There is no convenient time to have your glasses break. But some times are worse than others. Take, for instance, a few days into your vacation at the beach.
After using this pair of glasses for about five years, it shouldn't have been surprising that it broke. It was simply time. I picked them up to put them on, and one side dangled. When I tried to straighten it, metal fatigue in the arch of the nosepiece split them in two.
This was not something that could be cured by a dab of duct tape (not, I beg you, "duck" tape).
Now, somewhere at home I have a spare pair. But when I'm at the Outer Banks, home is at best six hours away. Given how easily I get sleepy while driving, it's more like seven or eight hours, including brief naps along the way.
I have other glasses. My driving glasses are the identical prescription, but they're sunglasses, which makes them kind of awful indoors. My computer glasses are fine for working -- yeah, I could still work during my "vacation" -- but they're unusable for driving, since they don't focus anything farther than three feet away.
My vacation was going to be difficult unless I replaced the broken glasses. And since it had been about three years since my last eye exam, and my optometrist is in Los Angeles, buying new glasses would require staring into the machinery and reciting letters to a new doctor.
My first thought: Lenscrafters. Because of various rivalries in the eyeglass-frame industry, the Marchon frames that I've loved for years aren't carried by Lenscrafter, so I've never bought glasses for myself. But they've been our go-to glasses store when buying glasses for family and friends over the years. Plus, I am devoted to the excellent lens-wiping cloths and lens-cleaning fluid that they sell.
Most important to me, though, was their ability to grind lenses at the store. Show up with a prescription, with enough time before closing, and I could get the glasses in a single trip and come home with them.
But where was the nearest Lenscrafter to Waves, North Carolina? Because we drive round Raleigh on our way to the beach, that was my first thought -- but if I was driving as far as Raleigh, I might as well drive home, find my spare eyeglasses (which is not likely to be easy, since I'm not a "place for everything, everything in its place" kind of guy), and spend the night in my own bed before driving back. So ... two days of my beach trip would be spent driving home and back again.
Then my wife googled "Lenscrafter nearest to me." Using our current location, Google found us two Lencrafter locations in Virginia Beach, one in Norfolk, and the nearest one in a mall in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Virginia? That's another state! How can it be closest?
I had forgotten how very close the big harbor cities of Virginia are to the Outer Banks. My geography of the Outer Banks includes driving up to Duck for dinner at Blue Point, and one visit years ago to the horseflies of Corolla. You can't drive north from Corolla, so in my mind, that was a dead end and Virginia was out of reach.
Then my wife reminded me that one of my kids routinely gets to the Outer Banks for family vacations by flying to Norfolk, and it's only a couple of hours away -- much closer to the islands than the Raleigh Airport is. GoogleMaps said that it would take only a couple of hours to get to the Lenscrafter in Chesapeake.
Since this was Sunday, my wife called that Lenscrafter just to get their recorded message with Monday's hours of operation. Instead, she got the news that they were open Sunday afternoons. We waited till they opened at noon, and found out that not only were they open, but also the optometrist next door would be on duty.
We pulled out of our rented beach house in time to get to our 3:00 p.m. "appointment" with the optometrist. If we finished the eye exam and brought Lenscrafter the prescription by 3:30, we could have my new glasses by closing time at 5:30 p.m.
The GPS in my Hyundai seems to estimate travel time based on an average speed of a mile a minute. This is realistic when a trip is largely on freeways, but no such thing happened taking highways 158 and 168 to Chesapeake. So our "plenty of time" gradually turned into being twenty minutes late.
Then we found that our "appointment" was simply a note from Lenscrafter to the optometrist alerting them to our likely arrival. The optometrist still regarded us as "walk-ins," and they weren't planning to take walk-ins after 3:00 p.m. on Sunday.
We tried to take it in good humor, but it was frustrating to drive two hours thinking we had an appointment. Of course, we were late to that appointment, so we really had no one to blame but ourselves. Or our GPS. No, ourselves.
But then the assistant at Dr. Surmaty & Associates talked to the optometrist on duty, Christopher Luft, and they agreed to give me the exam. But now we were pushing the deadline for getting the prescription to the Lenscrafter tech.
So my wife and I divided our labor. While I was getting my eyes examined, my wife went next door to Lenscrafters and chose frames for me. She also learned that if we had the prescription there by 4:00, the technician would stay late and prepare the glasses.
Trusting someone else to pick out my frames was a bold move on my part. That's such a personal decision, and she would have to give them approval to go ahead without my having a chance to try them on first or anything. I did remind her that my head is shockingly wide, so they'd have to find frames big enough to fit.
Dr. Luft did a full exam, even though it was late and we only needed the lens prescription. But I recognize and respect integrity -- he wasn't going to do a halfway job.
