My suitcase still smells of cat pee, which is a terrible way to start a trip. “Cat pee?” You ask. It’s actually a funny story… I flew to a wedding in Texas just a couple of months ago. I was already running late for the flight, my suitcase was packed and I went to close it and zip it up, it would have been that simple. Instead, as I closed it, I realized the one of the outer pockets was wet. I cocked my head cautiously closer to this mysterious wetness only to discover in horror that it was cat pee; a gift from my loving cat Trouble (he continues to live up to this name on a weekly basis). Anyway, in some sort of protest, maybe of me leaving town or maybe the new puppy that now holds command over the first floor of the house, Trouble seems to have decided that my suitcase would be the perfect bathroom for him. It reeked! Yet, I don’t have another suitcase and didn’t have enough time to properly clean it. Quick fix: I soaked the outer pocket in pet cleaner and hoped that it would be clean and dry by the time I got to the airport. I loaded the car and began the hour drive to DIA. I discovered within less than 20 minutes that the car had filled with the unpleasant aroma of ammonia. I couldn’t get on a plane dragging that bag, that smell, behind me!
I made the executive decision to take a quick detour to pick up a pet deodorizer. I soaked my bag again, and with fingers crossed I continued on my journey to the airport. The deodorizer masked the smell enough that I no longer had the “eau de crazy cat lady” dragging behind me everywhere I went. The pocket still smelled of urine if you got close to it, but there was no reason that anyone should be sticking their nose anywhere near my bag, right? It would get me to Houston, where I could figure out what to do with it. I figured I was safe.
Never assume. I know this, yet still stumble onto this mistake more often than from time-to-time. I boarded the plane and went to lift my bag into the overhead storage compartment. A kind young man happened to be right in front of me. He happened to offer to help me lift the bag. He happened to stick his nose right up against the outer pocket, the one that smelled of cat pee. If he had an adverse reaction, he didn’t show it, but I wish I knew what flashed through his head in that moment, in that sniff. He had to have gotten a nose full, there’s no way he couldn’t have. I thanked him, and quietly embarrassed climbed into my seat to sulk in peace.
Now, here I am flying again, and despite my best efforts to clear that awful smell, my cat Trouble’s mark remains slightly pungent and dank, reminding me of his generous contribution constantly. I decided to spray it with perfume before leaving today. It covers the ammonia with a nice floral scent. I know that by tomorrow the rich perfume will be corrupted, but at least for today I can fly embarrassment free.
So, here I sit, row 12, window seat, looking across the wing at the colors of blue and clouds. Most people are uncomfortably propped up attempting an unrestful sleep as the plane rocks in flight. It’s now 9am (MST) and I have been in flight for about an hour. I am on my way to New Orleans. More than that, I am on the first day of a 3 week journey which will take me driving through 10 states across the country. I am starting this journey in New Orleans, enjoying the historic city (post Katrina), Jazz fest, and some good food. I will be flying solo for this trip, or I guess I should say driving solo.
Time out for a second… somebody in a row ahead of me just passed some awful gas! Even though I have turned my little air vent to high, the smell of putrid rot is lingering. I have avoided cat urine only to stumble into ass! “Oh, the simple joys of travel,” I respond in sarcasm biting my tongue and steering towards politeness over disgust.
Okay, back on track… I will be driving solo for the next two weeks. My itinerary is as follows: I begin in New Orleans for the weekend, staying with a friend of a friend who I have yet to meet. I leave New Orleans early Monday morning to drive to Pineville, LA where I will photograph Central State Hospital, then drive to Jackson, MS to stay with the Pax Christi (a bunch of elderly Nuns).
Insert another parallel… my mom used to be a nun when she was in her 20′s. I believe she was a nun for close to 5 years working and living around Mobile, AL. I don’t have the exact timeframe here, but she also got her nursing license during this time and worked doing community health care for highly impoverished communities, mostly hispanic migrant workers and poor black communities who lived in what she deemed “shotgun shacks.” Most of these families could not afford healthcare, so my mom worked on trade. One pre-natal visit would cost one sweet potato pie. My mom was also working towards her masters in mental health and was living on a pretty much fast food and ramen diet, so the trade of home baked goods for healthcare was appreciated on both ends.
