The other day I was getting ready for a short trip, and I went online to print out my airline ticket. I was delighted to see the TSA Pre-check designation on it. Pre-check means that you can go through a shorter, faster security line without removing your shoes, belt, computer, and small liquids. It saves some time and hassle and makes a plane trip a little bit more pleasant.
Of course, I could also send Uncle Sam a check and a completed form to fly Pre-check all the time. Maybe I’ll do so, because it does restore a dose of civility to the air travel experience. In the meantime, I greet the printing out of my ticket with hopeful anticipation that I’ll win the Pre-check lotto via whatever process the TSA folks use.
I call Pre-check one of life’s little scratch ticket wins: You know, those lottery tickets or customer cards where you scratch off an opaque covering to see if you’ve won a little something. Maybe it’s a small payout, a free sandwich, or a discount on your next purchase.
Life’s scratch ticket equivalents can pop up anywhere. Maybe you’re running late and you make the next subway train with seconds to spare. Or perhaps you discover that the very thing you want to buy is on sale. Until they went with all-day breakfast, making it to McDonald’s just before the morning menu ended would count, too!
As an educator, I used to think of snow days as being a scratch ticket win. But then came Snowpocalypse 2015 in Boston, with so many class cancellations that we had to have monster make-up classes once we dug out of winter. Suffice it to say, I greet snow days much less enthusiastically than before we got hit with 100+ inches of snow that winter.
Obviously we’d all like to win Mega Millions, but winning scratch tickets can put smiles on our faces as well.
Over the weekend I was fiddling around with some photos using the editing tools on my computer, when I reminded myself of an important lesson, buttressed by scientific research: When it comes to using my discretionary cash, I am more likely to derive longer-term happiness by spending it on experiences than on material possessions.
Jonesing for bad weather
The photos were taken during a 2012 storm chase tour with Tempest Tours, a company that offers storm chasing expeditions into America’s tornado alley for enthusiasts of bad weather, led by highly experienced storm chasers.
I have been drawn to tornadoes ever since I was a very young child, when one passed through our NW Indiana neighborhood. (I’ve told the story in more detail here.) This fascination has continued well into my adult years, to the point where I’ve devoted to several vacations to storm chase tours with Tempest. In fact, one of the most exciting days of my life was the first day of my first chase tour in 2008, when our group intercepted a single supercell in northern Oklahoma that spawned multiple tornadoes throughout the afternoon and early evening.
My summer 2012 tour happened to deliver a great week of storm chasing, even without the benefit of post-facto tornado verification. We had a wonderful group of people that simply jelled, and thanks to our expert lead guides, we witnessed memorable storms, including several tornadoes.
But just how many tornadoes remains uncertain. One of the notable characteristics of that tour was encountering a number of “Is it or isn’t it?” views of possible tornadoes. You see, not every tornado is a sharply defined funnel from cloud to ground, with a visible debris field at the bottom. Light, distance, and angles may make it difficult to discern whether a funnel has actually reached the ground, thus becoming an “official” tornado.
So here I am this past weekend, playing around with photos from the 2012 tour, especially the “Is it or isn’t it?” shots. By using the photo enhancement tools on my Mac, I was able to make out various funnel clouds and apparent tornadoes on the ground. Four years after the fact, I now understand that we witnessed more tornadoes than originally met the naked eye!
Studies tell us…
I have great memories of these chase tours, and I’m still in touch with many of the professional storm chasers and fellow tour guests. Now, I don’t blame anyone for questioning the wisdom of someone who wants to spend precious money on a week of traveling thousands of miles in vans, eating grab & go meals from fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and staying in motels that will never be highlighted in travel guidebooks.
But for me, it’s an awesome experience that gets into my bones.
As I noted above, this isn’t just me talking. A growing body of psychological research suggests that, when we are making discretionary spending decisions, using our money to create good experiences rather than to accumulate more “stuff” will likely create greater happiness over the long run. Experiences, studies tell us, have staying power. They become a part of us, sometimes even more positively as time goes on. (Remember that vacation when everything seemingly went wrong? Now it’s the stuff of great stories.)
