It takes a village to get me out of town. I’m not kidding. Actually, yesterday it took my driver, three good women and the Army Corps of Engineers to get me out of town. Well, one of its core members anyway.
After spending much of my summer of doing Other Work (aka Not Teaching at My College), I am finally off on vacation, driving up to Canada with my guy and traveling buddy Dick. I have to leave town to stop working—or at least stop working on Other People’s Projects so that I can work on My Own. I really like working on Other People’s Projects—it’s why I do them—but I have a novel that’s been waiting for almost a year for some finishing touches. So when I travel—especially to British Columbia where my novel is set—I finally do My Own.
This is so exciting I wiggle like a happy puppy at the thought of it.
But first, in the week preceding departure, I decided to: have lunches, coffees or dinners with seven different friends; spend time with the BF in the hospital; help clear out parts of our journalism trailer at school so it could be used as part of a huge track event; feed cats in at least two locations daily; take a friend who suffered a stroke nine years ago out for lunch and a haircut; led the last Saturday writing group session for the summer; attended a Suttewriters/AWA Sacramento picnic; hosted a friend overnight; went to a play; attended an 80th birthday luncheon; got my hair cut; worked out details for planting part of my front yard with my brother-in-law; bought new bookshelves at IKEA with my nephew and his housemate, and packed.
No wonder I’m so tired.
And when I have so many things on my mind, so many balls in the air as I juggle, it’s no wonder that once I leave for a trip, something gets forgotten at home. Usually it’s easy to replace—toothpaste, tennis shoes, vitamins—or do without. But last night, as Dick and I sped up I-5 after having quick deli sandwiches for dinner at Granzella’s in Williams, Calif., an hour from Sacramento, my excited heart plummeted to my shoes.
We’d just passed a billboard that said something about birth certificates. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I caught that part. And I thought, “Hey, I don’t need a birth certificate, I’ve got a brand new passport.” And that’s when I had that sinking feline (imagine a cat curled into a bathroom sink)—uh, oh. Big uh, oh.
Because that shiny new passport that I’d applied for just at the end of the school year was resting comfortably in a file drawer at home in Sacramento—a good 90 miles away.
Since 9/11, you can’t get into Canada with a U.S. driver’s license. You have to have a legit passport. I know this. I’ve been to Canada pretty much annually over the past decade. That’s why I had to renew the old passport.
I gulped before I said it out loud: “Oh, shit.”
Dick looked at me. “What?”
“Oh, shit,” I said, not wanting to believe I had done something so stupid. I thought fast—if I had someone FedEx me the passport, could we still make the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria Monday morning? Nope, probably not.
I looked at Dick, the man who has driven me and paid for all these trips to fly me around the Pacific northwest and British Columbia to research and write this novel. The man who has loyally taken photos in heavy downpour and rare 95-degree heat of the former paper and pulp mill town of Ocean Falls, which we reach by float plane from the end of Vancouver Island. The man who has stood by not only this but also just about every offbeat, hair-brained project I’ve gotten myself (and often him) involved in since 1992.
“I forgot my passport,” I finally said.
Dick, who is the kindest soul I know, just said, sounding very disappointed, “Oh, Janis.”
We drove north for a few more minutes as I speculated aloud about how to fix the situation, discarding the FedEx idea, among others. Finally, I knew: I was gonna have to ask for help. I was gonna have to look stupid in front of friends who would be happy to help me… if I would just ask.
This is hard for me. For some reason I was born with a gene that makes me think it’s my job to Be There for others (see previous post). I get paid to Be There for others as a professor and advisor at my college. Yet again and again, I’ve had occasions when I simply need a little—or a lot—of help from my friends. And I have the best friends who are so eager to help, friends who would love to do favors for me, friends who think they owe me favors, though I can’t imagine why they think that.
And that’s when three women and the Army Corps of Engineers came in. As Dick exited the freeway and headed back south again, I called my across-the-street neighbor and Cat Care Goddess, Sonya, and told her. Asked her to go into my office and retrieve the passport. Which she did, finding the new one, not the old one. I thanked her a bunch of times, and she said, as she is wont to do, “No problem.” Sonya even offered to meet us someplace with the passport, blesséd friend that she is.
But I had already called my friend Timi (who is a she) and asked, “So what are you up to this evening?”
Timi, who has lent me her Lake Tahoe “cabin” (really a lovely three-bedroom home with in-laws’ quarters), on more occasions than I can remember so I could both get away for a bit and work on the novel, said, “Not much. What do you need?” (I love Timi.)
It turned out Timi, her husband Rick (who is a Major League Guy with the Army Corps of Engineers) and their youngest daughter Jessica were between their home and a storage unit schlepping stuff. I explained my predicament, then asked if I could prevail upon them to pick up my passport from Sonya, then meet Dick and me at the Sacramento Airport gas station with it.
“No problem,” Timi said.
“I hate to ask…,” I began.
“Are you kidding?” Timi said. “I owe you a hundred favors.”
I could not, for the life of me, think of one. “Really?” I said, thinking of the lovely cabin on the west shore of Lake Tahoe.
“Absolutely,” Timi said. And we settled on a time when Dick and I could race back down I-5 and meet them at the airport.
We did, they did, and after Timi handed me the passport as she, Rick and Jessica sat in their very full Honda Passport, I handed the passport to Dick, who put it safely with his in the little blue pouch he carries for such occasions.
I thanked Timi, Rick and Jessica profusely, of course, as I had Sonya on the phone. They drove off toward Sacramento, and Dick and I took off to spend our first night of this journey in Redding.
I am grateful for the kindness of these people who help me in ways that seem simple to them and hugely profound to me when my dwindling number of marbles get scattered. They help me retrieve the marbles, put them in a protective pouch, send me on my way. I would not be who I am without them. Without all of you.
As they say in Hawaii, mahalo nui loa. Thank you all, so very, very much.