Megabus Mama

I am somewhat of an adventuring kind of girl. You won’t find me bungee jumping off of the New River Gorge bridge, or base jumping off of cliffs, but I think that riding on a big bus, all by myself on the top level, out of sight of the bus driver, often with some shady looking characters, overnight, and sleeping through the whole thing, might be more daring than bungee jumping! And I have done this MANY times, and lived to tell about it. I have lost track of how many trips I have made on the Megabus. If you count each route that I had to book and pay for indiviually, it would probably be over 25, but if you just count each time I set out on a Megabus until the time I reached my ultimate destination, it would maybe be only 8 to 10 total.

One thing I don’t like to think about is how many HOURS I have spent on a bus, but the money I have saved makes it well worth every scrunched up hour of sleep with my arms wrapped tight around my tote bag, plus every game of solitaire played on my iPad! As a matter of fact, I would say that I quite enjoy the whole concept of the excursions. I am like a pioneer woman heading out on the open prairie, with all of the danger and adventure that awaited those early-Amercian adventurers. What will I find out there? What kind of man-eating creatures will spring out of nowhere? What will I find to eat? (This question has taken on new meaning since I began eating paleo!) What new things and people will I see/meet? Will I make a new friend; will I make it to the next stop without needing to use the on-board toilet; will I get to my first stop in time to make my connecting ride; can I make it the whole trip without having someone ask to sit beside me?! Do you see the rich and vast opportunities for widening my experience of life?!

When you add all the above-mentioned potential to the fact that I have traveled from Cincinnati to Minneapolis not once, but twice, for $5 ROUND TRIP, the whole enterprise becomes much more exciting and worthwhile. I am actually in Minneapolis at this very moment, thanks to the Megabus, but, much to my chagrin, I had to cough up $18.50 for this round-trip. That is ridiculous. Three times as much as my last trip! I had to pawn some of the family jewels to afford this one. Of course, these good prices aren’t easy to come by, and that is just another level of Megabus Mama’s prowess. People are always asking me how I do it. They want to plan a trip for next weekend with a family of eight, and find such good prices for the entire family. Sorry, folks, but it ain’t happening. You have to plan ahead, be flexible, not be self-conscious about dragging your luggage behind you in Chicago (or Buffalo, or D.C.), looking like a bedraggled homeless person, and, most important if you want to find the $1 seats……you HAVE to be traveling alone. I hate to burst your bargain hunting bubble, but those are the bare facts. The most I have ever spent on a bus trip was when I went to Norfolk, VA, but that was because it’s not easy to get there from Cincy – there’s a big mountain range in the way. I had to ride to Buffalo, NY, then to Washington, D.C., with the final stop in Hamptom, VA (and then the same thing on the way back). I wasn’t planning way ahead, and plus, it is way more difficult to be flexible when you have so many connecting flights (which is what I always call them). Still, it was WAY cheaper than actual flying, and I think I can honestly say I met the best people on that trip.

Over the past few years, I have gathered some fond memories from my many, lengthy sojourns on the big blue bus. I have had some excellent conversations with folks from all walks of life. As I was getting off a bus in D.C., a young man ran after me down the aisle to give me a hug good-bye after I cheered him up from an upsetting phone call. I have shared my Starburst candies with a punk couple all dressed in leather and metal, with spiked, colored hair. I have joined several fellow travelers for breakfast at a little cafe in Chicago, while we waited for our next ride to arrive. I visited the top of the Willis Tower all by myself and walked out into the glass cubes to look straight down on the city streets below. But, best of all, I have spent hours with my oldest daughters (and sons-in-law) that would not have happened otherwise, and my first grandchild knows her grandma well.

