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The Greatest Inspiration of All

We’ve finally made it back home. And home, as it turns out, is the greatest inspiration of all.

It was a bit of work getting here. You know how it goes — nearly 48 hours of nonstop travel across four separate flights, some lasting an hour, some lasting 13. Countless carrying of heavy bags, sitting in cramped quarters for a veritable eternity, and feeling the ever-increasing desire to just lie down and sleep, even though you can’t. But as these excruciatingly long trips go, this was about as smooth as it gets: Perfectly-sized layovers in each airport, no delays, no luggage snafus, everything exactly according to plan.

Except one thing.

I wrote in my last post that I thought my wife Apple was getting a minor cold. And it probably would have been minor, if she’d been able to rest and recuperate in bed as she needed to. But instead she had to travel and go without more than an hour or two of sleep for two days, in the exceptionally dry recycled air of one airplane after another. Let me tell you that by the time we got home, “miserable” doesn’t even begin to describe poor Apple’s feelings.

But here’s how my new outlook on life — and the lessons I learned in Thailand — came in handy during what could have been a very painful journey home. Normally, I admit, I’m not the most patient guy in the book. If things don’t go according to the plan I’ve laid out, or the routine I’ve set, I can get very irritated and unpleasant. While traveling, things are apt to take a detour from your expectations, so it would occasionally be stressful to travel with me. And Apple doesn’t like flying much either, so we were not a good pair when things went wrong.

I’d like to think, however, that such behavior is behind me. This time, even as we were in the airport waiting for our first flight, I could see that Apple was suffering terribly with her runny nose and a headache. My first, base inclination was to become annoyed at life, ask the rhetorical question of why she had to get sick, and be upset because I didn’t want her to suffer. But then I realized, if I’m in a foul mood, that’s only going to make her feel worse. As her husband, it’s my job to care for Apple, protect her and support her. And I couldn’t do that if I was being a grouch.

So instead, I remembered to myself just how much I love her, and how much better she would feel if I went out of my way to make her as comfortable and happy as possible during the trip, even if it meant sacrificing some creature comfort of my own. And so during the various flights home, I took her under my wing. Every few hours I’d visit the plane’s bathroom and take a stack of 20 or 30 sheets of tissue from the dispenser. Then, rather than watch the videos I’d prepared on my iPhone, I instead listened for the sounds of Apple sneezing or sniffling and would hand her a fresh tissue when she needed it, already neatly folded and ready for her to use. If I could save her from just the hassle of digging in her purse or her jeans pocket, I thought, she might be able to relax that much more. And I made sure to keep plenty of “stock” throughout the entire trip, from Bangkok to Florida, so she was never wanting. On our last flight from Atlanta to Florida, there was (mercifully) an empty seat next to her, so I let her lie down and rest her head in my lap.

And although the security checkpoint in our U.S.-based port of entry was characteristically chaotic and staffed by unbelievably rude officials as always, rather than get annoyed, I helped carry Apple’s heavy carry-ons and massaged her aching shoulders while we stood in line. I knew she was sick, knew that she could barely muster the energy to do more than stand in place with her eyes half-open, but yet she still had the strength to smile at me in silent thanks for taking care of her. They were smiles I’ll never forget, for they absolutely warmed my heart.

In the end, I discovered that this attitude benefited me as well as Apple. I felt much less anxious, claustrophobic and out-of-control throughout the journey. I was so happy to be able to bring a measure of comfort to my wife in her time of need. And when we got home, I wasn’t dead on my feet, but more invigorated than I think I’ve ever been in my life. Not just because I was home, but because I’d transcended my natural tendency to be a grumpy old git in trying times. And it was like a breath of fresh air.

I’m going to call this the first test of my new life strategy. And I think I passed.

Arriving Home

At long last, on Sunday afternoon, we made it to our house — it was like a miracle to see — and discovered, much to our delight, that my parents had left us a few little “goodies” here for us to come home to. Particularly welcome was the pot of my mom’s famous homemade chicken soup in the freezer, which Apple and I both love, and which was the perfect “comfort food” remedy for her cold. (Although Apple’s Chinese medicine regimen forbids her from eating chicken, she wearily moaned “Screw it, I’m gonna have my soup.”) I told her to drop everything and just go relax in bed while I heated her soup and got the car running, so I could go to the store and get her some medicine and her own box of lotion-infused tissue.

