Blog Post #50 Thursday
I very seldom travel. I forgot how.
I guess that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I used to get in the car at 6 AM, drive straight through and pull up in front of my parents’ home sixteen hours later having covered exactly 1,000 miles from my door to theirs. I could do this virtually blindfolded. I had my gas station stops timed to within minutes. After pumping my gas, and squeegeeing off the mashed bugs who should have known better than to hitch a ride on my windshield, I greeted with the same fondness reserved for old friends the clean bathroom stalls that bade me rest a moment, and bathe my hands, arms and face in cool, clean sink water. Each towering mountain, the heat-scorched desert, the acres and acres of pastureland, and the seemingly endless road stretching down that long, one-point perspective to the horizon were as familiar as my own backyard. I’d lost count how many times my family and I had made that same trip. It was second nature to us—like kids riding bikes around the neighborhood.
But the past few years I’ve stuck like a leech close to home, draining the lifeblood of travel out of my soul, but with good reason. I had an aging father who needed me. As time passed, he needed more time and attention, and I became more sedentary as a result, and less and less mobile. The time came when he needed constant attention. My husband Brad and I played musical chairs at his side. Sometimes, after work, Brad would relieve me so I could run an errand or visit a friend. These activities were mostly local, and were mostly brief. After a while, even short trips to the grocery store became a nuisance. For the most part, I was content to be home.
I’ve always been a homebody. It’s in my nature and always has been. I’m a snail, loving home so much I carry it with me wherever I go. If I walk out the door, a bag of “stuff” goes with me (books, sketchpad, writing paper, pencils, extra clothes, sweaters, snacks—just stuff). I keep a backpack of stuff in the car for emergencies, too. No matter that I’ve yet to use the roll of toilet paper, toothbrush, stash of outdated food and stale granola bars, bottles of hot, stagnant water, flashlight (with extra batteries), first aid supplies, deck of cards, and a plethora of other necessary items from home stowed inside. I might need them, and so the pack continues to occupy its spot in my trunk until … well, forever. (I have plans to rotate the food…one of these days.)
Of course, it’s hard to need these kinds of items on a trip when you don’t go anywhere.
My dear father passed away a year and three days ago. Even after he was gone, I found my desire to go out almost nil. The fact was I had spent so much time sitting quietly at his side, I not only didn’t much care to go out, I didn’t realize I could go out; I had, in fact, forgotten this was a possibility. It didn’t occur to me to walk out the door. I had forgotten there was one. Yes, I saw it. I opened and closed it occasionally. I knew it was useful in admitting others, but the idea of using it as a portal to other places had completely escaped me.
It took time, but eventually, I found that there was a life for me outside of the house. I could go for a walk. I could run to the store—on a whim, if I wanted to! I could visit family and friends in neighboring towns while Brad was at work. I could do these things! But I still found myself somewhat paralyzed at home. Not because I was afraid to go out, but just because I was out of practice. It took a year to really understand just how much freedom to move I actually had.
Then, one day, a trip that I’d been talking about for years and years with friends Monica and Susan resurfaced, like the boulders that grow in the town where I live. You think they’re gone because these rocks are out of sight—undisturbed and forgotten. Then, you do just the tiniest bit of digging, and there they are, sitting above the ground before you: hard, unmoving, eternal. The question of this trip was a boulder buried deep in the ground of my “never will dos.” For the first time in all the years we’ve contemplated this trip (I’m talking decades, here) I found that I had no reason in the world why I couldn’t go. For the first time EVER, the kids were all grown, I was not tied to a job, I had the needed funds, and I was free to come and go. I could go, if I wanted to. And I did want to. It was time. And so Monica and I got online at the same time and bought airfare to the other side of the galaxy! Well, that is an exaggeration. But for all the traveling I had done, or rather, hadn’t done, we might as well have booked flights to Jupiter! I have to admit I was a bit anxious about making this trip. We were going as far from Southern California as was possible while staying in the Continental United States. We were going to a remote little log cabin in the middle of Maine! For someone who, in the past two years had barely walked out the front door, this was galactic.
Weeks before the trip I belabored my poor friends with questions. Would I need a raincoat? An umbrella? What kinds of shoes should I bring? (Water sandals!?) What in the world are those? (Yes, I live in a cocoon.) Will it be hot? Will it be cold? Did you say mosquitoes?! What would I like to do there? Bar Harbor? (Yes, I’ve heard of that. In Summer Magic, Hayley Mills’ on screen cousin, Debra Walley, said, “Well, if you must have Maine, why not Bar Harbor?” That was the extent of my knowledge about Maine, and Bar Harbor.) Sure, Bar Harbor sounds great! Acadia? Why not? Lighthouses? How quaint, yes! Cute little coastal towns? Absolutely! And so it went…plans were made, and I collected stuff from home to drag along with me…including my pillow, and a smaller pillow I call my “knee pillow.” Have to have my pillows. Can’t go away from home without that part of home with me! Oh yes, Monica, it’ll all fit in my carry-on. You’ll see!
