The California mountain emergency chicken call

This was the phone call I received. It was from my mother. I was in the mountains of California, and it was early morning. I answered it, worried something might be wrong. I was right. Something was wrong … I answered the phone. This is the call I received.

Mom: Brian!

Me: Yes, mom. What’s wrong?

Mom: I hate to bother you on your vacation, but this is really, really important (long pause) … There is a chick in the backyard!

Me: Hold on, say that again?!? It sounded a lot like you just said, “there is a chick in the backyard.”

Mom: What?

Me: A chick in the backyard!

Mom: That’s what I just said … how did you know?

Me: I didn’t know. That’s what you just said.

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Mysteries of the summer vacation

Somebody explain to me how you can pack enough clothes for a 10-day trip to the mountains of California, yet only wear the equivalent of three days worth. Layers upon layers of unworn jeans, shirts and shorts sat stacked up inside my suitcase. There were enough socks to open up my own store. Why did I bring all those clothes? With so many options, why didn’t a single thing match?

And, most perplexingly, did they multiply? Because as I tried to re-pack everything into my suitcase for the journey home, nothing fit anymore. Same number of clothes, yet the stack was twice as tall. I had to wear four layers of clothing on the flight, and bind the bulging suitcase shut with heavy cable and duct tape.

Oh, the mysteries of traveling.

My family and I ventured out to Yosemite, Kings Canyon and finally Los Angeles. We rode horses down mountain trails and across rushing creeks. We stared wide-eyed at waterfalls, all super-charged this year by the heavy winter snowfall. We marveled at 1,800-year-old sequoias that were wide as a house and tall as skyscrapers. And we wandered star-struck through a backstage tour of the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood.

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If I were a rich man … with no passion for fishing

I guess “horrified” isn’t the right word, but I would definitely say “dumbfounded” comes close to capturing it. It was an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “How the Rich Fish.” Its subhead read, “In their quest for the best fishing, avid anglers are spending $200,000 to $750,000 to create and stock personal streams with computer-controlled conditions.”

Yes, my friends, there is no end to the excess!

First off, if you’re that rich, you can certainly afford to get some robots to do the fishing for you, and even dress them up in funny party hats and animal costumes. But you sure don’t need to go wading into the water yourself. Go eat ice cream instead.

The story spotlighted a retired energy executive who had created 2 acres of man-made streams and ponds at his Wyoming home. He said his two passions in life were “playing golf and fly fishing.”

Second off, if you have enough money to dig computer-controlled fish ponds, you can certainly afford to go out and buy yourself better passions!

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Little kid trip excitability

Kids crack me up. How excited they get about things still months away, like Christmas, the promise of their first cel phone, driving, paying taxes and especially trips.

My 11-year-old daughter is no exception, especially when it comes to trips. She sat down at the dinner table the other night like a business woman ready to discuss our trip to Michigan … in late July! The two of us are traveling out to see my sister perform in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. We are meeting up with my dad, and it’s just a daddy-daughter trip. Our first. (I’m excited, too!)

But it’s still months away, which is why I found it amusing when she said in her most serious tone, “So, I want to discuss Michigan.”

“OK. Let’s discuss,” I said.

“So, what airline are we flying?”

“American.”

“Oh, great! The one that killed the giant bunny?!?”

“No, that was United. American hasn’t killed any giant bunnies recently. Maybe a snake. I don’t know.”

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Spring dumped a New York blizzard named ‘Stella’

I paced back and forth. Up and down the block, under the cover of a hotel awning. Weary to venture out. Is that black ice? Can high-powered snowflakes kill? If you get hit by a snowplow, do they just shove you in a snow bank and leave you until the city thaws?

No Floridian should be here. In an epic spring-time storm. A winter-esque blizzard that even the northerners freaked out about. They were careful on the roads. They skipped work and school. They shutdown trains and fired up snow blowers. They sprinkled salt everywhere, even on their salads. And they mourned the tulips they had planted the week before when it was 60 degrees and supposed to be spring.

Ha!

This was a Noreaster, combining with a polar blast of snow cutting across the Midwest. They called it Stella. A she-devil who was supposed to bring 12-18 inches of snow to New York City. I was there for a College Media Conference. It seemed like a good thing to attend … until I learned their HIGH temperatures wouldn’t crack the lowest I had seen all year.

Um … ha?

I paced back and forth, trying to decide whether to trudge into those cotton-candy whiffs of white drifting down. Piling up on the street like someone shaking powdered sugar all over the city.

To trudge out into it or not to trudge? That is a Floridian’s question.

But no Floridian — not one who had been through a hurricane last year — could live with himself if he didn’t trudge.
So, I went. To learn many new things about winter weather, and to remember lessons I had long since forgotten.

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The vacation worrier

It’s summer vacation planning time, and it has me in a tizzy. I love the act of designing a summer trip, filled with excitement and adventure and beautiful spaces that will make our mouths gape so wide open that some exotic insect buzzes in and ruins the moment.

