Monthly Archives: September 2012

People Magazine or The New Yorker?

My friend George likes to push the envelope, any old envelope will do. He’s always got a one-liner ready to go and he can’t resist a good comeback. We clicked as soon as we met, probably because I’m a lot like him. I knew he was just trying to be provocative when he suggested I do a post about how long people spend going to the bathroom, but it worked. I’m going to give it a whirl.

Remember the movie, The Big Chill? It’s one of my all-time favorites. In case you never saw it or don’t remember it, a bunch of friends from college get together for the weekend after one of them dies. It had a phenomenal cast and even better music. (It’s a little known fact that the corpse at the beginning of the movie, whose head is never seen, was played by Kevin Costner.) Jeff Goldblum was in it, a very young Jeff Goldblum, and a very young Kevin Kline, and, face it, the movie came out in 1983, they were all very young; Glenn Close, William Hurt, Mary Kay Place, Tom Berenger. I loved them all. I wanted to belong to a group like that so badly. I still do. Sigh.

Jeff Goldblum played a character who wrote for People Magazine. He said his job was to write pieces that were short enough that the average person could read one in the time it took to take a crap. I tried to find the exact quote on the web, but after half an hour I’m giving up. I thought that line was hilarious so why doesn’t it  appear in any of the lists of Big Chill quotes? I guess it wasn’t that funny. It was, however, the first thing I thought of when George challenged me to write about the time people spend on the pot.

The next thing I thought of was the children’s book, Everyone Poops. By the time it was published in 2001, we’d already established that fact with my daughter so I never felt the need to explore that book further than the title. Then, a couple of years ago, I read Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors. That’s a memoir about a truly bizarre childhood. His mother couldn’t cope, so she sent him to live with her psychiatrist, who was crazier than she was. (Running with Scissors has been made into a movie as well, and while they did a decent job of bringing it to the screen, if you haven’t seen or read it, I’d recommend that you read it.) The patriarch of the family, his mother’s psychiatrist, is fascinated by his poop (his own poop). He scoops it out of the toilet, intact, and puts it out in the yard to dry so he can study it. Mind you, we’re never told how long it takes him to produce the poop so perhaps it’s not relevant, but it popped into my head and there it is.

This is the point where I usually manage to cough up something that will tie the threads of the blog post together; some reference that will make the reader go ahh, or ah ha, or maybe just ha ha. I’m having trouble doing that this time. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling a little rumbly in my tummy and it’s distracting me. I know what to do; I’ll take a break and go to the bathroom. Now then, where did I put the latest New Yorker?

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Take a seat. No, not that one!

Flying is getting more surreal each time I do it. You make your own reservations and check yourself in. If you want to eat on a plane, you bring your food with you. A checked bag is twenty-five dollars – each way! On our recent trip to Wyoming, that added $150 to the total cost. Or it would have if my husband hadn’t figured out a way to beat the system.

While waiting for our flight out, after we’d already checked our bags, the gate attendants repeatedly requested that passengers check their bags because the flight was running out of storage space in the overhead bins. Before they called our group to board (which they organize by some algorithm that I’m clearly not smart enough to understand) they announced, “If you have carry-on luggage, you must surrender it now so we can check it; the plane is full.” There was much grumbling about the inconvenience amongst those still waiting to board, but no one complained about the cost, because now it was free.

On the way home, Hannah and I checked our bags, which were too big to carry on anyway, but Andrew held onto his. Once again, when it was time to board, the announcements started. “This is a full flight and there is not enough room in the overhead bins. Please let us check your bags for you.” Andrew marched right up and handed his over. His bag was sent to join ours and we saved $25. Ha, take that United!

But bags aren’t the only thing you pay for. You want a window or an aisle seat? That’ll cost extra. Traveling with a child? Didn’t spring for the cost of an aisle seat? Well then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to sit with your child. That’s insane! Believe me, there isn’t an airplane passenger in the world who wants to sit next to someone else’s abandoned kid. Come to think of it, some of us might even pay extra to ensure that that doesn’t happen…

I don’t know how we managed since we didn’t pay for the privilege, but the three of us were seated together on all four legs of our vacation flights. On the second leg of our trip home, the plane wasn’t terribly full. I was in the middle seat. As soon as I sat down I started scoping out a replacement seat. There were a few empty rows, and a few that just had one person in the aisle or the window. Things were looking promising. They shut the door; no one else would be getting on. I began checking out the competition. I knew that everyone else in a middle seat was thinking the same thing I was. The flight attendant picked up the intercom.

“Hello everyone. Looks like we have some room on the flight this afternoon so as soon as we’re in the air, you’re free to move. However, those of you in the back of the plane, please do not come any further forward than row x.” Apparently, those people paid more for their seats. In the good old days, there would have been a curtain to provide a visual clue, but no more. Then, to add yet one final insult, the flight attendant came over the intercom and said, “And if you have to use the restroom, please use the one at the back of the plane. The ones forward of row x are not for you. Enjoy your flight.”

Wyoming III: White water rafting

Most of the people we met in Wyoming were from somewhere else. I’m not talking about the seasonal employees at the National Park’s visitor centers or the international students who work in the restaurants and gift shops. I’m talking about the people who call Jackson home. One of the paragliding instructors told us he’d been there about ten years. In addition to floating off mountains, he has a full time gig as a janitor. He said it was a great place to raise kids and he was there to stay. We met a waiter who’s been there for two years and is trying to launch a career as a photographer, not a super young guy, in his early thirties. His girlfriend followed him out and they got married. He said the town is a mecca for kids fresh out of college. They work for a couple of years and then move on – or not.

