I am not a proud traveler tonight.
I didn’t self-sufficiently navigate through twisty Roman pathways to find my hotel. I didn’t strike up a conversation with a jolly taxi cab driver, asking him about his home and his family and his passions in life. I didn’t ask around to find the most local cuisine in the area and end up in a dark corner, eating homemade Carbonara while listening to a steel guitarist make love to his instrument.
I bawled to a United gate agent, cried again to my mother and yelled at a shuttle driver.
Let me explain.
Tonight was the night I was supposed to be going home after two glorious months of travel. In the past 64 days, I’ve been from Portland Oregon, to San Diego California, to Boulder Colorado, to all over Wisconsin, to all over Michigan, to all over Texas, to Bonaire in the Caribbean, to New York City (but not to my apartment and bed, as it was rented to someone else), to Kansas City Missouri, to San Francisco California, to Veracruz Mexico and most recently…. to Crested Butte Colorado. That’s three countries, eight states and countless cities.
Tonight was the long-awaited night, where I was going to climb the steps to my two story Chelsea apartment, flip on the lights, drop my stuff down in a triumphant kind-of “Honey I’m home!” attitude and crawl into my feathertop bed, snuggled deep into my down comforter and fall asleep to the hum of the fan that I haven’t slept to in 64 days, the fan that would lure me into the deep and sound sleep that my weary body and soul so desperately need.
Instead, I’m in a stale airport hotel room with a plastic sack of cheap toiletries, munching on my sixth Larabar for the day at 1:57a.m., all I’ve eaten since yogurt and berries at 7 o’clock this morning, over seventeen hours ago. Or, Clif bars. And beef jerky. Don’t forget the beef jerky.
Long story short, I didn’t make it home. We all know those four hour delays that cause missed flights, those weather problems that can keep us in the airport going back to Starbucks four times in four hours as we nervously pace the B Terminal wondering if the ol’ family vacation is really worth it. If you have traveled, you know these kinds of things quite well. Life happens. It’s what make movies like “National Lampoon’s,” as absurd as some of those scenarios are, so hilarious– we can all relate on some level.
One hour ago, I had been sitting in line for an hour, after a four and a half hour delay on the tarmac that caused me to miss a connecting flight home, waiting to talk to a Customer Service agent who seemed about as chipper as this piece of jerky I’m chewing on about getting re-booked and where the heck my luggage was going to turn up. When it was my turn, I walked up to the tired but kind-looking man at the counter, and as I started to talk, I just…. lost it. I completely lost it. I did what any mature, travel-savvy thirty-one year old woman would do in this situation.
I started crying. Not the kind of heaving, air-sucking, scary-face cry, per se, but enough of a cry that I found myself not even being able to speak. All I could get out was some kind of primitive speech like, “delay… plane…. luggage.”
That sweet, balding, pumpkin-gate-agent-man must have recognized just how pathetic I looked in that very moment, and he softened with compassion. “Hand me your ticket, honey,” he said as if I was twelve, and I slid it across the fake granite counter, my bottom lip whimpering and my mouth still unable to get words out. If you’re a man, please understand: we women cannot help it sometimes. Tears are the culmination of every emotion we’re feeling, and they just need to get out there. Exhaustion, frustration, disappointment– they all just drip down our cheeks until we can re-gain our composure and once again speak the English language. I know it doesn’t make sense. It’s just a missed flight. Baggage. Getting a shuttle to the hotel. It doesn’t have to make sense. Things just are as they are.
I then realized I was going to miss my hotel shuttle if I didn’t leave right then, so with more exasperation and crying I grabbed my boarding pass back, mumbled a squishy ‘thank you sir’ under my breath and started running to reach Passenger Pick Up by midnight. I was told by the hotel concierge that at midnight, the last shuttle would leave. I knew I couldn’t deal with that tonight- I had to make that shuttle.
I get there at 11:58 p.m. No shuttle. I call the hotel, and the concierge (of course his names is George) says the driver should be there. He isn’t. George says he’ll call the shuttle to circle back and come get me.
The van pulls up, and the driver must have injected a shot of rude into his buttocks before making that loop to come pick me up. He grabs my bag from my hand and roughly throws it into the back of the van, letting out a big sigh as he does it, like I am really disrupting his evening.
Normal, kind, understanding Ashley– non-emotional Ashley- would have reasoned with herself and said, “He’s probably had a long day and just wants to go home. I’m sure he’s frustrated he had to circle the airport several times and it’s now midnight. He must have a wife and kids and is clearly not from this country (by his accent), so treat him kindly. Show him love.”
Kind Ashley doesn’t show up tonight.
“You know, sir, you don’t have to act so rudely.”
The clock reads midnight, straight up.
