January 16th, 2007
All in all, the holidays didn't go quite the way I had envisioned.
I knew there were some challenges in the schedule. After all, my trip to NYC, even without the traveling nightmares, was going to land me back less than a week before Christmas. Enough time, I had reasoned, to finish my shopping, mail Christmas cards, and to have some much needed downtime before Matt and I left on Christmas Day for Arizona. In actuality, my in-between-traveling time ended up being crunched beyond imagining, due to spending some unexpected time in the Dallas area. As it was, I didn't get any Christmas shopping done, no cards or packages were mailed, there was no time to lie around and read with two lazy cats on my lap. Instead, I came home to a whirlwinds of immediate demands: Matt' birthday on December 23; piles of laundry; brown, dried-up greenery that needed to be swept up and removed before the house sitters arrived and the house went up in flames; and various miscellaneous tasks that filled the few days before we got on the train Christmas night for Flagstaff.
Honestly, I was more than ready to cancel that trip entirely. For such a homebody as me, that long away from home and away from my cats is more than I can handle. I start to come unglued after too many days of living out of a suitcase and sleeping in strange beds. If I have learned one thing about myself as I get older, it is that my balance and center is directly related to the amount of time I spend between the colorful walls of my own house. However, unlike me, Matt hadn't been away playing and visiting friends and family. He had been working straight through Christmas Eve. He was tired, burnt-out, and needed to get out of town.
Truth be told, once I wrapped my mind around the idea, the trip was wonderful. We got on the train in downtown Albuquerque at 5PM Christmas night and five hours later got off in downtown Flagstaff. We spent the next couple of days exploring Sedona and driving up to the Grand Canyon, when in the middle of our hike along the rim, a storm rolled in. Determined not to become another fatality in our national parks, (and admittedly, not feeling terribly confident in our wilderness skills–let's just say, we are a long way from leading an Outward Bound adventure) we soon abandoned our hike for the comfort of lunch and a long nap back in our hotel room. We had intended to go to the Painted Desert on the third day, but as the snow had continued, we felt certain that God was doing her own paint job and that perhaps that sight should be delayed for another trip. So instead, we had a lazy day puttering around Flagstaff–I spent several hours in a coffeehouses writing, we went to a movie, had a great dinner and called it a night. The next morning we were back at the train station at 6AM to head back to Albuquerque for a few empty days at home before our real lives began again.
The train was late. This was due, the station manager assured me, not to weather, but to the practice of letting freight trains on the track ahead of the passenger trains. The train would make up the time, he boasted, before we got back to Albuquerque. Great, I thought, way past ready to just be home again. Matt's sister, Mary, was scheduled to arrive that afternoon from DC to spend the New Year's holidays with us and with friends in Taos. We wanted to get home in time to at least meet her for lunch before she headed north for a few days.
When the train finally arrived, we boarded and settled in–napping and watching the breathtaking scenery of northern Arizona covered with snow. After several hours, it became clear that we weren't making up any time. If anything, we might be losing time. An hour out of Albuquerque, the conductor came over the intercom to announce that due to weather, all passengers had to get off in Albuquerque; he train was going no further. Meanwhile, Mary's plane had been diverted to El Paso–unbeknownst to us, we were entering the storm of the century.
In Albuquerque, the snow was coming down heavily and apparently had been all morning. We grabbed a cab and made our way back home, marveling at the city already under a blanket of white. This was snow of the most beautiful kind–think, wet and heavy, flakes as big as feathers coming down and covering all the normal brown grime of the desert with a clean slate. Mary called and said that her plane was refueling, but intended to try for Albuquerque again–that anything would try to land in this was unbelievable. If she did make it in, she intended to stay with us that night and try to head to Taos the next day. I was ecstatic–such a beautiful snowfall, I was home at last and going nowhere again, and we were to have Mary to ourselves at least for one night. What fun!
