist had an old Porsche 356…he saw my passion and gave me a ride one day. I was hooked!

The road was calling.

In 1976, my family took a month-long road trip from Southern California through Arizona and Nevada into Utah and Colorado; up the eastern spine of the Rocky Mountains into Canada and the glaciers of Banff and Jasper. Heading west, we drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway. We had delayed the trip one week so I could complete Driver’s Training. Learner’s permit in hand, mom let me drive a good chunk of the time. I must have logged 2,000 miles that summer, an experience every new driver should have.IMG_0218

The road was calling.

On my 16th birthday, I was at the DMV when they opened. I passed the test and for the first time I was behind the wheel on a public road alone…well, at least legally. An old Toyota Corona bought from my sister for $300 and a new clutch installed by me with her boyfriend’s guidance became my chariot. Every chance I had, I explored the mountain and coastal roads of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. I discovered that a great way for me to shake off teenage angst and trials was to go for a drive through “a dark desert highway.”

The road was calling.

Forty years later, the road is still calling. This time, it’s Route 66…the Mother Road…the road that Bruce Springsteen sang about…”the highway is alive tonight.” As Judy and I prepare to set off on our epic Route 66 adventure, I can hardly contain my excitement…looking forward to driving through the deserts of my youth, into the high plains of Arizona and New Mexico; tornado alley (in Spring, which might make things interesting) and into the Heartland ending in Chi Town.

The road is calling.

I’ve driven cross country once before, when I moved to the East Coast in 2003. I did it in two and a half days…challenging myself to log as many miles each day as I could. The final push was from the eastern border of Oklahoma to D.C. in 16 hours, with stops only for gas and food. It was a monumental feat, but I missed the exploration…the joy that is called the road.

This trip will be different. We’re taking our time…we’re going to stop at every kitschy photo stop, stay in classic Route 66 motels, and eat all-American style.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, because the road is calling.IMG_0222

Getting Ready to Drive The Mother Road

We’re getting ready to drive the “Mother Road.” We are picking up something big in Los Angeles (too big to ship home) and are using it as a reason to take a classic road trip.

As children of the 60s, some of our earliest memories are of family long-distance road trips and this is a chance to recreate a vacation from our youths. What better route than Route 66?

There are dozens of books about Route 66: historical perspectives, turn-by-turn tutorials, tourism guides, etc. There are websites devoted to everything about the “Mother Road” and its attractions. It’s a veritable cornucopia of research material to make the most of the trip. I’ve spent three months digging into everything I can find to plan the trip and decide what we can’t miss, where we should stay and where we should eat.

As the trip draws closer, we’re both getting down to the nitty gritty of what to pack. That list now includes some items we need to buy once we get to LA. We’re flying out and driving back, after all, and some of what we want to have in the car is just too bulky to carry on a plane.

Maps and a camera are essential. Turn-by-turn instructions are crucial so we don’t miss any of the old road sections as they wind through towns of the west and Midwest. A picnic basket is a key piece of recapturing the “good old days” that we hope to relive. We want to be able to stop for lunch and pull out a sandwich and a drink like when we were kids.

We plan to blog the whole trip and capture images of our nation’s towns and cities. We will continue our typical style of chatting with everyone we meet along the way. We hope to enjoy foods native to every region from Santa Monica to Chicago.

Hitting the road is a great way to see things, especially when you stay off the interstate and stick to local highways. Route 66 will take us through ghost towns, struggling towns and places seeing a surge in tourism as more people opt to take a slower pace to enjoy their travels.

There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. This time, we’re taking back roads to do it. Stay tuned.

What do a Kiss and Exploring the World Have in Common?

Five years ago today I was on a trip for work. It involved a trip (by TRAIN!) to Stamford, Connecticut, a short walk to the hotel and a meet-and-greet style evening where coworkers from the northeast and mid-Atlantic would connect and spend some social time over dinner and drinks before a full-day event kicking off the next morning.

There were maybe two dozen of us chatting amiably over dinner at a nearby Italian place before wandering back to the hotel to linger in the hotel bar over wine and cocktails.

As is typical at this type of event, we talked about life and work and work and life. It was a back-and-forth conversation filled with laughter and easy banter. One-by-one, coworkers headed back to their rooms to “say goodnight to the kids” or “check in with my wife” or simply because it had been a long day.

Somewhere around 1:30 am, the bartender came over and informed Greg and I that it was last call. It wasn’t until then that we noticed we were the only two coworkers left. At that moment, we were deeply ensconced in a conversation about the tasks that needed to be accomplished “in the morning” at the jobs event we were attending. Neither of us was ready to declare the conversation over, so we tossed a coin to decide whose room we would go to so we could finish making our plans.

About an hour later, when the work planning was done, the conversation wandered to the past as we discussed the things we missed about being young.

