Wednesday’s Word: An Odd and Beautiful Holiday Begins

San Diego Day 1, 2 077

I am a contented domestic traveler (barring trips to nearby Canada), so I can’t claim chalking up one more exotic locale or vast varieties of experiences in that sense. But I can say my trip to San Diego presented unexpected moments both disconcerting and gratifying. A trio of events plus captivating places and days with Marc have set my mind to pondering  since the  return home.

As we arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown mid-afternoon, I admired its substantial facade. Yet I felt puzzled as a valet got the luggage. Where were the swaying palms, glittering oceanfront, jazzy street bustle? We were smack dab in downtown, merely six blocks from the waterfront. Though a very large city, there was hardly any traffic for a Saturday afternoon–unlike Portland’s city center, a beehive day and night. There were virtually no trees, and if I stepped into the street I barely made out a brief flash of water blueness. Construction was occurring in a couple of places. I wondered then about our “room with view.” Breezy balminess was soft on my skin and I was relieved to be there if a bit fretful for some irrational reason. I yet hoped for the best–a saying that would evoke more meaning later. I had no clue that I would go from 50 to near-zero to 100 very fast.

We entered the airy lobby of what was once the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank from 1927-1994. It still retains a bank’s milieu with original design features though modernized in style aspects. Designed by William Templeton Johnson, it is Italian Romanesque Revival style, a restrained extravagance. The main hall/lobby has 32 foot high vaulted ceilings. It feels medieval and substantial, elegant with marble, bronze, granite, wrought iron and large mirrors.

Up we went to the tenth floor. As we entered a nicely appointed, smallish room, I could see….grey tall buildings and a glaring pit of sandy earth where building was only temporarily halted. No water scene. No colorful streets. The room was dark,  a tad worn here and there. I was disappointed–then snared by a cresting wave of sadness. It didn’t match what I’d imagined, okay–but why on earth plummet like this? Marc was displeased but lacking distress. He is a decades-long business traveler; a perk is the rapidly accumulating of various reward points. Vacations are usually very affordable due to his hard work with such travel. He is usually blase about irritating situations; a hotel room was just a hotel room, a necessary convenience or airport glitches, the expectation. I’m clearly more the neophyte.

I should be feeling happy, I mused. I stared into the rich blue sky above skyscrapers as tears spilled onto my cheeks. Sat on a chair, arms about myself. Oh, right, there it was: that inconvenient, oft-burrowed thing, a specter called grief.

“Today is the day my sister died three years ago, then she was interred on my birthday and this week I’ll be 68…and then Mom died on Mother’s Day…it’s not news that I do not much enjoy the month of memories. I just don’t want to stay here. I’m tired out. We both need a pretty view, a good room–don’t we? Or am I being ridiculous? I’m sorry, Marc, I’m way too upset by this.”

“Yes, we do, this isn’t okay,” he said quietly.

He tried to call the front desk but the phone wasn’t working. He called from another phone which was usable. Someone came up to fix the unfixable phone. Marc was annoyed but I felt foolish, embarrassed by such emotion over a hotel room as Marc started to look for other possibilities online. Except it was not just that–it was the deeper need of a sweetening, healing time away from his intense work and our daily stressors. Things going right and well. The past months had felt like a long breath being held as I waited to see if family would manage okay. I had also recently recovered from major bruised ribs after a slip on the floor when jumping off a counter. I’d anticipated fun walks, even a hike or two.

Marc talked to someone but was told they were at near full capacity, they were so sorry. He started to look online for another hotel in the area and when another staff person appeared at the door he told him we were likely checking out. I fought back more tears and slinked off to the bathroom.

The next events blurred. I worked to get myself together in the bathroom. There was the sound of a growing cast of employees at our door. I dabbed my eyes, blew my nose and told myself severely get a grip when I caught something about moving to another spot and all being taken care of by the customer service supervisor. I blindly followed with a bit of hope quelling the distress; maybe the phones worked well and there would be a pleasanter space, even view. I was morphing back into a composed adult by the time we arrived.