Mary arrived on the last plane before they closed the airport and it kept snowing for 24 hours. We spent several lovely days, cooking great meals, napping on the couch, reading, trekking through our neighborhood, and generally enjoying the thrill of being snowed in together. We had no mail or newspaper for 5 days. Even church Sunday morning was cancelled. We spent New Year's Eve with friends playing games and several more days both catching up on emails and our real lives: I got back to practicing, feeling the pressure of an upcoming recital, and started working on details for a music teacher workshop that I was organizing to take place in a few weeks. But amazingly, days after the storm first hit, the city was still functioning way under par–the streets were still icy and snow covered, if anything, they were getting more dangerous everyday. Schools were cancelled for the week, because side streets and parking lots just weren't cleared. Nighttime temperatures were in the single digits. And then, one night, our roof began to leak.
This was not exactly a surprise–with 18 inches of snow on a flat roof, I had been waiting to see what leaked first. Still, when it began to drip in our bedroom, panic took over. Watching the droplets forming up and down along the cracks in the corner, I became convinced that the entire section of the ceiling would come down by morning. In desperation, we moved our mattress out to the living room to try to sleep, but lay awake all night, wide-eyed, jumping nervously with every creak and groan of the house. What if a leak happened over the piano? I kept wondering. The next morning, Matt called the contractor he had worked with on his church's sanctuary restoration for advice. Ironically, he answered the phone while standing in a foot of water in his office; he, too, had flooded overnight and all of his office equipment was ruined. In the course of the morning, we discovered that we were hardly alone–every other person we talked to had a leaky something in their house. We heard stories of ruined computers, of collapsing walls and broken pipes. Clearly, our Southwestern architecture wasn't equipped for the biggest snowfall since records were kept. We called roofers who did everything short of laughing at us–their waiting list was 4-5 weeks long. Strategies for dealing with leaky roofs, collapsed carports, and broken pipes led the nightly news and the front page of the newspaper. Although I was hardly feeling like Pollyanna, I had to admit, after hearing some stories, that we had it easy. So far, nothing indoors had been damaged. Aside from spending several nights on a mattress in the living room, keeping watch on the bucket under the dripping, shoveling the roof and doing what we could to cement up the obvious patches, we still had a roof over our heads (albeit a leaky one.).
We live in the desert, which means that people live with leaky roofs for years, knowing that they will only be bothered by it sporadically. Folks are not good about basic maintenance of things like drain spouts. (Indeed, we discovered upon examination that ours was filled with leaves and probably the root of our problem as the melting snow had nowhere to drain.) No one expects two feet of snow, no one has snow shovels, and the city doesn't have equipment to deal with this mess. We can only hope that this proves to be the storm of the century and won't be repeated in our lifetime, however beautiful it might have been for those few lovely days.
As I write this, it is mid-January, and Boston will reach a high of 66 degrees today. Meanwhile, we got another couple of inches of snow, which means more nights on the mattress outside our bedroom. Something here is not right.
I realize that this has led to a general feeling of unrest lately. As much as I would like to have my holidays over to redo and rewrite, I am in desperate need of getting back to something resembling normalcy. I need to get back to a regular schedule of practicing and teaching, writing and exercising. I need to stop eating my weight in chocolate. I need to clean my house and be able to put all extra mattresses away to their normal hiding places. I want to be able to sleep in my bed without an ear cocked to the potential leaky roof. Migraines that I had begun to feel some control over have returned to haunt me. I am eating badly and sleeping worse. It isn't lost on me that all of this is related somehow, but turning this monster around will take some serious energy and I can't muster it right now.
But if I have learned anything in my migraine exploration it is that it may be a million small things that make up my migraine profile. Although I don't always want to accept this, looking for huge sweeping changes to make or big things to blame my problems on, it is also a million small things that seem to make a difference between a pain-free day and a painful one. Whether or not I drink red wine at night. How many cups of coffee I have in the morning. How many hours of sleep I get. How well I am balancing work and play. How much exercise I get. How long I hold my yoga poses. Whether or not I am writing regularly. How much sugar I am consuming. Whether or not I am repressing my feelings, anger, everyday sadnesses and joys. Not any one of these things will fix my problems or guarantee me a good day, but all of them maintain the delicate balance of my head being a little more resilient towards everyday stresses.
