No Sugar Will Be The Death of Me

A recent bout of manic air travel had me observing the behaviors of fellow passengers and indeed even my own interaction with the myriad of strangers one encounters between point A and B. I’d like to think that on a scale of one to ten that my courtesy ranks at a minimum of eight no matter my mood. Since I’m bias and a complete ego maniac when it comes to my own belief that I’m so very much better than the rest of the human stain on planet earth, I’m willing to consider it’s quite possible that I’m no better than a four. If there is a god, more likely some servant of the deity, I’m of the hope that shortly after my final departure from this world that in addition to a catalog of the near-death experiences that might have removed me much earlier than that date, that perhaps it, he, or she, will also be kind enough to rank me legitimately as to my composure among the rigors of the living. Perhaps in the end I’ll score no better than a two for having faked extreme courtesy while quietly condemning and judging my fellow man at nearly every point of the journeys I’ve made. If it’s possible to report on such a thing from that realm, I’ll certainly own up to it and let anyone who cares to still hear from me know the truth.

Part of that truth might include the way I deliver my order for coffee these days–it isn’t exclusive to airport beaneries, but it was on one of these recent legs that I realized that the firm tone I put against the phrases, “no sugar, no sweetener, un-sweetened” could potentially be registered in the brains of service-industry-soldiers as an unnecessary increase in volume and threat. Going way way back, I can recall having been on the receiving end of a few cups of joe that were poisoned with one of that vile trio. The culprit more often than not was an employee of Starbuck’s, but if memory serves (which apparently it really does not), Dunkin’ Donuts and others had a hand in the creation of my twisted delivery of the simple everyday ask. “No Sugar.” I no longer follow it with a please, or whisper it, or expect that the person taking my order is listening to my order at all. And so, that part of the order leaves my mouth like a bullet to the brain. It’s jarring, possibly alarming, and I believe was the impetus behind a recent reaction by an airport barista that left me feeling anxiously confident that perhaps my request was the final straw on the proverbial back of the camel that day. “Sorry,” I said. “I just really hate sugar in my coffee.” I followed it up with a tense grin and watched as this fellow made his own decisions about how he’d like to be ranked on that fateful day in front of the afterlife’s courtesy report reporter. He sighed and moved on, but I didn’t.

Since then, and it’s been a few weeks, I’ve come to believe that if I don’t change the way that I insist that my java come with zero sweeteners of any kind, natural or chemical, that eventually I will run into the wrong mud-slinger and that seemingly benign request will have me receiving my own afterlife courtesy reports and near death experience lists far sooner than I would if I just excepted the fact the majority of this country loves a sweetened cup. Should  I join the clan, simply as an easier means of survival? I attest, I simply can not drink that filth, and so…

“No sugar, please.”

“No sugar, my good man.”

“Un-sweetened if you can, thank you.”

“If at all possible I’d certainly appreciate it if you didn’t sugarize that there concoction.” 

“It’d mean a great deal to me if you didn’t put anything that sweetened my coffee into the cup. (wink, wink and proceed to over-tip).”

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On a Highway to Hell

Twisting one’s way at a snail’s pace via a rented motor vehicle up or down the West Coast’s famed Route 1, oohing and ahhing at the almost unnaturally natural scenery that envelopes it from every direction, always seems like a good idea. Or at least in my case, has seemed like a great idea twice before. It is true, you’d be hard pressed to find a single other road in these United States that offers as many stunning views in such rapid succession. And the few small towns that exist between Ventura and Santa Cruz, tucked amongst the tall trees of Big Sur, offer a chance at an oft sought sort of peace away from our daily routines that so many of us seek.

Before I paint my brain’s ugly version of the experience, it would be fair to the road to let you know that our most recent jaunt upon it was in a Prius. A car that delighted me with its gas mileage, but left me uneasy each and every time I went to slow its front-loaded chassis as we sailed into declining turns atop sunlit cliffs, and kept me guessing right after those serpentine kinks with the sickly growl it created while struggling to accelerate back up the mountain while various Beamers, Audis, and the like taunted it from behind. Their drivers apparently with bees in their bonnets–desperate to arrive at some future destination as quickly as possible, and not at all making the same journey in order to observe the reams and reams of jagged rocks that lay to the west of what at times felt like eight, maybe nine, total feet of asphalt.

Still, ultimately, the Prius and my steadfast commitment to driving like an old codger protecting a family of seven got us from Point A to Point Portland. Had it rained much, I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same.

