travel-suitcase_1We’re traveling to Ireland for a week to see our daughter who is studying abroad and I’m stress-packing. I’ve already started a pile of things I need to take. A gift for a local friend, our daughter’s birthday present, a kit filled with electric plugs so that our devices can remain charged. Now I’ll start packing clothes. Besides the fact that everything I own is at least 5 years old and I hate it all, I don’t know how to select the best things to take. “It rains everyday,” our daughter says. So, boots? They take up too much room. I need to have shoes that can get wet, or multiple pairs so I always have something dry to put on. Shoes for pants. Shoes for a skirt or dressy dinner? Now I have a row of shoes in my packing pile. I ’m starting to sweat.

It’s November, so it’s going to be cold – and wet. Oh geez, that makes it feel colder. And we’re going to walk around outside. A coat to go with jeans, one for being more dressed up, and a light jacket in case there’s a warm day. The Weather Channel says there can be a warm day. Coats and a windbreaker join my pile. I’m quivering a little.

Good ol’ layering – that’s what I need to do. Out come the turtlenecks, pullovers, long underwear. I need to be ready for a really cold day too. Looking at the pile I realize I can’t wear the brown pants with a gray sweater and a blue top. So I start pulling out all of my black clothes. This seems more cosmopolitan. Or European. Or like I’m going to an undertaker’s convention. But maybe if I work in a colorful scarf to break-up the black? My head hurts.

I have filled my suitcase, then turn to find a stack the size of an ottoman that isn’t packed yet. I’ve forgotten toiletries. I’ve got to start over, re-thinking what I really need. I’m momentarily distracted by the idea that I can carry on a second bag – wait, I don’t have a second bag.

One of the little known perks of being an astronaut must be that they don’t have to pack for the trip themselves. A cast of rocket scientists have determined what goes on the ship, and ensures they are outfitted for every potential circumstance. The astronaut just zips up that one spacesuit and trots into the cabin, waving at the cameras.


Lost and Found

img_1017Being a wary urban dweller, I’m aware of my surroundings when I walk: the people I pass, cars that challenge pedestrians, signs, and interesting buildings. I also tend to look down a lot when I walk – to make sure I don’t trip on the sidewalk (I do anyway) or step in dog poop or a puddle.
City streets and sidewalks contain a certain amount of grit. It varies based on the proximity of a storm sewer (and how well it drains), whether the store owner sweeps in front, and how recently the street cleaner whooshed down the block.  Small pebbles from crumbling cement, shards of broken glass from bottles or tail lights, cigarette butts, and fluttery bits of trash are part of the landscape you expect.  The occasional outlandish item – a hair extension blowing down the block like a tumbleweed – is memorable. But clothing always surprises me.  Socks, shoes, hats, gloves, shorts, shirts.

My first reaction is to look up for the person who dropped this item. What happened?  An overflowing laundry basket? Out turned pockets? Maybe Wind, confident in the windy stronghold that is Chicago, has finally won the contest with Sun and rewritten Aesop.

I don’t collect the item – there is no universal lost and found box – and usually by the next time I pass the same spot the item is gone.  Reclaimed? or harvested for some mysterious use?

I hate losing things, but that doesn’t change what the object seems to want.  Many of my gloves are dancing around in the backs of cabs.  Scarves and umbrellas are caught in tree limbs with shopping bags, waving madly to imitate the leaves.

Sometimes I imagine I’m following a trail of breadcrumbs, a message left on purpose so I can find something.  If I walk a bit faster, I may approach a stroller where a giddy toddler waves a small sock in the air, then flings it to join the single shoe dropped earlier.  Her free toes wiggle in the breeze.   With a triumphant expression, she is the queen of entropy.






IMG_1006I love maps. They are the first way I get to know a new city. Where am I? Where do I want to go? What are the roads in between? Trace it with my finger, draw a rough facsimile on a piece of paper, and grip between my fist and the steering wheel, or hold discretely in my sweaty palm, so I don’t look like a tourist. In the days before I had a smart phone with Google Maps, this was how I approached the task. It worked pretty well, for “out and back” trips, but if I managed to veer from the hand drawn path, I had limited information to go on. Only the hope that I could circle back and somehow find the road I drew again. In those inevitable situations where I overshot the exit, or missed the turn, or couldn’t for the life of me figure out which street was which at the 6-way intersection, I would mutter a curse, and try to adjust.

Eventually, I learned enough to forego consulting the map every time I left the house, but there were still things to learn. In Chicago, addresses on streets west of State will increase as you travel west, and addresses on streets north of Madison will increase as you travel north. This is generally helpful since other indicators of North (moss on the side of a tree?), East (Lake Michigan), or the position of the sun, aren’t always immediately knowable when you’re zooming up a highway ramp, getting honked at by an impatient cabbie, or a dodging a delivery guy on a bike.

Taking the train seems simpler, but despite my best efforts to retain a sense of direction, I found that when I climbed down (or sometimes up) from the train platform to the street, I was turned around. At one of those moments, I looked down and finally saw exactly what I needed, when I needed it: a compass! They’re at every stop, and have probably been there forever, the brainchild of the CTA or the tourism bureau. Inlaid into the sidewalk, a sign pointing North! I probably gaped that first time, and looked like a rube, but then I smiled and marched confidently toward my destination.

Where are these clear signs when you want confirmation that you’ve made the right decisions about life, work, kids? Where’s the app for that? Getting lost on my way somewhere might be exactly when I learn something interesting. What was around the corner, how neighborhoods connected, and what ran parallel to where I thought I was going. A seeming detour or flat tire could be the chance to learn something new and adjust course.  I may not need to have a crumpled map in my hand, but I’d like to spy the subtle compass every once in a while.