And so it will be, I realize, with my life at large. It would be easier to simply say, OK Amy, if from now on you get up everyday at 5am and have a running start at your day, things will be fine, but it won't be true. It will take a hundred small acts of both self-care and self-discipline to turn this ship around in the night. Shovel by shovel, we are digging out–both physically and psychologically. At some point in the near future, I look forward to finding a fresh year, week, day, moment to claim with a sense of newness and joyful abandon.
January 7th, 2007
In the end, my problems really couldn't be blamed on the china.
I had been on the east coast for a few days, first visiting my sisters in NYC and then seeing my good friend, Lora, in Bethlehem, PA. Thus far, the trip had gone swimmingly. I had finished up my teaching for the semester on Thursday evening, Dec. 14th and the next morning had flown to NYC on a frequent flyer ticket. The plane from Dallas to LaGuardia was a bit late and by the time I collected my bags and made my way out to the taxi stand, the line was around the block. I was a bit taken back, but assumed this was normal until I heard the New Yorkers around me cursing. Apparently, a shortage of taxis, the arrival of several late flights all at the same time, and the increased flow of holiday traveling had all conspired against us. I called my sister Beth, who lives in Brooklyn. "Is there any other option for getting to your place?" I asked as I watched dozens of M60 city buses pass me by. "Nope, don't worry, I've never waited more than 10 minutes for a taxi. It'll go fast." 45 minutes later I am still standing there, wondering why there can't be a more efficient way of doing this. After all, surely many of these folks are heading in the same general direction. "It's like watching the rafts of the Titanic leaving half-full," I muttered under my breath as I watched yet another taxi pull away from the curb with a single passenger.
After finally escaping the taxi stand queue at the airport and arriving safely to Beth's apartment, I spent several wonderful days in the city: visiting with my sisters; seeing "Company," a recent Sondheim revival in which all the actors are also the orchestra; visiting the Met and the Whitney and viewing their spectacular exhibitions. I saw Americans in Paris, Cezanne to Picasso, Picasso and American Artists, a Hopper exhibit, and ducked into an unexpected surprise of an exhibit of Tiffany's personal art, ceramics, windows, and furniture from his country home. The windows alone made me want to weep. I wandered happily along Fifth and Madison Avenues for hours gazing longingly at the store windows of places I would never dare enter. I shamelessly peeped in townhouses and apartments on the Upper East Side hoping for glimpses of Christmas décor and finery. I attended Choral Evensong at St. Thomas on Sunday afternoon and heard the magnificent boys choir. All in all, I was a happy, happy woman.
Monday morning arrived and I got up with Sarah and headed into her office at 15th and 8th to leave my bags. I stopped into a bagel shop for a real NY bagel with an inch of cream cheese and then walked up to 55th and 7th to meet my piano mentor, Bill Westney. He normally lives in Lubbock, Texas, but as he was in New York for the week, we arranged to rent a studio for a couple of hours and have a lesson. After a couple of thought-provoking hours in a lesson and a quick lunch in a diner, we parted and I headed back downtown to Sarah's to pick up my bags and get on the bus to take me to Bethlehem for the next phase of my trip.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a magical place anytime–historic and charming and set in the Lehigh Valley–but at Christmastime it is truly something from another era. The historic neighborhoods are decorated to the hilt with trees and lights and candles in every window of the huge old houses. The town was originally settled by the Moravians and their influence still hangs on–their old buildings with glowing candles in the windows, the Bethlehem and Moravian stars hanging from every overhang, the horses and carriages trotting up and down the brick streets. I love New York, but after the hustle and bustle and the crowds of people, Bethlehem felt like a gift.
Lora and I did what two good friends do during infrequent visits: we talked, ate, drank, and shopped the time away. Lora is in the process of buying a house with her boyfriend and moving out of her darling apartment above the Moravian Bookshop, One night we were eating dinner at her place when, looking down at my blue and white plate, I said, "I love your dishes." "Oh, these. I'm going to get rid of them when we move–I've had them since my first marriage and I need a new start. You want them?" "Sure I want them, but how would I ever get them home?" "Oh, that's no problem," Lora breezily assured me, "We'll pack some in your carry-on and ship the rest."
And so we did. I had an empty backpack after unloading it of magazines I had read on the plane and stuff I had brought the girls and Lora, and soon it had twelve dinner plates wrapped in bubble wrap. Lora pulled out a bag from her closet to further pack with bowls and salad plates and soon I had two heavy carry-ons stuffed with Lora's china and everything else I owned crammed into two bags to be checked at the airport. We mapped out a strategy: I had a 3:50PM flight out Wednesday from LaGuardia, I would take the noon bus back to Port Authority at 42nd and 7th, get the A train to Harlem, and catch the M60 bus to the airport (the very one that had passed me dozens of times when I waited in that endless line at the taxi stand). Not being a fan of subways and buses of any kind, Lora questioned the wisdom of my plans, "Just get a taxi," she kept repeating, as she eyed my two bags of china, duffel bag of clothes and oversized purse. "No. I have plenty of time and this won't be hard. I want to save the cab fare." Famous last words.
The bus from Bethlehem pulled into Port Authority at 1:30pm. I carted my assortment of bags down the hall to the subway station, bought my ticket and within short order was on the A train buzzing up to 125th Street. Arriving in no time to 125th, I lugged my stuff up to street level, looked around for a minute to get my bearings, saw a M60 bus pull away from the curb, and by five minutes till two o'clock was parked at the bus stop. So far, so good. Fifteen or twenty minutes went by before the next bus arrived. I wasn't worried, thinking that I was only 20-30 minutes away from the airport, but when the next M60 pulled up, my two dollars in hand, I hurriedly got my china and myself on the bus.
The NYC buses do not take dollar bills. I find this outrageous. The Albuquerque buses take dollar bills, but the NYC buses only take metro cards or quarters. I did not have two dollars in quarters so I was forced to remove myself, and four bags of china and other goods from the bus.
I now began to panic. Looking around, I saw a peanut vendor. "Look, if I buy a bag of peanuts would you give me change for the bus?" I could tell this is the last thing he wanted to do, but he seemed to take in the fact that I was a desperate blond girl in the middle of Harlem trying to get to the airport. He shrugged. I handed over my money, and in return received quarters and a bag of peanuts, which I quickly stuffed into my purse, and returned to the bus stop. This time the next bus arrived in no time at all and confidently, my china and I boarded, paid my quarters and found a place in the aisle of the overcrowded city bus.
Fifteen minutes later we had gone a mere three blocks. I really began to panic. It was now 2:45; my plane was to be leaving in an hour. I asked the people around me, "How long to the airport?" "Forty-five minutes, an hour, who knows?" was the answer. My otherwise low blood pressure was rising by the minute. There seemed to be no other options but to get off the bus, get a taxi and hope for the best. At the next stop, my two bags of china and I got off the bus, I raced across the street to the nearest ATM certain that I didn't have enough cash for a taxi, and after withdrawing plenty of money, I began to try to hail a cab. Twenty minutes later, I was still running up and down 125th street, trying corner after corner in vain. It appeared hopeless. There were plenty of cabs all right, but they were full and headed to the airport. Once again the image of the half-full Titanic rafts went through my mind, as cab after cab, carrying only a single passenger, turned off at the airport exit. At some point, having burst into tears, I called Matt, and explained my predicament (minus any information about the bags of china I was lugging up and down the street). By this time, I was certain I would never get a taxi, never get off 125th street, never see Matt or the cats again.
"Get back on the bus," Matt instructed, "at least you know you will eventually get to the airport that way. I'll start working on your options from here and call you back." OK. Back on the bus. I couldn't help but sense some kind of relief that someone else was now in charge, however far away he might be. Then it hit me. I had no change. I darted into a grocery store, bought a pack of gum, and as the checkout woman slowly counted my change for a twenty, watched as two M60 buses go down the street. Back at the bus stop, I waited another twenty minutes. I have missed my plane, so my blood pressure had returned to something resembling normal, but I wondered how dire my situation would be once I reached the airport.
Luckily, I didn't have a clue. Back on the bus, I settled in for what was an hour trip to the airport in rush-hour traffic. At the airport, I waited in a long, long line, still dragging four heavy bags. When I finally speak to a live ticket agent, it was all I could do not to burst into tears on the spot. "I missed my flight. What are my options?" I asked. "Standby," the woman replied noncommittally. It was clear she had bigger fish to fry then my problems. She began typing for what was forever. (Is she typing her Christmas letter? I wondered.) Finally, she turned to me. "I have put you on the standby list for the 6:20pm flight to Dallas and then on the standby list for the 9:20am flight tomorrow to Albuquerque. Good luck." It is that good luck that kills you.
