I just wanted to make a single-night hotel reservation for our upcoming road trip. Even though it will be after Labor Day, the coastal town is small and touristy, so I didn’t want to take the chance of waiting until we got there.
First, I went online to check out options and reviews on a few hotel booking sites. I wanted something not too pricey but close enough to the embarcadero, shops, and restaurant area to be walkable. Fortunately, there were several reasonable choices with vacancies for the night we’d be there. Easy enough so far.
Many people would simply choose a hotel and click over to the booking site’s reservation page, but I don’t like to do this. I prefer to make my reservations either by calling the hotel directly or by going on their website. I may be old school, but I’ve often found that doing this has a few advantages:
Better cancelation policies
I typed in the name of the hotel and found a website that appeared to be theirs; the landing page gave no indication that it was not. I looked to see if they offered any discounts (AAA and AARP are the most common) but couldn’t find any. That should have been my first clue, but I figured since it was a tourist town, maybe they didn’t need to offer incentives. I made our reservations and printed out the receipt. That’s when I noticed something in the small print that concerned me. The cancelation policy was very unclear. Despite the verbiage, “free cancelation,” there was enough gobbledygook to indicate that “free” might be a euphemism for “not free.”
So, to get clarification, I did what I should have done first, and called the hotel directly.
It turns out that I hadn’t, in fact, made reservations on the hotel’s website. I did have a reservation, but I had made it through a third-party, exactly what I didn’t want to do. I asked the woman—an actual, very nice, human at the actual hotel—about their rates, if they offered any discounts, and what their cancelation policy was. Although their beginning rate was similar, they did offer a AAA discount, and their cancelation policy was 100% refund up to a day before.
Following a brief conversation about our mutual dislike of these third-party booking sites, I asked if she could cancel my original reservation and book us direct. After trying unsuccessfully, she suggested that I contact the booking site directly. She would hold the room and wait to hear back from me. So much nicer than a computer.
I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say, the booking site did not make it easy to cancel. But, after calling a few different numbers, getting in a few automated phone tree loops, and having my call cut off, I finally reached an agent in India. She canceled my reservation, and I called the hotel back to re-book. Done.
Like so many “conveniences” afforded us by the interwebs, these booking sites come with a price. Not only can they end up costing more, but their cancelation policies are also often stricter, and communication is challenging or nonexistent. By calling the hotel directly, I saved money, have a generous, understandable cancelation policy, and learned a bit more about the area where we’ll be staying.
This experience did nothing to lessen my discomfort about booking through these sites. They are fine for doing research but, while they offer expediency, they don’t offer the good communication and human touch I prefer.
The picture in the Airbnb ad was the first thing that caught his attention. While most hosts feature the home they have for rent, this ad only pictured a dry desert landscape. Perfect, Greg thought. As he scrolled through the reviews, he become even more intrigued. Many were in a language he didn’t recognize but the reviews in English were positive. “This place is out of the world!” one gushed. “You’ll never want to leave!” said another. The review that finally convinced Greg to book the house read, “If you are looking for an environment that is both peaceful and life-changing, this is it.”
There had been little peace in Greg’s life since he and Lydia had broken up three weeks prior. After four years of living together, she told him it was over. No yelling, no tears: just, “I don’t love you anymore and you have to leave.” Even as Greg felt his heart being squeezed between her well-manicured fingers, he couldn’t help admiring her calm composure. Lydia dumped him as if he was one of her underperforming employees.
There was no question about who got to stay in the apartment and who had to leave. Lydia’s name was on the rental agreement and, ever since he lost his job back in August, Greg hadn’t contributed to the rent.
As he gathered his things under her watchful eyes, he was shocked at how little he actually owned. The furniture, TV, and kitchen appliances were all hers. Everything he had thought of as “ours,” really belonged to Lydia. When he had taken what was his, the apartment looked the same, as if he had never been there.
Now that he was essentially homeless and had to rely on friends to put him up, Greg tried to convince himself that being able to travel light was a good thing. He only needed his beater car and a small backpack to carry his possessions from sofa to sofa. Even so, he couldn’t help but think a man his age should have more to show for himself.
Greg knew that he would have to find a job and more permanent housing soon – two things that weren’t easy to come by in the current economy. He also knew that he needed to have a clear idea of what he wanted his new, post-Lydia life to look like. As much as he appreciated his friends’ generosity, he had very little privacy and craved quiet and solitude so he could figure things out.
