In preparing for the Stratford trip, I had to think of a lot of things, some of which were a pleasure to think about and some which nearly gave me permanent hives, such as when I went to pick up the theater tickets at the travel agency one bare week before we were to leave and she casually mentioned that she'd never received a confirmation for our motel reservations.
"By the way," she said, "we've never received a confirmation about the motel reservations."
My group was due to stay at this place for two nights. The hotels and motels in Stratford have been booked for months in advance - we'd made our arrangements with the proprietor of this establishment last February -- and since the festival season was still in full swing, it was going to be unlikely that we'd be able to find another place at the last minute that could accommodate the number of rooms we needed. Not to mention the fact that I'd already written the travel agent a check for a couple thousand dollars to make sure everyone with me had a place to brush their teeth and rest their weary heads.
I stared at her across her desk, resisting the urge to staple a Kleenex to her forehead. "Well, do you think you could maybe CALL HIM UP while I'm here?" I asked in a level voice.
The travel agent and her assistant traded a glance. "You call him," said the agent. "I can't understand him. He's some kind of foreigner."
"I believe Mr. Patel is from India," I replied.
"Well, whatever. Wherever. I can't understand him."
The agent's assistant heaved a heavy sigh and put on her headset. She looked up the number in my file, dialed, and began speaking very loudly to the person on the other end of the line whom I assumed was Mr. Patel, whose first name is, unaccountably, Bob. It is true that he is very difficult to understand, even when you're standing right in front of him. He speaks beautiful English; it's just that he has a very heavy accent. I did sympathize with the assistant, but there is email and there are fax machines. It seemed that this oversight could have been handled quite efficiently using either of those means.
After about twenty-five minutes of shouting, it became clear that my group still owed a balance of around $126.00, which did not please me at all.
And then I found out that when I made the arrangements for the two dinners that were to be served at the two different restaurants? The travel agent hadn't made an allowance for the tax and the gratuity for either meal.
And THEN I realized when I was already back at my house with the theater tickets that the travel agent had failed to secure the A+ and A rated theater seats I'd requested. Considering that we ordered these tickets in early December 2009, it didn't seem like it was an unreasonable thing to ask for. That was when I called my mother and told her I was going to go burn down the travel agency: she could either come with me and help carry the gas cans or go to the bank and withdraw enough money to bail me out of jail.
She sighed. "I completely sympathize, but it's so hot outside and we're going to have to wear ski masks to make a sporting attempt to disguise ourselves. And your dad says he'll be glad to come with us if you can wait until Matlock is over."
"What time does it come on?" I asked, disgruntled.
"Oh, it'll be over by 9:00. But are you sure you don't want to reconsider? This seems like an awfully strong response to her inefficiency. How about a strongly worded letter when you're back from Canada and have had a chance to cool down?"
It took a lot of doing, but she finally calmed me, mostly by speaking admiringly of the treat bags I'd lovingly made for each family. Those treat bags were dear to my heart and I'd done everything but snuggle up to them in bed at nights, along with the two cases of water I'd been chilling in the laundry room fridge for the past week.
The treat bags -- the lovely, lovely treat bags -- were adorable black totes with red handles, decorated with a white filigree design on the sides. Very baroque. They went so nicely with the red travel folders I'd designed to hold everyone's itinerary (printed on adorable white paper with a black filigree border), theater tickets and a list of FYI addenda. The treat bags held what I thought was an amazing assortment of goodies: microwave popcorn, chocolates, granola bars, chips, cheese crackers, hard candies, plus a separate bag of comfort items like a hand soap with a pump (I hate washing my hands with those teeny bars of hotel soap), some hand sanitizer, wet wipes and some air freshener to get rid of that motel-y smell - although if I'd known then about the motel what I know now, I would have included a travel-sized package of Napalm.)
Along with the goody bags, I had those two cases of water to load up into our coolers. I wanted to be able to give each family water bottles to store in their room fridges because it's a pain in the toe trying to get a cold drink out of those little weeny cups supplied by hotels. I was very happy about that water and I even brought plastic bags to put the drippy little bottles in as we handed them out to our guests.
Unfortunately, there was a breakdown in communication between me and my husband about those water bottles: My opinion was that he was a HOST and his opinion was that he was both a HOST and a GUEST. An epic battle took place in a McDonald's parking lot in Clearwater, Michigan when he opened one of the coolers and tried to remove an icy cold bottle of water to slake his burning thirst.
"Wait, there. Whoa, whoa, whoaaaa....What are you doing with that water bottle?" I asked him. I had opened the rear hatch and was standing there cooing over the goody bags and he'd joined me at the back of the van and opened the cooler while the girls were still in the restroom.
He gave me a strange look. "I'm getting a bottle of water," he said, holding it up for me to see.
"You can't have one of those bottles of water," I said indignantly. "Those are for the TRIP."
He looked around him and then leaned close, as if to whisper in my ear. "Uhmmm...I think we may be ON THE TRIP, right at this moment. Because we're, like, two hundred miles from home."
"But we're not at our destination," I argued. "These water bottles are meant for everyone's motel fridge in STRATFORD. This, my friend, is CLEARWATER."
"Well, if I'm thirsty now in CLEARWATER, I'm really going to be parched by the time we get to STRATFORD. And you know what would help me with that? A nice, cool, refreshing BOTTLE OF WATER."
"Get one through the drive-thru then," I said, attempting to snatch the bottle out of his hand. He held it above my head where I couldn't reach it. "Gimme that! I mean it! That water isn't for you, at least not 'til we get to Stratford!"
"Are you seriously telling me - seriously - that you want me to go through this drive-thru and BUY A WATER BOTTLE WHEN WE HAVE FORTY-EIGHT FRIGGING WATER BOTTLES IN OUR CAR?"
I stopped trying to grab the bottle and put my hands on my hips, glaring at him defiantly. "Yes, that is EXACTLY what I mean."
"Oh, quit being such a brat and go through the drive-thru, already. I want a Diet Coke."
"I bet you do. And you know what? I bet if there were forty-eight Diet Cokes, perfectly chilled, in the back of this van, you'd be helping yourself right now."
"Not true," I said with dignity. "I want a Diet Coke with ice in it."
We piled back into the van where the girls were waiting for us. "Are you two seriously out there bickering about water bottles?" said Meelyn mildly.
"He started it," I said defensively.
"Yes, you did! You tried to steal one of my water bottles!"
"Oh, so now they're YOUR water bottles. I thought they belonged to our guests!"
"Ohhh, you know what I mean."
He looked at me as he pulled into the drive-thru lane. "No, I do not know what you mean. It makes no sense to me at all. But I'll tell you one thing I do know - you are a WATER NAZI. 'No water for you!'"
From that moment on, he told the Water Nazi story to just about everyone we met: the people on the trip with us, the teller at the bank who changed our American dollars for Canadian dollars, the ushers at the theater. By the time we headed home, I was glancing fearfully over my shoulder to make sure there wasn't an angry mob coming up behind me with the intent of dragging me to the Avon river and holding my head under until I promised to buy everyone in Stratford a chilled water bottle of their very own.
I made it home safely, but my husband couldn't resist pointing out that we still had water bottles left over. I don't believe he'll be letting me forget it any time soon.
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