Travel to the US Is Down

They call it the Trump Slump in the travel industry:

“[The travel industry is] currently drawing attention to an unintended consequence of the Trump-led efforts to stop many Muslims from coming to the U.S., pointing to a sharp drop in foreign tourism to our nation that imperils jobs and touristic income. It’s known as the ‘Trump Slump.’ And I know of no reputable travel publication to deny it.” —Arthur Frommer, Frommersdotcom, undated

European travel groups have pulled their plans, I’ve read. Flights from Australia to mainland US are the cheapest they’ve been in a decade, I’ve seen; they can’t fill the planes. Even our friends the Canadians are going elsewhere, the Washington Post says. The Toronto Metro says Canadian searches for US flights dropped 43 percent after the first trump travel ban. The state of Georgia expects the loss of tourism will have a $27 million impact. NBC notes that last year US tourism experienced a 4.6 billion dollar loss.

Four billion dollars is a lot. Forty thousand jobs lost in services and hospitality.

And it’s not just tourism: educational institutions are suffering too. Canadian CTV News reports that international applications to Canadian universities surged after the trump election. American universities are some of the most highly respected in the world, but now that children are shooting up schools with semi-automatic weapons (again), international parents are rethinking where they send their precious children for higher education. Applications to American boarding schools that court international students are down too.

After the Parkland, Florida, shooting, even Americans are staying away from Florida, which has virtually no gun laws at all.

More and more travelers are deciding to bypass the US for someplace … safer. On Twitter one reads comments like this: “As a Canadian, I will not spend my tourist dollars in US as long as the @NRA owns the lawmakers.” Or “I teach in South Korea right now. One of my students told me her family cancelled a trip to the States because they don’t feel safe travelling there. And she lives literally a one hour drive away from the North Korean border.” And “My partner lived in and loved the US before returning to UK, I’ve visited and would love to travel coast to coast. But right now, no thanks.” And “I’m Canadian. I don’t feel comfortable visiting the US anymore. I live 20 min from the border, used to shop across the line all the time. No more.”

It’s a shame, but seriously—would you come to this shithole country while the Shithole-in-Chief is in power? I sure wouldn’t. I’ve long wanted to take my immigrant husband to Washington DC to see the monuments (inspiring stuff!), but there’s no way I’m setting foot in that city until the trump stench has dissipated.

Of course, we’ve been a bit nervous about traveling abroad, at least until Gerry’s green card status becomes permanent—but as you know, last December we had no choice. (And also no hassle, thank goodness. The center continues to hold … at least for white folks. I’m not being flippant; we recognize our privilege. People of color always have it harder.)

I wasn’t raised in wealth, but my parents were big on driving trips. They wanted us kids to see things, and we did see a lot of the United States. Some of Canada and Mexico. I was a parent myself, though, before I got farther afield (England!). I’m no “elite” that the republicans delight in denigrating, and yet … I must be. Because even in my limited experience, I’ve become convinced that travel to foreign countries changes us in good ways. It opens our eyes and hearts to the notion that all of humanity is the same, no matter what color we paint our houses or what type of clothing we wear.

Still, I wouldn’t want to come here either.

 

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Nonrefundable Reservations? Maybe, Maybe Not.

PSA: Just because it says the reservation is nonrefundable doesn’t mean it’s not. Just ask and explain and be nice. Also, beware the Ping-Pong Effect.

Here’s what happened.

We made hotel reservations to go to Texas—a trip we couldn’t wait to take, as it was the wedding celebration of some good friends (and I happen to know from personal experience that Texans know how to throw a party). We used some Verizon “points” to reduce the cost. It was nonrefundable, but we are the sort of people who make plans and follow through on them. You can get great deals (on hotels in Ireland, for example) if you use the nonrefundable option—and we have, frequently.

We were a little over two months out from the event.

But after nearly all the arrangements were made, we found out that my son’s grad school commencement ceremony was the same long weekend we were going to be in the Hill Country.

(Bummer. But we’ll reschedule Texas. We were really, really looking forward to it.)

I snagged this from the Texas Hill Country website; they apparently got it from wideopencountry.com.

So … I called the customer service number for Verizon Smart Rewards on a Sunday afternoon. I was just looking for a little grace. We knew it was a nonrefundable reservation. But things happen. Oh, the humanity, etc.

The clerk repeated the this is nonrefundable mantra, but then said she’d call the hotel to see if they’d release me from the obligation “as a courtesy.” Her words. I was on hold for about five minutes. (How do I know? I always look at my watch when I’m put on hold in the middle of a customer service conversation.)