I love to drive long distances–few things relax me more, though in a rental I’m less inclined to light up a smoke while I cover those miles. And that section of Route 1, and some section further up in Northern California, on their worst days couldn’t even come close to ranking as precarious as some of the roads my wife and I have navigated in Costa Rica, where at times the only thing between you and certain death is one or two inches of dirt road to the right or left of the vehicle, that is defying all logic with its refusal to crumble into the ocean below it like the previous six or seven inches of road clearly had before. Those drives of 2011 were some of my favorites–a testament to how my brain writes a revisionist history for us both, as I’m simultaneously positive that I must have been silently cursing the beings who believed a road like that should exist in a place where it rains three to four straight months in the fall.

Similar to Costa Rica, there are scars all along Route 1–evidence of previous mudslides, mishaps, fires and huge chunks of landmass missing, the victims of former storms, and often at the most delicate intersections of manmade bridges and the mountain’s desire to shed some weight. Perhaps the reason for such prevalent speedy driving along that road is the theory that you can outrun the potential dangers. I know I gunned it once or twice, as much as you can gun a Prius, believing that the next slide area might be the last slide area we’d ever visit, and our only chance was to dash through it as quickly as possible.

The sounds of sirens, sadly not the kind that coax you into plowing your sea vessel head first into rocks, might have served as a warning of what lie ahead on ol’ Route 1–at least tipped off a more savvy couple of drifters–but not us, no sir. Even after watching all manner of emergency vehicle race North into the hills from the Elephant Seal Viewing parking lot, we hopped back in the Prius to move forward with our plan of maybe catching a quick hike before sunset somewhere around the cozy cabin that awaited us only sixty short miles that same direction.

Let me partake in scribing the utterly overused phrased, “it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.” Here’s three that capture the dilema our decision to press forward on that mighty two-lane highway thrust us upon. Photographic evidence of what for nearly an hour and a half felt like the first minutes into a new future that would at some point loosely resemble last night’s season three premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Never mind you what might have been the impetus to that complete standstill–though the rumors floated around by the more curious, and thusly the more annoying, of the stranded onlookers that joined us there atop that mountain indicated something along the lines of a drunk driver who crashed his or her SUV into the mountain side, setting it ablaze. Word on the street also indicated that the occupants of that vehicle had walked away from the wreckage unscathed. So see, your real concern should center somewhere around the safety of me and the Mrs.

“So you were inconvenienced, Rosch? Who gives a flying f-bomb?” You say?

Let me lay a few of my own thoughts from the incident before you for your consideration: Did the engineers of that particular stretch of road ever take into consideration the potential havoc the sheer weight of that many vehicles stuck on that cliff might result in after years of soaking in rains and baking in harsh summer suns? When was the last time a good rockslide had rolled through that passage, and what are the chances that a boulder or two might use the opportunity to make its plunge while there were sitting targets to strike? I know if I were a boulder on my way out, I’d like to take a few folks with me for good measure–go down as the most legendary of rocks to ever slide down the mountain, a sort of folk hero for all the remaining boulders to tell their pebbles about before bedtime. How long does it take for a group of impatient drivers–as evidenced by their desire to pass me at every opportunity–to begin some sort of revolt or riot? How many unwatched children will have to peer over the side of this road until one finally vanishes right before my eyes? Can I make it overnight on only the backwash of the Diet Coke sitting snugly beside me and the four cigarettes left in my pack? If there is a fire ahead, and it decides to make its way south down Route 1, can we outrun it? At what point will this Prius’ parking brake make a mockery of modern engineering by releasing the vehicle backwards and into the BMW behind me? Are there mountain lions perched just above us, feeling frisky and totally stoked to have a buffet of folks with almost no exit strategy before them? And if so, will the Prius’ windows hold up to their advances as well as the windows of the hatchback that protected that little blonde boy and his mother in the 80’s Stephen King flick, Cujo? Do we have any real visual guarantees that all of this has been caused by a car wreck at all? Isn’t it possible that this is just the beginning of some sort of infection, and up ahead the police have begun a useless quarantine roadblock of sorts, and simply hadn’t gotten around to letting all of us know our days were numbered? And finally, certainly not the last thought I had, but the final for the purposes of this post–would they hold our room at the cabin if we didn’t show on time, and if not, are we destined to check into something we hadn’t researched the likes of the Pinewood Motel from the movie Vacancy?

I gave long thought and pause to these and many more potential scenarios, and don’t mind telling you that my money was squarely on that last one. After all, what better ending to an intense story of survival amongst the elements than the surprise twist that finds our heros being butchered for snuff films? The answer, of course, is none.

