Last week it was time to get our flu shots. I almost didn't get it done, however. When I checked in, I asked how long was the current wait; the answer was about 15 minutes. OK, I thought I might have enough time left on the parking meter, so I sat down. But in re-calculating from the exact time I put the money in the meter, and how long a walk it was back to the car, I realized I had better take care of that first and come back later, or even another day, for the flu shot.

The reason I was being particularly careful was that the last time we parked at a meter, we were at lunch with friends, and time got away from us. When we arrived back at the car, we were late by about three minutes. And the ticket on the windshield had been written at two minutes past the expiration time. The meter person had to have just left, and maybe was standing over the meter waiting for the red flag to go up! So I sure didn't want to have that happen again.

On that day last week, I had the monthly blood test, and when I did get the flu shot along with another recommended one, I was marveling at how painless shots and blood draws are these days. I remembered once as a kid, I was the only one in the family willing to take on the task of giving my father daily shots for something when he needed them for awhile.

The nurse in the family doctor's office taught me the protocol and then had me practice on an orange. My father had an intense dislike of needles, so I am not too sure that to him it was ever painless, even if the person giving them had been experienced and really good at it. But that practice served me well when, almost 50 years later, I had to give myself daily shots.

I was thinking that I am grateful that someone chooses to pursue a career in which they give shots all day; the break from that routine is when they routinely work at the check-in desk for the day. That's a lot of needlework. I have a longtime friend who, after high school graduation, went to school to become a phlebotomist, a specialist in drawing blood. At some point, however, she realized it was not for her; that's when she went to work at the big airline, and that's where she and I met and became friends.

I'd been thinking about that friend lately anyway; perhaps that's why she came to mind when I was thinking about getting shots and the people who give them. She was with me on my very first trip to Thailand almost 34 years ago. Back then it was a simple thing to get free tickets on other airlines, so we did. And off we went, not having a clue what to expect.

About a month before we decided to go, I had met and entertained two people from Thailand's national airline. I told them I was already planning a trip there in the very near future; my interest had been piqued by a military friend. These people said to let them know when I was coming. I did that, and one of them and her spouse met us at the airport. They had thought I was coming alone, and were prepared to have me stay at their house for my visit. They didn't have room for two, however, so they dropped us at our hotel and said we would be picked up in the morning.

And we were, every morning; it was what I now know to be typical Thai hospitality. We had met a young man on the flight over who was a graduate student in engineering at the University of Wisconsin. He wanted to show us around while we were in Bangkok, but for several days our "host" friends kept us too busy to see him, both day and night.

Finally frustrated, he called and said, "Tomorrow is my turn." He showed up early and had a long list of places to take us and sights to see. Lunch was at a restaurant frequented by the locals, and he confidently led us through the street level and up the steps. There, in welcome air conditioning, was an almost-private dining room. And it was there that I experienced my first volcanic hot Thai pepper.

We were delightedly tasting more of the wide variety of Thai cuisine dishes we had been enjoying for a few days, and then I took a big bite of a salad. Uffda, as we say here. Suddenly it felt as if every pore in my body was sweating.

Our Thai friend started laughing as I grabbed for the water glass. "No, never water!" And he handed me a plate on which were several slices of cucumber. "This is what you use. Either this or a spoonful of rice. Water will just spread it and make it worse."

Having grown up where black pepper was considered hot, I nonetheless soon learned to love the very hot peppers.

It was at that restaurant that I experienced an Asian toilet for the first time. I excused myself to go to the "loo." But when I got inside, I saw the unfamiliar thing in the stall and obviously must have looked perplexed. A helpful Thai stranger explained to me how to squat on the foot treads, and then how to flush with the dipper, trusting gravity to do its thing, which it did.

That journey and a lot of firsts solidified my love affair with Thailand. Admittedly there are not as many surprises anymore; even so my enchantment continues as do my trips there. And thinking so hard that day last week about shots and then about my fellow traveler on my first trip to Thailand almost cost me a parking ticket. Fortunately, I made it back to the car with one minute left on the meter.