Shortly the Verizon customer service rep got back on the line and said, “I spoke with Sarah at the hotel, and they won’t release the funds. You paid us and we paid the hotel, so you see, we can’t give you the money [several hundred dollars] back if we won’t get it back from the hotel.”

Hm. It all seemed a bit quick to me. I told her I understood, but that I’d look into it further. (But not, of course, until Monday, when perhaps Sarah’s boss was in the office. We’re still going to go to Texas. It would be good customer relations for the hotel to release us from this obligation. And they’d have plenty of time to rebook the room.)

So on Monday I called back to the hotel in Texas—and guess who I spoke with? Sarah! And Sarah told me she couldn’t do anything with the reservation. She said Verizon still had the funds and the ability to cancel or change anything about the reservation. I’d have to call them, she said.

A-HA! The Ping-Pong Effect. Both sides deny the ability to effect meaningful change, and the customer/client is batted back and forth between them until she gets tired and gives up.

So I called Verizon again. The nice man I spoke with this time listened to my story (including the somewhat mystifying details about my conversation with the lovely Sarah), took notes, and then said, “I’ll refer this to our travel team. It may take them twenty-four to forty-eight hours, but they’ll get back to you.”

Good enough. I still had 1) the may-I-speak-with-your-supervisor option; 2) the will-you-look-at-your-records-and-see-how-long-I’ve-been-your-customer-[answer: since 1994]-and-do-you-really-want-to-lose-me-over-this option; 3) the I’m-going-to-talk-about-this-on-social-media-including-my-travel-blog option; and 4) the calling-our-credit-card-company-to-dispute-the-charges option. C’mon: I made these reservations three days ago, realized the mistake, and the dates were still sixty days out. This shouldn’t have been difficult.

In less than an hour (!) Verizon called back. No problem! they said. They were delighted to refund the full amount, they said. It could take up to seventy-two hours to appear on our credit card statement, they said. (And it did appear.)

Conclusion? It may be that they say no first. Why not? They could end up with our money if we give up too soon. But I believed Sarah. She’s in the hospitality business. Her hotel didn’t want to make me mad over a three-night reservation that was two months away.

It’s a big world, but so far, the humans are still in charge. 🙂

If It’s January, We Must Be Planning a Trip

Ah, it’s January, and we’re thinking about traveling. Aren’t you? We had dinner last week with a friend who is planning a trip to Ireland and wanted to run some things past the Irishman—and we had a bang-up time eating, drinking, and discussing where to look for great Irish experiences, including some “skip this, do that instead” recommendations.* Our friend has a limited amount of time—ten days from start to finish—and has to make it count.

This is always a concern, of course. Which is why I love the “36 Hours in …” series from the New York Times, a carefully-planned three-day weekend in a variety of interesting spots. They’ve been running this feature for years, and I find it perfect for travel daydreams.

For example, we’d like a little getaway later this year. Not too far, somewhere we can drive. Here’s what pops up in driving range in the archives for the last couple years:

Asheville, North Carolina

Birmingham, Alabama

Charleston, South Carolina

Cincinnati, Ohio

Indianapolis, Indiana

We’ve got some other plans, too, but it’s too soon to talk about them. In the meantime, enjoy your travel daydreams!

* Skip the Cliffs of Moher, try Slieve League instead. That’s one.

Slieve League, October 2015. It’s magnificent.

 

Snow Day

Every day

I see or hear

something

that more or less

 

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

 

in the haystack

of light.

It was what I was born for—

to look, to listen,

 

to lose myself

inside this soft world—

to instruct myself

over and over

 

in joy …

—Mary Oliver, excerpt from “Mindful,” from Why I Wake Early (2004)

Planning a Trip to Ireland? I’ve Made All the Touristy Mistakes So You Don’t Have To!

I bet you’re thinking Hasn’t Jamie already written a series of posts on planning a trip to Ireland? Well, yes, I have.*

But that was nearly four years ago. I’ve written more since then. So I’ve collected and categorized and linked every other article about traveling in Ireland right here. One stop. Not the travelogues; you’re on your own there. 🙂

That said, everything in that initial series is still valid and important, so you should still start with them:

Travel Daydreams (The best part is the planning.)

Getting the Backstory (Read about it!)

More Backstory. With Accents. (Or watch some movies.)

DIY Vacation (That is, no tour buses for me.)

Narrowing It Down (Plan a trip for your interests.)

Some Sightseeing Ideas (Don’t miss!)

“Official” Tourism (Get help here!)

Eating, Drinking … and Music (Ya gotta do it.)

Let’s Go Shopping (Oh, yes, let’s do!)

Finding the Magic (My favorite chapter.)

