Things Pondered Whilst Drinking Korbel Brandy

My lady friend and I have just finished an eight day,  212 mile biking trip across five valleys in northern California: Napa, Sonoma, Dry Creek, Alexander, and Russian River. We saw many things including acre upon acre of beautiful autumn-tinged grapevines, shady country lanes and active geysers. We ate food at Michelin-starred restaurants, sampled some of the best wines we’d ever tasted, talked with new friends and learned the value of time spent in a local country store.

I thought I would share just a few of my insights, gleaned while pedaling, napping, eating, and drinking on this very active, always-moving vacation. Indulge me, if you would be so kind.

First of all, flying standby is just what it says. You show up at the airport, boarding pass in hand, but it says STANDBY on it. You get through security, TSA-Precheck if you’re very lucky, and you STANDBY some more until your name turns blue on the little board. Sometime the evil gatekeepers make you STANDBY until the very last minute, as the boarding doors are closing, even though there are clearly thirty open seats on the plane. Am I complaining about this? Of course not. I did make it out to San Francisco and back, after all. (Thanks, Scooter)

San Francisco is a very neat city. It has clam chowder; sourdough bread; vocal, nine foot, aggressive, hungry sea lions; and hills. Lots of hills. You get the hill street blues in San Francisco, especially if you decide to get off the cablecar and walk. (I would not recommend this).

This Just In! The Golden Gate Bridge is not golden. It is a rusty orange. It had no visible gates that I could see. I had Trina take my picture standing on it, for my birthday, anyway. You never can tell when the painters  might actually get the color right on the next coat, or when the whole thing might be closed off by a piece of swinging wood with a Master lock on it. it could happen. I guess The Rusty Ungated Bridge would not attract as many tourists.

Alcatraz would make a nice place for a game of hide and seek.

If anyone tells you, “Hey, it’s easy! Just like riding a bicycle!”, don’t believe them. If the last bicycle you rode was red, had a big padded tush toter and had one gear, beware of the hybrid bike with twenty seven gears and a skinny-ass unpadded (read HARD) seat being fitted to your middle-aged body. It is about to be your home for five or six hours a day for the next week.

Day One: wine is your friend.

Goats are funny. Some of them bleat. Some of them butt their offspring. Some goats faint. I kid you not. Look it up.

Geysers are playful and cantankerous. They tease. Even when the nice lady up front says that the Old Faithful Geyser of California should treat us to a show every thirty minutes, and that she expects the next eruption in twenty minutes (just enough time to resuscitate a goat that just fainted), she then offers us some wine while we wait. It is ten in the morning, This is not a good sign.

The geyser does its geyser thing, but after nine, count ’em (Trina did, and videoed them all too) nine false starts. Ten times was the charm. It was underwhelming, but hey, we could have flown STANDBY to Yellowstone, yes?

Grapes picked off the vine surreptitiously are the sweetest, juiciest, best in the whole world. (No, I did not have to bail her out, thank God.)

You can have chocolate, really, really good chocolate, and coffee, and more chocolate on your birthday and nobody can stop you.

The tall white hats that chefs wear used to have 101 pleats in them to signify the 101 uses that the egg could be put to by a well trained chef. You’re welcome.

There is a characteristic smell, pungent and grape-y and musty and fertile, that one experiences when riding a bicycle through the wine country. I would bet that no one riding in a car ever experiences this wonderful smell in quite the same way that the cyclist does.

French oak barrels are works of art.

Porch sitting with your companion, reading a newspaper, planning the next day’s ride, eating cheese and drinking wine, stretching your tired legs and petting the cat are as close to heaven as you need to be on this earth.

Watching olives being harvested is too cool for words.

Standing next to the actual desk that was used in the filming of The Godfather is surreal.

Finding that there is a hill, a winery driveway to be exact, that is so steep that you can barely get off your bike and push it up to the top with all your might and determination is quite humbling.

I never knew that sitting in the sun, having lunch and good conversation, and drinking excellent champagne could bring such midday joy.

Entering a redwood grove is like entering a cathedral. Cool, misty, mysterious, and so quiet that you hardly want to break the silence by whispering your awe. Can you just imagine the stories a 1400 year old redwood tree could tell?

The Pacific Ocean has more hues of blue and green than can be described in words.

A boat on the bay. A kayak. A mailbox. A flower. “It’s that spot of red…” (Trina Watters, the painter, paraphrased)

Finally, why do they insist on calling it the shoulder of the road, anyway?

“You will have a much narrower shoulder for the next three miles”, or “You will enjoy a much wider, smoother shoulder on tomorrow’s ride”.

I suppose they could have called it the “butt” of the road.

But then, the Kardashians would not have been pleased at all at the prospect of “wider butts” in California, now would they?

After all, the shoulder is the first thing that might likely hit the ground if a logging truck crowded you and pushed you off to the right, just short of the Pacific cliffs.

No. luckily, that never happened.

This was the best vacation ever.

No ifs, ands, or butts.

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest, ATrivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personæ in order to escape burdensome social obligations. (Wikipedia)

 

I have a hard time relaxing.

(Okay, I’ll wait a sec while you all get back up off the floor, close your mouths and gather your wits about you again.)

Yes, it’s true. I love to work. I love my work persona.

