A Yankee Notebook: Once again, the road | Weekend Magazine

I’ve got to remember to put a new battery into the tiny travel alarm. I don’t think it needs one. But what if it does? And to paraphrase the Bard, “betrays me in deepest consequence?” My tiny NOOK, which contains enough heavy reading — Harari, Haidt — to put me to sleep a hundred times, doesn’t often need a charge, but its charger has to go with me, too. Mustn’t forget to cancel the newspapers and mail, and hope the message doesn’t get misunderstood this time. Oh, and…

You’d think that after the hundreds of times I’ve packed to go somewhere or other, I’d be more relaxed about it than I am. This trip coming up is a pretty easy bus-and-boat tour of a country in which the natives speak English (except, maybe, in Glasgow; I can’t tell), and I don’t have to make lists that include pitons and carabiners, or a life jacket and a rescue bag, or even a sleeping bag, sun block or bug dope. But the prospect looms nevertheless at the edge of consciousness day and night. It never fails; and almost everything I do — like writing two columns this week to cover my absence — feels like herding fractious sheep into a narrow, fast-approaching opening.

After decades of shouldering a really cool, olive-drab duffel bag that I could pick out instantly in a crowd of luggage, I’ve finally succumbed to gravity and will be taking a wheeled bag instead. But I know nothing about suitcases. The first one I ordered was not only far too large, but opened like a pair of double doors. There’d be no space for both of us in most single rooms. The second, I thought, was smaller, until I got it home. How I hate to return stuff. But then I found one among Mother’s collection that, like Baby Bear’s porridge, was just right. So back they go Monday morning. There’s a few precious hours shot.

The whole week looks like a whitewater rapid full of rocks: an all-day TV shoot over in New Hampshire, a breakfast date with friends, a tax payment due, the daily walk with Kiki and session with the exercise bike, and a storytelling gig the evening before I leave. Not to mention that extra column. Time I leave, there’ll be little left. But I can sleep — sort of — on the red-eye across the Atlantic before a full day of touring Glasgow. It’s important that nothing go wrong between now and the airport.

There’s the refrigerator. I’m counting eggs and sausages, eyeing the milk bottle and hoping the orange juice will run out just in time: the morning I leave. Three English muffins left for five breakfasts. No problem; I’ve frozen some mashed potato patties that’ll fill in for two of them. Several jars of pickles sent by friends who know how I love ‘em. They’ll keep.

The packing itself is a piece of cake. There was a time everybody showed up at the airport gate in coat and tie. Even First Class doesn’t bother with that anymore; in fact, they dress worse than we peons. So, one pair of shoes and they’re on my feet, not in the bag. Then I work from the bottom up, starting with socks and ending with the tweed Great Gatsby cap (the haberdasher called it) that I got in Dublin years ago. Rain parka, light fleece (I’m checking the weather. Though Edinburgh is at the same latitude as Moscow, it’s currently just a few degrees cooler than here), and a Maclean tartan Pendleton shirt to wear especially around Oban, Mull and Iona, the traditional seat of that clan. Rather than toting a pint of Scotch across the ocean, I’ll wait for the distillery tour in Oban, and score one there.

Then it gets tricky: stuff that’s easy to forget, but vital to the operation. Passport. Just got a brand-new one, with the best photo yet, in my opinion. The good news is it’ll last me till I’m pushing 100. Extra glasses. I can get along without ’em, unless I need to read. Daily pills, plus a little card of loperamide. I’ll never forget forgetting it when one night, in a hotel named the Tete Noire — the Blackhead, right? — Mother sympathizing, “Oh, you must be hurting!” No, I assured her, I wasn’t feeling any pain, but I did feel pretty unpredictable. Tube of Bacitracin and big BandAids; saved my bacon once in doctorless Mexico.

A tour like this, in urban surroundings, takes the pressure off forgetting sundry items — though I did have quite a time, once, trying to buy dental floss in southern France. I mimed the entire operation to the obvious amusement of all, till finally she said, “Ah! Fil dentaire!” Got it. Make sure to put L.L. Bean pen knife and nail clippers in checked luggage.

Which leaves my loving little cohabiter. Like dogs everywhere, she knows that a separation is in the offing — she sniffs around the suitcase in the bedroom and plops down beside it, watching me. And she knows what’s afoot when I start packing her overnight bag for a trip to her Aunt Martha’s — canned food, dry food, Greenies, second-favorite ball and treats. It’s heart-breaking to consider what she’s feeling. I assure her I’ll be back as soon as possible. But I’ve gotta do this; the baby still needs shoes.

Willem Lange is a regular contributor to Weekend Magazine. He lives in East Montpelier.


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