C and I are still looking for his pickup, in which we’re planning to drive to Colorado in a couple months. So this week, we took his fictional weekend — it’s not the actual weekend because he works in a retail pharmacy and they need him on the weekends — and went to see a truck I had found on Craigslist that looked pretty good. It was well within his price range, had good mileage, a crew cab, and it even came with a charming and well constructed handmade wooden camper on the back of it, so he’d have someplace dry to sleep if he bought the thing.
We drove down to SeaTac to meet up with the owner in a parking lot. We each drove it around a bit, and both of us liked the way it felt. It had a couple of things that would definitely need to be fixed, as is pretty typical for older used vehicles; and while the owner was clearly being honest with us about the ones he knew about, he was also honest in telling us that it hadn’t been thoroughly looked over by a mechanic in at least one and probably two cross-continental trips. We left him and his truck feeling certain of two things: first, we were very interested in the truck, and second, it would definitely need an inspection before we were prepared to buy it.
C texted the owner an hour after we got home to tell him we were eager to move forward with the truck, and could he bring it to a mechanic if we arranged to get it seen by one? We would have sent the mechanic to him, but he was living out of the truck until he sold it, and therefore didn’t have a fixed address where we could ask them to go.
A few minutes later, the owner texted back to tell us that he’d just sold the truck to somebody else.
Back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, I’ve also been attempting to sort out this railroad trip I’m planning to take with my kids. It can’t go into Canada as I had originally hoped, partly because of cost and partly because Amtrak doesn’t currently have access to Canada under Covid regulations. That may or may not be different in August when we plan to travel, but I need to book the trip well before that if we’re going to secure sleeper compartments. So we’d be basically stopping in Chicago and New York, and seeing the country from the rails in the meantime. That’s a pretty cool trip, but I’m not certain it’s quite enough to warrant a $15,000 trip for four people. So I considered turning it into another road trip instead. I like driving, and it would both be less expensive and mean we could stop in more places along the way.
My son J explained to me that despite being much more comfortable on buses than he used to be, he still gets car sick reliably in regular automobiles. Multi-day car trips would not be any fun at all, either for him or for others with him.
Back to the drawing board.
Am I frustrated at all of the obstacles? Yes and no. This kind of adjustment and adaptation is really the essence of my Going Sideways method of travel. ANY trip is going to have a lot of backing up and repositioning and trying a different direction during the planning stages. That’s how it works. When you can’t get where you’re going by one method, you look for another. If you’re lucky, it doesn’t happen in really bad ways after you’re already on the trip itself, precisely because you went through all of the necessary adjustments first, while you were still planning.
You all saw what my Africa trip looked like. It was wonderful. One of the best trips I’ve ever taken. It also included misinformation from my first airline leading to lost luggage, a bout of water sickness that dominated my last week in Africa, and a catastrophic health failure in the family that caused me to hastily adjust plans for my New York visit. Not to mention a half dozen much more minor incidents that didn’t seriously impact me, but did require adjustment on the fly. Heck, even some of the positive things, such as the last minute upgrades, still required adjustment on the fly! I was delighted by them and grateful for them, but they definitely didn’t go the way I thought they would. And that’s okay.
Travel plans are like battle plans: they never survive contact with reality. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because if you’re going to see a part of the world where you’ve never been before and everything happens exactly the way you expected it to… well, what did you learn on that trip that you didn’t already know in the first place?
All of which brings me, finally, to the lime soda I mentioned in the title of this post.
It came about on a trip to Playa del Carmen that I took in my thirties, with a good friend. I had been to that area of Mexico a couple of times before, but always by cruise ship; this was my first time wandering around on my own. He’d never been there before at all. We went looking for a place to have dinner, but it took us a while and we ended up, hot and tired, at a Mexican version of an American chain restaurant because by that point we just wanted to know that we’d be able to get something we could recognize and knew we would be comfortable eating. We figured we’d get adventurous another day. This time, we wanted to feel that we knew what to expect.
The waitress came by to ask if we wanted drinks, and I ordered a lemonade… as previously mentioned, it’s one of my typical comfort foods. But there were two things I hadn’t counted on.
The first was that pretty much all soft drinks in Mexican tourist restaurants were made with soda water, so that we tourists could be sure it wasn’t using local tap water that might be a bad idea to drink. (See my post Breaking the First Rule — don’t ever drink the water when you haven’t explicitly checked that it’s safe.) The second was that the same word in Spanish — limon — meant both lemon and lime in English… there was no distinction.
So I ordered lemonade. And I got lime soda. And I liked it. I liked it a lot. Even though it was definitely not what I had expected to be drinking, and the whole point of being in that restaurant was to get what we expected.
A bit later, over dinner, J and I got to talking about the lime soda, which by that time I had finished and asked for a refill. We concluded that it was, in some ways, an excellent metaphor for the entire process of travel. Even when you’re going someplace where you think you know what to expect, you’re likely to find out that what you get isn’t exactly what you asked for. And sometimes, at least if you keep an open mind, you’ll find out that you like it anyway.
None of that means that I don’t do a ton of planning before I leave, to try and nail down everything important and make sure the trip is set up as well as I can do it. I’m already going to get some surprises and I know that; I don’t want them to be bad ones if I can help it. Especially important bad ones. That’s why I’m ears deep in all the revising and adapting right now… precisely so that I won’t hit too many snags when I’m actually on my way to Colorado, or to the East Coast later in the summer. I’m open-minded but I’m not reckless.
So yes, I do sometimes get frustrated by some of the ways it’s hard to put a good trip together. I really don’t know what to do about this train trip, right now… I know the kids really want to take it, but I’m starting to be skeptical about whether the version we can do is worth the cost. And while I’m certain we are going to be able to find another good truck for C, it’ll probably be more expensive than the one that got away, and we won’t be able to get a comparable version of that handmade camper for love or money. We will never know if there would’ve turned up anything prohibitive on the mechanic’s report, but if there didn’t, it would’ve been a good truck and a great deal. We just weren’t prepared to gamble $10,000 on it without the certainty of getting it checked first, so we lost it to someone who would.
But through all of this stage of the planning process, I try really hard to remember two things. First, we crabs always have to go sideways a ways before we can find a way to go forward… but we get there in the end. Right now, I’m right in the middle of the sideways, the paths that don’t work, the trying over and over again to find a way through. But I’ve been there before every trip I’ve ever taken, and I always get through it eventually.
And second, some of the time, what I get when I’m done with all of that changing plans is even better than what I thought I would get. Sometimes, I get lime soda, and it’s great.
I don’t know for sure yet exactly what shape either of these trips will take. There’s still a lot of obstacles yet to clear. But I’m pretty sure I’ll love the trips in the end no matter how it works out. I can’t remember the last trip I didn’t love. (Yes, Dad, even the one to France when I was fifteen, so you don’t have to tease me about it again. I’ve written about that one already.)
So whenever it starts to get too frustrating, or when I’m feeling unsure that I can find a way to build a great trip despite all the obstacles, I close my eyes, take a couple of deep breaths, and try to remember the taste of lime soda.