Tales of a wandering lesbian

Carriaged away

Over the last year, I’ve begun to play with the idea of groundlessness.  At least that’s what Pema Chodron calls it.  She’s a famous, respected Buddhist nun.  I’m a wanderer.  Or I have been.  So, without really meaning to, I’ve been on a spiritual journey, becoming familiar with the unsettled feelings that come with not having a home.  With not knowing, exactly where I’ll be sleeping in a month or a week or a day.  Sometimes I’m tied up in knots, anxious over the unknowing.  Other times, I’m light, carefree.  I land on my feet.  I have amazing friends who have taken me in and put a roof over my head.  I have family that would shelter me for as long as I need.  I am fortunate.

The day before I left Italy for Atlanta, I was in a fit of groundlessness.  Both of the places I’d planned to stay in Atlanta had fallen through, and then reemerged.  When I left Italy, actually got on the plane, I didn’t know where I’d be staying when I landed.  I sent an email to both of my friends asking them to talk amongst themselves and let me know where I should tell the taxi driver to drop me.

I checked my phone as I waited in the customs line in New York, and found that I’d be staying with my friend Kelly for a few days.  I’d camp in her attic room – in June – in the Atlanta heat – without air conditioning.  Then I’d transfer over to my friend Linda’s place, passed around like a smiling football.  This was fine by me.  I’m a pretty easy traveler.  Not a lot rattles me, and I’m happy to sleep almost anywhere.

Kelly was set to pick me up at the airport when my late-night flight arrived.  That changed, though, around hour 3 of sitting on the tarmac in Ney York.  Hour 3 of sitting between 2 giant guys, after I’d traded my specifically selected aisle seat with a woman who wanted to sit with her daughter. “I bet this isn’t what you had in mind when you switched.”  She was right.  I pick my seats very specifically.  At this point I’d been traveling for about 26 hours.  I talk about culture shock pretty regularly, but sitting between two big black guys for three hours, in a hot-ass, non-moving plane, trying to make small talk about a church conference was a seriously challenging re-entry.

When we finally made it to Atlanta, I was in an okay place.  I was channeling my father, ready to figure out how to get a hotel room in the area, and take the shower that I’d been dreaming about for about 12 hours.

I cruised to the front of the plane when the seatbelt sign went off, waved to some of the friends I’d made on my Pisa NYC trip, and booked-it to baggage claim.  Where I proceeded to wait for over an hour.  Long story short, I ended up filing a lost-baggage report, and receiving a little toiletry bag from the airlines.  It was nice.  It even had a t-shirt for me to sleep in.  As I filled out the report, the agent asked me to describe my bag.  “Point to what kind it is,” she said, handing me a laminated card, and smiling kindly.

“It’s a backpack.”  I pointed at the diagram and handed it back to her.

“Oh, did you check oversize?  That’s where backpacks go.”

No, no I had not checked oversize.  My bag was not, in fact, oversized.  So I signed my report, just in case, took my little gift bag and headed to the oversized baggage area.  My little bag, in its friendly, green rain cover was there among army duffels, and weaponry.

Clinging to my post-bag-retrieval high, I sauntered up to the bank of reservation phones to book a hotel.  I studied the colorful pictures, and familiar hotel names.  My dad was a traveling sales man, so I grew up spending family vacations in hotel rooms earned with frequent flier miles and points.  Each logo evoked a specific emotion or memory of sandy beaches, and amusement parks.

I called through the friendly logos, finding each of them booked.  Evidently, the airport had been practically shut down for two days due to the thunderstorms that had kept us grounded in New York.  Stranded travelers had already filled the best hotels.  Around the time I was calling my 10th hotel, I started making friends with the other travelers standing in front of the phones.  We warily traded information:  All of the Holiday Inns were booked, the number for the Comfort Suites was incorrect.

And then we all found an opening.  I can’t even remember the hotel name, but it was close, and it had rooms.  One after the other we called, booking whatever we could, happy to get on a shuttle and get some sleep.  It was 1AM and we were collectively exhausted.

We made our ways to the shuttle area and waited.  When the van pulled up and the doors opened, we stood back to let the others off.

“If you are going to Ramada, don’t.  It has bedbugs and mold.”  A group was piling off, clearly jacked up on adrenaline and drama.  We weren’t headed to the Ramada.  We were headed next door.  I tried not to think about how far bedbugs could travel, and whether mold would matter if I was spending 7 hours in the room…

The hotel was dingy, trapped in the early 80s.  We waited outside a semi-secure vestibule large enough for 2 people, and stifling in the Atlanta heat – even at 1:30AM.  Through bullet-proof glass I paid my $69 and received my key.  The desk clerk pointed to the room closest to the street, and across from the pool/vending/front desk.  All I could think about was a shower and a pillow.  My carefree traveling self was fading, slowly replaced by a character from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

I keyed in, looked around, and stuck my head back out the door to give the thumbs-up to the others who were still waiting for keys.  We’d wondered whether we’d have better luck across the street at the Highland Inn, or something like that.

Backpack balanced on a chair; shampoo in hand, I headed into the bathroom.  And found that there was no hot water.  None.  I let the shower run, hoping it would warm up.  I jiggled the handle and tried the sink.  Zero.  I thought feebly about asking for another room, but I the bed’s tractor beam pulled me in, and I passed out on the way to the door.  I’d shower in the morning.

I didn’t move for about 6 hours.  When I woke up, it was still with thoughts of hot water .  Which did not exist.  Not in my room, at any rate.  No matter, Kelly was coming, and I could get a shower at her place.  I packed up and waited for her call.

“Hi!” came her chipper voice.  “I’ve got a great day planned for us.  We’re going to head to coffee, then to breakfast, then to a meeting, then somewhere fun, and then home tonight.  Make sure you get a shower. ”  Crap.

It’s been a while since I took a submarine shower.  I’m not so good at them.  Fortunately, halfway through the chilly ordeal, the hot water appeared, out of nowhere.  I did a little dance, and scrubbed a couple of days of bus, train and plane rides off of my body.

I checked out, and thought about how mildly grumpy I was that I had to pay for a crap-ass hotel room.  Fortunately, I’d be spending the week with people I loved.  I tried to focus on that, not wanting Kelly to know how un-great my night had been.

When Kelly arrived, it was with some news.  She’d run into her neighbors on the way out of the house.  They were headed to the airport for a 3-week vacation.  That meant that their carriage-house – a beautiful space with a full kitchen and bathroom – was empty.  Quick-on-the-draw Kelly had secured the space for me.   She was a little apologetic when she described the place, afraid that I’d be disappointed not to stay with her.  But the idea of my own bathroom and air conditioning was a dream.

We spent the day tromping around the city, eating, drinking coffee, and catching up.  When we rolled up to Kelly’s place, and she pointed to the neighbors’, I laughed.

It was more beautiful than anything I could have planned.  Nestled into a gorgeous backyard, with its own porch and swing, the carriage house was perfect.  I crunched up the gravel drive, through the white-picket-fence, and opened the door.  The burst of cool air that met me at the door made me laugh again.  Kelly headed to her place, and I set to unpacking.  I drew a bath in the clawfoot tub, and made some tea on the stove.  Then I kicked back in the oversized chair, thinking about the fact that Kelly would never have run into the neighbors if my plane had been on time.  I drifted off, smiling about the $69 I’d paid for the week-long stay at the carriage house, and knowing, once again, how wonderful groundlessness can be.

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July 23, 2010   2 Comments