Things Can Always Be Worse

IMG_0044I have been thinking about booking myself a trip to a spa. And then I thought back to less than a year ago, when I last visited The Lodge at Woodloch. (I used to visit there annually. If you’re looking for a laid back spa experience, where you can either delve in with the yogis or just go it your own way, there’s no better place than this.) But as I think back to my last spa experience, I’m starting to wonder if a staycation might be my better option. Wanna know why? This is a long explanation so settle in with a nice cup of tea and read on.

Originally written in February, 2014: This past Tuesday some of my worst dreams were realized. You know what I’m talking about – that anxiety dream where you can’t find where you’re going and you keep turning around in circles only to dig yourself further into a hole than when you started out? Yes, that about sums up my experience this past week.

To be fair, I should have known better than to put myself into this predicament. But I had just spent three days at a spa resort in the Poconos section of Pennsylvania and I guess I thought my chi or Zen connection wouldn’t allow me to fail. Well, I was seriously misguided.

The Fucking Zen Decision

The night prior to my departure from the spa a bunch of other spa guests and I scanned the headlines for weather forecasts, and learned that there would be record snowfall in the areas in and around Philly. However, according to these forecasts, the snowfall wasn’t supposed to really pick up until the afternoon. The other guests and I (most of whom were also from the Philly or NYC area) decided that if we left early enough the following morning we would probably make it home before the worst of the storm hit. So much for that chair yoga class at 2PM (perhaps the only form of yoga I could have any reasonable expectation that I’d be able to do without inflicting major bodily harm).

I retreated to my room, packed my things, and set my alarm for 7am the following morning. That left me adequate time to shower, eat breakfast, check out and head to a class about using therapeutic balls to stimulate myofascial release before hitting the road at 10am. I debated leaving before the class but here’s the thing: When you have a nonspecific connective tissue disease and there’s a class that focuses on ways to cheaply and quickly heal connective tissue, you kind of feel an obligation to yourself to go. Also, I was only two to three hours away from Philly so I thought I would make it home well before the worst of the storm hit. But what actually happened is something I could never have predicted – or maybe I did predict it and chose instead to listen to my Zen voice. Note to self: My regular self is usually right. My Zen self shouldn’t be allowed to make life or death decisions. It’s just too mellow to sense real danger.

I successfully implemented my plan the following morning. I looked outside before heading to my class and everything seemed fine, so I congratulated myself for a strategy that was turning out to be well executed. My class was appropriately entitled, “You Knead This.” I still had doubts about my decision to stay but during the course of the class I realized that I did, in fact, really need that class. Once I finished up I was quite amazed by how I had managed to work out the tension in my pressure points. I was about to proceed to the gift shop to lazily purchase a set of the therapeutic balls I was trained to use, but then I caught a glimpse of the outdoors. In that one-hour period that it took for me to complete my self-healing class, the snow had started falling down. In a panic (so much for healing energy), I ran to collect my things from the locker room and hit the road.

When the car arrived I noticed that it was already covered in snow. I jumped in and programmed my GPS. I primarily use the Google Maps app on my iPhone as a GPS device, but I plugged in an old GPS device as well just in case I lost service. And within just a couple of minutes of my departure, that’s exactly what happened. No service!

T-Mobile: No, I Can’t Hear You Now

It was probably my fault that I couldn’t get service on my phone: Last year I decided to switch from Verizon to T-Mobile. Since I take the train to and from work, I thought it would be very useful to have a hotspot on my phone to allow me to get work done on the train as needed. I looked into the plan options with Verizon and was surprised to learn that I would have to pay $50 per month for a Hotspot account, on top of the astronomical fees I was already paying for no frills phone service. In fact, each month I nearly exceeded my text message allowance and received messages warning me that I would be charged for each message. I called Verizon’s customer service and asked if I could upgrade to a plan that offered unlimited text messaging, but apparently no such plan existed. I could increase my text messaging allowance but the charges for that plus the Hotspot would bring my total bill to about $200 per month. I could not justify that. Capitalism be damned. I decided to switch to another provider.

