Let the small things slide

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I looked out the window and it was white as far as the eye could see.

My plane was about to land in Washington, D.C., this week and there was still a lot of snow left from the storm a few days ago.

I am still enough of a kid from the Deep South that I get a bit excited at seeing snow. The fact that it is to snow again tomorrow made it just that much more exciting.

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I met a friend at the Reagan National Airport, and we took a cab together to the Gaylord National Hotel. If you have ever stayed at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville than you can imagine how this hotel looks. Two-thousand rooms and atriums a hundred feet tall filled with tropical flowers, restaurants and shops.

The clerk at the check-in desk disappeared for a few minutes after I had given her my name. She returned with a letter stating very nicely that I had been moved to another hotel and they appreciated my understanding.

To be honest, I didn’t have much understanding at all. It was already below freezing, was to snow again tomorrow, and the hotel was more than 10 miles away. Given that I had no car and was already hungry and tired, I asked to see the manager to explain why reservations made almost a year ago in an expensive hotel were not being honored.

The young man that appeared was probably the lowest man on the totem pole in the room behind the mirrors. He explained that they had some guests unexpectedly stay over an extra night. That was the excuse? After more prodding he admitted that the hotel had just overbooked. He was honest when he said they were oversold by more than 100 rooms. I wasn’t going to be the only irritated guest that evening.

I met up with two more friends during this registration, one of whom had a small car. The four of us piled in with our luggage to make the rush hour trek to the Hilton in Alexandria. Little did we know our adventure was not over yet.

The directions given to us by the hotel bore almost no resemblance to the road signs we saw on the roads we were taking. The directions began by telling us to go northwest leaving the hotel. I am sorry, but I don’t usually have my compass with me unless I am backpacking.

Eventually we were driving directly up one of the streets leading to the Capitol. It is a beautiful site at night so brilliantly lit up, but it was a sure indication we were lost since our hotel was supposed to be in Virginia.

After finding ourselves on Malcolm X Boulevard, we turned around looking for any familiar landmark since our directions were now totally useless. That is the funny thing about driving in Washington at night. There are plenty of landmarks you recognize but that doesn’t mean you have a clue about where you are going.

Buddy, our friend from Denver and the driver of the rental car, then mentioned he had a GPS in his suitcase. The two guys in the back seat tried to find his suitcase, only to discover that his bag and mine not only were both black but each had a red handle from the same company to help distinguish them from all the other black bags.

What are the chances that the only two bags I have ever seen with this particular handle would wind up in the same cramped car on the freeway at night? We eventually found the correct bag when the GPS started talking from the suitcase, its on/off button apparently pushed during the search.

The GPS, which for some reason had an English accent, got us back on track. Then for no apparent reason, the GPS lost its signal, never to return. We noticed a street named Princess Street, and taking a gamble, continued up what turned out to be something of a royalty row. We were finally delivered up to King Street and turned in the direction of our hotel.

We happened to pass the poorly marked entrance and found ourselves about to enter yet another interstate highway with no clue as to where we were about to head.

By then, Buddy had had enough. He stopped the car, backed up the icy street, and then turned into the hotel narrowly missing a lone pedestrian making his way up the sidewalk.

We checked in only to find ourselves lost in the hotel in search of the elevators. A few minutes later, we were finally standing at the door to our rooms. What else could go wrong, I thought as I called home to let ML know I had finally arrived.

It was about that time that I heard the train. I opened the curtains to see one train coming down the tracks with its horn apparently pointed directly at my window. Seconds later, I heard another train coming down a second set of tracks headed in the opposite direction.

Their horns blared back and forth, seeming to greet each other like two college girls at a reunion. They passed quickly only to have yet a third train follow a few minutes later. In fact, another is passing by right now.

Tonight at dinner, 15 different men, all but one displaced from our original hotel, laughed as we told our individual stories. As I looked out the window, I recognized the restaurant that my family dined at during our visit to D.C. this summer. I wasn’t lost. I had stood near this very spot just a few months ago.

Sometimes life throws us curves when we least expect it. Each of my friends experienced disruption to the most carefully made plans today. We could have let it ruin our day, but instead it just became a memory that we will likely share in the future.

We have a lot of things like this that happen to us over time. The next time one happens to me and I feel my anger rising and my control slipping, I hope I will remember this delightful evening and let the small things slide.