A few days in the high desert was just what he needed. While many people sought vacation rentals at the beach, Greg longed for the peace and quiet of the desert. He also knew that he could afford to rent a house there for a few days. Unlike at the coast, the prices in Morongo and Yucca Valley wouldn’t make too much of a dent in his meager savings. Ignoring Lydia’s voice in his head telling him how irresponsible he was being, Greg booked the desert house for a three-night stay.
As Greg drove out of town, the lush green lawns, imposing security gates, and faux lakes of Palm Springs started to give way to natural desert landscape without the injection of imported water. He could feel his shoulders relax more with each mile, and the pain of Lydia’s rejection began to ease. He knew that he was spending money that he should be saving, but he also knew what he was doing was the right thing for him.
A half-hour later, Greg’s GPS indicated that he was close to the address of the rental. He carefully followed the prompts up a narrow, dusty road, doing his best to avoid the large ruts on either side. When the GPS told him that he had arrived, Greg slowed to a crawl and started to look to his left and right. No house. Crap, Greg thought, I hope I haven’t been taken. Not willing to give up and hear the Lydia living in his head tell him what an idiot he was, he considered his next move. He remembered passing a small convenience store a few miles back. Maybe they knew something about the house or owner.
The bell over the door announced his arrival but the man behind the counter continued to stare at his phone. Greg picked up a bag of chips, hoping a purchase would help break the screen’s spell.
“Hi. I’m looking for a house up the road, but I can’t seem to find it,” Greg said as he slid the chips and a piece of paper with the handwritten address towards the clerk.
The clerk looked at the address and smirked. “Yeah, that’s the Martin place. It’s not visible from the road; you have to park and walk up the dirt path. Once you clear the hill, you’ll see it.”
Feeling much better, Greg thanked the man and paid for his chips. As he walked out of the store, the clerk called out, “Look for the blue door.”
Greg carefully retraced his route and, once again, found himself where the GPS insisted there was a house. He parked in a little dirt lot he hadn’t noticed the first time and looked around until he saw the path the clerk had mentioned. He opened the trunk to retrieve his backpack and, as he slung it over his shoulder, wondered again how he got to the point where most of his worldly possessions could fit in such a small bag.
The path leading up the hill was partially overgrown by shrubs and covered in loose rock and dust. When Greg reached the top, he looked around for the house. Still nothing. Then, over to the right, nestled among some trees, he saw a door. No house, just a door.
Greg walked over to get a closer look. The door was set inside a frame and stood straight up with no visible signs of support. The robin’s egg blue paint looked new, but the brass doorknob was tarnished and showed signs of wear. As he slowly circled around the frame, he could see that it was no thicker than a typical door that might be found in a normal home. But, there was nothing normal about it. At all. Feeling a little ridiculous, he cautiously knocked. When he heard footsteps approaching from the other side, his first instinct was to run.
Before Greg could turn away, the door was opened by a small man whose bald head barely reached the middle of Greg’s chest. Although the man’s unnaturally small mouth held no hint of a smile, his large eyes looked friendly.
“Are you Mr. Martin?” Greg asked cautiously. “I’m Greg Trent. I have reservations for your Airbnb.”
“Oh, yes! I have been expecting you. Come in.” The little man opened the door fully to reveal black and white tile covering the floor of what appeared to be a large room. Greg quickly stepped back from the door and looked behind it. Nothing. He looked inside the room again and saw that the space was so vast no walls were visible; he could only see the checkerboard floor stretching off into the distance.
Greg hesitated to step inside and tried to stall for time as his mind worked to find the logic of what he was seeing. “Um… my reservation is for three nights. What is the check-out time on Wednesday?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.
“Oh, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” the man replied.
As Greg drew a startled breath, Mr. Martin let out a laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I couldn’t resist. It just cracks me up to see people’s expressions when I say that. Check out time is 10 a.m.” Then, he added, “But, really, you may not want to leave. Many have chosen to stay. Let’s see how you feel on Wednesday.”
As the man spoke, Greg noticed a wave of peace flowing throughout his body and he realized that his stress from the last few weeks had disappeared. He had sudden clarity that there was nothing behind him to lose and endless possibilities ahead. He hitched up his backpack and, after taking one last look over his shoulder, crossed the door’s threshold and followed the odd little man towards wherever the black and white tiles led.