I recall feeling so proud of myself for sticking it to the man when Verizon called me to ask why I chose another provider after nearly a decade of service with them. I felt completely vindicated until a couple of weeks later when I drove to a park to meet a friend of mine. I thought I would call her once I got into the park to give her my coordinates. I found somewhere to stow my car and then took out my phone to call my friend. My heart sank as I saw the dreaded, “No service” alert. Surely, there must be a mistake, I thought. Only a couple of weeks earlier I had been on a first date (and also a last date) in this very park and I was able to communicate freely enough to find the gentleman in question. Why couldn’t I get service today? And then it hit me. Shit. The last time I was in the park I had Verizon. Now I had, in a triumphant act of rebellion, deserted my faithful phone provider for another. I started chasing people down to find out if they had any service and whether I could use their phone. Like me, they had also abandoned Verizon for a more efficient provider, meaning they also did not have service. Finally, I stalked a man who seemed to be having a conversation on his phone. When he hung up, I ran over to him and said, “Excuse me. Do you have Verizon?” Luckily for me, he did, and he also let me use his phone. The next time Verizon contacted me to ask if I would consider returning, I didn’t say no.

Recalculating: Dialogue with GPS

Anyway, so here I was in the middle of a snowstorm and my phone service was dropped. My reliable Google Maps app was no longer an option for me, and I couldn’t exactly call for help. Instead, I reluctantly listened to my ancient GPS backup device – yet another mistake. Within just 20 minutes of leaving my luxury spa resort, I found myself skidding through the back roads of the Poconos. I was also having a full-on argument with my GPS. “Really?” I said. “Can’t you get me to a fucking highway?” I would have turned around but there was already so much snow on the ground that I thought I might get stuck if I tried to attempt a U-turn. I reluctantly followed the advice of my diabolical GPS.

An hour later, I was still on the back roads of the Poconos. By that time, my GPS and I were fully engaged in an all-out battle. I’m a Jersey girl. I love my profanity but rarely use it to attack others. But apparently, one misbehaving device on a terribly snowy day was enough to bring out the Jersey in me. There I was, all alone in a small (but cute!) car on some snow-covered road in the mountains, and I was skidding around in circles. I went totally psycho on my GPS device. Yeah, all of that chi that I channeled during my three days at the spa had totally vanished and was instead, replaced by a pissed off, freaked out, bitch. (The good news is that I had no idea I was such a bad ass driver. Each time my car gave a hint that it might lose control, I instinctively knew to take my foot off the gas and let the car glide back into position. There’s something to be said for that sixth sense.)

I eventually saw signs for a highway but my dumb ass GPS wanted me to continue on its bizarre path to nowhere. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d get phone service on the highway. Willing my GPS into submission, I slowly performed my one and only U-turn of this bullshit journey. It took about 6 small turns before I had managed to completely orient my vehicle in the opposite direction. Within minutes I was on a highway. I waited for my GPS to re-fucking-calculate, but it did not such thing! I had to drive past every exit it suggested because it wanted to direct me back onto those awful roads. I continued on aimlessly until my GPS set a course that looked somewhat reasonable. It was sending me to a road called, “Route 33” rather than something called, “Birch Lane.” I figured that had to be a good sign, so I stopped cursing at my device and followed the directions. By that time, I think I might have been approaching Scranton. Hell, I might have been on my way to Ohio. I still don’t know how I managed to set a course for Philly that included a journey through Scranton and perhaps Ohio, but that’s what I did.

I took the next exist suggested by my GPS and found myself, eventually, on a road that was supposed to get me to the road that was supposed to get me to this Route 33. I drove no more than 20 miles an hour the whole way to try and maintain control over my vehicle. It was now a near three hours since I had departed the spa and I hadn’t gotten any closer to home. In fact, I started seeing signs for the Poconos. I had apparently spent three hours going absolutely nowhere. It’s worth noting that throughout this entire three hours of hell, I kept waving my phone at the sky hoping for service, but there was none to be had. I was good and lost. If I had pulled over, I was convinced I would get stuck on a snowy road, run out of gas, and freeze to death without being able to call for help. I did not relish this idea so I kept driving, treacherous though it might be.

Finally, I got to a road that looked passable and I saw a service station. By that time, I had to pee like a motherfucker. I’m sure it was my nerves getting to me. I slowly made the turn into the service station and found a toilet. I then asked the cashier for directions to Philly. “You want to go to Philly?” she said as she stared at me in disbelief. “My GPS isn’t working in this weather,” I said, “and I just want to get home before the weather gets worse.” The woman gave me directions that somewhat matched where my bloody GPS was taking me but with some slight modifications, including traveling through Allentown. (So I got a full tour of PA: I went from the Poconos to Scranton to Allentown. I was beginning to think I might have been better off going through Ohio.) I decided to listen to her. I thought about buying myself some sort of caffeinated beverage to keep going, but then I remembered that I had a Diet Coke that was sitting in my car. It was stashed there for the three days that I was busy pampering myself. I thought I would reward myself with the Diet Coke once I figured out where I was going.

