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June 26, 2013

I hate flying.

I’m not afraid to fly, I just hate it.

There’s nothing about flying in particular that I hate. I simply hate it in the same sort of absolute way that a vegan hates meat. It’s not that they hate salty, crispy bacon — how could they — they just hate the idea eating meat in and of itself. Such is flying to me. I didn’t always hate air travel. Then, a number of years ago, I went to Las Vegas. Or, more precisely, I came home from Las Vegas.

I met some Yankee friends there and we were all set to see an auto race the next day. My stay would last only a couple days, so I needed to make the most of it before heading home — get in, see a few sights, see the race, bugger off.

Hanging out with my friends was great and we looked forward to hitting the track. The race itself was a bit of a drag. My favourite driver, Paul Tracy, never made it past the pace laps before his gear box grenaded. (In non-racing terms, that means his car went “boom” before the race started; or, it means I spent an inordinate amount of cash to see him start his engine, coast once around the track at slower-than-highway speed, and gently glide back into the pits before calling it a night.)

My itinerary home had me the next night on an 11 p.m. flight from Vegas to Atlanta, where I would touch down just after 6 a.m. A three-hour layover awaited me before I boarded a two-hour flight home to Toronto. My friends had an early flight that morning, so I killed off the day on my own: gambling, the outlet mall, food and drink.

Vegas’ airport isn’t very big and, since I was going back to Canada, I didn’t need to deal with U.S. customs agents (they’re a pain: “Where are you going? Why? With who? What’s the square root of 121?”) so I made my way to my gate relatively quickly. I settled in, pulled out a book, and tried to while away the time.

A gentleman sat across from me and smiled. I’m suspicious of smiling strangers. “Good book? Where are you from?” Crap… I mumbled replies and tried to bury myself further into my book. The guy was in his late 40s and looked a bit like Mr. Rogers. He was even wearing a Rogers-esque sweater. I was readying a lie about needing to use the washroom when he started telling me about his divorce and subsequent drug use. And did I know what straightened his life out?

“Scientology. Would you be interested in some literature?” Important safety tip: You need to swear at a Scientologist to make them go away.

The flight to Atlanta was crowded. I was seated next to a rap duo from Georgia that had just won a competition the day earlier. Their trophy, the size of a small adult, never left their side. Rappers apparently like three things: trophies the size of small adults, alcohol, and talking loudly to their Canadian seat-mate who is trying to sleep.

We landed at 6 a.m. in Atlanta. My rapper friends told me to keep an eye for them on MTV. The joke was on them, we didn't get MTV in Canada! Tired, I looked to make my connecting flight. Whereas the Vegas airport is small, Atlanta’s airport is bloody huge — six terminals. I was at Terminal 1 and needed to get to Terminal 6.

The monorail system meant to ferry you between terminals was broken, so I had to hot-foot it with my luggage through the airport. As a group of us made our way down the hall, every 30 seconds a recording boomed through the airport advising us that, “The monorail system is out of order. Please walk to your intended destination.”

Thirty of us made our way to Terminal 2 where, a half dozen split off, leaving the rest of us to continue on to Terminal 3: “The monorail system is out of order. Please walk to your intended destination.”

Terminal 4: “The monorail system is out of order. Please walk to your intended destination.”

Terminal 5: “The monorail system is out of order. Please walk to your intended destination.“

“SHUT UP! I KNOW!”

Finally, after walking at a healthy clip for nearly half an hour, I arrived at Terminal 6. I suddenly realized the terminal was empty: no passengers, no airline attendants, not even a janitor. Being Atlanta, every tv had CNN on. The anchor was urgently reporting the “BREAKING NEWS.” A hurricane had crested in Florida and would hit Atlanta around 9 a.m. or, for those keep score at home, right around when my flight home was scheduled to leave.

I suddenly wondered if everyone else knew something that I didn’t. I was heartened when, an hour later, a Hispanic airport worker walked by. His inability to speak English didn’t allow him to answer my question, “Are we safe here,” but that he was even there set my mind at ease. I wouldn’t die alone. Of note, it had started raining outside.

People finally started entering the terminal a short while later. The shops opened and airline employees started showing up. The rain had also intensified and, shortly before we were slated to leave, I realized that, by all rights, we should have started boarding some time earlier. I asked the gate attendant when we’d begin loading onto the plane and she replied, “Sir, please sit down. We don’t know where the plane is.”