While Apple greatly enjoyed her soup, I unfortunately ran into some trouble. Neither one of our cars would start — the batteries were utterly inert. I used the keys to open the doors and popped the hoods, realized that I was well and truly screwed, and placed an emergency call to my grandfather’s wife S. — the one who had picked us up from the airport just an hour or so prior. “Say,” I said to her when she answered, “what are you up to right now?” The last thing you want to hear when a family member calls, right? Because you know that whatever you’re up to, you’re about to be up to something else.

Anyway, I got lucky. S. was scheduled to drive back over to our community in just half an hour, because she and some friends were going to attend an evening concert at our town center. I asked her to leave a little early and drop by my house first so that I could jump-start one of my cars, then send her on her way while I ran it long enough to recharge the battery. A simple matter, no?

Until I couldn’t find my damn jumper cables. Go figure. When S. arrived, I asked if she had any in her car, but she didn’t. Guessing that perhaps my cables were at my parents’ house down the street — after all, it’s usually my dad’s Trans Am that needs jump-starting, since it’s stored down here and he doesn’t get to drive it very often — I asked S. to take me to their house. Upon arrival, I ransacked my parents’ garage, but couldn’t find the cables. I considered that they might have been in the trunk of my dad’s Trans Am, but I hadn’t been able to find the keys to their house either, so I couldn’t go inside and get the T/A keyfob. And if the T/A’s battery was dead too, there would be no way to get in the trunk because the release is electric only. What a cluster!

Fortunately, S. came to the rescue again. She took me by her friends’ house — they also live in our community; it’s a pretty small world, I tell you — and we borrowed their jumper cables. All right, now we’re in the money. Except we weren’t. Because after I’d hooked up S.’s car to my GTO, the bloody goat still wouldn’t start. I had lights and accessories, but not enough juice to crank the block. We revved S.’s car, let it run for five minutes, but still no dice.

S. needed to get to her concert, so I asked for the ultimate sacrifice: To borrow her car. Thankfully, she readily agreed. Since Apple was fast asleep, I decided not to bother her, so I just grabbed my wallet and phone and took off. We stopped at S.’s friends’ place, and while they continued on to the concert in their own car, I took the Chrysler Sebring I had been loaned and set out, looking for a solution to my automotive difficulties.

By this time it was nearly 7:00 in the evening on a Sunday, so I was already jacked. No real auto parts store would be open. I could always go to Wal-Mart (where my grandfather was currently working his shift, ironically) and get Apple’s medicine and Kleenex, and then deal with the cars later. But no, then I’d still have to ask for loaner transportation again the next day, and I had too many things to do to allow this situation to carry over into Monday.

On a prayer, I pulled out my iPhone (God bless the Internet in your pocket) and looked up the brand-new local Autozone, my new favorite car parts store in town. I knew that Autozone was the only retailer that stocked the top-quality Optima batteries, which I had always intended to buy to replace my GTO’s factory battery when the time came. To my surprise (and delight), Autozone was still open — and until 9:00, no less. Not only that, but the guy who answered was, bar-none, the most friendly and helpful retail employee that I’ve ever spoken to. While I drove to the shop, he looked to see whether they had an Optima battery for my GTO in stock, as well as a standard battery for Apple’s Mazda, and what the prices were on each.

Honestly, I was intending to just buy a new battery for the GTO and be done with it. Then I’d try jumping the Mazda off the GTO and see how that went; the Mazda’s battery was a Sears Die Hard Gold that was less than three years old, so I felt sure, somehow, that it could be resurrected. I got to Autozone, and only then realized that without my GTO’s old battery to trade in, I was gonna be hit with a core charge. While I was there, the ultra-nice Autozone guy then told me that they can do a load test and fast-charge a battery in an hour — for free — so I decided to run home and get both batteries. S. would need her car back in a couple hours, so I had that long to sort out the situation, run by the grocery store for Apple’s medicine and some essentials like bread and milk, then get home before S. came calling. It was like The Amazing Race.