Last Thoughts (Lots of little tips, collected.)

But as noted, I’ve written other articles that drill down a little more (driving on the left side, for example), or answer questions you may not have known you had (where or how to get distilled water, for example). There are tips and things I learned sprinkled throughout the stories of my trips, too (the travelogues), but you probably don’t have time to read all that—so I’ve mentioned the most salient points herein. I’ve added a few bits of wisdom too.

And in the last few weeks, three friends have asked me about planning their trips to Ireland … so it’s time to pull it all together.

Planning Your Trip

Let’s start here: when to go, when not to go. You’ve probably heard that it rains a lot in Ireland, and you’re probably concerned. But don’t be. Pack a little rain hat (or buy one after you get there), and go. No, the number of tourists concern me more than the number of raindrops! So I like to go during the “off” season.

In Ireland tourist season starts in April and runs through August. This means a lot more tour buses on the road, longer lines, and so on. Also consider that once it begins to warm up outside, some older historic hotels might be a little stuffy inside, because they don’t have air conditioning. Mind, summer temps in Ireland will probably only reach mid to high 70s (Farenheit)—and outside that’s pleasant—but an un–air-conditioned hotel might feel hot to a Yank accustomed to a/c everything. So it’s something to consider. And check on.

My favorite months? September and October. Tourism has dropped off and the weather is spectacular.

I haven’t been paying much attention to news on visas and passports, but it would be wise for you to look into that a few months before your planned departure. Check with your airlines about baggage weight and carryons too (for example, you may not be able to carry a laptop onto an international flight these days).

There are other items to consider. For example, if I’m asked, I always say Everything takes longer than you think. Getting from Point A to Point B takes longer than you think. The line to get in takes longer than you think. The meal takes longer than you think. My advice is to slow down and don’t cram your schedule. The corollary to this is, Do you want to spend your precious vacation time driving—or doing? There’s so much to see! I get that. But if you’ve only got a week, I would recommend you pick a region and stay in it, rather driving 200 miles one way to see one sight. There are beautiful sea views, old mansions, ancient stone circles and sacred sites, and unusual geography everywhere in Ireland. Trust me. And often the less well-known sites are better.

However—and this is important—your trip is your trip. You may like driving more than I do. You may walk faster than me. Your trip is your trip—plan the one that you want to take.

Getting There and Back

No discussion of purchasing flights here. I’m talking about the actual slog of moving across multiple time zones. It’s hard on a body, y’all.

Many flights from the States are overnighters—arriving in Dublin the next morning, particularly if you fly through Chicago, Boston, New York, Newark, or Washington DC. So plan some low-impact activities—a massage, say, or a walk on the beach or around the neighborhood where your hotel is situated—so you can ease into your new time zone when you land. Here are lots more tips about dealing with jet-lag. If you’re visiting for a special reason—maybe you’re attending a wedding?—arrive a few days early so you can slough off jet-lag and fully enjoy the event. A day-of-arrival massage, I’ve found, is a must for me; Gerry has a cat-nap while I’m gone.

Americans flying home from Dublin for the first time may be surprised to discover that they pass through customs in Dublinbefore they ever get on the plane. This is so convenient, as we were recently reminded when my husband returned home from Dublin through London. When he arrived in Chicago, he had to—

  • get off the plane and collect his luggage
  • pass through US Customs
  • change terminals and go though security again
  • check in his baggage again

—which means one needs a lengthy layover, something the airlines seem to ignore. If there’s even a short delay (and when is that ever the case?), you could miss your connection.

Of course, Customs in Dublin adds to the time you need to allow in the airport on departure day. We like a relaxed, stress-free departure day, and here are some tips for that: Winding Down, At Last. Hint: turn in the car the day before you leave.

Getting Around While You’re There

Speaking of driving, Let’s Talk About Driving on the Wrong Side. This is the question I get asked more than any other. Is it hard? Is it scary? When I answer this question, I say: No, it’s not hard at all—because everyone else is driving on the left too.

There are other ways to get around if you prefer not to drive: bus, cab, hired car, Uber, train, DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), LUAS (tram/light rail). This link gives you bus, cab, and car options, with approximate costs. Look here for information on DART and Irish Rail options; here for LUAS.

I may have discussed this elsewhere—in fact I’m sure I have—but you can bring your portable GPS from home more cheaply than what you’ll pay to have one in your rental car, even after you purchase the map chip for Ireland and the UK. (Be aware that the GPS tends to choose direct routes, which in Ireland might mean an unpaved one-lane. You’ve been warned.) I know you all have smart phones now, but sometimes reception is slow or nonexistent. If you like a little adventure, great! If you don’t, plan on a backup: whip into a gas station or bookstore and pick up a detailed map book. There are planty of opportunities to be lost in Ireland; you’ll be glad you’ve got all the bases covered.

