Streaming up I-26 we sing along to Spotify’s Southern Rock 101 playlist… “I’m travelin’ down the road; I’m flirtin’ with disaster; I’ve got the pedal to the floor,…” reminiscing about where we were in the 1970s and how each of the list’s songs held some meaning for us in our history. Old people karaoke. Without mics or stages, but hot on the trail of joy and nostalgia.
We play this game a lot. And in 2020 we found ourselves doing it much more than in the past. Because, you know, ‘Rona.
I felt expansive. Unrestricted. Albeit, still masked when pumping gas, dashing into a truck stop for a hot dog and a pee break, but you know…free. At least compared with all of 2020. We were speeding into joy.
If this was a Hallmark movie, we would be going home for Thanksgiving and there would be a warm glow around the edges of every scene. Perhaps I live too much in idealism, but I was lost in scenes of joyous reunions. Conversation where everyone talks together. Endless time for happy lingering.
Having received my COVID-19 vaccinations, I felt freer than I had for more than a year. The plan of a family reunion and dinner at Outback — not exactly a first tier restaurant — held more appeal than our cherished annual Christmas Eve luncheon at our favorite Charleston restaurant, Slightly North of Broad.
We stayed at home. For months. Ordering pick-up groceries. Shopping the web. We came to recognize Amazon Prime delivery drivers by their signature style of delivering packages. Some tossed them a la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, some stealthily avoided our security cam by dipping their face or pulling down their cap. FedEx drivers distinguished themselves because they always rang the doorbell, while USPS package deliveries would be tossed on the steps as if the driver was playing the kids’ game where a designated structure is a river of fire…that postal package carrier never stepped on that burning flow: preferring to simply heave the package in the direction of the porch, sometimes making it, sometimes not. Thank heavens we were not ordering china.
Our first post-pandemic trip is to see family in Greenwood, South Carolina. Not a five star resort or mountain AirBnB rental, but more beloved and longed for than any deluxe get away. I’ve never gone that long without seeing them. Greenwood is where my 92 year old mother lives in a continuing care retirement community, which was closed to family for the entire pandemic. And Greenwood is where my older son and his family live too.
For 13 months, longer than a human pregnancy, I felt as if I were gestating an elephant. Which would be named “Return to normality.”
That hallway is long. Walking it seems as if only yesterday I was there. Not February 2020. I knocked on the door of my mother’s apartment. Opened by the caregiver, I introduced myself, but could not contain my excitement as I rushed into the living room. Yes, she still does know my face and voice. But she was a bit confused. Like I’d just walked from the room and had re-entered. Not like I’d been away for 14 months. No time. Just immediacy. Sad that her body is feeling its age, I am happy to be reunited. Thankful for the caregivers who have nurtured her for all these many months.
I began a long exhalation…having not even been aware that for 13 months, I’d held my breath, hoping she would be there when I was able to safely visit. Now we hug and kiss. I did not weep. But felt a shimmering joy like the surface of a pond, ruffled in the breeze, as it dances along until it embraces the shore. At home at last.
I’ve watched surfers at Folly Beach all my life. The small, variable waves are hard to catch. Difficult to ride. They yield short rides that decline into minimal surf. But the proficient ones glide atop those waves. Finding their glory moment. Though some wipe-out before they even get started.
Our joy carried us into the lobby of the Hampton Inn. Delighted to know that we would be able to have contactless check-in via the Hilton app for our first floor room.
Our wave ran out. We bumped bottom.
Our room wasn’t ready. We were punted to a second floor room; one that proved to be at the hall’s terminus, as far from the elevator as possible. A position I would have loved in prior years, but this pandemic year has seen my basketball trashed right knee require my use of a cane to keep me from hobbling like a crone. Oh, well, at least the bed was luxurious as we splashed down onto its surface.
“Drip, drip, drip,” Bill said emerging from the bathroom.
“What do you mean,” I inquired.
“The bathroom faucet is dripping into the shower and the walls are covered with mold.” “How much are we paying for this, he wondered…”
“Far too much to endure that,” I reply.
The housekeeper in the hall was upset that this room was rented to us. She muttered, “I keep telling them not to rent this room…but they keep doing it…”
“I’m going to go get y’all new keys for a new room. Stay here and I’ll be right back.”
When she returned she carried new key cards and pushed a luggage cart to assist our moving. Our new room she prounounced, “is across from the elevator on the third floor so you won’t have to walk far.”