New possessions, by comparison, may give us a momentary new morale boost, but after that, the happiness they bring tends to level off. (Think about the fleeting pick-me-up of “retail therapy.”)
This is not to say that we do not derive satisfaction from buying nice things. After all, how we use, consume, or view them can provide ongoing pleasures, i.e., they may help us to create experiences.
Think about a favorite book, movie, game, item of clothing, or piece of art. Or new cooking utensils that lead to delicious meals. And, yup, the computer that enables us to sort out and play around with our collections of photographed memories.
Sometimes good experiences overlap directly with buying stuff we like. For example, I love checking out used bookstores and used book sales, and I confess that I get a little soggy over some of my book buying expeditions.
I get it
But I understand the larger point. As I scroll through this personal blog, I sense my energy levels rising when I write about favorite experiences, which include singing with friends, extended visits with friends and family, quick weekend trips, holiday rituals, and even academic conferences in the company of great people. They contribute to the fabric and richness of my life, often in ways that my latest purchases cannot.
That’s something to think about whenever I walk into a store or browse the retail world online. Better to seek out stormy weather, yes?
One of the benefits of being in academe is the opportunity to travel to interesting and new places for various academic events. I had the pleasure of making a quick trip to Boise, Idaho, to participate in a conference on equality in employment at the University of Idaho College of Law. The conference itself was excellent, and it gave me a chance to see something of this beautiful, compact city.
The unexpected bonus was the delicious food. The University of Idaho treated us to a couple of wonderful dinners at local restaurants, including a first-rate steak at a place called The BrickYard.
In addition, I met up with long-time friends and colleagues Gary and Ruth Namie, founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute, for breakfast on Saturday before catching my afternoon return flight to Boston. They took me to their favorite breakfast place, the Original Pancake House, famous for its apple pancakes that take 45 minutes to cook. I managed to polish off my plate pretty quickly.
In case you want photographic proof that I saw more of Boise than its eateries and a university conference room, here’s a shot of the beautiful State Capitol building, located in the city’s downtown.
And although you can’t see much of it, here is Boise State University’s football stadium, featuring its famous blue field.
The 1916 Easter Rising was an armed insurrection centered in Dublin, and led by Irish Republicans who opposed British rule and sought to establish an independent Irish Republic. Although the Rebellion was quashed, it planted the seeds for British-Irish relations during the 20th century and remains one of the most significant events in Irish history.
As I wrote here last year, I became interested in this subject during a 1981 collegiate semester abroad in England. “The Troubles,” as they were dubbed, had reached tumultuous and violent stages. Irish political prisoners were staging well-publicized hunger strikes, and a prominent Irish Republican Army leader, Bobby Sands, was among them. (He would die in prison that May.)
I devoted part of my spring break to visiting Belfast and Dublin, and the tensions were evident. I was in Dublin over Easter weekend, which marked the 65th anniversary of the Easter Rising. A large, boisterous protest and rally ensued in the downtown.
I’ve put together three snapshots from that event. During the protest march, a young man stopped to allow me to take the photo at top.The rebel headquarters for the Easter Rising was the General Post Office, shown in the second photo above. The third photo was taken in front of the Bank of Ireland.
And here’s the 1916 Easter Proclamation:
This 1940s wartime era photo prompts a nostalgic moment for me, even if I wasn’t around back then and my soggy sentiments have nothing to do with the picture itself. This is the old Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the marquee features coming sporting attractions, including basketball games featuring Valparaiso University (my undergraduate alma mater) and New York University (my law school alma mater).
Valparaiso posted the pic to its Facebook page in connection with the appearance of the current men’s basketball team in the semifinal round of the National Invitation Tournament, which will be played in the modern Madison Square Garden next week. This year’s squad has set a school record for wins, including three in the NIT. A victory against Brigham Young University on Tuesday will put them in the tourney championship game, to be played later in the week.
The vintage photo shows VU players arriving for their game at the Garden. VU’s war-era team was one of the nation’s best, thanks to its successful recruiting of talented players who were too tall to enter military service. The team traveled all the way from the Hoosier State to play Long Island University, no small journey in the days before jet airliners.