You might hear of occasional other exploits of mine, like zip-lining high above a river valley, or maybe kayaking down that same river. I would jump on a horse without any hesitation, and I am enjoying a new hobby these days, with my bow and arrow. However, none of these are quite like the thrill of traveling to see my children, in a dirt-cheap, daredevil, dawdling kind of passage. I consider it a great blessing that this opportunity opened up to me when my oldest moved to Minny, so, yeah, I do love the Megabus, and I AM one happy Megabus Mama. I think my next big blue bus ambition might be Oklahoma…

Until next time, slow down, experience America on a bus (even a short ride on a metro bus would work), and make a new friend!

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Ten Miles, Uphill, Both Ways

I am now officially old enough to remember the good old days, and to find myself being annoyed by the things of this age. I nostalgically recall a simpler, quieter, more interactive, and less hectic way of life. To be sure, I don’t mind growing older, and there are lots of modern inventions and luxuries that I enjoy very much, but there are those little thoughts that are beginning to rise more often to the surface, usually with a sigh, and with the preface, “I remember when…”

Just this morning, I went to daily Mass, and someone’s cell phone rang. I try not to be too judgmental, because I know it could happen to me, especially now that we have ditched our landline for cell phones only. I could easily forget to turn my phone off, since I use it for all phone communication, however, luckily for me (but not for the folks trying to get in touch with me), I usually go the other way, and forget to turn it back on. But this morning, the cell phone got on my nerves because it rang for a few seconds, then it was obvious (when it got much louder) that someone had pulled it out of a purse, and then, she answered it, and I swear I heard her say, “I’m at Mass.” I’m sorry, but some people just shouldn’t have cell phones. I remember when the only annoying sounds at church services (I grew up Baptist) were sneezing, snoring, and/or fingernail clipping…or maybe toenail clipping. (I only mention the toenail possibility because one time, when I was cleaning the church, I found some mombo nail clippings that had to be from someone’s toes…must have been one really long, boring sermon, that’s all I’m gonna say.)

Grocery shopping is another thing. I liked it when price tags where on each item you purchased, and the cashier would call out the prices as he/she manually punched in the numbers. And I didn’t have to feel everyone’s judgmental stares when I ask for paper grocery bags. And there weren’t so many aisles and products to weed through. But mainly, I remember when the cashiers and baggers used to notice me, the customer, and even (gasp!) initiate polite, small talk with me. I used to shop at a local grocery store where the neighborhood began to go downhill a bit. It started with a Hamilton County Sheriff Deputy on site after sundown, and then the employee slogan changed to, “You’re sayin’ I should be thankful for THIS job?!” One evening, as I stood at the cash register, listening to the bagger and cashier banter back and forth while ignoring my presence, the bagger proceeded to refer to a mutual acquaintance of theirs as, “a bitch.” That ruffled my feathers pretty significantly, so I reprimanded them, saying they should not speak like that in front of customers. To which the cashier replies to me, “Oh, you’re upset because he called someone a witch?” (Uh-oh, people…you are messing with the wrong lady!) So I said, “Okay, so now you’re telling me I’m deaf and stupid, eh?! Wrong response! You could have fessed up, you could have apologized, but no – you BLEW IT!” I marched straight over to the customer service desk and told the whole story to the manager, and informed him I was changing my shopping habits immediately, and they would no longer enjoy my patronage. Customer service in the retail industry definitely ain’t what it used to be.

Or how about those times you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while? Hi, how are you, haven’t seen you for years, how’s the wife and kids, blah, blah, blah…and then their cell phone rings. They pull out the phone, answer the call, and without a word, turn their back on you to talk on the phone. Yes, this actually happened to me! It might be an extreme case, but we are so disconnected, and downright rude to one another these days. I remember when people stopped to chat and gave their full attention to each other, perhaps being pulled away after a while by a quick glance at their watch, but still being polite about it. I used to dread going to the grocery store with my dad for this very reason, because he knew everyone, and once you got him started, innocent bystanders might as well start looking for a chair and a magazine. Longwinded talkers aside, being present to the people you are with and the places you are inhabiting at any given moment, these are becoming a lost art, and we will all suffer from the loss.

