I suppose I should have warned Katie. I lifted my head to the sky, closed my eyes, and with ethereal discreteness inhaled the afternoon air. The sharp scent of ozone filled my nostrils and I could feel the electric charge in the air upon my skin. I’ve lived in Seattle long enough to know when it is about to rain. It’s a special gift that you are bequeathed after living here for so long. The problem was that I wasn’t in Seattle when I felt the tingle, I wasn’t even in the U.S.. I was quite lost…in Rome.
This would seem like an excellent time to pull into to a little café and wait out the storm. Three small roadblocks stood in the way: it was that time of day between three and seven when many restaurants and cafés close up between the lunch and dinner hour; we were so far off of our route that there weren’t any watering holes around; and, dare I say the more pressing problem, I was minutes away from losing my legs, so to speak.
The previously gray clouds have now turned black and the dampness in the air is clearly signaling that there are only a few precious moments left before the sky lets loose. My eyes wander to the battery meter on my power chair and watch as the second bar of 10 slowly flickers and displays the last single bar.
If you’ve ever run out of gas, you can empathize with the situation. The anxiety of watching the gauge tends to take you through the five steps of loss.
Denial. I’m sure the needle isn’t accurate on this, that would be absurd.
Anger. This is $@#%ing ridiculous!
Bargaining. Just let me get to the next exit and I will never let the tank get this low again!
Depression. Oh well, I guess I’ll just die on the side of the road.
Acceptance. Son of a bitch, I guess I’ll just have to walk to the next exit and haul my ass back to the car.
The problem with running out of power on my wheelchair is that “haul ass” anywhere is never easily done…unless a couple of hunky bruts are at the ready…
Katie tucked her coat collar a little bit tighter around her neck and I know that she can sense the storm as well. Can she also sense that I am about to become that old remote control car from my childhood that has been laying in the ditch somewhere for 15 years because it ran out of batteries and was too much work to carry home? I think so: her pace has picked up and I’m unable to keep up because the chair doesn’t have the same oomf that it did an hour ago. How far did we go today? 6 miles? Was it closer to eight? Does it really matter when I don’t know where I am now or where the hotel is in relation to us?
As predicted, the rain starts. First the small, cute, adorable “getting caught in the rain” drops. And then the ugly, fat, “I’m going to drown any living entity if you’re stupid enough to be outside” drops. We huddle under a puny sidewalk tree to game plan our route back. Cooperative brains tend to work better, so after 60 seconds of navigating with a soggy, deteriorating tourist map we had an idea of how to get back. Ready to madly dash from this pathetic tree to the next one I hit the gas, only to find that the moment had arrived.
Sometimes changing the physical circumstances isn’t possible – or not possible soon enough! So that just leaves changing me: my perception, belief or opinion of how I thought this was supposed to go. That is the choice before all of us no matter what the setback or challenge may be: these moments can either be ruinous, turning us into shriveled raisins, pissed off and closed off, or we choose to become something else.
Rather than hunkering down and praying for daylight I decide to treat this as a travel adventure, a laughable moment, and hope that I could trick Katie into seeing this through rose colored glasses rather than the real soggy shit show this was turning into.
The good news is that most power chairs have a mode on them that lets you switch from power to manual. The bad news is that it still doesn’t make the chair any lighter, or put magical push handles on the back. So without much of an option the two of us pressed onward with our journey that now more closely resembled the Donner party than my preferred Lewis and Clark adventure. Each lightning flash illuminated a bedraggled Katie hunched over in the only uncomfortable stance that would let her push and me, utterly disheveled, barely decipherable map spread over my legs, and barking out orders of where our next turn was.
45 minutes later we arrive at the hotel lobby just in time for the rain to cease. Greeted by the concierge with a few towels and assured that a bottle of wine would be sent up to the room made the homecoming even sweeter. After a hot shower and one, two…maybe three glasses of wine (when in Rome!) I found it the perfect time to reflect on the events of the day.
Not everything is going to go as planned. In fact, my entire life can probably be described in that one sentence. It didn’t go as planned. Would I choose it again, my chair dying during a deluge? Probably not. It’s OK that it rained though. Plans change all the time! The unexpected is inevitable. It’s how you choose to respond that matters most. It’s about how you show up and who you choose to become in these moments.
Sometimes the best travel moments are the moments that you did not plan for… sometimes not. I didn’t win the lottery, or meet a new life-long friend, or have a life altering epiphany. But I sure can’t imagine giving up the memory of that day with my friend Katie. It all builds character. And, if things always went smoothly would the adventure really have been as fun?