Improbable vs. Probable, and the role of Preparation

Full Disclosure: I’m out for blood. In this particular instance blood in the form of restitution. I am not writing this post solely to achieve this goal, I’ve got to write about something, and the gift of Level 9 Paranoia is unapologetic about its ability to infuse itself into nearly any inane occurrence I might experience out there in my world. So, do I want to rave on like a lunatic about how disappointed I am to have arisen this morning to find that Jet Blue didn’t make good on its promise to deliver our luggage yesterday evening? Of course I do. There’s not much of value in that one bag that my wife and I had co-packed with just enough possessions to cover our four day journey to Austin to see our family and a few friends. Also, I am far from cranky about it. I’m super appreciative that we made it to our destination in one piece. And, if I have been informed correctly, since it has been twenty-four hours since we arrived, and we still don’t have our stuff, we can and will submit our receipts (up to sixty dollars) to Jet Blue in order to cover the items we deemed essential to not losing a whole day to the incompetence of someone, somewhere-who made sure our bag took a trip from John F. Kennedy Airport to Seattle, via Long Beach, and then back.

Since the minute my wife delivered the news about our missing bag to me while I stood in a long rental car line, I’ve been wearing a pretty shiny optimism hat about the whole thing. And while I’m a little saddened that no one from Jet Blue bothered to phone us last night to tell us our worldlies still weren’t on the way, and actually hadn’t even left the airport yet, I’m living the advice I had tattooed on my arm five or six years ago and surrendering to however this plays out. And in the mean time, we’ve been having a sick-good time out at LBJ. It’s hard to be upset when you are surrounded by so much love, beauty, and are saddled atop a bright yellow crotch rocket (sans wheels) skimming across the lake while taking in the smiles of family and strangers. I’ll live without this bag, and live well-and if you’ve stayed with me this far, I’ll be grateful that this more than probable scenario and inconvenience is all that came to pass. Because, on the 3rd of July and a few of the days prior, I had an infinite amount of less-than-probable situations playing out in my head that revolved around one of my favorite things to do: travel via flying machines and deal with all that entails.

The LAST thing I’d given any significant thought to was having Jet Blue lose our bag, even as I am aware that it happens to people every day. I don’t care why it happens, it just happens, and no amount of uprising against the airlines and their inability to make absolutely sure your bag makes the same journey you do, is going to completely remove the chance of it happening from the travel-equation. Will I check luggage again? Yes. I’ll roll the dice again, confident that lightning does, indeed, strike twice-but dammit, I like my liquids and gels, and I also enjoy the illusion of roaming freedom that I experience when my hands are free of any handles, cups, bags, satchels, and the like. It’s a physiological feeling that works a psychological number on me in airports and even out in the world-for me, no matter where I am headed, having my hands free of any responsibility leaves me feeling really really swell about dealing with all the other improbabilities my conjuring mind might claim to foresee.

I’m not going to bore you with every little twist I dreamed up before getting on what hopefully won’t be our last successful flight. For one thing, my laptop’s charger is in that cursed but well-traveled piece of luggage. And, if you’ve been paying attention to me here, than you should have a pretty good idea of what kinds of things I had prepared for, and then you can laugh extra hard at me for having given zero thought to the most obvious of them all.

No Sleep ’til…

Thirty-five hours in a car, driving from Texas to New York, gives any man a lot of time to think. Even armed with my very favorite conversation companion and the book on tape she so smartly purchased for the trip, my mind betrayed me, working overtime behind the wheel, at every rest stop, in the bathrooms of the various fast food joints we allowed ourselves to dine at, and most definitely in the curtained darkness of the two-star hotel bedrooms where we attempted to recharge. The usual themes were along for the ride: serial killers, random abductions, backwoods gas-station rapes, long, long thought given to what/who might be in every windowless van or truck we passed, or more likely passed us on our way, and, of course, the nearly constant thought – I keep it there intentionally – that one of my car’s four tires will soon burst, sending our vehicle into a scientifically proven impossibility of in-the-air three-sixties followed by an immediate crushing by the five or so eighteen-wheelers plowing towards us on their southbound route to deliver kiddie-porn into the eager hands of Arkansas pedophiles. I never stop thinking about this possibility because I operate under a rule I invented that my buddy once termed, “Peter Rosch’s Law of Surprises.” The gist being: bad things only happen when you aren’t expecting them. Think about it – ever get a ticket when you were expecting to get a ticket? Anyone ever die the day you spent thinking about them passing on? If so, maybe my Law of Surprises is just that – mine and only my law.

