Road Trip Takeaway

My wife, daughter and I recently returned from an 8 day, 1941 mile road trip vacation. We roller-coastered at HersheyPark, Pennsylvania and explored Niagra Falls, Ontario from above, below, behind and beside. We ate over-priced sandwiches at the top of Toronto’s CN Tower. We snapped hundreds of photos and bought the tee-shirts, hoodies and other souvenirs necessary to commemorate our journey.

It was a terrific trip. We saw beautiful places, ate delicious food and had interesting adventures together.

My wife has noticed that I look my most relaxed, happy self in photos taken while traveling. She isn’t wrong. The change of scenery sharpens my senses and wakes me up.


This was my family’s first big road trip vacation. We usually go directly to a place (the beach) where being at the locale is the point. Our road trip vacation was different. More than usual, I enjoyed the surprise of the people I met along the way as much as I enjoyed being in the places where I met them.

The Apostolic church congregation in their Sunday white suits and dresses holding their annual conference in the HersheyPark hotel. The manager at the upstate New York gas station Subway who appreciated my twelve year old daughter’s affinity for hot tea. The Subway sandwich artiste who verified twice that when we ordered soda we actually wanted pop. The waitress at Niagra hotel who encouraged me to take my time eating breakfast because she was too tired to set another table after I left. The waitress at Dad’s Diner in Niagra who works all spring, summer and fall to save up enough money to winter in Cuba.

And our Toronto evening cab driver who was a resettled refugee from Afghanistan. He grew up under the Taliban, escaped to Germany and finally managed to resettle with his family in Canada. And he doesn’t want to get political but who can see how or when this endless war will end?

Every language of the world was spoken in the lobby of our Toronto hotel and every manner of dress represented. The night clerk was Japanese. The morning clerk Korean. The friendliest, most helpful concierege South African.

All along the trip everyone was please and thank you at the hotel elevators and have a nice night and take care.

There were some crazies, too. The cursing guy in the Toronto subway station who repeatedly kicked the passing train as it sped by. He was quickly hauled off by the police. The drunk outside the Chinatown gift shop who kept grabbing the crutches of his hobbled companion to start a fight and then, once the fight was well-started, wrapping this friend in a huge embrace as apology. Repeat this cycle five times.

Throughout the clean, friendly, well-ordered city, the destitute, the homeless, the friendless. My daughter wanting to cross every busy street and give money to every homeless man or woman who had a dog. Me explaining in my Father Knows Best voice that you can’t help everybody by giving them money and you certainly can’t put yourself at danger crossing busy streets and some of these people are definitely nice pet owners who need help but some just have the dog as a way to get your attention. And then myself, hypocritically crossing those same busy streets to admire a local musician play the guitar or flute or Chinese fiddle and dropping money into their open instrument case.

These people, all of them, made our family road trip special. And my heart is very full remembering the few minutes shared with each. They will not remember me. In a few weeks, I will not remember them well. And yet, they matter because my twelve year old daughter will remember something very important. As we were leaving Toronto for the 14 hour return drive home, she said, “You know. People are a lot nicer than I expected. And polite. And friendly.”

“In Canada?” I asked.

“Yeah, but actually everywhere.”

She isn’t wrong.

Instant Memory Machine

My wife, daughter and I just got home from 10 days in Florida. We did the Disney and beach thing. It’s okay if you didn’t even realize I was gone. I didn’t tell you. I didn’t really want you to know.

I don’t post updates or vacation pictures on Facebook or Twitter when traveling. Part of this is a safety habit meant to prevent thieves, villains and sundry unscrupulous friends of friends of friends from targeting my house for mischief. It happens. Or, I think it happens. Or, if it doesn’t actually happen, it feels like something that should happen if it doesn’t. At the very least, it is something that is certain to happen now, since you will be watching my posts for pictures or absence of pictures. There’s no winning.

When I am traveling, you won’t see the picture of my 8 year old daughter waiting patiently at the airport, looking very much the practiced air traveler with her headphones, slightly bored expression and jug of chocolate milk. You won’t see the picture of me hanging with Rafiki or the dozen or so selfies of my wife and I smooshing face in some not-well-lit spot. You won’t see these things because I won’t post them yet. These are my memories. I want to keep them to myself a little longer.

Don’t worry. I will share them. I love to share them. I just get weary of the constant impulse to share pictures as evidence of Good Things happening while the Good Things are actually still happening. I want you to know something about my life but I don’t really want you there with me. Or, perhaps, I have it backwards. I want you with me but, when I share a picture of something that is happening while it is happening, it takes me away from the moment just a little. When I am sharing a thing to bring you all with me, I am making myself a little less there myself. I am a little less aware. I participate in that moment just a little bit less and and it belongs to me just a little bit less.

The ease of taking and sharing images makes is harder to protect the lines of genuine experience. Social networks exacerbate the situation, but they do not cause it. You may recall die hard photographers of a certain generation who would capture a moment on film and then miss out on the next several while gently fanning that precious scrap of self-exposing film called Polaroid.

When my wife and I married almost twenty years ago, my uncle rushed his photos of our ceremony through One Hour Photo so he could share the pictures of the ceremony that just happened at our reception.

