Don't Stand So Close To Me


God it's so painful 
Something that's so close 
And still so far out of reach

--Tom Petty, “American Girl”

About 15 years ago, my boss was invited to give a presentation in Hawaii. By “invited,” I mean required to go, although it hardly seemed like a hardship as we suffered through the depths of a brutal mid-Atlantic winter. After all, they were going to fly him out there, put him up at some hotel on the beach, give him a per diem and all he had to do was give an hourlong talk about a topic about which he was already an expert.

What could go wrong? What could be bad about that? He seemed to have nothing to lose and everything to gain, but in the end, all he got was some kudos and a few thousand frequent flier miles. He arrived there one evening, gave a talk the next day, locked in a conference room with a dozen or so other legal geeks, and then sat and listened for the next 10 or 12 hours as the rest of them opined on various relevant areas of expertise. The next morning he was back on a plane, headed to another meeting – most likely in a much less scenic place, although the conference room likely looked very much the same.

No little drinks in coconuts. No girls in grass skirts. Not even a trip to see the USS Arizona. Just a laptop, a rubber chicken meal and a slight case of jet lag.

My deal this past week was better than that.

My wife Hanna and her BFF Cindy decided to celebrate their respective 50th birthdays by taking their husbands on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, starting in Seattle, heading through Oregon, and departing from San Francisco. By edict and by agreement, there was to be no fishing, and I was fine with that. After all, this was THEIR trip, and I knew ahead of time that it would be about their preferred itinerary. As we drove down the picturesque Oregon coast, I didn’t have even slight pangs of regret. Sure, we saw ads for salmon and halibut charters, but that’s not quite in my wheelhouse, so it didn’t really hurt.

When we got to Napa, though, it stung a bit. Clear Lake – one of the two highest-ranking US tournament lakes still on my bucket list – was just an hour away. Lake Berryessa, which Ish told me has trophy largemouths, smallmouths AND spotted bass, was even closer. Nevertheless, I’d make a pact not to agitate to zip away for 8 or 10 hours of fishing, and I intended to keep to that. It wasn’t all that painful, because the scenery was great, the food was world-class, the wine was more or less free-flowing, and the pace was relaxed, but still it struck me as ironic: I was within a long swimbait cast of a place that I’d dreamed of fishing, the weather was perfect, and I had local friends with boats who would’ve picked me up at the ramp – but I might as well have been someplace with no bass at all – my own Hawaiian conference room.