We were led to an elevator, then another and crossed the hall to a second one that required a special key card to take the last elevator to the second of two floor #14s. Through a door in a small hallway and then into a spacious, sunlit array of rooms. Like an apartment. The Presidential Suite. No extra costs. For the next five days we’d stay there; the last two we’d be in a well-appointed room on the top floor. It made no sense at first glance. We wandered about, wondering why we’d been recipients of such fine care. Marc has a good job and his company gives the hotel brand tremendous business–maybe that was it? Or we had an exceptional place and supervisor, yes. Or then again, perhaps we so needed a quiet oasis that somehow we were allowed a true gift. That is how it truly felt–as if we were given what was so needed: solace, rest, beauty. Respite from the world. I was stunned by the rapid turn of fortune.

The views from the long terrace were perfect, with streets of the city fanning out, a glimpse of reflective Pacific ocean, a few giant palm trees in the distance silhouetted against bright spring light. Relief filled us as we surveyed the lively scenes.

We burst out laughing and high-fived each other. What a peculiar, surprising start to our holiday.

That was to be the first of a trio of trying, unexpected experiences. The other two will be noted in future posts. Fortunately, 97 percent of the time was filled with days and nights defined by happy, memorable moments together.

Our first night ended well. We moseyed about the immediate neighborhood and ate at a cheery pub in the historical Gaslamp Quarter. The area sports Victorian style buildings that include restaurants, theaters, shops, clubs– and is always jam-packed. There were throngs of people. We were in the thick of it at last and enjoyed people watching. Wandering further we found a calmer area with bubbling fountain and attractive courtyards. I was elated by all the new things to see and do, hands held in one another’s.

That night before we turned out the light we let our eyes take in the high coffered ceiling with colorful hand stenciled designs. We then slept deeply in a soundproof bedroom on a just-right bed behind French doors, excited to see what unfolded the next day. But I uttered a short prayer of thanksgiving for Jericho, the staff member who made it happen with such good will. I felt humbled and relieved at once.

And so our trip had begun. On Sunday we rose quite late, enjoyed a tasty all-American (eggs, sausage, potatoes, toast, juice, tea/coffee) breakfast and headed to the San Diego Bay and harbor. Along the Embarcadero we soaked up the warm and honeyed light cast upon all. It was breezy and comfortable the whole trip: “San Diego temperature.”

By evening I had forgotten mostly about the glitchy start of things. It is instructive that all grief can be reawakened, causing sudden vulnerability, a sense of being off kilter. The human heart is so tender if also tough. I recalled that Marinell, my deceased sister, had visited San Diego (her husband was a Navy and commercial pilot for decades) among other places–my extended family has traveled father and longer than have I– and how they’d have been pleased I got there. It was a comfort to think on it as I drifted off, my husband close by.

Please enjoy a few of the scenarios we found interesting our first full day. You may know that San Diego is the second largest naval base in the U.S.A. The many ships we saw were mammoth, both intimidating and awesome, and naval air traffic was a near-constant. Boating of all sorts abounds. Evident also in these photos is the Spanish influence on much of the architecture.

Next time: Mission San Diego de Alcala with its complex history and its quiet, mystery-laden spaces.

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Whisked Away! (Despite Usual Protests)

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An evening stroll near our hotel

Well, my apologies. The firm plan was to write a short piece on Sunday evening for the usual Monday posting. But each hour and minute faded away and before long it was bedtime and then the alarm went off. And then I found myself on a plane. Those who know me realize this is not a prime event for me, in itself.  I do love to watch the clouds and landscape– until I remember where I am.

Folks who enjoy my blog are well versed regarding my spouse, Marc, who travels for his work. He has always done so. The last few years more than usual. I have had opportunities to go with him on some business trips but frankly, sitting in a hotel room doesn’t seem too appealing. And if he must entertain customers and cohorts in some packed steak house with lots of alcohol involved (by others as we don’t imbibe spirits) at the end of the day, you can see where that might leave me. Dying to get outside for fresh air, quietness and then a good book while propped up in bed. I mean, I’d happily go to a concert or take evening stroll by a lake, garden or even a tinkling creek. Or a fun venue where we could dance–but this is work time for Marc, not time to hang out, have a blast with his wife. No, travelling with him is like being at home but in another place–he goes to work, returns  tired and full of work talk where I pretend to advise him, we eat meals, and so on. I pick up his socks, tidy up the bathroom after he shaves. It can actually be fun, anyway, once past the mundane.

