The Pit Stops of Life


The Pit Stop

The destination is the destination of our planned vacation. We pack up the belongings, the kid, and the dog with an ultimate destination in mind. When someone suggests that we take a pit stop, we say, “Why? We’re making good time here. At this rate, we should arrive at our destination by four p.m., with plenty of time to do much of what we planned.” The fun and frivolity we dreamed up, when we dreamed up this vacation, all took place at the final destination. Pit stops seem like a waste of the precious time we could spend having fun. The dilemma arrives when we arrive at our destination, and we have nothing to do for the first couple of hours.

“[He] never made pit stops,” a woman said of her now deceased husband. “He thought pit stops were a waste of time. He wanted to get there.” 

Well, he’s there now, I thought of joking. He’s at his final destination. It would’ve been an awful, cruel joke. No one would’ve laughed, of course. No one would’ve so much as smiled. How many pit stops did he make to his final destination? Did he go quickly? He wasn’t the type to stop at a lakeside pit stop. “He wanted to get there.”

I didn’t say any of that, but in the midst of my scheme to drop that room-silencing, reputation damaging joke, I realized that I’m a no-pit-stops destination traveler too. I don’t stop to smell the flowers, look at a lake, or carpe diem the moment. I want to get there, wherever there is. I want to have fun, and I don’t want something like a pit stop to get in the way of it. 

When we map out our vacation, it often involves lengthy travel times. Even on paper, we know we’re signing up for a long journey, even when they’re all interstate miles. It doesn’t get any better when we’re doing it. As the miles click by, it begins to feel like a Sisyphean trial of humanity to sit in a small car for that many hours in a row, and it doesn’t matter how large the interior of an automobile is, they all feel small after eight hours. The family might want to smell the flowers and look at a lake, but I’m the “Let’s just get there for all that’s holy. Let’s get this drive over” type of traveler. 

The volume of the consensus breaks us down, however, and we take a pit stop. Their primary goal, after such long car ride, was to get out and stretch the legs a little, go to the bathroom, get the kid out of the car for a while, and let the dog pee. We’re not for it, but we strike a deal with those who are dying to get out of the car. We decide we won’t stay long. We’ll look at stuff, we’ll walk down to the lake and throw some stones in it. We’ll talk to some of the other people who made a similar pit stop, we’ll let the dog run around with whatever joy he always runs around in, and the kid can have some spontaneous kid fun. Then we’ll take that almost cinematic portrait with that crystal blue lake in our background, and we’ll all get back in the car for another three hours. 

I don’t know if I needed the break more than I knew, but I was peaking at this particular pit stop. Some of the times, we have mental peaks, some of the times, we have physical ones, but every once in a great while they come together. Before we turn 25, our whole life is one peak after another. The only stories we tell involve those moments when we weren’t peaking. After 40, we are so impressed with our peaks that we tell everyone we know. Everything in between involves noticing peaks after the fact. I was peaking at that little pit stop. I was in the moment, the moment I stepped out of the car. I wasn’t thinking about the car ride ahead of us, how this pit stop might hamper our pre-planned schedule, or anything else for that matter. Once I stepped out of the car, I wanted to make this stupid, little pit stop as fun as it could possibly be. 

We had so much fun at that little pit stop that it proved one of the best we have ever experienced on vacation. When we finally arrived at our proposed destination, we had all the fun we planned to have, and I remember that vacation as one of the better ones we’ve had. We may have spent four days at our proposed destination, and we only spent 30 minutes at that non-commercial pit stop, but the time we spent there will forever stick out in my memory.

City on a Hill

I love a great line. A great line can make a movie (90 minutes long, on average) or a series (roughly 47 minutes per episode, with ten episodes on average) seem worth it. Anyone who reads this will probably say that it says a lot about me, but my favorite lines are the obnoxiously offensive and repugnant lines of vulgar cruelty. Some heart-warming, positive lines, reach me, but nothing causes me to pause and rewind more than an awful line from an awful character. 

