Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five reasons I should be the next Speaker of the House

After much thought and prayer, I am announcing my candidacy to become the next Speaker of the House to replace John Boehner, who resigned last week.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Tom, you would be an awesome Speaker to lead us out of the legislative stalemate in which our nation finds itself. But you’re not a member of Congress.”

To which I say, read the Constitution. Nowhere does it stipulate that the Speaker of the House has to be an elected representative. I grant you that every speaker to date has been an elected member of that august body, but Congress, as everyone knows, is broken. It’s time to “shake things up” in Washington and I am the guy to do just that. Here’s why:

1. I know about compromise

The ongoing feud between Congressional Democrats and Republicans makes the enmity between Iran and Israel look like Steve and Eydie singing “Side By Side.” Nothing has been accomplished for years because the current Speaker, whose job is to bring opposing parties together, has been spending every waking moment in a spray tanning booth, rendering him incapable of working out compromises between them.

Having been married nearly 40 years, I have mastered the art of compromise. On numerous occasions when my wife and I have had honest differences of opinion, I’ve been able to suggest solutions that have worked out to the satisfaction of both of us.

For example, when we went to pick out a Christmas tree in December, 1987, she fell in love with a ten-foot Frasier fir. I reminded her that our ceilings were only eight feet high, and pointed out a beautiful eight-foot Balsam fir that cost less than half as much as the one she wanted. Ultimately, we bought the ten-foot Frasier and had the store cut two feet off the bottom. While we both gave up something, we each got something we wanted -- a Frasier for her, an eight-footer for me.

The other time I was able to affect compromise was when I wanted to go out for Hawaiian Fusion and she wanted Italian. I suggested we go to a Mexican restaurant since Mexico is between Hawaii and Italy. She said that, because it was my sixtieth birthday, she guessed that would be fine although we wound up at the Italian place because Senor Tequila's, when we arrived, wasn't open. I had forgotten it was closed on Mondays.  

2. I won’t take a salary

Thanks to the Affordable Health Care Act, which Congress passed without reading, I can no longer afford routine health care. My wife and I have to shell out $23,000 a year for premiums and deductibles before even a penny of any medical bill we incur is paid for by our so-called “health insurance” provider. As Speaker of the House, I’ll be eligible for the "Cadillac plan" health care coverage Congress receives and will show my appreciation each and every day by ensuring the passage of legislation that actually moves our country forward. I won’t even take a salary (though I will require use of an air force jet to fly me back and forth to my Florida home on weekends during the winter months because you can't possibly expect me to stay up there).

3. I can see both sides of every issue and the fact is, both parties are wrong not to mention completely insane

I started out as a Democrat. Then I became a Republican. Then I switched back to Democrat, after which I officially rejoined the Republican party until I once again decided to be a Democrat which I wish I wasn’t but I don’t want to be a Republican either so once I am named Speaker I intend to register as an Independent.

Fact is, neither party represents the majority of Americans who are, by and large, socially liberal and financially conservative, as am I. As the first independent Speaker I won’t hesitate to stand up to the power brokers who control the money in both parties and hold their representatives to their looney right- and left-wing agendas.

4. I represent continuity

Americans don't take well to change. That's why, year after year, they elect the same losers to represent them in Congress. But they have no choice this time because Boehner has resigned so a new Speaker has to be chosen.

Like Speaker Boehner, I have a permanent suntan which will provide the public with a sense of visual continuity every time they see me on TV sitting behind the president at the State of the Union address, kissing the Pope's ring, etc., But, unlike his, mine is real.

5. I’m qualified

I was a Speaker at the Association of National Advertisers convention in 1992. Plus I’ve owned five Houses. Speaker. Houses. I’m more than qualified.

I am sure that, by now, you agree I am the perfect choice. Please write your representative and urge him or her to vote for Tom Dryden for Speaker of the House.

Thank you and God Bless America.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A quick interview with Hillary Clinton

This is the second in my series of five-question interviews with leading presidential candidates. (For the first, an interview with Donald Trump, click here.)  Today's candidate: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

TD: Your campaign is faltering. Polls indicate that voters mistrust you. What would you say to that?

