Category Archives: Travel

Captain Champion

As part of my Tour of Unimpressive Cities with Even Less Impressive Airports[i], I was flying from Buffalo to Kansas City today. It had all the makings of a boring flight until the pilot got on the mic and introduced himself as Captain Champion.

Captain. Champion.

Captains are cool enough in their own right. I mean, who doesn’t love a good captain? In all their variations — good or bad, young or old, futuristic explorer of strange new worlds or briny olde sea dog, captains have an indefinable quality that almost never fails to capture the hearts of fair maidens and provoke the envy of men. Yes, dear reader, nearly all captains deserve our admiration: the Kirks, Picards, Sparrows, Albanos, Hornblowers, Stubings, and Kangaroos of history and literature. And let us not forget their close relatives, the cap’ns: “Hawkeye” Pierce, Crunch, et al.


Can you believe I used to go to church with this guy?


Is anyone else unsettled by the fact that his eyes are evidently part of his hat?

Perhaps it need not be said that champions are cool. Everyone knows that. Whatever the task at hand, whatever the odds, whatever the risk, whatever the cost; when the crap hits the fan, we all want a champion on our side. Someone to come to our aid in the hour of our direst need. Someone who will not only tell us everything will be okay, but who will make everything okay. Someone who will not abandon us or our cause, come hell or high water. Champions turn our greatest defeats into even greater victories, and they imbue every situation they find themselves in with hope and promise.

So you can imagine my delight and my surprise to find out that the man holding the lives of 200 people in his hands this very morning was not just a captain, which is comfort enough, and not just a champion — but the Captain of Champions. When he walks into the room, all the other champions stand at attention. Lesser champions fight under his command and are willing to die at one word from his mouth. Captain Champion is the champion of champions, the chief among his kind. And this man was flying my plane this morning, reader. My plane!

Suddenly, this flight which seemed so tedious and dull moments ago became charged with excitement and adventure. Every report the pilot made was no routine announcement. It was a war report; a proclamation of victory. The weather is 78 degrees, you say, Captain Champion? Take that, bitter winter’s cold! You no longer hold sway in this land. We’re departing from the gate early? Eat hot efficiency, airport traffic! You cannot thwart our journey. We’ll touch down in Kansas City on time? You can’t stop Captain Champion, Chronos, you old Titan. He has vanquished you as Zeus did eons ago.

For the first time, flying under the leadership and protection of Captain Champion, flying didn’t feel like a mode of transit, but what it truly is meant to be: mankind conquering nature and defying the very laws of gravity.

When Captain Champion came on the loudspeaker to say, “We’ve arrived in Kansas City,” I was so excited and so proud to be part of his conquest of the heavens, I said out loud, “We did it, everyone! Yes! Thank you, Captain Champion! Thank you!” Surprisingly, my girlfriend wasn’t as embarrassed as she usually is by my antics. Captain Champion conquered even that.

I don’t know much about the hero who risked everything, taking to the heavens like Daedulus in his escape from Crete, in order to safely ferry 200 souls to Kansas City. I like to believe his full name is Victor Champion — Captain Victor Champion — but I don’t know. I do know he kept that plane in the air for over an hour in spite of the once-indomitable pull of gravity, thus saving my life from certain, fiery death. And, like all heroes, before I could thank him, he flew off into the sunset. Never to be seen or heard from again.

…or did he?


[i] You’re next, Sheboygan.



Filed under Ridiculon, Travel

Going on Vacation

It is nearly universally accepted as true that vacations are awesome — Utah and the Maldives being the only holdouts. In the case of the former, I blame the Mormons, for obvious reasons. In the case of the latter, I still blame the Mormons; but to give the Mormons a break, I’m willing to blame Global Warming as well. Mostly because it just makes a darn good scapegoat. I’ve gotten out of three meetings, a parking ticket and jury duty this week alone by using Global Warming as an excuse. But as for the rest of us on Earth (and the Quakers on the Moon[i]) we appreciate the awesomeness of vacations.

But vacations aren’t awesome for the reasons we might think they are. People don’t go on vacation to get away from the stress, anxiety and frustration in life. They go away to find new things to stress over, be anxious about and get frustrated with. Oh, sure we all say we go away to relax. Because saying we go away to find new reasons to be upset sounds insane. And maybe it is, but somehow all the frustrations, setbacks and disasters that more often than not find us on vacation serve to remind us that the trials and tribulations we deal with day in and day out might not be fun, but they’re a part of the life we lead. If dealing with these little issues is the price we pay for that life, it’s more than worth it. Not that it wouldn’t be nice if vacations were really about relaxation like we pretend they are. It would be wonderful, but the truth is, vacations simply aren’t suited for it. In fact, the rare vacation one takes that is relaxing does more harm than good by making the person who took it not want to get back to real life at all. Then what seemed dreary, but bearable, on Friday seems unthinkably burdensome the following Monday. No, vacations are not for relaxation. That’s what retirement, sabbaticals and moving back into your parents’ house after getting laid off “just until you get back on your feet” are for. But not vacations.