White water rafting with Andrew and Hannah

The most interesting transplant we met was John, our white water rafting guide with Barker-Ewing. John is originally from Connecticut, but has been living out west for fourteen years. He’s an outdoor adventurer who cobbles together a living leading rafting and kayaking trips down the Snake River and anywhere else you can float. He’s saving money for a trip to Ecuador where there’s a river waiting for him. I’m not sure what he does to earn money in the winter, but when the snow falls, he hits the slopes.

John does a lot of what’s called back country skiing, or skiing out-of-bounds. That’s just what it sounds like, skiing where there are no trails; where if you break your neck they may not find you for a while, which is what happened to him. Luckily he had cell reception and was able to call for help.

Another time, he got buried in an avalanche. He said it was like being in cement, he couldn’t breathe. Just as he started to see colored lights, indicating that his oxygen was almost gone, the friends he’d been skiing with were able to dig him out.

He shared these stories with us while we were floating down the Snake River in an eight-person raft. He was entertaining, but I wondered if there were rafting-related misadventures that he was keeping to himself. I’d never gone rafting before and I’m not embarrassed to say that I was scared. This trip, however, began with a benign two-hour float, followed by a stop at their campsite for breakfast. The float was so beautiful and relaxing (although cold in the morning), and the breakfast was so delicious (rice flower pancakes, maple-flavored sausage, perfect coffee), that I figured I’d at least die happy when we hit the white water.

There were two guys from Atlanta with us on the raft. One, also named Andrew (the spitting image of Robin Williams, don’t you agree?) had moved to Cheyenne for a job with an environmental firm a couple of years ago, and the other, his friend Dixon, a radiologist, was visiting him. When I found out we had a doctor on board I definitely relaxed.

Can you tell which one looks like Robin Williams?

As it turned out, Dixon’s services weren’t needed. The country’s been having a drought, and the Snake River was not in a raging kind of mood. Oh, there was white water, and we had our thrills and got wet, but it could have been much worse. Considering that we weren’t wearing helmets, it’s probably just as well. John had clearly had a lot of luck in his life; I didn’t want to be around when it ran out.

If you’re going to Wyoming and want to do some rafting, I’d recommend Barker-Ewing. But don’t confuse them with Barker-Ewing Float Trips. The only difference is the hyphen in the url that our outfit has. Apparently Barker and Ewing were together for many years. When they finally split up, the hyphen free crew decided to stick with lazy trips, floating tourists around and pointing out bald eagles and such. Our company got the hyphen and the franchise for the white water trips, and the campsite where they serve their incredible breakfasts.

Wyoming II: Paragliding with the stars

Andrew has floated in a hot air balloon, cruised in an open-air bi-plane, and jumped out of a plane, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when he said he wanted to go paragliding in Wyoming. I was, however, floored when, without consulting me, he asked our sixteen-year-old daughter if she wanted to do it, too, and even more surprised when she said yes. I, of course, said no. (That’s what comes of having been a wild middle child; I have nothing left to prove.)

On the second day of our vacation, we were at the paragliding meeting site at 7:45am. When the thrill seekers got on the tram to go up the mountain, I wandered down to the landing site, which happened to be in the hotel’s front yard. Since this was not my adventure, I have no firsthand experience to share about anything that happened out of my sight. I can, however, show you some photos I took of Andrew and Hannah heading out, floating around, and landing. You’ll find those below. But that’s not what my story is about.

After Andrew and Hannah landed, and the pictures had all been taken, we walked back to the Village for breakfast at The Mangy Moose. Over Huevos Rancheros, Hannah told us that her paragliding instructor had let slip that at the 9am launch they were gliding with Stephen Colbert. To verify that, she poked around the web and came up with a Colbert tweet that said “‏@StephenAtHome I’m on vacation for a week. I won’t say where, but it rhymes with Florida. That’s right, I’m going to the secret rich person island Shmorida.” I reacted like a bear after huckleberries during the drought. I wanted to see Stephen Colbert.

Andrew and Hannah were game, to a point. We walked back to the landing site together, right on time to see the 9 o’clock group descending. The scene on the ground was the same as the one we had participated in an hour earlier. There were a handful of people with cameras trained on the sky waiting for their loved ones to land. There were no paparazzi, no fans with autograph books; nothing to indicate that this was anything other than a normal gathering to watch crazy people fall out of the sky.

While we watched, I struck up a conversation with a woman who turned out to be from Newton. She and her two children were waiting for her husband to land. Once her husband was safely on the ground, they left, leading me to believe that they were unaware that Stephen Colbert was among their group. That, or they were just too cool for school and didn’t care. By the time Mr. Colbert landed, there were only a few people left at the site. It was the ideal setting in which to accost a celebrity.

Andrew and Hannah were standing off to the side pretending they didn’t know me as I slid closer to Mr. Colbert. I waited until he was out of his gear and seemed to be wrapping up. Then I walked up to him, held out my hand and said, “Judy Mintz. And may I just say, Florida Shmorida.” He shook my hand and nodded without paying too much attention. I was just another fan, nothing special, nothing interesting. I stepped back. When he stopped to pose for a photo for one of the paragliding crew, I snapped a few pictures of my own.

Stephen Colbert purports to hate bears, which makes Wyoming a strange vacation choice since it’s peppered with signs warning you to be “Bear Aware,” and tourists are encouraged to carry Bear Spray. Despite all the warnings, we never saw a bear. Maybe Mr. Colbert knew his chances of seeing a bear were slim compared to the likelihood that he’d be bothered by a fan. Maybe he packs Fan Spray. If so, I’m glad he didn’t consider me a big enough threat to use it.