HRC: All I can say is that once people get to know me they’ll fucking love me and see I’m the only fucking candidate with the experience needed to run this fucking country. I’ve been fucking First Lady, a goddam senator from New York and Secretary of State for chrissakes.

TD: NBC anchor Brian Williams was demoted for making up a story about being shot at in a war zone. During the 2008 campaign you claimed a plane in which you were flying as First Lady came under fire as it was landing in Bosnia, which was later disproved. If NBC thought it appropriate to demote Williams for lying, why do you think the American people should elect you president when you basically did the same thing?

HRC: I was fucking exhausted the day I said that. I fucking misspoke, OK?

TD: As Secretary of State, you used a personal email server that was wiped clean before being handed over to the FBI. Do you regret that decision?

HRC: I don’t know shit about computers. Up until a few months ago the only server I knew about was the fucker who plops a piece of rubber chicken in front of me at a fundraising dinner. I had no goddam idea there was a server in my fucking house. At any rate there was nothing on it except Chelsea’s wedding plans and yoga tips from the many friends I’ve made as I've traveled around the world representing this goddam country. As for wiping, the only wipe I know is that asswipe Joe Biden who, if he’s really thinking about running against me, would do well to watch his fucking back.

TD: Last week you told college women who claim they have been sexually assaulted that, and I quote, "You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed and we are with you." Juanita Broderick claimed your husband, when he was governor of Arkansas, raped her, and Paula Jones said he exposed himself and propositioned her. Do you think they should have been listened to?

HRC: I was talking about college women, not trailer trash whores. 

TD: It has been reported you cuss like a sailor. Is that true, and if so, do you believe that is appropriate behavior for someone who wants to be leader of the free world?

HRC: That’s a fucking lie, don't believe it.

TD: Thank you Secretary Clinton.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Three days in Iceland

Monday, September 7

Right on schedule at 7:25 p.m., Wow Airlines flight 118 thunders down the runway at Washington-Baltimore International Airport and I’m off. To, of all places, Iceland.

Why Iceland? Two reasons:

l. My great aunt Grace: My mother’s aunt, who died when I was nine, was a spinster schoolteacher whose estate consisted of stacks and stacks of musty National Geographic magazines dating back to the 1920s. By the time I was a teenager I had read them all. They, more than anything, were my real education, showing me the world outside my rural Missouri hometown was mine for the taking. One of my favorite issues was about Iceland, featuring black and white photos of glaciers, geysers, volcanoes, boiling springs, waterfalls and tidy farmhouses with turf roofs snuggled against cloud-topped mountains. I resolved I would someday go there but never got around to it. For the last three or four months as I’ve been baking in Florida’s nonstop summer sun, I’ve been thinking about Iceland a lot. It will be – just counted them up – my thirty-eighth country.

2. I can’t resist a bargain: Wow is a new Iceland-based discount airline that flies from Boston and Washington/Baltimore. For months I have been checking its website, hoping to score a deal. When I learned I was to be in Washington Labor Day weekend, I checked again and wow, a round-trip for $298, the cheapest rate I’d seen, provided I could leave Monday night and return Friday. Of course I could. I’m retired. My wife has commitments at home  – cold weather isn’t her thing anyway – so here I am, bound for the Arctic by myself.

I love traveling with my wife – we’ve visited every continent except Antarctica – but I also like traveling on my own. It goes back to the summer between my junior and senior year of college when I backpacked around Europe. I flew there with a friend. We intended to spend six weeks seeing the sites together but discovered, after a week, that we got on each other’s nerves. We went our own ways and I spent the rest of the trip doing exactly what I wanted to do, seeing exactly what I wanted to see, spending as much or as little time as I wanted to in any particular place. It was, up to that point, the highlight of my life and still ranks right up there with the biggies.

Wow is better than I would have expected for twice the price. The plane is brand-new. The flight attendants are drop-dead gorgeous, wearing tailored purple suits with military-style garrison caps, their hair done up in buns. These are honest-to-God glamorous stewardesses, a welcome and unexpected throwback to the days before ugly women could become flight attendants. I’ve scored a window seat behind an exit row and, hot damn, there’s no seat in front so I can s-t-r-e-t-c-h out. I am planning to sleep all the way so I can hit the ground running after the six-hour flight.