I said, “kissing,” explaining how, as a high school student, kissing was everything. It was a time when the farthest a couple would go was maybe “second base” and the duo could spend hours just kissing. Yep, I admitted, “I miss kissing.”

Greg rose from the hotel chair and walked over to me, leaning down and kissing me. It was one of those tentative, first date kisses. There were fireworks. I saw lightning and felt the Earth move. We broke the kiss and gave each other that “uh-oh-I-wasn’t-expecting-THAT” look. We were, after all, coworkers.

It was just a kiss … but it was life altering. Nothing else happened that night, but it was enough to put into motion a series of conversations and chain of events that helped us both realize that we did have options other than staying in unhappy relationships and living sad, unfulfilling lives.

Since that day, we moved in together, got engaged, got married and regularly remind each other how important communication is to a healthy, happy, thrilling relationship. We laugh about that kiss and how we had no idea then how many dreams and hopes we had in common – and still do.

It’s been five years and thousands of kisses. Sometimes the best trips don’t involve even getting out of your chair. When we say there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored, we mean so much more than travel. We mean exploring each other, people in your lives, yourself … everything. So get out there – explore! The world is calling.

Diversion – Getting to Know You

Travel is often about the people we meet on your adventures. Our brief trip to Los Angeles last week brought that home.

Here’s the setup…Judy and I are gregarious by nature; extroverted and always willing to make new friends. So naturally, we have a tendency to “talk up“ everyone we meet…especially bartenders and food servers who can make or break a good meal. We are also people who get to the airport very early. We hate being rushed and would rather spend some time in an airport restaurant than stress about the traffic or the security lines.

This story began in December when we found ourselves at Los Angeles International Airport with about two hours of wait time until boarding. It was late morning, so we sought out a place where we could get a drink and an appetizer or two.  We found ourselves sitting in a window seat at Osteria by Fabio Viviani (of “Top Chef” fame). OsteriaOur server, Araceli, was beautiful, attentive, and sweet. She appreciated our comments about her name.  The drinks (they make a to-die-for Strawberry Basil Martini) and food were fantastic – a far cry from most airport food. But it was Araceli’s service that made the stay memorable. Too soon, we had to leave and board our plan.

Fast forward two months, and we’re back at LAX with time to spare…same flight, same terminal.

So back to Osteria we went, and asked for a window seat.  We were seated in the same place as before, and wouldn’t you know it, Araceli was our server.  We joked about the irony, and she remembered us.  We chatted about her kids…and grandkids!  She told us she was 37…when during our last visit we thought she was a college student! Once again, our flight called too soon and we had to head off, telling Araceli that we’d be back in four weeks!

The lesson here…whether you know them for an hour, days, or a lifetime, the people we meet — like travel — make our lives richer. There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it…and take the time to get to know those around you along the way.

2017 – Trimming the Fat – A Life Reset – Getting Rid of What We Don’t Need

We’re not New Year’s Resolution makers. We’ve both done it once or twice with great results, but both Greg and I believe resolutions should be made when you’re ready to change your life – not just at the beginning of a new year.rose-bowl

2017 is no exception. We welcomed the new year without a real resolution in mind. I talked about losing weight. In fact, I’d talked about it for a couple of years. When you’re ready to commit, it just happens. Greg and I decided we both had a few pounds to lose and were ready to commit about halfway through the second week of January. We made an appointment at our local Jenny Craig office, did the initial weigh-in and started the plan.

We both felt immediately lighter. Admittedly, it was more the load off our minds than anywhere else, but it led to a few other changes…

We spent an entire day cleaning out our closet. We generated three huge bags of clothes for donation. We cleaned out the bathroom cabinets. We moved into the closet in the guest room that had become a storage place for stuff we didn’t want to think about. We tidied up everywhere! I called AMVETS and arranged for a pick-up.

It’s been less than a week and we are already lighter at home. Less stuff leaves you feeling lighter anyway. There’s more room to move. It’s easier to find your things. We’re both feeling a little exhilarated.

What’s next? Who knows? For now we are just letting this “out with the old” mentality sink in. Stay tuned.

D is for Dublin — a do-over

My first trip to Dublin was disappointing. My travel partner didn’t want to check out the pubs in a city that is known for its nightlife. He said no to a visit to the Book of Kells at Trinity College. He turned up his nose at shopping. I describe the whole trip as D is for Dud.20161203_163544

Last fall, Greg and I decided it was time to give Dublin another chance. His best friend was living there (on a work assignment) and had a guest room. We could visit Chris and his wife in their new home, get something of an insider’s tour and sleep for free. It was a win-win-win.

We exchanged emails, scheduled a few things to do and bought our tickets for the Emerald Isle.

