There is nothing like traveling to show us our true characters. It brings out the best and the worst in people. My family and I took a small vacation to West Texas last week. My sixteen year old son had done all the research and had planned a wonderful four day tour of Alpine, Marfa, Big Bend and Fort Davis. We set out, trusting the weather reports that promised the temperatures were rising and the rains were stopping. We shouldn’t have. We hit the first snag when three hours out of Austin and on Highway 29, the roads became icy. When we saw a guy putting chains on his tires, we realized maybe we should turn around. At this point we all realized that there is hardly any cell phone coverage outside of cities in that part of the world. That means no Google maps or Internet searches. My husband who never travels without a paper map realized that he had left our Texas map on the dining room table at home! Someone had a map downloaded on a phone, so we found another road to take us to I-10. But I-10 was slowed down to a crawl as rain and sleet continued. We made it to Alpine two hours behind schedule, checked into our hotel and went to find something to eat. At close to 9:00 p.m. most of the restaurants in this little town were closed. A brand new establishment near the train station looked open. When our party of seven walked in, the young man who was acting as the host looked panicked. He seated us in a tight corner of the restaurant and said: “We are a little lost right now but someone should be with you shortly!” No one knew what to make of that. Maybe it was the fact that the bathrooms were out and one by one we went across the street to the Holland Hotel to use the services. I guess they found themselves pretty quickly, because we were served a delicious dinner not too long after that.
The freezing rain continued during the night and we woke up to a beautiful but impassable landscape.
By now I had noticed that no one, including myself was complaining. Everyone from my mother, to my brother to my three children ages 16, 18 and 22 was just going with the flow, which impressed me. We hung around the hotel that morning and watched as snowplows went up and down the highway. By late afternoon, it looked like we could get out and go to Marfa as planned. Kent’s meticulous plan was for us to eat dinner in Marfa and stay to watch the famous Marfa lights on the way back to Alpine. But because the temperatures were falling again and it was still raining on and off, we decided to head back before dark. That night we decided to try a little metal box diner for dinner. The place was packed, which is usually a sign of good food. But the one guy who was doing all the cooking in slow motion and the one very skinny waitress who was doing her best to take orders, wash dishes and serve, could not keep up. I don’t know why we waited an hour and a half for the forgettable food. Maybe it was the cold outside or lack of too many more options. At one point the waitress confided in us that she also worked at a Mexican restaurant that we should be sure to try!
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunny day, dry roads and temperatures above freezing. According to our plan we were headed to Big Bend. My older son however, was not feeling well and decided to stay behind and rest. One of the consequences of the storm had been downed power lines. That meant no gas at the gas stations in Alpine. So we drove to the next town, Marathon to fill up on our way to Big Bend National Park. It turned out there was no power in the entire 50 mile radius. We had to return to Alpine and forgo the much anticipated hike. That was a big disappointment. I worried how Kent was feeling. He had spent so much time planning this trip for us and hardly anything was going right. But he reassured me that he was fine. Back in Alpine there were long lines at gas stations, where there was still no power and in some cases no gas.
Just as we were contemplating cutting the trip short and heading back that afternoon instead of the next day, the power came back on and we were able to fill up and at least head to Fort Davis to the McDonald observatory and their star party. We called Safaa back at the hotel to see if he was feeling better and could join us. He was feeling worse, feverish and with chills. I decided to take him to the hospital while the rest went on to Fort Davis. The Big Bend Medical Center was having a busy day. The storm had caused all kinds of problems for people. There was an elderly gentleman who had slipped on ice and broke his head, an elegant lady in a fur coat with an oxygen tank on the back of her wheelchair, and a young woman with her suitcase, obviously suffering from the flu while traveling. And they all knew each other. After a four hour wait at the clinic, Safaa was diagnosed with the flu and prescribed some Tamiflu but were told that there were no pharmacies open in Alpine past 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays. We would have to drive to Fort Stockton on Sunday to fill his prescription. They did give him one dose of the medicine, which helped greatly. I have to say, everyone was so nice and apologetic for the long wait and the bizarre pharmaceutical situation. Heading back to the hotel, we could see that the power was restored in town. Until we got to our hotel and saw it in pitch black. It looked like the work crews had not made it out there yet. An almost deserted hotel in the dark is pretty spooky. Safaa and I just sat in one room and looked out the window at the full moon, waiting for the power to come back on.The rest of the family had a blast at the observatory, found a lovely place for dinner and even went back to see the Marfa lights. They did bring us some delicious macaroni and cheese, parmesan crusted chicken and mashed potatoes.
The power never came back to the hotel that night or the next morning. We were headed home anyway. The trip back was uneventful. Safaa was feeling better, the roads were dry, the sun was out. We kept looking back at how almost nothing had gone the way we had planned it, but that still we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I know for me the best part was seeing my family at ease, enjoying the moment, laughing with each other and bending in whichever way was necessary.
Years ago, when Ben and I were just getting to know each other, we were on a trip with a group of friends where nothing went according to plan. Actually it was I who had planned that weekend and I was feeling pretty frustrated. Ben, as calm at 23 as he is now, pointed out that if things always go they way you plan it, how would you know God has a hand in your life? Over the past 32 years together, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of those words over and over again.