Here’s another option: private tours. I wouldn’t pay for a place I could easily get to and easily circumnavigate. But as I said in this post, Gerry and I tried to guide ourselves through Howth, in a car (with stops), and didn’t see much, so I have to say I think a tour guide would be a good investment. The links in this article are specifically about Howth, but these guides offer many other tours. (Here’s another corporate tour outfit based in Dublin.)

A Brief Aside About Lodging

A quick reminder that while B&Bs are often expensive in the US, they can be a relatively affordable alternative to a hotel in Ireland. And don’t forget Airbnb, which really opens up the opportunity to stay in a home—especially in a city like Dublin. We’ve stayed in B&Bs and hotels, and of the latter we’ve stayed in high end and (ahem) low end. During our 3-week honeymoon trip we experienced the entire range, and at the end of that trip I wrote up a Hotel Comparison, which may be of interest.

Quick Power Tips

What is VAT?

Tax—and as a non-EU resident, you can get a VAT refund on some goods. In fact, with the electronic system in place since 2012, you are never charged VAT at all, but are issued a card (by any retailer on the system), which is scanned every time you make a purchase. You register the card online at some point during your trip. However, you still must “check out” of the country, by visiting the Horizon electronic kiosk at the airport or from your own computer when you get home. If you fail to report the purchases added to the card within the specified period, all the VAT you avoided will suddenly appear on your credit card bill. Ooops!

Should I pay in euros or dollars?

You may be offered this option when paying with a card. Choose euros.

How do I keep everything charged up on a long trip?

First, purchase an electric plug with multiple USB slots to facilitate charging in airports, because what’s provided is never enough. I’ve also purchased multiple adapters—one each for camera battery, laptop, Kindle, and CPAP. No one has to share. And I have a good-sized zipper bag that all cords, chargers, and adaptors live in; when I’m packing, I grab and go.

I travel with a CPAP and have trouble finding distilled water in Ireland.

Me too. Bottom line? Things are just different, especially with retail. Where you buy certain things. Where you can’t buy things that are easily available in the US. Like distilled water. 89 cents a gallon in the US; 17 euro for a half gallon. Here’s help.

Why does my hair look like crap?

Because the water’s hard. Here’s what to do about it. You’ll never have a bad hair day again. 🙂

I may have over-shopped. Help?

Many retailers in Ireland are well equipped to ship your stuff home for you. Take advantage of it. Don’t carry something around your whole trip or, worse, forego it because you don’t have room in your luggage.

Doing the Special Things

Forget the touristy stuff; you don’t need it! And you really don’t need to kiss the Blarney Stone (ick). Incline your thoughts this way instead: Ireland has a long and proud (and occasionally tragic) history, as I’ve noted before. I cannot stress enough that it will enhance your experience to have a basic awareness of Irish history. Even if you just read Wikipedia. Even if history really isn’t your thing.

Culture is important too. Here are some miscellaneous articles about the “Irish way.” If you want to drill down, check the book list here.

That said, your trip is your trip! So plan to do the things that are meaningful and special to you, whatever they are. Love a junk shop? Afternoon tea? Indulge! Look for the magic. Here are three more miscellaneous articles that might be of interest.

Are you bookish? Ireland is famous for its writers, and if you love books, it’s a great place to soak up the literary culture (and to buy books—there’s a bookstore in every town). Here are some posts that might be of interest.

And that’s it, friends! Hope this planning page has been helpful. I’ll update it as I write more.

(*You have been able to access the first post by clicking Start Here in the menu above and then looking for “How to Plan Your Trip to Ireland.” And you still can. This page will be the Start Here link from now on.)

 

The Year in Review

It’s been a strange year, yeah?*

About this time last year,** a woman I used to think kindly of posted some [ridiculous, biased, highly charged, partisan] article on Facebook with the comment, “The left can’t see the truth.” (Later in another post, she shared a similar sentiment: “The left can’t see past their noses.”) At the time, I wondered, What TRUTH does she think I am missing? It was a generic statement without a clear meaning.

Did she mean the truth about her candidate, the one she’d self-righteously announced she voted for because she believed he represented her Christian values? (Her words, from an earlier post.) What values,*** exactly, are those?