“I was here before midnight and the shuttle runs until midnight,” I inform him, trying to remind him of something he seemed to have apparently forgotten.
“I wasn’t rude!!,” he proclaims rudely.
“Ummm yes– yes, you were, sir. You threw my bag into the back and acted like you were upset that you had to come get me. This is your JOB to come get me,” I firmly remind him once again.
To which he replies, “If you tink I’m rude, I drop you back at airport and you stay there!!”
Oh no, he didn’t. Did this hotel shuttle driver just threaten to take me back to Washington Dulles International Airport and leave me at the curb? Hellsssss to the no.
“OH YEAH? Well let me just remind you, THIS IS YOUR JOB. To pick me up at the airport! And I was here before midnight! Did you just THREATEN to take me back there and leave me?!”
Angry Ashley doesn’t come out much. Let’s say, hardly ever. But Carlos the van driver hit a nerve, and I let him know it.
He stops with his threatening yells and I cease my loud exclamations, and we both ride in the van in silence like two siblings who have just gotten into a fight, the thick fog of awkwardness hanging in the air. As the minutes drag on and the tension fills the van like sticky buttercream frosting, I am thinking, and I realize that here I am, tired from a day’s travel and upset to not be sleeping in my bed. And, here is this man, driving an airport shuttle at midnight, not coming from a luxury resort in Colorado back to his home in New York City– and he is probably just exhausted and trying to provide for his family.
While he shouldn’t have treated me the way he did tonight, who knows what kinds of people he’s had to deal with today. Or everyday, for that matter.
My cheeks grow hot with the sadness and shame that perspective has just brought me.
Exhaustion and frustration are never reasons to treat another human being poorly. I scratch my plans to turn him in to the hotel manager and take the elevator up to the second floor to my stale hotel room, where I sit now as I write this.
While this isn’t a thrilling travel story with beautiful, thoughtfully-chosen photography, this is real life, and I love traveling because it makes me feel alive. If you love something, you must love it for all that it is– not just for the comfortable parts that you choose to sift out and love. Traveling brings out the full spectrum of human emotion– many times the highs of emotion, and tonight it brought out some of the lows. It stretches me. And while the pictures on Instragram and Facebook are always sparkling and edited to perfection, life isn’t.
It’s important to see both sides.
People constantly remark at the life I have built, the adventures and experiences I get to have and the places I get to go to. And you know what– I am so grateful to be building the life that I am living. I have to pinch myself daily. Yesterday I was riding on a helicopter over the Rocky Mountains, brushing 12,000 foot mountain ranges and looking at the shimmering crystal blue alpine lakes below.
But, not everything in life sparkles. I heard a quote not too long ago that really resonated with me:
“People get depressed because they compare the highlight reels of other peoples’ lives with the behind the scenes of their own.”
It did more than resonate with me. It hit me like a Mac truck. How resoundingly true this is.
All we see on Facebook, Instagram and other outlets are the highlight reels of peoples’ lives– and, if someone’s constantly complaining on their Facebook status, no one really cares or wants to hear about it, anyway. Constant complaining about stupid stuff will get you blocked or de-friended sooner than it will take me to go to sleep tonight. Bad joke– I’ve always been poor in the comedy creation department–but you get the point.
While the life of a travel writer IS beautiful and wonderful and glamorous– and I truly believe that I have the most wonderful and fulfilling life that I could ever have for me— it comes with its ups and downs, and not all moments are folded, tucked neatly and sealed with a lipgloss kiss. Sometimes moments are sloppy and things don’t quite come out right.
So that happy, exuberant, joy-filled Travel With Castle that you see in my pictures? That is absolutely me. This tired, mascara-rubbed, puffy-eyed, exhausted Ashley is me, too. It’s all a part of being human. (Good lord, is a picture really necessary, Ashley? Here’s to authenticity.)
I travel because it makes me expand as a person. It brings me to higher moments of delight and exploration than I’ve ever known. And, it sometimes puts me in uncomfortable situations that stretch me and make me face elements of myself that aren’t so pleasant. Which, from what my sister and friends tell me, parenting does times ten.
So, my challenge to you tonight isn’t to start putting depressing pictures on your Instagram- no one really wants to see those. Things like Instagram are meant to be a highlight reel for a reason and hopefully a source of light and inspiration.
My challenge to you, and to myself, is for us to be real and honest with one another and to recognize that life comes with the good and the bad– to seek perspective and an attitude of gratitude when the ‘harder times’ come (and women, we can seek that perspective after we get a good cry in– we all know we’re useless before that happens), to treat fellow humans with kindness– even when it doesn’t seem warranted, and to remember that life is short. Too short for bad attitudes, complaining, comparison to others, and to not live in any other way as to seize each day.