Scratch that. There’s a screaming kid one row back, across the aisle. This kid is three or four, old enough that her mother ought to be able to reason with her. She has been screaming bloody murder, at the top of her lungs, since lift-off. My youngest son, when he was two or so, tended to behave badly whenever we flew so I was willing to cut the mother some slack for the first half hour, figuring the kid would scream herself to sleep. But if anything the kid is sounding more desperate as the hours pass.

The mother tried carrying the kid up and down the aisle but the screaming continued full force, annoying passengers not just in the middle of the plane where I am sitting, but at the front and back as well, so she was asked to return to her seat. She then allowed the child to run up and down the aisle, shrieking like a banshee, prompting the flight attendant to instruct her, firmly, to get the kid under control, but the mother just shrugged. It’s been going on for four hours at this point and every passenger within 15 rows in front of or behind the kid is wide-awake. If someone were to grab the kid off the mother’s lap, hurl her to the floor and stomp her brains all over the purple carpet with the Wow logo woven into it, the rest of us would get together and buy that person a drink.

Over Greenland, five hours into the flight, as I am trying but unable to read my book because of the noise, the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – appear in the distance, a ribbon of shimmering purple and green that undulates almost rhythmically across the heavens for five magical minutes. Absolutely amazing, perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. The Northern Lights are the one thing I most wanted to see on this trip, though there’s no guarantee they’ll appear on any given night, particularly in early September; they’re more commonly seen in winter. I am lucky. Now I won’t have to ride out into the countryside on a bus at 10 p.m. with 50 other tourists to get away from the lights of Reykjavik in hopes of seeing them. If, on such tours, the lights don’t appear by 2 a.m., guests are driven back to their hotels and invited to try again the next night (and the next, and the next, etc.) for no extra charge but they don’t get their money back if, for any reason, they don’t see them. And to think I would have missed them if it weren’t for the kid.

  From the plane, I couldn't get a pic of the Northern Lights
with my iPhone (I tried) but they looked (sort of) like this

As the pilot announces our descent into Keflavik International Airport, the kid falls asleep in her mother’s arms.

Tuesday, September 8

Clearing passport control and arriving in the baggage claim area, I’m surprised to see crewmembers from Wow and Icelandair flights that originated in the U.S. are also waiting for luggage to arrive. Odd. All of them already have their standard crew wheelies with them.

Once the bags are delivered, they begin hoisting off the belt huge suitcases that are clearly packed to the max. Iceland is a tiny nation of only 300,000 people. The climate and soil are too harsh to grow much and there are few natural resources so almost everything – food, clothes, drugs, tools, appliances – has to be imported. Even ordinary things are expensive here. From the looks of those bulging suitcases, crewmembers go shopping when they fly to the States. What’s in those bags? Kids’ clothes from Sears? Heinz ketchup from Safeway? Car parts? The crewmembers all choose the “Nothing to Declare” line at customs.

Rental cars are expensive here, too. I’ve booked one from a company mentioned in my Lonely Planet guidebook that was half the price of an Avis, Hertz or Eurocar rental. I’m annoyed to discover the company has no desk at Keflavik. But neither do half a dozen other companies that have stationed representatives near the exit, holding up logoed signs with the names of travelers who have booked with them. I ask one if he knows where I can find the representative from my company. He says that guy rarely comes around but if I wait around long enough he might show up. So I wait. I buy a coffee while I wait some more. Finally, I hail a cab and tell the driver to take me to the address shown on my reservation. He points out it’s across the parking lot, about two blocks away.

There’s a driving rain, the temperature is in the high 40s, and I’m soaked and pissed by the time I get there. When I ask the clerk, a sullen Middle Easterner, why nobody met me, he says an airport pick-up would have cost 2,000 kroner (about $14) extra. I reply I wish the company’s web site had mentioned that so I could have made a choice. He shrugs – he’s obviously heard it before – and hands me the keys to a Suzuki Jimny AWD parked in front that appears to be the only car the company has. It’s rusted, dented, and, when I start it up, I see there are 279,000 kilometers on the odometer. There’s a faint odor of something burning as I exit the lot and head to Reykjavik, the country’s capital and largest city where I’ll be based for the next three days.