The second marquee game featured NYU hosting Colgate University. NYU was a major college sports presence during the first half of the last century, and its basketball team played in many of the prominent arenas along the east coast. Today NYU is a non-scholarship Division 3 school, with men’s and women’s basketball teams playing very competitively at that level.
We all have our personal narratives, and part of mine involves growing up and going to college in northwest Indiana, discovering something of the world during a final collegiate semester abroad, and then heading off to law school in New York City. To see both Valparaiso and NYU on that marquee, located on the wondrous island of Manhattan, symbolically brings together two educational institutions that have played important roles in my life.
As for Madison Square Garden, when I lived in New York I watched my share of basketball there, mostly Knicks NBA games. It was still possible back then to get cheap tickets (four dollars, then eight dollars) to sit up in the nosebleed seats. But when the Knicks were on top of their game and the Garden was rocking, well, it didn’t matter where you sat, it was quite an event.
After VU’s home court victory over St. Mary’s of California that punched the team’s ticket for the trip east, the public address system played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” That was my song, too. I hope their Manhattan sojourn turns out as well for them as it did for me.
As President of Goucher College in Maryland, Sanford Ungar spearheaded internationalization initiatives that included requiring every undergraduate to enroll in a study abroad program. The school backed up those efforts with travel stipends to make such participation more affordable. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ungar offers a thoughtful essay positing that a major expansion of study abroad enrollments will help to create a more informed and worldly American citizenry:
In the Internet age, the world feels far smaller than it used to. But many Americans still know little about the rest of the world and may be more detached from it than ever.
. . . One symptom of Americans’ new isolation is a sharp contrast between the positive, even zealous views they hold of the United States and its role in the world and the anti-Americanism and negative perceptions of U.S. foreign policy that flourish almost everywhere else. This gap persists in part because relatively few Americans look beyond, or step outside, their own borders for a reality check.
. . . Luckily, there exists a disarmingly simple way to help address this problem and to produce future generations of Americans who will know more and care more about the rest of the world: massively increase the number of U.S. college and university students who go abroad for some part of their education and bring home essential knowledge and new perspectives.
Of course this is music to my ears. As I have written several times on this blog (most recently here), my own undergraduate semester abroad in England was transformative. I cannot imagine my life today without that experience as part of it.
Study abroad is not the only way to see the world and become a more globally informed individual. Military and volunteer service, jobs with international travel components (e.g., working for an airline), and extended trips abroad can all be world expanding experiences.
On this note I turn to travel writer, educator, and entrepreneur Rick Steves, who long has touted European travel on a middle-range budget and strongly believes in the transformative power of international travel. Here’s a snippet from his statement describing his global travel philosophy:
Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity. It helps you understand and appreciate different cultures. Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life. Many travelers toss aside their hometown blinders. Their prized souvenirs are the strands of different cultures they decide to knit into their own character.
“Travel changes people.” Indeed.
Last week on Facebook, I saw friends from my native Northwest Indiana posting stuff about “219 Day.” Of course I recognized 219 as the main area code for Lake County, Indiana, but I had no idea what this “Day” was all about. I would learn that 219 Day is a new “holiday” created by Hammond, Indiana mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr., mixing local pride with a little tongue-in-cheek. The first 219 Day was marked by a food, drink, and entertainment event that drew thousands to the local Civic Center.
The humor is in the logo. As you can see, a rat is a part of it. To explain, Lake County and the City of Hammond are located in the heart of what is called the Calumet Region, named for the Calumet River that flows through it. Denizens of “Da Region” have long been called “Region Rats.” So the Mayor (and/or his public relations team) incorporated said rodent into the overall theme.
Although Mayor McDermott caught some flak for including the little fella in the logo — apparently some of the more refined residents didn’t fully appreciate the association — on the whole 219 Day was a rousing success and will now become an annual event. Personally, I thought it was a clever way of saying, hey, we’re going to celebrate our region without taking ourselves too seriously!