Coca-Cola: The Imperfect Harmony

I got in the car and managed to find my way to the exit the cashier had told me to take. And then, my phone service suddenly came back! Google Maps still wasn’t working but Siri seemed to be ready, willing, and able. I quickly programmed in my address, looked at the route Siri was suggesting, and after nodding in approval (the route was very different than the one my GPS mapped out), I unplugged my GPS and began charging up my phone. Siri and I don’t always get along but I have never been so happy to hear her voice. Breathing a sigh of relief, I put the bottle of Diet Coke between my legs and pried it open. But of course, the contents were frozen and the exposure to the air caused a massive explosion of Coca Cola slush. It got all over me, my glasses, my white Marc Jacobs coat, my car, and my newly functioning iPhone. Without taking my eyes off the road, I did my best to clean up the mess. I fiddled around in my bag until I found a tissue or two and I tried to wipe off as much of the explosion as I could. First, I tried to clean off my glasses. (As if it wasn’t bad enough that the snow was making it hard to see, I now had coca cola froth all over my glasses.) I then wiped off my coat, my hair, my pants, and my dashboard. How I managed to do all of this without getting into an accident is beyond me. But I did. Finally, I was as cleaned up as I could be. I took a few sips of the cola, but that’s all I got. The rest was still frozen solid.

Recalculating: I Need to Fucking Pee

I’m not sure how much time went by before I got to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I thought for sure that once I got on that road things would be much better. Surely, the sanitation workers kept the highways clear, right? Yeah, no, not so much.

When I first got onto the Turnpike I saw plows right in front of me. I was jubilant! I thought I would be fine if I just stayed behind the plows. I was so confident that I even grabbed another tissue to wipe off the remnants of my pulverized beverage. But then, to my dismay, I watched as the plows departed from the highway at the next exit. And within seconds, I found myself back on a highway that looked like a scene from Cold Mountain.

I proceeded along like this for another couple of hours. The sun had started going down, and there I was, still trying to find my way home. Whatever benefits I got from my spa trip were now evaporated, kind of like my diet coke. Also, I really had to pee. Yes, I had gone only a few hours earlier but let’s face it: I was driving in some scary shit. I was so frightened at that point that my whole body was shaking. I’m sure my biological need was related to my nerves gone wild.

What was I to do? I couldn’t pull off the road because THERE WAS NO ROAD (unless you consider a snow bank a road). And if I got out at the next exit, there was a pretty high probability that I would find myself on another poorly traveled, snow-filled road. I was certain that if I tried to get off of the highway, I might not be able to get back on. So I had to just keep on going. I figured it couldn’t be long before I got to the main highway that runs right into Philly at which point, it would have to be smooth. I mean, how many idiots would be driving in this mess? (As I had this thought, I realized that I was basically calling myself an idiot.)

I tightly grasped the steering wheel and did my best to keep the car pointed in the right direction. I did lose control a couple more times, but each time I managed to regain my position. Of course, that near-death experience just amplified my urge to urinate. I started to frantically scan my car for an object that could function as a receptacle. I couldn’t find one. I pressed my thighs together a bit tighter and kept on driving.

Finally, I was within just a few miles of that last major highway. “I’m almost there,” I said to myself. “Just stay the course and you’ll be fine.” But as I began my approach to that l last road, the traffic came to a near stop. “How many idiots were on the road,” I asked myself? There were many… too many. What were these people THINKING?

It took another hour to travel the 9 miles to my exit. By that time, I thought my bladder might explode and my mind might spontaneously combust. In my desperation to relieve at least one of my problems, I again scanned my car for anything that could function as a traveling toilet. And then it hit me! I had a water bottle that I had taken with me from the spa. I could use that! It would be perfect! Or would it? How the hell was I going to maneuver a water bottle into a toilet while I tried driving in a snowstorm? It seemed like such a promising idea but one that had to be impossible to execute.

Another hour went by and I was still out there in the storm. I was sweating and my heart was palpitating. I needed to fucking pee! I took another longing look at that water bottle and decided it would be my only salvation. If I could just pee I might be able to more easily focus on my driving.

