Getting in my Own Way

It has been mentioned that I have a gift for self-sabotage. See you if you can identify it in the following narrative:

Yesterday I flew from Portland to San Francisco.

In San Francisco, I bought a huge egg and sausage on a brioche sandwich for $10.50. Then I threw it away because it was making me nauseus.

On the flight from San Francisco to Detroit I sat next to a tall young man from China. I wanted to talk to him about my boys, who are in China, but he slept the whole time so I couldn’t even go to the bathroom.

During that flight my jaw locked up;  it does that sometimes, but never for long enough that I get skinny.


At the Detroit airport, which is basically one long hallway, I skipped the overhead tram and walked down fifty gates to my new airplane.

On the way, I stopped by one of the massage places and asked the dreadlocked young masseuse guy if he could unlock my jaw real quick.

I cracked my mouth open as wide as I could to demonstrate the problem: wide enough to talk but not wide enough to put a sandwich in.

He said no, kind of nervously, and showed me the menu with the spa services; the option of a face massage was $50. He pointed at it.

“That hits on the jaw a little,” he said.

I told him no thanks, I didn’t have the time, money or desire for an entire face massage and continued down the hallway.

After a few gates I realized that a handsome young masseuse might sometimes run into horny middle-aged women traveling alone, and decided that perhaps I should not have opened my mouth at him in quite that way.

I reached my new gate, sat down, and practiced opening my mouth.

Guy interrupted me with a screen shot of my Delta reservation —showing a flight and seat for Kristie Towell. And right underneath that, on the same flight, another seat for Kristie Towell.

I waited in the impatient line at the Delta desk.

“Um, hello,” I said. “This is kind of weird, can you look at my reservation?”

The woman looked at her computer, then looked at me. “Oh sweetie,” she said. “You’re fine.”

“Isn’t it strange,” I pestered. “Two reservations? Two seats? One name?”

“What’s the name?” she asked.

“It’s my name. It’s the one on the reservation. Actually it’s both of them on the reservation.”

There’s only one of you, right?” she asked. “You’ll be fine.”


I so appreciated the profundity of her statement on this, my first solo vacation, that I obediently sat down resumed trying to open my mouth. I was going to have to eat sometime.

A notification popped up on my phone. “Your Delta flight is now open for check-in”.

I checked the reservation. It was from San Francisco to LAX to Paris to Madagascar– the reservation that I thought had disappeared right after I thought I’d booked it.


I went back to my friend at the Delta desk.

“I think you should look at this,” I said.

She sighed. “It’s no big deal,” she said. “I’ve seen it before.”

Then she paused her efficient keyboard clicking.

“Oh, wait.” she said, eyebrows raised. I finally had her attention. “This is another reservation. You have two reservations?”

“But there’s only one of me,” I reminded her.

“How did this happen?” she asked. “You should cancel one of these reservations. You should cancel the one that goes to LA because right now you are in Detroit.”

“An excellent plan,” I said.

“You have a nice day, honey,” she said.



I sat back down and tried to cancel my reservation online but kept getting a notice in red font: “Sorry! Your action did not go through! Please try again later!”

I began to sweat, as one does who is about to lose $1300 because of her own fantastic ineptitude.

Time to board.

My seat was next to a tightly-groomed woman who was probably my age but much more carefully preserved. I could tell by her hairspray that we were not going to be friends, and I tried to keep my arms clenched next to my sides so she wouldn’t smell my fear-sweat.

During the 7 ½ hour flight to Paris, I tried intermittently to cancel the reservation. When the food came, I cut it up into babyfood sized pieces and shoved it in sideways, shielding my seatmate from the view with my free hand.

Meanwhile, my seatmate drank one glass of cranberry juice, sat up straight in her seat and closed her eyes in a professional way. She, too, did not get up to use the restroom the entire flight. Don’t people pee anymore?

In Paris, I called Delta Airlines where I was informed that my flight that I didn’t think I booked was non-refundable and had been paid for through my American Express autopay (OPEN YOUR MAIL, PEOPLE!),  but, lucky me,  because my customer service agent “advocated for me to her supervisor”, they would generously NOT keep the $1300 but instead give me a credit.

“Whatever,” I told the voice on the phone, “This will give me another chance to take a vacation because clearly I am so VERY good at it.”

“Will that be all, ma’m?” she asked.

The flight to Paris was filled with groups of teenage French travelers who were adorably enthusiastic. The air attendant kept bringing them seconds and thirds of meals, as well as wine, because she couldn’t resist them either.

Seated next to me were two ridiculously attractive young Malagasy girls who, after generously showing me how to plug the headphones into the seat in front of me, curled up together in a ball and went to sleep.

