I walk into each new hotel room, look at it suspiciously, shake it's clammy hand, put my suitcase down gingerly.
I unpack my makeup, put my mascara and lipsticks in a water glass, hang up my coat. I see what cable channels I have, check out the room service menu for any items that aren't medically contraindicated. I wait for the crashing sound of the ice machine, which is inevitably next to my room, to shatter any sense of peace I can muster in the presence of an orange bed spread that's a bout as sanitary as the crumpled Kleenex of a tuberculosis patient.
Such is my routine, one I've developed being on the road 20 days a month for almost eight months now. I like to say it's like being a rock star, without all the bothersome cash and chicks.
I set up my laptop on whatever desk or side table I can find. Shirts go in one drawer, protein bars and travel bottle of tequila go in another, shoes go on the floor of the closet. I put a vanilla candle up on a windowsill and set up my little CD player. For some reason, the only thing I can listen to on the road is Eminem; I'm angry, I'm lonely, I'm alienated, it's me and Em against the world. I'm also employed, so I gut it out. It's hard to complain when you're working in your chosen field, but I miss my old life. I guess that's why I try to create routine wherever I go, whether it's a Hilton in Charleston or an Embassy Suites in St. Petersburg.
I've picked up some new habits on the road and none that would land me in rehab. For one thing, I've taken to going to any lengths to call my dad. Almost every day on the job I work on a home decorating show so I'm generally in the home of a stranger in some quiet suburb I cross the street, find a large vehicle to hide behind, and dial dad on my cell phone crouched in the shadow of a pick-up truck. We were always close, but I never needed to talk to him so frequently until I found myself rootless.
Mom gets calls, too. Then dad gets a call because he's the only one who truly understands how crazy mom is. Then I get sick, a frequent occurrence on the road for some reason, and I need my mom. So far, she's gotten calls from two emergency rooms, one after-hours clinic and a hotel store."Does this pink stuff really work?" I ask her. "Mommy!!" I screech, which is very undignified at my age.
"Where are you?" she asks. "I can be at the airport in an hour." I don't need her to come but I need to know that she would. It's more healing than any pink stuff.
The few friends I keep in touch with have become even more central.
And there's another thing. There's the God thing.
Years of writing this column and I don't think I've ever mentioned that word. I couldn't grasp the idea of a divine power, I still can't, but whatever that thing is that I don't fully understand, I've taken to talking to it. You know, help me through this, help me not unravel today, help me not yell at anyone, help me get out of (insert city) without a feeding tube, help me be useful. Sprinkled in with the "help me" type prayer is the "thank you," not necessarily because of the incredible gratitude I feel for my life but because it seems rude not to say thank you after bugging God for so much help without even necessarily believing in him/her/it.
When you have nothing familiar, nothing to call your own, no one you love or trust in your immediate environment, when you're desperately lonely, you get really holy really fast. At least I do. And I hear chaplains are very popular in prison.
A friend of mine, who I consider far more pious and therefore way more entitled to discuss the G-word, compared being on the road to being a wandering Jew. When the Jews were in the desert for 40 years, they only had their community and their God. It was a time of nation building and religious development. Maybe I'll have to wait 39 more years before that really kicks in, but the metaphor is a nice one.
It's like when you lose one sense, the others are heightened. When you're shuttling through a desert of suburbs, maybe your sight gets sharper without the fog of the familiar, you see what you really have: family, a spiritual life, things that don't fit under the seat in front of you. Of course, sometimes I think all I'm really getting is frequent flier miles and exposure to every germy airport microbe, but you never know. I have yet to see a burning bush, but I do hear hotel bedspreads are pretty flammable.