My wife thinks I don’t like her driving – I let her drive for about three hours of that thirty-five, and I suppose that is all the evidence some would need to validate her suspicions. In reality, I don’t trust my car. I’m not sure I trust any car. We put an awful lot of faith in our vehicles as they hurl down our nation’s asphalt-bloodline. I once saw a man in Brooklyn, go gently through an intersection, hit a pothole, only to have his driver side airbag detonate on the spot and into his coffee-cup holding hand and face. He was doing about five or ten miles per hour, and fortunately didn’t have any of the aforementioned pedo-wheelers bearing down on him from in front or behind. It was an older vehicle, but so is mine. Sometimes I’ll just stare at the embossed word “airbag” on my steering column or above my glove box, utterly convinced that it is going to pop at any moment – leaving me blinded, paralyzed, at least long enough to careen into the trees of some forgotten woods near the interstate – making it all the easier for the eyes of the hills to come down and turn me and the Mrs. into torture-play-things. Other times, I question the inner workings of the steering column itself. Has one ever just snapped? Isn’t it possible? I’m not going to bother googling to find out, because even if there is no record of it, I’d say it is at least possible. And the brakes? Sure, I’ve had them inspected recently, but how do I know the guy who looked at them didn’t see they were defective, and decide to let me drive on them anyway just because he was in a rush to get home that night and see the premiere episode of Dexter – maybe even subconsciously he’d made a decision to experiment with causing deaths on his own. Lastly, only in that it will be the last thing I mention out of the hundreds of things I think could happen with any car – new or used –  from time to time, I’ll envision what might happen if the random bounce of a still-lit cigarette might ignite under my vehicle. BOOM! Done and done. But at the very least, we won’t have to move any furniture later that night in front of our La Quinta bedroom door to prevent some thrill-kill from happening. It’s a long ride from Texas to New York, it’s an even longer ride if your a passenger in my head.

I’m No Claire Danes

We returned to the states yesterday from Central America – Liberia, Costa Rica to be exact. If you’ve ever been to that airport, you know it’s a tiny, predominantly open-air joint with a relaxed atmosphere, and in my opinion, adequate security. If you were to compare their passenger preservation procedures to those in stateside airports, you might not come to the same conclusion. No one asked me if I’d packed my own bag for instance, and that’s fine since I’m not in the habit of paying someone to do it for me yet. A good deal of the luggage yesterday, just shy of all of it to be honest, had been packed by my better half. It matters not, because even if I had packed all five of those bags, put every item in them before sealing them, I’d still have stood in line during customs thinking the very same thing I think every time I enter or leave a country: I hope I’m not transporting something illegal that a handsome stranger managed to stuff into my bags while distracting me with his handsome-man smoke and mirrors abilities.

Since I have a strong hatred for knickknacks in general, you’ll rarely find me coming back from anywhere with anything anyway, and so I can easily speak a solid ‘no’ from my mouth when border agents inquire as to whether I’m bringing back anything into the states. But after I say that ‘no,’ it is proceeded by the thought, ‘other than the drugs, guns, or monkey brains delicacy some stranger of ill-repute, but with a devilish charm, put into my luggage.’ My wife just unpacked our bags this morning, nothing of the sort in any of them, just like always, save a stowaway spider that might single-handedly bring New Jersey to its filthy knees. You’d think after years and years of making it back home without incident, and no narcotics some mule-trainer hits me up for later, that I’d just come to grips with the fact: I’m no Claire Danes.

Pre-Flight Preparations

- sketch courtesy of Ariele

I’ve written a book. It’s three or four drafts done. Thank you, thank you, stop, seriously please – your applause is appreciated. Sitting outside on my patio moments ago I decided I’d send the most current version of it to my mother and brother. I am not eager for their opinions, though my mom read a previous version and branded it mom-approved. I am flying on Sunday though, from LIR to EWR, and as such my motive behind sending this draft is clear, at least to me. I will ask that should the plane come crashing down, or explode on take-off, or disappear in The Bermuda Triangle despite our route coming no where close to it, or skip the runway and head straight into a crowded highway, where everyone survives except me due to exiting the plane only to step in front of a speeding cement truck – that mom or my bro take the time to get it polished and published for me. Of course the very same doom and gloom logic should dictate that I forward a draft every time I leave the house – I’ve seen one or two cement trucks here in Samara, and I can’t be positive, but I think one of them had a Howler Monkey behind the wheel. If I think about it long enough I am certain to cc each and everyone of you on that email – as inventing a scenario in which the great majority of my friends meet their demise that day as well, will probably consume sixty percent or so of the hours I have left before that fateful flight. The other forty percent of my time will be spent wondering if posting this was good or bad mojo for said flight.

1st of July 2011

One of my very best friends is making his way down to CR to visit me next week. I couldn’t be happier to see him, but then it occurred to me: maybe this visit is his last hoorah and he’s on his way down to find a cliff to jump from. Maybe he wants out of this life and a beautiful place like this, a place that typically serves to at the very least reset mental states to a manageable baseline, would have the opposite effect. And not unlike that kid from American Beauty, my friend won’t be able to handle so much beauty in the world and will commit to hopping from one of my favorite spectacular viewpoints into the jagged coastal rocks below.

I won’t be walking him to any unless leashed. See you soon old friend.