Nothing to Get Excited About

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As Tolstoy once said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” We usually post here about happy traveling and, in doing so, many happy trips are alike. For a change of pace, I thought I would delve into that part of work travel that we hide from view: the mundane. For every excursion with a spectacular sunrise, perfect meal, and delightful museum, there is a rainy, hungry, and rushed trip.

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At 5:30 a.m., when the alarm bleated my alert that the day was beginning, I was busy trying to convince Robert Carlyle that a lake was a loch and a white horse was a unicorn. Even Begbie looked at me like I was crazy and informed me he needed to return to his family. I awoke thinking, “Doesn’t matter – I had a conversation with Robert Carlyle.” I knew the sodden morning would mean a slow drive to the airport, so instead of getting up early and I found myself throwing make-up and clothes I should be wearing in my bag and hurtling out the door and onto I-695.

The security lines were almost non-existent, probably because anyone with a choice had decided that flying on a day when there were tornado, wind, and thunderstorm warnings from Texas to New York was a bad idea. I went through the scanner and the TSA agent decided I needed a full-body grope. It was thorough enough for her to discover that my tits are a lie of foam and elastic.

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The flight to Louisville was only half-full and my colleague and I luxuriated in an empty middle seat. We arrived under stormy skies and picked up our rental car. We hopped onto I-64 and headed east. A little over an hour later, we arrived in Lexington, KY. The drive included rain, sun, dramatic clouds, and waterfalls spilling over the cut rock walls that line the highway. It also involved gusts of wind, tractor trailers, a trucker texting and swerving, and skipping lunch.

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We did our work stuff and offered to take the people we met with out to dinner. I’ll admit to a bias. I assumed being in a college town meant that vegan options would be plentiful. Instead, I choked down a plate of leaves. I am vegan because I like animals, not because I like vegetables.

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We left Lexington and drove back to Louisville. Once on the outskirts of the city, I stopped for gas and gulped down a bag of jerk-flavored kettle chips. (And also got a bag of hot chips, in case we had a long night ahead of us.)

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We had already received the alert that our 9:00 p.m. flight was delayed, as well as texts and photos from our family members dealing with the crazy-assed thunderstorm that was battering the east coast. There was flooding and tornados all over our soon-to-be flight path. A violent thunderstorm in February…and yet the climate change-deniers persist.

With the temperatures now 20 degrees colder than when we arrived, we made it back to the airport about 7-8 hours after we had left it. I’ll give Louisville airport this – the car rental return was super fast, close and easy, and the trip through security was speedy and friendly. On the downside, most of the stores were closed by 7:00 p.m., and we had hours to kill.

We found our gate, where rumpled souls from the much-delayed 4:15 p.m. flight to Baltimore were still milling about. It was scheduled to leave at 8:30 p.m. Hmmm, I wonder?

With my most pleasant, earnest face I approached the gate agent. “We’re scheduled for the 9:00 p.m. flight that is now delayed,” I said. “Is there any chance of getting on the delayed 8:30 p.m. flight?” I closed with a winning smile that I hoped didn’t look vaguely threatening.

“Yes, ma’am, we can add you to the standby list.”

Twenty-five minutes later I was wedged in the middle seat (eating a snack from the Louisville Vegan Jerky Company), grateful to be going home and joyous that, instead of being delayed, we were headed out 30 minutes earlier than planned.

For all the perfunctory aspects of tedious travel, this still wasn’t a bad trip. From getting to know a new coworker and the unexpected waterfalls to new flavors of potato chips and getting on an earlier flight, these small moments were enjoyable. Then again, maybe I was just counting those frequent-flier miles.

*This is in no way an indictment of Kentucky. I’d love to explore the weird museums, distilleries, and attend the Harry Dean Stanton Film Festival.

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Maritime Museum of San Diego

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Several times each year, I attend work conferences that take me to cities all across America. Between educational programming, receptions, and catching up with old friends and colleagues, it can be quite exhausting. Still, I try to make the most of the small bits of personal time allotted by exploring points beyond the antiseptic confines of a conference hotel.

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Given my limited free time, I assigned utmost priority to visiting the Maritime Museum of San Diego during a recent trip to that city – particularly the Museum’s centerpiece, the tall ship Star of India. The Museum bills the 212-foot “Iron Lady” – launched as the Euterpe from the Isle of Man in 1863 – as “the world’s oldest active sailing ship.” (NOTE: Following a recent overhaul, the wooden whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, built in 1841, left her home port of Mystic, Connecticut, for an extensive tour of the New England coastline. However, even if this fact muddies the superlative waters, that both ships are so well-maintained, never mind operational, is nothing short of commendable.) The Star of India hauled everything from salmon to timber to New Zealand-bound immigrants until her retirement in the 1920s. Following a half-century of idle decay, she put to sea again in 1976. Today, the Star tells her illustrious story (which includes collision and mutiny) through a host of exhibits both below deck and topside. Visitors may take note of the ship’s ubiquitous knot-work, whose decorative aesthetic was in fact secondary, in nearly all cases, to serving practical purposes.

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But for me, the most pleasantly unexpected moment of my visit came aboard the in-this-case-aptly-named H.M.S. Surprise. You see, the ship, launched in 1970, is a replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate, the H.M.S. Rose, a name she bore for the next three decades. A substantial portion of that time was spent berthed in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was during this time that an uncle of mine volunteered on the ship, and in fact was aboard when she sailed for New York in 1986 in commemoration of the Statue of Liberty’s centennial.

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At the dawn of the 21st century, 20th Century Fox purchased the ship for use in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, renaming her H.M.S. Surprise. The Maritime Museum acquired the Surprise/Rose in 2006. But to this day the ship’s engraved bell belies her original namesake.

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Other Maritime Museum highlights include the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley, which evacuated survivors of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake to Oakland; the Californian, a replica of the 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence and the official tall ship of the state of California; the B-39, a Cold War-era “Foxtrot” class Soviet submarine; and the U.S.S. Dolphin, a deep-diving diesel-electric U.S. Navy research submarine decommissioned in 2007. Fans of all things nautical will revel in the Museum’s collection, unparalleled, in my experience, this side of Mystic Seaport.

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