I also prefer shows and movies that depict people doing and saying awful things to one another. There are exceptions, of course, as some shows are awful for the sole purpose of being awful. The great shows, about awful people doing awful things to one another, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men always managed to preserve some relatable integrity in their characters while doing and saying awful things to other characters. We learn to cheer the main characters on, and when they did awful things to other characters, we cheer that on too. 

The Showtime series City on a Hill is not as great as those shows, of course, but it did have one great, repugnant, moment of vulgar cruelty. 

“I can hear it now. The eulogies, the hymns, the bagpipes, everyone forgetting what a lousy piece of [dung] you’ve been your entire life,” the Jackie Rohr character says to his rival J.R. Minogue, on an episode of the TV show City on a Hill. The Minogue character lies in the ambulance, and we know he’s not going to live long enough to see the hospital. We know Rohr’s cruel sendoff will be the final thing the Minogue character hears. “Your wife’s going to be upset [after you die] for about five minutes, and I will … eventually, but this should be a comfort to both of us. There’s no hell. There’s only this life, right here, right now, and the last thing that you’re going to see in your lousy life is my ugly face.”

Seconds before this scene, Rohr eagerly leapt into the ambulance that carried J.R. Minogue, before the EMTs could close the door. We know this scene. We’ve seen it all before. The main character, a law enforcement official, leaps into the ambulance to hold a fellow cop’s hand, as the man succumbs to death. Even though they’re bitter rivals, Minogue’s a fellow cop, and that goes along way to forming some solidarity between the two. That’s the typical scene, in the typical cop movie, but the writers of City on a Hill had other plans for Rohr. They have him mock his rival on his deathbed, and he lays into Minogue with vulgar cruelty.

Ever since Sopranos, and perhaps beyond, viewers have come to accept the idea that their favorite main characters on their favorite productions can be morally ambiguous, if not downright awful people. Through a dizzying array of scenes, we accept the idea that Jackie Rohr is one such character. Yet, what motivates this character to be this spiteful? We’re to read into it. We’re to wonder if we could ever be that spiteful. We’ve all had people we dislike in a competitive manner, and we dislike others in a more personal manner, but have we ever hated someone so much that we wanted to taunt them into death? Most of us haven’t. I obviously considered this scene an interesting nugget to chew on, and I wanted a more thorough psychological exploration of why, or how, even a Jackie Rohr could be that spiteful and that hateful. Scenes like these remind me why I prefer books to movies.

We understand that when Rohr says, “This should be a comfort to both of us. There’s no hell,” he does so to inform the viewers that he knows that he’s as awful as J.R. Minogue is. That line sets up the next line well, but after I paused the series at that point and rewound it a number of times, I thought up a better line. 

“There is no heaven, and there is no hell. There’s no such thing as an afterlife.” If the writers seek spite, this might be an altogether different level of spite, because as awful as J.R. Minogue apparently was, he likely tried to counter those evil deeds with some good ones throughout his life. It might be even more spiteful to inform him that those good deeds he performed, and any other attempts Minogue made at good and honest living, were a waste of time, because “there is no heaven.”

Rohr then alluded to the idea that his main point for jumping in the ambulance was to make sure that Minogue’s loved ones weren’t the faces he remembered. Rohr wanted his face, Minogue’s most hated rival, to be the last face he saw. I see the writer(s) working here. I know that they’re vying for one of the more spiteful moments in TV history, but if there is no afterlife, and J.R. Minogue turns to dust, there will be no way for Minogue to remember the final moments that Rohr hoped to ruin. He’ll turn to non-existence, and Rohr’s awful sentiments will die as soon as Minogue does. A better line might have been, “There is an afterlife, and we don’t know where you’re going yet, but if they somehow determine in their mysterious ways, that a piece of [dung] like you is worthy of eternal paradise, I’m here to ruin all that for you by providing you your own personal definition of hell, knowing that my ugly face was the last thing you saw in your time spent on Earth.”

