Waiting on My Time.

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-above painting by Lars Lerin

 

Cliffs. Crashing Waves. Dog. Cottage. Tea. Book. A bird flies over head. Cloud. Rocks. Wild grasses. A very gentle wind that let’s me know the planning is breathing.

These are just a few images that come to mind when asked by a client: “where to next?”
Those images are kept quiet in my brain while my mouth uttered: “Iceland, or maybe Greenland, or perhaps the Faroe Islands”.
The man looks at me confused: “Really?” He asks. “Why? What would you do once you got there?” he seems genuinely perplexed. For most travelers that are clients, it is about what I call merit badge travel. People want to collect a necklace of adventures that they can string together and bring out and show people. Look where I have been! At cocktail parties, perhaps they compare- who has been to the most exotic place?   Whose top of list trumps the others? And in all fairness, I have been to so many places- Europe to Asia to the Arctic.

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It is no longer about which additional I can add to my list.
I look at the man.  I smile and say: “Mostly, I love nature and wide open spaces.  Once I am there, I would sit and enjoy the vistas. I would hike and breath in the fresh air. I would explore charming small villages… meet the locals…”.  He interrupts “I hear the people are nice”.

Yes, they are nice. And those I have met are a lot of fun, casual and relaxed.  They tend to enjoy lively music.   Reykjavik is known for a wild party life that goes into all hours of the night; some hotels have double panned Windows- it’s  important to know which ones.  But I am basing those views on encounters I have had with the West Nordic People when in years past, at the Vestnorden Travel Trade Show, a bunch of Faroese people might perhaps have had one too many glasses of wine or even Akvavit.. and could break out in loud national songs or even popular pop culture tunes…Yellow Submarine comes to mind.
My response to this man who stopped by for some spring break options but really wanted to talk about that trip to China he wants to take this year, is that- yes, the people are very nice. But in my mind I am thinking this place I want to go to, it’s not my next trip. It would maybe be a permanent and final move. Not just another trip. The quest to find home is important to me.
One might wonder: are you not already home?

No. Not really.

I have never really been home.

I have been visiting for long stretches of time.

I have borrowed a geographical location, but I plan to give it back sometime. After I have waited. When the time is right for “my time”.

Why do I say this?

I did not grow up here in the Twin Cities. I came here as an adult after college, my first adult job brought me here. And while I was wildly excited about the quaintness and historic charm of the capital city when I first arrived, I found fairly soon that the locals who have lived here their whole lives already have their intimate group of friends. I am mostly a work friend. I have one or two friends outside of work and I see them maybe once or twice a month (if I am lucky). But they are kind of set as well, they have lived here their whole lives and  have their circle of family and friends. The truth is, I do not have one person in my life that lives nearby, that is a close intimate person who I feel comfortable calling any time, day or night. You know, that kind of friend.

 
I have very close acquaintances for whom I have a deep fondness and feel close. I look forward to these people checking into my life and I into theirs. We have lunch or after work dinner. But we don’t meet during the weekends. And perhaps, if I moved, I would be missed. But something tells me that it would be a fleeting emotion of missing me, and that this feeling would quickly dissolve.. within a fairly short time.
So this image response of the perfect physical location where I could find my bliss, I keep this quiet mostly. Because in my life, when I have entrusted my heart to another soul and have felt a sweet kinship with someone that fueled me each day and week with weekend outings, I find that the person checks out or declares a wish to leave my geographic area. One such friend for whom I have one of the strongest affections for, one day said to me: “I will move home because there is nothing for me here.”. She was referring of course to the fact that her family was home, and home was about 5000 miles from here. I understand this. Intellectually. But a little something inside me broke that day. “There is nothing for me here” echoed in my heart and soul for weeks afterwards.

 

It alerted me to an important fact. Right now, I have my parents. They are in their seventies and eighties. One day, they will be no more. When that happens, I will need to evaluate. Is there anything here for me? Anything to keep me here? Anyone to keep me here? If the answer is the same as it would be today, if today I should find myself orphaned, what will I do? Will I stay or will I go?