This story was written for Dan Antion’s (No Facilities) Thursday Doors Writing Challenge. The door that inspired my story can be found here.
I’m not sure the full blame rests on Norm’s* shoulders, but it has become extremely difficult to travel to a new area and not look for interesting doors to photograph. On our recent trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, I was concerned at first that I may not have any doors to show for our efforts. Afterall, is a vacation without any pictures of eye-catching doors really a success? I think not.
Fortunately, the dearth of interesting doors that we first experienced was remedied when we drove to the northeastern end of the Island. The small communities of Port Hardy and Port Rupert are infused with the rich history and proud traditions of the Kwakiuti First Nation. There, we found beautiful art, traditional crafts, intricately carved totem poles, and yes, doors worthy of a Thursday Doors post.
A very different array of doors were waiting for us at the southern tip of the Island in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. We have visited Victoria before and – being July – the main waterfront area was overrun by tourists. So, we decided to head in the opposite direction to see what we could find
Our first stop was Fisherman’s Wharf where we found a flotilla of color and whimsy. Although still touristy (but less crowded), Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, and floating private residences. Although we were careful to respect the privacy of the people living there, who could resist admiring the brightly painted homes and, of course, taking door pictures? Not me.
The rest of our walk included admiring the World’s Tallest Totem Pole (127 feet, 7 inches), discovering Mile ‘0’ of the Trans-Canada Highway (which spans the entire length of Canada – over 8,000 km), and visiting an old cemetery (which, I’ll admit, was the whole reason I suggested the walk in the first place). No doors, but indulge me in a few tourist pictures:
And finally, I have to share this last door that we saw just around the corner from the Parliament Building.
It is a terribly boring door, I’ll admit… but look who works inside: The Conflict of Interest Commissioner! According to a Canadian government website, the “Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is an independent officer of the House of Commons responsible for helping appointed and elected officials prevent and avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.” Imagine that! A government that believes so strongly that conflicts of interest should be avoided, they have created a dedicated office to help prevent them.
I think I just fell in love with Canada a little bit more.
* Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Norm Frampton (Norm 2.0). Head on over to see his beautiful collection of doors from Kingston, Ontario and to see what others have shared from around the world.
While husband and I travel, I very seldom write posts for my blog. I’ll often jot down a few ideas for future posts, but we’ve agreed that writing full posts, uploading pictures, and dealing with the WordPress platform takes too much time away from our travel experience.
I’ve experimented with several alternatives, including re-running earlier posts, writing a few posts before I leave and scheduling them to run while I’m away, and, for short trips, just not posting at all (surprisingly, the world didn’t end).
For our recent 7-week trip to Mexico (more on that soon), I decided to try something different: inviting other bloggers to write a post each week. Although it took some planning and coordination on my part, all of the heavy lifting was done by my guest writers… and I am so grateful.
On my way without a care in the world…
…headed for the fun side!
Even though they have their own blogs to manage, they each generously provided an insightful and interesting post for my GratiTuesday series. In addition, on the day their post ran, they linked from their site to mine (which brought some new followers my way), and they actively interacted with everyone who left a comment.
My deepest gratitude goes out to the following blogging friends who, through time and effort on their part, allowed me to relax and enjoy my time away:
Donna, Retirement Reflections; Pat, Retirement Transition; Marty, Snakes in the Grass; Christie, So What? Now What?; Liesbet, RoamingAbout; Laura, Crafting My Retirement; and, Lynn, An Encore Voyage.
Another, unexpected bonus to featuring guest posts, was that I have been contacted by several other bloggers asking me if they could participate. Although this guest post series is complete, I invite anyone who is interested in writing GratiTuesday guest post to please send me a note through my Contact Me link. I’d love to feature a guest post now and then and I am grateful for the interest.
A few posts ago, I wrote that my husband and I were beginning a period of intense paper-purging. Our file cabinets had become over-stuffed and we had boxes of papers on the shelves of our offices and in the garage. Our goal was to get rid of what was useless and to better organize and store the records we needed to hold onto. Simplify, organize, purge.
Although not yet finished – will that ever happen? – we have made great strides. We’ve dumped at least 100 pounds of paper into our recycle bin and have taken another 100 pounds or so to a commercial shredding facility. Our house feels lighter and our drawers and shelves have room to breathe.
