Sunday, October 14, 2007

Of Hope and Despair and Inferior Lodging

Priceline has treated me well in the past, allowing me to stay in hotels I could never afford, lathering my body with soaps and lotions better than the buy-one-get-one-free specials in my own bathroom, and sleeping on sheets of thread counts higher than my bank balance.

But not this weekend, when Z and I were treating ourselves to a rendezvous in the Twin Cities. Despite our best bidding strategies, instead of a four-star hotel in downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis, we ended up in Roseville. In a motel sandwiched between the interstate and the mall.

When our cab driver dropped us off he asked if we were there for business or if we were going to spend the weekend “kickin’ it in Roseville” and that sort of set the tone for what was in store for us. Namely, waiting until the exact check-in time before we were allowed to check in (though others checked in before us), getting two double-beds instead of a king because “that’s how it is when you book online” (never mind in another instance with a friend I didn’t want to share a bed with, I was told the same thing when I was given a king bed unless I forked over an additional $20 dollars for two fulls), there was no mini fridge, our room looked out over the parking lot, the power went out for a bit, and the video games ate Z’s tokens.

Also, apologies to Garrison Keelor and the fine people at “Prairie Home Companion” but the Sleep Number Bed blows.

It was a good weekend. We visited with his old friends. We walked along the Mississippi. We saw various points of interest from Z’s undergrad and grad school days. We went to the St. Paul Cathedral. We visited my favorite Irish shop, where I bought my favorite Irish crisps and a couple of CDs. We ate some good food, had some good drinks, and listened to some good Irish music.

On the drive to the hotel from the airport, our cab driver took us past the ill-fated 35W bridge, and it was surprising to see how gone it was. I don't know what I expected--a sign hanging in the air pointing to it that said "former bridge" or "site of tragedy." Instead, it just looked like a place where the road stopped. Which, I guess, is exactly what it was for some of the people who were on it that day. I always expect things to be frozen in time--sites of tragedy or historical events, my old college campus or places of some personal importance to me, city skylines. Possibly, my belief that this will be the case stems from a childhood interest in Pompeii and how the victims of Vesuvius's eruption were frozen in time as a testament to the tragedy that befell the residents there.

There is also the possibility that I'm only drawing the Pompeii connection because we visited the Pompeii exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota on this trip, but I'm just going to run with it because the metaphor works.

The exhibit was interesting. We learned not only how the citizens of Pomepeii died, but also how they lived, and they lived well. (Well, some of them--the slaves, not so much.) Their houses were palatial and appeared to have good chi, their decor and jewelry was classic and intricate, their society was sophisticated. The single most disturbing piece of information for me (aside from the volcano thing) was that the commercial laundry used urine to get the clothes clean, and becaucse they did A LOT of laundry, they needed A LOT of urine, so had big jugs sitting outside the laundry where passers by could uriante. Definitely better for the environment than my beloved bottles of Purex and Downey, but ick.

While looking at the plaster casts of the victims, I realized that I'd grown up with a misguided sense that the residents didn’t really know what hit them—that they’d been frozen in time eating their dinner and tending livestock and playing on hillsides when they were stopped, surprise, dead. Sort of how Samantha on Bewitched would wiggle her nose and Larry and Darren would be frozen in the midst of a high-powered advertising deal so she could fix whatever misunderstanding was about to unfold.

It turns out, however, that despite lack of cable television and radios and emergency alert sirens, the Pompeiians knew what was about to befall them. Some—the wealthier ones—got out quickly. Others, did not and knew there was no chance of survival. The casts illustrated how keenly aware they were, as they huddled together, covered their faces, and cried out. The one that moved me most was of a man who was found in a gymnasium, leaning against a wall, knees pulled up to his chin, head in his hands. He could have been covering his face from the heat, cupping his last breaths of oxygen. Or he could have been praying to whoever the god of volcano traffic control was, but it looked more like the complete absence of hope. Like someone who two hours before had been working out, thinking about the evening's plans to sit on the hillside with his date and watch sparks fly from the lip of Vesuvius but who had then heard some rumbling and suddenly had the realization, oh shit, I really should have left town sooner--I thought I'd have more time.

Well, when you look in the face of despair--even if it is covered and from a few millenia ago--you can hardly complain about lost video game tokens or inferior quality towels. Instead, you say a prayer of thanksgiving that at this very moment the bridges of Minnesota are possibly safer than they have ever been, that the horizon is volcano free, and that your excellent boyfriend is in a full-sized Sleep Number Bed with you. And while you respect the fleeting nature of life, you cross your fingers that you'll be granted the later check-out time--preferably when you are together. And 102.

No comments: