The worst travel night

Self portrait in the Birmingham rain.

I’ve traveled a lot in my life.

For work.

For pleasure.

For parties.

For funerals.

I did the whole backpack-thru-Europe thing. I took three planes to Yellowknife, Canada, where the temperature was negative 40. I’ve had terrifying flights and tranquil flights.

I’ve never had a night like tonight.

As I write this I’m sitting in a Birmingham, Alabama Quality Inn. The door handle was sticky, the shower is drip-drip-dripping—and I’m sooooooo fucking happy to be here.

Why?

Here’s why …

I flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and rented—more than three weeks ago—a car from Thrifty. Upon arriving in Georgia, I walked up to the Thrifty counter, only to be told there were no more cars.

“No more cars?” I said. “I have a reservation.”

“Sorry,” the guy replied. “We have none here.”

“How is that ev—” I started to say. But then I looked at the rep. He had nothing.

I tried different agencies. There were, literally, zero cars. Anywhere. So I took the shuttle to a nearby hotel and ordered an Uber (nearly $200) to take me from Atlanta to Birmingham. After waiting 15 minutes, the guy arrived. I threw my suitcase in the trunk and jumped in.

“You drive to Alabama a lot?” I asked.

“Alabama?” he said. “Nah, man—I can’t do that.”

“What?”

“Too far.”

Holy fuck. I grabbed my backpack. He popped the trunk.

I ordered another Uber. He arrived 30 minutes later—in a pickup truck that smelled of menthol.

We made the journey—two hours. About $200. I arrived at the La Quinta, armed with my Travelocity reservation code and tired eyes. I handed the man my ID. My credit card.

He looked at me. “We have no reservation,” he said. “Sorry.”

“No,” I replied. “I have a confirmation number. From Travelocity.”

“Maybe,” he said, “something was wrong with your credit card.”

“No,” I said. “No. Nothing is wrong with my credit—”

I looked at his face. Like the Thrifty dude, nothing was changing. But this time I was in the middle of nowhere Alabama, sans vehicle. And it was raining. I screamed (and I don’t do this often)—”FUUUUUUUUUCK!” Then, again, as I walked thru the rain, bag dragging, in the parking lot. Loudly. “FUUUUUCK!” I had a bottle in my hand and actually threw it at the ground. I was furious. And lost.

There was a Quality Inn sign glowing.

I called.

Christa answered. They had a room. One room. She said the price and the number of beds—and it was all a blur. I began to walk toward the hotel, and a man in a pickup truck actually stopped. “You need a ride somewhere?” he said.

I will never forget that moment of kindness.

I walked to the Quality Inn. Christa was there. She’s about, oh, 62ish—with dangling cross earrings and a matching crucifix around her neck.

“I am so happy to see you,” I said.

She wasn’t wearing a mask. I didn’t care.

She was Christa.

And her smile was exactly what I needed.

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