But mostly, I remember when….ummm…(sigh)…I remember when…I could actually remember what I was going to say. Well, never mind, it was probably a lie, anyway. 😉

Until next time, stop and chat with an old acquaintance who crosses your path (and, if one doesn’t cross your path, make a new friend), and ignore your cell phone when it rings (unless you’re in church, and then, silence it immediately!).

Pith and Vinegar

My mom was the queen of quirky sayings and odd, amusing rituals. Over and over…and over again, she would use the same old lines, practice the oft-repeated slapstick routines. Some of her usuals were commonplace; I would notice other parents saying them and breathe a sigh of relief that my mom wasn’t totally over the edge. But the others, that seemed to be original material, were usually pretty corny, or trite, or sometimes just plain vulgar (and this from a woman who never drank or cussed!). Some folks were in the groove with my mom’s sense of humor, and others….well, let me just apologize on her behalf.

 

The standard idioms and “mom-sayings” were easy enough to handle. My mom would often ask me, when I was deep in thought about something, if I was mad at the whole world. I guess my contemplative face was not pretty. She often followed that comment with, “Your face is going to freeze like that!” Or, if I was feeling sorry for myself, or having a bad day, my mom would give me a pity party, and play for me the world’s smallest violin. She was a master violinist. She used the “age before beauty” and the “half past a freckle, a quarter past a hair” comebacks with alarming frequency. The latter one came my way so often, I finally had to make up my own, witty comeback – “Okay, Mom, I’ll be home by warty:forty!”

 

Honestly, that’s what made it the most fun for me, when I got old enough, and my sense of humor developed enough, that I could make a witty comeback. Then, we would practice our mini-vaudeville shticks. One of our regular shows went like this:

Me: “Mom, Linda and I are going horseback riding.”

Mom: “Linda and I.”

Me: “No mom, you’re not invited.”

 

And then, there were those other quips of hers that made me want to crawl under a rock. Once, when I was in high school, and my boyfriend was at our house, my mom said this to me, as I leaned over to pick something up, “Boy, you’re getting broad across the beam!” Thanks, mom, that was a great comment, especially with my boyfriend sitting RIGHT HERE! Or, how about the time I introduced her to one of my very tall, fuller-figured friends, and these words came out of my mom’s mouth, “You could hunt bear with a stick!” So much for that friendship. My mom was seriously gifted with putting her foot in her mouth.

 

My absolute favorites, however, were the Casey clan originals, some of which contained words we weren’t allowed to say in our house. My mom, who truly had a difficult journey in this life, would often say, “I’m gonna wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up first.” I never really thought that made a lot of sense, but I got the point. When she was tongue-tied, she’d toss out this whopper, “I got my tongue wrapped around my eyetooth, and I can’t see what I’m saying.” I could actually laugh at that one! But, the crème de la crème….oh, I almost hate to share it, it’s such a family treasure. This one was handed down directly from my Grandma Casey (of Coffee Soup fame), who concocted this retort when she was a widow, raising two children through the Great Depression. My mom said it often, and I tried to carry on the tradition with my family, but my girls would not allow it. I’m sure that none of them will share this blog post, because this is one skeleton they would have preferred to keep in the closet, but here it is. You know how kids are always asking their mom, “What’s for supper?” Well, this was my mom’s tried and true response, “Fried farts and pickled assholes.” …I can only follow that with this – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

Until next time, if you can’t always smile, grimace….it’s close enough!

Headstones, a Heavy Heart, and Happiness (but not much humor)

Last week was a time of anniversaries, but not the kind with fancy dinners, cake and champagne. Well….there was that one bottle, but these were the sort of anniversaries that most folks don’t like to celebrate. You look forward to them with a heavy heart that often grows wearier day by day, since they are the anniversaries of loss. Some are easier than others. Often, you can look back with fond memories of a long life, well-lived, and the knowledge that our loved ones were ready to leave this earth, no matter that we long to have them with us still. But the unexpected, untimely, or tragic deaths…those haunt us, and sometimes even taunt us. Last week I shouldered a double anniversary: the death of my mother, one year ago, and the fifteen-year anniversary of the suicide death of my very dearest, kindred spirit friend, Maggie. One doesn’t like to whine, and go on and on about such things, but, yeah, it was a tough week, so I feel compelled to share my thoughts with you on this (often) taboo subject of death.

