Monday, August 29, 2011

A Slight Change of Plans

As much as we plan in life we can never plan for everything. This is unfortunate because for me, and others on the autism spectrum, we need predictability and we need to know what is going to happen next. This past weekend my need to know was pushed to its limit.

I was in Connecticut for a special event of the USAC .25 midget series. Going into it I knew the weather was iffy with Hurricane Irene wanting to spoil the fun. The computer models seemed to change by the minute and as practice started Friday night it looked like we would be able to get the whole show in on Saturday before the outer rain showers moved in.

Last week I did mention that Ryan would pick me up from Boston and he did come along to Thompson to help out at the race any way he could. As we got to the track and introductions were made it was a bizarre feeling having two different worlds meet.

Saturday came and I was getting nervous. The weather models now had Irene had a faster pace and on top of that I realized as the reports of airport closures spread I worried if I would be able to get out of Boston on Monday. A delay wouldn’t have bothered me, normally, but this week is different. On Wednesday I have a major presentation and missing it, quite simply, was out of the question! With that being known I didn’t know what to do. Do I rent a car and fly out of Albany? If so are there flights?

Whilst I was swirling about in a chaotic panic I was told that the USAC staff would be renting a van and driving back after the races on Saturday. This wouldn’t get me home, but being in Indy would be a lot closer than being in Boston.

Once qualifying began I still didn’t have my mind made up. All I knew was that I had to be home by Wednesday and if all the airports closed I could be stuck there until the year 2017 (this estimate may be off by a couple weeks… okay, years) and this couldn’t happen. I’ve used that line many times in this already, but it was going through my mind non-stop, “Not an option! Not an option! Not an option!”

Here was the problem; I like plans and plans aren’t meant to change and yet to be safe and keep my presentation I would have to change my plans. The plans included going to F1 Boston and candlepin bowling (whatever that is) with Ryan on Sunday. These were the plans, but they were fading away.

After about a quarter of the cars qualified it started to sprinkle. The track got wet and after 30 minutes it was dry and just as we got a car back on it Irene decided she wanted to spit at us again. The radar showed that we would be playing that game all day long so with that being so we decided that it was futile to continue.

The sequence of events thereafter went quickly as if the USAC travel van was going to get home it had to beat the heavy rains of Irene. With that being so James rushed off to Boston to return one rental car and get a rental van. That is about a 90 minute trek and as I looked at the radar, and the doomsday predictions on all the news-sites, I decided that my pans would have to change and I would take the van back to Indy.

I made this decision with no knowledge of how I would get from Indy to Saint Louis. At this juncture it still would be $150 to change my flight. I looked and saw that Greyhound bus service would only be $40 from Indy to Saint Louis; granted I’d have to leave at 3AM, but missing Wednesday was not an option.

While James was heading towards Boston the rest of the USAC staff, Ryan, and myself had a memorable time at a pub in some town in Massachusetts. This was a great time and while it may have been just another day for the others, it was something special to me.

James got there with the van and we quickly loaded up the van and seven of us crammed in. I said goodbye to Ryan who returned home to Tyngsboro and the rest of us, as the photo proves, were crammed in like sardines. The sardine effect only last four hours as one member of the crew got out at some town, somewhere, and got another ride.

The stress of how I’d get to Saint Louis was raging on, yet there was a sense of adventure within me. This was unplanned and spontaneous and I was going through towns, and states for that matter, that I had no idea I’d be going through. I never thought I’d be in Buffalo, New York, but there I was.

Somewhere after Buffalo my dad got me on a flight out of Indy on Sunday so that drama was over. The only thing now was to watch the world go by as hour after clicked by on the 16 hour van ride.

My emotions were erratic and extreme in this ride as the events of the past week caught up with me. I also have not slept much in the past week-and-a-half (averaging 4 hours a night) and this wasn’t helping the situation. What were these emotions? I got really angry with myself for the shortcomings I have and the remembrances of all the times I am socially awkward and the events from the bowling alley last week were thought of again. In fact, I had forgotten about it until I saw a bowling alley off an exit. I once again fell into the trap of, “Why can’t I just be normal?” then, as fate would have it, I saw billboard from an autism agency in whatever town we were passing through that said, “1 in 110 kids will have autism. Do you know the signs?”

“The signs?” I said aloud, just loud enough that I was the only one who knew I said anything. I did ask it in a form of a question as once again, as usual, I remembered that the challenges I have faced are due to autism. I can’t hate myself all I want, but it wasn’t that I failed, it was that there truly is a challenge I face that normal people do not; after thinking that I went back to smiling and enjoying the adventure.

As much as I was enjoying the adventure, I began hating it as we passed through Columbus, Ohio as I was getting to the point of being so tired I was feeling queasy. The others slept, but I can’t sleep in a moving vehicle so I was stuck being awake watching the nighttime world pass by.

At 4:00AM we arrived in Indianapolis. We had to make a stop at the airport where all the vehicles were parked and after being taken to my sister’s house by Rick and Denise I walked in at 5:00AM.

Sleep came quickly and I was looking forward to sleeping all the way to 4PM as it was planned that Rick would pick me up at 5 to take me to the airport. As Ryan said, via a text message even before I left Saint Louis, “This trip is destined for failure” that saying kept true as at 10:30 Ginger, my sister’s cat, was in need of some serious attention and to get it she started doing the cat wake-up call with some slaps of her paw to my face. As tired as I was I was powerless to this kitty wake-up call.

I did nothing Sunday afternoon except watch the clock tick away and anxiously await getting home. 5PM came and I was on my way to the airport and then I boarded my plane and headed to Detroit where my connecting flight was.

I’ve been to the Detroit airport a couple times when returning from international flights. As I deplaned it was just as I remembered back from my first trip to Kenya in 2005. Back then the trip to this airport was one of being thankful to be alive. With my associative memory system it was as if I was back in 2005 and I could feel the joy and sense of safety being here.

Walking to my gate I took my time and savored the atmosphere. This is an international airport and is unlike any other airport I have been in this year. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I know it and have been here before, but I felt alive.

While walking to my gate I got to the mid-point of the A terminal and I recognized that this is where I was back in 2005 and I remembered that there was a Fox Sports Sky Box Bar and Grill in the mid-point so I walked down to make sure it was still there. I like sameness in my world and I also remember, from 2005, that there was this wall paper on the wall of Fox’s NASCAR announcers Mike Joy, Larry McRenyolds, and Darrell Waltrip with remote control racing car controllers in their hands and a NASCAR track below. As I saw that the place was still there I really hoped that wallpaper was still there? Why? I don’t know, but how on Earth would I remember a detail like that from 6.5 years ago? If it wasn’t there I’m sure I’d have a emotional response, but it was still there and I smiled and continued on my way.

Continuing on I walked slower as I looked up at the various sky clubs for travelers that have many more miles and trips than I do. I heard many different languages and as I slowly reached gate A31 I couldn’t believe the events of the past 36 hours. Who would have thought that I’d be here of all places? It wasn’t in the plans, and wasn’t even in the “what if…” questions I think of, and yet here I was in the place that I was right after Kenya 2005 and it was in Kenya that I first allowed myself to think that maybe my writings do indeed have merit.

What a trip it was. In most situations I wouldn’t be as willing to adjust my plans, but in this instance, had I been inflexible, I might still be in Boston instead of being back home. I feared and feared missing that presentation, but because of going out on a limb, and a 16 hour van ride, those fears are no more.

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