Lessons of the Road

I have returned from an adventure.

A wonderful, yet challenging, adventure. With my family.

I am grateful for the abundance of time and energy to have been able to go on this adventure. I am so glad that we all took the time to be together and to explore new-to-us places and to experiences new sights, sounds, tastes and smells.

The challenges were all out of anyone’s control and totally unexpected.

They included outgoing flights that stole a day from the majority of our group. Record-breaking heat everywhere we went. An absence of air conditioning in these places because they usually have no need for it.

Two of our lodgings were not at all as they were represented, which was disappointing and uncomfortable. A space markedly smaller than the photos appeared. A stairwell so steep under a ceiling so low leading to the one common space and second bathroom that it was unusable. A stove with no manual that we could not figure out — no way to heat water for coffee. Another place having no window coverings, infested with bees and flies.

(I suppose these could be considered “luxury” problems if you look at it. For me, as I had been the one to book the lodging, they were challenging, and disappointing. It also really enlightened me to my own “Americanism” – to how used I am to traveling with and to all the comforts of home. Take a way some of those, and I felt uncomfortable. But isn’t the point of travel to leave home behind?)

The real challenge came when one member of our group (the person whose trip it was) got very sick for two days. And then another of us got sick right after that one, requiring an emergency clinic visit and rendering them housebound for the last leg of the trip (three days.) This family member, I am sure, was counting down the seconds until they could get the hell back home. They were really sick and could not sleep due to the illness and the heat.

I cannot recall a trip from my life that had so many issues. Everyone valiantly moved through it all as well as they could. But there were moments of discomfort and when spirits waned and were tested to the limit.

Still. We had laughter. We saw some amazing parts of the world. And we were together.

I know that down the road, we will, for the most part, only recall the good parts. (Except for the really sick person, who, I am sure, will never forget how bad it was for them.)

I struggled mostly with just giving space for everyone to have their response to the challenges. To not feel totally responsible for everyone’s happiness. I was, after all, the instigator of the whole trip. For a recovering perfectionist and people-pleaser, this was daunting.

As a result, I was stretched in ways that I did not at all expect. Perhaps that is the very nature of travel: to go beyond one’s known terrain into foreign territories.

So as I leave the trip behind and reenter everyday life, I let whatever lessons were contained in this journey sort of simmer, low-level, trusting that some day I will look back and realize the gifts contained within the turbulence that the trip presented.

I trust that my memories of the difficulties of the trip will fade in comparison to the joys.

And I refill my spiritual well for the next adventure.

Tradition

I am on an adventure with my nephew.

When I graduated from high school, my Granma took me on a trip to England, Wales and Ireland. It was a generous gift.

She’d traveled extensively in her life, as had her mother, my Great-Grandmother Burns. They’d both lost their husbands early and ended up living quite rich and adventurous lives as widows.

My Gran had taken my two brothers before me as they each graduated. It was a tradition.

So when my brother’s first born graduated from high school, I had the impulse to carry on the tradition.

My Gran was long-since dead, and my Mom – her daughter – had died a few years’ past.

So I decided to do what I knew they’d have loved to do.

I took my niece on a trip to London and Paris in 2016. My sister-in-law came too, which was almost as good as my Mom being there. She is warm and loving, just like my Mom.

It was a wonderful trip. I cherished our time together and felt my parents’ presence (my father and other brother had recently died as well) with us.

And now here I am, my nephew and I on an adventure. And this time, we are all here together: my husband, my nephew, my brother, my sister-in-law and my niece.

My nephew chose Norway and Sweden to explore. None of us had ever thought of visiting either, but of course we were all game!

So here we all are, in Norway.

And it is heavenly.

The beauty of this country is just magnificent.

But of course, it is all really about being together. We feast our eyes on the landscapes. We laugh and laugh. We eat delicious food.

Once again, I sense my parents, and my brother somehow here, happy for us.

Maybe my niece and nephew will someday carry on the tradition and feel my presence there, too.

Highway Robbery

Life is a one-way road

Cannot go back, only forwards

So why do I feel stuck in time

At times moving backwards

Or worse yet, stalled

on the side of the road?

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: One-Way

One of my favorite songs from the early 90’s was Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway.” I love the lyric and the music. It always made me feel so full of hope and youthful joy, and still stirs that up in me upon listening today. So when I am feeling a bit stalled, I put it on to wake my hope up!

Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind

There’s a world outside every darkened door
Where blues won’t haunt you anymore
Where the brave are free and lovers soar
Come ride with me to the distant shore

We won’t hesitate to break down the garden gate
There’s not much time left today

Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
Well, I want to drive it all night long

Through all these cities and all these towns
It’s in my blood and it’s all around
I love you now like I loved you then
This is the road and these are the hands

From Mozambique to those Memphis nights
The Khyber Pass to Vancouver’s lights
Knock me down and back up again
You’re in my blood, I’m not a lonely man

There’s no load I can’t hold
A road so rough, this I know
I’ll be there when the light comes in
Tell ’em we’re survivors

Life is a highway
Well, I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long
Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, yeah

Life is a highway
Well, I want to ride it all night long, yeah
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long

There was a distance
Between you and I
A misunderstanding once
But now we look it in the eye, ooh yeah

There ain’t no load that I can’t hold
A road so rough this I know
I’ll be there when the light comes in
Tell ’em we’re survivors

Life is a highway
Well, I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
Well, I want to drive it all night long
Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, yeah

Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long
Come on, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, yeah

Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
(Yeah, I want to drive it all night long)
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long
All night long

– Thomas William Cochrane

Date with Destiny

I knew.