  • The multiple divorces and infidelities? (I know for a fact the Bible has commandments about those.)
  • The serial lies? (WaPo keeps a list of them.)
  • The lewd behavior? (The man bragged about the size of his penis in an election debate. He bragged about grabbing women’s genitalia. UPDATE: And it appears he had an affair with a porn star, to whom he paid $130K hush money during his presidential campaign.)
  • The white supremacists? (He can’t bring himself to disavow them. Of course, that’s because he’s a well-known racist.)
  • The talk to the Boy Scouts? (His profane performance was deplorable.)
  • Throwing around racially offensive comments like “shithole countries”? (I’ve mentioned the racism, right?)
  • Rounding up immigrants? (The Bible says: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” —Matthew 25: 42–43, 45)
  • I could go on and on and on.

But it’s not just this specific “friend.” (I say this in quotations because I don’t feel we are friends any more, frankly.) I can’t tell you how many times I have read (or had said to me), “She lost. Get over it.” (To which I think and might answer, angrily, that she didn’t actually lose.) A year later, people are still saying that, as if it is a meaningful response to this Seussian world we are living in. In which people like me are left saying, “But the facts are …” and “The law says …”

I realize now that this friend was just spouting some verbiage she’d heard, mostly likely on Fox (Not)News. Or that her husband read on Breitbart or listened to on Rush Limbaugh. “Talking points.” And for the last couple years I’ve been telling myself, Well, they’re just brainwashed. Remember, a year ago it had been six months since I’d spoken with my brother. I was already aware of the political brainwashing phenomenon. As an article about this issue in Vox points out:

Information [on the right] is evaluated not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.

This is the frighting situation we face. There is an entire industry devoted to disseminating an alternate version of reality that is “good for the [Republican] side.” And the lunatic right wing is snapping it up and passing it around amongst themselves: a University of Oxford study has found that trump supporters and extreme conservatives consume and share more “junk news” on social media than every other political group combined. (You can read more about that here and here.) The McClatchy News Bureau spoke with the lead researcher, Philip Howard:

The findings suggest “that most of the junk news that people share over social media ends up with Trump’s fans, the far right. They’re playing with different facts, and they think they have the inside scoop on conspiracies.”

As a result, he said in a phone interview, it appears that “a small chunk of the population isn’t able to talk politics or share ideas in a sensible way with the rest of the population.”

When I was growing up, our family watched the six o’clock news every night without fail. (I continued this habit well into adulthood.) There were three networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—and each had a respected journalism unit that produced the news program. Everybody had a favorite, a preferred vendor for news. My family watched Walter Cronkite on CBS.

The networks were competing with each other, sure, although not for alternate facts. But now … we have the Fox network. It is utterly biased and often just lies. Fox is all about the “good for our side” (which is the far-right, conservative, wingnut version of the Republican party) and not particularly concerned about the true. I understand that some folks may have started watching Fox fifteen years ago, before this bias was so blatant. It’s like putting the frog in the pot of water on the stove and then turning on the heat—the frog is cooked before it knows what’s happened to it. And Fox viewers are boiled frogs; anyone watching Fox these days doesn’t know what the truth is, because they’ve been gradually brainwashed and thoroughly misinformed over a period of time.

Vox goes on:

From Reagan forward, the US has become much more politically polarized, but the polarization has not been symmetrical—the right has become far more extreme than the left. (That story is exhaustively told in Asymmetric Politics, by political scientists David Hopkins and Matt Grossmann.)

But it doesn’t help much to think of polarization as working purely along a single left-right axis, as though the right has simply moved further right. Instead, there has been a break, a divergence of political worldviews.

On one side is what we might call the classic liberal democratic (small-l, small-d) theory of politics. In this view, politics is a kind of structured contest. Factions and parties battle over interests and policies, but the field of play on which they battle is ring-fenced by a set of common institutions and norms. Inside that fence is “normal politics” — the subject of legitimate political dispute. Outside that fence is out of bounds, in violation of shared standards.

The “game” of politics is defined by explicit rules (e.g., the Constitution), enforced by various legally empowered referees (e.g., courts and the executive branch). But it is also defined by implicit norms, unwritten rules more informally enforced by the press, academia, and civil society. These latter institutions are referees as well, but their enforcement power operates not through law but through trust. Their transpartisan authority exists solely because participants in the game agree it does.

The idea is that when political participants step outside the ring fence and violate some shared rule or norm, they are called on it by referees and must pay some penalty, reputational or otherwise. In this way, political contests are bounded and contained, prevented from spilling over into violence or illiberalism. That’s how democracy—indeed, any framework of cooperation among large numbers of diverse people—works. Institutions and norms provide structure and limits, the shared scaffolding of cooperation.

