Friday, January 05, 2007

A Mostly Better Vacation Week

In lieu of a Pop Culture Roundup this Friday, I thought I'd tell you about my vacation week.

My brother, his girlfriend, Mrs. Jeff, and I piled into a van to travel east to see my father's side of the family. The P.o.C. household had traveled there last January as well, but my brother hadn't been out there in years and his girlfriend had never met that side of the family. At this point, with our grandparents' health being what it is, we felt a sense of urgency about the whole thing, so we made plans to line it up with people's school breaks and were on the road.

Let me first say that driving on major highways on New Year's Day is marvelous. You are one of perhaps five other vehicles on the road, none of them big trucks. Of course, the downside of this is that hardly any gas stations or restaurants are open either. Still, the absence of any congestion or foul weather provided for quite an enjoyable (and expedient) driving experience...until we hit New Jersey, which featured both stop-and-go traffic and a rain/mist/fog combination. There's one stretch along our familiar route that features a clear view of the New York skyline. We had to point out to a general white blank space that it was over there, somewhere.

Once at our destination, we flipped on the Rose Bowl.'s the thing about the Rose Bowl...Carr needs to show some signs of life and help fire up his team instead of always standing there scowling like a gargoyle, Henne needs to learn how to run (and while we're at it, more time to pass), they need to learn that they can't run again when the last three running plays earned them -1 yards total, and ABC's commentators need to ask Pete Carroll out on a date and get it over with. My brother and I both moped about this game for the rest of our stay, frequently letting unprovoked comments slip out occasionally. His were more sarcastic and biting, while mine had a much more blunt angry flavor. Our Wolverines have dropped their last three games to Those Jerks Down South and haven't won a bowl game in at least that long either. The whole sentimental "Do it for Bo, do it for Gerald" stuff won't work, either. This is a problem with fundamentals. They're packed with talented players; they need a new philosophy of how to coach...maybe even, dare I say, a new coach.

In the midst of our brooding, we took an opportunity to spend a few hours in New York. Mrs. Jeff, justifiably confused by the marking of toll lanes on the George Washington bridge, started us off by creeping through one of the EZ Pass booths. For a few moments, she'd wanted to stop and walk her toll money back or wait for a squad car to catch up with her or something, but she was encouraged to do no such thing. I was on the phone at the time, but after I hung up I turned to her and said, "What will probably happen is they took a picture of the plate and will send a our mom." Did I mention we used my mom's van for this trip?

Yeah, so I was on the phone at the time. A disturbing trend has developed recently regarding my vacation periods and church member deaths. I was half-expecting/fearing a phone call of this nature, and it did come on our way in to the city. I had actually compiled a list of possible names, but this person was not on it...she was a sweet lady to whom I'd taken home communion every month for two years. No other pastor could be found, and I said that I'd be back by the scheduled funeral date, so I'd take it. That's today. Three out of my last four (possibly four out of five, if I have my dates right) vacation periods have seen a congregant's death. That's very weird to me.

We saw quite a bit in New York. I've found that there's something just about being there that seemed to generate excitement in our car. I recall a lot of pointing and sentences beginning, "Hey look, there's the..." 3/4 of us had been to the city before, but never under these circumstances: on our own, planning to walk a fair amount of the downtown area, planning our own way. Something about that added to the thrill of being there.

Our very first stop was Ground Zero. Only one of us had been there before, and it has become a point of pilgrimmage for Americans in particular. I was surprised at how much it's been cleaned's been five years, so I don't know why I was that surprised. We did learn while we were there that they're still finding body parts, which does not surprise me. We were pretty quiet during this stop.

Next was a walk to Times Square after finding a parking garage. People move to their own rhythm in New York, especially downtown. Is the light green? It doesn't matter. If no cars are coming, there's a sudden mass of people crossing the street. If a car approaches, it's their tough luck. Everyone is in a hurry and you best stay out of the way if you aren't moving with them. The people who have chosen to drive cars (mostly public transit) like to honk. They don't even need a reason.

So we stood in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by giant billboards and news tickers and screens actively and colorfully advertising all sorts of things. There were plenty around us marveling much the same as we were. There were plenty others who'd seen it all before and just wanted to get to work. Really, what is it about such a grand commercial spectacle that awes so many like it did the four of us? My best guess is that we see so many images of this place from afar, but once you're there you're there. It's you're being there that strikes people the way it does. That's all. Anyway, we walked down to Rockafeller Plaza and then on to the edge of Central Park as well, where we enjoyed New York hot dogs. I waited until all were finished to share what a New York native friend once told me: the secret to a New York hot dog is that they don't change the water. There. Now you know. Didn't stop me, though.

It was a good couple days. Mrs. Jeff the Nurse-to-Be gave her input to some of my grandparents' health issues, and we all learned that the general outlook is much more favorable than previous information had suggested. Sadly, there was no time for music with our cousin this time around due to time and van space limitations, but we did get a chance to see the entire family.

Today I take a half-day of work to help a family say goodbye to their great-grandmother. There's still more vacationing to do, but I've yet to come up with a good explanation as to why I as a pastor should maintain a strong boundary against something like this.

It's been a mostly better vacation week compared to my last attempt. Actually, this has been 150 times superior to my last attempt. I spent time with family and two days ago I was standing in the middle of New York. I've got no complaints.