 

When no one needs me anymore, I will walk to the cliffs, close my eyes, listen to the birds and the waves, I will reach down and caress the silky hair of my sweet and only companion who sits on my lap (likely a papillon). On that hand crafted wooden bench I rest with my sweet companion, situated just outside my cottage front door, and I will gaze those majestic cliffs.   I will drink a cup of tea, and read or write a book (or both).

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These images have been following me around now for years. In some variation, most of my life.

 

And at times, as I drive to work, an occasional piece of the kaleidoscope image comes to the forefront of my mind, and I wonder: why is life about waiting? It feels like that for me. I wait on time to find that space to finally be able to do what drives me most, that one thing that fuels my passion, that one thing that brings me joy. I wait to find a space of peace that is perfect for me to sit, contemplate, breathe. For some reason, I must wait. I just hope that in my waiting, I don’t run out of time.

 

Balancing on the wave of life

I find it marvelous that in the midst of emotional upheaval, difficult remembrances, and darker moments that I find my way back up to the surface and can gasp for that breath of refreshing air. Every day brings a new opportunity to find my way to the wave that will take me back in to shore, the one that I can steady myself upon and from which I can raise my arms high in the air and clap once again with sheer joy at the marvel of it all. It’s all about what one chooses to focus on.

Lately, with jury duty, I was pulled for a while to thoughts of darkness. And, in the midst of that I was dealing with a challenging work season with at times difficult clients. Oh, you may think the customer is always right.  In my world, they simply are not always right. I do my very best to bring clients wonderful vacation dreams come true, but within those exchanges I have to endure certain people whose personalities are very strong, they feel they know it all and are better at arranging travel that I might be.  After all, they don’t know me and they took a twirl or two on-line and found things through web based travel agencies that were tempting. The commercials on TV suggest they can get a better deal with on-line hotel companies. Most of those on-line hotel companies are very restrictive once the reservation is booked and paid in full.  And, once you show up at the hotel, the message is: “you bought it, you must keep it”. If you enter your hotel room and hate it, or it smells, or it is a closet or it looks out at the dumpster in the back alley or, perhaps there is a weird stain on your sheets: tough. Sure, you can and should go to the front desk to inquire about a solution, but don’t be surprised if your efforts are for not. And, if you call the customer service line at the on-line booking host, don’t be surprised if you get a round robin repeated response that you had to cancel your booking at least 48 hours prior to arrival per the terms of your particular booking in order to have any refund compensation. “But” you say, “I didn’t know 48 hours prior to arrival that the room would be 100% unacceptable”.   Silence. “I am sorry, Ma’am.  You needed to cancel the booking 48 hours prior to arrival in order to receive a refund” is the dead pan response.  You give up, it’s useless. I had someone tell me not too long ago, that she had that type of experience with one of the many on-line hotel sites and she will never again book on-line. I smiled a little. She nodded- understanding passed between us. You see, as a travel agent, when we book services, if you have a problem with anything you booked through us, there is a customer service desk.  But in our case, 99% of the time, this desk will bend over backwards to make it right. So, you don’t have to sleep in that icky room that you nabbed for 75% less than what you thought you had to pay.