That is the classic, some might say naive, view. But there has always been a powerful strain in conservatism (think the John Birch Society) that resists seeing itself as a participant in the game at all. It sees the game itself, its rules and referees, as captured by the other side, operating for the other side’s benefit. Any claim of transpartisan authority is viewed with skepticism, as a kind of ruse or tool through which one tribe seeks to dominate another.

That’s the view Limbaugh and others in right-wing media have consistently articulated. And it has found an increasingly receptive audience.

And so people like me sputter on the sidelines. It doesn’t matter how often people with nothing more untoward in their hearts except to point out that the law has been broken, people like my friend will call us names and post ridiculous memes and deny the evidence that truly is right in front of them. My friend lives in an echo chamber in which everyone is repeating the lies, in particular their news sources.

I honestly don’t know how to remedy the situation we find ourselves in. It’s tough to believe in the American ideal of the First Amendment when it forces us to tolerate people like Alex Jones (the proprietor of an unhinged, far-right conspiracy theory radio show and website), whose reason for existing on God’s beautiful blue earth is unclear at best. How a man who earns his living telling public lies (actually, I think he makes his living selling merchandise—T-shirts and suchlike) manages to stay out of jail is beyond me. In fact, in a child custody lawsuit (ex-wife says he’s unstable) Jones’s lawyer admitted Jones is a “performance artist” who is “playing a character,” though that makes no difference to Jones’s equally unhinged followers.

It’s a slippery slope, trying to make distinctions in the First Amendment, but I think that’s where we have to look. The European Union, which also prizes a free press, has passed some strong laws against hate speech. That’s a start, and we can look to the EU for what’s working and what’s not. There must be a way to preserve our free press.

But I think eventually as a society we’ll have to address the concept of fake news. (A good definition is this: Fake News is the deliberate attempt to publish hoaxes and/or disinformation for the purpose of profit or influence. That is, for the purpose of keeping the tribe in power.) As we learned in the documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad, when the filmmaker’s father could no longer watch Fox (Not)News, he gradually returned to the mild-mannered person he had been before he started watching. This truth is demonstrated even more dramatically in the story of Derek Black, a former white nationalist whose father started the first and largest white nationalist website, whose godfather is David Duke … and who went off to college and learned new things and met new people (got out of his echo chamber, in other words) and completely changed his way of thinking (read this post-Charlottesville interview with him here). Eventually he came out—that is, disavowed his racist mind-set and disavowed white nationalism altogether—publicly, first in a letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center and later with an op-ed in the New York Times.

I find Black’s story very moving and inspiring.

It gives me hope.

* It’s been a strange couple of years, actually.

** This was on the day of President Obama’s farewell speech and public (right-wing) outrage about some comment Meryl Streep made.

*** Full disclosure: I’m willing to bet it’s the abortion issue, even though we have the data that shows countries with free access to abortion have lower rates of abortion than those which don’t, just for starters. Even though she would scream bloody murder about Muslims trying to establish sharia law in this country, and her desire to eliminate legal abortion would essentially establish “Christian sharia” law. But you knew it was a rhetorical question, right?

In December, Everything Came to a Head

We’ve had a lot going on here. My workload’s been heavy (that’s good, actually) but with deadlines that moved up and down my production schedule (publishers and authors sometimes shuffle things around), which caused bottlenecks and logjams that raised my stress level. (In fact, my young whippersnapper doctor put me on a low-dose blood pressure medicine late in the year. But that’s another story entirely.)

In September we learned our beloved cat, Bean (that’s her photo at the top of this blog), was sick—probably lymphoma, which is incurable, but we continued to try various meds and nutrition changes, as well as an ultrasound and needle biopsy on the sixth of December. She was weakening, and my heart was breaking.

In October our annual termite inspection yield the information that our master bathroom floor might fall through, so while we wrangled with the insurance company, we decamped to the upstairs bathroom for our daily ablutions. It took weeks to get the paperwork settled, and work finally began on December fifth. There was dust everywhere. Thank goodness we hadn’t had time to put out Christmas decorations, or they’d have been dusty too.

In November, finally, some good news: my son and his fiancée married. Actually, that was a really special day amidst a month of growing strain. I was working night and day to dismantle my logjam. Bean needed meds and you try giving a cat a pill. It was just … a crazy time. Not good, not bad, but a lot.

Happy couple a few days later: Thanksgiving at our place.

And then, on December eighth, we got a call from Dublin in the very early morning that we’d been worried would come. Gerry’s eighty-seven-year-old mother had been in and out of the hospital all year. Her body wasn’t well but her mind was still just as sharp as a tack. Since Gerry had married me and returned with me to the United States in late 2015, his younger brother, Richie, and Richie’s wife, Isolde, had taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Bridie. It hadn’t been an easy year for them either.

