Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not Every Hotel Has a Doorman

The flight to New Orleans was relatively painless. When we got past the clouds and the snowy landscape further north, the view out the window showed brown soggy ground laced with branching rivers and streams. It was so flat! And muddy! And brown!
I landed and called my hotel to ask them the best way to get to and from the airport. They recommended I catch the airport shuttle outside the baggage claim that will take you to any hotel in New Orleans, for a fee of course. The driver nearly fell over himself trying to help me, and I soon figured out why. Our first stop was at a hotel with a French name, a granite column façade, and a doorman with a top hat. I soon ceased to be impressed with the doormen, however, because the next four hotels had them too. I sank further and further down in my seat with each stop: Marriott, Sheraton, Marriott. And of course the stop right before mine, the hotel I had found on the Internet for $20 a night, was the Ritz Carleton. Momentarily, I felt a little better. We were already on Canal Street, which was where my hotel was. I could only be a few blocks from the Ritz – how bad could it be? We stopped.
Oh God. I couldn’t even see the entrance. There it was, overshadowed by the beauty supply shop next door and invisible because there was no doorman to help me out. The canvas over the door was worn and ragged and it looked more like the entrance to a cheap lawyer’s building. I thought about making a show of giving the driver a 5-cent tip, especially since he’d just received a $20 from Mr. Ritz Carleton, but thought better of it.
After checking in, I made my way up to the third floor. I noticed the smell when I stepped off the elevator, but it didn’t really get to me until I was in my room with the door shut and felt like I was in the middle of a smoker’s convention. The room was small but cute, with a sink, TV with a remote, fridge, double bed and old-fashioned striped wallpaper. The furniture was dark polished wood and the little window looked out onto the street. I tried to ignore the smell that reminded me of what it would be like if I were ever stuck in a smoke stack, but I couldn’t do it. I went back downstairs to ask if they could change my room. Yes, Ebony said, but I would be on the second floor, and there wasn’t a women’s bathroom on that floor. Was that okay? Sure, I said, then went back to the chimney to wait for my new quarters. In just 10 minutes I felt sick enough to die. I wondered if the room had been tested for other noxious gasses. Was there a hose hooked up to a car somewhere?
My new room was probably specially designated for goody-two-shoes Northerners that whine about the smoking rooms. My new TV had no remote, was probably built in the late ‘70s and had an attached clock radio. This could have been considered a plus, except only one channel came in, and the damn thing turned on by itself at midnight. There was no fridge, and this time the view was a brick wall. When I sat on the bed it protested loudly and sank a couple inches. Hmmm…too much chocolate. The walls were the same cloth wallpaper as upstairs, except for the wall behind the bed’s headboard, which they had covered after they ran out of pink striped wallpaper, so they used blush pink carpet instead. The door looked termite-riddled, but thankfully the rest of the room was clear of vermin and lacked any sort of smoky smell. I leaned against the sink and it almost came out of the wall.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Finding What You Aren't Looking For