The landscape between Keflavik and Reykjavik is almost lunar – large black volcanic rocks, some covered with moss. Not that I can see it clearly. It’s foggy and raining. And windy. Boy, is it windy. I’m afraid the Jimny is going to be blown off the road.

I arrive at my hotel an hour later only to learn the Nordic Hilton has no record of my reservation. I hand the clerk a printout confirming I made one. He invites me to help myself to a cup of coffee and disappears to confer with a manager. A few minutes later he reappears. The issue has been resolved, my room is ready. Great news for this weary traveler. It’s only 8 a.m. and the room wasn’t supposed to be ready until 2 p.m.

I go upstairs, shut the blackout curtains, get in bed and wait for sleep that doesn’t come. It’s noisy; the wind is howling against my seventh floor window. Plus I’ve had two coffees since landing. Dumb. At least I’m finally able to read my book.

At noon, having failed to sleep, I head up the street, looking for something to eat. While I generally look forward to trying the cuisine of any new country I visit, I’m fairly sure I’m not going to be seeking out Icelandic food which, from what I’ve read, includes puffin (an Arctic bird that looks like a cross between a penguin and parrot), minka whale, lamb (I haven’t eaten that since our trip to Tasmania where we saw thousands of baby lambs frolicking with their mothers), air-dried fish and, grossest of all, horse.   

I duck into a Vietnamese restaurant, which, it turns out, serves excellent food. I ask the owner if he’s the only Vietnamese in Iceland. He laughs and says no, there are a few more.

It’s still raining and the wind is stronger than ever; walking back to the hotel I fear for a moment it is going to knock me over. No longer hungry but still tired, I drive a few blocks to Laugardalslaug, one of six public outdoor pools in Reykjavik. All are open year-around and are heated by geothermal springs that, the guidebook says, also provide all the heat and hot water for homes and businesses throughout the city. If a dip in a boiling pool won’t wake me up, nothing will.

For the equivalent of $8, I’m issued a towel (I brought my own swim trunks), shown to a changing room and told to shower thoroughly – management is strict that bathers must be clean all over since the waters aren’t chlorinated. Just outside the locker room is a large pool where schoolchildren are taking swimming lessons, along with a number of “hot pots” – concrete-lined hot tubs that accommodate up to a dozen people, each featuring different water temperatures of increasing intensity. The hottest is 44 C  (111 F).

I watch to see what my fellow bathers do – mostly people my age and older, anyone younger is at work – and as they do, move from pot to pot until I find one that suits me just right. And I learn that soaking in a boiling hot tub that’s emitting steam into the Arctic air – it’s about 45 degrees – in a driving rain is just what I need to wake up. Funny, I hardly ever use the pool in my own backyard because, as I complain to my wife, it’s too cold, even in summer. So I fly all the way to Iceland and what’s the first thing I do? Jump in a pool.

A hot pot at Laugardalslaug. I didn't take this pic either.

Energized, I head downtown to see if what I’ve read is true – that Reykjavik is one of Europe’s most charming capitals. After an hour of walking around (in the rain, which hasn’t abated one whit since I got here this morning; people are wearing winter coats covered with rain slickers), I decide it isn’t. If you’ve ever taken a Caribbean cruise, imagine one of the port cities in which your ship docked, be it Phillipsburg, Nassau, Oranjestad, Charlotte Amalie or wherever. All these cities, when you get down to it, look pretty much alike, a bunch of two-or three-story buildings containing restaurants, bars and overpriced shops selling stuff you don’t need. That basically summarizes downtown Reykjavik. Disappointing but then, I didn’t come to Iceland to see cities.

According to my guidebook, the number one attraction in Reykjavik is something called the Phallus Museum featuring (you guessed it) schlongs from dozens of species. (Here's this advertising man's suggestion for attracting more visitors: Change the name to the Icelandick Museum.) The second most-important attraction is the main shopping street, which I’ve just seen. Numbers three through five are art museums. None represent my idea of a fun way to spend what’s left of the afternoon.

But, the Northern Lights Center near the harbor sounds intriguing so I head there, where I learn what causes the Aurora Borealis (charged particles from the sun enter earth’s atmosphere around the poles) and the myths accorded to these mysterious lights by people who live in the parts of the world over which they appear including Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. Interesting stuff.