The call was from Richie: Bridie had gone to the hospital that morning. The question had already been asked (“She has a son in America—should we call him home?”) but the answer we received at 5am was “Not yet. Let’s wait and see.” So I went off to my doctor for my annual physical at 8am and, of course, my blood pressure was through the roof—I left with a prescription for the low-dose bp meds, madder than a wet hen about it too. Which did nothing to lower my bp.

• • •

(Here’s a tip about that. In those crazy early morning hours, I’d had a cup of tea and a piece of toast, forgetting that they’d take blood at my physical. By the time I got back to the clinic for the bloodwork, it was after Christmas and my blood sugar was up too. A nurse friend of mine rolled her eyes at me, reminded me that stress also causes blood sugar to rise, and said, “Jamie, don’t ever schedule a physical during the holidays!” And I won’t.)

• • •

            By the time I got home, though, “Wait and see” had become “Come home now.” Gerry had already made arrangements with our phone carrier for an international plan, and we came up to the office and sat down at our dueling computers and started looking for a flight for him. I would not be going with him. (Cats, meds, dog, deadlines, and so on.)

Back in the day—you know, when America was great and all that—the airlines offered a sympathy discount for hardship cases like final illnesses and funerals, but no more. We were shocked at the cost of a round trip flight from Nashville to Dublin: the cheapest was British Airways at $3135. It was enough to make us weak in the knees. So we called them. It never hurts to ask, right?

Welp … nope. No family emergency discount. However, the clerk took pity on us and gave us a tip, which I’m passing to you in case you don’t already know it.

• • •

When you are buying tix online, you’ll be asked to choose if you just want the flight, or if you want flight+car or flight+hotel or flight+car+hotel. Let’s say you choose flight+car. You print out a little voucher for a good rate at the car rental place. You don’t pay for it then, you just print the voucher. Magically (!) your flight cost is reduced by half. No joke: the cost went to $1572. The clerk said, “When you reach your destination, just drop by the Hertz window and tell them your plans have changed.”

• • •

            And so he did. Thanks, BA.

I didn’t work much that day. I just helped Gerry gather the things he needed to pack for a two-week stay. (I am proud of the fact that I had stashed 50 euro in bills leftover from the last trip—and several one- and two-euro coins—so Gerry didn’t have to fly off without cash other than dollars.) We were both rattled. And that afternoon I drove my husband to Nashville and put him on a plane to Dublin in the hopes he could see his mother before she parted from this world.

I came home and started sending emails to Gerry’s former work colleagues and other friends of ours, to let them know Gerry would be in Dublin and why. I let our family know. I let our Facebook friends know. I scribbled lists of things I needed to do. I went up and down the stairs letting the dog outside—she stands in the hall and does this low growl until she has your attention—gaining a new appreciation for just how much time Gerry spends letting Suzy out to pee. 🙂

Bridie died Friday just before midnight Dublin time (that would be 6pm our time). Gerry was waiting to board his flight in Chicago, having spoken with her on the phone a little earlier. One of the nieces sent me an electronic message.

Gerry arrived in Dublin in late afternoon on Saturday, precisely twenty-four hours after he’d departed Nashville, and Richie and Isolde took him home and fed him breakfast for supper and put him to bed. The funeral was scheduled for Wednesday. He spent the rest of his time in Dublin emptying the house, speaking with the solicitor, speaking with the realtor, speaking with the bank, and so on. Richie was right there by his side. It was exhausting.

Here at home, the rest of us tottered on. The diuetic I’d been prescribed for the blood pressure made me feel like I’d been run over by a truck. I could barely climb the stairs I felt so fatigued. Also low-grade nausea. But. Just. So. Exhausted. Aaaaagh. (Fortunately it only lasted for a few days.)

Suzy wasn’t getting walked, and she missed her guy. The two of us were walking wounded. On Facebook I posted Opportunity of a lifetime! Take a stroll around the block with the world’s sweetest dog! but got no takers. December is a really busy month for everyone.

The construction in the bathroom continued, which meant our backyard gate was often open. Gerry’s very cautious/aware about these things, but one morning I let her out to do her business, failing, while I was on the phone informing the dentist that Gerry would not make his appointment on Wednesday, to notice that the gate was open… and when I called for her, she was gone. I called and called: Suzy! Suzy!

Nothing.

So instead, I called for Spot the cat, using his mealtime call: SPIT-Spot! SPIT-Spot! He responds very well to it. So does Suzy. So what to my wondering eyes should appear but a seventy-pound yellow Lab who never misses a meal. She was on the driveway between the front yard and the back yard. Came on the run.

