No surprise that this fraidy-cat flyer plopped down next to me. I always attract lost souls.
EUGENE, Oregon — I knew she was a kook from the moment she came rattling down the airplane aisle at the last minute, with her pink vinyl gunny-sack that looked to be made from old Hello Kitty raincoats.
No surprise that this strange stranger plopped down in the window seat next to me, for I always attract lost souls. From the sideways glance Rapunzel gave me from across the aisle, we all knew right then: “Here we go again, Dad! It’s on!”
“You going to Fresno?” the strange stranger asks.
“Why would I do that?” I say.
We’re heading back from our college trip, all pine-scented and damp in our britches from Oregon, feeling very good about the lush university we visited, pretty sure we’ve found a good match for Smartacus.
A good college is one of life’s great crushes.
Much like the Upper Midwest, this region speaks to me — the rivers and the yule trees, the glens and the lush rolling lawns.
Oregon is a cheese curd away from being Wisconsin, perhaps my favorite state after California, and much less complicated and full of itself. I don’t much care for showboats, or lightning bolts carved into haircuts, or tricked-out cars with purple halos around their hems … all that asinine LA stuff.
Not so much of that here. Eugene is a place of thrift-store denim. Where they water down the Windex to make it last a little longer. Where they grow their own basil in a mason jar on the kitchen sill.
Damn, I love college towns like this, the suspension of time, where philosophy majors wind up running hobby shops and the grad students all sell a little weed.
In fact, this might be where we build Boomer U, the empty-nester college I’ve talked about opening. Much like a cult, people will show up because it speaks to them for reasons they cannot fathom.
The feeling you get from a favorite Beatles song? That’ll be the same feeling we strive for at every class at Boomer U.
To answer the most-frequent questions: Yes, there’ll be classes on wine-making. And, double-yes, my attorney (Billable Bob) will be our law school dean (wanna make big money quick?).
There will be summer and fall sessions, and in winter, we’ll take a break, because winter is the worst season on a college campus, almost a purgatory.
See how progressive we are? Don’t let it get around. I’m already swamped with applications to this Boomer U., the greatest development in higher education since rec centers and climbing walls.
By the way, please keep your clothes on when you send application photos. I’m kind of corrupt as it is. I don’t need to become more corrupter.
Visionaries are always a little loopy, and I believe Boomer U. will be my best, loopiest experiment yet. It will put traditional colleges to shame.
So much to do. My buddy Jim wants to create t-shirts and beer steins for Boomer U. I’m skeptical. My attention span is so short it barely exists at all.
Man, this trip made me tired. Not just the 20 miles we hoofed across campus over two days, but the air travel. We were rusty at TSA procedures. As we were about to board our return flight, I couldn’t find my driver’s license; it turned up in the bottom of my hiking shoe.
And to think I used to be some sort of travel writer. Not a good one. Just a travel writer who struggles with the same things many travelers do, patting my pockets constantly to be sure I remember this thing and that, checking my boarding pass three times.
My daughter Rapunzel travels TSA Pre-Check, and she just shrugged at the misery of the commoners (me and Smartacus). So much elitism to those Pre-Check types.
Apparently I have shrapnel in my butt — or I once sat wrong on a bottle opener — because something always flares on the TSA scanner, and the agents ask politely if they can pat me down by hand.
I always pass the pat-down, and I always tip. Until the bars open again, TSA pat-downs are what passes for my social life. Sometimes I send thank you notes.
Air travel was a little unsettling, the planes were packed, and some of the terminals too. Fortunately, I just got my fourth vaccine the other day, from one of those mobile medics on bicycles.
What, you haven’t seen those?
OK, maybe it wasn’t vaccine, but it was an injection of some sort, that’s the important thing. As an aging white male, no one is in a rush to save me. I am last on all the COVID lists, right behind death-row inmates and German shepherds. So if someone comes around waving a syringe, I just say yes.
I’ve been in “yes mode” since I was 19. Why change now?
Even so, traveling was unsettling, as I said. Leaving Eugene, the kooky fraidy-cat flyer next to me grabbed my hand as we rumbled down the runway. I assured this strange stranger that if we went down, we’d all die together, no regrets. That seemed to soothe her.
“Look how old our hands are,” she said as we intertwined fingers.
“Speak for yourself, lady,” I told my new best friend.
Halfway through the flight, she had a coughing fit.
I’m probably becoming a kooky traveler too. Going new places has never been as romantic and whimsical for me as it is for some. I travel too much to be a nervous traveler, yet not enough to be a bon vivant.
Traveling with Rapunzel eases some of the burden, for she is so adept at this new stuff, so fluent with her phone, so capable of having an Uber driver at our side in 30 seconds, that I really don’t need to worry about anything anymore.
I worry instead that my time may be passing, that the world now belongs to our kids.
But then, hasn’t it always? Haven’t we always put them on pedestals and saved them the best filets, the biggest slice of birthday cake, the beach chair in the sun?
I am glad for that now … that I bribed them their entire lives. Nothing major, just a series of cumulative parental gestures: shoes, shelter, cake, college.
They seem happy to help me now as they glide effortlessly through the modern digital tasks that give me pause.
That’s what parenting is all about, right? Raising independent kids who go skipping off into a dangerous and challenging world, as if on a Paris shopping spree?
Sure hope so.
Would you like a Boomer U. t-shirt or beer stein? No commitment. I just need to know that if we got some made, would there be a market for them (approximate price $20 plus shipping). Please shoot me a note if a Boomer U. shirt would be on your wish list. As I said, no commitment; just a survey. Meanwhile, get ready for our St. Paddy’s bash. Our Sorceress of Admissions (Samantha) will attend, which means there will be these really uncomfortable public arguments over mundane stuff. I sure wouldn’t miss it. There are about a dozen spots left for the bash in Pasadena on March 18 at 5 pm. Please RSVP to letters@ChrisErskineLA.com for details. Have a great weekend. Stay safe. Live a little.
AN EASY AND HEARTY COLD WEATHER DISH: JAMBALAYA
This jambalaya is easier than gumbo, and even more tasty (at least to me). This is so fun and simple – about 20 minutes of prep. Usually leaves leftovers that come out even better.
1 pound smoked sausage (pork or turkey)
Some chunked chicken or shrimp if you have it (both optional. Sausage is the dominant flavor)
Chicken stock (1-2 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
Creole or Cajun seasoning
In a large pot, sauté onion, pepper and garlic in oil, season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In same pot, sauté the sliced sausage and chicken or shrimp in a little oil.
Season with 1 to 2 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning.
Add tomatoes and tomato sauce
Add back the onion and pepper.
Add bay leaf.
Make white rice on the side (about 2 cups).
Add rice to the pot and stir together.
Add chicken stock. If you like it a little soupy, 2 cups. If you like a thicker rice dish, 1 cup.
Add more Cajun spice or pepper as needed.
Simmer at least 1 hour.
Serve with crusty bread or biscuits, and a splash of hot sauce. Maybe a beer or a nice red wine.