Me searching for sea glass on the sand bar for which Bar Harbor was named, and other pictures of that beautiful area (Photo by Monica Wilson)
After the restful night’s sleep I did NOT get, before our flight departed LAX at the delightfully early hour of 6:30 AM, (did I say delightfully? Whoops! Big typo. I meant to write frightfully), I awoke at 3:00 AM, leaving my house at 3:45 for Monica’s. One barely recognizes Southern California at 3:45 in the morning. I zipped over those highways like a marble down a slide, since no one else in their right mind was on the freeway at that absurd hour! From Monica’s house, Monica’s husband, Jeff, graciously agreed to drive us to the airport, depositing us at our gate an hour and a half early for our flight to Newark. (There are no direct flights into Bangor.) Los Angeles Airport was jam-packed with traffic and travelers. Apparently, every other car we had met on the road during the middle of the night was also on its way to the airport, because the traffic we had managed to escape culminated in a massive jam-up in LAX’s terminal queue.
Once in the terminal, we easily found our way to the gate, which was undergoing construction—the only place in the airport without AC. (We counted our lucky stars that we were there at 5:30 AM instead of in the heat of the day.) Our seats were about two-thirds of the way back in an enormous plane. When cattle call was announced, true to form, the thundering herds stirred, and plodded through the cattle guards in two ponderous lines (corralled down from four lines) cramming to get on board. Flight wranglers with strained smiles herded passengers into two long rows onto the plane. If your seat was on the opposite side of the plane from the row you found yourself in, you had to merge into a bottleneck of cross “traffic” to get into the right row. (If we thought we’d missed the traffic on our way to the airport that morning, it definitely caught up with us on the plane.) At any moment, I expected to hear one of the wranglers burst out with,
“Whoop-ee-ti-yi-o, get along little doggies, It’s your misfortune and none of my own….”
I felt sheepish as Monica scrutinized my carry-on, knowing I’d packed half my house, and my two pillows within. When she heard I was packing my pillows, she decided to check a larger bag in order to take her pillow along, as well, but alas, her pillow didn’t fit. I assured her my pillow was made of down, and squished way down into a tiny, compact bundle. (A good reason to call it “down.”) Still, my bag was so stuffed, if bumped just right, I’m pretty sure it would have exploded. I also had a (soggy) un-squished Subway sandwich for our lunch, my raincoat, a sweatshirt in case I got cold on the plane (I did), a pair of shoes, my purse, a quart baggie of toiletry items, and reading material to last a decade among other things stowed in a backpack (which was categorized as a “personal item.” This, too, might have popped open if pressured.
At last, we got settled into our seats, and waited till the cows came home, but the plane wasn’t taking off. After quite some time, a man with a backpack moseyed up the aisle from the back and exited the plane. More waiting. Finally, a distinctly blurry voice came over the loudspeaker saying that the passenger who exited was sick and wasn’t going on the flight. More waiting to take off. (We presumed the wait was because they had to untangle and retrieve the man’s suitcase from the cargo bay.) Monica suggested comforting thoughts like, “He easily could have left something behind on the plane—did they do a thorough search? They really should have everyone get off the plane and check!” At first, these ideas were lost on my untraveled, not-so-savvy pea brain. I was thinking that if he left something, he’d just have to do without! It wasn’t until we arrived in Newark that the gist of what she was suggesting sunk-in and lodged in my psyche—anchoring there, while collecting barnacles of unsettling ideas to fester.
As I said, the plane was enormous, second only to the Spruce Goose in girth and length. Seats were eight across, grouped in twos by the windows and four abreast in the middle. We occupied two in the middle section, with me on an end and Monica in the middle seated next to a boy and his father. Monica, with her quick powers of observation noted the boy was not only reading, but reading a book written in French! When the boy’s father got up to use the lavatory, Monica seized the opportunity to find out more about the boy. He readily engaged in conversation, speaking in English with that conspicuously French accent that makes the speaker appear to be gargling as he speaks, or in desperate need of clearing his throat. He was from Paris, and had a distinctly Parisian look—you know, something about the eyes, nose and mouth. He and his father had been sightseeing all over the west—Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Bay area to name a few. In a few weeks, those two had covered more territory than the Millennium Falcon traveling at light speed, and he had a collection of photographs exceeding that of the Smithsonian to prove it. Again, at light speed, he scrolled through a plethora of pictures on his iPad stopping on a dime at his favorites. Personally, I found it hard to distinguish one picture from another. Every picture looked like frames in an epic roll of movie film. He seemed a very nice young man, and mature for his twelve years, judging from the way he so ably and amiably communicated with Monica.
