To live on the Northern California coast is to be far away from everything. I like this. Except when two separate kid-related emergencies happen in Southern California and to be far away from everything means getting from the point A of here to the point B of there demands the sort of money and time that would typically result in a woman waking up on a tropical isle or amid charming European ruins.
This is the point where typically I’d slip in a nod to “first world problems,” and yes, the following did unfold in literal and metaphorical places of privilege, but given what prompted me southward was having one child who’d been hospitalized with a mysterious bacterial infection and another who’d been hit by a car while riding her bike, I won’t bother with guilt. I was grateful to have the resources (barely), family and friends to make this trip happen.
To fly to Santa Barbara from Humboldt on a day’s notice means departing from the Arcata/Eureka airport, landing in San Francisco, taking a 15-minute flight from there to Monterey, then flying to LAX for a connecting flight to Santa Barbara. The one-way ticket cost $622. Estimated time between leaving home and arriving at my final destination was about nine hours.
The past few weeks haven’t been easy. I’d hoped for respite and received more crises instead. Sometimes life, that’s how it does. On the verge of losing my mind, I did something I don’t normally do: Reached out on Facebook. “I’m losing my mind,” I posted, along with the news of Nick’s hospitalization and Kaylee’s bike vs. vehicle crash. That’s when my dad stepped in and offered to send a check. “Go,” he said. So I stopped trying to determine a victor in the heart (“I must get to my children!”) vs. mind (“They’re both going to be okay and taking a trip down there now would be stunningly impractical”) battle and started making plans instead.
Which is why I was at the airport, shoes off, waiting for the security line at ACV to move. Due to the airport’s smallness, the line usually trucks right along, so the holdup was unexpected. The issue, it turned out, was that a group of departing visitors had packed all sorts of things one can’t take on a plane: bottles of juices and jars of honey, for example. The TSA crew brought everything to a standstill as bags were compulsively searched. I felt bad for the tourists, visiting from abroad and clearly not intending to cause such trouble. Eventually things moved forward and the flight left on time.
We arrived at SFO without incident and I used the short layover to eat a sandwich and search for a hotel in Santa Barbara. Ooof. The options are expensive, more expensive, really bad. And the really bad ones were all booked. As were most of the expensive ones. I had a bedandbreakfast.com gift certificate that my dad had given me for Mother’s Day specifically for the purpose of visiting the kids, so I searched through the site for a place that would redeem it, that wouldn’t use up the rest of my limited funds and that had availability. I boarded the next flight without success.
In Monterey, an airport whose minimal amenities rivals that of Humboldt’s own, I made more calls until finally reaching a hotel receptionist who said yes, they had a room – for $300 per night. I said thank you anyway, but that was beyond the scope of my funds.
“How much are you looking to spend?” she asked. This was about 4:45 p.m., so I supposed she was just trying to fill the room. I told her not more than $200 per night. At that rate, with taxes and other fees, the gift certificate would cover slightly less than half my stay. She said she’d check with her manager and call me back. While waiting, I paced from one end of the airport to the other, stretching my legs while I had the chance. I ducked into the café to scope out food options. Poor. Pricey. (But the woman working there was quite nice.)
The hotel receptionist called back. We had a deal. I’d be paying about $270 out of pocket for my two-night stay after all was said and done, a downright steal by Santa Barbara standards.
This was when the texts about my flight being delayed started.
Concerned about my connecting flight, I went to the United desk. As it was unstaffed, going there proved unproductive. I called United’s customer service. The woman who answered wanted to help me, I’m pretty sure, but her accent was so thick that I couldn’t understand her. I returned to taking laps around the airport as the texts kept coming. Stuck and hungry, I decided I’d cave and buy something at the airport café. Unfortunately for those of us trapped by United’s schedule, the only food option had closed at 5 p.m. Well, not the only food option – a vending machine offered candy bars and chips. After another hour of rolling my bag from the far end to the near, I talked myself into might as well get a Kit Kat. I put in the required amount, pushed the “E” and the “0” and watched as the candy bar fell to the bottom of the machine as designed.
But the flap allowing a person to reach in and grab the crunchy chocolate concoction she’d just bought in desperation was jammed. Seriously? I said to the universe. No response, but I imagined silent laughter at my expense.
The plane finally showed up, over two hours late, and we were off to LAX. As soon as we landed and I turned my phone back on, a text from United popped up, informing me that my connecting flight had left, so they’d thoughtfully rebooked me on a flight the next day.
So there I was, 10:30 p.m., with three options:
- Spend the next 12 hours at the airport waiting for the rebooked flight and trying to get some sleep somehow in between.
- Get a room at a hotel near LAX, which would be expensive and negate the fact that I’d already pre-paid for a room in Santa Barbara.
- Rent a car and drive.
I chose number three. One-way rentals aren’t cheap, and I’d already reserved a car from Santa Barbara to Eureka so I could visit Kaylee after seeing Nick – estimated cost, $330. Now I found myself in line at Hertz, about to add more expense – $114 to be precise – to my journey. Plus a $200 deposit. Ahead of me, a slew of clerks were helping customers, including a man who kept dropping his credit cards, cash and related sundry on the ground every time he opened his wallet, which he kept doing for some reason; a woman who was using Hertz’s phone to make calls to figure out her logistics; a couple whose baby was, understandably, bawling. I felt like bawling myself as I shifted my laptop bag to my other shoulder and closed my eyes.
As I rolled up to a now-available clerk, so did two other people – a fellow Hertz worker complaining about overstaffing (or something like that) and a man who’d been there a few minutes ago and had a follow-up question. I stood, breathing. Five minutes later, the clerk’s attention turned to me. “I’m very popular today,” he apologized. No problem.
Ten minutes later I drove off in a Mazda 5, westward bound. Slightly less than two hours later, I arrived at the inn, predictably – and charmingly – SoCal Spanish-style and surrounded by palm trees silhouetted against the night sky. I could hear the ocean.
I’d called from the road to say I’d be showing up quite late. No problem, they said. I strolled in, relief at being there making my steps lighter than they’d been all day.
And there it was, the check-in desk! With a sign that said “Ring bell for service.” But… no bell.
I searched around. No bell. No staff. “Hello?” I called into the silence. After five minutes of debating my options, I called the emergency number listed on the entryway. A sleepy man assured me someone would be there in a minute to show me to my room. And that happened. At last, sleep.
The next morning the manager regretfully informed me that the clerk had forgotten about the gift certificate when she’d charged the room to my credit card. They’d corrected the mistake, but the deposit would take a few days to process. She apologized. She was nice. I understood, I said. No problem, I said, as I made panicked mental calculations about how much money I had tied up in security deposits and mistaken charges, and wondered whether or not I had any left that I could access.
Somehow it all worked out. I spend a day with Nick in Santa Barbara. He was weak, but in good spirits. I bought groceries and took him to a nice dinner, saw his place and the surroundings. We went to the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf and pet sharks, their skin rough and delicate all at once.
I drove to Santa Cruz the next morning, visited Kaylee’s new home, admired the cap the dentist had put on the tooth that had been snapped off when a tourist plowed into her. I met her roommates and friends, cooked a big pasta dinner complete with grape-and-goat cheese salad.
We’re still struggling to get Nick’s Medi-Cal situation resolved so he can get his insulin refilled. We’re figuring out how to follow-up with the insurance company of the driver that hit Kaylee. Getting to them was stunningly impractical and absolutely the right thing to do. I needed help to do it and help came. Challenges were surmounted. Luck was on my side in all the ways that turned out to matter. And what mattered most was they’re okay. They’re both okay.