Monday, September 16, 2013

How I Found Enlightenment in the Walmart Parking Lot

Twenty-four hours after we woke up in the Walmart parking lot look who's still laughing.
Back in March, as I reserved and paid for plane tickets and a rental car for a trip to Canada Michael and I were planning to take in August, he viewed my early planning as an unattractive symptom of my controlling nature.  I am hyper-vigilant, for whatever reason. My school teachers often described me as “high strung,” which seemed to me a good thing. Better high strung than low strung, right?
     As our August departure date loomed, I urged Michael to secure our lodging for the Friday night we arrived in Maine. I needed to have a bed waiting for me at the end of a long day of travel.  As a high strung person, I need my rest.
      “There are lots of motels in Maine,” Michael said, “I want to wait and get one when we get there. Maybe we can get a same-day discount.”
There are motels all over the place!! 
      “But the motels are selling out,” I said. “I’ve been looking. There aren’t many rooms left!  Please choose one now!”
      Then came that look and that sigh from Michael. Oh June. Poor, high-strung June. I decided to work on developing a more laid-back attitude about the motel reservation. This is often what I do when these sorts of issues arise in my marriage. Michael is, after all, a far more worldly guy than I.  He’s been around, and, as he likes to remind me, been to Georgia on a fast train!  He’s educated at Furman, the Harvard of the South.  His feet don’t sweat.  He is laid back. So I figured Michael was right. We didn’t need reservations. I needed to get ahold of myself and steer clear of stringing myself too high.            
      On August 2 we flew to Maine. We took possession of our rental car, a sleek, white Sonata. We drove into the cool Portland sunset and all the way to Augusta before stopping for dinner. We asked the waitress if she knew of motels in the area.
      “They’re  everywhere!” she said. “I mean it’s Augusta, Maine.” She shrugged, shaking free the remote possibility of us finding ourselves without a roof over our heads for the night. But she was wrong. There were no motel rooms in Augusta, Maine that night. Or in Bangor either.  Turns out it was the weekend of the Lobster Festival, the state’s biggest tourist event. The motels were full and we were out of luck.
      In Brewer, Maine, we found a Walmart open till midnight. The nice clerks told us that we were welcome to spend the night outside along with the other campers in a tree-lined corner of the parking lot. People stayed there every night they assured us. How bad could it be?
      A wonderful thing happens when you surrender to the inevitable. It’s a sweet release; the knot in your chest unravels; your breath comes freely and you reclaim your sense of well-being. I jumped off the high wire then. Yes, we’d sleep in the car. We’d buy pillows and quilts and nest for the night, cupped in the soft leather seats of our lux car. Why not?
      “Baby,” Michael said, as we wandered the empty store, punch drunk with exhaustion, giggling like fools as we shopped for car camping supplies, “Pick yourself out a nice warm quilt.”
      We parked next to a very nice camper. There were a few.  A man walked his dog. A stiff breeze whipped the American flag flying over the land of the free. It was 60 degrees. We cracked the car windows for a rush of fresh, clean northern air, wrapped ourselves in our quilts, pushed back our seats and tried to sleep.
      Around 2 a.m. a Toyota Corolla pulled into the parking place next to ours. Inside the little car two people unabashedly performed the top ten positions of the Kama Sutra. Every once in a while they turned on the car’s engine, apparently to warm the car. They didn’t have quilts after all. Or curtains. What a show!                                            
      Maybe we slept for 2 hours. At 4 a.m. we were awake and chatting and laughing. I got out of the car to pee.  Maybe the folks in the fancy campers watched me do it. Maybe they didn’t. At 4 a.m. it was too late to care.
     “I peed on my feet,” I told Michael as I jumped back into the car, shivering from the cold, and shimmied back into the warm cocoon of my quilt.
      “Too much information,” he said.
     At 5 a.m. we drove to the all-night Tim Hortons for real bathrooms and coffee. At 6 a.m. we were on the road to New Brunswick, where we checked into a motel and slept for 18 hours. My equilibrium was shattered but my spirits were high.  Bottom line, we survived.
This boy has been to Georgia on a fast train, y'all!
      Now that we’re home in Key West, the trip is done, and life is back to routine, I think about that night. It was a fluke for us, but not for all who spend nights in their cars with no place else to go. I think about them. One night of homelessness was very hard on me.  It required a difficult period of adjustment, and then a longer period of recovery. I did it, but I don’t want to do it again.
      Now I see that flying above all that minutia — my need to control, Michael’s stubbornness, our silly egocentricities — is the clear solution, as obvious as that flag flying wildly in the Maine wind. There is truth in acceptance. I cannot manage every outcome in my life and it is a relief to admit that to myself.  Getting older is something I can do nothing about. The tyranny of time overrules our most carefully made plans. But I am lucky enough to be able to buy myself a very nice quilt. And so that’s my new serenity prayer: God, grant me the wherewithall to always have a nice, warm quilt as I surrender to the inevitable passage of time.