I call this phenomenon the Instant Memory Machine. It is a very human thing and isn’t caused by technology, though I think our technologies increase potential for our actual experiences to get overrun by the documents of those experiences.

And so, kind friends, I ask that you wait. I’m going to keep these memories to myself just a little bit longer. I’m going to wrap myself in them like a suit of armor for my first day back to work. I’m going to marinate in them until I feel soft and well-saturated by the fullness of them. And just when the memory starts to settle, I will push them out into the world for the likes and the faves and the comments which are an important part of the Instant Memory Machine, that help me construct the narrative of who, what, when, where and why. The experience will be over and we can create something new out of it together. We can start the reminiscing, the storytelling and take the best parts of it all and latch them together to make something shared and useful.

But, still, there is that urge. The desire to share even just a little. Because somewhere inside of me remains the feeling that perhaps none of it really happened unless I have made evidence and shared evidence with someone else. And now, I can’t get this idea out of my head and so, not because you asked, but because it is my very human nature and I feel a kind of responsibility to feed the Instant Memory Machine. Just a little. Just this one. For now. Just so you can know I didn’t make this up. This actually happened. I was there. I wanted you there with me. I came back to bring a bit of it to you.

Vacation Ritual for the 21st Century

No one can stay connected all the time. It isn’t healthful, and it isn’t practical. You don’t have to travel to put healthy distance between yourself and your work. Sometimes, you just need to unplug.

My work life has been pretty hectic the past few months. I love the work that I do and I have recently had the chance to take on new, complex, interesting challenges. Still, I have run myself a little ragged. The term “overclocked” keeps passing through my head lately.

So today I am starting a much needed vacation, one week plus a few extra days to carry past my daughter’s sixth birthday. When I leave work for more than a day, I leave good people in charge and trust my team to make good decisions. I try to make myself available by phone and/or email in case of emergencies. Emergencies don’t often arise in the library. Still, I often monitor email while on vacation just to “”keep up with things”. This is crazy. I don’t need to keep up with things while on vacation. Not keeping up with things is pretty much the point of taking a vacation.

When I got home today, I decided to try something new. I disconnected my work email account from my phone. I can still scroll through my email once  in the evening, if I want. But the act of physically disconnecting my phone from work email felt really good. When email is too accessible, there is an irrational urge to check it often. Unplugging my work email from my phone prevents me from feeling the temptation to check it. Making work email inconvenient while on vacation makes “checking in” or “staying connected” feel less necessary.

I know I’m not that important. My team gets along fine without me. I know they will call if something  important actually happens that needs my immediate attention.

In the meantime, disconnecting for a little while is the only way to really get the benefit of time off. Do what you can to stop thinking about work when you aren’t at work so you can actually rest. Then, you can return more vital and focused, ready to pick up the work you left off, accomplishing stuff that matters.

Event Horizon: My Vacation is Over

I took 3 three weeks off from work for the holidays. That probably sounds pretty libertine but I needed the time. I let my battery get too low. Work has been pretty manic the past few months, and I made the mistake of not budgeting enough time for myself to reflect and rebuild. The mind needs spaces to process information, place things in proper perspective and make plans for future action. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. For me, this requires half an hour or more every day doing something creative, a few runs a week and a few days off every few months.

I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to spend money. I don’t have to do wildly interesting things. I just have to budget my time and spend according to that budget.

Now I can feel the pull of work. I have started sorting through my emails, scheduling meetings, and sifting through a dozen conflicting priorities to put projects in their proper place.

I am fortunate to have a job that I love and a measure of control over what and how I do while at work. I like what I do and enjoy my time at work. Still, the weekend before the first day back to work has heavy gravity. It has a powerful, familiar drag that draws me ever closer to Monday. Time gets strange in this last weekend of vacation and everything slides toward the event horizon – that place beyond which no return is possible. No light escapes and we are committed to the guidance of gravity.

Vacation envy

I haven’t traveled anywhere for vacation since 2003. I won’t bore you with the reasons why. Let’s just agree that I’m a bit overdue for non-work-related travel.

For the past week, I can’t log into Facebook without seeing tons of pictures of happy friends smiling on beaches. Friends toasting at nice restaurants and checking in from exotic locales. I don’t begrudge them their happiness. They are my friends. I am glad for them, but I think I liked it better in the old days when I didn’t get to travel vicariously along with all my globe-trotting friends in more or less real-time. The twinge of vacation envy wasn’t so sharp hearing about it after the fact, looking at a few dozen photographs and getting the distilled 10 minute travelogue.

I want my friends to keep having a great time. I want them to keep posting their pictures. What I want is a software solution so I can opt out of their happiness temporarily until I have steeled myself for the uncharitable thoughts and feelings that arise from involuntary vacation envy.

I want Facebook to install a photo filter that will automatically screen beach pictures from showing up in my news feed from the months of May through August. After that, I’m fine.

But, if Facebook is too busy dealing with its IPO fall-out and figuring out how to monetize the mobile Facebook experience, then I would settle for a third party solution. I’m picturing some sort of Facebook API that guarantees a vacation photo free user experience when I need it. Just something until the nerves settle and I resign myself to another year of not being at the beach and not being the smiling person toasting at some fantastic restaurant locale.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I can’t be the only person who could use this.