Month: April 2011

Here’s my escapist playlist

Music for me is and has always been escapist. I listen and let the sweet melodies carry me away to a good place. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of satellite radio in my new vehicle – particularly, the Coffeehouse station XM. I love […]

The Big V and my top 10 thoughts about getting one

When I was growing up, there was a pharmacy chain that operated in southwestern Ontario called “Big V“. Back then, the “V” in Big V referred to “value”. These days, as my hair takes on a silver tinge and I approach 47 years of life, […]

Ode to Galaga

In my early 20s, I worked in a lot of restaurants for summer employment. During those summers, the days were short and the nights long. Dinner restaurant shifts would begin between 4:30 and 5:30 pm and end anywhere 10:00 pm and 1:00 am, depending on the shift and the traffic.

Shifts would start with coffee and end with coffee and be fuelled throughout with, you guessed it, coffee. By the time I’d been through a dinner rush and a few waves of smaller later rushes, I was tired, wired and ready to cash out.

Coming down from this high intensity, go-go-go environment started as soon as I cashed out. Flush with quarters, I’d plunk myself down at the Galaga console and start ‘er up. Galaga is a fixed shooter arcade style game that was released in the early 1980s by Namco of Japan. The game features insect-like creatures that assemble on the screen and then proceed to attack your fighter ship. (Of course, there’s a whole Wikipedia page on Galaga written by nerds with too much time on their hands, should you be looking for more details.)

Being an early arcade game, Galaga has a very limited set of actions, features and sounds. When you play the game over and over, you learn these patterns and develop a strategy for beating the game which feels more like a rhythm than anything else. With the caffeine still pulsing through my veins, I found this game to be a relaxing outlet at the end of a restaurant shift.

Fast forward 25 years to our vacation home that we rented in Palm Springs this season. We knew there was a games room, but when I ┬ádiscovered an original Galaga game console – the cocktail version with the glass top just like the old days – I was jacked.

I sat down to play for the first time in 20 years and slowly it all came back. The strategy of how to move, the familiar sounds, the game structure. Game after game I jammed the joystick back and forth and pounded on the shooting button. The rhythm started coming back.

I effused excitement to the kids, who watched quizzically as their dad got way into a weird looking video game. As my scores climbed and my confidence grew, they became enthusiastic fans cheering me on. They event tried playing themselves and starting getting into it – in a retro way.

After a few days of this, my son came to me and excitedly announced that his fighter got captured. Oh yeah – the light bulb went on. I forgot completely this feature of the game that allowed one of the bigger flying insect to capture your fighter which you could then rescue by carefully shooting the bug holding your fighter. The resulting double fighter gave you twice the fire power and point aggregation potential. A whole new dimension to rediscover!

There is no real moral to this story, except perhaps a realization that though video games get technologically better with time, that doesn’t mean they get more enjoyable. Galaga came from a simpler time in gaming – the joystick moves left and right and the button shoots bullets. That’s about it. The game’s objectives and strategies are dead simple. By playing the game frequently, it becomes more about the joy and relaxation of its rhythm, than winning. Though winning is fun.

I don’t play many video games these days, but the ones I do play have the same traits: they’re simple and my enjoyment comes from the relaxation they offer to my fully scheduled mind.

Grapefruit cocktails, computer viruses and late 20th century American malaise

During these days of sunshine and warmth in the Californian desert, I have opportunities to do things that I don’t do at home. Like, read things other than blogs. And drink a bit more than usual. And write. First things first. What’s my favourite cocktail […]

Happiness on vacation is…

Renting a house with a games room that features an original 1982 Galaga console and scoring over 140,000 on the first day. Turning your kids on to a video game made in 1982. Finding a grapefruit tree in your backyard loaded with heavy, ripe fruit. […]

Four rules for enjoying a relaxing vacation

I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert in vacations, but it seems to me there are a few simple rules that will serve you well and help you enjoy them more.

For me, the whole point of vacations is relaxing. If I don’t relax and get downtime, then what’s the point of spending all that money to get away?

Here’s four rules that, if followed diligently, will increase the likelihood that your vacation will be a an enjoyable and relaxing one.

Rule #1 – Adopt a glass half full approach to everything. Even if this isn’t your normal state of mind, try to adopt it for the duration of your vacation. The fact is, things don’t always work out 100% as you expect and plan – especially on vacation, when you have a limited amount of time. When confronted with this inevitable reality, you have a choice: be massively disappointed – or, make the best of it. Since it’s a vacation, you’ll get more out of making the best of it – whatever “it” is.

Rule #2 – Don’t over-schedule. Pick one or two priority destinations for the trip and plan around them. Don’t be afraid to just sit around and wile away your time doing activities that don’t require much planning. Read some books. Play video games. Exercise. Cook meals and/or eat well. Shop. Go for walks. Do crossword puzzles. Do things that you might consider wasting time in your daily life. These are activities that can happen anywhere and anytime and don’t require any scheduling. If you really want to be crazy, try this: Just wake up and decide what to do that day based on how you feel. Oh, and it’s OK to feel “bored” toward the end of your vacation – perhaps even desirable. The last thing you want is to feel like you need a vacation after your vacation.

Rule #3 – Write, record, observe. Stop and smell the roses – it’s your vacation, after all. Take some close-up pictures of those roses and then inhale their sweet smell deep into your lungs. Now, sit down and write about how they smell and what that scent reminds you of. Open your eyes to the beauty that is all around you. Life is too short to ignore the beautiful stuff that surrounds you every day. That’s what vacations are for.

Rule #4 – Have sex. Lots of it. Sex is very relaxing.

If what you’re after is to unwind and enjoy life, following these rules will take your vacation from good to great.