As freeing as it has been to offload so much unnecessary paper, both of us were unprepared for the loss we are feeling too. Along with the financial statements that can now be found online, saved recipes and travel articles the internet has made irrelevant, and other paper flotsam and jetsam that we’ve squirreled away over the years, a lot of what we tossed was part of our history. Employment records, correspondence, reports that we’ve written, notes for talks we’ve presented, and even some recognition and awards we’ve received over the years.
Over 40 years of work either recycled or shredded.
It’s hard to describe the conflicted emotions both of us are experiencing. While we are happy to be retired – thrilled not to be a part of the work-a-day world any longer – it is difficult to completely divorce ourselves from those two people we once were. We were full-time employees longer than we were students or have been retired… combined. Our careers meant a great deal to us. They helped to define us. Our job descriptions were how we answered the inevitable question, “What do you do?”
Now that we have empty space on our shelves, room in our file cabinets, and a garage that doesn’t feel quite so stuffed, we want to keep it that way. Like many retirees, our focus has is switched from acquiring stuff to having experiences. I imagine that the tinge of loss we are feeling now won’t last and will completely dissipate as we move on to our next adventure. Right now, though, we are feeling a little sad as we say goodbye to our younger selves and move further away from what we did then towards what we do now.
On each of the four Tuesdays in December, I am highlighting what I have been most grateful for in 2017.
When we got married almost 15 years ago – my first, his second – we had already been together for 13 years. There were many reasons why we waited but when we made the decision to make things legal, I knew that marrying my best friend was what I wanted to do.
Now I’m learning that not only does marriage provide a lot of emotional and practical benefits, but a happy marriage can help ensure a more enjoyable retirement and a longer, healthier life. Although we are still adjusting to being together 24/7 since retiring – and are still working out “we time” vs. “me time” – I am happy to say that my husband is still my best friend.
Marching for women – and equality – together
Cruising in Alaska
Sliding in Spokane
My husband is smart, funny, talented, a great dancer, and he’s a really nice guy. He also gets things done. I have always been a procrastinator, but that trait has gotten stronger since I’ve retired and face fewer hard deadlines. Because of him, to-dos get done and projects get accomplished. I may whine a bit lot, but I always feel better when we are finished and can check things off our list.
Around this time of year, I like to look at our 12-month desk calendar (yes, we still use a paper calendar) and remember all the things we did together throughout the year. Not only did we go on some fun adventures, other entries bring back fond memories too: The Woman’s March in January, interesting classes we took together, get-togethers we hosted or attended… even business appointments. It is usually more fun when we do things together.
I now have a new desk calendar waiting to be filled in with all the travel, activities, and appointments that 2018 has in store for us. I love that it is empty of notations, yet so full of possibilities. I’m sure, just like every year, there will be ups and downs, achievements and disappointments. But, wherever life takes us in the new year, I am so grateful to know that we will be on the journey together.
I started to notice the changes about a year ago when I talked to her at neighborhood get-togethers or chatted with her when she was out walking her dog. Because I have a partial hearing loss, I first thought it was me. I must have misunderstood her words, or maybe they were muffled so I lost the context of what she was saying.
After a while, though, I started to realize that it wasn’t me. I may not have heard every word she said, but I knew that her sentences often didn’t make sense. She’d start talking about one subject and end up on another one altogether. She would forget a word and substitute another with a similar – but not equal – meaning (“big” for expensive, “little” for cheap). Every now and then she forgot the names of neighbors she had known for a long time.
Lately, other neighbors have started to talk about the changes they’ve observed. At first, we approached each other carefully because we didn’t want to set off any false alarms: “Have you noticed…?” “I’m not sure it means anything, but….” She is a well-loved neighbor; smart, funny, generous in spirit, and it breaks our hearts to see her struggling. Although an official diagnosis has yet to be made, we are pretty sure she isn’t going to get better.
Before Nancy retired, she had a high-powered job running the Special Ed program for a local school district. Although she loved her job, it was stressful, so she retired as soon as she was eligible for a pension. Not one to sit around, she filled her days with family, friends, and volunteer work. When her son and his wife had their daughter, Nancy embraced her new role as a grandmother. She happily looks after the baby several days each week and tells anyone within earshot how much she loves her granddaughter and relishes being her part-time caregiver.
Her son and daughter-in-law live fairly close and have witnessed the changes too. Although she doesn’t want to discuss it when her son tries to broach the subject, she apparently has willingly given up control of paying her bills. Her good friend and across-the-street-neighbor looks in on her regularly and helps her with once simple tasks that confuse her, like sending emails with attachments.