Recently, I had a client book a river cruise in Europe.  This is a lovely Christmas Market River Cruise that starts with a pre-cruise city stay in Prague and ends in Budapest and she and three girl friends in two balcony cabins will enjoy the Danube and the beautiful Christmas Markets. Throughout the booking process, the lead client was routinely rude, yelling and even cursing.   The slightest thing would set her off and it was always a shock to me at the sensitivity she was exhibiting.   The underlying mistrust was palpable.  At one point, when the booking was on hold, she called frantic with loud words coming through the ear piece because the booking for one cabin was more expensive than the other cabin and she was furious about the lack of clarity. Never mind that I had written every detail out explaining the differences and provided the client copy of the cruise lines’ invoice. When she would allow me a word in edgewise, I was able to explain that the insurance for the two ladies in the one cabin was higher because they booked a higher category of cabin. When the trip cost increases, the insurance premium increases. This was detailed in the previous email. Almost grudgingly she acquiesced and they booked. And I knew that with her emotional roller coaster approach to every detail of the booking process, that 2016 was going to be a long year. And indeed, yesterday that thought was affirmed. I received the email that they were ready to book their air. Their cruise includes a promotional free air offer in standard economy class. When one books air as part of a cruise, and in particular free air, it is generally the case that one receives the air schedule from the cruise line closer to departure date; sometimes 30-60 days prior to departure date. As this cruise is a holiday cruise, it is prudent to add something to the booking called AIR Plus, which allows the selection of the schedule and airline right away. The customer has the choice of their preferred schedule and airline for the most part. I say that because the category the cruise line is using is a particular category, and that category must be available for the air to be free. If it is not available, then it may be necessary to pay a little bit of a difference in price between free and the next category. This privilege of selecting an itinerary in February for a cruise taking place late November/early December is $50 per person. Not a bad deal and then these ladies don’t have to worry about what airline, whether there will be many flights, and many connecting cities. They have a say in their air schedule. So, I get to work. And, I present a wonderful schedule that has only one stop between their home city and Prague with a good amount of connect time so that these senior ladies are not too rushed getting from one airplane to the other. I send the schedules and details. And, inevitably, I get a response filled with capital letters (shouting at me) that she has to have the bigger economy class seats because she has a rod in her leg. Because she paid for AIR Plus she believes she is entitled to the upgraded economy class.   No.    That is not what AIR Plus is- it is the ability to select your Standard Economy flight schedule now rather than in September.    So I call the cruise line air department before responding to the client, what are our options?  I need to have all my ducks in a row, anticipate an answer to every possible follow up question before she even knows she has that question.  And I learn that once the air in economy class is ticketed by the cruise air department, we can go to the airline website and pay the upgraded cost from Standard Economy to Delta Comfort (Delta Comfort is an enhanced economy which means a bit more legroom and some other amenities included). The cost per direction for the over the water flight is around $149-$189 per person per direction and subject to availability once the ticket is issued. I send off the details and I brace myself.  She won’t be happy. She will blame me for using the word AIR Plus but not telling her it did not give her access to enhanced economy. Never mind that all along I had only referred to her air tickets as being in Standard Economy. I understand that tourism lingo is hard to keep up with. And, I am always more than glad to explain and provide answers. What I don’t enjoy are people calling me with accusational tones and yelling at me (whether vocally or written yelling). Be nice.

My father used to be like that a while back. I would happen upon him in the kitchen on the phone, yelling at some service provider. Arguing a point that, as I listened, I realized that he may very well be wrong in his presumptions.  Older people at times begin to wear a sweater of cynicism and distrust for people in general.  Some older people.  This distrust is fed by regular interactions with people that could be tainted with disrespect or even, disdain.   Or, perhaps a tone that left them feeling irrelevant.  Dad had this tone for a long while; but this was more prevalent before he had his shunt put in which helps drain the excess fluid from his brain, which has netted a calmer guy.    In general, Dad is less volatile, less reactionary now that he was diagnosed and treated by a caring medical team.

My client has stage 4 cancer. She is under a lot of stress. Her life is out of control and her mortality is before her. This trip is vital to her, and she wants to have control over every detail and she wants her wishes to be granted regardless of how unreasonable or uninformed they are. So, I try to listen. I try not to interrupt with my own bag of truths. And, I try not to take it personally.

So, I started with marvelous joy at the beginning of this entry and I shared the frenetic days I have had lately in my job. And that is OK. I sit here in a coffee shop with ear buds in…. typing on my wireless keyboard with iPad tucked into the holder and I listen to the waves and sounds made in music by the wonderful Sigur Ros from Iceland. Ethereal music that glides along and helps me calm down and rejoice at the things in my life that help me re-balance and move forward and for the most part enjoy the travel agent gig. Most of my clients.. 99% even, are lovely. Perspective my dear. Perspective.