home for the holidays, part one, or, the power of acception.

Thursday afternoon I flew from Buffalo to Chicago, with a mere half-hour layover before boarding a flight to Seattle. I’m not sure why I booked such an optimistic schedule. We were held up in Buffalo waiting for a pilot, and then de-icing the wings, and landed in Chicago half an hour after my flight to Seattle had departed. It was the last flight of the evening, so the ticket agent rescheduled my flight to the next morning, and gave me a few flyers for local hotel brokers.

Alone in a strange city late at night, I promptly did what any sane person would do: order a Mickey Dees Angus mushroom and Swiss burger. Restored by the fragrance of fake meat, I called the number on the flyer. The broker gave me a confirmation number for a Doubletree room twenty minutes from the airport, and told me the hotel shuttle arrived every hour on the hour outside “Door number three.”

I went downstairs, wondering if my luggage was still in Chicago. Collaring an airport employee, I was sent over to the Southwest office, where a woman informed me that the suitcases were held in a high security area. The luggage dudes were understaffed, basically, so even if she requested them, it could take two to four hours. Wilting at the thought of boarding the plane the next morning in what I was wearing, I shuffled outside to wait for the shuttle.

I had left my down-filled coat in Buffalo and brought a lighter weight Seattle-worthy coat instead. It was nine degrees in Chicago. Shuttles came and went, but none were mine. Another shuttle driver and the red-coated Commander of Taxis urged me to return to the airport and use the courtesy phone to call the hotel. Doing so, I was told by the Doubletree employee, “Oh, no, we don’t send it out unless it’s requested. But I’ll let me him know. He’ll be there in forty to forty-five minutes.”

“Are you kidding?!” I squealed.

“That’s how it…”

“Never mind, I’ll get a taxi,” I said, slamming the phone back in the cradle. Muttering to myself, I went back out Door Number Three, to be shoved by the Taxi Commander into a cab.

The cab driver had a mysterious, thick accent and friendly manner that was not immediately reciprocated. Still scowling to myself at the inconvenience and cost of having to stay at a hotel of unknown quality, my luggage-less-ness, Woman A telling me false information and Woman B wanting me to wait another hour at the airport, I did not feel like chatting.

We drove past fancy strip malls, and then poorly-lit ones, my concern about the quality of the hotel we were bound for growing. The driver kept trying to start a conversation. I relented, telling him about missing the flight, that I was from Buffalo. I don’t remember what I said next, but it was a short, passing remark about how I wasn’t sure how I’d wound up living there.

Quick flashback. Two nights before, my brother told me he’d read my last blog and found it, as my entries have been for the past couple months, “Good but… depressing.” I told him I blogged less often these days because I had a hard time describing life in Buffalo positively. But that night I got out my journal and attempted to write a rough draft explanation of the benefits of living in Suckallo, the strange challenge (and therefore opportunity for growth) it presented. I wrote several versions, never quite circling in on my point. What I clarified instead was that the series of events leading my present circumstances was just… plain… odd.

I’m in England when my mom calls in tears- my dad’s cheated on her and doesn’t want to patch things up. I convince her to come to England for an adventure. She gets on a plane. She’s questioned at the airport, accidentally reveals my status as an evil illegal alien in the country, and is denied entry. I follow a week later. My brother puts her up in Buffalo, but is working full time and getting worn out coming home to a tear-soaked mother. I could interview for a job in NYC, or go with her to Seattle to stay with her parents for a while. She refuses to go without me. So instead of going back to Manhattan to look for work I follow her to Grandma and Grandpa’s. We return to Buffalo a month later anyway. I’m engaged to an Englishman who wants to move here, but won’t discuss how or when. My mom and I go to Vegas, convinced she should get a divorce right now. We return to Buffalo. Mr. Hotness asks me to wait for him there. So I get a part-time job to pass the time. I get tired of waiting for him. My mom and brother fly back to Oregon to sell my parents’ house. I’m left by myself in Buffalo, and need a full-time job to support myself, so I take on more responsibilities at work. I’m promoted. My mom and brother return from Oregon. They can’t find apartments here they like, so we continue to live together. My boss and I struggle to communicate or even get along. I start looking into ways to leave Buffalo, as an au pair or in a volunteer home stay in Europe. When those options look unworkable, I try getting an apartment in a prettier area outside Buffalo. I discover prettiness in Western New York is often walled in by wind and snow, and besides, another year at this job sounds wretched. The next thing you know, it’s December, and I’ve lived in Buffalo a year, and have absolutely no idea what’s going on.