From there I head to the Settlement Museum to learn about the Vikings who discovered Iceland around 800 – how they lived and settled what has to be one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. One of those Vikings, Leif Ericson, supposedly beat Columbus to the New World by 500 years.

A somewhat-related digression: Icelanders take a parent’s first name as their last name, to which the suffix “son” (for son) or “dottir (for daughter) is added. Leif was the son of Eric the Red, so his surname became Ericson (Eric’s son). If were Icelandic, I wouldn’t be Tom Dryden. I’d be Tom Gilbertson, since my father’s name was Gilbert. My sons’ last name would be Thomasson (Thomas’ son). My daughter LaToya (for demo purposes, I don’t have a daughter) would be known by my wife’s first name, Judy. That would make her LaToya Judysdottir. We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog post.

I also learn why the Icelandic language is so difficult to read, speak and understand. Icelandic, as it is spoken today, is basically the same language the early Vikings, who came from western Norway, spoke 1,000 years ago. Whereas the language now spoken in Norway has evolved with the times, the Norwegian spoken in Iceland has stayed pretty much the same since the island was settled because it’s in the middle of nowhere, high up in the north Atlantic a thousand miles west of Europe and a few hundred miles east of Greenland. Because Icelandic has no relationship to any language other than an extinct version of western Norwegian, it’s nearly impossible for non-natives to learn. The government actually provides grants to foreigners willing to study it.

Vietnamese food is like Chinese food. An hour after you eat it you’re hungry again. It has been six hours since lunch and I’ve been hungry for five of them. I don’t want to cruise up and down the rainy streets looking for a restaurant, so I head back to my hotel, remembering a restaurant near the Vietnamese place that looked promising. There were a number of entrees on the menu posted outside that sounded good.

And I’m in luck, there’s a table for one near the window. Unfortunately – and if you’re squeamish stop right here and skip to the next paragraph – there’s something on the menu I hadn’t noticed when I eyeballed it earlier: filet of foal. I ask the waiter, hoping there’s some mistake but there isn’t. “It’s one of the most popular items on our menu,” he tells me proudly, assuming I’m about to order it. I don’t want to eat anything that might come on a plate that once held filet of Mr. Ed so I tell him I’ve changed my mind and am no longer hungry. Two doors down I find an Italian restaurant.

Shortly after 9 p.m. I pop a Benadryl, read half a page of my guidebook and am out like a light, despite the ferocious wind howling outside.

Wednesday, September 9

Waking up at 9 a.m., I realize I’m already several hours behind the schedule I’ve established for my second day in Iceland. Today’s the day I plan to drive the Golden Circle, a route that isn’t circular, that takes in three of Iceland’s most popular attractions – Geysir (Iceland’s version of Old Faithful), Gullfoss (Europe’s largest waterfall) and Thingvellir National Park, where, in the 900s, Icelandic settlers established the world’s first democratic congress which, I’m going to assume here, probably worked better than the one we have in Washington.

After a couple of cups of coffee and a Skyr, an incredibly smooth and delicious Icelandic spin on yogurt, one of the few native foods I’m willing to try, I’m on my way. It’s still raining and I keep a tight grip on the steering wheel, fearing the wind will blow the Jimny either off the road or into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

The countryside east of Reykjavik doesn’t resemble in the least the landscape I saw yesterday coming from the airport. I’m driving up and down rolling hills and am surrounded by mountains. I can’t tell how high the mountains are, all are shrouded in fog.  This land is sparsely settled; there’s a farmhouse every three or four miles. There are lots of sheep and – alas – beautiful horses eating moss and low grasses that are somehow green despite the bone-chilling cold.

I grew up in a tiny Missouri town, Auxvasse, that was named by
French settlers. People who don't know better try to pronounce it
phoenetically, Ox-vass, but they're wrong, it's pronounced Of Oz,
as in the movie about the Wizard. This sign, indicating a waterfall on the
Oxara River ("foss" is Icelandic for waterfall) comes as close
 to that incorrect pronunciation as anything I've ever seen.

Climbing a hill about 30 miles into the trip, I realize the car behind me is right on my tail. I accelerate but … nothing. I downshift from fifth to fourth to pick up traction, but the Jimny goes slower … and slower … and, just over the crest, comes to a stop. Luckily I am able to pull off the road onto the shoulder. Something stinks. Can’t say for sure what it is but I’ve smelled it before. The Jimny will start but the transmission won’t engage in any gear.

