Bucket lists (travel)

Eight days ago, I returned from a trip to Iceland where I checked some boxes off my travel bucket list. Chief among those was a chance to see the northern lights / aurora borealis (they were oddly underwhelming in person – they looked more like thin, barely visible clouds than the bright green you see in photos – until I looked at my photos and realized I got some good ones).

The other day, I was thinking about bucket lists and, for a short moment, I thought I had put a serious dent in my bucket list over the last three years – Yellowstone, Rome, Venice, Pompeii, Florence, Iceland, the aurora… Why the sudden burst of travel? After my divorce, and after a few friends died too young, I realized I needed to do a little more to enjoy life today and to do things for myself.

I have been at my current job for over 17 years and have been working at a below-market salary (for many years it was quite significantly below market) for all those years. I have been doing that, in part, with an eye toward my future in the form of a fairly generous (particularly by today’s standards) pension and also toward the present in the form of above-market benefits. Among those benefits is very robust vacation accrual, which I rarely took in my first 10 years.

My future was accounted for, but what was I doing in the present? In 2010, I started taking advantage of my vacation time, with a 2-1/2 week trip to Japan, a place that feels like a second home to me. My next trip was 2011, to see the Kings open the season in Berlin and then to travel around France with a friend. And it was around that time that I met my now-ex, who lives in Stockholm (yes, Sweden).  For the next 3 years, my vacation time was spent almost exclusively visiting my ex or spending time with my ex here in LA. But that was okay, because I was planning a life with this person – a life that would eventually be based in Europe where, I thought, I’d be close enough to many of the places I hoped to see someday. Plus, my ex and I had some of the same places on our bucket lists and had planned to visit them some day, as well. I figured I had plenty of time to whittle down my list. But then my marriage ended and, with it, so did those plans for the future.

About a year and half later, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a conference in Rome. I had the chance to both check Rome (and a few other cities) off my bucket list and to learn something. So I took it. And I realized around that time that I could make my own opportunities. And when some friends passed away suddenly, I realized life was short. I had been working hard to ensure my future, but I needed to start considering the present. So I started checking places and travel experiences off my bucket list.

But was I really just down to just two more, one of which I anticipate knocking out next year, after just a few years of travel? As I started talking about travel I realized there were so many other places and experiences still on that list.

Among the remaining bucket list items:

  • Cambodia and the Angkor temples
  • The Galapagos Islands
  • The ancient ruins in Greece
  • Israel (with a detour to Petra, Jordan)
  • A safari in Africa
  • The Scottish Highlands
  • Stonehenge (yes, I know it’s underwhelming), Bath and other sites in England
  • Castles throughout Europe
  • The rain forests in Costa Rica
  • Snow monkeys in Japan and the Sapporo Snow Festival
  • The pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt
  • Iguazu Falls
  • Auschwitz (not so much a bucket list item as something I feel I need to see in my lifetime)
  • The national parks and national monuments in Utah

I am sure there are others and new ones will replace the ones I check off. But it looks like I have some busy years of travel still ahead…

 

 

Be good to each other

This afternoon, I had one of those reminders about life.

As I was leaving the sushi restaurant where I had lunch, a guy coming out of the 7-11 next door said hi and exchanged a little small talk. I got the sense from his demeanor that he was having a rough go of it, but he didn’t ask for money. A guy came out of the 7-11 and he asked him “can you share some change, my man?” The guy never even acknowledged him and kept walking. I asked “can  you use a few dollars?” He very humbly acknowledged that he did but said he didn’t want to ask me.

I gave him the few singles I had in my wallet and he was humbly grateful for the little gesture. As I was about to walk away, I stopped and turned back. “I don’t have much cash, but do you want something to eat? I can put it on a card.” His eyes lit up and he asked for some chips or something like that. I was about to go inside 7-11 when the McDonald’s next door caught my eye. I offered to walk over with him and buy him an actual meal. He was taken aback and gratefully accepted.

“I just have to get my phone inside,” he said. He then quickly added “it’s an Obama phone, it’s free.” I told him I didn’t really care – someone with a brand new iPhone could have been struck by a tragedy and found themselves having fallen on hard times. He explained that when people see the phone (it looks like a smartphone but it has very limited features), they sometimes respond “you have a phone.” Huh?  “You can’t eat an iPhone,” I said.

As we walked over to McDonald’s we talked about how we all should have a little kindness, especially in our current political climate where the ruling party would like public assistance to go the way of the dinosaurs (you know, those giant lizards that kids used to keep as pets a few thousand years ago). He excitedly said he was going to order a Big Mac value meal, that he hadn’t had a Big Mac in a while. I had just spent $35 on sushi and here was someone who was excited and grateful to be having a Big Mac.

He told me his name was David and that he was struggling to get by. He lost his job and that meant he couldn’t pay his rent. He went through a divorce. Family who he had helped in the past weren’t there for him when he fell on hard times. He was working temp jobs and doing his best to get by while he tried to find a job. But it was a struggle.

He ordered the large Big Mac value meal and I told him to add a dessert or something if he wanted it (how can you pass up those pies?).  I paid for his meal and said my goodbyes – I asked him to pay the kindness forward to someone else once he gets back on his feet – and rushed off to my car before my meter expired.

It isn’t the first time I’ve bought someone lunch at that McDonald’s, nor even the second. I’ve been struck by the gratitude each time I’ve done it – no one has ever declined saying they just want money or taken the gesture for granted (well, one person sort of did – it turned out she wasn’t alone and her friend was hungry too). Maybe it’s something about that store? I spent less than a third of what I just spent on my lunch (and little more than the cost of the indulgent Unicorn Frappuccino I haven’t had a chance to try) but to him it meant a  lot.

Many of us live just one unfortunate incident away from finding ourselves in similar situation – a lost job, an accident, an illness, divorce, a family tragedy.  In this climate, with an administration that would gladly cut the supports of what is left of our social safety net, it’s sometimes worth stepping back and contemplating.

Studying…

I started this blog to talk about things like my experiences going back to school, interesting issues that happen in the news, and my travel adventures.

Well, I’ve failed miserably.

My second semester of school is winding down and I have yet to post anything about it.

The United Airlines fiasco was a good opportunity to talk about contract law, but I kept my comments to Facebook and Twitter.

And travel… well, I guess I can salvage that – I am taking my next trip in two weeks. I was talked into attending the ACC Europe Conference in Cascais, Portugal, so I am taking some extra time to travel. I’ll head first to Edinburgh, so I can see my school in person. Then it’s off to London (which I have been hesitant to visit because of painful memories tied to the city/region) for 4 days. Then I head down to Portugal. After the conference, I’ll spend a few extra days in Lisbon.

So we’ll see… I’ll try to be better at finding time to do this blogging thing. For now, I’ve got an exam to work on…

Fade in…

Scene – it’s 5:40am, our protagonist is sound asleep.

Suddenly, razor sharp claws penetrate the protagonist’s foot. She bolts awake, sitting upright with a loud yelp. A stream of profanity follows, punctuated occasionally by the name “Elsa.”

The camera pans to the foot of the bed where a brown  demon with glowing eyes sits with a menacing grin.

The protagonist blinks and looks again to see an innocent-looking brown cat looking at the protagonist quizzically, wondering why the protagonist just shouted her name and flung profanity at her.

The protagonist lies back down, glaring at the cat.

Protagonist: “leave my damn feet alone, Elsa. I’m trying to sleep.”

As the protagonist drifts back to sleep, the cat coalesces back into the glowing-eyed demon and lets out an evil little chuckle.

Fade out…