What a difference! Dublin is fun, vibrant and exciting. We arrived mid-day on a Saturday in early December and hit the ground running. img_6757Our hosts took us to the longest, The Hole In The Wall, and oldest, The Brazen Head, pubs in Ireland (both in Dublin). We wandered along the main shopping street and window shopped from pub to pub.

We stopped at the famous Temple Bar and elbowed our way to the bar for the essential Irish pub drink, a Guinness.

20161209_143056Over the next couple of days we enjoyed tasty Irish bar food and a few classics: fish and chips, Irish stew and others.

We checked out Kilmainham Gaol which “symbolises the tradition of militant and constitutional nationalism from the rebellion of 1798 to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23.”.

We visited Osteria Lucio, a favorite restaurants of our hosts for an incredible Italian meal with an excellent red wine. Who knew Dublin is a bit of a foodie town?

img_6792We toured the only Irish Whisky distiller still located in the Irish capital and sipped some delicious gin cocktails.

Bad news struck on Tuesday.  Our hosts grabbed a flight back to the states and we headed to Edinburgh, Scotland for a pre-arranged side trip (stay tuned for a blog about that trip). Back in Dublin, we had a couple days to explore on our own.

20161206_152758We visited the Guinness Brewery and learned how to pour a perfect stout. img_6913 img_6921 img_6924

We went to the library at Trinity College and ooo’d and aaah’d  over the history captured on the ancient volumes. We went to see the Book of Kells (but they don’t allow pictures!).

We revisited The Bank on College Green, a downtown Dublin restaurant converted from a late-1800s bank. The food and ambiance were PERFECT both times, and our server was absolutely delightful.

We wandered a little more, enjoyed the cheerful, friendly people of Ireland and took a local train to Dun Laoghaire. img_6841The Dublin suburb is home to the National Maritime Museum of Ireland. We walked out along the breakwater to the lighthouse in a light mist. It was a classic weather day – just what you expect.

After a week it was easy to admit that D is for Dud was WRONG! Dublin is “d”elightful and “d”arling.

Go see for yourself. There may not be many people who remember me, but you can still say Judy sent you.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it.

The Measure of a Man

In the past six months, Greg and I have had the sad fate of having to attend three funerals for men who made an impact on our lives.

Dale Litzsinger — June 28, 1933 – June 16, 2016

George Wiltsey — October 13, 1934 – December 7, 2016

Clark White — May 6, 1938 – January 8, 2017

Dale Litzsinger was Greg’s mom’s boyfriend. They had lived together for more than 15 years. In fact, Dale was a stepdad to Greg. His daughter, Dia, has become a sister to us both. Dale lived a fascinating life. He was a body builder on Southern California’s Muscle Beach before it was cool. He joined the Navy and served with honor until he retired. He collected rocks. He knew the Latin name of every tree he saw – no kidding – every single one. He could explain why the rocks that formed the Santa Monica mountains and the canyons of the Los Angeles area were the colors they were and the shapes they were and more. He had a big heart. His funeral was full of people who shared stories from his past and expressions of love and laughter. He was a big man.

If Dale was a big man, George Wiltsey was a giant. I had only met him twice and I will forever regret that. George was Greg’s surrogate father. His funeral was so full there were people crowding into the doorway at the chapel at Forest Lawn. There wasn’t a single soul who knew him who didn’t tell of his zest for life, his easy laughter and his ability to turn any gathering into a party. Every member of his family was there. Tears were held back because everyone knew George would’ve been telling a joke or hamming it up to brighten the mood. The bittersweetness of the gathering was easy to see. He was truly a giant.

Clark White was the fourth husband of Greg’s stepmom. His dad was husband #2. Everyone you ask will tell you Greg’s dad was the love of her life. If that’s true then Clark was her partner in old age. An avid golfer and bird-watcher, he was quick with a joke and always ready with a glass of wine or a cocktail. His death was unexpected, a blow to the family. His funeral included his daughter, his son, his granddaughter and a cousin with his family. Greg and I went to support his stepmom and stepsister. He was sweet to Marilyn. When she was no longer able to get up and move around, he bought her a puppy to keep her company. When she was put into a nursing home, he spent several hours a day with her – every day. At his funeral, the pastor shared a story about a conversation he had with Clark about birds, and chose a scripture passage specifically for its mention of the raven.

How do you calculate the measure of a man? Is it the love he had for others? Is it the laughter by which he is remembered?

Wherever we go in life, we touch others…whether it’s a cashier in a grocery store, an airline flight attendant, a stranger we share stories with over a drink, or anyone with whom we speak.  Perhaps the measure of a man has nothing to do with the size of the crowd at his funeral, or the number of people on his Christmas card list. Perhaps the measure of a man is in the impact he has made to one person or hundreds.

There is a saying that a person dies twice: once when his mortal life ends and again the last time someone speaks his name. Let me, once more, say their names so they will forever be in our memories:

Dale Litzsinger

George Wiltsey

Clark White