There was only one problem with this plan: How on earth was I going to do this? Hmmmm? I removed from a plastic bag the bathing suit that I had worn to soak in an outdoor hot tub the night before. I then placed the empty bag over my lap. Next, I yanked down my pants and underwear. (It might be worth noting that I was wearing sexy, red lace underwear because I had been planning to see a boy I was dating once I arrived home.) With my pants down, I tried to position the water bottle to accept my piss. I was unsuccessful. As I tried to thrust myself towards the bottle, the water that was still inside the bottle spilled out onto me. And dripping water is not the most pleasant thing to encounter when your bladder is on overload. I was totally flustered. I had aggressive tachycardia at this point. I kept trying to position the water bottle properly but it was just taunting me. I drove like this for another twenty minutes or so before giving it another go. This time, I managed to place a complimentary tote bag that I received as a guest of the spa underneath my butt. Just in case I missed the bottle, I thought this would give me an extra layer of protection. I then rolled down the window and tossed out the remaining water from the water bottle. Not wanting to be found out, I allowed the snow to accumulate on my back window to prevent other drivers from seeing what I was about to do. I put the water bottle back into position and attempted to let loose but again, I failed to produce any results. I’m sorry but it’s hard as hell to piss into a water bottle when you’re trying to keep your focus on the dangerous road ahead.

When it seemed clear to me that the water bottle wasn’t going to work, I began to think about the possibility that I could use a maxi pad as a diaper. I again rummaged through my purse until I produced about four panty liners. I yanked the liners out of my bag and slipped them beneath myself. And then I tried to pee in the liners. But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I’m a girl with manners. The idea of having to take my urine-infested car in for a wash did not sit well with me. If I could just get on that last road, maybe I could hold it together until the end.

Over two hours later, I was on that last highway. It was a highway to hell. The traffic was barely moving and the snow was continuing to accumulate. If only my T-mobile phone had been working when I first set out on this God awful journey! If only I skipped that morning class! If only I had stayed at the spa one more night. None of this would be happening. But, like they say, hindsight is 20/20.

I continued the crawl towards home. The roads were just outright awful, but I told myself that I had to stay alert and stay out of harm’s way. After all, I couldn’t get my pants back up without standing up. If I had gotten into an accident, someone would have found me with my pants down at my ankles, sexy underwear full of panty liners, a bag underneath my lap and one on top, cola remnants all over my car, clothes and body, and last but not least, an empty water bottle between my legs. I clearly could not let this happen. I just HAD to make it home in one piece.

            Philly: Home Sweet Home!

Finally, seven and a half hours after I left the spa resort in the Poconos, the end was in sight. I took the exit onto the main road that runs through Philly. I was absolutely horrified to see the condition of all the other roads. I worried that I would come all this way, with my pants down and what not, only to spin out of control during the last few minutes. That almost happened, in fact. My car lost control as I tried to take my final exit. I took my foot off of the gas and slid into the appropriate lane. Apparently I must have been too close to another driver when my car swerved because I heard someone honking at me – someone in a van no less. I could not believe this guy honked at me. Did it look like I was skidding on purpose? Yeah dude, I just drove nearly eight hours with my pants down at my ankles, sitting in a pile of cola excrement, only to intentionally get into an accident during the last five minutes of my journey. And on top of that, you’re in a van! You’ve got the advantage here. How about giving me a round of applause for managing to get this far without getting a scratch?

Well, I gave myself that round of applause just moments later when I finally arrived home. I pulled my car into the lot in front of my building and brought it to a stop. I then quickly pulled up my pants – panty liners still locked in place – and zipped up my coat. I gathered my things and then exited from the vehicle. I told the concierge, who was standing outside smoking a cigarette, that I wanted to leave the car there overnight. I asked her if she thought my car would be towed. “No,” she said. “It’s snowing. They’re not going to say anything.” Thanking her, I ran for the elevator, ran into my apartment, and after kicking off my snow boots, plopped myself down on the toilet. I then exhaled for the first time all day.

The boy I just started dating met me at my apartment just a few moments later as promised. When he saw me, I was still shaking all over. He picked me up off the ground and gave me a huge hug to welcome me home. An hour after relaying the entire journey to my friend, I finally ordered in some Chinese, cozied up next to him and came back to reality.

My car is now safely resting in my parking garage. I’m so thankful that it got me home safely. I also feel strongly that someone or something must have been watching over me on that horrendous journey. I’m not particularly ‘new agey’ but there’s no reason I should have gotten through that trip intact. Maybe I have more to do. Maybe, despite some of the awful things that I’ve been dealt (a mystery autoimmune illness is not particularly pleasant) I have to remember that things really can be a lot worse. It’s an expression that is uniformly awful to recite to anyone with a chronic illness, but in this one case, maybe it’s something I really needed to think about. After all, driving in a snowstorm while covered in dried up cola stains, sitting with my pants down at my feet, a water bottle pointing towards my vagina, and sexy underwear packed with a handful of panty liners had to be an all-time low. Can Things Always Be Worse? Perhaps, but now I know that things can also always get better.

So, here’s to looking forward. Also, here’s to always having an accessible toilet within reach. I will never take that for granted again. Nor will I ever own a car that isn’t a Mazda.

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