Her son wants her to be able to stay in her home for as long as she can. She is happy and, so far, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for a change. Fortunately, she lives in a neighborhood where everyone knows – and looks out for – each other.
So, we, the neighbors, worry and we watch. Worry for her and for her family; watch as someone we care for goes through a decline… one we are terrified to see in ourselves.
Port Townsend sits at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Because of its prime location near the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the site of a safe harbor, it became an important shipping port in the late 1800s. The town grew rapidly on speculation as investors banked on Port Townsend becoming the largest port north of San Francisco. Although that dream never came to fruition, many beautiful Victorian homes and historical buildings still stand as a reminder of its heyday.
Boating and maritime life are still central elements, but now Port Townsend is also well-known as an artists’ community. The tree-lined streets of the waterfront downtown area features multiple galleries, artists’ collectives, unique shops, and tempting restaurants.
And doors. Port Townsend has so many beautiful doors, it was hard to capture them all… which I didn’t… which is why I’m sure that I will return.
Thursday Doors is usually run by Norm 2.0, but is guest-hosted by Joey this week. Please visit her blog to find links to more doors.
I would love to see what’s inside this jewel of a door
You can get your fortune told just inside this gypsy door
As I was looking over pictures taken on our recent travels, I was struck by how many times we found ourselves way up high looking down. Hiking on trails that took us well above the forest floor, riding on a train through narrow mountain passes, biking along a path that traveled over old, abandoned train trestles, peering down from the lip of a dam that towers 550 feet above bedrock, and standing on a “see through” bridge that spanned a rocky river hundreds of feet below.
I know a few people who wouldn’t find these views very enjoyable. Some would muster their courage and go anyway, although trying to avoid a direct line of sight to what was below. Others would probably deny themselves the experience altogether, unable to overcome their fear of heights.
I realize that I have no idea what these fears feel like. I do know that they are not ones that people can just “get over.” They are real and they can be terrifying. And they can be frustrating. And they can be limiting.
For me, getting high is part of the fun, and I am so grateful that I’m able to embrace these experiences and enjoy the incredible views.
My last post, titled Hodgepodge Travel, outlined a recent trip my husband and I took to the Pacific Northwest. Continuing with the theme, this week’s pictures are a hodgepodge assortment of doors that caught my fancy along the way.
The Seattle Center Armory was built in 1939 to house the 146th Field Artillery. The building was incorporated into the footprint of the 1962 World’s Fair, when it was reconfigured into a food and shopping mall.
The U.S. Courthouse at Union Square in Tacoma, Washington began its life in the early 1900s as the city’s rail station. In the early 1990s, the abandoned Union Station was completely renovated and reconfigured into a federal courthouse. Its magnificent Beaux-Arts architecture was maintained and the light-filled rotunda houses a “stunning collection” of glass art by Tacoma native Dale Chihuly (I had to put the description in quotes since, unfortunately, we were there on a Sunday when the courthouse was closed).
I’m pretty sure this tunnel door is in Idaho. The Hiawatha Trail, a 13-mile bike path, was built along an old railroad route. The trail goes through eight tunnels – including one that is a dark 1.6 miles long – and travels over seven high trestles. The portion of the trail we rode begins in Montana and soon (somewhere in the middle of a tunnel) transitions into Idaho.
We found this spaceship docked in a parking lot in Wallace, Idaho. We could find no evidence of recent occupation by spacemen.
Maybe not technically a door, but certainly a gate qualifies? This historic headgate, located in Post Falls, Idaho, was part of a system that provided water power for the region’s first commercial lumber mill as well as irrigation water to the Spokane Valley. The headgate was raised and lowered to control the flow of water.
Not historically significant, but I just loved the teal patina of these doors found at the Barrister Winery in downtown Spokane.
The British Columbia Parliament Buildings, located in Victoria, B.C., overlook Victoria’s Inner Harbour. The impressive buildings, constructed in the late 1800s, were designed in the Baroque and Romanesque Revival styles. They are open to the public and offer free guided tours, but we arrive too late to take advantage of them. Fortunately, they left the lights on for us.
Thursday Doors is a link-up of fellow door addicts aficionados generously hosted by Norm Frampton. Head over to his blog to view all the amazing doors he and others have posted.