The exam ended at 3:58 p.m. So Dr. Luft agreed to wait to finish the consultation until after I got the prescription to Lenscrafter. I've never seen a doctor write so fast and still be legible! But I made it to Lenscrafter, slipped on the glasses my wife had chosen, found that they were wide enough, and then the optician, David Good, quickly checked where the bifocal dividing line would have to be and then got the frames and prescription to the technician, Trung Lee (or Lee Trung; they only called him Trung there at the store, so they weren't sure).
I then returned to Dr. Luft, who was still waiting, well past the time he had meant to go home. He gave me my ocular health report, which came down to this: Whatever's going wrong with your body shows up in your eyes. My years of high blood pressure and overweight, and my stroke, left evidences in my eyes. The good news was that my never having smoked also showed up.
The real news was cataracts. Right now they're still nearly transparent, so they aren't interfering with my vision at all, but both lenses will eventually be blocked so that without lens replacement surgery, I'll be mostly or totally blind. To say that this would put a damper on my career is an understatement.
However, my dad has undergone three lens replacements (his first was so early that he outlived the warranty) and he can still read, watch television and movies, and use a computer. Because he's an artist, photographer, and sign painter, he proved that the lens replacements worked fine by continuing those activities as well.
So cataracts are not the sentence of blindness that they used to be. I could hear that news with equanimity.
I really liked Christopher Luft -- he's a good, thorough doctor, willing to adjust to circumstances, and his explanations of everything were clear. He never condescended to me, even though I look like any other fat old man and I get talked down to by professionals and tradesmen all the time.
In fact, since my current optometrist may be near retirement (he's almost exactly my age), I would have happily become a regular patient of Dr. Luft -- if it weren't such a long drive from Greensboro to Chesapeake, VA.
While my lenses were under construction, my wife and I had nothing to do but wander around a mall that had very little to recommend it -- almost all the stores were duplicated at Four Seasons or Friendly Center in Greensboro. Except that it did have a seating area about a hundred feet from Lenscrafter -- comfortable chairs and sofas, clean and well maintained.
Before the appointed time to return to Lenscrafter, one of the opticians, Cynthia, came out and found us: My glasses were ready.
And they were perfect. The prescription worked. And this is not what I expected, because I do an odd thing with my bifocals. For daily wear, the lower half of each lens is not set to a proper distance for reading. Instead, I have it set at the same focal length as my computer glasses, so that I can read a computer screen without changing glasses (as when I'm sitting down to a strange computer that doesn't have a pair of my monofocal computer glasses sitting next to it).
More to the point, the reading-glasses setting is terrible for driving a car, because the screens and dials on the dashboard are even blurrier with that setting than without any glasses at all. The computer-distance lenses, though, are perfect for driving. The dashboard is exactly as far away as a computer screen.
I do have a pair of bifocals with the lower half set to reading distance -- but I also have the bifocal line set higher than normal, so I can see a whole page while lying on my back in bed -- the only time I use reading glasses. They're indispensable for reading tablet and phone screens in bed, too -- the only time I hold the screens that close. The rest of the time, the computer distance is perfect for daily use.
However, this idea seems so foreign to the opticians I've dealt with in Guilford County that I was glad to give up on buying glasses in town, because my Los Angeles optometrist also ordered my glasses from his supplier, and there was never an error.
In Greensboro, however, one optician was so sure that she was smarter than me that she ordered standard reading bifocals despite my extremely clear and repeated instructions. Then, when I told her I would not accept glasses that had been ordered by her in defiance of my clear wishes, and I expected a replacement pair as I ordered them, she demanded that I come in to be reexamined and prove that the glasses I had were wrong.
This was so stupid and outrageous that I ended up leaving an ophthalmologist that I liked very much because I never wanted to see that optician's smug, superior face again when I visiting the doctor she worked for.
Then there was the High Point optician who refused to believe that my daily-wear bifocals should have the computer-distance prescription in the lower half, despite the fact that the doctor (a friend of mine who has since moved out of state) had clearly written on the prescription exactly the instructions that I was telling her. She actually got angry and abusive because I insisted she was wrong. I haven't been back there to allow that fascist of idiocy to rail at me again.
So the idea of driving to Chesapeake for eye exams and glasses isn't such a strange one after all. If Lenscrafter carried my Marchon frames, it might be tempting. Because apparently in Greensboro, my perfectly sensible decisions about my glasses bring out the dictatorial ogre in opticians.
Speaking of opticians, David Good understood completely what I wanted and there was no mistake in these glasses. He helped me fit my new glasses so they stood out the right distance from my eyes (when they're too close, my eyelashes smudge the lenses with body oils, but the bridge of my nose is so slight that it's hard to get the lenses far enough away).