This disappointed the young French boys in the seats next to them.

I took a valium, started to believe that this whole thing was really happening, and went to sleep.


Two hours before we landed, I woke up and, with the insouciance of a seasoned solo international traveler, began to peruse my itinerary.

In my perusal, I noticed that the date of my airport meet and greet, as well as the hotel reservation for my first night in Madagascar, was July 12.

It was currently July 11. It would not be July 12 for another 24 hours, no matter where in the world my plane landed.

I could try to describe to you how ridiculous it is to arrive in Madagascar at 10:30 pm without a hotel reservation, local language skills, currency or experience in the country, but that would take up too much space.

Remember in the last blog, I said that the times I have traveled alone I have made male friends to help along the way? I decided to fall back on what I know.

I noticed a man sitting in the aisle behind us. He was about my age, small and fit and trim, wearing khakis and a polo shirt that read “Lemur Project”. He looked like a guide.

I peered over the sleeping girls and stared at him. He was reading a book in English called “How to Give a Successful Speech.” A comfortable woman sat companionably next to him, perhaps his wife?

I stared at him for about ten minutes, then I elbowed the girl next to me, who glared, sleepily.

“I need to get up,” I barked.

I climbed over her and her friend and knelt in the airplane aisleway, next to the guide-like man.

“Um, scuz me,” I said. “Are you a guide?”

He looked startled.

“A guide?” he said in perfect English. “Well, sometimes I guide. I am a biologist returning from teaching a class at the Houston Zoo. I have my PhD from StoneyBrook University in Long Island. Sometimes I guide. I have guided US senators around Madagascar. But it isn’t my main job. For my job I study lemurs at…”

“Oh my lord,” I interrupted him. “Can you please help me?”

I didn’t cry, but my voice shook in a way that usually only comes out when I am talking to Guy or to my therapist, and I almost put my head in his lap like a supplicant.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I explained the problem.

“But how did this happen?” he asked.

I asked him if I could use his phone to call my tour guide, in case my phone didn’t work, or if he could help me find a different hotel, near the airport, and a taxi driver that could deliver me to it without kidnapping me in the darkness or whatever, anything, please.

“I didn’t bring my phone with me to the United States,” he said. “But you can spend the night with us at our house.”

Holy shit, I thought, it’s happening all over again. I meet some guy, I go home with him etc etc etc. Didn’t I tell you this is why I don’t travel by myself? Didn’t I?

“Um,” I said. “Wouldn’t that be weird? Can you just help me in another way?”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

Faintly reassured, I climbed back over the girls and worried about different things until the plane landed and then I turned on my phone and prayed to the google gods and dialed my Brett, my guide’s home number.

He answered!

I explained the situation until he understood, and he promised to take care of it.

“We don’t have much time,” he said, “But I will do my best.”

The friendly man from the airplane checked back in with me.

“You aren’t going to come home with us?” he asked.

I thanked him profusely and I shook his hand and I smiled at his wife and I thanked the lord for SO many things.

Slogging through the long line at customs I read texts from Brett containing such admonishments as:

“Whatever you do, don’t freak out.”

Filling out my Visa form, my hands shook so badly I could barely write, and the woman behind the glass sent me back 3 times to do it over. I took refuge next to two little nuns who were having the same problems but for different reasons (I don’t think they could read).

After multiple slow, vague stops at different customs etc lines, I pushed my way through the throng and emerged from the airport into the warm dark night. Amid the crowd of beggars and porters, family members and hotel drivers, I found a sign with my name on it, more or less:

Kristen Powell.

I shoved the eager porters away and planted myself triumphantly in front of the man with the sign.

He loaded me and my bag in the car where, ignoring the threadbare little boy standing outside the passenger window begging for change, I texted Brett.

“I am in the car!” I said.

A few minutes later, I received a text from Brett that I don’t think was meant for me:

“Agent B is in the car,” it said.

I am going to stop here, because I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted.


12 Replies to “Getting in my Own Way”

  1. I’m so happy for you; it’s all going just right. I’m guessing you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey? The trials are the fuel for what is to come. Which with such a chaotic beginning is bound to be transformative. Plus the pictures tell a different story. Go, Kristen, go!


  2. Oh my gosh. I was hanging on every word- what would happen next? Gees! I love your room and the pool though. So sorry about the travel fiasco. How is your jaw?

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. I remember when there used to be a profession called “travel agent”. Perhaps there are one or two of those left in captivity, and if you are very quiet and move very slowly, they will help you buy airplane tickets next time.


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