We booked rooms at the La Quinta near the airport the night before we left, not because our first flight was particularly early, but because we didn’t want to add any knots to the string of transports that needed to come together to get us all to Borneo.
I stress, before we leave for trips. No, I don’t just worry a bit about forgetting to water the plants before I go, but full on STRESS like we’re going to die and this is the last time I will ever see my cat.
Guy drove us to Portland where we bought various international electronic gadgets at Best Buy. We ate burgers at Red Robin, then Guy dropped us at the hotel and we watched some America Ninja Warrior on TV.
During my restless pre-trip half-sleep, I conjured potential worst case travel scenarios, trying to cover all the bases so I wouldn’t be surprised when the plane crashed and we were all left for dead on a Lost-style island
What? You don’t do that?
In the morning, we got up on time, grazed the greasy breakfast bar and gathered expectantly with our luggage.
But the shuttle didn’t come.
We paced and muttered. Sighed and fidgeted. OK. It was mostly me. The others sat and looked at their phones. Because they don’t know any better.
I watch for bad omens at the beginning of a trip because I don’t want to look back later and kick myself for what I missed.
It doesn’t take a genius to interpret failing to be retrieved from La Quinta as a bad omen at stage one of a trip. I saw it.
The lobby couches were oddly short and our knees propped high towards our shoulders. We sat like frogs, waiting to leap.
Above the breakfast buffet, the morning news played an interview with a woman who barely escaped her house before an unoccupied semi-truck and trailer crashed through her living room.
“It was there before I even knew it was coming,” she said.
It was because she wasn’t paying attention.
The newscaster asked what she planned to do, now that a semi-truck was in her kitchen, its trailer sprawled sideways across her backyard.
“I never thought this would happen,” she said, mouth quivering.
She should have known.
La Quinta guests checked in and checked out. Some were regulars and greeted the two women working at the desk by their first names.
A man in a business suit booked a room for a week. A frazzled grandmother herded her grandchildren toward their rental car. Someone called asking to book a block of ten rooms but the hotel was already full. A family with two small kids trotted past in swimsuits, heading for the pool.
I went outside and stood in the parking lot, staring into the passing traffic and willing our car to come. I spotted the La Quinta van.
I dashed inside.
“It’s here!” I told Ramona triumphantly.
Everyone stood up.
I peered around the parking lot.
“I don’t see it,” Ramona said, sitting back down.
I asked at the front desk if the shuttle was coming.
One of the women, tall and hairsprayed, with purple painted nails and a La Quinta uniform barely coerced into covering her curves, checked a notebook. “Next one is coming at 8:30”, she said.
She pointed to the book, “Last one left at 8:00.”
I looked at where she pointed. Next to 8:00 was written: Tamiyasu/Towell. 5”.
“NO!” I said loudly, in the voice I only use when I am in or near an airport. “It was SUPPOSED to come at 8:00. It DID NOT.”
She sighed and tapped her nails on the desk. “I don’t know what he’s doing” she said. “If the other van didn’t have a bad tire, I’d take you myself.”
She looked at me.
“Maybe you could contact him?” I offered.
She shook her head.
“He never uses his walkie-talkie”, she grumbled. “He just does whatever he wants.”
I felt the minutes slipping past. Our plane would leave without us and none of these people would care.
“Could I call him?” I asked.
“Call his cell,” the other woman behind the desk. She had smoker’s lines along the sides of her mouth, “He’ll answer that.”
She wore a baggy La Quinta smock in hopeless brown. Her hair was ready for some touch-ups. She thumbed through a stack of papers, unimpressed at the driver’s absence and its impact our vacation.
I breathed out through my mouth. “We have to get to the airport,” I said. “We are going to the airport.”
“It’s because of his disability,” the first woman continued, picking up the phone, poking at the numbers with the tips of the fingers that peeked out from her purple nails.
A third woman came through the door at the back, holding a 32 oz. iced Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and a bag of muffins that she set on the desk. She cocked a hip and an eyebrow. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Don’s not here,” the second woman said. “He should be, but he’s not.”
The third woman looked at the clock then took a drink of her coffee and nodded. “He should be here,” she agreed.
She looked over the desk and around the lobby, at us and at our stack of suitcases.
“He’s not,” I said, hoping that she would inject a sense of urgency into the scene.
“He’s a man. That’s his problem,” the first woman said.
“That’s no excuse,” the second woman interrupted sternly. “Don’t let him off so easy.”
“It’s not an excuse” the first woman muttered, “It’s a reason.”
“No,” her co-worker argued. “The REASON is not that he’s a man. The REASON is that he’s a hat rack.”
The first woman kept tapping her fingers into her phone, waiting for Don to pick up.
“I’d be with a woman if I could,” she confessed to no one in particular, “It’s just I’m not built for it.”
The third woman nodded and took another straw-slurp of coffee, ice rattling.
She leaned back against the door and wiped her mouth with the back of one hand.
She was short, and her nails weren’t polished. She looked as if she’d just finished the night shift. Now she was just waiting around to see what was going to happen to Don.
The first woman sighed and hung up the phone. “He’s at the car wash,” she told me.
“You know what would be funny,” the first woman said, not talking to me but talking to her coworkers. “If you all walked over there with your luggage and met him at the car wash instead of standing around here waiting for him. Now that would be funny.”
The other women nodded, and laughed.
“That WOULD be funny,” the third woman said, gathering up her keys and her purse and her coffee and disappearing back behind the door. heading home to sleep.
Five minutes later, the La Quinta van pulled up, clean and dripping.
“Oh look,” the first woman said, wryly. “There he is.”
We stampeded out the door, passing the driver as he sauntered into the lobby and leaned up against the front desk. His legs were long and his pants hung empty on his skinny hips. He was lanky, like a hat rack.
I dragged the van’s side door open and ordered the boys inside. Ramona went around the back and we piled our luggage up to be loaded.
After a few minutes, the driver ambled up. “You folks headed for the airport?” he asked, leisurely.
I threw my suitcase into the back of the van. It’s lucky I didn’t pack anything breakable.
“Your van looks nice and clean,” Ramona commented, handing the driver her bag.
“Thanks,” the driver said, placing it carefully into the back. He shook his head regretfully. “I didn’t have time to dry it, so it’s going to streak.”
I climbed into the passenger seat, rigid with annoyance.
The driver didn’t notice.
He checked his teeth in the mirror, sucking his tongue, then started the engine. He turned on the blinker, and tick tick tick eased the van out of the parking lot.
“So,” he said. “You coming or going?”
“What?” I barked.
“We’re going,” Ramona said, pacifically.
“Ah, yes,” the driver said. He patted the steering wheel, triumphantly. “I knew it. People are always doing one or the other.”