Home I went, ransacked my tool chest and uninstalled the batteries, then drove back to Autozone. Bought an Optima Yellow Top D35 for the GTO, which is about as top-of-the-line as batteries get (only the best for my Pontiac, especially now that it’s an orphan…sniff). The guys at the store put the Mazda battery on the charger, and I took off for the nearest Publix supermarket, where I picked up a bunch of goodies. By this time I was parched (and still hadn’t slept in two days, remember) so I bought some red tea at the checkout. Had just enough cash for all of it.

I headed home, found Apple still asleep and went back out to the garage to work on the GTO. I got the battery installed and the contacts sprayed with anti-corrosive, then took a horn blast to the face as the goat woke up and realized that the last thing it remembered was being locked, and now its hood was open for some reason, so it flat-out freaked. After wringing out my ear, I got behind the wheel and fired it up. Sweet, sweet V8 — she turned over straight away, and I was back in the saddle. Oh, hell yes. And surprisingly, the only things the car had “forgotten” were the time of day and my trip odometer mileages — everything else, including my custom settings, radio stations and what-not had been retained. Maybe it saves it to a flash chip somewhere. Either way, nice.

I called up Autozone five minutes before they closed, and they said that the Mazda battery wouldn’t take a charge. Fine, I said, I’d be back in the next morning to get that squared away. Right then, S. called and said she was coming to get her car, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Finally I was able to shower and hit the sack for the night. Ironically, Apple woke up long enough to reveal that she felt much better, so it looked like she wouldn’t even need to take any medicine — lucky girl, because that DayQuil liquid stuff tastes like dreck.

That was Sunday. It felt like three days. But it concluded on a positive note, and I fell asleep the minute my head hit the (incredibly soft, nice and very much missed) pillow.

Monday

Yesterday, Monday, was another whirlwind day, but a happy one for both of us. Apple still felt greatly improved — although her cold had moved into her throat, so she was a little hoarse — so we went out on the town in my GTO, taking care of a huge list of errands. The first thing we did was stop at the community post office to let them know we were back from our vacation. The guy who delivers our mail was a little pissed off at me, though. Apparently my grandfather forgot to enter start- and end-dates for our hold orders for March and April, so the mail guy didn’t know what to do and let the mail pile up in a box behind the scenes. Technically, mail guy said threateningly, he could have just tossed it all, but he said he “knew I was a good customer” and that I would be back for it. Uh, thanks? I’m glad he didn’t just pitch it, because our $2,200 refund check from the IRS was in there, as well as new credit cards from two of our banks!

Next, we picked up the Mazda’s dead battery from Autozone and took it to Sears. On Sunday evening, I’d had an epiphany: The battery was less than three years old, so wasn’t it under warranty from Sears? I might not have remembered this, except for the fact that, back when my dad and I used to get the old ’79 Trans Am out of storage each spring, its battery was always dead, and Sears would always give us a new one if it wouldn’t hold a charge — which it usually didn’t. I think we piggybacked new batteries from them for damn near a decade at no cost to us, which was kinda cool, although maybe not so cool for Sears. So anyway, I dug up the paperwork on the Mazda battery and discovered that yes, it was under warranty. Obviously, if I could get a new one for free, I was gonna do it.

Sears was a clusterfrak. Only one employee on staff, none of the techs spoke English, a bunch of old men in line ahead of me getting argumentative about the terms and conditions of the Sears ads they pulled from the Sunday paper. It was literally 40 minutes before I was served. At that point, I was told to bring the old battery to the shop, where they’d test it, and if it was dead, they’d replace it for free with the same model — which I verified in advance that they had in stock. So I left the battery with them, and Apple and I continued on our rounds.

We deposited checks at the bank (thank you IRS refund!), got new light bulbs at Lowe’s, and picked up a prepaid Tracfone for Apple at Target, which she can use until I upgrade my iPhone this summer (whereupon she’ll get my current iPhone as a hand-me-down). We then headed back to Sears, where we were presented with a new battery — joy! We went home, I installed it, and the Mazda fired right up. Two for two!