My POS rental Jimny, broken down in the middle of nowhere

I wasn’t planning to turn on my cell phone and incur international roaming charges on this trip but I’m glad I have it with me. I call the emergency number on my rental contract and tell the woman who answers – every Icelander I’ve encountered speaks perfect English – that the car is broken down, and give her my best estimate of where I am. She promises to dispatch someone with a replacement vehicle but says it will be at least two hours. Swell. I have two more days in Iceland and it looks like the best part of this one is already shot. The rain and wind pick up and the fog intensifies as I sit in the broken-down Jimny, hoping a vehicle won’t come speeding over the hill and crash into mine.

Amazingly, an hour and a half later, out of the fog, a Ford F-150 appears pulling a flatbed trailer with a brand-new Jimny. The driver’s best guess is that after 279,000 miles, the clutch finally burned out or slipped or something like that – how the hell would I know, do I look like a mechanic? I’m on my way within minutes.

Gunnar (that was his name) saves the day

A few miles down the road I see a twenty-something couple lugging huge backpacks. Their thumbs are out and they are looking toward me hopefully. It’s pouring. And cold, with gale force winds.

I could never have published this when my mother was alive – she would have killed me – but the summer I backpacked around Europe, I had a Eurrail pass to get me from place to place. But when the train schedule didn’t jive with mine I hitched rides, just like these kids are doing, and remember how grateful I was when someone gave me a lift. I stop, lean over to open the passenger door and gesture for them to get in.

The hitchhikers, Yves and Claudette, are from France, (I just made those names up because we never exchanged names but hey, it’s my blog and those are the names I hope to remember them by.)

They are excited to be in Iceland, a country they admire because it has long been in the vanguard when it comes to protecting the environment. (Iceland has become quite the destination for tree huggers, not that there are any trees to hug because it’s above the timberline.) They arrived two days ago and plan to spend the next month seeing as much of this amazing country as they can. They say they’ve been cold ever since they stepped off the plane. (What did they expect coming to Iceland in September which, weather-wise, reminds me of Connecticut in December?)  Jean-Claude and Renee are saving money eating nothing but Ramen noodles, pitching their tent in the countryside to avoid campground fees, and hitching rides. If they have enough left over at the end of the trip they hope to rent an ATV to take them into Iceland’s unsettled interior, which is said to be the most beautiful part of the country. Today they’re headed to Geysir and Gullfoss. I tell them that’s where I’m going and am glad to have them along for the ride.

They tell me about their first night in a Reykjavik campground and their second in a field outside the town of Selfoss. They say both nights were as cold and rainy as today, maybe worse.

Jules says he has found the natives to be cold. I remind him they live in a country called Iceland. We laugh. We agree German travelers tend to be pushy and that camera-carrying Japanese tourists who spend more time taking pictures than actually looking at the attractions they visit (they’re ubiquitous here, as they are everywhere) are obnoxious. Philippe and Brigitte tell me their opinion about Americans. I tell them Americans think French waiters and hotel clerks are rude.

Gaston and Madeleine say they were waiting a long time. Car after car passed but nobody stopped until I came along. I’m glad I did because being with them makes me feel 20 again.

My sightseeing companions, Andre and Gabrielle,
with Geysir in the background

Geysir isn’t all that impressive. I’ve never seen a geyser before, but was somehow expecting something more, considering it’s one of Iceland’s most visited attractions. I ask an American tourist if he has ever visited Old Faithful. He says yes, and that it spurts higher and for much longer than its Icelandic counterpart that belches a plume of steamy water for what seems no longer than two seconds.

Thar she blows

After an hour watching Geysir spout off every five minutes or so, we head to Gullfoss which, Paulette says, is supposed to be more powerful than Niagara Falls. I say that’s unlikely; I can’t imagine anything more powerful than Niagara.

But, by God, she is right. The top tier cascades over a series of cliffs, forms a shallow pool, then topples off another side into a narrow gorge so deep it’s difficult to see all the way to the bottom. There are no fences. It’s possible to walk right to the edge of both falls. Within seconds we are drenched with spray but hey, it was raining anyway so why not?

