Sideways Glance 5#2

Thanks for all the wonderful and weird feedback from the first Sideways Glance column. Especially, I'd like to thank Jim Beedelman for suggesting the topic of packing your gear for a snowboarding trip. Your closing sentence about “bomber” gear was most inspirational. And Charlene Kasey, though I'd never try trapping a spotted owl with a spring-loaded butterfly net baited with a field mouse, it figures that it tastes like chicken.

But back to the packing issue. First of all, I have a certain backpack. It's made by Dana Design. We've been through a lot together, this pack and I, and it shows on its worn straps and faded colors.

Out of the blue one day at the Vancouver airport a couple years ago, a pilot en route to his plane struck up a conversation: “How do you like that pack?”

And I told him, “It's great, one of the best packs I've ever owned.” And as we walked, we conversed about its capacity, design, and who makes it. He was really interested.

Then he asked, “What's it called?”

And I told him: “It's a Bomb Pack.”

And suddenly his demeanor changed violently to suspicion, then anger.

“What?” he asked again, with a tone reserved for someone who'd just bad-mouthed his mother.

“Bomb Pack, it's called a … ” And instantly I realized who I was talking to, and where I was, but I said it anyway because it was the truth, “Bomb Pack.” And I started to unshoulder it to show him the small, discrete writing that said just that.

And he waved his arm at me, “You shouldn't joke about that at an airport.” And he made quick, obvious steps to distance himself from me, rolling his black-wheeled suitcase behind him.

But I pursued, “No really, look, it's called BOMB PACK!” He was gone around a corner, so I slipped into the men's room, feeling that “oops” kind of feeling, and hung out in a stall for about fifteen minutes hoping to avoid any security he might have alerted. I even changed shirts and threw on a hat.

I was sitting near Terminal C at the Salt Lake City airport on a completely different trip when I heard it. “I'm so sick of lugging all this snowboard gear around.” My ears perked, and I stealthily eavesdropped on the guy who'd said it.

He continued, “The coffin weighs a ton, and I can't fit everything in my duffel, so I'm stuck carrying around this–and it's too big for the carry-on box, so half the time I have to check it at the gate.” I peeked over my half-eaten Cinnabon (required dining for me at finer airports around the world) and snickered, thinking, “Poor baby.”

He looked fit enough, drinking his Wasatch Brew at 9:00 a.m., and he probably packed too much anyway. Regardless, he was going snowboarding–deal with it, right? Anyway. I forgot about it by the time I finished my breakfast.

About a month later, I was in another airport eating another Cinnabon–this time in San Diego–and I watched a petite, middle-aged woman with a separate backpack on each shoulder muscling a huge case of some sort onto a luggage wagon. It was enormous, and from the distance, I figured it to be about three times her size and at least her weight.

I meandered toward the ticket counter for a better look. It was an odd-shaped case for sure, but without markings–only a hefty wad of ragged airline tags hanging from one of two handles. It teetered back and forth as she made her way through the crowd of people, but she maintained a firm grip to steady it. Closer now, I noticed sweat dripping from her brow. It'd been some serious work hefting this thing from the curb to the ticket counter, but she was smiling nonetheless.

As chance had it she was on my flight, so while wwe waited to board I couldn't help but ask her. “Excuse me, but I noticed the large case you were checking in at the counter. Do you mind telling me what it was?”

And she replied, “Certainly, it's my harp. It's a pain in the ass, but it makes beautiful music.”

And that's when I thought of the Wasatch guy–big, tough beer drinker in the morning, probably telling his buddies, “It's noon somewhere in the world.” And complaining about his snowboarding luggage, and forgetting completely why he's lugging it in the first place. Concentrating on the hole, not the doughnut.

Still, when he carved down the mountain, or more likely sideslipped, he too was making his own version of beautiful music.

Anyway, Jim–if you own a Bomb Pack, I suggest you avoid recommending it to any airport personnel. Don't be a sissy boy if your bags get a little heavy. Lube up any sore joints with nice, greasy Cinnabons. Always carry on your snowboard boots, because when your bags go missing (it happens all the time), you can always rent a board and at least have well-fitting boots.

If you can't pack everything in a coffin-style snowboard bag, you're probably packing too much. Even the pros with multiple boards and outerwear combos usually get all their gear in one coffin, including street clothes.

Hope this helps. I sure feel better after writing it, like I just picked up a piece of trash and threw it away. Purged of information and swelling with karma.

Charlene, thanks again for reminding me that meat is murder in the same paragraph as your recipe for the endangered spotted owl. You're truly an inspiration for political satire.

Next Month: The plight of the high-mountain fleece–how helicopter trapping and shearing has forced dozens of these colorful, fuzzy animals to jump from their precarious roosts among the cholla cactus of Eastern British Columbia to their untimely deaths.