Thursday, March 22, 2012

Travel Logs

Family travel is tough, and it's made even tougher when one is a writer trying to gather information for travel essays.  This was Calvin Trillin's dilemma during the many family trips he chronicles in his humorous title, Travels with Alice.  (Alice is Trillin's beloved and late wife.)

I enjoy Trillin very much, and this book reminded me of the many trips I have taken where, while trying to balance family fun, I have also taken the excursion to gather information for magazines.  Trillin's travels have carried him much further--even to the coasts of France and England--but his ability to find humor in family dinner conversations and vacation planning knows no borders.

Trillin writes with an eye toward the funny in the mundane, and he can laugh at himself as he hoists a slice of pie or attempts to rent a car while using his limited French vocabulary.  And, as he puts it so bluntly, his daughters are not always certain if they are going to be written into his essays or, if in some unsuspecting moment, they will be quoted by their own father.  "When, exactly, are we off the record?" they want to know. 

I've faced the same questions . . . though not as often. 

Years ago, when our family traveled to Hawaii (four islands) I spent the better part of our return trip home turning my notes into essays and our conversations in quotes.  I sold a few of these to travel magazines, including an essay on the Island of Molokai' (my favorite island!).  And when my wife hiked The Grand Canyon, I sold her down the river and turned her photographs and excursion notes/quotes into a paying gig.  More recently, our trip to the Pacific Northwest was another one of my attempts to turn our hikes, our photographs, and our mom-and-pop conversations inside the rental car into publishable forms.

"Why do you always do this?" Becky wanted to know as we were hiking the slopes of Mt. Saint Helens, gasping for air.

"Do what?"

"Try to turn every vacation into a writing opportunity?"

Hey, it's what I do. I'm still turning tricks.  Still working the streets.  Still looking for angles.  I make a mental note of everything my wife says. 

And some of our conversations end up in magazines and books.  I can't make this stuff up.  It's too funny.  And with my ragged wardrobe and my wife's nagging . . . there is humor to be found everywhere.  Even on vacation.

Ask Calvin.

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