Yesterday evening, to celebrate our return home, we went to Carrabba’s, one of our favorite restaurants. As usual, the service was excellent, the food was even better, and I have a complete meal left over in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch. During dinner Apple and I talked and chatted and smiled and made eyes at each other like we were newlyweds. At one point she said shyly to me with her beautiful almond eyes shining, “It’s like we’re just starting to date each other, and you’ve taken me to dinner.” And that’s how I felt — like I have a whole new lease on life, and that I am more in love with my wife than I’ve ever been. I think this truly is going to be the start of a wonderful new phase in our lives together.

After dinner we went back to the supermarket and got groceries for the rest of the week’s meals, which include some new ideas we haven’t tried before, and follows our new plan of “large lunch, small dinner” that is typical in Thailand. This weekend we’ll go back for more groceries, and I think on Saturday we’re going to make a homemade pizza together. Tasty…

Tuesday

Now it’s Tuesday, and we’re both still jetlagged so we were up and out of bed at 5:30 a.m.! I still have countless more things to do today: Take my bike to the shop for a tune-up and a repair before I start in on my biking regimen, get new UPS power supplies for my room and get some calendars (if we can find any, at this late date). And I’ve just barely begun to deal with my home equipment: Copying my files to my workstation, dealing with my TiVo, getting my Xbox back up and online so I can play Duke Nukem 3D with my friends, et al. I’m so, so glad I took Monday and Tuesday off from work. I’d never have been able to get this stuff done, and I’d have been constantly behind on everything. It might have blown my “new life outlook” before it barely got out of the gate!

Oh — speaking of the TiVo HD, which I said had gotten stuck at the “powering up” screen, I rebooted it and it started working just fine. I have no idea what happened. But according to the logs, it rebooted on April 18th and never came back online. I was completely out of program guide data and everything. My guess is this: The unit got served with a TiVo service update (version 11), rebooted as per usual, but hung up during the reboot. I read on the TiVo Community Forums that a lot of people have been having freezing/rebooting issues during this service update installation, so that seems the most likely culprit. Unfortunately, we’ve missed two weeks’ worth of shows. Might have to go to Hulu to catch up on the missing episodes.

There is one bad thing about the TiVo, though. Although I only had a couple of minutes to test it after the reboot yesterday, I saw that my dastardly second CableCARD was not working right. I’m hoping that it was just taking a few minutes to get the proper Entitlement Management Messages (EMMs) from the headend. But if it’s still not working today, even after another reboot, I may have to call Comcrap. (Apple and I have taken to calling Comcast by the name “Comcrap” at all times, even in casual conversation. It just slips out unbidden now.) For how crappy their billing is, though, I am more than happy to have Comcast’s Internet back on the line. Oh my God…sooooo much better than that DSL in Thailand.

OK, I’ve been writing this forever — like over an hour, it looks like. Time to get it posted up; there’s still lots to do. And lots of fun to be had doing it. I think I might be starting to catch Apple’s cold, but that’s fine…I’m home now, and after these last few days, I think life could throw a cold at me and it would just bounce off. 😀

What a joy it is, at long last, to be home.

2 thoughts on “The Greatest Inspiration of All

  1. How inspiring to hear about your new-found zen attitude. Perhaps your “Grumpy” shirt is no longer appropriate 😉

    Attitude is everything, and it’s easy to forget that in the series of frustrations which make up everyday life in the 21st century (and of which you’ve certainly had your share in the past couple of days). It’s good to have an opportunity to re-boot from time to time. Long trips away from home are beneficial in that regard.

    Glad you’re home though, and settling in, and I’m looking so forward to seeing you!

  2. Hehe, the “Grumpy” shirt may no longer apply, but it sure is a nice shirt. A little big on me these days, though. Had to tuck it in to avoid looking like a parachute. 🙂

    Yeah, attitude really is everything. It’s a hackneyed expression, but there’s undeniable truth to it. We certainly learned a ton of new habits and ideas from this trip. In the end, though, we’re both very happy to be home.

    Looking forward to seeing you too! Your visit will be a great end to the month.

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