Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
I arrived in Nashville Sunday evening for my first work trip since Global Pet Expo in February 2020. After that, the world as I knew it shut down and multiple flights became travel vouchers in my American Airlines queue. Now, fully vaccinated and with most business partners craving the energy that can only be derived through personal interaction, this would be the first of three work trips scheduled for the summer.
I thought that, for all intents and purposes, I would be relaxed and rejuvenated headed into the trip. After all, I was coming off the heels of an amazing four-day vacation with my former neighbor and dear friend, Crystal. Work clothes had been carefully selected before I left for my vacation (mainly to ensure they all still fit), my COVID-19 tests had been submitted as part of the pre-conference protocol, and healthy snacks loaded down my laptop bag. While I was reluctant to be away from Ryan for another five days, it wasn't as though the absence was much different than my travel life pre-COVID. Having mentally persuaded myself not to be nervous, however, the butterflies ignored me, stirring frantically in my stomach as I counted down to my airport departure.
At DFW, I bid Ryan another reluctant goodbye and began to head inside when a flash of recognition hit me. I stopped at a bench and fished frantically through my bag. Ryan quickly appeared by my side, having stopped the car again out of concern. "Did you forget something?" he asked, his memories of my forgotten driver's license drinking days likely lingering in his mind. "No, just that we are still wearing masks," I replied. I strapped the loops of my softest one around my ears and made my way for the gate. By then, my flight had been delayed by forty minutes. Hindsight being 20/20, I realize now that it was a sure sign of things to come.
The first morning in Nashville, I waited for the pre-arranged Lyft ride I had scheduled through the app. After extreme delays the night before, rideshare had been a zoo at the Nashville airport, so I had the foresight to schedule Monday's ride in advance. I would be making my way over to the prestigious Gaylord hotel, where the vendor summit for my account would take place. While the luxurious accommodations had been an option, I had instead chosen to stay downtown, closer to the convention center, where I would finish out the week at the tradeshow.
My driver was a soften-spoken Black man with a stylish hat, slightly older than me -- at least it appeared that way from what I could see above the mask. He made the usual small talk: why are you in town? Have you been here before? As I kindly responded to all his questions, the conversation took a very interesting turn.
"Can I ask you a question?"
His words hung in the air with the loaded manner in which those six particular ones tend to do.
"Sure," I replied, knowing from his seemingly gentle manner than the inquiry was likely innocuous.
He proceeded to ask if I minded my industry being dominated by male chauvinism. While caught off guard, I knew I was headed to a conference where copious amounts of testosterone would hang in the air. I explained that to him, and we chatted briefly about a gender relations research study he'd completed recently as a counselor. I went on to say that I was an aspiring author, and that someday in the future I would love to write full time. "I quit drinking three years ago and wrote a book about my journey," I shared with him, now familiar enough after our poignant discussion to reveal this information. His eyes grew wide in the rearview mirror. "I am a drug and alcohol rehab counselor." He extended his clenched fist from the front seat, suspended in midair, awaiting my return bump.
The rest of that day continued along with the same air of magic. I received an initial round of sketches from the cover artist for my upcoming memoir, Strong Roots, Wayward Soul. After her emergency gall bladder surgery last week, I was excited to get our project back on track for my late August pre-release. That night, I arrived at the hotel, exhausted by the day and hoping to settle into a bath, a luxury I can no longer enjoy in a camper shower. I headed for the hotel market on the slim, slim chance they would have bubble bath. What I saw on a table next to the front desk stopped me in my tracks. An array of bath bombs sat nestled in a basket. When I inquired to the desk clerk how to purchase one, a grin as big as Texas spread across her face. Turned out, she was the proprietor of the business but had never been there in person when a guest purchased her creations. I bought three, eager to support her endeavor and foster her giddiness over the transaction.
By Wednesday, I was riding high. I had experienced a magical Monday. Tuesday after work, I met up with my sweet coworker, Taylor. She had offered to work her camera magic for me, so we journeyed around town, where I posed near murals and we snickered as we got busted by a bicycle campus cop for sitting on a landscaping rock at the stunning Belmont campus. That night, we attended the free Toby Keith concert at Bridgestone arena. I had been sprawled out in a junior suite at the Hampton for three days. What more did this great week have in store for me?
I awoke Wednesday morning thinking I had a mosquito bite on my left arm. As I sat up in bed with the bedside lamp on, texting my husband before we started our days hundreds of miles apart, I noticed a small brown bug crawling erratically across my comforter. I grabbed a tissue from the bathroom. Squish first, identify later. I grimaced as the tissue filled with blood and its pincers continued to squirm even after I had flattened its body. A Google search revealed my worst nightmare: bedbugs.
There would be no "settling in" to my new room that evening, but after a delicious dinner with Taylor at a restaurant I had been dying to try for two years, I was at least full and sleepy. I eased into the tub, the scent of the lavender and melatonin bath bomb wafting all around me, finally soothing me into a state beyond heightened awareness for insects. As I bent over to towel off after the bath (and a shower rinse for good measure, even though I'm told bedbugs don't cling), I felt a shooting sensation in my back. My sciatica had been aggravated earlier in the day, but I dismissed the discomfort as par for the course, especially for someone diagnosed with a bulging disc. This pain, however, lingered. It woke me up at 4 a.m., where I sat staring around the lit room, the lamps meant to keep the bedbugs at bay. I was miserable, and lamented the sudden downturn of my trip. A two-hour flight delay the following evening would be the icing on the cake.
As I sit here typing about the events of the week, my upper arms, reminiscent of old chicken pox photos from childhood, itch maddeningly. I won't get in to see the spine doctor until mid-August, but thankfully a friend and a quick telehealth visit have brought relief from my suspected herniated disc in the form of a steroid dose pack.
Pausing to stare out the window and contemplate my next phrase to sum up my learnings from this week, a hummingbird peers back at me, then buzzes off to find a more appealing meal. A rabbit races across the field just outside our fence. Ryan and I rode the golf cart up the hill to watch the nearly full moon rise slowly across the horizon. It comforts me to know there is still magic to be found.
In the past, these midweek disasters would have sent me into a tailspin. The bedbugs, the back pain, the flight delays. Convinced the Universe was conspiring against me, I would have drowned my sorrows in copious amounts of alcohol at the airport bar. In fact, the Nashville airport was the scene of my last drunk. Instead, my intuition, which surfaces easily with a clear head, reminded me to let go of self-pity, to respect these events with an air of gratitude, and to remember that "this too shall pass." Perhaps when the Full Buck moon begins to wane...
"Sometimes you gotta go to hell and back
Just to know where you're at and
Things are fixin' to get real good"