My husband and I had gone to Florida to visit with friends who had just bought a place in St. Petersburg. We decided to also combine the trip with some boat time on the Gulf and a side trip to Fort Myers to visit Thomas Edison's summer laboratory and home. Hoping to increase our confidence sailing in the Gulf, we made arrangements with a sailing instructor to go out on his 29.5 foot Hunter, which is a little smaller than ours, but also similar in its feel. We spent a calm, low wind day with him on the gulf and then Stan and I stayed on the boat that night. The most challenging part of the day was practicing "man overboard" with "Wilson" the boat cushion. A side goal Stan had was to start completing the American Sailing Association series of courses in anticipation of a longer term goal of chartering a boat in the British Virgin Islands. This meant he needed to demonstrate mastery of the "man overboard" maneuver before taking the written test, both which he completed with flying colors - which helped with the confidence building part of our goal.
Having accomplished our goal, we then decided to spend some time exploring Florida's coast line. It just happened to be spring break, so finding accommodations turned out to be a full time job - one I was up for thanks to cell phones and ipads. Instead of gazing out the window at the beautiful changes in the landscape and sweet coastal towns, my time was spent with my head down, poring over potential hotels where we might land that evening. Sometimes too much information is not a good thing. In my case, it rarely is. I like to blame it on my Gemini nature, but whatever the reason, if you give me too many choices, I can easily manage to take a 15 minute task and stretch it into an hour long one. And if you add to that any consideration of cost, well, I can easily spend two hours looking down at my lap in search of just the right combination - which is exactly what I did.
The entire two hour trip from Fort Myers (where we had a wonderful tour of Edison's summer laboratory) to Tampa was spent comparing distances to the airport with potential room rates, gauging whether or not it made sense to use my frequent flyer miles instead, and then gauging the distance to a local casino we had planned on hitting for our anniversary entertainment. Whew. Exhausting work, but I was so pleased that by the time we were within 15-20 minutes of our destination, I had narrowed it down. It was at that point that my plan began to fall apart. In all of my researching hotels to find the exact right one for the evening, I had failed to consider that they would all be booked. Apparently mid spring is a popular month on the Florida coast. Duh.
But being told time after time that they were fully booked, was not the end of my quest. We pulled off into one of the "bargain" possibilities. It would have made the perfect movie set for a film about some couple down on their luck ending up at this long forgotten hotel run by a mass murderer. The hotel was right off the freeway and if it wasn't for the parking lot filled with huge mac trucks and worn out vehicles, you might have guessed that the hotel was an abandoned one. The doors faced the parking lot and the once red doors of this Red Roof Inn had long ago lost their color, which matched the rest of the place - colorless and dirty. While I am sure having doors you could drive right up to added convenience, what it added for me was anxiety and a sense of vulnerability. I announced to my husband that it didn't make sense to go check on a room, since I wasn't staying there.
So we sat with the rental car idling in the hot Florida sun while I called every hotel within a 15 mile radius. Finally I found a Howard Johnson's that sounded acceptable - at least the smiley faces used to indicate the type of reviews it had received were straight across rather than facing down. When I called, the woman with the strong Indian accent said they had just a few rooms left, but I could hold the room if I gave her a credit card number - repeatedly assuring me that my card would not be charged - it was just to hold the room. Then, as soon as I gave her my number, she informed me that it was beyond the cancellation period and so my card would be charged. Already exhausted and verging on hysteria, I resigned myself to accept the situation - whatever it looked like.
As we drove into the parking lot, I felt a tinge of hopefulness that our anniversary wasn't going to be a total bust. The front of the building looked nice. We walked into the lobby to be met by the strong smell of cigarettes and furniture that looked like it had been picked up at a Salvation Army - mismatched and outdated fabrics covering the sagging cushions. Trying to channel that 21 year old self, I kept telling myself "it's just one night" it will be fine. But then there was that louder voice that seemed much more insistent - and this one sounded suspiciously like my 61 year old self. This one kept getting louder and louder as we unloaded the car and carried the bags up to the second floor, past the rough looking, tattooed and shirtless man smoking pot on the stairs. I immediately locked the door to our room once we were inside, threw our bags down and went for the lights - since I wasn't about to open the curtains. It was then that we discovered that none of the bedside lights worked, and the other lamp didn't even have a bulb in it. That left one small light in the corner for the entire room. I picked up the phone to call the front desk - except the phone also didn't work. It was at that point that the 61 year old self lost it and began crying that this was the worst anniversary ever. I think that may have actually been my 8 year old self - but it could have been an even younger one. It was definitely pretty pathetic. And it definitely left me wondering where that 21 year old self was when I needed her?
My poor husband, who is the most easy to please person on the planet, took one look at me, pulled out his cell phone and started calling hotels in the area. On his first try, he found one that had two rooms left and insisted we book it - even though the rate was double that of the current one and we didn't know if the first one would refund our money. But I did know I wasn't willing to stay there and certainly didn't want to be anywhere near that parking lot after dark.
Amazingly, we left with a full refund for the room, along with a substantial discount at the nice Marriott hotel we moved to. As I sat in our clean room on a bed with soft sheets enjoying the truffles the desk clerk gave us after hearing our tale of woe and that it was our anniversary, I found myself reflecting upon my current travel needs. Since I still love to travel, how do I sync that desire with the needs this 61 year old self seems to have for safety, cleanliness and soft sheets - now that the unafraid 21 year old has abandoned me? Maybe the answer is to appreciate those things I do have - a partner who is fun to travel with, time to do so, and easy access to the internet to help find those things I seem to think are needed along the way. Beyond that, maybe the answer is to trust there will still be room for amazement - and to embrace it when it appears.
Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat and are still working up the nerve to venture further out into the Gulf.