Everybody involved went the extra mile.
Now, you might be thinking that I got all this special treatment because, hey, I'm the author of Ender's Game. But even though my occupation came up in the paperwork in both places, nobody at the optometrist's office recognized my name, and most of the extra service had already been cheerfully given at Lenscrafter before anybody recognized my name.
Not being recognized, by face or name, is not a surprise to a writer. Unlike actors, models, athletes, and famous rich people, our faces are not plastered all over People, Entertainment Weekly, or Sports Illustrated. Most Americans don't read more than a couple of books a year, and the odds are against any one person's having read any book of mine. Which is fine: You can lead a full and happy life without reading any of my made-up stories. I'd like to think that my readers' lives are slightly better for having read them, but I'm content with the readership each book happens to earn for itself. My ego isn't involved in whether people recognize me or not.
Which is a good thing, because except for the local Barnes & Noble, where I do signings so they can't help but know me, I have never had a bookstore clerk recognize my name from my credit card. This can be profoundly humbling if you're one of those writers who is convinced that everybody admires their work. Until you've done an American Express commercial or had a magazine cover, writers are not celebrities. We're like soft-drink brands that aren't Coke or Pepsi. A few people know we exist, but most people skip right past our eight-inch space on the shelves.
Anyway, we paid for the glasses -- no extra charge for rushing, either at Lenscrafter or the optometrist -- stocked up on Lenscrafter's really convenient travel packs of lens wipes, and ... it was 5:30 on Sunday afternoon and, miraculously, I had a new pair of comfortable, good-looking glasses, almost as lightweight as my Marchon frames, and my wife and I had time to go get dinner at Carrabba's in Chesapeake before heading back south to Waves.
Now, I have to say that one thing that helped reconcile me to mission failure when we thought we weren't going to be able to get the eye exam was the fact that we Mormons try very hard to be Sabbath-keepers, and going to a store on Sunday makes us very uncomfortable.
In this case, though, we felt that broken glasses fell under the ox-in-the-mire exception to Sabbath rules. If Lenscrafter and the optometrist had been closed on Sunday, we would have made the trip on Monday. But since they were already open, by their own previous decision, we felt OK about paying them to labor on Sunday. Mostly OK.
As for dinner at Carrabba's, we've always had a restaurant exception when traveling. If we had any reason to think that all restaurants and grocery stores would be closed on Sunday, we'd probably figure out a way to pack our food with us -- or, more likely, do all our traveling mid-week. But let's face it -- the hotel and hospitality businesses can't close down on Sunday, anymore than broadcasters can.
Even when Greensboro still had blue laws that closed businesses on Sunday (which was still true when we moved here in 1983), there was one designated drugstore that was allowed to remain open on Sundays to help with emergencies.
Our dinner of burrata caprese salad and mezzaluna pasta was very good -- though it was hard to find anything else on the menu that didn't have some kind of wine in it, which makes it unusable to my alcohol-allergic wife. (Even the wine used in making many soup stocks will trigger a nearly instant reaction of nausea and faintness that ends the meal.)
Even though I'm not allergic, I've never found that wine or any other alcoholic beverage adds anything to a sauce or soup. It's a sharp and nasty taste -- at least to somebody like me, who has never willingly tasted alcohol.
It's like putting coffee in ice cream or other desserts or dishes. Why? Don't coffee-drinkers get enough of that flavor in the billions of cups of actual coffee that they consume? But apparently, once you're inured to drinking stinky, dreadful-tasting liquids, you start to crave reminders of their flavor and aroma in everything.
So even though we got a good meal at Carrabba's, I probably won't regard it as a regular go-to restaurant when traveling, unless I want exactly the meal we had this past Sunday. At most chain Italian restaurants, wine is easily avoided, so the others have to move ahead of Carrabba's on our preference list. (And yes, we've been to Italy and eaten Italian food in some fine restaurants -- and almost none of the sauces had wine in them. I guess that in Italy, they assume you're drinking wine continuously through the meal, so why would you need it in the food as well?)
We made it home to Waves before dark. My wife drove the last half of the trip -- I had had only had four hours of sleep the night before, and I could tell I wasn't going to be a safe driver once we got near the islands. If I had made the trip alone, I would have pulled off and taken a nap. But since I had a better, though habitually faster, driver than me in the car, there was no reason for us to stop while I napped.
I used my TRTL pillow and slept almost continuously until we were making the turn from highway 12 into our street. Today, I'm wearing my computer glasses while writing this; my new glasses are resting on the desk beside my SurfacePro 4. That's how I spent my summer vacation.
The glasses are cool. That doesn't mean I look cool while wearing them. Painting a sausage yellow doesn't make it a banana.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
Available exclusively at OSCStorycraft.com