Once in Newark, we had a connecting flight to catch, but again we had to wait for the thundering herds to exit the plane. It was about as organized as a riot—people trampling over themselves and jostling into each other to make their next flights. As soon as we got off the ramp, I told a flight attendant at the gate that we needed to get to such-and-such a gate in a matter of minutes. She told us to go to a different gate where a bus would take us to our departing flight. We threw wistful glances at the women’s restrooms as we passed like speeding bullets, and hustled through the airport to said gate (I, with my stuffed carry-on and overstuffed backpack, moved like a pack-mule on steroids). Just as we arrived at the gate, a door opened to the outside where, down a flight of stairs, a bus was waiting. My carry-on thumped and thudded as I wrestled it down the stairs, (worrying it might strike the edge of the step and the contents pop open like a tube of Pillsbury rolls), and we scurried onto the bus. We were driven at a moderate speed over the tarmac skirting the terminal to the backdoor of our flight’s gate. Exhaling our thanks to the driver, I manhandled my lead-filled bags into submission out the door, and we hustled up the stairs and into line for the last leg of our flight to Bangor, all just in the nick of time.
We were dismayed to see a toy plane parked at the gate! My carry-on was deemed too large for the toy-sized cargo bins, and swept away from me as if by magic. I was promised its quick return upon arrival in Bangor. As we entered the aircraft, Monica and I cast surprised sideways glances at each other, noting the half-dozen individuals sitting in a line of single seats (one seat per row) to our right, before the plane opened up into a large cracker box having divided rows with two seats opposite the single-seated passengers. I was seated on the aisle seat in our row, Monica by the window. I could just as easily see out the window belonging to the passenger across the aisle as I could through Monica’s, and with less inconvenience to her. Our flight attendant was a jolly sort—very casual compared to the strictly business, cattle rustler attitudes of the attendants on the first flight.
Thunderstorms had been predicted, but thankfully they did not materialize. (A literal answer to my prayers.) The flight was uneventful, quiet, and quick. We watched out both windows, sometimes Monica’s, sometimes the one belonging to the young man sitting across from me (who was from Maine and was eager to get home), to see a panorama of green unfold beneath us. Small, cleared patches of land appeared from time to time into which a house was tucked as if on a Monopoly board. Large, blue lakes (which we later learned were called ponds) dotted the landscape in abundance. We thrilled to think that soon we would be on the ground and traversing the wonderland of lush green beauty, the quaint coastal towns, and the captivating wilderness of the state of Maine! We landed in Bangor just less than an hour later. We waited quite some time immediately outside the plane on the passenger boarding bridge with two or three other passengers for our carry-ons to be retrieved. The official said they were extremely busy in Bangor that day, having two planes on the ground at the same time! (Monica concealed a big city snicker when she heard this remark.) Finally, we were in the terminal, heaving a sigh of comfortable relief at the small, quiet, empty airport, and, more particularly, at the sight of the quiet, empty, clean woman’s restroom just a few feet away.
We had a wonderful visit with Susan, her partner Steve, their cat, nine Husky sled dogs, flittering lightning bugs, bunnies, foxes, deer, and other abundant wildlife, lush greenness, a sky full of twinkling stars, the hope of seeing a moose, canoeing on the glassy pond by their house, hiking, sight-seeing, eating great food, attending the theater, watching lobster boats, walking breakwaters, visiting lighthouses and quaint little coastal towns, visiting national and state parks, and talking about anything and everything. The time sped by.
I bought the very thinnest souvenirs I could find to bring home to my family. Even so, they wouldn’t all fit in my carry-on, even though I squished my pillow down to a fraction of its normal suitcase size. Monica graciously offered space in her large checked bag for my overflow, and we returned home happy as clams to have made this wonderful trip together! (I’ll spare you the details of the flights home.)
Post Script. So now I’ve learned I can leave the house. I can go places and do things again. I learned that the “never will dos” are a figment of my imagination, and that I can do if I just open the door and walk out of it. On a par with the travel kind of doing is traveling outside of my little world via writing my blog. I have only written three blog posts this entire year besides this one. I’m hoping that as the fog in my brain clears as to stepping out, I will step out onto the page more often as well.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.