Friday, September 7, 2007
Inspired by my past few logs on finding—or, even better, creating—free time, yesterday I took my own advice and scheduled a personal day; a day off that was free of computers, and work, and (sorry if any of you are reading this), clients. Having just returned from a relaxing vacation, I could not in good conscience justify a spa day, and, having gained five pounds eating hotdogs and drinking margaritas for a week, I opted to not spend my free 24 hours as a lady who lunches. Instead, I crazily decided to spend my clean slate of a day traveling 1700 miles up and down the eastern seaboard to visit a panda. Not just any panda mind you, but Mei Lan, the heartstring-tugging, so-cute-your head-might-explode panda that was born exactly one year ago yesterday at the Atlanta Zoo, and who I have watched on the PandaCam—obsessively, like a parent watching every breath, step, milestone of their first born—for exactly 366 days. And so, determined to set a ‘free time’ example for my faithful readers (and selfishly wanting to see Mei Lan in the flesh—or, is that fur?) before she grew up too much, I booked a flight to Georgia. My adventure—as I had sketched out in my head for days—was to play out as follows:
-Wake up at 5:30am, clear out the sleep cobwebs with a cold and refreshing Starbucks Iced Coffee.
-Shower, get dressed, and head to the airport for an 8:05am flight.
-Arrive in Atlanta at 10:00am completely refreshed, having taken a peaceful two-hour nap en route.
-Take a quick cab ride from airport to zoo to spend several hours gazing lovingly at Mei Lan’s adorableness, snapping perfect National Geographic quality photo, upon photo.
-Tear myself away in the early afternoon for a quick visit to the Georgia Aquarium. Then, after spending quality time with jellyfish, starfish, and, well…every other fish, ocean mammal, crustacean and sea urchin imaginable, head back to the zoo for a special panda birthday event with like-minded panda enthusiasts, followed by a late flight back home, where I would plop into bed, joyously exhausted from the days activities.
Now, I am old enough, seasoned enough, and have traveled enough to know that even the most well thought-out, most carefully charted plans more times than not, do not fall into place as hoped. So, it comes as no surprise that the bullet points of my day turned out somewhat differently than what I had choreographed in my mind...
-Woke up at 5:30am, and did in fact clear out the sleep cobwebs with a cold and refreshing Starbucks Iced Coffee.
-Did get showered and dressed, and made it to the airport in time (so far so good!)
-Arrived in Atlanta with a splitting headache from the blowhard that pontificated for two hours at top volume in the seat behind me. Then, made a beeline to the ladies room in an attempt to remove the multiple pink stains that my crumbled Clinique blusher left on the front of my clean, white jeans. (note: soap + water + blusher = large, pink stain).
-Took 80mph ride from airport to zoo from psychotic, lane-weaving cabbie. Exited taxi in need of a warm ginger ale, Pepcid and Valium. Wondered what I was thinking taking a trip to Atlanta.
-Waited in line, wilting in 90 degree Georgia heat with fidgety, shrieking children, and impatient parents for two hours until we were finally allowed to shuffle like slaughterhouse cattle into the panda viewing area.
-But then, just as I had almost given up hope on my Dream Day, there she was—MEI LAN!—in all her cuddly, fluff ball glory. I snapped one, two, three photos of her, and then...............my camera flashed F-U-L-L.
-Freaked out. Didn't think it was possible to be more stressed. Or, sweaty.
-Was corralled out of panda viewing area within two minutes, my mouth still agape at inexplicable camera malfunction. Reminded of the time my mother stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon—her lifelong dream that she waited years to experience—only to discover her camera was broken.
-Depressed that I have officially turned into my mother.
-After equal parts cursing and praying, amazingly figure out how to store additional photos on my camera disk, but first must heartbreakingly delete photos I've already snapped.
-Wiped tears from eyes, got back on line.
-30 minutes later, was back in panda viewing area only to get yelled at for taking too long by the one mean person in all of Georgia.
-Tell mean person from Georgia a thing or two.
-Looked at watch, horrified to learn that I was more than two hours behind schedule. Raced to street to catch bus to Aquarium, only to see bus pulling away.
-Wait 40 minutes in baking sun for new bus. Skin looked and felt like it was coated in Crisco. Couldn't call taxi because my cell phone battery light was flashing red, despite the fact that I had charged it overnight.
-Bus finally arrived, and twenty minutes later I am at the Aquarium, which immediately lifts my ragged spirits (How could it not? The Georgia Aquarium is awe-inspiring), but am so utterly exhausted, I decide to end my day there and catch an early flight home.
-Am forced to change flight via pay phone, which I have not used since 1989. Took 25 minutes to figure out how to use credit card instead of quarters.
-No cabs available outside of aquarium. Remember that mad, speed demon driver from morning drive gave me his business card. Shocking even myself, I dialed his number.
-Sat in back seat of Taxi from Hell with eyes tightly closed, hands folded in prayer, mind alternating between making bargains with God, and vows that next day off will be spent getting facial and massage.
-2 hour delay on flight home; headed to nearest airport bar.
Now you would think that at that point I would be in a somewhat sour mood—and at moments, yes, I surely was. But when I boarded the plane back to New York with frazzled, world-weary business travelers, all of them still working on their proposals, and presentations, I realized how blessed I actually am. Because my day was not about getting to a meeting on time, or worrying about a client, or worse...a boss. Instead my day—despite planes, stains, and pains—was simply about me doing something special for me. Sure, I could have gone to the spa in town, or to lunch with a friend, or shopping at the mall, but instead I opted to spend my free day doing something completely crazy like visiting a panda. It's adventures like those that not only make for good storytelling, but for a colorful, happy life as well.