I was pretty tired. I’d been up for almost 30 hours and now I was driving through the dark toward a place I didn’t know.But I was in no danger of falling asleep, mainly because I was driving too fast and on the wrong side of the road.We’d just left the airport in Edinburgh, and as is my habit when driving rental cars away from airports, I got lost in the first 20 yards.I knew it was going to happen as soon as the young woman at the car rental place said, “It’s simple. You can’t miss it.”Yes, yes I can. You might be surprised at how easy it is for me to miss things of quite significant importance.We’re off on an adventure - spending a week in Scotland driving to all the places that have always been just words to me - Edinburgh, Inverness, the Isle of Skye - followed by a week in Wales doing pretty much nothing at all.I’ve really been looking forward to it. As I often tell people, “I enjoy almost everything I do, but I don’t really do anything for fun.” I don’t quite know why; I understand the concept of hobbies, I’ve just never been able to wrap my head around actually acquiring one. Even this trip wasn’t really for fun. I’m working on another book and trying to learn more about the part of the world my ancestors, the non-Norwegian ones, came from.So, even though I’d be working, we’d carefully planned the trip to lower my stress level as much as possible and leave room to get some serious writing done each day.Then thunderstorms rolled into Chicago, an event I’d normally react to with indifference, but the thunderstorms meant our plane couldn’t leave Minneapolis, which meant we missed our connection to London, which meant our flight to Edinburgh disappeared completely. Seven people at the airport and two on telephones worked to get us overseas, but the end result was 10 hours in the Minneapolis airport and five in London. If I were the sort of person who spends his spare time in airports shopping for overpriced luggage and Gucci handbags, I might have been more or less content, but I’m not. I‘m the kind of guy who eats the free pretzels and tries to sleep sitting up.We finally staggered off the plane in Edinburgh and walked half a mile or so to the rental car counter. We were handed the keys to our car, which was small, had a manual transmission, the steering wheel on the right side, along with a gearshift that I had to run with my left hand.The last time I’d driven a rig like that was a quarter of a century ago in a rented van in Jamaica. I drove a load of church kids on a work project the wrong way on a Jamaican roundabout. There were no injuries, but I’m pretty sure there are still some Jamaican drivers cursing my name.We were supposed to arrive in Edinburgh around noon, after which we’d planned a leisurely two-hour drive up the coast before checking into our hotel. In the original plan, I had penciled in a short nap, to be followed by a lovely dinner. Instead, by the time we were un-lost, we ended up hurtling down a freeway surrounded by massive trucks and eating a meal we’d scratched together from the offerings at a gas station.Oh, well. We found our hotel, lurched to our room, and fell unconscious. The next morning dawned clear and crisp, and we walked out of our room to a harbor at low tide, with a smattering of sailboats moored just across the road, the smell of salt air and the random muttering of a flock of gulls.Copyright 2013 Brent OlsonKeep up with Brent on FacebookBuy Brent's latest book, Papa, on Amazon.comSee more at www.independentlyspeaking.com
It had been over 30 years since my wife and I attended a college football game, so our recent game-day adventures should count as a new experience.Three decades ago we had a future brother-in-law who played football for State. I don’t remember what position he held, but I do recall that it involved frequent and violent collisions with guys the size of New Hampshire. His team would smash into their opponents, making a clamor normally associated with the words speeding locomotives.In one particular game, our brother-in-law played less than a quarter before he was sidelined. We later asked him what had happened.“The head coach wanted to know the same thing,” he replied. “He asked ‘Where’s Cohen?’ and somebody said, ‘He’s over there, sitting on the bench. He doesn’t know his name!’”I never played football, mainly due to my total lack of athletic abilities. However, I was able to overcome this crippling deficit and mastered the art of watching football, acquiring such critical skills as holding an open can of beer while snarfing nachos and randomly yelling, “DEE-fence!” or “Watch for the blitz!” at what I hoped were appropriate junctures.Arriving at the stadium, we quickly saw that things had changed greatly over the past three decades. As we recalled, one would simply show up at the stadium shortly before game time, walk in, and take your seat. If you were hungry, you purchased a hot dog; if you were thirsty, you purchased a beverage or perhaps took a slug from a wineskin that an acquaintance may have smuggled in.These days, the pregame is all about an activity known as “tailgating.” The objectives of tailgating seem to include socializing and building enthusiasm for the home team. And also to cook mass quantities of food that is washed down by Imperial gallons of beverages.The parking lot near the stadium was thronged with tailgating participants, whom I suppose one could call “tail-gators.” Some had set up primitive campsites that were comprised of a dozen lawn chairs and a charcoal grill made from a repurposed oil drum. Others had much more elaborate campsites that involved motor homes that were nearly as large and complex as the stadium. It appeared that some had been tailgating in the parking lot for a good while, perhaps weeks.Bean bag toss was a popular pregame activity amongst the college set of tail-gators. There were areas of the parking lot where the sun was often blotted out by swarms of soaring bean bags. Despite the profusion of randomly thrown bean bags, there were no reports of injuries