Good Days and Better Days

View from outside my window at the Portland hotel.

It snowed this morning. The blowing, blinding kind of snow. It might have been a blizzard if it hadn’t stopped, but it did. By noon the sun was breaking through blue sky.

Don’t be fooled, though, that sun wasn’t warm. I am not sure it ever got above 20. I don’t know. I never went outside. I’ve been waylaid by a cold. My buddy Michael called from Alabama. He said I sound awful. He thinks I might have the flu. All I know is that this entire week would have qualified for the competition of a very bad, awful, terrible week. Not the kind that my friend Robert had that landed him in the hospital with sepsis. Or the kind the kids in Parkland have been having. No, not at all that kind of horrible, terrible, awful.

Just the more mundane awful.

Or as my mama might have defined it: Not my best week.

When she was dying of cancer, we took to classifying days that way: There are no bad days. Just good days and better days. Every day is a gift when you realize you are dying. We all know this but few of us start living like we know it until it can no longer be ignored.

I was supposed to be in Georgia this weekend. I was supposed to give a talk to the Lee County Literacy Coalition. Instead of snow boots, I was supposed to be wearing open-toed sandals. Sigh.

I wrote my speech. I packed my suitcase. I checked the road cams. I decided to head out to Portland early because there was a snowstorm headed our way. So I made my hotel reservations at the airport, avoided the pass at Government Camp, driving through Dufur instead, which made the trip a tad longer but much safer.

By the time I arrived in Portland, the snows were already coming down. I pulled up to the hotel and went to check in.

“Your reservation is for tomorrow,” the clerk said. “And we are all sold out tonight.”

Uggghhh! I hate when I do that. Get my days off. I am terrible with numbers and calendars. Every once in awhile, I schedule the rental car or hotel for the wrong date.

I didn’t worry too much though. I figured I’d just go to the hotel next door. There are literally dozens of hotels at the Portland airport. Thousands of rooms.

They were all booked.

Snow isn’t uncommon on this side of the mountain, but it is a rarity in the Portland-Metro area. Drivers panic. They hole up. Not Atlanta kind of panic but still. Nobody likes driving in winter weather conditions.

I used my phone to search for hotel rooms. I called my daughter and had her search. I went door-to-door, begging like Joseph for just a room for just one night.

Finally, after an hour-and-half, I found one. Somebody cancelled. Yay! I was two-minutes away from turning around and going home, calling off the whole thing because by the time I got to Portland, I was beginning to feel a bit off. Like something was coming on, maybe.

I sent a note that night to the organizer of the event in Alabama: Do you have a back-up plan? I’m not feeling well tonight.

No, she said. Do you?

By morning, I was feeling well enough to make the trip. I dressed, packed and made a last minute call to Sister Tater. We talked about the passing of Billy Graham, that morning’s news. Not really a sad event, as Graham had in many ways already had left this world.

I got on the elevator, headed to catch my shuttle. When it stopped on the 2nd floor, a very pretty woman with a tussell of white hair walked on. We were the only two on the elevator. “Billy Graham died,” she said. Which might not sound like an odd thing to comment on if you are in Charleston but in Portland, it seemed misplaced. Kind of like waking up in a hotel room in DC after dreaming you were in a hotel room in LA. It was discombobulating.

“Yes,” I replied. “But not really sad news. He’s getting a wonderful homecoming, which is more than his son Franklin is going to get, I suspect.”

I know that was a weird thing for me to say to a complete stranger. I just blurted it out I think because that was the conversation I’d just had with my sis.

“Oh, I love Franklin,” this strange woman said.

“I used to. Before he became a rabid Trump supporter.” The elevator stopped on the first floor. I disembarked with my luggage. She did, too.

“I love Donald Trump,” she called out after me.

I said nothing. I just went to a quiet corner and waited for the shuttle to arrive.

It was a van. The shuttle. And every seat was full.

The strange woman sat in the seat behind me.

Good Lord. The Karma was beginning to feel all higgly-jiggly.

The driver wasn’t out of the hotel parking lot before this woman leaned forward and put her hand on my shoulder. She probably wouldn’t have done that had she known me better. But she obviously didn’t know me at all.

“I have a Word from the Lord for you,” she whispered in my left ear.

My stomach jumped a bit. I didn’t know if it was the sickness creeping in or the thought that God didn’t feel like He could talk directly to me any more. He had to send messages to me via angelic-looking pale women.

I said nothing.

“If you will hear this. It’s a Word from the Lord, just for you. Not for anyone else.” Her grip tightened a bit.

I said nothing.

“God is raising up this nation…” she began.

I cut her off.

“Thank you very much. I don’t want to hear anymore.”

I know she sat back and began to pray for me.

I wish I had the presence of mind to say to her that God was indeed raising up a nation in the students out of Parkland. I wish I had said that, but I just knew she was going to tell me God was using Donald Trump to raise up a nation and I was going to go all trailer park trash on her the minute she mentioned God’s name in conjunction with Trump. So I cut her off.

I was so shaken by the event, I called Sister Tater again as soon as I got off the shuttle. Sister Tater laughed and had me laughing, too. She knows me well enough to know how lucky that woman was to escape any further encounter with me.

Sister Tater texted over this photo of her from high school to cheer me. And to remind me that no matter how bad a day I was having, at least I still had my hair. She’s been missing hers but it’s starting to grow back. She’s so pretty.

