There Are Dreams and Then There Are Dreams

I pass by this plaque every time I visit the post office in Kent, Washington.

Plaque

I have very mixed emotions about it.

Of course I’m happy that coworkers cared enough about Douglas J Hansen to memorialize him after his death. I do like the quote, “Don’t ever give up on your dreams.” But the older I get, the more I realize that there are dreams, and then there are dreams.

Doug Hansen was 46 years old when he died. No one should die at 46. My life was only just beginning at that age, and I’ve had so many amazing experiences since then. Life is priceless.

He died after having climbed to the top of Mt. Everest. That’s a formidable achievement, especially when you consider the fact that it was his second attempt. He died on the way back down the mountain.

Normally I’d say good for him. He had a dream. He went for it. And he reached his goal before he died.

But the story is a little more complicated than that. According to Wikipedia, a storm was headed toward the mountain, and everyone knew it. They just didn’t realize how severe it would be. As it increased in intensity, one of the most experienced Sherpas on the mountain that day encountered Hansen and ordered him to descend. Hansen shook his head and continued upward.

He took too long. By the time he reached the summit and started his descent, in a raging storm with depleted oxygen reserves, it was too late. He paid for it with his life. A total of 8 people died on that mountain that day. Ignore experts at your peril.

I understand why Hansen would be reluctant to give up. After all, it was his dream, and he’d already failed once. Also, climbing Mt. Everest isn’t cheap. On average, it costs $70,000 to $100,000. It must be frustrating to shell out that kind of money twice only to fail twice. Obviously, he was very determined.

But was it worth his life, or that of the guide who stayed with him? I’m thinking no. I say, live to dream another day.

Do I think we should all huddle on our couches, afraid to take risks, devoid of aspiration? No. But you should do a thorough cost/benefit analysis before putting your life on the line. I think it’s foolhardy to give up everything, absolutely everything, especially when you have no idea what your future holds.

Life is full of possibilities. But instead of exploring those possibilities, Doug Hansen’s body has never been found. It’s frozen stiff somewhere on Mt. Everest, and there’s nothing but a tombstone for him in the same graveyard in Renton, Washington where Jimi Hendrix is buried, and a memorial plaque outside a post office in Kent. That seems like a poor trade off to me.

What do you think?

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My Book is in Another Library!

During my last trip to Canada, I stopped in to visit the Vancouver Women’s Library. I’ve blogged about this great organization before, and I remain very impressed with their mission. Because of that, I was really excited to add my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, to their collection. They’ve invited me to do a book reading at some point. I am waiting until my second book is finished. (And I’m making slow and steady progress on it, so please bear with me!)

So now my book is officially in two different library systems in two different countries. I happen to know it’s in other countries as well, including Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain, Germany, and Australia. People have also sent me pictures of my book on their nightstands, vacation cabins, and various book shelves, and it always makes me smile.

One person even donated my book to a Little Free Library, so I’m sure it’s been on some interesting adventures. I also gave one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, a copy. I’m sure it got abandoned in either his hotel room or the airport, but still… he touched it!!! Another interesting adventure.

Here’s a recent pic of me visiting my book in the Renton branch, just south of Seattle, in the King County Library system. (Because, yeah, I do that. More often than I care to admit.) I would be really honored if you added one to your bookshelf or requested that my book be included in your library system as well. You’d have much more influence with your library than I would. Just sayin’.

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Renton History Museum

I love small town museums. Every city surely has something to be proud of, and often something to be ashamed of. These museums highlight these things. I’ve never been in one that didn’t teach me something fascinating.

I had been passing the Renton History Museum for months. The building itself intrigued me, with its Art Deco design. A museum is all the more exciting when even the edifice in which it is housed has a story to tell. (It turns out the building, which was built in 1942, used to be a firehouse, and, according to their website, is “the last existing structure in the area built under the Works Progress Administration (WPA).”

Just from one visit, I learned a great deal about the city of Renton. For example, the Duwamish people had been living in this area since the 6th century. Unfortunately they met their first white settler in the form of Henry Tobin in 1852, and a year later the Duwamish Coal Company was formed. Renton was named after William Renton, a coal investor, in 1875. As is typical in this country, the Native Americans didn’t stand a chance by that point.

I was kind of proud to learn, though, that a Cooperative Coal Mine was formed in 1895. This mine was owned and operated by the workers, for the workers. None of this “owed my soul to the company store” stuff for Renton! Power to the people!

I was also thrilled to discover that Mary Wilson, the first woman to vote in Washington State, was from Renton, and that Jimi Hendrix is buried here, at the Greenwood Cemetery. Also, I had no idea how diverse this town is. There are 87 languages spoken in the Renton School District.

The Renton History Museum has both permanent and temporary exhibits, so I’m sure I’ll be visiting again and again. The next exhibit will be about World War I. That should be interesting.

I encourage you to support your small town museum. It is the keeper of the history of the place in which you live. It helps to remind you of who you are as a member of a community, and where you’ve come from. It helps you define your place in the life of your town.

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Walmart Hell

I’ve written a few blog posts about how I hate shopping at Walmart. I feel so strongly about this that I have managed to avoid entering one of these dens of iniquity for nearly 4 years. Seattle makes that easy, because it has yet to allow a Walmart within its city limits. (One more reason to adore the emerald city, as far as I am concerned!)

Unfortunately, I sort of felt forced to bow down to this false God of consumerism last week, because my phone battery is dying. (No, I don’t have a standard smart phone. I have a cheap, pay by the minute tracfone that I bought once upon a time at Walmart.)

