Judging from all of the activity around me—the multiple to-do lists taxing the strength of the witty magnets on the side of the refrigerator and all of the stuff piling up inside the front door—it would seem that we’re leaving this weekend on a polar expedition.
Which Pole? I haven’t the foggiest. But apparently, we’re driving there. In my daughter and son-in-law’s all-white GMC Yukon, no less, for which one needs a commercial driver’s license to operate and a step ladder to get in. The vehicle is built like a tank, has enough clearance to pass easily over the largest of roadkill, and gets the same gas mileage as an eighty-foot ocean-going yacht.
Either that or this is a ruse to keep me from learning that I’m being placed in a home for the bewildered.
Actually, we’re headed off to Denver, Colorado, for a two-week stay while the doctors at National Jewish Health try to pinpoint my expiration date. I’m checking in as an outpatient, but I was told to be prepared for anything, which I’m guessing doesn’t include an all-you-can-grab tour of the Denver mint or opera tickets.
To save money, we’ve reserved a hotel suite with a kitchenette so I can cook our evening meals. Geri seems oddly interested in what cookware we’ll need to take, despite the hotel’s simple assurance that there is everything we might need already in place. Of course, neither the hotel nor Geri have a clue about what I need to cook.
I like an oven when I cook (one would easily fit in the back of the Yukon), but I will have to settle for a microwave oven, which I only ever use to warm things. That’s okay. I’ll adapt. But Geri says that’s not a problem because Trader Joe’s, of which there seem to be two in our hotel’s neighborhood of Cherry Creek, have wonderful frozen entrees for the microwave.
There are two things working here that have me, well, bewildered: 1) If we’re going to be zapping our dinners for two weeks, why would I need any kitchen equipment at all? And 2), if we’re trying to scrimp a little on the food budget, Trader Joe’s is hardly the place to begin. I’ve eaten in two-star restaurants that are less expensive than Trader Joe’s.
The whole Yukon thing came about because the kids think we’d be more comfortable and much safer than in our Volvo, which could fit snugly in the back of the Yukon, along with the aforementioned oven. Geri thinks the Yukon thing is a good idea because if we happen to buy a couch in Denver, we can easily haul it back. It doesn’t matter much to me: dry, rain, snow, ice…I rarely go much over 35 mph anyway.
As much as my family loves to travel, we are not without our travel issues.
I first learned to travel light when I was a musician and had six cases of drums to haul around from gig to gig. A suitcase was just an added encumbrance and I could fit all I needed for a two-week trip inside my bass drum.
I’ve had my setbacks in traveling light, however, and there are flaws in the less-is-more view of life.
Forty years ago, Geri and I honeymooned in Hawaii. In addition to the classic blue, single-breasted blazer with brass buttons that I wore on the flight, I had packed a three-piece, beige linen suit with three dress shirts and a rather handsome selection of ties. One can never be too sure. After all, I had never been to Hawaii. Nor was I completely aware that honeymoons were tie-optional.
“You brought a suit?” she asked incredulously while changing into her island uniform: a bikini, beach jacket and flip-flops.
One year at Christmas, Geri and the kids presented me with a matching three-piece set of luggage. Each piece had several zippered compartments, some cleverly hidden. The two largest suitcases had wheels and pop-up pull handles. They were made from space-age materials and, empty, weighed almost nothing.
“Am I going somewhere?” I remember asking.
I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would need three suitcases, unless you were moving.
I have traveled for upwards of three weeks at a time without carrying anything more than a stowable suitcase and a carry-on. Others are even more deft and accomplished in this area, traveling only with a fanny pack and a shopping bag from Kmart.
There’s a lot to be said for the old rule of thumb that says, in preparation for a trip, one should put all of those things he or she wants to bring on the bed and all of the money on the dresser. Then, take half of what’s on the bed and twice what’s on the dresser.
Not that anyone should be surprised, there are actual web sites devoted to packing. Some offer ingenious, yet really tedious ways to pack together underwear and socks into one small package that you can easily grab from your suitcase on the way to the shower. I’m not that OCD and I don’t know if I want to make my underwear-and-socks decisions that far in advance. (Like the late-President Bush, I like to wear funny socks to match my mood, which cannot be anticipated.)
The biggest packing controversy in the world of on-line packing seems to focus on which is better—rolling or folding. I employ both techniques. How would it be possible to adhere faithfully to just one?
I’ve found that clothing made of any material that can’t be easily washed in a sink and hung to dry overnight is nothing one should bring. Denim and flannel are parts of the enemy’s army. Granted, nylon undershorts are a bit slippery while sitting on the airplane, but hey, you only need three pair for weeks on end.
When traveling by car or whatever the apt description of a Yukon might be, one can bring whatever one can fit into it. (In that sense, it’s like elk hunting: the six-hundred pound elk is way over there, my truck’s way back there. Forget it.) I don’t want to spend that much time schlepping suitcases and boxes from the car to the room. I’ll still travel light this weekend.
A great car-travel tip is to wear the most ragged, torn and stained clothing you can find (nobody’s going see you except fellow travelers you might meet at gas stations). Before checking out the next morning, neatly fold the old clothing and leave on the bathroom vanity. Leaving a note is optional.
Repeat as necessary.
2 Tbs. butter
1/4 lb. diced smoked ham
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
4 lightly beaten eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thick slices of generously buttered toast, white or wheat
Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, 3-4 minutes. Add ham and cook, stirring frequently, until just golden brown, about 4 minutes.
Lower heat to medium. Pour in eggs, season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir gently. Cook until eggs are light golden brown. Fold in half and carefully flip over, cooking until light golden brown on the second side. Divide and sandwich between toast slices.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska