In National Lampoon’s Vacation, the Griswolds arrive at Walley World to find the parking lot empty. Clark, the father, assumes their bad travel luck has finally changed, that the gods are pleased again, that they had caught the early-bird amusement park worm and were the first ones to arrive. He leads the family on a happy, jumpy, slow-motion race to the entrance only to be stopped by security guard, Russ Laskey.
“Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.”
This exact same thing happened to me in Iowa. Well, not exactly exact, but close.
I didn’t think I needed hotel reservations for a two-day road trip to Colorado. I thought I would just stop somewhere in Iowa when I got tired of driving. Iowa, for god’s sake.
First hotel: “We’re all booked.”
“Okay, thank you. I’ll keep driving.”
Second hotel: “We’re all booked.”
“But the parking lot is empty.”
“They’re on their way.”
Third hotel: “We’re all booked.”
“What the hell is going on?:
Well, that at least explained the 55mph packs of motorcyclists on the highway.
Fourth hotel: “We’re all booked.”
“But you’re not on the path to Sturgis.”
“No, but we are at the mall exit. And it’s Saturday night. And people come from miles around...”
Sorry, folks. Iowa’s closed. Cow at the state line shoulda told ya.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
So I kept driving. And I kept stopping every so often to ask about availability. I felt like Jesus. Or Mary. However that story goes. (Yes, I know I could’ve checked online at this point, but I felt like I might be rewarded with sympathy points begging in person.)
Around this time, the Man called.
“Where are you?”
“Nebraska. Can’t find a hotel.” And I explained the horror of my first-world problem.
“Well, you’ll find something. I’m going to barbecue some chicken on the grill for dinner.”
*Now, I’m a grown and independent woman. My damsel in distress act isn’t what it used to be, what with all the single parenthood, rust, and cobwebs. Of course I would find something. But if a person has pretty much promised to be my soft place to land, wouldn’t one think that said person would offer some sort of something? Isn’t this what men are for, anyway? That and cutting grass and shit?*
I finally found a nice hotel (without any assistance, mind you) in Grand Island, Nebraska, a state ahead of the motorcyclists. I was also a day ahead of schedule now, so I reserved a room for two days, thinking they’d descend the next day and that’ll show ‘em.
Ask me what there is to do in Grand Island, Nebraska. Worry, that’s what there is to do in Grand Island, Nebraska. I encountered wholesome folks who seemed very content and stress-free, but I was on foreign soil.
Jump ahead to two evenings later when I arrived in Denver. I was ready to get my house-sitting task list and settle into my new home for the next two months!
From the outside, it was a beautiful old house sub-divided into four apartments. It was situated on a tiny corner lot in a very hip, eclectic, and active area just north of downtown. From the inside, another glimpse into hell. (We're up to three now, should I be lucky enough that you're still following along: 1) the devil neighbor’s (Have I ever mentioned my neighbors?) U-Haul, 2) Iowa, and 3) this apartment.)
Now I’m no diva, but I am menopausal. It was 94 degrees in Denver. It was August. This was normal, nothing to be alarmed about. Unless a person, during the six months of conversations and arrangements, failed to mention that she has no air conditioning.
“It didn’t even occur to me.”
“You’re from the Midwest. How could it not occur to you?”
“I have lived here for 15 years.”
“You’re still in America. Just 3 states over and 15 years. You have to have a memory of air conditioning.”
“You can keep the windows open for air.”
“Well, sure. The foot traffic and street pavers will be nice company.”
Yes, street pavers. A big-machine project involving tar in 94-degree heat.
“I can take you to the store to buy some fans.”
“Maybe I should just sleep outside. It’s cooler out there than it is in here anyway.”
“Well, I’ve been cooking.”
I think I started panting. I was a dog in a hot car. 94 outside, but 130 on the inside.
(I won’t go into any great details, but the tour is what really sealed my fate. The bathroom at an acceptable temperature was hard to stomach, but even more troublesome under sweaty conditions.)
We parted ways.
I called to tell the Man, of course, who was appropriately outraged and supportive, but strangely (again) offered no help.
“You’ll find something. I’m having leftovers for dinner.”
I was still looking for a hotel at 10pm, when he called back.
“I didn’t hear from you. Where are you?”
“Between Boulder and Denver. Still looking for a hotel.”
(Now, I admit that I should’ve calmed down, found my center, pulled up the Wi-Fi at a McDonald’s, and just reserved a hotel. I think that, in my defense, I was overwhelmed with what I should do for two months instead of just focusing on what I should do in that moment, for that night.)
“Thanks for worrying about me.”
“You’re a grown woman. I know you can take care of yourself.”
I did what any grown, independent, together, with-it, hot, menopausal, frustrated, pissed-off woman would do. I started crying. And hung up.
A few minutes later, the Man called back.
“Go to the Quality Inn. There’s a room there waiting for you. Just sleep. We’ll figure the rest out later.”
So, to the Quality Inn in Louisville, Colorado, I went. And let me tell you. Louisville, Colorado, is no place for the faint-hearted. According to the Wiki, the median income for a family living there is $81,512. For every public school, there is a private one. Every year, the city lands at the top of the list of the 100 best places to live in America by this or that magazine. And if that all weren’t enough, there’s like only one Panera.
Regardless, as I drifted off to sleep that night, what was supposed to be the first real night of my new adventure, it occurred to me that, in the blink of an eye, I had become one of those people on the news. I was now the sewer rat type, hanging my head in tattered hoodie shame, hunting the ground for damp cigarette butts and cleaning them off with my dirty fingers, swearing to the reporter that, really, I don’t know who has the meth. Granted, I was a little better dressed and a lot better fed, but I was still, by definition, homeless. And shaky. I had driven cross-country (almost, well, not really) in a Corolla packed full of two months’ worth of basics (which included an outfit or two for job interviews), and now had nowhere to be and a whole lot of days to get there.
Next, a visit from the Man, a trip to Moab, a death, and a decision.