I'll figure it out when I get there.
This is what I told myself when I imagined the delicious unscheduled time I'd spend on my solo trip to Arizona before I'd meet up with the friend I was planning to visit. Time I'd spend alone, not taking care of anyone else or considering another person's needs at all. Just my own.
I'll figure it out when I get there.
I said it like someone with access to a smart phone, with a GPS built into the dashboard of her rental car, with nothing but time and a heart full of adventure and serenity. Like someone who has traveled alone more recently than 12 years ago. I didn't picture myself like this, with 5% of my phone battery left (and falling), driving through a construction zone in the middle of a big, unfamiliar city, with no address to plug into the very helpful GPS display awaiting my input, still feeling the aftershocks of a much-less-smooth-than-expected experience of airline travel.
I had envisioned time in the airport to make last-minute plans, cup of coffee in my hand, waiting to board my flight. An airport is just a gigantic waiting room. A place of transition. Limbo. At least that's how I remembered it.
Instead it was a rushing, sweaty, heart-in-throat experience that involved arriving later than I should have, parking in a more expensive lot than I had intended, mentally hurrying security line forward only to find out I had waited through the wrong one (what?!), and boarding the plane -- just in time -- with a full bladder (and a serious aversion to airplane bathrooms).
Once the flight ended (and I finally used the bathroom -- dear lord), I retrieved my checked luggage without issue and got my rental car. But I was talked into an expensive upgrade to a 4x4 by the guy behind the counter because of all the snow that had fallen in the area the day before.
"Some highways are closed," he had said.
I felt skeptical about the necessity and ridiculous for not even asking around for a lower rate. But I had signed the paperwork and was pulling out of the lot, and all I could hear were all should-haves bouncing and clattering behind the car like tin cans tied to a honeymooning couple's rear bumper. Only I wasn't driving off into the sunset.
My stomach was in knots, my mind was jittery. I felt young. I felt old. I felt stupid. Talking to my husband helped (he's reassuring and optimistic by nature), but I still felt unmoored. (Spell check wants me to change this word to unarmored. This is an accurate suggestion).
What was I doing? Where was my sense of adventure? If I ever had an inner compass, it had gone completely haywire. Maybe I should have stayed home. I like being home. I really do. I like things safe and quiet. But my house isn't often quiet. I was hoping to find that here. I still could. I just needed to regroup. I pulled over, hurriedly googled restaurants near me, and plugged an address into the GPS.
The traffic thinned once I was out of the construction zone, and within a few blocks I saw the cute, trendy cafe my internet search had recommended. I drove past it three times, circling the block again and again even though I could see open parking spots. It felt like a big decision to stop here. Were they open? Would I get a parking ticket? Could I find a spot to plug in my phone? I was being stupid, I knew. I was almost laughing at myself, except I also felt like crying. I needed something to eat.
I finally parked the car and went inside. I blinked as if coming in from the bright sunshine or in from the bitter cold. But the difference was neither of those things.
In here, the music was chill and familiar. The lunch crowd hadn't arrived yet so the space was fairly empty. Casual. Relaxed. A huge exhale. I was coming in, out of my head.
"Do I just order here?" I asked the woman behind the sit-down bar. There seemed to be a main counter, too. I was probably wearing lost like an ugly sweater.
"Yah, you can. No problem." She gave me a menu and I chose the frittata -- quickly -- before I could start second guessing this decision, too. "Sounds great; I'll put that in," she said.
"Thanks," I said, resisting the very strong urge to tell her everything that was pressing on the lump in my throat.
I picked a table (another decision I could make!) and set my backpack on the ground. I draped my coat over the chair. There was an outlet in the wall under the table. I plugged in my phone. The food came and I ate. I drank some coffee.
I texted the friend I would meet later and texted home to say hello. I looked up directions to a hiking trail I'd wanted to try. I finished my coffee. I felt like I could breathe again.
When I left the cafe I said goodbye to the woman behind the bar. I wanted to thank her for changing the trajectory of my day, but it seemed like too much, and not really true. It wasn't her, though her good customer service skills certainly helped. It was something else -- or a bunch of little things, really: the ritual of a meal, the safety of a phone charged out of the red, the comfort of a destination and set of directions. And something in the quality of the air that pulled the anxiety right off my skin, an effect not unlike the wind created when air moves from high to low pressure.
Looking back and seeing it from the outside, it really didn't take much to ground me, ultimately, out of an unmoored, uncertain state. But to me, in that moment, it was a weather event. A paradigm shift. Everything.
And from there, I had an excellent vacation.