For instance, one day we had decided to meet another friend at the new Chuy’s that had opened 20 minutes north of us. My nameless friend–ok, I have to name her–we’ll call her Sybil. It would be too confusing to continue discussing her as a nameless friend. So, Sybil was coming from work. I was coming from home. And our other friend was already close to Chuy’s and just wanted a 5 minutes heads up so she could go get us a table. As I entered the highway from the onramp near my house, I saw Sybil go zipping by. Well, look at that, I thought to myself. Us on the highway at the exact same time and place. What a good thing.
It was not a good thing.
I called her from the bluetooth in my car.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m directly behind you in traffic. Do you know where you’re going?” I can’t believe I even asked it. She never knows where she’s going. The fact that I had to ask her means that I was worse off than she was.
“I have Chuy’s plugged into my gps and it says we are about 17 minutes away,” she answered.
“OK,” I said. “I’ll follow you then.” 17 minutes seemed too soon, but she was so confident. I wasn’t thinking. Because sometimes I just don’t. And I followed Sybil. The first thing that seemed suspect was that we took an exit that was not what either of us thought we should take for Chuy’s. But we went with it, because it seemed a viable alternative route. Then we turned on a major road. Still workable. But the final turn was onto a street called something like Nantucket. It was a subdivision. With stucco houses and cul-de-sacs. We were going further and further into it. Sybil called me.
“What are the odds this is going to lead to Chuy’s?” she asked.
“I think 0%,” I replied. She pulled up in front of a house and came to a complete stop.
“It says we’re here.” she said. “I think we are in front of a house that belongs to a Mr. Chuy.”
We were late to lunch. Really late.
After hearing about some of this, Sybil’s daughter texted my daughter and said, “I think your mom and my mom should start a Failing at Life Club. But I don’t know who would be President.”
When she spilled soup and mayonnaise all over her car interior, she moved into first place. Her car smelled like the inside of a cow’s stomach for weeks.
When I ran out of gas AND ran my car battery dead, I had to spend 3 hours in the August heat while my teenage son attempted to rescue me. I got a text from Sybil that said, “Guess who just LEAPT into first place?”
We trade off. It’s fun if you aren’t into success.
Recently we both started following the blog posts of Sean Dietrich. He is the reason I got back to writing. Because of that, I thought I would just see what his speaking schedule for the year was and discovered he’d be in north Florida on January 10. I texted Sybil and asked how insane it would be to drive up for it. I expected her to say very insane and that would be that. Instead she took a day off work and said “I’m in.” This was a great idea.
Unfortunately no adults were along to supervise. No one with any gps skills. No one with good karma. Or good fortune.
We took off today about noon. I had a perfect plan laid out: (1) Drive to Tallahassee, (2) Check into a room, (3) Eat at Barnaby’s Family Inn (best pizza ever in the world), (4) Drive to Marianna with 2 minutes to spare.
It was all going so well that I began to get a little too leisurely with my time. We had an hour and 20 minute drive to Marianna and needed to be there by 7. We didn’t leave Barnaby’s until 5:35 and I took the scenic route.
We were somewhere between Quincy and Marianna when the skies blazoned a burnt sienna and the pine trees stood up proud and black against them. It was dramatic.
“Looks like the Lion King,” Sybil said.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
I was getting nervous about time. I had done everything obnoxious in my power to shave a couple of minutes off our time. The skies were a thick charcoal now and we were zipping along unfamiliar roads in a town neither of us knew. We passed a Po Folks in town, both lamenting that we hadn’t known there was still one Po Folks in America still serving food. This one had only the “olks” lit up on the sign but I bet you can still drink sodas from a mason jar. Damage from Hurricane Michael was piled 2 stories high along the sides of residential streets in the form of debris and splintered trees. Even in the dark, we could see it. Soon we began to see signs for Chipola College. We’re here, I thought. We should make it just in time.
It was 6:58 when I whipped into a parking space and took off running for the Center for the Arts building. I was hoping Sybil was behind me but I wasn’t waiting for her. We ran into one building. Clearly not the center for the arts. Where are the people at this college? The Student Center looked like it had been boarded up since 2015. We ran across a courtyard into a neighboring building. Also not the Center for the Arts but there was a guy who looked official standing inside.
“Center for the Arts?” I asked.
“This is my first day on the job,” he shrugged. Of course it is, I thought, as I turned on my heel. We ran around another group of buildings to a building that was full of life and light. The Library. I didn’t see anyone reading or studying. There were two women inside. One was at the check out counter. The other was restocking bookshelves.I ran over to the check-out lady and whispered, “Center for the Arts?” In retrospect, it is very weird to ask for directions in broken german shepherd.
“Excuse me?” the lady asked.
“We are looking for the Center for the Arts,” I repeated in sentence form.
“You here for the program?” she asked in an accent so thick you could have spread it on toast.
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.
“OK,” she said. “Where’s your car?” I pointed in the general direction, but we were nowhere near the car at this point. She started giving us driving directions and the whole thing got very bogged down. There were three different street names, a gym, a series of parking lots, and then the Center for the Arts.
“Ok, thank you,” I said. “Just to clarify…you think we should drive there? We shouldn’t walk it?”
“Oh, no no,” she said with emphasis. “Definitely drive.”
“Too far, too far,” the stocking librarian now chimed in agreement.
Sigh. We thanked them and took off running. Out the library door. Out into the dark, sparsely populated campus, toward the car. We cut through a field between buildings. I was in a full on sprint, but became aware that I was hunched over like I had a set of twins on my back. Sybil was running in high heeled boots and rolled her ankle right out of the gate. I left her in my hunchback dust. She was calling after me. I looked at my watch.
“It’s 7:12. Now we are REALLY late,” I mourned. We made it back to the car and tried to remember the strange combination of turns and streets and parkings lots. At precisely 7:20, we busted through the fancy glass doors of the Center for the Arts and ran past a lobby full of old people sitting on their walkers, not really milling or talking to each other. Why were there people sitting in the lobby when we were so late? I ran up to the box office window with my tickets displayed on my phone.
“Do we show these to you? We are so late!” I heaved, leaning over the counter.
“You’re fine. It hasn’t started yet,” one of the girls said. She had a call security look on her face.
“But it’s 7:20,” I said in disbelief.
“Eastern?” She said. Eastern. What’s she talking about?
Oh. Eastern. We were now in central time, which apparently happened 30 minutes ago. My phone didn’t get the memo. Sybil was leaned over laughing hysterically. I was still in the middle of a really stupid conversation with the box office girl. We just drove from. Busted our butts. Eastern time. You know what? Never mind. Walking away.
So instead of being 20 minutes late, we were 40 minutes early. It was a win for punctuality, but a tie for the loss in the Failing at Life Club.
The event itself far exceeded my expectations. Sean Dietrich was funny, entertaining, interesting, and had a voice I would gladly let sing me into heaven.
After the show, we waited in line to get our books signed. Sean was friendly and warm to everyone in line to meet him, including us.
He talked to me about writing, about self publishing. He told me to email him and he’d offer what he could. When I mentioned we had driven 5.5 hours for his show, his eyes got huge, he ran over to his book table and grabbed one of every book except the one I was holding and returned, signing them all.
When I busted into the auditorium tonight, I wanted a good experience. A show. When I walked out of building, I had been given an amazing experience, 6 free books, a hug, a couple of selfies where I am still inexplicably hunched over as I had been all evening, a little lesson on time zones for future travels, and two fistfuls of hope.
I want to write.
And as long as it’s not my turn to fail at life, maybe I’ll give it a shot.