Sunday, July 27, 2008


Before anyone else I know personally, I'd trade places with my friend Scott. He's my friend Rob's brother, and simply put, he is living a life I envy.

Scott is no longer a member of the workforce. After graduating from Stanford, Scott got in with Yahoo! on the ground floor, back in the day when there were actually investors who wouldn't put their money into the Internet start-up because it was named so frivolously. Scott vested himself fully in his employee stock options, worked into his late 30s, and decided that he could retire comfortably a couple of years ago.

Now he travels Asia and Europe full-time, visiting far-flung family and friends as whimsically as someone with an unlimited international calling card might phone them. Part-time, he maintains a blog "Where's Scott?" chronicling where he goes and (often exclusively) what he eats and drinks when he gets there.

Like many, I've spent more time than is healthy wondering what I would do if I had the money. Scott has the money, and he does exactly what I would do if I were in his position-- anything he damn well pleases.

I've always wanted to spin a globe, close my eyes, stop it with my finger, and call my travel agent with my other hand, not looking at where my finger is pointing until asked, "What is your destination, Todd?"

I've always wanted one of the many dingy, aluminum-sided houses that you find in Pittsburgh, but with a Hefner-esque, grotto-style basement beneath. It would have a conversation pit with plush, Italian leather chairs and enough fauna and flora so that you couldn't see the walls or ceiling. The sole source of light in the basement would be the blue fluorescence of an enormous fish tank as its centerpiece, which would be tended exclusively by a staff of half-a-dozen 18-year-old girls. I would recruit them from the local high-school through listings in community and church flyers, avoiding online classifieds that might come off as sounding creepy and perverted. I would pay them $50 an hour, and they would only be asked to work for a couple of hours a day after-school. There would be no uniforms required, and their only job would be to comply with my requests to feed the fish some fish flakes whenever I tapped one of them on the forehead. My only other requirement would be for my employees, when they left the job, to list their job title as "Fish Feeder" on their resumes, and (I would insist upon this) list me as a professional reference.

I would do this for the simple reason that if I had the money, I could do anything I damn well please. Since I grew up vacationing in a lakehouse with an obsessively fish-themed decor, if I want to provide fish feeders with professional references, and I've got the money, then so be it.

I've always wanted to witness a total solar eclipse, too.

According to today's paper, the next solar eclipse will be occurring in a few days on August 1st. Its path will arc from eastern Canada, across Greenland, and into northern China. Though air quality is supposedly going to bollocks-up the Olympics to the southeast, the atmospheric conditions northwest of Beijing near the Mongolian border are projected to be favorable for eclipse watching. At least, that's what "Mr. Eclipse" has to say on his website. By the time I get around to publishing this post, though, it'll already be too late to switch your travel plans.

The last time you could see a total solar eclipse in North America was 1991 when it could be viewed on the beach of the Baja peninsula. I remember reading accounts of the viewing. In the path of the eclipse--precisely underneath where the moon passed in front of the sun--the beach at mid-day became dark as night. To the north and south, you could see people off in the distance, still sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. At that specific viewing spot on the beach, though, you experienced cosmic sunblock. How wonderfully surreal that must have been.

I was not surprised to read afterwards that there are clubs of "eclipse chasers" who travel to all corners of the world (even Antarctica) to witness these "moments of totality" first-hand. There is even a travel website that caters to those either curious about, or addicted to, the experience.

If I had the money, I could see myself joining one of these "umbraphile" clubs and spanning the globe with its members. In fact, it wouldn't be much different than spinning a globe to choose my destination randomly; I would just be allowing the sun and the moon, instead of my finger, to determine where I was going. The only drawback, of course, would be that I would have to deal with being in a club whose membership, I'm sure, includes a good percentage of new-age whack jobs who'd be preaching to you the whole time about how some astrological energy was flowing through them. Or they'd just be total astronomy geeks, like Mr. Eclipse & friends, pictured below:

Yes, they are drinking beer, but notice it's Corona--and you just know they're smiling not because they're loaded, but because they're giddy about drinking a beer named Corona while observing a solar eclipse. You can see that none of the three poindexters has even taken a sip, and you can be sure that every one of those pieces of equipment is a telescope of some sort; not a chance in hell one of them is a tripod-mounted bong.

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