“Help,” I felt like saying as he rambled on, “I need your help.”
Instead, I sat and listened as he quoted home prices.
“The houses across the street are nice, and they cost a little more – two twelve, maybe two fifteen.”
As Brad inhaled his Marlboro Red, I stifled my words. I realized that he didn’t’ want to talk about it – what I wanted to talk about. He wasn’t interested in what I wanted to say; that I was afraid, felt alone, had taken an entire road trip based on the idea that that there was hope out there somewhere for me, if I could only find it. What did my hope look like? I think I imagined it to be an old friend telling me that he was impressed with where I had been and what I had done. Maybe, just maybe, I was looking for some reassurance that my life had not been wasted traipsing all over the world instead of aiming for the normal route – job, husband, family, in that order.
Instead, I found Brad, eight years after I first met him in Spain, with a 24-year-old wife and a two-and-a-half-year-old son who screamed for attention and was constantly praised for being a good boy.
Whatever I was looking for, it wasn’t this. It wasn’t suburbia, with a house in a development with 500+ homes in seven different styles. It wasn’t living in the middle of Montana, making a lot of money but having no friends and moving around every six months following the promotions. Whatever hope I was looking for, it wasn’t here.
What was here was my past. Even that had been marred.
“Man, I didn’t imagine you to be the one who would keep traveling,” Brad said when I first arrived. His pretty blonde wife was chasing their son around in the other room. Considering they had a two-year-old, the place was clean and well decorated.
“Oh yeah?” I asked, “What did you think I would do?”
“I don’t know…get your masters in writing or something.”
“Ah.” I paused, stuck at what to say. “Who did you think would do the traveling, then?”
Brad thought it over.
“I don’t know,” he said, “It wasn’t going to be Mary…not Tim…I guess I would have said me, at that point. I might have done it – gotten myself lost in South America or Africa or somewhere, if I hadn’t met Ashley.”
There it was. Suddenly he’d lost me.
If I hadn’t met Ashley.
A boyfriend once asked me – assumed of me, in fact – whether I would stop traveling when we got married. Perhaps I haven’t found that sort of love yet. Perhaps this is naïve of me, but damn it if I hope I never find that kind of love.
Brad made me feel like I could have made something more of myself if I had only gone to get more schooling. Perhaps, maybe, I could have had a different life if I had only chosen differently. But you know what? I didn’t choose differently. I chose to run across the world every chance I got, take every opportunity offered to me, and do my best to live it up while I could. Yes, I’ve gotten to the point where I see nominations of currency in the amount of days it could sustain me in a foreign country, but I will carry those memories with me and with more pride for a damn sight longer than Brad remembers his first house. Have your prerogatives, but don’t make them mine.
The happiest I’ve ever felt was on the open road with the window down and my foot on the gas; on the edge of a mountain with the clouds below me and the sun beating down; naked in a river with only the sounds of the water in my ears; surfacing from a night dive on the Great Barrier Reef with my breath as my only company. Is there something wrong with me because these moments were alone? Maybe. Do I give a shit? Not at all.

Love and fed up kisses

The Addiction Takes Hold, Again

There’s a drink called Adios Motherfucker; it was named after me.
This morning I woke up sweaty and feeling suffocated in my sheets. Suddenly, an idea that had been rolling around in my head from awhile took hold and shook me.
So I did what I had to do, what I usually do when this happens: I obeyed.
And here I am, 300 miles from home, sitting on a lakeshore in Canada. I have no idea what time it is, but the light is fading and a city to the north of me – Summerland, I learned later – is starting to emerge, one star-speck of light at a time. There’s a breeze that is bringing the waves lapping to the shore, and it almost hides the sound of the highway on the hill behind me.
When I finally pressed my foot to the gas pedal in my old beat up Subaru after hours of prep and forgetting things, I felt a relief and a buoyancy that I haven’t felt in a long time. I rolled down the window and screamed. It too was something I’d needed for awhile, but I had been afraid to disturb the neighbors.
I don’t think it says anything good about me that I feel the most real when I am alone. I nearly cried at the joy of seeing nothing in front of me but the open road; nothing next to me but some jerky and my laptop; nothing to do but see how far north I could make it before dark. Suddenly, words that had been locked inside me started to spill out, and I felt waves of inspiration hitting me as palpably as I feel the water of this Canadian lake around my feet.
I am made for this. If it weren’t for the knowledge that I am a European mutt, I would swear that I am from a long-lost nomadic tribe. I feel safer with the wind at my back and the unknown ahead than I do in a bed that I can call my own. I can’t find a part of me that fits in a house. I can’t find a part of me that is willing to give up my freedom for a home. I fight this urge, this addiction, this need, but somehow I can never conquer it, and I’m not sure I want to. What I want is a way to sustain it, to live off it, to bleed it dry, then milk it for more. I want property in third world countries, to know the names of the locals, to explain to others the shape and size of a country they’ve never heard of that I now call my own. I want to be able to scream from the tops of the mountains without wondering if people can hear me. I want to wake up in the morning without feeling like the sheets are trying to strangle me – because I don’t belong to them, they belong to me.

Love and addicted kisses