Rick Steves' Suitcase and Other Thought Experiments

This summer is dedicated to my wife, who deserves it. The hard work is done by circumstance, mostly; my job, as I see it, is to get out of her way.

The routine is different, then, and it messes with me. This is a good thing in most situations, changing up habits, but it affects my mood and other things. I know this. I do the best I can.

I’ve been here, many times. I cocoon in habit. I curl up inside routine, hands over my ears, trying to drown out chaos. The chaos is mostly in my head. I know this, too. I’ve had to learn things.

I’m sure this is why I have some travel anxiety. I begin the process in a quantum state, where all sorts of futures are possible, data points of probability smeared across my reality.

I’ll tip my hat to Erwin Schrödinger and call this thought experiment Rick Steves’ Suitcase. It involves being packed and unpacked at the same time. It needs some work.

What I mean, though, is that I’m always uncertain until I reach a point of no return. I have some low-level anxiety that I’ll forget a phone charger or, say, underwear. Once I get through TSA and reach my gate—and almost always, right when I’m putting my shoes back on after going through security—anxiety melts away and I’m on a travel adventure. I’m almost always relaxed and content, then. I know there’s no way back.

As I say, I know all about this, having been myself for a while now. I learned a long time ago that the only way to accomplish anything was to place myself in a situation with few to no options. Make the reservation. Buy the tickets. Alert the media, sound the alarm, make an announcement. This is my key to contentment, no choices. This is what you’re doing, man. Just do it.

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I’m going to Arizona in about 10 days, for a reunion weekend, then to Scotland the next week. It’s too early to develop travel stress, and I’m much better anyway. All of these years of hopping between Seattle and the southwest has helped streamline things. I never check bags, I always bring a minimum of clothes (four days’ worth, usually, for any length of stay; I know how to use a washing machine), and I’ve got go-to packing routines.

I also know I’m much less encumbered by bad habits. I’m not one of those people jonesing for anything on an overseas flight; I don’t smoke or drink, and mostly my interest in food revolves around getting enough of it only. I can walk for miles without any problem, since I do it every day and have for a dozen years. I’m not on any medication; a vitamin D pill and the occasional ibuprofen are it. I’m a guy who could see the world with a carry-on and a debit card. And I guess I’m about to.

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You know what I think about, when I think about this summer? I think about my wife’s life nine years ago. I think about the summer of 2010, with her increasing problems with discomfort and vision.

The year before had been a nightmare for us, in many ways, and most of them revolving around a catastrophic period for John. It was financially and emotionally devastating, and in the middle of it my daughter got married. By the time 2010 came around, we were ready for a break.

The day after brain surgery. She remembers none of this, probably.

The day after brain surgery. She remembers none of this, probably.

Instead, we got more catastrophes, bang bang bang. Three weeks after spending 8 hours on an operating table, surgeons mucking around with her frontal lobe, trying to tease a tumor out from around her optic nerve and carotid artery, I drove Julie to the university to start the semester. She was cognitively impaired and just a big weirdo back then, but she had an imperative. No one made her go back to work so soon.

So I think of this, and think she deserves this summer. And she deserves my complete attention to it, or as complete as I can give.

Yesterday, then, we drove over to Rick Steves’ Europe store in downtown Edmonds, about 15 minutes away (going the back way, the pretty way, which also passes a great barbecue place, so we did that too). I spent the morning writing a newspaper column about Rick, since I’ve been watching his videos about Scotland and the UK in general.

Rick Steves

Rick Steves

I’m weirdly proud that he’s a neighbor of sorts, the way we manufacture community pride. When I saw him a few years ago on the local PBS station in Austin, helping with a pledge drive, I got a little stuck-up. I know this guy. Not personally. Just, he’s a neighbor. He’s very active in his church, which is where my kids both attended preschool. He’s made a lucrative business out of his travel passion, and he passes his extra cash around the region. He donated a $4 million apartment building to the YMCA, to service as transition for people, mostly women with children, who are currently homeless. He gives a ton of money to symphonies and other organizations. He’s a good guy.

He was also the driving force behind legalizing recreational cannabis in this state, which is just funny to me. He’s a goofy, likeable guy with a Ned Flanders-like personality. It cracks me up to picture him loading up a bong.

Hemp for the win

Hemp for the win

Anyway, I found a great day pack (made out of hemp, ha), stocked up on a couple outlet adaptors, a few other tidbits. We’ll be back, probably. The prices are fantastic; I wouldn’t have blinked at $75 for that day pack on Amazon, but it was 25 bucks in the store. They just want people to travel.

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So I will. My lovely wife and I will scoot across the northern hemisphere for 10 hours, go through customs at Heathrow in London, then take a short hop to Glasgow, where I assume we’ll take a nap. The next day we head for Iona, the tiny island off the west coast where we’ll spend a few days, morning prayer for Julie, long walks for me, spectacular sights and many, many photos.

Then we meet up with friends and explore the rest of Scotland. It’s going to be great, I know. I have nearly three weeks to work up some anxiety, but so far it’s nothing but fun.

And maybe I’ll see Rick Steves, and say hi. He’s currently in Britain, apparently. He’ll be with me anyway, with my hemp backpack, his guidebooks stuffed inside, his videos replaying in my head. I don’t think I have a choice, which is exactly how I like it.

The St. Columba Hotel on Iona, where we’ll spend a few nights.

The St. Columba Hotel on Iona, where we’ll spend a few nights.

Chuck SigarsComment