car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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One carry-on,one personal item

In my time I’ve packed for more than my fair share of trips.

As a kid splitting time between my mother’s house in Northwestern Minnesota and my father’s house in Southwestern Wisconsin I’d bring along a few key items,most important of which was my favorite stuffed animal,Harold the Bear (or simply,“Bear”).  I wasn’t really in charge of deciding what clothing I’d need to bring along,but the important matter of personal comfort was an area I exerted a certain amount of influence over.  Given that I’d be traveling close to 400 miles every few weeks,Bear and I learned early to bring what you need,because there’s no turning around to get it later.

Some trips stick in my mind for what I brought along with me.  Two trips I made during junior high and high school have soundtracks set to the music I had with me at the time.  My winter trip to the Concordia Language Villages for German Camp is set to the strains of ZZ Top’s Eliminator,while my trip to Washington D.C. the winter of my freshman year in high school has a background of a mix tape I made which combined tracks off Chicago IX and the first Heart of Chicago album,which is probably musical sacrilege to my dad as he doesn’t share the same fondness for the David Foster/Warner Bros. Records-era Chicago releases as I.

Other trips are conspicuous for what I didn’t have with me.  Over the Columbus Day holiday of 2001 I drove out to Rapid City,SD in a rapidly-aging 1981 Volvo 240 which had no exhaust pipe past the exhaust manifold,lacked a working radio,accurate speedometer,or gas gauge,and had an electrical system on the verge of failure.  Not only did I live to tell the tale,I came away with a story I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren.

Because the gas gauge didn’t work (and because that Volvo got atrocious gas mileage),I made a stop for gas every 175 miles.  In Sioux Falls,SD I pulled into a gas station and met up with a green Oldsmobile Aurora.  We left the station at about the same time,but after a few miles on the wide open Dakotan freeway I balled the Volvo up to about 85 and left the Aurora in the dust.

After 175 or so miles,I pulled off the highway into a truck stop to refuel and get an iced tea.   When I got back on the freeway I pushed the Volvo back up to 85,and after a short time I passed the green Aurora.  This same thing happened 175 miles later –fuel up at a truck stop,get back on the freeway,and streak by the Aurora.

On my way back to Minneapolis at the end of the weekend,I stopped for fuel at the same gas station in Sioux Falls.  A couple guys approached me,one asking if I’d been headed out to the Black Hills a few days earlier.  When I said yes,he nudged his companion and said “It’s him!  It’s that guy in the Volvo!”  He turned back to me,laughing,and said I’d flown past them three times on the road.  “We started to think you were lapping us!”  I explained the lack of nearly any amenity on my Volvo,including even necessary gauges,and he laughed even harder.  It was nice to know running into me was the highlight of someone’s weekend.

Other trips are conspicuous for things I left behind.  A small hotel in Normandy was the beneficiary of a nice spring/fall jacket I forgot in my closet while on a study tour in culinary school.  A set of my dog tags are probably still hanging on a metal pole in a rundown building on the Iraqi border.  I left them dangling from a piece of 550 (parachute) cord in one of the buildings I’d been sleeping in for two months.

Everyone has that one trip in their life where they take everything and the kitchen sink.  My own packing skills were best put to the test when I went to Iraq two years ago.  In addition to the gear I was required to take (a list some 200 items long),I managed to fit fifteen books,five cartons of cigarettes,five pounds of laundry detergent,a pound of Gatorade powder,a laptop and external hard drive,camera,and mp3 player into a regular-sized seabag and small backpack.As I acquired more books throughout the course of my deployment (my parents were kind enough to send me enough reading material to keep me semi-sane) I simply mailed gear I didn’t need home.  I don’t care who you are,there is no reason for long underwear in Iraq when the temperature outside is 125 and climbing at ten in the morning.  Heck,other than to keep the wind off,there wasn’t that much of a need for it in March,either.

Each time I take a trip,the act of packing reminds me of these and other adventures I’ve been on.  Playing Tetris with the various objects going into my suitcase is a time-honored tradition.  In fact,there are few things I’m as meticulous about as packing to head off on a new exploit.  Depending on how excited I am about the trip or how extensive my itinerary is,I might spend a week packing a small suitcase for a few nights away.

Tonight was one of those packing nights,for I’m off on another trip Friday afternoon.

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