The Best Laid Plans

April 20th, 2010

car break down

Just call me Steve Martin, aka Neale Page in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Recently a standard 2 hour direct flight from Newark to Grand Rapids turned into a hilarious 17 hour adventure. I was traveling with my ten year old son, after taking him to see his Aunt in the city. A journey that should have been plane sailing turned into plane flailing, as we ricocheted around the country, improvising as we bounced. The flight was delayed and diverted, first to Cleveland and then to Chicago. At Chicago, I was told that we were all out of options. The next available air tickets were on Tuesday. Rental cars were as scarce as hen’s teeth. It was 10pm on Saturday and the last remaining airline representative washed her hands of us.

We assessed our options for the 200 mile hike to Grand Rapids Airport where our car lay in wait. A cabbie quoted us $400. I filed the information in my mind as a last resort. Instead we climbed on a bus that was bound for Michigan City, about 60 miles from O’Hare. We claimed the last remaining seats and soon discovered they were like the last kids chosen for a soccer team. They sucked. The seat in front was in permanent recline, which was awesome for the guy sitting in it, but meant we were nursing him in our lap. We slept in his intimate embrace for an hour or so, before being woken with the announcement that we were in Michigan City.

I’m sure that Michigan City, Indiana is a lovely place. However at midnight it held little attraction so we decided to push on. We found a group of Notre Dame footballers in a huddle, plotting their return to campus in South Bend, Indiana. We agreed to split a cab to South Bend. Split a cab seems an apt description for a car that was groaning under the weight of a driver who resembled John Candy in more ways than one, the two of us and 3 linebackers. My son was submerged somewhere in the line of scrimmage, buried under his own luggage. We laughed and laughed about this surreal scene as we crept along the 40 mile trip to Notre Dame. The driver was so excited to have some football heroes held captive in his car that he clean forgot to notice the fuel gauge plummeting along with the cab’s suspension. We sputtered into a gas station just in the nick of time. Oh and by the way, at a certain point on this drive the time jumped from 1am to 3am, a combination of daylight savings and Eastern Standard Time changes.

At 3am, we received a darkened tour of one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, as assorted college kids staggered around the grounds. The cabbie asked where he could drop us, explaining that he couldn’t drive across Michigan state lines without risking going to jail. I decided not to ask any more about that matter. He dropped us at a sleepy South Bend Airport. We joined a handful of vagabonds and security staff, none of whom had any clues about travel to Grand Rapids. The greyhound bus was not due until late in the day and the rental cars would not be available until 8am. We could wait three hours to pay $120 to drive ourselves the remaining two hours, or we could pay $200 for a cab to drive us. Tiredness won the day. We took the cab, snored liked babies in the back seat, and arrived at Grand Rapids Airport at 8am, 17 hours after we had left New York City. As I paid the Airport parking ticket, I realized that we had spent over $300 to crawl from Chicago to Grand Rapids. $400 for a direct cab ride didn’t look so absurd any more.

Apart from being exhausted, the adventure was enormous fun. I had awesome company, and we laughed about every twist and turn. It reminded me of the value in holding loosely to plans and expectations.

Steve Martin once said, “Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.” It’s all about perspective. The road trip was funny because we had expected plane sailing. Chaos surprised us at every turn, and we had a choice; become frustrated or see it as an adventure. We chose to see the whole thing as a comedy of errors that we could laugh about for years to come.

We were reminded that the journey is full of surprises, and it’s all part of the process. A car gets you to the airport. A plane gets you to the city. A bus gets you to the cab that gets you back to the car that gets you to the destination. Each is an important step of an ever evolving journey. Life is wonderfully connected and there are few rules about right or wrong ways to travel.

One of the most famous scenes from Planes, Trains and Automobiles has John Candy driving on the wrong side of the highway. An approaching car screams to them. Steven Martin says, “He says we’re going the wrong way.” John Candy says, “Oh, he’s drunk. How would he know where we’re going?”

Arriving home was nice, but on the way we had some important bonding to do. People have made various suggestions about how we could have managed the trip differently. I think we did just fine. Who could say if we had gone the wrong way or not? What I know for sure is that I would walk over hot coals just to spend time with that kid. He teaches me so much about being alive to the adventure of being alive. If it takes stormy weather to create quality time with the people I love, I will do it again next week.

Seed of Serendipity
You have to smile when your best laid plans are rerouted by new developments. You are looking for one thing, find something else, and then realize that what you’ve found is what you needed in the first place. Eureka. Who would have thought it? Don’t let your plans get in the way of the life that is unfolding.

Say to yourself: My life is a fortunate accident. I celebrate each and every surprising moment.

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