Dogs Are Always Good Fallback Subject

Dogs Are Always Good Fallback Subject

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – For forty-one years, I’ve kind of prided myself on never missing a week with my newspaper column copy. I’ve checked out of hospitals early at least twice to meet deadlines, and since the advent of the computer, occasionally called frantically for technical help when Murphy’s Law interrupted the smooth flow of scripts. Travel, too, has posed problems now and then: How am I going to compose and send copy from a canoe in the Great Barren Lands?

Obviously, those pieces have to be written beforehand, and because the news changes so much more rapidly now than it once did, they can’t be topical. Dogs are always a good fallback subject; writing about dogs is the literary equivalent of taking candy from a baby. A good, rousing story is another; It reminds me of the fantastic melee at the old Salmon Falls Inn that my boss and I ducked out of just before the troopers arrived. The one stipulation my wife always insisted upon was that I not let on that I was going to be away. She didn’t want the criminal element to know that she was home alone and unprotected. So I always announced my absences in copy that wouldn’t appear in print until after I was back.

That’s the case with what you’re reading right now: I’m writing it as the calendar and clock count down to the moment I climb into Hagar (my work car), kiss Kiki good-bye (she stays with my daughter while I’m gone), and head down the road toward Boston and Logan Airport. To my left as I write are an itinerary, my plane ticket, a list of the people who’ll be traveling with me, and an adapter for European electrical plugs. To my right, my wallet of plastic that will magically support me in places where once I used travelers’ cheques, my passport, face masks, vaccination cards and cell phone (I’ve finally mastered posting its photos directly to my Facebook page).

In the bedroom, a pretty small suitcase awaits filling. I’ve managed in recent years to push successfully for multi-night stays in our hotels on tours, so that I can pack lighter and do a wash from time to time during the trip. I’ve made copies of my passport, credit card, passwords, and telephone numbers, and have additionally mastered googling names and asking Siri to call them. I’ve put my pen knife into my suitcase, which I check. Used to be, whenever I forgot and stuck it into my dopp kit, (which stays with me; too often have I waited for my toothbrush and pills to catch up with me) security scooped it up. The pill organizer travels with me, as well.

In spite of the fear of leaving something important behind, I find all this preparation not at all unpleasant. Clothes: I start with my feet – shoes and socks – and work my way up my body to the decision about what hat to wear, if any. I’ve emailed ahead to a haberdasher in Dublin – Kevin and Howlin – to tell ’em I’ll be in, twenty years after my last visit, for another Great Gatsby cap (which is what they call ’em in Ireland).

Our tour groups used to meet in the entry lobby of terminals. Now, because of the erratic nature of the security check, we meet at the gate. It’s always a pleasure to see those white pendant name tags show up. Plus, I know that if they got through security, nobody forgot their passport. We board just before sunset in Boston and land just about sunrise in Shannon. That first day is often a bit of a grind. Nobody’s slept too well on the plane; we can’t check into our hotel till mid-afternoon; and few of us are spring chickens. Still, the novelty of Killarney will sustain us till suppertime, introductions, and the description of the next day’s plans.

I’ve checked the amenities of each of our hotels, something almost impossible before the Internet. All three have exercise rooms, and two have pools. So my lightweight L.L. Bean quick-drying shorts are going; they can double as pajamas when dry.

The more I get stuff organized, the more time and attention I can give to the most important feature of the trip: my fellow passengers. Most I’ve never met; a few are old friends; some have been on several trips with me before. Getting to know them – on the bus, at meals, at Glendalough, Dingle, Great Blasket – and watching them gaze at the beauty of the Emerald Isle in the springtime, makes this job as enjoyable as any I’ve ever had. And as you read, I’m home again (I hope).