Now, back on track, I will be staying with the Pax Christi, a bunch of elderly nuns, who my mom used to live/work with. Should be pretty interesting, bizarre, strange, cool, neat, and other such adjectives. From there, I will head over to Meridian, MS to photograph another institution. Then I get a day off, sort of. I need to be in Chattahoochee, FL by Thursday so my “day off” is actually a travel day. My hope is to make it to Mobile, AL Tuesday night after photographing the institution in Meridian. Then I can spend Wednesday slowly making my way down the gulf to Chattahoochee. I should have a handful of hours to enjoy the ocean, and sand, and salty humid air. Thursday, I photograph Florida State Hospital, then make the drive up to Atlanta for the weekend. I have a high school friend working for the CDC in Atlanta who I will be staying with. She never gets visitors, since most people don’t see Atlanta as the ideal vacation spot, so she is excited to have me as her guest. On Monday, I head to Milledgeville, GA to photograph another institution and try to find Amici Pizza, a local chain owned by one of my boyfriends buddies. Then on to … well, I’m not really sure here what comes next. I am hoping to photograph an institution in South Carolina, but it’s in the process of being sold into private ownership, so the new owner may not grant me access. I have been pursuing this hospital for weeks, only to be met with “wait, wait, we’ll get back in touch with you.” Still no word. So, if that falls through I contacted an institution in North Carolina as a last minute backup. I am awaiting approval from them, so, if that falls through too, I may just head up to Tennessee. I will have a couple days to visit another high school friend who is finishing up Med school and to visit a guy I dated forever ago’s twin brother and best friend who now live in Nashville. I will make my way across the great state by Friday so that I can photograph Western Mental Health Institute (formerly Bolivar State Hospital). My flight leaves out of New Orleans late Saturday afternoon, so I have a bit of a drive Friday night and Saturday morning.
At this point I will have driven over 2,000 miles in two weeks, photographed 6 institutions, and crossed 7 state lines. I will have attended Jazz Fest, visited New Orleans for the first time, hung out with friends from my teen years, and will have stayed with Nuns. I will have seen extreme poverty and wealth, heard stories that span the history of 150 years, dipped my toes in the ocean, and probably sweated through all of my clean clothes (I have only a carry-on suitcase which holds two weeks of clothes, my camera bag, and running shoes… just in case I have extra time, ha!). This would be a pretty good time to head home for a little respite and recovery time, but no, I am a glutton for pain!
Saturday night I fly from New Orleans to Los Angeles where I will be packing up one of my best friends, and beginning the 1,000 mile drive across the country east to Colorado. She has decided to leave her hometown of Los Angeles and try out the fresh Rocky Mountain air for a bit. We are hoping to make this drive fun and casual, visiting some scenic areas as we go. By the end of this trip I will likely return home, kiss my boyfriend, snuggle my puppy, and promptly pass out and sleep for 52hours or so. Or, perhaps I will have been deeply stung by that darn travel bug; my return home with fill me with the restlessness and discomfort of dry fixed land after having acquired my “sea” legs. There is something about living on the road and seeing something new and something different every day. This something is lonely but also the opposite of boring and bland. There is also something to be said about the simpleness of living from a suitcase, of realizing how little you truly need to survive, and in fact to strive! You quickly learn that the essentials will fit in a suitcase and a carry-on, everything else is fluff. And while the pocketbook will thin and run dry, I will be left far richer with priceless memories and experiences which is a fair trade in my book. So in the end, my 3,000+ miles will leave me exhausted and also perhaps hungry for more… said in the fashion of someone at the beginning of a long voyage, not the end. We’ll see what the report is from the other end of this journey, and if the optimism, hunger, and joy will survive the hardships of the voyage. So here I go, less than an hour from landing, here at the beginning of day one. Onward and tally-ho!