This blog was supposed to be well articulated, creatively thought out, transporting the reader to a Conde Nast–esque literary experience. All I can do is slap you in the face with all the non-sequitur flashbacks that I’m having of my first day in Miami. Rushing around a flooded sidewalk heading straight into early morning causeway traffic. Domino aficionados of Little Havana, the rhythmic staccato of dominoes being impatiently tapped when a turn is taking too long, or slapped into place on the board. Obviating any Trip Advisor’s bad reviews of Metromover, the helpful lesbian couple and the homeless guy that guided us off the wrong-bound train to get us headed in the right direction. The toothless gentleman that, regardless of my obviously not understanding a word he said, made sure via hand gestures, a borrowed bus schedule, and shouted instructions to the bus driver that we got off on the right stop. The pastry shop in the back of Cuban Supermarket #2 that sent me into a sugar-high at the cost of only $1.20 for 2 blood-sugar decimators. Entering Cuban Supermarket #1 and, as if our whiteness didn’t mark us as out of place, whipping out my camera to take shots of bananas piled 8 feet high, my sister holding avocadoes the size of personal watermelons, of produce signs listing countries of origin from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico. Cuban Supermarket #3 – actually a fruteria – that had even more foreign-grown fruit that I’ve not seen in decades (grafted mangoes like I used to sell in Africa, complete with dried sap streaking from the stem), and a shop owner that hurried us to his back yard to show us his prize pot-belly big, purportedly the mascot & good luck charm that brought the Miami Heat the last 2 NBA championships. Eating lunch at a Salvadorian restaurant where, again, we were the whitest faces at the counter. I haven’t felt so lost in translation since Marrakech at midnight. Pointing to pictures to place my order, nodding at questions I had no hope in understanding, and crossing my fingers that my plate held anything but tripe. It didn’t, which was good. It was carne asada, which was excellent. Not to mention the plantains on which I gorged. And the cafĂ© cubano that powered us through the rest of the afternoon. The varieties of palms – wind, date, Royal, ornamental, fan, none of which are native –brought in from all over the world, speaking to that fragile tightrope immigrants navigate longing for Home left behind while leaning forward into the hopes inspired by this land of opportunity. The hop on-hop off bus tour looping through Coconut Grove (with as many coconut trees as peach trees in Peachtree City – ie, none), Coral Gables (Google the Coral Castle, I don’t have enough time to explain), the Biltmore Hotel, Beaches South, North, and Mid, so many more historically and culturally rich areas that I wanted to call the mayor of Miami personally to apologize for my ignorance of Miami’s heritage.

This one percolated a long time before I could finally post it.

I watched the Santa Cruz sunset with Esther Hagley, a very remarkable and radical woman. She died just two months short of her 101st birthday. At least, that's what her memorial bench said. So I sat there with Estie (really, what do you nick-name an Esther?), and caught the final rays of sun. I was making good on an overdue commitment to emotionally process the finalization of my divorce. I had forced myself to stifle any moments of dealing with the situation, and was now trying to wring out any residual stuff to deal with in the 48 hours I had to process. As intensely as I attack any given day's to-do check list, I was making myself finalize mourning, grieving, loose-end cauterizing. The previous evening, our Bible study group had in what can only be in God's eerily perfect timing been discussing the choice we have in choosing our thought patterns. Battle-field of the mind type stuff. On the 17, just past an accident on the on-ramp that slowed traffic up for miles, God dropped in my mind that rather than see this time as a focus on grieving the loss of my marriage, I should celebrate and be grateful for the ten amazing years I shared with Jeremy. He was - and is - a loving, fiercely loyal, and generous man. One who had a huge heart, who fought hard to be a man of his word, who held himself up to his own high standards while being patiently gracious to others that fell short. He loved well, he took trips with me and my grandma, never complaining when he was stuck toting the extra luggage or running blocks in the rain to bring the rent-a-car to us for front-door service. This was, and is, his true character. He got lost for a season, but I believe with all my heart that his wandering was not who he really is, and I pray every day that he believes in his true character again someday soon. I was greatly blessed to have shared a life with him, to set and achieve dreams with him, to have been his best friend. I had the amazing privilege to have been a part of his family, and I love them dearly and miss them dreadfully.

Pretty Pink Passes

Peripatetic hope springs eternal. As I picked up the last few items for my sister's babyshower (happening the same weekend as our store booth being hosted at a youth rally event, a worship concert performing in the store, and i think i may have to run my cat to the emergency pet care clinic because of something he ate), I saw a great deal on travel-sized face cream. It wasn't until I was unloading my plastic bags on the bathroom counter when I realized how long it had been since I've needed to be mindful of 3-1-1. While it's been kinda nice to buy shampoo, body wash, hairspray, etc. in containers of more puniary-friendly sizes over 3 ounces, I was thrilled that that little travel monster, long dormant, still has the power to stay my hand over the mini-containers that fit beautifully in a carry-on. It's been a journey in its own right, fraught with tumultuous emotional travel, establishing and managing Damascus Road. It's been an adventure that would rival any month-long trek through the Himalayas or up Kilimanjaro. But my wander-lust can't be satiated with anything less than at least one plane change on the way to whatever destination I've come up with. A little pink coupon book sits on my nightstand as I type; another buddy pass. I almost channeled Gollum when I lovingly caressed it out of the fed-ex envelope that it arrived in: my precioousssssss! It allows me to dream again. I can imagine cities on whose streets I've not geocached. Dessert shops boasting local specialties. Ghost tours with cheesy costumes but fascinating history lessons. Where to, where to? My first thought was of BSP, my long-lost ultra running buddy. when she left California, we had each beat the other in an ultra-race. We're long overdue for a tie-breaker. But that's a one stop (not even a plane change) destination. I want to find the most obscure destination requiring the most circuitous route. Maybe I'll plan it around hurricane or blizzard season, and hope for a few weather delays. Let's see where these travel-twitchy feet end up.....

