I began packing three days before departure. Contrary to what I’ve heard most people say, I actually love packing. I derive great pleasure from choosing and discarding items, deciding between the absolutely necessary, the preferred and the downright whimsical choices.
Choosing my reading material for the airplane fills me with as much, if not more delight, as choosing my clothes. So many possibilities, and several hours stuck in an an airplane with nowhere to go and, with the barebones way airlines operate nowadays (no movie or TV), hardly any distractions in sight.
The day before departure, I finished packing my suitcase, much pleased with the result. On a last minute reading-binge, I stuffed it with a good backlog of magazines I subscribe to and have hardly any time to read and comic books that I thought would make my flights more bearable if I were to get sick of the current read in my Kindle.
In any case, nothing was going to stop me from enjoying this trip. Beyond resting, spending time with my family and friends back home and catching up on my reading, though, I had set myself the goal of not doing any work at all. I had worked very hard during the days prior to my departure to make sure I would have nothing due to interrupt my vacation flow. I set up my Gmail account with an “Out of Virtual Office Message” that I hoped would be enough to keep any bold PM’s at bay.
The day of the trip, I jumped out of bed at 4:30 am when my alarm rang, got dressed, finished packing and called a cab. It was terribly cold and eery out there, and the streets lit by orange lamps looked familiar but in an odd way stripped of their usual clusters of people as they were. I’d hoped the airport would be equally empty, but when I got there I realized half of San Francisco had had the same idea as me. I checked my bag and made my way through security at a snail’s pace, and when I began to worry that I might miss my flight (a thought that always occurs to me when stuck in that line ready to take my shoes off and spring on those gray bins as soon as the guard checks my identity), I diligently shoved the thought away. I was intent on not letting anything get through my armor of contentment. I was ready to unashamedly gorge on pure vacation joy and nobody would stop me, not even the three layovers ahead of me on my way to my first destination in Alabama.
The first flight, tiny and cramped to the city of Las Vegas was uneventful. The second flight, to Dallas, I had the pleasure of meeting a comedian trying to make it in L.A. who told me all about his career, how he decided to pursue it and what the stand-up comedy business is like (all about networking, sound familiar?).
Finally I arrived in Birmingham. I was to meet a friend there two days later, so I would spend those two nights at a motel, and take advantage of the opportunity to look around. I did not have high expectations, but thought I would keep an open mind. I’d go to the Civil Rights Museum, spend some time in town, and maybe I’d be surprised. Unfortunately, there were other things in store for me: when I got there, I found out my suitcase had not made it all the way. Dismay is not a strong enough word to describe what I felt. Despair would be more like it. My commitment to enjoyment and tranquility went straight to hell, as I reached my airline counter and found out there was no one there. I waited and railed and complained to the heavens (out loud), until someone finally deigned show his face. When I explained what had happened, the nonplussed gentleman directed me elsewhere, where another nun-plussed, seemingly uncaring lady put in the report.
I took a cab to the airport, with a Jordanian cabbie to whom I threw a couple of phrases in Arabic. “This is very polite conversation”, he said, sounding amused. I told him it was my first time visiting Alabama. He assured me it was a very beautiful place. Sadly, I would not see much of it. My Rodeway Inn room was ok, but offered little comfort and not much of a view: an empty pool that seemed to have been repurposed as a storage area, a gas station, a fast food restaurant.
As I had started feeling sick and needed to wait for my suitcase, of which there was no news, I stayed in the motel the entire day, mostly sleeping, reading from my Kindle and checking for any status updates about my suitcase from my phone. My situation could not be more pathetic: I had left my computer charger in my suitcase. My heart sank to my stomach as I saw work-related emails piling up, some of them asking me to respond urgently. I had visions of my missing suitcase lost in space, as I tried to convince myself that it would be okay.
Deliverance finally came, and my suitcase arrived at 1 a.m. the next day. I answered the urgent emails, delivered what work I could and, making a steadfast resolution not to work again until after Christmas, I closed down my computer and disappeared into the woods of Alabama. Once there, it was utter bliss. My phone had no signal there. I decided to do nothing at all but spend time with my friend and catch up. When the time came for my next trip, I was perfectly rested and replenished. On Christmas Eve, I took off for Puerto Rico, where a traditional Christmas dinner awaited me.
The trip was even more delightful than I’d planned for it to be. Even though I did do some work (it is almost impossible for a freelance translator not to have to do something), I was able to rest, sleep in every day, enjoy the sunlight and gorge on happiness and peace of mind. I have many projects and goals for 2013, and the energy will be much needed.