Sabbatical: The Introduction

One of the cool fringe benefits my company offers is a paid, one-month sabbatical after five years of service. I reached five years, and the company COO urged me in no uncertain terms to take advantage of the opportunity.

You would think that the most challenging part about such an opportunity would be figuring out the bet time to go. Not even close. For me the greatest challenge came when the time came to decide what to do with my month away.

The company’s stated intent behind the sabbatical is to do something transformative that you couldn’t do in the space of a normal vacation that would leave you refreshed and reinvigorated upon your return. All good.

But I’m too old and too out of shape to go riding a motorcycle up Highway 1 in Vietnam, or go helicopter skiing, or bungee-jump off of a bridge, and I’m not sure I’d be inclined to do those things even if I were of an appropriate age.

I love trains, so I thought about taking a cross-country round-trip on Amtrak in a sleeper bedroom. I priced it: $4,500 for seven days on the rails was more that I was prepared to spend for the experience. I had been thinking maybe half of that.

I looked up first class airfares to cities across the country that I might be inclined to visit. They were rather more reasonable than a haul across the continent by train. Given how much I travel for work, though, and that I was going to be out of the country for much of the month before and the month after my Sabbatical, I nixed that idea.

And then I realized something: what I really want is not a vacation in place, but a vacation in time. I want the time and head-space to think, to read, to work on my fitness, to hike, to take a handful of courses, and to write. And I did not need to pay an airline, a railroad, or a hotel group to do any of that.

So I decided last night that my sabbatical is going to be a dress rehearsal for an active retirement, and an incentive to shift to a more balanced lifestyle. I told my wife that I would be around if she needed me, but that much of the time I would be out, engaged in a kind of early mid-life-crisis personal journey.

Naturally, I’ll be chronicling the journey here, but if you wish to skip these posts, I will be titling them.


Presentation Counts

The real art of eating at a buffet is plating your food in an appealing manner. I am biased: nothing kills my appetite faster than the sight of an overladen plate that looks like a trough into which the kitchen scraps have been dumped.

Okay, I’ll own it: this is all a bit OCD, but do us both a favor and try this next time you find yourself facing an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord:

  • Walk the whole buffet first, making your selections;
  • Then take a plate and resolve to put no more than three different foods onto it;
  • Set the food on your plate while pretending you are serving someone you want to impress.

I wager that when you get back to the table, you will eat more slowly, savor your meal, and feel better afterwards.

S. Patrick’s Revenge

The sun retreats behind the bricks of Fort Mason, but I barely notice the change in the room. The wood panels, the yellowed clippings, the dark oak tables glow under the lamps, and at the center of my vision sits a drink that almost defies me with its noxious smell.

It is an Irish Coffee.

Scratch that.

This is no ordinary Irish Coffee. This, as legend has it, is THE Irish Coffee, the original Columbio-Celtic concoction delivered as and where it was introduced to these shores sixty-odd years ago, thence to become a late-night mainstay of bars around America in a range of bastardized forms. I have had “Irish Coffee” a few times before and have even tried my own hand at making them, but after swilling consistently Gawd-awful concoctions of bar coffee and Bailey’s Irish Cream, I had developed a gag-reflex at the very mention of the drink.

And yet, here I am, at The Buena Vista. The salad and fish & chips are in my belly. All that is left is for me to sample the cocktail for which this pub is famous.

The drink is before me, alternately tempting and repulsive.

I gird myself, and take a sip.

The first taste is ridiculously smooth.

I cock my head. A fluke, surely. And sip again.

And it is even better.

My body and mind transform, turn inside out. I suddenly love whiskey and corned beef. My inhibitions leave me like they’re late for a train.

Another, longer sip. Well, okay, a slurp.

I check. All communications with my toes have been lost, and the lines are falling throughout my lower body. Somebody call the SFPD and the Coast Guard: there is an emergency here.

The hotel is two blocks away. I’m not sure I’ll make it. But at least I won’e feel cold.

I shake myself a bit, reluctantly discarding the temptation to have another while I still have a sense of direction. You know, like which way is up.

It’s 7:30pm, and I just barely retain the common sense to dread the dawn.

Now I know why people shouldn’t drink alone, and why we go into bars. With a drink like this, much less two, one cannot afford to be unsupervised at any time.

I pick up my notebook and rise slowly from the table. With great deliberation, I push my chair back in, straighten up, and walk carefully out the door and down the steps, and turn toward Hyde. I’m not walking, but floating on a mist of whiskey, cream and coffee.