Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Truth or Consequences

This morning, my travel buddy, A, and I woke up in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It’s a tiny little town that rides that fine line between breathtakingly beautiful and that unique brand of Americana-trashy. But we’re staying at a spa/hotel that smells like lavender and herbs, so no one’s complaining.

We both expressed our wish for this trip to be one of renewal. Our goal is to be in the moment here, and return in a week feeling refreshed and recharged, and ready to face the new. This is the vacation we’ve been planning and saving for months (actually, years, really).

So it was interesting that it started as challengingly as it did. We awoke and made it LaGuardia airport at dawn, only to find out (after I’d gone through security) that they had moved the flight to JFK, without informing any of the customers. Despite the assurance that we would miss our flight, we were told that the only option was a mad dash to JFK airport, and so we grabbed a cab and flew, making it just in time (but only because the flight, being mostly empty of its LGA-intended customers, was delayed half an hour to allow people to make it). Even so, our connecting flight from Dallas was changed to one three hours later.

Once we made it to Dallas, now with three hours to spare, we informed our rental car, hotel, and other appointments that we would be late, and in some cases have to reschedule. And as we boarded our second flight, the woman at the gate stopped us in line to inform us that the carry-on bag I had carried this far was too big. But it would be fine if I took some items out. And so I did, and put them in the plastic bag we’d gotten with the water bottles and crossword puzzles we’d just purchased in the airport.

“Now,” said the woman, eyeing our shopping bag, “You have too many carry-ons.” And so we attempted to relocate those items into my backpack, which promptly tore open, spilling all contents onto the floor.

“Miss,” the woman said, with a suspicious hint of enjoyment, “You’re holding up the line. Get out of the way.”

I shoved everything into my now uncloseable backpack, which seemed to satisfy her, and we boarded the plane. During the flight, one of my pens spilled all over my shirt, and we disembarked in Albuquerque waiting for the improvement that comes once you’ve reached your destination.

And then they lost A’s luggage. No, not lost. They just hadn’t bothered to put it on the connecting flight, the counter man told us with a shrug. They’d send it along tomorrow, down to the two-hour away Truth or Consequences. In the meantime, A is without her stuff.

We went to the car rental, where they told us that the car we wanted wasn’t at THIS Albuquerque Airport station, but at the OTHER one across town. Which closed in half an hour. We could take a car here and now, but that will be 330 more dollars, please.

Another madcap dash in a cab. We made it just in time, got our car, and drove off down the wide desert highway.

I laughed. The entire time things had been going wrong, I had felt strangely calm and almost amused. All of this stuff going wrong was nothing we had done, nor could we change. Also, as stressed as I tend to be in my day-to-day life is how calm I am when I travel. On a plane or on the open road, little fazes me. And it was wonderful.

Also, no matter what had gone wrong, we had gotten everywhere we wanted to go in the nick of time. The shirt I had ink-stained was one I had debated throwing away, not because it was old or worn, but because I had been wearing it during one of my most vividly remembered worst moments of my adult life. I had rarely worn it since, always recalling with a pang the things it had witnessed. But I never could bring myself to toss it, because it was a perfectly good, comfortable, flattering shirt. How could I just waste it? Now, this pure white shirt was irreparably stained black, and I could throw it out without a qualm. It was one of those feel-good “signs” I mentioned. Time to move on, the stained shirt said.

On the highway, a storm began. Sheets of violent rain, lightning that cracked the sky down the middle, and yes, even that haunting, déjà vu of a rainbow. We played The Doors, Zombies, and Rolling Stones. It was a release. Catharsis. The road screamed with us.

And when we arrived to beautiful, warm, breezy weather to our destination: a quiet, desert lodge, we felt exactly what we’d been hoping to feel: renewal. Calm. The sense that we’d shouted and sang out every bad feeling we’d endured. One of A’s work friends texted her that this kind of experience is called “Traveler’s Luck.” Everything goes wrong at the beginning so that you can enjoy a better experience afterward. A Karmic equivalent of getting your store loyalty card stamped enough for the free Sundae.

I love that thought, whether or not it exists. And I love that literally and figuratively, I got to toss some of my achy past away. It’s freeing, and wonderful, and it smells like lavender and herbs.

Still, I’m never flying American Airlines again.