 

Death has varied methods of escorting our loved ones from this earth. It teases us by way of serious accidents or illnesses, during which we keep vigil at our loved ones sides. Sometimes we are forced to say our good-byes, while for others, after much prayer and medical intervention, death slowly moves on, promising to return one day. Often, it sneaks right up on us, and snatches someone away before we have a chance to say good-bye…sometimes, even before we have a chance to say hello. And occasionally, it is just such a tragic and incomprehensible death that we are immobilized by the pain and shock, unable to function, barely able to breathe.

 

I have experienced all of these. Last year, I was at my mom’s side when she died. She was elderly, and had not been in good health for many years. I was blessed to have been there with her for her last “good day,” and we had talked about death and dying, and she told me that she was ready. Then, I witnessed the body’s journey from life to death, the physical distress and unrest, which painfully transitions into a heavy sleep. Then the bedside vigil begins. When the end is near, the breathing slows and becomes labored, and you wait, holding your own breath, wondering when it will be the last for this person you hold dear. My mom left this earth in a serene and graceful manner. It was a gift and a blessing to see such a quiet and peaceful passing. I experienced the same situation with my mother-in-law several years ago. Twice I have been at the bedside for the death of loved ones, and both times I have come away feeling richer, and wiser.

 

But, oh, those tragic ones! What sustains us through those, with any trace of hope and sanity? For me, it has been the strength, the joy, and the optimism that comes from a life of faith. When I received the news of Maggie’s death, I passed through about 24 hours of sheer terror. I wanted to run away, to the ends of the earth, and scream at the trees and the sky and the ocean, “How could this be?!” As the days passed, I moved into a planning mode, doing what I needed to do to get through the funeral. I was invited to meet with the family and aid in the funeral planning, which helped me immeasurably. I met with our Bible study group, which Maggie and I had attended for years, just a group of moms, studying scripture together. We held each other and cried, and then we found things to laugh about. And that’s how things went for several months, lots of crying, with laughter mixed in, working hard to remember and focus on the good and the blessings that Maggie had left behind, instead of what felt like an empty hole in my chest. Suddenly, here I am now, fifteen years later, taking one of Maggie’s nieces with me to the cemetery, scrubbing Maggie’s headstone, and telling stories of all the crazy fun we had together, and how very much I loved her…and love her still. Do I still miss her; does it still hurt? Yes, to both of those questions, BUT, I can laugh and smile and love better because of what I’ve been through. I have become a better listener, and a good and compassionate friend and neighbor. I was able to step off of this crazy roller coaster of life, slow down, and put my family first. All of these things have come to me because Maggie was my friend, and because her love is still with me, holding me close, reminding me that I was found worthy of such a friendship.

 

An old friend of mine once told me about her sister, who had some serious health issues and knew she was dying, but was still coherent. As she lay in the hospital bed, she asked for some of the flowers from a vase sitting nearby. She took the flowers, laid them on her chest, closed her eyes, and said, “How do I look?” Everyone just stared at her, not comprehending what she meant, so she told them she was just practicing, and wanted to know if she would look good lying in the casket. Several of the family members were aghast. “Don’t talk like that!” one of her siblings admonished. But I LOVE that story, and she is my hero and my role model. At the end of my life, if God lets me linger long enough to crack jokes about myself as the family is gathered around, I am going to have them all laughing, and I will die with a smile on my face. That’s the legacy I want to leave.

 

Until next time, may you recognize the gifts that come your way. And make jokes about the other stuff….