Delayed from our reunion, I texted my son that we would be a bit later than expected, but to bring my grandson’s bathing suit, because the pool was open. My grandma visions of a splashing child buoyed my hopes.
Room 308 proved to be clean, drip-free, but with a sticky bathroom floor due to inadequate rinsing after mopping. But undeterred, I began to unpack our cold bag of homemade-yogurt into the fridge…but it didn’t seem to be cold to me. I fiddled with the on switch, cursing it. “Bill, check to see if this is working.”
“Well, it seems to be on,” he said.
In went the yogurt, the strawberries, apples and oranges which I’d brought for our breakfast and snacks. I added in the still frozen gel packs which had kept things cold on the trip up.
“Ok, let’s go.”
The little girl who lives inside me jumped up and down as her older self surfed the wave to Outback.
Time collapsed into hugs, split-face grins and unbounded joy as I held my first-born. And his son. And my daughter-in-love.
This is the point in the Hallmark movie when they fade into a romantic montage of gesticulations, laughter and toasts. Fade to black.
Yes. It was that good.
Every Hallmark movie has drama. We had ours in this our post-COVID rom-dram.
Back in the hotel room.
I forgot my pillows. (I never go anywhere without them.) Bill banged his elbows on the shower walls. We were both frustrated that in order to turn on the shower, you have to have to step into it, getting wet in the process.
“Did you see that the door’s safety latch is broken? Somebody tried to force it, so it won’t function,” notes Bill.
“And you have to shove the bedroom door into the frame to get it to latch,” he concludes.
Despite the comfy seeming bed, neither of us slept. We woke multiple times. Hot. Crampy. Kicking the hotel duvet off but immediately pulling it back. No happy medium because the AC was cool, but not enough for the heavy duvet.
Morning came. I stirred to make coffee. I’d brought my French press so I could have “good coffee.” Not hotel crap. Putting water into the microwave, I realized I could not get it to start.
First step in debugging: is it plugged in? Yes. To a power surge strip that was loaded with plugs for the television, fridge and the microwave.
“Bill, look at this.” “Can you fix it?”
He fiddles with the powerstrip, checks its connections. “It’s plugged in.”
“I think the breaker’s tripped,” he diagnoses.
“I’m going to get dressed and go get some coffee and ask for the maintenance guy,” I said.
In the lobby, I got a cup of coffee, and spent five minutes trying to figure out how to put the lid on the cup, only to realize that they were a size mismatch.
Delicately balancing the hot coffee and navigating the hallway using my cane, I approached the desk and the clerk asked, “How can I be of assistance.”
“Our fridge, TV, microwave are not working because the breaker seems to be blown. Can you have the maintenance guy come check it out?”
“No,” he replies.
“I can change your room for you because maintenance doesn’t work on the weekend,” he offers.
“I don’t want to change my room; I’ve already had to do that,” I grumbled.
“I’m sorry, that’s all I can do.”
Back up to the room.
We talked it over. Both of us were tired. Yesterday’s euphoria and good will seemingly vanished.
I said to Bill, “if I’m going to pack, I’d just as soon pack to go home.”
“I agree,” he said.
Our Hallmark movie has hit it’s critical plot line. Hampton Inn had one job. A clean, comfortable, functional, safe room. They blew that.
We were somewhat restored by the kindness of the checkout clerk who apologized in a sincere manner, abbreviating our stay for 24 hours and awarding us extra “loyalty points” for our inconvenience.
The spring breeze, rainbow snapdragons and rhododendrons of the gardens at the retirement community gave us a renewed sense of joy. We greeted long-absent faces and returned to visit my mama.
And got a bonus. We were surprised by my brother and my sister-in-love. An all too short visit; we left to go spend the afternoon with my son’s family.
Near sunset, we started our journey home. Bill sleeping upright, head jouncing along as the car rumbled over the rough pavement.
Our first foray out was not quite the Hallmark movie I wanted. But still. We reunited. We hugged. We shared. We laughed. And laughed some more. But there was a bitter taste in my mouth…did I want too much? Do I?
I don’t know if my expectations were heightened due to the pandemic’s interruption of normal life, or if people’s ability to provide quality has been affected by business interruptions, but I know that I really was feeling the last lines of the Molly Hatchet song,
“Yeah, we’re traveling down this lonesome road
Feel like I’m dragging a heavy load
Don’t try and turn my head away,
Flirtin’ with disaster every day.”
as I drove us into the dark along I-26 and home.