In fact, when I saw folks posting stickers for 219 Day on Facebook, I contacted one of my Region schoolmates, Dave Woerpel, now Chairman of the Hammond Democrats and a close associate of the Mayor, and asked how I might get my hands on one. Well, not only did Dave send me a couple of stickers, but also to my surprise he sent a 219 Day t-shirt (“219 Day, It’s all about Da Region”), which I proudly show off in the photo above. It is a fitting addition to my leisurewear collection. Perhaps some Bostonians will ask for an explanation!
I left Indiana in 1982, bound for law school in New York City. For a long time I thought I’d never look back. But I have come to appreciate all the chapters of my life, and growing up in Da Region is an important part of it. Over the years I have kept in touch with a handful of people from Indiana, and now — often via Facebook — I have reconnected with folks I had lost touch with for decades.
So yes, I enjoyed the humor imbued in that 219 Day logo. But I also regard that t-shirt with genuine sentiment, a welcomed connection of my past with my present.
If you have eight minutes to spare for a fun little historical video, go to this New England Historical Society page to view a streetcar ride in the heart of Boston during the early 1900s.
Those familiar with Boston will recognize a fair number of buildings that remain intact (more or less) today, including the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library, pictured above. With some unfortunate exceptions, mainly parts of the city where a myriad of “urban renewal” projects and other monstrosities (like the unsightly City Hall) supplanted fine old buildings, a lot of Boston’s vintage structures are still with us. Some happen to be of great historical significance.
As you watch the video, notice how the people are dressed. Perhaps reinforced by the grainy quality of the black & white video, they look very much the same. I was tempted to attribute this to Boston’s historic lack of fashion variety. But I think it has more to do with the fact that some 110 years ago, a lot fewer people expressed their individuality through choice of clothing, at least to the point where it would be noticeable on old film footage.
I love old films like this. They are typically raw, soundless, and absent any sense of story, but they’re the next best thing to being able to jump into a time machine for a quick walk through a city over a century ago.
Hat tip to Rosina-Maria Lucibello for this video.
Thirty-five years ago, I joined a group of fellow Valparaiso University students at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where we would board a TWA flight to London. We were to be the 27th group of VU students to spend a semester at the University’s overseas study centre in Cambridge, England, and the long flight was the first big step of our journey.
We landed in London the next morning and boarded a coach for Cambridge. Later that evening, bleary-eyed but hungry, we would gather for the first of many group dinners, this one featuring American-style pizza at a place called Sweeney Todd’s.
I was embarking on the most formative educational experience of my life. The semester would create enduring memories, new perspectives, and lifelong friendships. The seeds it planted permeate my life today, ranging from the way I live, to my choice of vocation, to how I spend my typical day.
As I have written here before, despite my penchant for nostalgia, there aren’t many times of my life that I’d actually like to relive. But if I could enter a time machine to relive this one, I’d jump in right away and fasten my seatbelt.
Among study abroad offerings, a semester in England spent largely in the company of fellow American students ranks with the gentlest invitations to get beyond one’s comfort zone. Nevertheless, for a young man born and raised in northwest Indiana and not particularly adventurous by nature, those five months away were life changing and world expanding.
Our academic fare was pretty basic, a cluster of survey-type courses in British history, British drama, European geography, and art appreciation designed largely to introduce us to our new surroundings. Group trips, extended weekends, spring break, and the weeks following the end of the semester allowed for travel and exploration. I did a spring break trip through Scotland and Ireland, as well as a brisk three-week, post-semester jaunt through Western Europe (France, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany), traveling alternately with fellow VU students and on my own.
However, I was not a frequent weekend sojourner; I enjoyed the old university city of Cambridge and tended to stay there. When I did travel, London was by far my favorite destination. I felt very much in my element in those two places.
I loved going to movies, plays, bookstores, and lectures in Cambridge. I joined the Cambridge Union Society, a famous debating and cultural activities club run by ambitious University undergraduates, some of whom already had set their sights on election to Parliament! The day I joined, I attended a formal debate on British economic policy. Among the speakers was economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who would become one of my intellectual heroes.