I read an interesting complaint regarding individuals who follow religious philosophies. The complainant suggested that religious people fail to appreciate their lives on earth as much as they should, because they place inordinate focus on achieving eternal paradise in the next life. Whether there is an afterlife or not, even if it involves a level of paradise beyond our wildest imagination, something tells me that we’ll look back on our lives on earth with some regret if we don’t make more time to enjoy the pit stops in life, en route to our final destination.

The Psychology of Travel


“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is a line that service industry employees know well. The squeaky wheels are our rant and ravers, adults that throw child-like temper tantrums. They scream and throw things, and they call the service employee before them every profane name they can think up to get what they want. Squeaky wheels know that the standards of the service industry are set up in such a way that no self-respecting manager is going to allow a squeaky wheel to stand at their desk and create a spectacle. They know the standards of the employee’s job duties are set up to appease the screaming minority that call corporate offices and write letters. Squeaky wheels also know that frustrated, low-level employees –those that want to rebel against these standards and treat the screaming minority in the same manner they treat the more deferential majority – are mere stepping stones to a manager that will step in and just give the squeaky wheels all the grease they need applied to make them go away.

“Imagine what it must be like to live like that every day of your life,” the front desk manager informed me after my frustrations reached a boiling point with one particular shrieking wheel, and the favorable treatment he received from the manager after the man acted like a petulant child that wanted a lollipop. ‘You’re not going to get anything if you continue to act that way young man,’ was my stance, but my manager stepped in and gave away the farm.

The idea that no discernible punishment awaited the hysterical man that stood before me was the source of my frustration. I grew up believing that there was a social, karmic contract that we all enter into where we attempt to treat others the way we want to be treated, and that the definition of character is formed on how we treat those that can do nothing for us. Watching the way this man acted, and the way management reacted, led me to believe that those standards are nothing but mottos that we’ve developed to keep the rubes in line, while the shrieking minority walks away with all the spoils. The gist of my more reasonable manager’s reply was that this shrieking wheel’s punishment for acting the way he did, was having to live the way he presumably lives.

“A person cannot be that obnoxiously miserable,” he stated, “without being obnoxiously miserable.”

No one involved in this obnoxiously miserable man’s spectacle knew what happened to him after we resolved his issue. We concluded, however, that the remaining moments of his trip would be as miserable as the rest of his life would be, because he was miserable, and that the greatest impediment to him having an enjoyable trip was the decision he made to take him with him.

Happy people tend to get lost in the shuffle in the course of a day at a hotel. They do not have chocolate truffle apologies sent to their room by the manager, they do not have extra-amenities lying in wait for them in their room, and they will not gain the sense of satisfaction that the miserable must gain by conquering an eighteen-year-old service industry employee’s desire to do everything they can to avoid rewarding the obnoxiously miserable. Happiness has its own rewards in all of the intangible ways everyone knows, but some it appears, would rather have a chocolate truffle.

It’s been my experience, working at a hotel in a decidedly non-tourist spot, that happy people can have great, enjoyable vacations no matter where they decide to travel, whom they vacation with, or what their vacation destination has to offer. Their happiness is so infectious that it bleeds over into their daily life, in much the same manner misery does for the miserable. To the happy, the very idea of travel is but a luxury afforded to those that know how to budget accordingly. The miserable, however, can find something to be miserable about in the most luxurious, five-star destination spots the world has to offer, because they make the unfortunate decision to take them, and all of their baggage, with them on vacation.

No vacation can make a person happier, or any more miserable, than they already are. The weather will not act according to plan, everything will be more expensive than calculated, some members of the service industry will be miserable jerks in a manner that makes a vacation more miserable, and a vacationer will run into some unreasonable jerks –in the general population of the locale to which you travel– because these people always seem to find the miserable. It’s been my experience, on both sides of the travel industry, that Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong) will come into play whenever one decides to go on a vacation. I’ve also learned that Murphy’s Law doesn’t apply to places and things as much as it applies to people, miserable people that seek out misery.