Before it happened, I could feel it.

It almost didn’t happen.

If I hadn’t been on just that road at just that time.

His car passing my overheated one as I sat in it, seemed so…miraculous.

I’d not seen another car for at least an hour.

After realizing I ‘d no cell service, I’d kind of lost it. Then I calmed myself down, surrendering to the dawning reality that I was not going to make it to my friend’s wedding on time.

The fact that he stopped seemed so…amazing.

And he seemed so…genuine. (And kind of cute.)

Hope leapt into my chest like a butterfly. I could still make it!

I grabbed my bag and climbed into the passenger seat of his rather nondescript, conservative car. I took a deep breath in and thanked him again, settling in for the ride.

That’s when I felt it, as I looked down and checked that my cell was in its side pocket in my purse. The visceral dread in my gut.

I don’t know what changed, why suddenly everything that seemed so right suddenly felt so wrong.

But as I heard the car door locks click to “locked,” I knew I’d made a mistake.

And just as I looked up and felt the blade of a knife plunge into my waist, into the place where I feel most vulnerable, where it is a scary mix of ticklish fear to be touched, I saw that he knew that I knew I’d made a terrible mistake.

And as I left my body and watched what he did to my body from above, it all seemed so very, very…clear, and so very, very…inevitable.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: visceral

Home

Growing up, I always felt like a fish out of water.

I couldn’t wait to flee the country of my birth…Texas.

Yes, I know Texas isn’t a country.

But in feels like its own country. Maybe because of its size. Or its history. (It was its own country for awhile: the Republic of Texas, from 1836–1845. That independent spirit remains, albeit subtle, after all these years.)

But feeling like it was its own country wasn’t the real reason I wanted to get out.

I just always felt like I was not in my natural habitat. Nothing against it, but Houston, the city of my birth, is very large and flat. Everyone drives everywhere. When I was growing up there, there was no real center to the city, no downtown destination (then) that you could drive to and feel the life of the city the way you can in many major cities.

I felt so…alone. Millions of people lived in the city, but I could never get a sense of where they all were. I’d only see some of them passing by in their cars. Everyone seemed to be going off to places, but where were all the places? There were tons of restaurants and stores and cars and buildings and neighborhoods, but I couldn’t feel where all those people were. I can recall that feeling in my body to this day. It’s an empty-dread-panic that rises from my belly and settles into my chest, squeezing my heart. It makes me want to cry, and my breathing starts to feel pinched off. It literally made me want to run screaming into the streets, looking for, I don’t know what. Some kind of connection. Some kind of belonging?

Yes, I could go to a mall and find a lot of those people. Maybe that is part of the reason that as a child I loved to go to the Galleria, which was a big deal when I was growing up. It had a huge skating rink in it’s center (It was just the Galleria then — has since expanded.) There I could feel some of the people. Unfortunately, being a mall, it was a rather empty-feeling kind of community. I mean, the whole premise revolves around commerce. But it was something.

Sure, I had family and friends. I had some communities. I went to my best friend’s church youth group for awhile. Throughout school, I was in choir and that was a major source of connection. I participated in clubs and such. I eventually was part of a wonderful group of friends in high school and we made our own community, our own clique.

But even with those connections and communities, I still always  just did not feel at home. I literally felt anxious and uncomfortable. Now, there are many reasons for that having to do with other givens of my life. But I am talking at a pure animal level.

Whatever animal I am, my natural habitat is not Texas.

When I was 16, I accompanied my parents to NYC for a big business trip. It was December, and we stayed in a swanky hotel right on Central Park South. And it snowed while we were there. My room overlooked the snow-laden beauty of Central Park, and I will never forget looking out of my window and seeing that winter wonderland. We rode the elevator down one morning with Dudley Moore! I saw five Broadway shows, which forever changed my life.

I was smitten and giddy with the flush of first love. NYC stole my heart the way it does for so many of us. I could feel the people. There was life everywhere. I could stand in the center of the life and know I was there.

Its glittery grime, its sights and sounds, the faces — the diversity! — and the raw urban-ness of it just got under my skin. I just could not stare enough at all the people, their varying energies and manners and expressions. You could argue that because I am an actor, an artist, I was destined to love a place like NYC. But it was more than that.

I was home. I could breathe easy for the first time in my life. I felt like a fish put back into its tank. I was with my people. I was where I was supposed to be. And as quickly as I could manage to, I moved to NYC. And NYC is where I have since stayed.

