I’ve always hated how movies and TV shows ignore the real, albeit mundane, details of day-to-day life. Every problem that comes up can be solved in under a half hour (about 18 minutes really if you subtract the commercials from most sitcoms) and characters never waste their precious time doing things like going to the bathroom or getting an oil change.
Compared to my other days on this road trip, today was nothing special. It was one of those days that a made-for-TV movie would have skipped over completely.
I woke up this morning in what must be the most run-down, filthy, disgusting motel in the United States, or at least in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. I should have taken one look at the door that didn’t lock with the inch of wood missing from the bottom edge, the carpet covered in dirt and trash left by months or years worth of guests, the stained and cigarette burned sofa and side-seat, the blackened basin of the white tub, the tiled floor covered in dirt and heads of hair that were not my own, the stained towels left on the sink top since the towel rack was broken and hanging by the hinges, and yellowed sheets and demanded a refund. Sometimes I can be too accommodating.
After taking myself to eat in a local Thai Food restaurant, I returned to the motel and made the mistake of looking up the reviews online. It’s always better to read them before going to your destination, not while you’re there. There were dozens of people who had had the same dissatisfaction, posted pictures and complaints, and warned people they’d be better off camping out in a parking lot or on the beach. One post even suggested that people had tried to get in through the insecure doors in the middle of the night. I checked the hotel across the street thinking it’d be worth paying twice as much to escape the place I was in, but it was booked. I barricaded myself in the room by moving a long table in front of the door figuring any intruder would make enough noise that I’d wake up and be ready to attack.
From the time I got back to the motel to about 1:30 in the morning, people were singing, or I should say screaming, karaoke in a nearby bar, which, based on how obnoxiously loud they were, could have been on the other side of the broken-down door. At two am when the music stopped I carefully peeled back the bed spread and laid down on the bed, trying not to let my exposed skin come into contact with any surface in the room.
The past few weeks I’ve become a pro at barely opening my eyes to press the button that silences my cell phone alarm and going back to sleep. This morning though, despite the worst few hours of sleep all summer (I kept waking up, ready to attack every whisper of the wind and sway of the sea outside) I woke up before my alarm, took a shower hoping to rinse off any residue from the room, and grabbed my things in such a hurry that I didn’t even remember to brush my teeth. I spent ten minutes shaking out my bags in the parking lot to be sure the bug I’d seen crawling across the desk hadn’t invited his family to hitchhike to Boston with me. Certain that my things were clear, I went marching across the parking lot to the office to turn in my room key.
I couldn’t believe someone was working behind the counter so early in the morning and was even more surprised when he asked me how my night went as I handed over the plastic key-cards. I stared in disbelief for a second, then told him it was the worst night I’d ever spent in a motel room. He asked why, but the blank expression on his face told me he didn’t really care. I proceeded to detail the decay of the room to him and say how it was unacceptable. He told me I could lodge a formal complaint with the manager during normal business hours from 8-5. My alarm went off signaling my usual 7 AM start and I walked out, having no intention to wait around an hour to tell someone what a terrible job they are doing running a business that should have been condemned long ago. I’d make it known another way.
I was so eager to leave the motel and the city behind that I missed a turn and ended up stuck waiting in line at the gate to a military base. I’d forgotten how over-zealous young military policemen can be (I was once pulled over for going 17 miles per hour downhill in a 15 mile per hour zone when I lived on a military base). When I got up to the officer I explained that I had taken a wrong turn and just wanted to turn around and get out of the city. He called over another soldier to supervise my u-turn and I drove around onto the highway wondering if they really thought a 29-year-old, sleep-deprived, blonde wearing a peach sundress posed such a threat to a military base that she needed to be escorted off.