If you are one of these miserable people, and you’ve arrived at the realization that the greatest obstacle to having a great time on vacation is that you have to take you with you, you may want to consider another course of action that will save you, and those you encounter on vacation, a great deal of headache and heartache by finding some way to avoid taking you with you. If that means staying home and watching TV, stay home and watch TV. You can complain about the dwindling number of shrimp in your takeout, or the amount of commercials on TV, from the comfort of your own home, and you won’t have to ruin a vacation for all the happy people around you that enjoy all that life has to offer.

Head in the Sand Gains

Traveling will not change a person, their intelligence level, or any personality traits that are endemic to character. If a person believes that the only way one can know anything about the Vadoma tribe of western Zimbabwe (called “The Ostrich People” in a derogatory fashion) is to travel there and shake hands with a tribal leader, they make a mistake by degrees. They might be able to use a line like this one for the rest of their life: “Oh, you simply must visit the Vadoma people personally. Gluck Gluck, the tribal chief, is an amiable host.” It may enrich a life somewhat to touch the Ectrodactyly-ridden toes of the fraction of this tribe that suffers from the ostrich-like condition, and that may provide a person a conversation piece that lasts the rest of their life that centers around the smell of their refuse, the particular foods that they eat, and the opportunity they had to share that quaint meal with the tribe, or they might even gain a perspective on their life that gives them a renewed appreciation of the extravagances life has afforded them. They will not become smarter, happier, or more miserable by travel alone.

There are people –and they know who they are– that believe that they are somehow worldlier, smarter, and more experienced than others are, based on the quantity and quality of their travels.

“How would you know?” a world traveler once asked me in a debate, completely unrelated to travel. “You haven’t traveled extensively.”

Few people are as bold, or as stark as that, but there does appear to be an element of this mindset in most world travelers. We should all take a moment out of our lives to inform them that some can derive intelligence by reading, and by the manner in which one studies a subject. If a person is one that already knows most of what there is to know about everything, and I think we can say that based on our experience with most world travelers think that they approach most subjects with this mindset, their prospects for greater intelligence are probably going to be limited. If their general nature is such that they approach various subjects without ego, and an insatiable curiosity, their intelligence level may reach a “boundless” characterization by those that listen to them, and they can accomplish this without travel.

This person that questioned my level of intelligence, based on comparatively limited travels, appeared to believe that by traveling in tour groups –on the yellow brick roads that the travel industry built to allow them to view the indigenous people of third world countries from behind proverbial velvet ropes that protected them from “icky” involvement with the indigenous, and basically allowed them to view indigenous people in the manner zoo patrons might view a rhinoceros– that she was somehow smarter, or worldlier than me. She was there, in western Zimbabwe, and no one can ever take that away from her, but she didn’t eat with the people, sleep with them, or spend any significant amount of time with them. She viewed them in the manner zoo patrons view baboons, refraining –we can only assume – from tossing them peanuts.

“I did it for the experience,” is something she might have said. “I did it to be a well-rounded character that has a greater perspective about the world.” 

No one can deny these possibilities, but listening to her one can’t help but think that she took this particular, third world vacation with an unspoken enthusiasm for the mileage it might gain her in the face of those that haven’t. What good is taking such a vacation, if a person doesn’t talk about it, feel worldlier in its aftermath, and lord it over those that haven’t taken such an excursion?