I’m going on vacation this week. My first real vacation in five years. I’ve been on many trips and few vacations in recent years. I know I just said all of that stuff about vacations not being about relaxation, but vacations are about thinking vacations are about relaxation. So, like everyone else I know, I’m hoping to come back super relaxed and ready to tackle life with renewed gusto, even though I know that probably won’t be the case. So there won’t be any posts for the next ten days or so. I wanted to give fair warning so the one daily reader who stubbornly keeps reading my blog, and, with equal stubbornness, never comments on any of my posts, won’t give up on me. There are more awesome things to come. Please come back.[ii]

[i] Sorry, Mormons. This wasn’t a good day for you to visit my blog. You might want to skip my posts on espresso as well.

[ii] Begging isn’t awesome. Or manly, for that matter. I’m ashamed of myself for allowing it a place in A Compendium of Awesome Things. And now I’m embarassed for bringing up my shame over begging. That’s not awesome or manly either. Wow. I need a vacation.

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What’s so awesome about Bhutan? Better question: What’s not awesome about Bhutan? Even better question: What (or who)* is Bhutan?

Starting with the third question. Bhutan is a remote kingdom in the Himalayas, wedged uncomfortably between China to the North, India to the South, and Shangri La (though no one’s sure exactly where). Bhutan is a tiny country populated mostly by ethnic Bhutanese with a considerable Yeti population** in the bigger cities and a few thousand Sherpa in the mountains.*** Bhutan has a total population of less than a million people and is known for pretty much nothing. And that’s exactly how they like it. We’re pretty sure. No one’s sure enough about how to get there to actually ask them.

Now the second question. What’s not awesome about Bhutan? Not much. For starters, its name (pronounced boo-ton) sounds pretty close to button, and that’s just cute. Far less superficially, Bhutan is already doing pretty well in the awesomeness department by being a Himalayan civilization. People who manage to survive – in the Himalayas – and actually build stuff and create a functioning society take on a mythical status approaching that of the aforementioned Shangri La. Even more impressive is the fact that Bhutan is the only absolute monarchy left of the great, old Himalayan kingdoms and one of the only left in the world as a whole. It truly is a kingdom lost in time. They didn’t even have the Internet until a few years ago, which brings me to the next and most important reason Bhutan is truly awesome. In fact, this reason’s going to get its own paragraph.

Bam! Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure GNH, or Gross National Happiness. It’s true. Look it up. The King of Bhutan has made it a policy to increase the Gross National Happiness of Bhutan with sweeping government programs. We have no way to know for sure what this involves because, as I said before, it’s not exactly the easiest thing to find Bhutan.**** Presumably GNH programs involve government-subsidized marshmallows, free pony rides, water slides in every backyard, and ice cream sundaes for breakfast. What we do know for sure is that part of the GNH program is the introduction of the Internet to Bhutan, thus why the last reason led into this one.

Finally, there’s the Bhutanese flag. It pretty much sums up the magic and whimsy of this Little Himalayan Kingdom-that-Could. I mean look at it. If that’s not the cutest dragon you’ve ever seen on a national flag, I just don’t know what is. And what is he holding anyway? Pomegranates? Apples? Rocks? Steamed buns? I like to think those are government-subsidized marshmallows. And our little friend Button the dragon here is holding them out to us as a token of his friendship and the friendship of all the Bhutanese people. Let us eat the Marshmallow of Happiness with him and savour the awesomeness that is Bhutan.


*or when? Bhutan is pretty much the Brigadoon of the Himalayas. It’s a valid question.

**Not a real creature, though it sounds like one.

***A real ethnic group, though it sounds like a mythical creature.

**** Legend says one can only find Bhutan if they already know how to get there. Others say Bhutan reveals itself only to those it wants to find it. Others say the king made a dark bargain long ago with Forces he scarcely understood to keep Bhutan safe from invasion, but as a price his land was cursed with eternal, supernatural seclusion. Yet others say the altitude and weather patterns of the Himalayas make it difficult to reach Bhutan by plane or train, and that the Bhutanese government has direct control over the tourist industry and intentionally places caps on the number of people able to visit their idyllic kingdom so as not to tarnish its natural beauty and rustic charm. But, let’s face it, that’s a bit far-fetched.

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Filed under Culture, History, Travel