Last night, we went for Thai food, in my rental car.

The last time I traveled, they rented me a sweet Camaro.  (NB: the last time I rented, I rented from Avis.  They were not jerks; there was no labyrinthine process in order to obtain the key, etc., and I received a Camaro at the end of the deal.  I felt like I was from New Jersey, which, truth be told, was kind of awesome for about a day.)

This time: Ford Fusion.

When I was in Africa in 2008, one of my friends remarked, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat American food.”  This was when we were eating American food.  In Africa.  In a hotel owned by Lebanese hoteliers.  In Kumasi, Ghana.  All against my will and better judgment, but that’s another story for another time.

So.  Thai.

We drove to Thai Bistro II (after a call to Hong Kong to determine where, exactly, in Pacific Grove, CA we should dine–that, too, is another story for another time), and sat down to eat. Me grob, in particular, on the advice of Hong Kong, who kept shouting on the other end of the line, “Me gorb,” and I kept saying, “Okay,” and she kept not believing me that I knew what she was talking about.

This, of course, has become part of the slapstick of my travel life.

“You really need to start dating,” my dinner companion said, “You can’t wait forever.”

“It really hasn’t been that long,” I said.

“Too long!  You’re goal oriented.  I’m giving you a goal of three dates in the first three months of 2010.”

I groaned.  “I just don’t have time for anyone else in my life.  I travel.”  I left off the parts about not liking other people; about having to fly coach; about not wanting to explain the rheumatoid arthritis and the recovery and the crazy family and the whole “Little Matchstick Girl” narrative that lurks behind the polished blonde facade.

We crunched our sticky, delicious food in meditative silence.

After dinner, we ambled back out to the Ford Fusion, which was parked jauntily at the curb like a silver nag, ready to speed us to our next destination on the Monterey peninsula.

“Where now?” my companion asked.

“Karaoke place.”  I handed her the other page I’d printed–directions from google maps.  There was no GPS in the car, and I am a planner.  One of the perks of being notoriously eccentric AND being a planner is that I can rally people, while on travel, into going to shady karaoke places if I have to travel over weekends.  Maybe part of my charm, charisma, or maybe people tolerate me because they think I’m a loose cannon.

Regardless, we were going on a recon mission before the big event.

We drove.  Highway 1 North; roads I knew but hadn’t traveled in 10 years.

“Visualize your date.  The date you’re going to go on.”

“I’m driving.”

“No, visualize.  Where are you going to go?”



“Um….I don’t know.  Downtown?  Chinese?”

“And then where?  A movie?”

“I haven’t seen a movie in a theatre in going on…thirteen years?”

A gasp.

“See, I’m going to be terrible at this dating thing.  What exit am I supposed to get off at?”

We exited the highway, and made a left on to a long stretch of deserted road dotted with car dealerships and auto chop-shops.

“Are you sure this is it?” my companion asked me.

“Yup.  Oh my God, we’re going to get shot.  This is so shady.  The perfect place to do karaoke.”

And whether for business or pleasure, that, I suppose, is how any good karaoke story begins.

I’ve spent the last seven months on the road.

Airports with their uncomfortable chairs upholstered in sickly grey naugahyde and attached in awkward twos–too small for sleeping, too close for comfort.  Coach seats, three by three.  Cheerful rainbows and sturdy leather; the persistent smell of high altitude farts and motion sickness; chemical toilets and the overcooked food served in first class.

I’ve been on the road for more than half the year.

Traveling as my marriage faltered and failed; breezing through cities and states and countries I didn’t expect to visit; running around life in New York carried on without me.

Life goes on.

I guess this is the new view from the Middle Seat.  Crammed, cramped and oddly refreshing.

In the last 90 days, I have climbed Half Dome;  run the New York City Marathon; found a new place on the Upper East Side; and taken the tentative steps towards a life as a single woman.  Something I’ve never been in my adult life.

I flew to San Francisco on Monday, a suitcase full of candy, sherry, and suits.  Unsurprisingly, the travel agent had put me in a middle seat, and had managed to screw up my rental car reservation.

This was me at the Thrifty counter on Monday: Pissed.

The behemoth at the counter grunted out some instructions and took my Amex.  That was it.  Nothing further.  I had no idea what to do or where to go.  I made it out to the car, only to find I had to go to another counter for the key.  What kind of rental car company does that?  Creates a veritable labyrinth of queues?  Just hand me a card and let me unlock the key from a lockbox or something.  Don’t make me go through this Skinnerian exercise just to get into my luxurious Ford Fusion that smells slightly of smoke and strangely of bacon.

I drove down the coast.  Love songs on Sirius playing.

I love love songs.  I love love.

Despite all of this…despite all of the travel…despite the red eyes and the coach seats and the near misses…despite the toll it takes on my personal relationships and whether it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my marriage, and the pain and the grief associated therewith…I still believe in lids for pots; in matches and partners and pairs; and in true love.

So this is the view from the middle seat.