I checked my two bags of personal belongings, (that they will allow you to actually check bags as a standby passenger blows my mind in this post 9/11 world, but at this point I was not arguing the point, desperate as I was to lose some of that luggage.) and china in hand I made my way down to the security checkpoint. I worried about what would happen when the security people behind the x-ray machines zero in on my two bags of china. "What is that woman carrying?" I could imagine them saying to one another, "Oh, it's a gravy boat."
I proceeded through security without incident, gravy boat and all, and went to sit and pray at my gate. I could not stomach a night spent in the LaGuardia airport. If I could just make it to Dallas, I reasoned, I was nearly home.
Somehow, by the grace of God, I was the seventh passenger called onto the flight to Dallas. I knew I had to spend the night in Dallas, but assumed I was home free. Little did I know, the trouble was just beginning.
Just as we were landing in Dallas, the pilot came over the intercom and announced that all Denver flights have been cancelled due to weather. I paused for a moment, suddenly more sensitive to the plights of stranded travelers, and then returned to thinking my own happy thoughts. Back on the ground, I noticed that there was still a flight headed to Albuquerque going out that night, which had been delayed due to weather. The china and I raced down the terminal to the gate, took one look at the line and the 50-odd passengers waiting on the standby list (they now post them on the monitors at the gate for all to follow), and decided that I better resign myself to spending the night in Dallas. At this point, I should have begun reading these signs as omens of my future, but confident as I was of my place on the standby list of the next morning's flight, I was certain I would be home by noon, none the worse for the adventure.
Meanwhile, Matt had been working on booking me a hotel room in the Dallas airport. During the hours from when I first called to tell him I was getting on the flight and the time I actually landed in Dallas, hotel rooms had gone from being quite available to becoming booked. I collected my bags with my personal belonging, Matt found me a room at the Courtyard Marriott and about 11:30pm I checked into the hotel.
I had not eaten since about noon eastern time–some 12+ hours ago. "Please tell me you have room service," I asked the nice man behind the hotel counter, who ended up being from Albuquerque and whose family owned the drycleaners we use weekly. "Kitchen closed at 10PM. You're only option is pizza at this hour." I was taking this in, wondering if I was really hungry enough to wait for pizza when I spied sandwiches in a refrigerator in the corner. "Can I buy a sandwich?" I asked hopefully. "Oh, sure," he replied, and sandwich, two bags of china, two bags of personal belongings and I settled in for the night.
Once again, I called Matt. "You tell me what time to get to the airport and I'll be there," I told him, eager to break my habit of living on the backside of the beat and running perpetually late. At this moment, I would do anything just to get home without incident. After all, it was now December 20th: three days before Matt's birthday, five days before Christmas. My husband and cats needed me. "Well, if you are already on the standby list, it won't help to get there super early. I'd be there by 8 o'clock if I were you."