I was so hopeful that would be the last of the bad Karma moments for the day. But then I got to the TSA checkpoints. Usually my ticket notes that I am TSA approved, which makes travel so much easier. I don’t have to take off my shoes or remove my laptop, etc. But for some reason or another, this particular ticket didn’t have the TSA pre-approved mark so I had to go through the line, which wasn’t terribly long, thankfully.

But the woman in front of me had her arm in a makeshift sling that slowed her down considerably. By the time, we got to the Hold ’em up High machine, they ran us through back-to-back and decided that both of us needed to be patted down.

“I’m going to run my the back of my hands over your groin, okay?” said the big gal with the tight ponytail.

“Sure,” I said, annoyed but putting my feet into the right position. “Go ahead and feel me up.”

Well, who knew she would take that the wrong way? People. Today. No sense of humor. Especially if they are wearing a uniform. She huffed. She puffed. She threatened to blow me right out the doors of that airport. Then she marched over and got her supervisor. She wanted me gone.

He took me to a private area, brought over a pleasant woman with a congenial smile. She repeated that there was something in my pocket and that she was going to have to check it.

“My pants don’t have pockets,” I said, lifting my shirt for her to see. No pockets.

But the machine had shown a red mark over my ovaries. She needed to be sure that I wasn’t packing.

“If only the kids at Parkland had had such good security,” I replied.

“I know, right?” she said in agreement. Then added, “I’m going to run the back of my hand over your groin. Then up and down your leg. I will stop at the point of resistance.”

You better, I thought, otherwise it’s called penetration.

Luckily, I had the good sense to not say that last thing. TSA folks are so fickle. You never know if they are going to treat you like their funny post-menopausal mother or like Bonnie Parker (Look her up) and throw you to the ground.

The TSA supervisor and I had a little chat about the girl with the tight ponytail and her pissy attitude, which even he admitted she possessed. Then I went on my harried way.

Powell’s Bookstore at PDX had my friend Jane’s book on prominent display.

Did you know they moved the Starbucks from the D-Concourse at the Portland airport? Now you have to walk all the way over to C to pick up your coffee. How dumb is that? I can buy beer at 8 a.m. in the D-Concourse but not coffee. Not Starbucks anyway.

Still, I knew I had time. Or thought I did until I stood in line about 15 minutes and realized that it might be another 15 minutes before I got helped. I gave up and went back to board my flight to Seattle, where I was catching a connecting flight to Atlanta. I know. I should have flown Alaska. They have direct flights from Portland to Atlanta but their time schedule didn’t jive with mine when I was making the reservation.

I boarded the flight, happy with the relatively roomy seat. I chatted with the gal in the seat next to me. An Emory grad who worked in the medical field (what else?) who was moving back to Atlanta after a few years in Portland. She was bright and engaging and we had plenty to talk about as we waited 40 minutes on the tarmac for a delayed take-off.

We realized as we were mid-flight that we weren’t going to make the flight to Atlanta. No way. Especially after the pilot announced that they were going to drop us remotely and bus us to the Seattle terminal.

Here’s the thing – my bag made it to Atlanta, but I didn’t. How does that even happen, Delta?

The bad juju was in total effect by the time I reached the Delta counter in Seattle. They couldn’t get me into Atlanta until the next day.

I didn’t even have the energy to be angry. By then whatever was ailing me was wearing me out. I called my friend Mamie Pound and asked if she would go talk to the Lee County Literacy Coalition. She graciously agreed. I knew she’d do a bang-up job. She’s funny and smart. Beautiful and intelligent. And a natural storyteller. I called the folks in Alabama and delivered the bad news. Called my son and told him I wouldn’t be seeing him after all either.

I had to wait all day to fly back to Portland.

All the motels were still full. So I picked up my car and prayed I could make it through the Gorge while it was still daylight and that I wouldn’t encounter too much snow.

I made it as far as The Dalles, found a good hotel and checked in. I picked up dinner in the hotel lobby – Cheetos (calcium) and a Snickers bar (protein). I haven’t had a Snickers bar in a year but I figured this day deserved chocolate in some form.

My bag was in Atlanta. I had nothing other than the clothes I was wearing. I couldn’t sleep. At 2 a.m. I went downstairs and asked the clerk for toothbrush and toothpaste. I grabbed some gum and mouthwash, too.

I don’t recommend mixing Cheetos and Snickers ever, but especially not if you don’t have a toothbrush nearby.

I watched reruns of HGTV until I couldn’t stand those whiny people any more. I called the clerk and asked for a late check-out. Put the do not disturb sign on the door.

I drove home the next afternoon, when I was sure the worst of the snows had a chance to be plowed.

“Look at it this way, Mom,” my son said, “You’ve probably set the longest record ever for getting to Seattle. It took you a couple of days.”

Somebody send me a calico bonnet, would you? I feel just like a real Pioneer woman ought.

“Just be glad it isn’t 1918 and you don’t have that Spanish flu,” my buddy Michael said. “We’ve got better meds now.”

Did I mention Michael used to be a pharmaceutical rep?

Lordy. Lordy. Somebody. Can I get a word?

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND (A non-religious novel about troubled folks in Appalachia, where there are just good days and better days. Mercer University Press).


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.



about 5 years ago

Remarkable...but us Southern Belies know how to prevail...and when to wisely keep our mouth shut, as you showed elegant restraint on that chose to let the karma swirl on by...the old saying "If you don't have anything nice to say...say nothing at all." The truth is a rare commodity and nonexistent in Dtrumph camp.



about 5 years ago

:-) You made me laugh out loud. Several times with this. I hope you're better soon. <3


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