I ask where they plan to camp tonight. They say they think they’ll stay in a field adjacent to the parking lot because the next day they want to see how close they can get to the Langjokull Glacier that, through the fog, is barely visible in the distance. They take their backpacks from the Jimny and we bid adieu.

It’s lonesome in the Jimny. For a minute, until I pick up another couple standing by the road outside the parking lot with outstretched thumbs.

William and Catherine are from the southwest of England and are about the same age as Thierry and Sophie. They, too, are here for a month to visit a country that values its environment. They want to see it before it’s ruined (presumably by tourists like us).  Like Martin and Martine, they’re living on noodles, camping wherever they can pitch their tent, hitching rides and hope to rent an ATV to explore the interior. William is a big guy. I say I don’t see how someone his size can possibly live on noodles. “He eats a lot of them,” Catherine says. “It’s getting to be a problem.”

Once again I feel like a college kid as we laugh and chat about their adventures.

We stop briefly at a roadside pull-off in Thingvellir Park, where the European and North American Tectonic plates meet. One side is Old World. One side is New. Cool.

I drop them off in a driving rain, near a campground where they hope to spend the night, and head back toward Reykjavik. Not wanting to retrace the route I followed this morning, I take another road that, had she come with me, would scare my wife out of her wits. She is terrified of twisty, mountainous roads – has been ever since we visited Tenerife in 2005 – and would be especially terrified by this road that twists in, out, above and below rainclouds that, at times, are dispensing sleet.

Dinner is a pizza near the hotel. I order an Americano – ground beef, tomato, mushrooms and cheese. It is tasteless, but the Gull beer that accompanies it is excellent.

Thursday, September 10

Today I will be driving nine or ten hours as I navigate the Snaefellsnes peninsula, the westernmost part of Iceland that juts out into the Atlantic about 60 miles northwest of Reykjavik. Once again, it’s raining and foggy with gusty winds as I wend my way up Highway 1, the national road that circles the island. It’s raining so hard I take a wrong turn that turns out to be my best move of the day because, even though it adds an hour to my trip, the road winds around a spectacular fjord.

In Bojarnes, a hamlet the guidebook calls “fun loving” (a great phrase travel writers fall back on when they have nothing else to describe an otherwise forgettable town), I stop at a convenience store for coffee. As I’m enjoying it, a bus of school children stops and the kids file in. The children of Iceland are beautiful. All but a few of the ones I’ve seen are blonde with blue eyes just like their Norse ancestors, which makes sense because Iceland is one of the, if not the, least ethnically diverse countries on earth. Fully 93 percent of its inhabitants are of Norse descent. Unlike Germany, Sweden, Denmark and other northern European countries that are packed with work-seeking immigrants from southern Europe and Islamic countries, few want to move to an Arctic island where the sun shines only a few hours a day in winter and the average summer high temperature may, if you are lucky, reach the upper fifties but that’s before you subtract ten degrees for the wind chill factor. So the gene pool remains Nordic-pure.

Have you ever seen a child with eyes this pale blue? Or hair this blond?
Oh wait, that kid isn't Icelandic. That's my 17-month-old grandson, Teddy.

Speaking of wind, the windows of the C-store are rattling. I don’t know how picture windows can possibly withstand gusts this relentless but nobody seems alarmed, so I’ve got to assume it’s normal for this time of year.

My guidebook says that when I get to Gerouberg where the peninsula begins, I will see “dramatic basalt towers rising from the plain.” It’s pouring when I turn off on a gravel road toward Gerouberg. After half a mile or so I come to what I assume are “basalt towers.” Don’t know for sure, never saw basalt towers before. I step out of my car, getting soaked to the bone in the time it takes to snap the picture below, and continue on my way.

If you have ever seen the "dramatic basalt towers of Gerouberg,"
please let me know if these are them

Half an hour later I arrive at the only roadside cafĂ© on the southern side of Snaefellsnes (try saying that three times fast). It is packed with locals. There aren’t many of them, only 4,000 hardy souls inhabit the whole of the fifty-mile long peninsula.