During visits to London, museums and plays were my main focus. Our theatre course required that we write a series of play reviews. It is only fitting, given my parochial outlook, that my first review was of a West End production of “Oklahoma!,” the classic American musical.
Given the personal significance of this experience, one might guess that I had planned to participate in a study abroad program from the time I first stepped on campus. Not so! I signed up mainly because good friends with whom I worked on the campus newspaper were going, and I wanted a change of scenery.
During my interview for admission to the Cambridge semester program, I managed to sling some mildly articulate fertilizer about expanding my intellectual horizons, but truthfully I had no idea what I was talking about. This thin level of cultural depth, matched by a healthy dose of post-adolescent callowness, followed me overseas, where I made most of my plans at the last minute and often tagged along with others who were more informed about what to see and do….
…As in tagged along, went along, or sometimes practically dragged along! On group tours to places like Warwick Castle, York, and Stonehenge, I went because they were on the schedule. During spring break stops in Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, and other parts of Scotland, I went because five of us rented a car and drove north. (My own choices led to questionable decisions, such as heading over to Belfast, Northern Ireland, during a tumultuous and violent time there.)
I was hardly more intentional during my post-semester trip to the European continent. I explored the Left Bank of Paris, hiked in the Swiss Alps, and went on “The Sound of Music” guided bus tour in Salzburg mostly because that’s what my friends wanted to do. (I did take a memorable solo trip to Berlin, with the Wall still intact.)
But it all stuck and left deep impressions. I will give my young self credit for understanding this as the semester went on. I knew that I was very, very fortunate to be having that experience.
Of course, I realize that in waxing nostalgic about my semester abroad, I am something of a cliché. The world is full of American collegians who hopped on a plane bound for Europe and returned with a boatload of breathless stories about visits to “amazing,” “incredible,” and “fascinating” sites that, umm, countless millions of others have seen as well.
But I can’t help it. That semester had a fundamental impact on me, and I cannot imagine what my life would be like had the opportunity passed me by. I know that others in our cohort feel the same way, though perhaps with a bit less intensity.
Which leads me to a final, very important point: I had no idea that I would stay in touch with so many people from this group, yet lifetime friendships emerged from our semester together. In fact, every five years we gather for a group reunion, which typically includes sharing many of the same old stories, accompanied by lots of laughter. We’re now planning our next reunion for this summer.
And so, I plead guilty to being among those who look back at such times with great fondness and gratitude. Amazing, incredible, and fascinating, indeed.
Visits to England over the years have given me a great appreciation for two venerable news periodicals published there, The Economist and The Guardian. A venerable staple in England, The Economist, has become very popular in the U.S. The Guardian, a long-time British daily newspaper, now offers a weekly edition perfect for those of us in other nations.
Of the two, The Economist is the better known. Published since 1843, it favors free-market economics and globalization, while staking moderate and occasionally liberal positions on social issues. All articles and editorials are unsigned, and great care is taken to produce each issue with a consistently understated, analytical, and often witty tone of voice. For liberals like me, it offers a thoughtfully reasoned, contrasting point of view.
The Economist‘s holiday double issue has long been an annual treat. Loaded with features on lively, quirkier, more offbeat topics than its normal fare — see the pieces under “Christmas Specials” from this year’s holiday issue — it’s an enjoyable way to spend a more contemplative turning of the calendar.
The Guardian has made a big American visibility push in recent years, especially online, with increasing coverage of major news events in the U.S. With its generally liberal social, political, and economic perspectives and a punchier style of writing, its weekly edition — global in scope and drawing from the Observer, Washington Post, and Le Monde — is emerging as an informative, left-leaning counterpart to The Economist.
The Guardian Weekly‘s year-end issue isn’t quite as elaborate as The Economist‘s, but it, too, is an informative assessment of the year behind us and in front of us.
Both periodicals are somewhat pricey as print subscriptions, so some may prefer to check them out online. For news junkies like me, they offer interesting, informed, and global alternatives to so much of the celebrity-driven drivel of typical American “news” coverage and the noisy, sound-bite yammering of our cable news stations.