But let’s face it, going to a certain area, say, in Mexico where one needs to be escorted by a Mexican citizen from airport to hotel to manufacturing sites and back again–well, this rules out leisurely meanders along fascinating streets. Not to mention the uncertain water issue, since I would not be ensconced in a luxurious tourist resort. Oh, I wish. (Trust me, in all likelihood I’d be stricken; I have an unpredictable stomach as it is.)

Marc used to go to Japan frequently. I have few excuses for not going although I was working full-time back then. And way before that I was tending to a slew of kids. His European trips elicited some envy from me (Italy, Scandinavia, Germany, England, etc.–how I longed to shrink and stow away in a pocket), but quite likely that company would’ve declined to send me along. This despite my most invaluable business sense, as well as always balancing a budget and schedules for a family of seven. Imagine! (Perhaps oddly, I do enjoy business talks with my spouse and do try to figure out a game plan figure out co-workers. It’s like making up a story plot wherein I get to save the company millions and insure fair employment practices and am finally the heroine.)

No, he travels alone or with coworkers, even in the USA. It is a lifestyle so many must undertake due to career requirements. I have my family and friends, my daily priorities (plus my own job until four years ago) in Oregon. I am comfortable with solitude as well since the last adult child left 15 years ago. But his side of the story is that he asks me to travel with him and I do not desire to go. For example, two or three weeks ago he asked me to fly to Ohio with him. The Midwest, just a state away from Michigan where we grew up. It was to be a short trip, about 5 days. I declined. I had things to do, I said. Maybe another place. Like Chicago or New York City or Miami or San Francisco, anywhere in Hawaii or Alaska (the last two states I have not been to yet). Not Chillicothe, Ohio, not that week, despite a couple of historical attractions. I’m sure it’s a pleasant town–he told me so.

Do I sound a tiny bit petulant or sadly, worse? But I am truly not ungrateful for his offers. I just have my own preferences. For the most part they do not include flying, then digging in for days of hotel living, even well decorated hotels.

And then a little over a week ago he asked me for the tenth time if I wanted to accompany him on a trip to North Carolina. I’d always had one reason or another to decide against it. The small town he visits holds little allure for me. And it has been starting to heat up out there, the sort of hotness imbued with moisture that builds all day until you move through a veil of heat. Even if it doesn’t rain, one’s skin and hair thinks it has. The very air can seem oppressive to this Northwesterner; walking fast and long is out of the question. Good reason why Southerners speak and move more slowly. We once lived in Tennessee so I offer that opinion from experience. It was inexorably, deeply relaxed.

But I said, “Okay!” A trip is worth taking to try something new, I reminded myself. And to see one’s spouse somewhat more. Marc was surprised and pleased. We found a good hotel in a more metropolitan and interesting area.

I then noted the weather: thunderstorms off and on most of the week.

I began to visualize the following: me sitting or pacing more likely in a dinky hotel room–okay, it’s a roomy and pleasantly appointed suite, but still–and watching television and reading and maybe writing if I got inspired despite jet lag, chronic thunder and lightning with drumming rain and a bed pillow entirely unlike my own. I contrasted that with my daily power walks, writing at my desk, talking to neighbors and friends, music I love on the stereo, eating what I like to eat, going where and when I like to go…That is what happens to people who are not natural travelers, I guess: we can easily imagine less than the most satisfying scenarios. We even might catastrophize. But I kept my misgivings to myself a few days.

On the day before we were to fly out, I told the truth.

“What?” Marc said. “We have everything arranged. But if you really don’t want to come, then don’t, of course. But think about it a little more.”

I wanted to forego any further discussion and back out, period. I then did think of my husband, how often he must be out there working, ever working even during meals, how he goes back to a lonely hotel room. Falls asleep with television on, then sleeps restlessly.