associated with this pastime.Which is a bit of a miracle as some of the college-age tail-gators had so much enthusiasm that they had trouble walking. Oh, to be so young and carefree that you feel no compunction about staggering around in public while wearing a comically oversized “Cat in the Hat” chapeau! My wife and I went into the stadium and found our seats, a task that was only slightly less complicated than breaking the Enigma code. A good bit of musical chair-type activity took place as the crowd gradually deciphered their tickets.One big change that I immediately noticed was the large number of cheerleaders. I seem to recall that back when, there was only one small group of cheerleaders who ran themselves ragged cheering in front of the various sections of the stadium. Nowadays, there are several large squadrons of cheerleaders; no part of the stadium is ever cheerless. Another development is the inclusion of muscular young male cheerleaders. In keeping with the football theme, they tossed around some of the female cheerleaders, making laterals, throwing screen passes, and even chucking the occasional Hail Mary.There was also the traditional marching band. This, too, was much larger than I remembered. The brass section alone contained enough people to be officially classified as a municipality. The game was very exhilarating, even though we didn’t know anyone who was playing. The action out on the field was so exciting that there were several times when my wife leapt to her feet and shouted such things as “DEE-fence!” and “Get ‘im!” She became so engrossed with the titanic clash taking place that she even used some unladylike expressions to convey her deep personal feelings regarding such things as a fumble or a pass interception.All in all, we had a very enjoyable time at the game. And I’m not saying that just because our team won. It’s also because I have never heard my wife exclaim, “Woo-hoo! They should’ve named him Groceries ’cause he just got sacked!”
Sometimes it’s best not to know.Last week someone talked to me about helping on a grant application.“We’re almost done,” she said. “We just need some artsy-fartsy bogus BS for an opening statement.”“And you thought of me?” I asked.“Well, yeah,” she said.It’s not that I’m not grateful that people recognize that I have a skill, it’s just that “Artsy-Fartsy Bogus BS” is a little bit long to fit on a business card.Later that same day, I got an email from a guy wondering if I could speak at a convention.He wrote, “I used to read your columns on the Internet all the time, but then a few years ago you must have gotten hacked by some kook, because now I don’t like them at all.” No - no kook. I’m sorry, buddy, it’s just been me all along.I didn’t really have the heart to delve into exactly which column shifted me into “kook” territory. Frankly, there’ve been quite a few. I think it’s probably safer for me not to find out exactly what people think about me. Some subjects are better left unopened.That’s not the case for everyone, of course. Last week was my mother’s 90th birthday. She didn’t really have a birthday - more of a birth-week. She presided over at least four celebrations during which she connected with folks who have been important in various arenas of her life. It started with brunch and a gaggle of Red Hat ladies. She chatted so ferociously that she forgot to tip her waitress, which meant my father had to make a trip to town with some money to add to the young woman’s college fund. Then there was coffee after church with the bulk of the congregation, followed by lunch with about 20 family members. The final event was an open house at the café in the small community she’s called home for the past 65 years or so. Only about 400 people live in the town, along with a couple hundred others from the surrounding farms. She was hoping that 20 or so people would be there. When I took a count five minutes before the event was supposed to start, 43 people were drinking coffee and eating muffins. A couple of hours after it was supposed to end, the last people straggled out the door. The crowd was bolstered a little by a caravan of folks from the town where she’d taught Special Ed for a couple of decades, along with a smattering of other folks who came from every point of the compass.We live in a world that is silly, sometimes cruel, and way too often excruciatingly painful to behold, but every now and then something redemptive happens. Sometimes it’s just the people in a small place taking a couple hours on a holiday morning to stop in and tell an old lady that they liked her; that she’d made a difference in their lives; that their world is a richer, warmer, gentler place because she is in it.Technically, I’m not allowed to write about my mother. She laid down that law about a decade ago, but every now and then you need to break the rules. My mother is one-of-a-kind, and you could make a case that one is plenty. A world full of Opal Olsons would be a fascinating, occasionally frustrating place, but it would also be a world where children are taught and cherished, where sinners are forgiven, and where everyone gets up early in the morning to work hard at jobs that matter.I’d just as soon continue not knowing exactly what people think of me, but I’m glad my mother knows what they think of her.Copyright 2013 Brent OlsonKeep up with Brent on FacebookBuy Brent's latest book, Papa, on Amazon.comSee more at www.independentlyspeaking.com
In the middle of a quaint small city centered by a city square sitting at the junction of highways 52, 167 and 123, is Hartford, Alabama, population 2624. Founded in 1897, the business and social activity of Hartford still centers around its square. The square’s focal point is a graceful fountain depicting a curly-headed youth and a long-legged water bird. Residents have treasured this lovely fountain for over 100 years. Hartford, dubbed the garden spot of the state, is a rare combination of progressiveness and charm. While preserving things of the past it has prepared well for the future.