But with the excitement comes the stress and the pressure and the fear of getting it right. Knowing that if not planned perfectly, it will all go wrong. And if it does, my daughter will tell the story for the rest of her life. “So, after he drove the rental car into the swelling river, he blurted out, ‘Oh no! I left my wallet at the truck stop!’ A beaver on the shore was laughing at us.”

For chronic worriers, vacation planning can be a nightmare. A tale of excitement and dread. But as I venture into my annual travelers’ panic attack, I came across a Wall Street Journal titled: “You’re a worrier? Don’t worry.” It looked at why we worriers “over-worry,” and laid out some handy steps to help us stop. So, as I dig into travel books and web sites, I’ve decided to use some of this advice to help me with my vacation planning:

• Is the concern as serious as I think it is? Meaning, if my vacation turns sour, will my family really leave me stranded on the side of a lonely road while they check into a 5-star hotel and get strawberry-scented pedicures? Probably not. At least not if there is bad WIFI service and they can’t pull up Google maps. Note to self: look for remote, isolated locations.

• Come up with a detailed plan to make it seem more controllable. I like that. Although, I already come up with ultra-detailed plans that get too deep down into the minutiae — “ … arrive at restaurant, put napkin in lap, ask for more bread because my daughter already ate it all.” Is that too detailed? Maybe skip to the other extreme and do no planning? Or just leave out the part about asking for more bread?

• Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” … aside from being eaten by a bear, because that’s pretty bad and could happen. Or checking into a place like the Bates Motel run by a creepy guy who keeps his taxidermied mother in the upstairs window. Or unknowingly booking a place right next to one of those failing California dams because the Internet description read, “Wake up to tranquil sounds of rushing water …” Better yet, let me just skip asking myself about the worst things that could happen.

• Come up with a better story than the negative one that is playing in my head. For instance, instead of seeing the downside of being next to that disastrous, failing dam, think about how once the National Guard helicopter pulls us to safety, the authorities will probably put us up in a nice hotel for free. And they might have strawberry-scented pedicures so my family can forget all about our failed, miserable vacation. Now, that’s a plan!

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End-of-summer trip envy

America has never been more divided. We are split in two — torn apart by a division so profound that it threatens our very being. Which camp do you fall into? Those who still have summer vacations ahead of them, or those who have already taken them?

Talk about polarization.

It is a bitter, angry camp for those who have already taken them. I know this from personal experience. I’m one of the envious souls, coveting everyone’s vacation plans as my own suddenly feel a million miles in the rearview mirror.

I don’t care where it is. Someone could tell me they’re going to Hackitup, Idaho, and my jaw drops. They could be going there to study pig slop or how potato fungus plans to vote in the presidential election.

“Really?!?” I say. “It sounds so wonderful! Is there going to be a pool with a slide? Do they have a Starbucks in the hotel lobby? Are you going to get pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse!?!”

I inquire more. I hang on every word. Oh, these darn First World problems!

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A family river-rapid down memory lane

Panic set in as I walked up the aisle — straight to the front of the line. Where would I put my wallet? How would I protect my bag from the water? What would my hair look like after the deluge? Did I really want to walk around a theme park soaking wet, my pants drenched, people wondering why I would go out in public like that?

“Look, honey! That man wet himself … all over!”

It was the Congo River Rapids at Tampa’s Busch Gardens. I hadn’t been back to the park in over a decade. Now three generations of Thompson — my dad, my daughter, my wife and me — were boarding this wobbly raft. All the riders who just came off were drenched. DRENCHED! One woman was complaining she almost drowned. She wanted CPR from a snappy-looking employee.

What am I an idiot, I thought? This isn’t what grown people do.

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Rumbling in L.A.

Don’t really know what this says about me. That I went to L.A. to get a National Society of Newspaper Columnists Award. I learned all kinds of wonderful things and met some terrific people. I shook hands with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts’ and “Dear Abby.” I had dinner at the Will Rogers Ranch and got to go to The Getty Center. I stayed at the house of a friend in Hollywood who works on “The Bachelor” and marveled at his stack of Emmy Award nomination DVDs that all said, “For your consideration.”

And yet, through it all, my biggest takeaway and most captivating moment? Standing in a hotel elevator pondering something quintessentially L.A.-ian: What does the earthquake button do?

Because there was one in the elevator. Right next to the fireman button. And the call for help button. (Which apparently just won’t do if a tremor strikes.) It just said, “Earthquake,” and left the rest to my imagination.

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A summer in The Rockies

What’s a Floridian know about altitude? About elevation? About snow and moose?

These were the questions I was pondering as we stopped the car along Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road. Some 12,000 feet up in the air. Two miles above the sea level where I normally plant my feet.

It was 46 degrees at midday, and there were wild critters running about — elk, bighorn sheep and mischievous-looking marmots. The marmots looked like they wanted me to hand over my car keys.

Oh yeah, and there was a wall of snow taller than my car. A snow plow had carved through it just a few days before. (Nobody told Colorado it’s June — summer! — and it should be so hot outside that ice cubes spontaneously combust.)

Y’all, we ain’t in Florida anymore.

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