Believe me, I attempted to buy a replacement battery on line. When it came in its flimsy package, it was bent, and I could smell the acid fumes. It’s a hazmat situation. I had to get a refund, and the thing is now sitting on my back porch until such time as I can figure out how to properly dispose of it without disfiguring myself. Needless to say, this kind of put me off ordering on line. But my phone is such a weird size, I assumed only Walmart would have the battery in their brick and mortar stores.

Silly me.

So, with a tear in my eye and a knot in my stomach, I went to the Walmart in Renton. After circling around and around and around to look for a parking space, which seems to be a required part of the ritual, I entered the door on a late Sunday afternoon, and my jaw dropped.

I don’t know if it’s just this particular branch, or if the entire franchise has gone downhill in the past 4 years, but this place was nasty. Yes, Walmarts are always crowded with the dregs of humanity, but I remember that the stores themselves used to be clean, at least. I half expected to step over bird poop and cadavers in this one, such was its state of disarray. And the aisles have gotten so narrow that you can barely fit a shopping cart down them. They clearly have been unable to resist the desire to cram in more merchandise, and to hell with consumer comfort.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I walked in the door with my recycled grocery bags over my shoulder, and I was accosted by this greeter who did not speak a word of English. He insisted in putting a sticker on my empty bag. I tried to ask why, but he just babbled at me. Welcome to Walmart indeed.

I headed straight to electronics, because I just wanted to get this over with. But getting there was a trial. I felt like a salmon fighting my way upstream. The aisles were so narrow that whenever someone in front of me decided to stop and examine some cheap thing or another, everyone behind that person had to stop as well, which resulted in a traffic jam of epic proportions. I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind and start screaming. Walmart rage. I bet it happens a lot.

When I finally got back to the proper department, this very helpful employee told me I’d be better off buying a new phone with a new battery. “But I don’t want a new phone,” I said. (Did she seriously think I’d buy a 45 dollar phone to get a 9 dollar battery?)

She then informed me that I’d have to talk to that associate over there, because he was the only one who had a key to the cabinet where replacement batteries were kept. Well, that associate over there looked like a wounded fish in the midst of a shark feeding frenzy.

I approached the mob cautiously, but it was a good 15 minutes before he had dealt with all of them and could focus on me. And when he did, he said that Walmart doesn’t sell phone batteries.

I nearly lost my sh*t at this point. I should have left right then while my sanity was still relatively intact. I really should have.

But no. I decided that if I had to subject myself to this trauma, I may as well accomplish something before I left. So I stupidly decided to do my grocery shopping while there.

Lord love a duck, what a nightmare that was. Again with the traffic jams in every aisle. Only this time, the woman behind me was letting her 5 year old push the cart, and that 5 year old was delighting in ramming the cart into my calves. It was clear that mama knew it was happening, too, but she couldn’t care less. It took everything in me to keep from getting into a slap-fest amongst the canned goods. But I was afraid she would win due to my lack of experience.

Finally, finally, finally I made my way to the cash registers. There were about 35 of them, and they were all overflowing with customers. I chose the only aisle I could reach with my cart, and I soon regretted it.

There were 9 people ahead of me, and the family directly in front contained a mother, a father, and two toddlers. And the two toddlers were throwing strawberries while doing that delighted toddler scream that breaks the freakin’ sound barrier. (And one wonders why I’ve never regretted being child-free?)

To my right was an old woman having some kind of physical fit, and no one was helping her. (I admit I wasn’t, either. She was kind of break dancing, spinning in circles, albeit while remaining upright, and I really didn’t know what to do with that.)

To my left was a man holding a screaming child, who proceeded to vomit down the back of his shirt. It didn’t seem to phase him. He remained in line.

By the time I got close enough to the front of the line to be hemmed in by the candy bars and the tabloid magazines, I began to feel really claustrophobic. And I only feel that way, usually, when I get an MRI. I kept telling myself to breathe. (Through my mouth, so as to avoid the smell of baby barf.) I kept saying to myself, “Do not freak out in front of these people. This is just Walmart. You aren’t gonna die. Consider this blog fodder.” But, dear reader, it was a near thing.

I thought I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel from hell when the strawberry pelting family in front of me started to get checked out. But oh, no. They were paying with some kind of vouchers, so in one grocery cart, they had to do 5 separate transactions, all to the tune of their screaming kids. If I hadn’t been trapped, I’d have walked out, leaving my cart of crap where it was.

They hadn’t even sorted out which food went with which vouchers, so, yeah, there’s that, too. And then she wound up walking out without half her items, which apparently didn’t fit the vouchers in question. (And to add insult to injury, one of the items left behind was the now half-empty plastic container of strawberries!)

So, before the cashier could ring me up, she had to figure out what to do with all the abandoned items on the conveyor belt, and while she was moving some, she accidentally passed them over the bar code reader, so she had to delete those charges before she could proceed.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Well, she finally got around to ringing me up, but I had to bag my own groceries, because apparently Walmart is the only place in the entire state of Washington that doesn’t practically shame you if you don’t use recycled bags. In fact, they insist you shut up and use plastic, but that’s something I absolutely refuse to do.

So, when I left, my soul had been sucked out of my body, and I didn’t have the only thing I went there for in the first place, which was the phone battery. And then I realized I had forgotten where I parked my car. I swear to God, if I could have walked home, I would have, such was my desire to get Walmart behind me.

(And yes, I’ve ordered another battery on line, from a different company. I hope this one arrives intact, and before my current one completely dies.)

But the main takeaway from this post is that if you ever hear of me even considering a visit to Walmart ever again, I would like you to slap the eyeballs right out of my head. In fact, I insist upon it. Normally I don’t condone violence, but trust me, you’ll be doing me a favor.

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