Neither one of us had a clue, operating as we were by old travel rules of check-in times and standby lists. The next morning I arrived at the airport at our appointed time, only to be faced with a line at the American ticket counter, which was out the door and going nowhere. We have now entered the height of the holiday travel season, Denver was to remain closed for at least another 24 hours, every other person in line was a standby passenger like me stranded and hoping to get on a plane to somewhere. After 45 minutes, it became clear to me that I was in danger of not even talking to a live person before 9:20, let alone making it to the gate in time to hear my name called. I called Matt, "OK, I need you to talk me down off my ledge. There is no hope here." Slowly, I was starting to see the writing on the wall. This was going to be not quite the walk in the park I had imagined the night before when I waltzed on the plane in NYC. Finally, I reached a live human being, I explained my situation, leading with the information that I was on the standby list for the 9:20 flight to Albuquerque. She began typing away and then turned to me. "You're not on the list. You should have checked in when you arrived last night. I can put you on the list for the 10:30 flight to Albuquerque, but I should tell you, you're number 41 at this point." Halfway through this speech I started to cry, understanding clearly for the first time just how desperate my chances were that day to get home. I checked my bags of personal luggage, carted my two bags of china complete with a gravy boat through security and completely shaken and hysterical made my way to the gate where I proceeded to watch my name go from #41, to #33, to as high as #28, before I returned back to #33. Quickly, I was learning the ways of standby procedures. Anyone with a higher priority for one reason or another will take my place on the list. Listening to the people around me screaming on their cell phones, it became quite clear that probably 50% of the passengers were trying to fly standby, all the flights were not only full, but oversold, and with Denver closed, many people intent on getting to Colorado to ski for the holidays, saw Albuquerque as their only viable option for days. Although there were multiple flights going to Albuquerque all day, my situation was not going to improve–as a low priority passenger, I was not going to get on a flight as a standby. American Airlines had no seats to be sold until January 4th, even if I wanted to buy one. There were no cars in Dallas I could rent and drive myself home. I was stuck. I was going to miss Matt's birthday and even Christmas, all to save myself cab fare from Port Authority.
Crying for what now seemed to be the 12th time in 24 hours, I called Matt. "I'm giving up," I told him, "I can't get home today and I can't sit here in this hysterical environment for another minute. We have to come up with another option."
Matt, the dear boy, never once gave me grief for my actions of the last 24 hours. On hearing my ultimatum, he began making phone calls and within minutes had bought me a ticket home on Southwest from Love Field leaving the next afternoon. Although I was not going to make the10:30 flight that morning, my bags with everything I needed were flying to Albuquerque on schedule. At this point, I confessed to my husband that I had nothing but china. There was a long pause on the other end of the phone as Matt took in this last piece of information. "OK. Call Marge. She'll take care of you."
And so I did. Marge is our dearest adopted mother from our years living in Granbury. I knew without a doubt that if I could just get her on the phone she would come and get me and take care of me until I could get on the flight the next day. I dialed the number and when Marge answered, I burst into tears again. "Marge, it's Amy. I'm at the airport and I can't get home." "Do you need me to come and get you?" She immediately asked. "Yes," I sobbed. "I'll be right there," she responded without missing a beat.
It wasn't how I had planned to spend the days before Christmas, eager as I was to get home and finish up with Christmas details of sending packages and Christmas cards, and spending long afternoons on the couch with my two favorite felines and a stack of books. But in the end, I had to admit, in spite of my many moments of feeling sorry for myself, that I was a very lucky girl indeed. I had a husband who would never question how or why I had ended up in such a mess and would never mention the money spent on a hotel room in Dallas or on the ticket to get me home. (So much for that "free" frequent flyer ticket I was flying on!) Instead, whenever I had called in the last 24 hours, he had worked hard on my behalf, checking out options and doing everything possible to help. Many of my single friends didn't have such unconditional support and in my situation would be stuck relying on their own resources to make their way through such a tangled system. In addition, I could fill up the fingers on one hand of people in the Dallas area that I could call, who I knew, without a doubt, would drop everything and come help me. Thanks to Matt's gift of cultivating friendships with people of many different ages and stages of life, we have a whole host of dear friends who would welcome the chance to help and the gift of a short visit, regardless of the circumstances. In the desperate atmosphere of the airport that day, I learned quickly that most people didn't have these options and that people all over the country were forced to spend the night in lonely hotel rooms or worse, on the floors of airports themselves. I was going to be home for the holidays, many people were not, and I could never again be so flippant or casual when hearing about people stranded far from home. While it was not how I wanted to spend my time, I did awake to the fact that in so many respects I was a very fortunate girl indeed.
Once I was assured that I had a seat on a plane headed to Albuquerque, I tried to make lemonade out of lemons. I not only got to spend time with dear Marge, but also got to drop in on other friends, Mary and Glenn, for a brief visit. The next day, Marge drove me to Dallas Love Field and I gratefully boarded a plane to Albuquerque, and arrived home nearly 48 hours after expected to find my luggage waiting merrily for me at the American Airlines office.
That night, Matt cooked dinner. I provided the china and the gravy boat.
Contact Amy Greer at: email@example.com