He’s a cross between an intelligent eccentric, a person who needs people, an introverted recluse, an arrogant sonofabitch, a great clinician, a mediocre boss (my minions might not even give me that much credit!), an insatiable learner, an organizer, a compassionate man who sometimes tears up at sappy songs and commercials and a sometimes accidental creative. He’s basically a nice guy, I think. He will never, ever retire. He will more than likely die at his desk. If not that, then at his laptop, or while using his Dick Tracy smart watch. Or maybe he will be so busy taking pictures with the Google Glass attached to his own spectacles that he will run headlong into a telephone pole and have a massive subdural. Hey, we all gotta go sometime.

Anyway, I have a hard time relaxing.

So, this weekend, I decided that I would force myself to get away. To practice what I’m always preaching to my dear patients (who I do like, sincerely, just don’t tell them that because it would counterbalance the arrogant sonofabitch part of me referenced above). I decided that to escape the burdensome aspects of my beloved work life, I would get myself the hell out of Dodge (read Aiken) and go south to another beloved place. I would take on another mantle, as it were. I would relax. I would have some fun.

(Don’t look at me that way. Writing blog posts is fun for me. You know that. I’m listening to soothing solo piano music while I write. Does that count for anything? Don’t make me come over there…)

So, tonight after a leisurely ride out of town and down to the Lowcountry, I checked into a very nice hotel downtown.  I went to dinner. A very nice dinner in a very nice place with a very solicitous and nice server named Lisa who did her best to make me happy. I had some good whiskey. I ate some scrumptious seafood. I had creme brûlée for dessert. I drank good, strong, dark coffee. I read some of The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry. (You thought I just made that part up, didn’t you?)

Tomorrow, I will go to the gym for a few hours. I’ll drink more coffee and read the New York Times. I’ll ride out to the Atlantic to Hunting Island, walk the five mile beach, take pictures and climb the lighthouse there for the umpteenth time (I love that lighthouse and the view that you’re always rewarded with when you get to the top). I’ll come back to town and have a late lunch/early dinner at one of my family’s favorite places. I’ll shop for some gifts for a few of the special people in my life. 

I might even take a nap.

May I be serious for a few minutes?

I have had a lot of losses this year. Some of you, dear readers, have too. We all deal, right? We deal. The best way we know how.

I’ve learned some things. May I share them with you, if you have just a few more moments to spare?

Loss, even if it results from your own conscious decision to let something or someone go, is very, very real. It’s not a game. It’s not a dream. You’re not going to wake up and find it gone. You cannot wish it away. You cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist. You cannot sweep it under the rug and hope it goes away on its own.

It will never go away. 

The sooner you recognize it for the ugly, hurtful, spiteful, angry, killing thing that it is, the sooner you can deal with it directly and move on. Because you know, we all must move on. What choice do we have. Hell, I’m not done yet. I’m gonna die at my desk. According to a very close friend of mine, that’s going to be when I’m ninety-six years old. I hope she’s right. 

No matter how many times you return to that place, that state of mind, that trigger, it will never, ever be the same for you again. This is another one of those hard lessons that I’m still trying to learn myself, and maybe you are too. I can drive back there, I can go there in my mind, I can try to recapture the magic, but it’s gone. GONE. It is never coming back in exactly the way I had it before. If I insist on getting it back exactly the way it used to be, I’m always going to be disappointed. It breaks my heart, but I must go forward and find some other way to get a similar feeling, to be in a similar place, to do a similar thing. And that’s okay. I must grieve. You must grieve. I tell my patents all the time how normal that is. I need to listen to my own interpretations. 

Finally, dear readers, I have learned one more thing.

There is joy in the world, and there is enough of it to go around. I can have my share. It’s okay. I deserve it. I need it. I want it. I crave it. 

I have felt small slivers of it in the last few months. Perhaps you have too. I have felt the pure exhilaration of holding my granddaughter, hours old and sleeping in my arms without a care in the world. I have seen the wondrous order and fascinating patterns of snowflakes and early morning frost on windows. I have pushed myself physically and felt the adrenaline flowing when I thought I couldn’t do any more, and did. I have felt love, coming at me from out of the blue and leaving me speechless and in awe. 

I have learned these things, or better to say that I am trying to better learn and understand them. 

There is a great importance in being earnest with the world around you, with those you care about and who care about you.

There is an even greater importance in being earnest with yourself. 

I’m going to climb a lighthouse tomorrow, look out at the Atlantic Ocean, and feel joy.

What are you going to do?

Image

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

20130815-150642.jpg

Okay.

So.

I’ve worked the last twelve or thirteen days in a row. I’ve lost count because it’s been just too damn many days in a row, but there you go.

I’m leaving for Charlottesville today after clinic. I’m ready to walk around the grounds of Monticello and see the trees and flowers and sunshine and the house and the whole works. I’m ready to explore a trail or two. I want to take about a half billion pictures.

I would like to do all this without needing a poncho and umbrella.

The weather is a coin toss right now. Fifty-fifty pretty much. I’m an optimist. I have hotel reservations. I’m ready to drive. I’m going. It can snow for all I care. That would make for some fabulous pictures and a good story.

Sometimes, you just have to make your plans and stick to them. You check your weather app, you weigh the odds, and then you ask yourself.

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Pictures will follow from Virginia.

Count on it.