Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I've been distracted

From October 25 until last week I was in New Jersey, alone, and away from my family. I got a lot accomplished at the cottage, and I got to spend time with some key authors and potential authors in New York and in Philadelphia. I spent two nights with my old friends Charlie & Judy in Montclair, the highlight of which was a luau/auction at the Unitarian Church where Charlie is pastor. On Saturday morning I drove back across northern Pennsylvania and Ohio to spend an evening in Detroit with Detroit Gail and her hubby, George. We sat in front of a roaring fire in their 1920s Tudor mansion, and I learned a lot about how the auto industry is beginning to employ the concept of personas into the early stages of automotive design. (Relevant beyond belief, because Personas is the subject of a book I've just signed.)

On Monday I drove down from Detroit to join my family in Indianapolis for Thanksgiving. That day was my birthday and I decided to treat myself to a visit to the Auburn/Cord/Dusenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. (Don't judge the museum from its lame website.)

That stop was probably one of the most restorative things I could've done. It put me back in touch with all kinds of things: my Hoosier roots, my love of cars, my love of design and my infatuation with how the world might have been...

The museum totally captivated me; I could've spent two or three days there, especially if I they would've let me behind the wheels of those exquisite cars. It was a design moment. I was struck by the imaginative use of color on these automobiles. I was also reminded once again by how my home state is routinely dismissed by the coastal elites. Here they were, making the most advanced an elegant cars in the world in rural Indiana.

Do you doubt me? If so, take a look at the white Cord sedan presented in the late 30s at the New York Auto Show. Who else made white cars in the 1930s?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Are you still working on that?

"Table for one, please." With that request the hostess escorts me through the busy Italian restaurant to the back of the room and an intimate, out-of-the-way seat where I can watch all the other tables filled with happy diners on a Cape May weekend night. When I'm down here in Villas on my own overseeing the renovation of our cottage, I make sure that once a week I splurge on a "nice" restaurant meal. It relieves the monotonous menu of Wawa hot dishes and McDonalds burgers that makes up my diet through the week. When you don't have a kitchen, your options are limited.

Is it just me, or do the other diners seem to be looking askance? They may be wondering why I'm alone. Has my wife died, or have I been stood up for a date? After all, it's Friday night and all the other tables are filled with happy couples and groups of friends. Do I detect a sense of pity—from the waiters and the other customers?

Never mind. I order lasagne, a salad and a bottle of wine (they don't sell by the glass.)

In spite of—or because of—my solitude, I'm happy. It's been a long day of rewarding work. Answering emails, researching on the Web and conference calls with folks in California, and later some heavy labor. Another day of progress on the cottage renovation, and tomorrow is Saturday—I can sand and paint and clean and organize to my heart's content.

I find myself missing my family back in Illinois. I wonder what they're doing right now; I think about how much my wife would enjoy a dinner out at this swank East Coast restaurant . I resolve to bring her here next summer.

When I've eaten my fill, the waiter sashays up and says, "are you still working on that?" It makes me want to laugh and say, "I'm not the one who's working. You are. I'm here enjoying myself, pursuing a leisure activity." Waiters from coast to coast use that obnoxious phrase, "are you still working on that?" E and I always find it noteworthy, and we want to correct them. But correcting them would be even worse manners than saying it in the first place.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Frequent flyer smiles

Another trip to the mothership in Berkeley last week found me back in my "spiritual home," the Bay Area. Once again, meeting with some of my authors and colleagues out there reminded me how much I love my work. I was also reminded again how much I love the place.

All the flowers blooming in the bright and cool misty air made me nostalgic for when I used to have my own garden in San Francisco. I'd marvel at the way you could grow things all year round, that "Spring" arrives sometime shortly after Christmas.

The calla lillies were my favorites. And there they were blooming just outside my friends'' apartment. Bougainvillea in riotous fuschia profusion colored white stucco garden walls, and tiny yellow wildflowers dotted the open space in Tiburon where I walked. Up there I had a 360-degree view of the Bay, and watched ships sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge towards the Port of Oakland.

My friend Karen, an ardent Tibetan Buddhist, got to see the Dali Lama in person on Sunday morning, and Prince Charles and Camilla popped in as well, touring organic gardens in Marin County and Berkeley.

I'm resigned to flying all over the place frequently, as it's a part of my job. In this time of bird-flu fear, it feels dangerous to crowd into the planes and share the close recycling air with all the other passengers coughing and sneezing. I usually find the in-flight movies boring, but I gave in and watched "Must Love Dogs," only to be pleasantly surprised how it made me and my seatmates laugh out loud. I love Diane Lane and John Cusak, and there was even a character named Michael Nolan. The plot was pretty thin and in the end it all was just a bunch of fluff, but it made the time pass between Denver and Philly.