And I also talked to Naomi. I neglected to mention earlier that my oldest daughter, artist and assistant professor, lives in South Carolina, about two hours away from where we would be staying. That meant we could visit her at least for a day. But she sounded so busy–she is working on art for an exhibit, she is doing some summer work at her university, and preparing to sail soon to…Greenland. She travels.

We also have a daughter, a chaplain who lives in Virginia, but it seemed she could not get away at all. Scratch the ole meeting halfway idea.

I have to put the following in quotes to feel like it’s a real conversation.

“I don’t know, Na, I’m now thinking I won’t go this time.”

“Why not this time? You haven’t come out yet with him in five years.”

“I’ll get too antsy in a hotel. Nowhere to really go without a car. Way too hot to walk far.”

“Rent a second car and explore.”

“I’m not so great at driving all over a new city. And it’s added cost for us–the company won’t pay for that.”

“It’s not that much, make sure there’s a GPS for the car, then take him to work! It’s only 30-40 minutes to his job.”

I’m thinking: she always has a solution. This kid has always had answers right and left, and she loves to travel, anywhere at all. I start to feel a bit pressured. I resume my defense.

“It’s supposed to thunderstorm most days.”

“Yeah, it does that off and on out here–remember Tennessee?”

“Yes, I do…I’m a good bit phobic about such thunderstorms, remember that? And I’ll be stuck inside and will get bored out of my mind. Well, I can at least write…but I do that here.”

“I think I can meet you this week-end, we’ll figure it out if you come.”

“I don’t know, Na.” But she about got me on that last sentence.

Naomi sighs, I can hear it despite the texting.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mom. Just go– just for somewhere new to check out!”

I consider this. I do like new places once I get my internal (and reliable) compass realigned and a little sleep. I think of seeing Naomi, too. It has been six months; it will be another six, likely.  She is sailing the sea to Greenland to see glaciers and unknown stuff!

I want to see her.

“I need to go with the flow, right, have a little adventure. I’ll let you know.”

And Monday I was on that plane to Marc’s delight. I also used to not like flying; now I’m better with it and that’s a good thing as it took us all day to set feet on ground in North Carolina.

About when we landed, Naomi texted me:

“What did you finally decide?”

I answered: “We have arrived!”

“Oh, good!”

I drag my huge suitcase (I do not pack like traveler, no) and we find a rental car. It is so humid my wavy hair starts to curl right up but much fuzzier, I can feel it.

What have I done since arrival? Not much so far. Walked for short periods in steamy weather that can take my breath away, though I feel oddly adapted after four days. Read and wrote a bit. Even found a leafy, delightful shopping district so naturally hot-footed it over there and had fun an h afternoon, even though my water bottle emptied too soon and it felt like I was crossing the desert but with a damp wind at my neck.

I also listened daily to bullfrogs or spring peepers and who knows what all that make a happy racket at a nearby pond. Are there cicadas somewhere in there? There must be; we are in the zone for those cool,  weird bugs. And I also wondered about snakes and bird songs. Mockingbirds, perhaps?

But I also packed my swimsuit and after a couple of decades of not once swimming, I eased in, felt that cool water gently cover me and was thus transported. I have worked on my side stroke and breast stroke and just floated about every single day. It has been heavenly to do that whenever I desire. (I need higher SPF protection, however…) We’ve had good meals, with more to come, and evening strolls. And tomorrow Naomi will drive up to meet us–I can’t wait! Then comes the week-end and Marc will be free a couple of days. We’ll explore the region, absorb experiences while catching up with our usual banter, debate and sharing. I will take my photographs, happy to let eyes roam over new landscapes and people.

The trip is not yet half over. Alright, I’m glad I came. There was a thunderstorm already. It was gusty and somewhat ornery and happily brief. There are more forecast near the end of each day, when it swelters. Can’t change that but my attitude is always another matter. So far, that outlook is open and good. In fact, I am appreciative that I get to do this. Marc was saying last night that he slept so much better with me around. And it’s good to hear that, to be here with him, see where he has been coming for so long. It’s pretty countryside with many deciduous trees for a change. And I have slept like a summer’s dream, too, waking up right and ready to check out more.

I’ll be back next week with a new post.  Time to head to that sparkling aquamarine pool!