(It’s worth noting that Chris and I had just spent two nights in a hot pink Bavarian hotel. The first night we slept in a turquoise room under the placid gaze of a swarm of golden cherubs and their electric candelabra. The second night we slept in a cave, complete with waterfalls and stained glass windows depicting a cartoonish blond woman from the 50s transported to the caveman era. It was magically, shamelessly gaudy. Oma would love it here! I thought. Alas, the hotel doesn’t allow pets, and Oma won’t be parted from Andy—her fat, old, co-dependent dachshund.)
I could barely keep my eyes open the entire four-hour drive back from San Luis Obispo to the San Francisco airport. My face felt swollen, like I had just wept for hours or was having an allergic reaction. I’m usually good for a car trip, especially if there’s an audiobook on, but now I was zombie-like, nauseated and cranky. Chris patiently blasted freezing air into my face and, when that wasn’t enough, pulled off the highway to let me take deep breaths in an abandoned parking lot.
I felt myself pulling back together as we rolled into the Payless Rental Car parking lot. This was a relief, because I had been dreading imminent plane sickness, the only thing worse than car sickness. I smiled extra-earnestly and kissed Chris on the cheek as we stood waiting for the shuttle to arrive and take us the final ten minutes to the airport. I wanted to make it up to him for carrying our combined existential weight for much of the day. He grinned back indulgently.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been my best self,” I murmured.
“That’s OK. Sometimes you aren’t your best self. I love you anyway,” Chris said, magnificently.
I nuzzled my forehead gratefully into his deltoid, and at the same time, I was stricken by a thought: I hope I’m my best self often enough. There’s an acceptable ratio of best-self : not-best-self, and I don’t know what that ratio is, but everything depends upon it.
At first, I mistook the shuttle driver for another passenger. He wore a black and navy-blue suit, a matching fedora, and large, faux-diamond studs in his ears. His nails were clean and filed. He did not resemble the driver who, days before, had driven us the opposite way between the airport and car lot wearing a polo shirt with the Payless Rental Car logo.
“Hurry up! Hurry up! There’s only one of me!” he shouted as he waved Chris and I and a small group of stragglers into the shuttle van. As soon he started the engine, the radio blasted the commentary of a basketball game. He pressed the gas pedal, wriggled joyfully in his chair, and turned the volume up another notch.
Someone scored. The driver laughed. We stopped at a red light and he clapped his hands over his head. “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! He’s not the king today!” I think he was talking about Lebron James?
The light changed and the driver hit the gas again. We swerved left through an intersection, and I heard a suitcase tumble in the back. Someone scored. The driver laughed again and pumped his fists in the air as we caught another red light.
A white convertible pulled up next to us. Without a moment’s hesitation, our driver rolled down his window and shouted, “Hey, playboy! Looking good, baby!” Green light. Gas.
Chris and I caught each other’s eyes. Chris was grinning, and his wide eyes and raised eyebrows seemed to say, “Why not? Weeee!”
I thought that was how I felt, too, until I caught a glimpse of myself in the side mirror. My expression was really a weird, manic grimace of incredulity and glee, like a little kid on the teacup ride who is caught between having the time of their life and throwing up.
We arrived. The driver flung himself out of the van and opened up the back doors. He swung our luggage out onto the curb in a heap. Suitcases toppled over. Some passengers frantically snatched up their luggage and scurried away.
“Man! Nobody tips anymore! Nobody tips anymore!” he huffed. Chris handed him some loose ones—not for the new dent in my luggage casing, but for the unexpected, whirlwind California farewell.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 06/12/2017.