Silver Lining Appears Before Clouds

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Silver Lining Appears Before Flying Into Clouds

First in a four-column series chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.


“People don’t take trips,” John Steinbeck observed in “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”– “trips take people.”

My previous visit to see my son in New York City was less than 24 hours underway when the trip took me to urgent care for 16 stitches after a subway door mugged my right index finger.

My most recent trip to Manhattan, last week, took even less time to get off track. Again it was transportation related – my shuttle to LAX got caught in late-morning traffic that was worse than usual, meaning it was horrific.

Fortunately, I am of the ilk that likes to get to the departure gate two hours early. This has served me well in books read and never missing a flight.

Unfortunately, this time I had brain freeze doing the simple math of subtracting four hours – two hours for the shuttle ride, one hour to get my boarding pass and pass through security, and a safety cushion to read “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders – from my flight’s boarding time.1scarequote

I did not realize my muddleheaded error until Sky Way nearing LAX became a virtual parking lot. The slower the shuttle crept, the faster my heart raced.

Adding to my panic, I was flying out of distant Terminal 7.

“I could run faster than this shuttle is moving,” I thought as we crawled to Terminals 1, 3, Tom Bradley International, and 4.

And so that is what I did. Even pulling a rolling suitcase and weaving between pedestrians, I left the shuttle in my rearview mirror, so to speak, as I raced to Terminal 7.

Reaching my airline, the long line inside brought to mind this famous line from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Directly ahead of me was a family of four, plus two dogs and luggage enough for the Queen of England. I asked when their flight left and the father answered, “Three o’clock.” This was more than two hours hence, so I desperately explained mine began boarding in ten minutes, adding: “Can I please cut ahead of you?”

“No. Can’t you see we have two dogs?” came the unsympathetic, and nonsensical, reply.

My FastPass forward, one family by one couple by one lone traveler at a time, was thwarted before it began.

Ten minutes passed and the line advanced only two spots while the number of agents working diminished by one. I texted my son telling him I was going to miss my flight.

No sooner had I hit “Send” when I received a bolt of inspiration out of the ether in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Asking strangers for special privileges, especially because the fix I found myself in was of my own making and dull-headedness, is a dozen ZIP Codes outside my comfort zone.

No matter. The introvert in me swallowed hard, stood up tall, and announced bravely but politely: “I’m going to miss my flight to see my son – would any of you mind if I took cuts in front of you?”

The family directly in front of me notwithstanding, everyone else said “Yes!” or “Sure!” or “Of course!” or raised an affirmative waving hand. Words fail to describe the surge of warmth their kindness gave me.

With my boarding pass in hand and my suitcase out of my hands, I apologized once more to my traveling altruists and offered another sincere “Thank you,” only to receive more kindness.

“Good luck!” one told me.

“Hurry!” said another.

“Have a great time with your son!” shouted a third.

Good luck was unexpectedly having TSA Precheck and sailing through security.

Hurry I did, running through the terminal to my gate and onto the plane as the final passenger to board.

Have a great time with your son – thanks to friendly strangers, and an assist from Eleanor Roosevelt, doing so began at the original ETA.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …



Column: The Fun of Getting Lost

Getting Lost in the Art of Travel


“Through my own efforts,” John Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charley: In Search of America,” “I am lost most of the time without help from anyone.”


Through my own travels I have been lost many times with help from someone – my son.



The boyhood home of John Steinbeck in Salinas, California is now a restaurant/museum. He wrote his first two novels — The Red Pony and Tortilla Flat — in his bedroom upstairs (on the left in this photo).


Nonetheless, over the years we have had our Gilligan and Skipper moments. Most recently last week when The Boy was home for spring break and we got lost in Salinas looking for The Steinbeck House restaurant.


Technology, not The Boy, was to blame as the GPS directions app developed a “recalculating” stutter. Like Neil Armstrong coolly landing Apollo 11’s Lunar Module manually, The Boy turned off the computer and trusted himself until finally: “Mission Control, the Prius has parked.”


The half-hour travail was well worth it.


The Queen Anne style Victorian house was built in 1897 and Steinbeck was born in the front bedroom (now the restaurant’s reception area) five years later. In the early 1930s he wrote his first two novels – “The Red Pony” and “Tortilla Flat” – in the front upstairs bedroom overlooking the valley.


TortillaFlatThe 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature recipient’s boyhood home was authentically restored and opened to the public for tours – and lunches – in 1974 and designated a Literary Landmark in 1995. As a writer, I was mesmerized. As a bonus, no museum anywhere serves a tastier chicken salad sandwich.


Our step back in time included stepping down into the cellar (now the gift shop) where two volunteer docents – who might have read “Grapes of Wrath” when it was first published in 1940 – were befuddled by the computerized cash register and eventually calculated my purchase with pencil, paper and a sales tax chart.


The road trip extended to San Francisco where The Boy got lost in reverence inside an art gallery featuring a remarkable collection of Salvador Dali’s work. The Boy so fell in love with art under the magical mentorship of Patti Post at Ventura High School that he minored in Painting in college. Our home now resembles an art show with his framed pieces throughout.


As usual I wandered the gallery more quickly than The Boy. An aggressive salesperson, however, matched my pace even after I politely explained I was not looking to buy but was merely along for the ride with my artist son.


My favorite Dali on display was a beautiful ink drawing of his wife, Gala. I should probably mention it is a nude. In defense of my lingering gaze, I will also share that nude pieces always bring to mind a story The Boy tells about the evening one of his college art classes had a nude model . . .


. . . a hairy gentleman who, like The Steinbeck House docents, may have read “The Grapes of Wrath” in first edition.



Even when we get lost, I always enjoy my Travels With Greg (aka “The Boy”).


Out of curiosity I asked the saleswoman the price of the Dali nude. “Seventy-five thousand,” came the answer and I didn’t even blink, distracted from the stunning Gala by the image of those stunned college art students.


Eventually I found myself in a room dedicated to Picassos. The saleswoman followed, as did her questions, including this: “Are you a collector?”


“Oh, no,” I replied, amused she would think I could afford anything in this pricey gallery, adding nonchalantly with a casual sweep of my hand towards wherever The Boy now was in the gallery: “Only HIS stuff.”


Her eyes widened with thrill: “You have exquisite taste!”


Instantly I realized what had been lost in translation – she thought my gesture had been to signify Picasso’s stuff.


Thus another wonderful trip became even more so, for as Steinbeck also wrote in “Travels with Charley” – “One goes, not so much to see but to tell afterward.”




Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at


Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my new memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”