Huh? She barked at me this time, “Sir, SIT DOWN.” It was pouring now. The hurricane had made it to Atlanta and my plane was apparently lost, no doubt late because the monorail system was out of order. Some 20 minutes after we were supposed to leave, and ten minutes after the hurricane arrived, an old propeller plane pulled up to the gate. While I assumed it wasn’t carrying the latest cutting-edge technology for evading hurricanes, it was nevertheless my only ticket home.

We made our way to the tarmac and were asked to load both our luggage and our carry-on luggage onto a dolly which would subsequently be hoisted into the belly of the aircraft. The plane hadn’t the capacity to hold our carry-on bags in compartments above our seats. Fortunately the flight was undersold and everyone had their own isle to themselves. Unfortunately, I noticed a fair amount of duct tape on my seat, and on the back of the seat in front of me, and on the seat next to mine. From my window, I was also privy to the differently-coloured parts that made up the wing.

It was absolutely pouring at this point.

The seatbelt beside me was missing the clip on the buckle. Mine was ok, but the single flight attendant advised me to “take it easy” when I fastened it. She had a raspy voice and was in her late 60s, older than the flight attendants I was used to. It occurred to me that she was likely the woman who, in her younger years, first christened the plane with a Champaign bottle. Once we lifted off and attained what I can only assume was enough height to at least clear the trees, we started on our way home. The steward began offering snacks: she offered me the chance to put my hand into a store-bought bag of cookies and help myself. Clearly this was why we were late — she needed to hit the supermarket for cookies.

I declined the snack and said that I was going to try and sleep the rest of the flight and asked to be left alone. Truthfully, if the plane went down, I really didn’t want to know about it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep and tried to fight the urge to cry every time we hit turbulence. I’m not religious, but I did wonder what was in store for me on the “other side.”

How that pilot was able to keep that plane at altitude the entire trip, I will never know, but we landed safely, though pretty hard. The co-pilot apologized for the rough landing. I was near ecstatic to have survived. I was also exhausted and, upon meeting my Canadian customs agent, told him that I was coming from Las Vegas. Apparently the answer he was looking for was “Atlanta.” I then spent an inordinate amount of time going over my trip and my purchases with one of his customs friends.

Yes, I hate flying.


June 23, 2013

For some time, how Owen would behave on our flight to Vancouver tended to overshadow the rest of the vacation for us. I worried about it. I think it kept Meg awake at night. Frankly, had any of the passengers known about Genghis’ “enthusiasm,” they’d have been worried as well.

So it was with a measure of terror that we all made our way to the airport a few weeks back. Megan had sought advice about how best to soothe the boy who, we feared, would have a difficult time keeping off of other passenger’s laps during the five-hour flight. We brought tablets loaded with cartoons, snacks, books, stickers… everything we felt we legally had at our disposal to pacify the boy. My expectation of success wasn’t terribly high; frankly, I simply hoped to avoid making the evening news.

Things got off to a rough start. At the advice of friends, we crafted a plan to help maximize the chances of snagging an empty seat for Owen. Being less than two years old, Owen wasn’t required to have a paid seat, but that meant he’d have to sit on our laps. So, weeks earlier, Megan paid the extra fee to lock-in the aisle seat for me, and the window for her. Since Owen doesn’t get a seat, the hope was that no one would be dumb enough to sit between two parents and their frenzied toddler who, by the way, was flying for the first time and is, at the best of times, “energetic.” The brilliance underlying this plan was that, even if someone was assigned the middle seat, upon seeing our little angel, our would-be seat mate would either bolt back to the gate or, more likely, demand another seat. Either way, the boy would be free to laze on the empty spot.

Simple — Effective — Perfect — Doomed to failure.

Upon check in, we were told that some masochist had pre-booked the middle seat between us. This was unexpected, especially since the flight wasn’t sold out. The young lady from the airline lamented that she was unable to do anything about it. “Don’t worry,” she added, “the person at the gate should be able to help you out.”

Clearly, this wasn’t how the plan was originally laid out. While we understood that someone sitting between us was a possibility, we assumed it would be dealt with at this point in time and that we’d go about our merry way. Megan and I were both a bit frazzled as we left the check-in desk.

We then made our way through security. Fortunately, Owen’s transgressions in daycare didn’t get his name placed on the No-Fly List and, after proving that we were carrying apple sauce and animal crackers and not explosives and WMDs, we were whisked away to our gate. As per the check-in lady’s instructions, we spoke to the gate attendant and, again, looked to see if we couldn’t get that middle seat for Owen. This young lady wasn’t as nice as the previous employee, and we were brusquely told there was nothing she could do. She said we would need to “speak to a steward on the plane.”