I wanted to know whose fault it all was. Mine? Bad karma? Family? The cat?

So I’m sitting there in that cab gazing out the window at the passing Targets and burger joints, and mutter something to the cab driver about how random it is that I live in B-Flo. He says, “I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes you find yourself in this strange place, and you look around and think, ‘How did I get here?’ This odd series of events just happen, all these weird things, and there’s no explanation for it all. It’s like, whatever your belief is, God or fate or whatever, something is pushing you.”

I stare at his right ear through the open window into the front seat. He’s just summed up the thought process I’ve been running for the past two days.

“Believe me, after I turned forty I realized, it is better to be easygoing. I don’t worry now. Acception,” he said, meaning “acceptance,” “Acception is the only way. It is out of your hands.”

Some part of my tired brain registered that this man was probably talking a really weird series of events- like being a Turkish neurosurgeon who finds himself fleeing some extremist group of his brother’s, and lands in Chicago because his mother’s second cousin lives there, and gets this curvaceous but talkative waitress pregnant, and the next thing he knows, is supporting fourteen Turkish-Irish kids as a cab driver. Or something.

The conversation was slowly restoring my will to live, my head lifting slightly from the back of the chair as I said, “It’s like when we were sitting at the Buffalo airport waiting for them to de-ice. I knew we were going to miss my connecting flight. And I was getting more and more stressed out until I realized, my getting stressed isn’t going to make any difference. Might as well relax. It’s all out of your hands.”

“Acception,” he agreed. “It’s the only way to look at things.”

We continued along this vein until we pulled up in front of the Doubletree. After a heartfelt goodbye I climbed out of the cab with my two suitcases, walked up to the front desk, and told the busty woman at the counter, “I have to apologize, I don’t know who I talked to, but I called a while ago from the airport and I did something I never do, I let stress get the better of me, and I was so rude-”

“You’re the taxi lady,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, nodding, “I spoke to you? I am so sorry…”

Using the policy of “acception” herself, she asked me about my flight, gave me two extra bottles of everything: shampoo, face wash, lotion, a razor, man’s deodorant (“but deodorant is deodorant”), chocolate chip cookies, and a toothbrush. She and her fellow front desk agent worked out the next morning’s schedule for me: wake up call at 6:20, order room service breakfast, catch the 7am shuttle back to the airport.

The hotel had been remodeled the year before; I had clearly gotten a steal at eighty dollars. Elegant decor, a hot shower, some TV, and a pillowtop bed wrapped me up in a warm embrace. The next morning I turned on an episode of the Arthur cartoon, made a cup of Wolfgang Puck coffee, ate a delicious breakfast, put on the bare minimum of yesterday’s clothes, hopped on the shuttle, and returned to the airport.

If I had caught my flight the night before, I would have slept or read through it, arriving late that night, keeping my relatives up so they could fetch me at the airport, probably feeling pretty scratchy the next day. Instead, I spent the four hour flight talking nearly non-stop to a Buffalo pilot who lives up the street from me, and a girl covered in piercings, on her way to Seattle to become a live-in nanny. Seriously. The flight flew by, with political debates, arguments about whether the pilot looked good in orange, and exchanges of family sagas.

I landed bright-eyed and bushy tailed, collected my suitcases, and walked out to a balmy morning, where my aunt, cousin and her little boy waited to pick me up. I desperately craved my flat iron, but other than that, I was in high spirits. I’d been revived by a good night’s sleep, some four-star treatment, fun conversation on the plane, and this guy of mysterious provenance, reminding me that if you can’t figure out what the heck is going on… it’s probably beyond your scope of understanding.

Now I know three things: it’s no one’s fault, my life is a lot more normal than a lot of cab drivers, and acception works.

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