February 2013

Judging others

by Steve Brock on February 28, 2013

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3)

As someone who routinely walks around with an entire lumber yard sticking out of my retinas, I appreciate this command by Jesus to look at our own issues before we look at those of others. Not being one to argue with Jesus, I would, however, like to offer a few, how shall I call them, uh, caveats to this issue of judging, particularly as they relate to travel. I’ll start with one here on judging others and conclude next time with one on judging ourselves.

Regarding judging others, sometimes, especially in a foreign place, that’s not such a bad thing. Not in the way Jesus talks about, but in the sense of evaluating them, making the call as to whether you can trust them or not.

Grand Bazaar Conversation

These two guys at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey are having a much better conversation than we had with the taxi driver.

For example, I remember emerging with my wife and youngest son from the warren of alleys and corridors that make up the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We find the line of taxis and head to the front. Unfortunately, the lead car looks a bit sketchy. Faded blue, dented and no markings other than a handwritten piece of cardboard on the dashboard reading “Taxi.”

Very reassuring.

The driver steps out and suddenly, he’s got a friend with him (where he came from, I have no idea). In broken English, they both ask where we want to go. We tell them and ask how much. The friend gives us a number that is three times what it cost to get here. We tell him so.

He explains this concept called rush hour. We inform him we’re aware of rush hour but that it was rush hour when we came here in the morning. Apples to apples.

It’s different traffic going the other direction. Harder. More cars and people. More expensive, he explains.

No thanks, we tell him and start to walk off.

Remarkably, the price halves.

My wife and I look at each other. Even with the lower price, something doesn’t feel quite right. But by now, the friend has started to usher us toward the car, one hand on my back gently moving me forward, the other extended toward the car as if he’s one of the models on The Price is Right pointing out the grand prize.

We hesitate. The driver opens the rear door. He looks at his friend. He looks at us. He spits (on the pavement, not on us). Then he smiles.

There are happy smiles. There are even sad smiles. There are genuine smiles and fake smiles. Laughing smiles and Mona Lisa smiles. But there are also creepy smiles. You can guess which one this is.

Now back to judging, I don’t want to imply that bad oral hygiene makes a person less than trustworthy. But combine this taxi driver’s few remaining yellowish/brownish teeth with what can only be described as a leer and you have an instant judgment: There’s no way we’re getting in that cab.

We tell them no thanks. They get angry (or mock angry). We move on and catch the streetcar across the intersection. We have a very nice ride on the street car and no one on the streetcar smiles at us in a creepy manner.

Sometimes judging pays off.

On trips, you have to make judgment calls in all sorts of situations. Is this the same thing Jesus meant? Usually not, but it is easy to let the one influence the other. We could have walked away from that experience in Istanbul assuming that all Turkish taxi drivers are rather, well, scummy. But that would have been the wrong kind of judging.

Ever made a judgment call on a trip and it paid off? Ever made the wrong call? Ever had an experience that shaped how you view everyone in a particular country?

It’s all a judgment call. The question is how you do it. I’ll let you be the judge of that.


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A letter from my first week home this year

by Steve Brock on February 22, 2013

There's a reason the words travel and travail share the same root..

Dear Travel,

You and I, we’re not doing so well.

I think we’ve been spending too much time with each other.

I used to look forward to being with you. We’d go everywhere together.

Now, after the first week so far in this year that I haven’t had to be on the road, I find I rather like it. Sorry, Travel, but you kind of wear on me. No matter where I go, you’re always there. And you always want more.

I know your moods and your little idiosyncrasies. Like how there’s no perfect way to arrive at an airport. I’m always either waiting or running, or so it seems. Or how you lull me into a sense of complacency and then pull the rug out by canceling a flight or giving me wrong directions. That’s a nice one.

But oh too familiar.

We used to have fun together! But I can’t recall the last time I laughed on a trip. Let’s face it. The spark is gone. The ol’ magic just isn’t there.

I think we should be seeing other people.

No, we can still be friends. We can, maybe, still see each other. Sometime. Just not like everyday. Not now at least.

You go hang out with some other folks. How about all those college grads who think you’re the greatest thing since the wheel or Instagram? All they talk about is you. Spend time with them. Let them get to know you as I do. Introduce them to the wear and tear of constant business trips. Then we’ll see how enamored they are with your exotic ways and your “we could go anywhere!” attitude.

For me, I just need some distance. Yes, I know that’s your specialty. You’ve been singing me that tune for far too long. I’m talking emotional distance here, not miles. I just need to spend some time with this other friend, Home.

I’ll let you know how it goes. And who knows, we might even take a few short jaunts together into town or around the neighborhood. I know you want more, but that’s all I can give you now. I need my space, so don’t push me, OK?

What? You’ve heard me talk like this before? And I always come running back? Don’t get too cocky, Travel. We’ve not spent this much concentrated time together for a long while. Enough is enough.

So you go your way (you always do) and I’ll not go any way or anywhere. I’ll just hang. Spend time in one place. Get to know my own furniture and family for a change.

Maybe I’ll call you.

Or more likely, a week or two from now, you’ll call me.

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Hard trips and wonder

by Steve Brock on February 16, 2013

No, not a shark. A porpoise in a more serene mode...

As we saw last time, hard trips wear us down. That may not seem positive until you realize how all the effort you expend leaves you in a state where you see and think differently. In the aftermath of exhaustion, we find a kind of focus, a relaxed pose where we’re far more present to the world around us.

Following my own hard trip back in December, I had the weekend in Orlando before meetings on Monday. My friend took me out on kayaks on Sunday to fly fish in one of the shallow estuaries around Cape Canaveral. We caught nothing that day, not even a bite. But it didn’t matter. I was in that place following a hard trip where I was both content to be there with a good friend and yet strangely attuned to the world around me in ways I’m normally not.

After exiting the kayaks, we stood in about 30 inches of water, wading and fishing. I saw numerous pelicans dive for fish. Nothing new there. Until one pelican dives, and instead of hitting the water, it levels out and glides for what seemed a quarter of a mile literally two inches above the water. I could detect no muscle move on that bird as it silently floated in a straight line over the liquid surface beneath. Stunning.

Later, out of the still waters around us, a mound of water began to rise and move toward us, maybe 100 feet away. It grew in size to a swell almost two feet high and several feet wide. What could it be? How could a wave or swell start from nothing out here? Then I saw that it was two porpoises swimming furiously, side by side, on the surface of the water creating this liquid wall.

Suddenly, the porpoise on the left makes an additional movement. A large fish emerges between the two, chased over by the left porpoise. Equally fast, the porpoise on the right reaches out and grabs the fish in its mouth. Two seconds later, the swell is gone (and so is the fish, a victim of a clever tag team of these two porpoises).

I might have taken casual note of nature’s side show at some other time, but on this day, because of where I was mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually, I stood there in wonderment of the most extreme kind. I was like a kid seeing a fireworks show for the first time, awed by both the sight itself and the awareness that you had no awareness before that very moment that something of such splendor existed.

This makes me think of an entry I wrote two years ago on the rest Frodo experiences after his trip to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings. It’s a reminder that hard trips are indeed hard.

But they can provide unexpected rewards that make us truly aware of the wonder of the world in which we travel and help us appreciate it ways we never would on an easier journey.

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On the other side of a hard trip

by Steve Brock February 8, 2013

Want to be more creative and focused? Take a hot shower. Or better, take a hard trip. In the aftermath of difficult journeys we find surprising clarity.

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