If this is not enough for a world traveler, and that world traveler wants to view a world beyond the proverbial velvet ropes that line the chamber of commerce’s yellow brick road, and they want to step into the world of adventurous travel, they may want to check to make sure they have an American, OHBM (outrageously hot, blonde mom) in their tour group. If there isn’t one, my advice would be to find the closest thing available and ask her and her husband to join your adventurous excursion. The reason for this is that no country –that makes any revenue from tourism– wants to see their country mentioned in the U.S. media, and there’s nothing the U.S. media loves more than a “Something happened to an  outrageously hot, blonde mom American” story. When something happens to an American overseas, it makes the news. Depending on the severity of what happened, the story may only make the local news and a few internet outlets, but the ability to tell a heart wrenching “Something happened to an American OHBM” story, coupled with the image of that OHBM, might just land the story Malaysian Airlines flight 370 style coverage. One has to guess that the minute a member of a country’s chamber of commerce gets one look at this OHBM, they might assign her their country’s special forces to make sure she isn’t so much as spoken to by the indigenous.

Know Thyself, Know Thy Family

Family vacations offer a far less dangerous adventure, of course, but some of those vacations involve reunions with long lost uncles and aunts. We’ve known them our whole lives, but our love for them jaded our perspective. This trip makes it clear that some of our people, in accordance with the ratio of all people, are miserable. We might acknowledge the idea that every family has one person that is a little angst-ridden, but we never thought one of ours could be that person, until we witness a side of them we never saw before.

Those of us exposed to this side of humanity, take comfort in the idea that we can always return home to our immediate family. We know our family, and we have a firmer grasp on how our parents raised those people. We might reserve some space for individual variance, but we cling to the idea that those that have ventured too far from the path will eventually have a redemptive “come to Jesus” moment that brings them back. We might find those moments laced with regret, but even if it’s not, we continue to hope that that moment will arrive before it’s too late. They usually don’t for reasons that are foreign to us. They usually don’t, because some people don’t believe that they’re been headed in the wrong direction. It’s there course, and if they could see that path, they would’ve corrected course long before the need for a redemptive moment arrived. What usually happens, in my experience with such matters, is that the finger crossers realize they don’t know their people half as well as they thought. These people are miserable, angry people that have some psychological underpinnings that prevent them from acknowledging what everyone else sees, and they have to live with themselves, but so do we.

We’ve all witnessed redemptive moments arrive for the subjects of our concern, and we’ve waited on half a bun while their “sure to arrive” realization tottered on the cusp. We’ve witnessed all of the past events that should’ve led them to a realization, and some of us have even had others corroborate our version of those events, in the company of our subjects. To our utter amazement, these people manage to move away from their vulnerability on the matter, they may offer some sort of excuse regarding their involvement, or they might inform those concerned that they were not involved in the matter. They might even accuse those of us that suggest that they have any vulnerability on the matter of either rewriting history, or being limited in our view on the matter. Long story short, those waiting for an “aha!” moment where the subject comes to the realization that they’ve been doing it wrong in ways large or small, are rarely granted satisfaction.

Bill Murray said that if a person is considering a wedding proposal, it might be a good idea to take that person on a long, extended trip with them before doing so. “Travel the world with them,” Murray suggests. The import of this suggestion has something to do with the stresses and strains of boarding a plane, transferring flights, engaging with hotel employees, visiting tourist destinations together, and all of the interactions in between that involves elements outside the other person’s routine. Watch how they engage with service industry employees, examine the trip in the aftermath, and gauge how they conducted themselves throughout. Did they make the most out of every day? Did they view some sites as inconsequential versus the preferred destinations, or did they value those lesser spots for what they were? In the aftermath of the vacation, how did the prospective mate describe the trip to others? Did they lord it over people that they had been to one particular location that the others had not? Coupled with all the virtues and pleasantries of travel, are the stresses and strains, and how a person deals with them can define them in ways that may not be apparent in those situations where they are able to keep their best foot forward. The point of the Murray suggestion, given in a prospective groom’s toast, was that people thinking about getting married should place their prospective mate in situations where they don’t know anyone else is looking. It might give a person some insight into whether their prospective mate is a happy person or a miserable person before they invite that person to join them in their journey through life, and how that journey might end up being a happier one if they decide not to take them with them.