Reflections of a ModemJunkie

January, 1999

Virtual Vacation

A Virtual Vacation and a Real Rest

by Leonard Grossman

It is really a good way to start the new year. Snowbound. Well, virtually. We did begin the year with a family dinner at noon on January 1 and that was good. But by two o:clock the snow was falling. That was why we were eating our Friday night dinner in the middle of the day. My niece and her nephew had to drive to Ann Arbor and we wanted to let them get started before the snow.

But today is delicious. I woke up around 6:00 a.m. thanks to our dog, Mitzi. While I was up, I looked out the front door to find my hard copy of the NY Times. I read it online on Sundays. But the rest of the week, I like the hard copy. I can't spread the virtual version out over my desk to catch the coffee drippings when I dunk my whole wheat bagel. And on Saturdays it is nice to take it to bed in the afternoon and drift off into an easy snooze in the middle of the Arts section.

But today there was no sign of the paper. Well, in all this snow, I figured maybe the delivery person couldn't get out yet. A couple of hours later, I tapped a broomstick through the snow. Couldn't find it. And the snow was still coming down.

I was supposed to go out this morning. My wife, Sally, had to go out for a few hours to a house inspection (a realtor never has a day off.). So I had the old car. But, I looked at that snow... No way. How blissful to go back to bed with no guilty conscience. No obligations except for this column (and I thought it was already written in my head).

What a cozy day. Eventually, I did get up -- around noon. I was just putting on the kettle when Sally came in. Her car was stuck in the alley. I threw on some thick socks and an oversized warm sweatshirt and with the help of a neighbor we shoveled the alley and I managed to get her car into the garage.

Last night we had thought about getting milk and bread while were at the video store.. But we forgot. Why not go for a walk in the snow, now!! We'll take the dog. So we trudged a few blocks. Helping half a dozen stuck cars on the way. (Still, I don't feel sorry for the guy in the new BMW who was stuck in the intersection and his non-slip differential wouldn't let him rock the car. Should I feel guilty?) The dog was bounding over drifts. We got the milk. But they were all out of bread. Well, let us eat cake and all of the other goodies leftover from the over stuffed holidays just past. (Only minor regret: Why didn't I grab those other videos I was thinking about at Blockbuster last night. They would be perfect tonight. But a two mile walk in what is now nasty fine blowing snow for a movie. Never.

Anyway, we made it home (the BMW finally got out just after we passed him the second time). The walk was refreshing. Time to write this piece. The one about my virtual vacation.

I logged on to discover that I was already close to having a record day on my web sites. By 1:00 o'clock there were already over 600 hits on my pages over 500 were hits to my Chicago Weather page.

Then Sally announced breakfast, fluffy scrambled eggs and hot tea and toast (the last of the bread now we are down to cake).

Back upstairs to write this piece. By now the weather page had over 800 hits. Maybe I'll get 1000 hits today. Why not update the weather page with some special features for the storm.

It already has current conditions and links to forecasts and weather bulletins. I discovered that one of the links on the page included information on Illinois highway conditions. Then I saw a news group announcement about a Blizzard Webcam. Another link. Then I added a link to the Chicago Tribune's story on the weather.

I hope I was providing useful information on the weather page. But somehow this column wasn't getting written.

Then the doorbell rang. A young man with a shovel. Well, I negotiated ten bucks just to clear the stairs down to the street. I didn't ask him to do the 65 feet of sidewalk. Just as well, an hour later, I couldn't see the stairs again. But he did find the NY Times. Just in time for my afternoon nap.

So here I am again an hour later. Back at the keyboard. Hmm. The log now shows well over 1000 hits on the weather page alone. Maybe today's story is the weather.

And that leads to the story I was going to write.

I was going to write about our vacation. Our virtually planned vacation.

Back in the late summer we decided to drive to Charleston and Savannah for a vacation in early December. We looked forward to a peaceful, relaxing, few days driving the back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee. Then eating low country food in the elegant restaurants of Charleston. Gentle walks under the live oaks and moss in the Old South.

This was to be our first virtually planned vacation.

We searched for Savannah and Charleston sites on line. Looked at lovely pictures of the sunny south. Imagined ourselves sunning on the beach or in a rocker on the porch. Found information on bed and breakfasts and hotels.

I logged on to a number of mapping sites and typed in various parameters. I have grown to hate superhighways. If you are going to stay on Interstates you might as well stay at home and circle your local beltway. High speed lanes with rows of impenetrable evergreen trees on either side. Maine and Georgia look the same.

Well, I tried a number of mapping sites and eventually found AutoPilot. Unlike other sites, it permitted me to set a number of parameters. Some sites permitted me to exclude superhighways or require them. But AutoPilot let me select a "scenic route." A quick look at a map indicated it was giving me the best of both worlds. Superhighways on either end of the trip and scenic state routes and lesser US routes in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The route sheets provided interesting information about nearby national parks and other features en route and provided estimated times and mileage completed and to go. I bound them in a student notebook and we were ready to go. I was nervous about the time of year, but real estate is always slow in December and the low country is usually plagued by rain in November. Should be over by December. Of course, this year the weather was gorgeous in November and the first week of December. Record heat. Sunny days.

Finally December 6th arrived. The car was packed and we got an early start. In a steady rain. By the time we got on to Interstate 65 the rain was so heavy we had to pull over several times. We drove through sheets of rain for almost three days. I sent postcards from the Cumberland Gap with notes indicating that we were told the view was beautiful. We could barely see out the window. Every where we went they said, "This is the first rain we've had since summer. We really need it."

Then, as we pulled into Asheville, North Carolina, the sun burst out. But by then we were exhausted. And I was cranky. The rest of the trip had varied weather. Blustery but dry in Charleston. Soggy in Savannah.

So what does all this have to do with the ModemJunkie and my ususal focus on technology and the modern world?

Every night Sally called her voicemail. On the second day she learned that two deals she had set up before she left had gone through. Three days later she learned both deals had fallen through. And then there were the impeachment hearings. I am a hearing junkie. My parents borrowed their first t.v. to watch the Army-McCarthy hearings. My first summer of law school was spent glued to the Watergate hearings. Somehow, these current hearings and the news leading up to them had me hooked. We were wired into the world.

Those of us in the middle west are spoiled. News at Ten. Nightline comes on at 10:35. Sitting up in a motel waiting for the news was exhausting. Of course I could have logged on to the NET. I did have a laptop in the car. But I am proud to say I resisted. But what energy the rain didn't drain from this vacation, impeachment did. I alternated in rage at the Republican steam roller and the Democrats wrapping themselves in the flag.

I simply didn't have the willpower to ignore it all. One afternoon the sun came out and we were driving through a forest with golden leaves and low mountains in the background, but I had found an NPR station and I missed the whole thing.

Still there were moments that overrode it all. Floating in a rowboat in Cypress Gardens for the first time since I was 9 years old. Walking on a pier on Tybee Island in a drizzle after the best meal of the trip. (We spent a fortune on recommended restaurants in Charleston, but there was nothing like that Jamaican shack on the beach at Tybee. And nothing cheaper.)

But except for a few moments like those, today was better. Snowed in, cozy. I went downstairs a few minutes ago. Sally and my daughter Sarah had been watching a video. They fell asleep on the sofa stretched out in opposite directions under a feather comforter on the long living room sofa. Their heads sticking out like beautiful bookends. Blissful relaxation. And Congress is in recess.

Happy New Year.

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Copyright 1999 Leonard Grossman

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