Every summer my uncle Josh and his wife Nancy go on a big trip to see a famous waterfall. They love waterfalls. Sometimes it seems to me my uncle even loves preparing for the trip more than the trip itself.
Preparation starts by reading many guides about the area, identifying attractions in the region, interviewing selected people, and finding highly recommended restaurants and hotels. Then Josh plans the route, detailing every activity and the time it takes. Waking up at 08:30, 30 minutes breakfast, 45 minutes drive to the forest, 1 hour walk (at a 2.6 MPH pace), 10 minutes toilet break, and so on. Each day is planned, hotels are booked, places in restaurants are ordered, distances are measured, sunrise and sunset times are taken into consideration (Josh is especially proud of this), all available alternatives are considered. Not one detail is missed or left for chance, everything is accounted for in order to create a perfect plan. Planning for a 10 days trip usually takes 2 months.
At the end of all this my uncle conducts the ceremony of lamination. He invites selected members of the family (those still willing to speak with him) to watch as he laminates the plan, making it highly durable and preparing it to weather any storm.
Once the ceremony is done there is the review of the plan. Josh tells us all the things he and Nancy are going to do. “As you can see here, on page 23,” Josh raises the laminated plan so we can find the place in our simple, cheap, print outs, ”on Monday, 3rd August, at 11:34 we will be knocking on the small entrance door and 2 minutes later a short monk with a gray beard will greet us…two hours later, we will drive to the nearby city for 1.5 hours starting 11:15, and stop after 1 hour to have lunch at the “Rigid Cheese” restaurant. It is well known for it’s great mustard soup. It is supposed to be a bit chilly that day so a hot soup would be great…In the afternoon we will spend 1 hour shopping. Nancy loves to shop, so I allocated a full hour for that. Since the area of the market is 1650 square feet, it should be enough time. According to my calculation,” here a pause for impression, “my wallet will have exactly enough in the local currency, in coins, to buy 2 ice creams (2 flavors each) for us.”
The odd thing is we usually hear nothing after they get back from the trip. You would expect an evening of selected pictures, some interesting stories, but nothing. Every time I tried to probe a bit, to get a hint, the subject was abruptly changed. The only response I did get was some comment on the plan and how it will be better next year.
Until this year. Everything seemed to be the same. The same long nights of Josh sitting with the maps and the charts, the same lamination ceremony. The same silence when they got back. But then something very unexpected happened.
I was in the kitchen with Josh and Nancy. Nancy was chopping vegetables for a salad. I decided to have another try at understanding what actually happened during the trip. Josh, as usual, was starting to divert the conversation when suddenly Nancy turned to face us and started “You want to know what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. The bus did not make it on time. The water level in the lake was above planned. The waiter in the restaurant was not as cheerful as expected. There was an eclipse of the moon!” All while holding the knife in her hand. “This And each change requires the plan to be revised, of course. After two days our spare notebooks were gone. After 4 days we used up all of the sheets in the hotel room. I’ve had enough of watching your uncle sweat over his stupid plan all day. I’ve had enough of this.”
Here Josh started, “Look Nancy, I told you, we’re almost there. I feel next year my plan will be 100% proof. I know what went wrong.”
“I don’t want any more of your plans. No more. This year I make the plan. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll buy the tickets, I’ll reserve hotels where it is difficult to get them, we’ll take a map and that will be our plan. 3 hours.”
“Nancy! What are you talking about? That would put our trip in a great jeopardy. We wouldn’t know what to do! How could we be sure everything will be OK?”
“It would sure be better than replanning all the time in the hotel room!”
That year we didn’t have a lamination ceremony. It was sad because Nancy used to prepare for it these really great onion cookies I like so much.
Another thing was different than usual. When they returned they invited all of us (those who still speak with Josh) to tell us about their trip. That was a novelty.
They both looked very happy. Nancy started, “The waterfall we went to see was boring. It was far from what we saw in the pictures in the internet. Probably because it was a drought year the previous winter the flow of water was anything but impressive. We planned to spend a couple of days there, but since we got tired of it after a couple of hours, we decided to drive to a nearby lake of which we heard from a nice family we met on the way. This turned out to be the highlight of our trip! The lake was gorgeous and we decided to spend 3 more days there. Josh was just – “, silly giggles, “Well, we enjoyed it so much we might decide to go back there next year.”
Josh continued, “On Sunday, at the hotel, we saw a brochure about a hike to the top of the mountain and we planned to do it on Tuesday but it was raining heavily so we decided to sleep late and then go watch a movie in the mall. The movie was great, but even greater was the fact that Nancy found a shop where she spotted an ancient map of the world from the Medieval period. She was looking for this kind of a map for ages in order to complete her collection. She couldn’t stop smiling for the entire day!”
Here Josh made a small pause. “The waterfall turned out to be a complete disappointment but we had a fantastic time at the lake. Maybe next year we will even decide to take a trip that will not include visiting a waterfall at all. Just maybe.”
The onion cookies prepared for the event had a different taste. Let’s say it was intriguing. I delicately asked Nancy about it. She was beaming. “I decided to drop the recipe! I improvised! Do you like it?” I smiled broadly at her “Of course I do.” I felt it was my duty to support this process of emancipation, grabbed two more and looked for a safe disposal place.