This really wasn’t how the plan was originally supposed to go. It’s important to note that we hadn’t prepared a Plan B. It was probably at this point that I quickly began going over different scenarios in my head as to how best to escape the storm we all knew by now was just a locked airplane door away. Our plan was spiralling out of control and, if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s to always have an exit strategy. Sadly, the best I came up with was “Run, Wormald. Run!!!” I’m ashamed to admit that my exit strategy largely ignored my wife and son. That being said, and while she’ll never admit it, I’m convinced that I caught Megan eyeing the emergency exit door.

Upon boarding, we were greeted by a trio of 50-something-year-old women that were travelling to Alaska. One of them was celebrating a birthday and they were all going to kick off the festivities together on a cruise. Two of them sat behind us, and the third was assigned the middle seat between Megan and me. I broached the idea of whether she might want to switch seats. She was pleasant enough, and assured us that Owen would be fine. She noted, rather firmly, that she didn’t want to move. She got a touch belligerent when I pressed the issue and, just when I was about to tell her about the time Owen bit a little girl at daycare, she said that she wanted to sit near her sisters. End of story. She did agree to take the aisle so Meg and I could sit and pray together.

The plan had officially gone to Hell. I wondered at this point if the anchor would pronounce my name correctly on the news.

The plane taxied the runway and took off. There was no turning back. Megan took the first shift and dazzled Owen with his sticker book’s pretty colours. He couldn’t be pacified by stickers for long, however, and I was fighting the urge to pee myself. There was still 4.75 hours to go, so I tried to busy myself contemplating how best to ensure my seat-mate-sister would be miserable the entire flight. Sadly, my ability to do evil largely escaped me as I was too panic stricken; the only thing I came up with was to make sure I had to go to the bathroom everytime she nodded off. (I’ll be sure to add an “Evil Addendum” to my plans the next time we fly.)

What frightened and depressed me most was that Owen was ultimately in charge of this situation. He could cry and carry on and there was little we could do. If he wanted to make the next five hours Hell for everyone, he could, and while we’d sit there and do our best to help, we were just along for the ride like everyone else.

It was then that something weird happened. Weeks later, it’s still difficult to describe.

And what happened, then? Well, on that flight they say that Owen's small heart grew three sizes that day. And then — the true meaning of flying came through, and Owen found the strength of *ten* Owen’s, plus two! Owen puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then Owen thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe flying, he thought, doesn't come with a roar. Maybe flying, perhaps... means a little bit more!

He didn’t fuss. He didn’t muss. Instead, Owen played with his popguns, panpoolers, pantookers, and drums! And when we needed a break, he took to his checkboards, bisslebigs, popcorn, and plums!

And, as we landed, every passenger down in Vancouver, the tall and the small, stood close together. And with their ears still ringing, they were all hand in hand... and those passengers actually started singing! 

I never needed to antagonize the woman beside us, and none of the passengers glared at us — instead, we were complimented on Owen’s upstanding behaviour. He didn’t cry, nor did he bat a single untoward eyelash at anyone. He was the perfect little boy and the perfect little passenger. The flight home was just as uneventful.

Looks like I’ll have to wait a little longer to make the evening news.
Good boy, Owen!


June 21, 2013

Meg, the boy, and I recently returned from a 12-day vacation in British Columbia. It’s always fun to get away, but Owen’s insistence on waking up at four and five each morning did tend to drag the days out a smidge. For any insomniacs thinking of making the trek out there, Vancouver’s early-morning tv is as bad as Toronto’s. It was also somewhat depressing to think that, on the last full day of vacation, both Megan and I were ecstatic when Owen slept until 5:50. I’ve since told Meg that, until Owen develops more appropriate vacation-sleeping skills, the best I’m willing to do is hitch a tent in the backyard and say we’re camping. (Though even that may be a non-starter if I don’t get the rabbits in the yard sorted… For all I know, Hoppy’s looking to avenge his fallen vole brothers. “VIVA LA VOLES!”)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not trying to say it wasn’t a great trip — it was! It’s just that this was the first vacation where the latest I got up was 6:15 a.m. (Megan and I took turns letting each other “sleep in”). I’m just saying that it was, umm, different from the others.

For the most part, we split our time between the City of Vancouver (visiting family and hippies) and Vancouver Island and the cities of Port Alberni and Tofino (visiting hippies). Vancouver is beautiful. It’s modern, clean, has a good transportation system, and is only a short hop to the mountains and the countless outdoor activities they afford you. It’s obvious, once you’ve spent some time there, why so many people the world over flock to Vancouver. I can only imagine what the city must have been like during the recent Winter Olympics. To be honest, I have a difficult time envisioning a more perfect spot for the games.