I Still Think Sadistic...

The waitress at Fox's Lobster House is either blissfully unaware of a life outside of romantically idyllic Maine (really, with the coastal views I'm enjoying from my dinner table, who could blame her), or wickedly sadistic. She places the steaming lobster in front of me, I tie the plastic bib tabs tight behind my neck, and realize.....I have no idea how to eat this thing. The closest I've had to a whole lobster was at Legal Seafood, and at least they had the courtesy to crack the carcass, remove the lobster meat, mix it with LDL-level enhancing scallops, crabmeat, and buttery goodness, and place it back in an easy-to-consume package on my dinner plate. Not a bad way to go. But this thing....I scan the other tables for potential clues of what to do next. Of course the table to my right ordered the bisque. Why didn't I think of that? The table to my left has three ladies from Utah, and I deduce they may be of little help. Sure enough, the waitress has to help one of them tie her bib on; at least this blond can handle a bib. Fortunately, my #1 Travel Buddy has done well to teach me the art of removing claw meat intact, and she would've been proud of the slab of meat I dunk in my butter cup. But the body...after several near reenactments of Pretty Woman's oyster-shucking scene and one contact swimming in lobster juice, I emerge victorious with a hunk of lobster goodness that I simply have to admire a moment before eating it. She has waited for that moment to approach my table, and ask, "Need any help here?" Is that sincere concern for my lobster-eating experience, or a mischievous glint in her eye? She's observant enough to have noticed the bib-challenged table, but waits until my last mouthful to belatedly point out the lobster-shucking instructions on my placemat, strategically hidden under extra napkins. I wonder. But by my final forkful of Maine-blueberry pie a-la-mode, I decide I really don't care.

Traveling Buddies part tres

3. Activities: Have a good combination of sharing common interests and being open minded to each other's . On our upcoming Philadelphia whirlwind tour, we both are looking forward to taking the ghost tour, geocaching in a few historical spots, and touring Independence Hall. I'm going along with C. to check out quilts and homemade jams in amish country, and she's not all that reluctantly going with me to the Mutter Museum and Eastern State Penitentiary. To quote the all-knowing Calvin (as in Hobbes, not John), a good compromise leaves everyone unsatisfied. But with a good travel buddy, you can always learn something interesting and have a good experience sharing the others' interest.
Travel Buddy Part Deux:

2. Hotel preference: I used to prefer ghetto-cheap to save money for activities; by now my travel buddy has taught me that safety and convenience of location are worth the extra cash. Safe and clean on a moderate budget is almost enough, we agree we don't need the W or Omni. But when we went super-cheap for a quick overnight in Vegas, the blood smear on the door (we have pictures if anyone doubts this), while titillating my obscene crime scene proclivities, relieved me of all accommodation-procurement duties. In my defense, when at an upscale hotel in San Francisco that my friend reserved, we returned from a late night out at the theatre to find a magnificent artwork of vomitus on our door that had actually projectiled almost 6 inches under the door and into our room. The hotel was booked to capacity, so we dangled our legs off the edge of the Tempur-Pedic(r)mattress with plush down comforters and 600-thread-count sheets as housekeeping futilely steam-cleaned the offended area and sprayed lavender room deodorizer. I'm amazed we didn't wake up the next morning with massive hang-overs from the residual alcohol fumes. So make sure you're in agreement about budget and quality issues.

Who's Your Travel Buddy?

My coworker/friend and I are planning a long weekend to Philadelphia, and the texts, emails, and phone calls have been flying frantically back and forth as we figure out how to squeeze as many activities into each 24-hour day as possible. After several years and several successful trips together, we are now travel buddies, bracelet buddies, necklace buddies, adventure buddies; I'm really working on her to become tattoo buddies. No luck so far. But we've found in each other all the key ingredients in a great peripatetic relationship. My next few blogs will help those of you who may still be in search of your travel buddy 'soulmate':

1. Eating styles: cheap? authentic? touristy? One big meal, several snacks? Know ahead of time. One friend - not the one I usually travel with - took a road trip with me recently, and rather than experience a restaurant with more local flavor, she wanted Subway. As in five dollar foot long. She even cheerily sang the jingle all the way there. It wasn't a deal breaker, but if I'm in Puerto Rico and find myself at a Burger King, I'm not happy. (That actually happened with my fully experienced travel buddy, but it was a unanimous decision because we were burnt out on deep-fried Alcapurrias and desperately needed green salad. Besides, that's her in the picture thoroughly enjoying a fish taco after an exciting day buoy-watching in Puerto Rico). Know if your travel buddy needs a hearty breakfast or yogurt on the run. Does dinner need to be at a trendy, upscale restaurant or can you scarf Philly cheese steaks as you race from a Duck Tour to the ghost tour?