I always checked the gate situation after that. We’d had enough trouble.

Yes, Suzy finally took me for a walk today (dragged me around the block). That’s a plastic cup I scooped out of the gutter when I realized I’d forgotten a poop bag. Fortunately I didn’t need to use it.

Those two weeks seemed like two months. I had to let go of a lot of my personal expectations—put up a Christmas tree, decorate, send Christmas cards—and reached a peace with myself. I told myself I’d get to some of it when I could, but for the moment, I just tended to my work and my pets and sat in the hot tub, and knew that all of us would be happy to see Gerry on the other end. I wrapped one present a day and stacked them on the piano.

When you don’t have a tree, the Christmas Piano will do.

I started checking flight status early and learned that Gerry’s plane out of London Heathrow was delayed. His Chicago flight was due in Nashville at 10pm … but who knew? I’ve been on more than one flight that was held for someone making a tight connection, so I was hoping for that. I checked the flight roster—there was one more flight out of Chicago that night. So I went and brewed a pot of tea.

Ultimately, the fully boarded flight out of London was delayed by an hour and 45 minutes. Why? Because somehow someone had been allowed to board the plane to Chicago whose “paperwork was inadequate to enter the US.” That person was removed from the plane, of course, but the main delay was removing that person’s luggage from the plane. How does that even happen? I still don’t have an answer.

• • •

            But here’s a third tip: If you are flying from Ireland to the US and you have a choice, use a flight that goes directly to the US (Chicago, Boston, NY, DC, Newark, Charlotte, Atlanta … probably others). This allows you to pass customs in Dublin before you ever board a plane. It’s a hassle, you have to be there even earlier than normal, but it’s much less painful than landing in the international terminal, going to baggage claim to collect your luggage, passing through customs, then changing terminals, re-checking your luggage, passing through security, and boarding the next plane.

• • •

            Nonetheless, we took the tickets we could get two weeks ago, and this is what Gerry had to do. There was one last flight to BNA from ORD that night and British Airways took care of booking him on it while he was still in the air. So he collected two pieces of luggage, took them through customs, found his gate, checked the luggage again. As he was boarding for BNA, he got a text from the airlines: “Ooops, sorry, one of your bags didn’t get on the plane. It will follow on the first flight in the morning.” (We’re still puzzled by this. He was there in plenty of time for this flight. He checked them both simultaneously. But one didn’t make it? Why?)

The flight landed at its advertised arrival time of 11:20pm. I was sitting in the huge new park-and-wait and had been since 10pm. Waiting. Tired. Gerry called and said “Don’t come to the terminal until I have my luggage.” So I waited and waited and waited … until 12:30am. Why? Because Gerry had to prove who he was (him with the oops email from the airlines!) and document every leg of his trip, before anyone at the airlines would even agree to say they knew where his missing luggage was! And more paperwork! And me sitting in the park-and-wait having these fantasies about hugging my husband close when I finally laid eyes on him.

“I’M COMING TO GET YOU NOW,” I texted in all caps. “THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”

You would think that the Nashville airport would be reasonably quiet and calm at 1am. But if it’s two days before Christmas, you would be wrong.

Side note on the new arrivals lanes at BNA: They suck. In years past we had a simpler system, a thing of beauty, really, but sometime in the last couple years, airport expansion construction eliminated the ten-minute pull-in parking for loading arrivals and left us with three lanes plus a fourth separated by sidewalk, and it’s insanity because people don’t know how to use it. Drivers are stupid, stopping in the middle two lanes to load their people, thus holding up the entire process, rather than pulling to the two available curbs (lanes 1 and 4) to load, leaving lanes 2 and 3 for through-traffic.

By the time I decided to drive to the terminal, these lanes were backed up well past the curved arrivals entrance (if you know BNA, you know what I mean). And it was raining. When I pulled to the curb, Gerry was banging on the trunk, waiting for me to pop it. He had the suitcase in the trunk before I was out of the car. “This is madness!” I shouted over the roar. No tender hug. “Take me home now!” he shouted back.

• • •

Future tip for airport pickups (especially at holidays): pick up your beloved arrival at departures. Traffic in these lanes is moving quickly, so everything’s more relaxed. In Nashville departures are up one level from baggage claim, and you’re tired and dragging luggage, but pickup goes a lot more smoothly, I’m told.

• • •

            We fell into bed around 1:30am. Gerry awoke at 5am, still on Dublin time. I slept until 6:45am (late for me). We have had breakfast. We are, otherwise, an advertisement for the Walking Dead. But he’s home, and we’re a little travel-wiser. Merry Christmas!