What a difference a year makes
It’s not love that means never having to say your sorry, but solo travel. This trip to France is one done by tens of thousands of couples each year. I’m planning nothing that any of those thousands wouldn’t have planned on their own. In sum, there’s going to be nothing worth writing about on this trip; yet I plan on writing nonstop. And I want it to be a transatlantic triumph, not a catastrophe. I want Lindbergh not the Hindenburg.
Just as riding trains was the mundane purpose of my first two solo trips to Europe, traveling to Europe with Carol has raised expectations accordingly. Not from Carol’ s perspective mind you. Having read my blog, she is well aware traveling with me will be much like doing so in an unreliable automobile: any destination, any experience, any accomplishment will be accepted with both a pleasant surprise and a satisfying relief. I, on the other hand, am feeling the pressure to deliver on my stated belief that I can be as engaging and fun-loving a companion as I have imagined myself to be in my dreams. That such a standard of performance has been actually non-existent as a solo traveler has given me pause. From the moment Carol returned from the airport restroom (not returning from which would have provided sufficient lag time for a successful last-second getaway) until the plane became airborne and all hope for her to have a change of heart was lost), I’ve been aware my behavior is on the clock. It’s up to me now to show I’m not just some inanimate, comfort-giving plush toy to have along for a long trip. I know the first thing Carol will say when she reads this, because she’s already said it: “You are not responsible for my entertainment.” She draws this conclusion, not from conviction but experience. In the month that we have lived under the same roof, Carol has seen me glued to the couch all day, then get up to eat something only to return again to the same spot. “So you’re right back there again, huh?” She knows what she’ll be busy with for the next three weeks, and I truly admire and love her for all she’ll be shouldering with quiet patience and a cheerful bonhomie. Still, I’d like like to do her proud, and not have to pace the tiny, drab European hotel room with the single bed and bathroom down the hall, apologizing for not immediately realizing there was a simple explanation why the room was less than half the price of all the others I had so painstakingly reviewed for location (walking distance from the city’s high crime area), amenities (an electrical outlet) and value (less than half the price of all the other budget hotels I’d had under review.) I may be off to a tenuous start. The Paris hotel I booked is about two blocks from one of the city’s premier train stations, yet is less than half the price of hotels much farther away. I’m sitting on the plane now, and it has occurred to me I’m not sure where the room’s bathroom is located, though there’s an ominous note in the room details that says there’s a four euro charge for the use of the shower. I’m familiar with these kinds of stipulations. They’re usually associated with hotels in U.S. cities known as SRO’s or Single Resident Occupancy. In other words, derelict dives, the ones located near bus stations and halfway houses. I have to be cognizant as well that a lot of people, namely her family and friends, are counting on me to maintain Carol in the demographic to which she has been accustomed. They’ll be expecting reports that don’t read like dispatches from a World War II refugee diary. They’re looking forward to the exploits of, say, Princess Anne, not Anne Frank. As we embark on this first trip of the rest of our lives, I feel the full weight of western history and civilization on my shoulders. There’s a big difference between Carol coming back from Europe saying “It took my breath away to see how royalty lived back then” and “You had to hold your breath and your purse to stay where Reid had us booked that night.” I’m hoping the Eiffel Tower just blows her away.