It was only a five hour drive from the panhandle to the northeast coast of Florida, but because I’d be passing through another time zone, I wouldn’t be there until early afternoon. I knew my change oil light was going to come on soon and even though I’d passed half a dozen instant oil change places in Pensacola Beach the day before, I couldn’t bring myself to delay my trip to the beach even if it was only 10 minutes as they promised. The light came on today just as I arrived in Jacksonville, Florida. I asked the sky to open up and provide me with a place to get the job done quickly. No sooner had I made my request than up the road to the right a Jiffy Lube came into sight. There was a sign in the window advertising a special $19.99 price available only on Wednesdays (the day I happened to be driving through town).
The men working were overly courteous and polite (I’d forgotten how cordial southern military men could be to strangers) and even vacuumed the sand out of my car and hand cleaned the bird poop and dead bugs off my windshield.
While I was waiting for my car to be ready, I used my cell phone to search for local restaurants. The salad bar I’d driven by didn’t seem so promising once I saw the meat-filled menu and the Italian restaurant down the street seemed like too much cheese and too many carbs. I really just wanted a big heaping pile of vegetables and tofu. I decided to take my chances and search for a nearby Whole Foods. There was one 38 miles away. Considering I hadn’t been to one since Colorado, 38 miles didn’t seem so far at all.
With how often I’ve mentioned Whole Foods, you probably think I practically live there, but, in truth, I really only go there to buy tofu and raisins (and because buying just two items isn’t worth the trip I have to get a few chocolate covered cookies from the cookie bar.) I do most of my shopping at the local farmer’s market and eat mostly vegetables and fruits when they are in season. Even though for the past three days I’ve been “eating fresh” at Subway, the cucumbers, tomatoes, and six different varieties of peppers they put on the Veggie Delite Sub just weren’t cutting it anymore. I was craving carrots, kale, tofu, and anything dark and green.
Driving so far out of my way just to make a stop at Whole Foods might sound absurd, but I can assure you I enjoyed every moment of my salad-bar meal in the in-store seating and will enjoy the fresh fruit and juice I took back to refrigerate at the motel for tomorrow’s breakfast. I wish fruit and vegetables were as easy to find as alcohol in the gas stations across the country.
I felt like hugging the front desk man when I saw how clean and comfortable my room was in the hotel that was walking distance from Neptune Beach and about six million times more accommodating than the Seabreeze Inn in Fort Walton. Believe it or not, they cost the same price per night.
After what most would have called a mundane day, I decided to take a sunset stroll along the beach near the hotel. If this were a romantic comedy, a dog on the beach would have frolicked over to me followed by his bashful and apologetic male owner who would have made small talk until commercial break. After the important messages from the sponsors, the scene would have picked up with the two of us sitting on the pier, watching the sunset, leaning in toward each other, and staring off into our not-too-distant future. If ratings worked in our favor, he’d probably come back for a show or, if we were really lucky, for the entire summer season.
Remember though, today was not a made-for-TV moment kind of day.
Neptune Beach turns into Jacksonville Beach the further you walk. The sands were slightly darker than the soft white grains at Pensacola, there were fewer shells (though the ones I found were beautiful and unique shades like black, dark brown, and red) and the water was a cerulean blue. After the walk there, I was looking forward to resting my feet in the cool waters as I walked along the beach, but I was surprised to feel how warm the water was. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was stepping in a heated pool, not the same cold Atlantic Ocean that washes in and out across the beaches back home.
I saw a pier in the distance and decided I’d walk there for a better view of the sunset. It took me an hour (granted I kept stopping to check out sea shells in the sand or dig my feet into the ground where the waves met the shore) to reach the pier. If you plan to go out on it, it’ll cost you $1 as a sight see-er and $4 if you plan to fish. I’d soon discover that the pier was the best place on the beach to witness the sunset. I walked to the end and stared out at the ocean, then returned to the beginning where I sat alone at a picnic table and watched the sun grow, glow, then duck behind a cloud sending streaks of red across the sky.
Not every day can be as awesome as rock-climbing in Sedona, hiking in Utah, or gold-mining in Kentucky, but if you stay present to each moment, each mundane detail, you’ll begin to notice the beauty that each day has to offer and understand how perfect it is sometimes just to be alive.