Beyond the pleasantries of waking early, seeing family (who found themsleves awoken early each morning as well — bet they’re hoping we come back real soon), and visiting some of Vancouver’s cultural attractions, our trip also offered us unfettered glimpses of the elusive Canadian Hippie (lat. Canuckus Hippitimie). Unlike Toronto, where hippies are shunned and largely marginalized, British Columbia has fully integrated them into its everyday goings-on, which grants you the opportunity to see hippies in their natural habitat, unencumbered by the machinations of normal, rational society.

While subtle, I was surprised to learn that Vancouver hippies are actually quite different than their Toronto brethren. Though both are as dirty as you might expect, and generally look to preserve the environment, and they each avoid the meat from God’s tastiest animals, the Vancouver hippie proved far faster and more nimble than its Toronto counterpart. Based on my limited exposure to the Toronto hippie community, I had always assumed that all hippies were a sedate brood, content to bang drums and discuss with one another the usefulness and efficacy of hemp cloth.

Their Vancouver cousins, however, are in constant motion. Evolution on the west coast has provided hippies with the means to efficiently navigate their dense, urban environment. Chief in point, hippies there adopt a horizontal rather than a vertical posture when in flight, and their legs and feet protrude a set of wheel-like appendages. Their skulls have also developed an extra-thick layer to protect them when they recklessly dart between traffic. The City of Vancouver has even adapted much of its roadways to accommodate these uber-mobile hippies. Perhaps most disturbing, when the need arises, Vancouver hippies are able to jettison their wheeled-extensions, much like a hermit crab can abandon its shell, and seamlessly blend with the local, non-hippie population. (Below, I’ve included a picture of typical, run-of-the-mill hippie feet.)


It was fascinating to see Nature at work.

While the sight of the Vancouver hippie was remarkable in itself, it wasn’t until we hit Tofino, however, that I realized we truly weren’t in Kansas (or some hippie equivalent to Kansas) any more. Tofino is small; far smaller than we anticipated. Tourist booklets noted that its permanent population was little more than 2,000 — or about the size of half of a typical subdivision in The Vaughan. Tofino is on the tip of the Esowista Peninsula, at the southern edge of Clayoquot Sound on the western side of Vancouver Island.

Tofino is, simply, as beautiful a spot as any on the planet.

It’s nestled among the mountains, and along the Pacific Ocean. From Tofino, you can see whales, bears, bald eagles, and endless other kinds of wild life. The air is clean. The water is perfect. There isn’t a single chain store to be found anywhere. There is an abundance of locally-run coffee shops and unique restaurants that feature only the freshest, locally-produced meats and vegetables. (I believe, however, that the coffee and the soy must be imported; this must frost the hippies to no end.) The inhabitants, both young and old, are as friendly as any I’ve encountered. While some of them farm the sea, many operate a variety of shops and other tourist-oriented companies, both big and small — and the key feature uniting them is that they each attend to their lives in ways that both protect and make sensible use of the land around them.

Tofino is paradise.

And for hippies, Tofino is tantamount to Mecca. It is here that hippies from across the planet make their pilgrimage to meet other hippies, discuss hippie ideas, and bask in their all-round hippie-ness, free from judging and condescending eyes (i.e., mine). While pristine, you can nevertheless smell Tofino far before you can ever see it. One would be excused for thinking that Tofino is the source of the world’s patchouli. The sound of hippie drums is everywhere. Surf boards, home-made hippie shirts and hippie bags adorn every shop. To stay in Tofino is to immerse yourself in pure, unabashed hippie-ism. Think the 1960s, but with Wi-Fi.

So, it’s against these backdrops that Megan and I decided to have a date night one evening in Vancouver — a child-less night for Mummy and Daddy to get some alone time. We stashed the boy with his aunt and uncle and, after offering sufficient safety instructions in the event Owen decided to rampage, we hit the town for an intimate dinner. It was nice to get away and be alone for a while and, after having our fill of food and drink, we meandered the streets, trying to make our way home.

With the clock nearing 9:00 p.m., dangerously close to our bed time, we happened to notice a lone hippie, sitting outside her house, cross-legged, listening to some organic East-Asian Buddhist music. She was pruning her garden.

It was peaceful.
It was Zen-like.

I turned to Megan, “This place isn’t for people like me.”