I order lamb soup, the only menu item that sounds vaguely appealing. (I know, I swore never to eat lamb again but lamb soup somehow seems apropos on a cold gray day like this.) It is completely devoid of taste – mushy root vegetables and chunks of lamb that have had all the flavor they ever possessed boiled out of them, in a thin lukewarm broth. But the slice of homemade rye bread served with it is good.

As I exit the restaurant the rain has stopped and there’s even a hint of sunshine through the low-hanging clouds. The wind, however, is stronger than ever. Where I come from we call wind like this a Category 3 hurricane.

Thirty miles down the road a waterfall is toppling over a cliff. (There are waterfalls – a waterfall is called a “foss” in Iceland – every mile or so, so many it becomes annoying after a while because you’re not sure whether you should stop and take a picture.) The breeze blowing in from the ocean is so strong at this particular “foss” that the water that should be cascading off the side of the mountain is being blown upwards and backwards into the stream from whence it came. How far back I can’t tell but as you can see if you look closely, it’s an amazing sight.

If you look closely, you can see the water that's supposed to be falling
over the cliff being blown upwards and backwards by the incredibly strong wind 

I stop to see the beach at Budir, another “must see” according to the guidebook, but the waves are so huge it’s impossible to get anywhere near it; I can feel the ocean spray a quarter mile away. There is a picturesque little church overlooking the sea and on this dismal day a wedding is taking place in the yard. The bride is wearing a sleeveless dress that looks like a gunnysack. This marriage is doomed because the bride will be dead of frostbite soon.

At Arnarstapi, there’s a monument honoring Jules Verne whose Journey to the Center of the Earth was supposedly inspired by the eerie, rocky landscape.

From an observation deck built over the sea in Hellnar I can see in the distance a rock kiosk formed by thousands of millennia (or least three days) of winds like these.

I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Snaeffsjokull Glacier as I swing northward but it’s covered with fog. Bummer. I would, if I were the kind of guy who owned hiking boots, be welcome to join a daily expedition up the mountain to the glacier that’s led by seasoned rangers, but I am not.

Arriving in the fishing village of Hellisandur at the northwest tip of the peninsula I catch my first glimpse of the Arctic Sea. It looks, duh, cold. I stop for gas in Grundarfjordur, another fishing village. The more I interact with Icelanders, the better I’m understanding what my French friend was saying. The clerk at the N-1 convenience store, a dour-looking woman about my age, treats me like an inconvenience, another stupid American who has to be shown how to use the credit card machine at the gas pump.

Just east of town a rainbow appears over a fjord.

Two and a half hours later I’m back in Reykjavik. Not wanting Vietnamese, horse, pizza or lamb soup, I head downtown to find a restaurant. The sun has finally decided to show its face and its rays are slanting down the same way they slant in New England in the late fall, bathing even the ugly buildings clustered around the harbor in beauty. Perhaps I was too quick to judge the town my first day when I was tired, wet and cold.

I wander in and out of stores, looking for something to buy Teddy, my 17-month-old grandson. I decide Teddy badly needs a plastic Viking headpiece with horns, but no store has one in a child’s size.

I climb a hilly street painted the colors of the rainbow – last month Reykjavik hosted the country’s second most-attended annual event, Iceland’s gay pride parade, for which the street was painted – to the modernistic Hallgrimskirkja, a church made of poured concrete that took more than 40 years to build. A well-traveled fellow volunteer at the food bank where I work once a week told me I should be sure to see it and, I have to admit, it’s nice if you happen to like minimalistic no-frills Scandinavian design, which I am starting to.

A hilly street painted in rainbow colors leading up to
Reykjavik's modernist Hallgrimskirjka church

Dinner, my last in Iceland, is at an upscale Italian joint on the town’s main shopping street. It is excellent. And expensive. What the hell, I may not pass this way again but if I do I’ll be sure to eat all my meals here.
Friday, September 11

The rain and fog lift and finally, on my last morning,
I can see the view from my hotel room

I eat an enormous breakfast, return to the Laugardalslaug for a quick dip, check out of my hotel, drive to Keflavik, turn in the Jimny and check-in for my flight. 

I was hoping to find a Viking hat in Teddy’s size in one of the airport’s duty-free shops but there wasn't one to be had so I bought him a puffin t-shirt that says “Iceland.”