Today, I enjoy Texas. I appreciate Texas. I like to visit there. Many people I love are there. I see its beauty and its gifts.

But I always come home to NYC.

#NewYorkCityisMyHome

A response to the Daily Prompt: Flee

A Table of One’s Own

The idea of it is so appealing to me. I’m out and about, on my own, in the world. Feeling happy…feeling secure…feeling strong….feeling hungry.

I decide to take myself to a nice meal in a nice restaurant. It starts off so well.

I consider different restaurants as I walk around. I check out their ambiance, their menus. I make a decision, and filled with joyful anticipation, I walk in. I approach the host or hostess with optimistic excitement.

And so it starts. It takes a bit longer than I’d like for them to address me. They make some kind of quick appraisal of me, and it is decided on some level that I do not measure immediate attention. They continue with whatever task they’ve decided they do not need to interrupt to greet little ole’ me.

So I wait politely until they get around to helping me. While I wait, I ponder the mysteries of this situation. This is not my first rodeo. I have been here before: the last time I attempted a meal out with myself. And the time before that. And the time before that. Ah yes. Nothing has improved.

What happens in that nano-second appraisal that leads to me being treated as an afterthought? Is it because I seem so amenable? Does my WASP-y middle-class upbringing resonate that I will tolerate a lot in the name of appearing in social good graces? Or is it because I am middle-aged and they do not actually really “see” me, because as studies show, people aged 45-65 are invisible in popular culture and media and therefore no one can really “see” them in life? That doesn’t explain every attempt to eat out on my own I have ever made in my adulthood…the many times prior to middle-age I went solo.

I tell myself it doesn’t matter, I push down the surge of anger that has risen up from my belly. I want to have a nice meal. They’ll deal with me soon enough. Calm down, Norma Rae. Let’s stay nice. Don’t stoop to their level. Maybe we are being a bit sensitive, dear. Don’t be THAT lady. (Yes, I do talk to myself like that. Even I have ingested the cultural attitude towards my own age and sex. That is perhaps the worst betrayal of all in the experience. That internal voice that judges me right along with their judgement of me. But I digress.)

Finally, the hostess or host comes over and with the enthusiasm of a gnat and asks anemically, “May I help you?”

“Uh, yes, you can. I just walked into your restaurant. What do you think I am doing here? I want a fucking table!”

Well, at least that is what I say in my head. To them I simply say, in my best I-am-woman-hear-me-roar-yet-still-non-chalent voice, head cocked in my best dignified angle: “Table for one, please.”

A tiny moment of something registers in their face. They’ve made some kind of judgement about my solo status. Sometimes there is the smallest trace of a slightly smug smile, usually from a much younger woman, as if they are thinking how pathetic I am, how superior they are, how assured they are that they will never be me. Sometimes, veiled contempt flickers across the man’s eyes, as if I will be wasting table space and time with my presence. Assumptions that I will not tip? That I will be, in addition to alone, cheap?

They set off ahead of me to show me to my table. We wind back through the restaurant, usually to some table in the back, in the corner, by the bathroom, facing the wall or server station. Thinking, I guess, that I, being alone, will prefer to be out of the limelight. That I will want to be alone in my shame. Or to hide me from the other, cooler diners? Don’t want to bring them all down with my aloneness?

I usually accept the offered table without a fight, though I have, at times in the past, insisted on a better table. The way I feel as a result of this action is usually more trouble to process than the bother of being seated at the lame duck table.

Then comes the longer-than-necessary wait for every part of the meal. For some reason, the lone diner is sort of relegated to being the low priority in terms of server values.

This really gets my blood boiling. What do they think? That because I am alone I won’t complain if I have to wait just a bit longer for them to come over and take a drink order? I would say it is because I am a middle-aged woman, and perhaps that is true, but I know other people have had the same issues dining out alone and they have been a variety of sexes and ages.

So I won’t make this a sex, age or gender-related issue. I will just call it the Mistreatment of the Solo Diner.

When I was traveling this summer, I walked out of three different restaurants in three different countries because of this phenomenon, so it is not just an American issue. I expected to be treated better in foreign countries for some reason. Nope.

Dining out alone has rarely been the real pleasure I always envision. Ethnic restaurants such as Indian or Japanese have tended to be better options as a solo diner. Not sure why. Maybe they are more used to solo diners. Because solo diners gave up on the other restaurants and started populating the ethnic restaurants? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I welcome your own stories of dining out solo, good or bad, in the Comments section below. Is it just me? Or do you know exactly what I am writing about?

I’m over it. The next time I go to eat solo, I am going to speak up at every turn when I feel I am not being treated well. Just as an experiment. As neutrally as I can muster. Though I expect to feel awful having to do that (with that Protestant, female upbringing, any such speaking out brings with it a pretty potent mix of guilt and shame no matter what the outcome,)  I am just going to see what unfolds as a result. I have nothing to lose.

Don’t forget. As Johnny says at the end of the movie “Dirty Dancing,” “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”