So Ian landed in Barcelona and collected his luggage, uneventfully, but then the driver who was supposed to pick him up wasn’t there.  Hours passed.  Despite the challenges of solving this problem in a foreign land without a cell phone, Ian did indeed figure out a solution and ultimately get to his lodgings.

Everyone has a story of something that has gone horribly awry in their own travels.  I will share my worst ever tale, with apologies to my dad, who I’m pretty sure doesn’t know this story.  Let me just say reassuringly, “It all worked out OK in the end!”

I was 19 years old and headed out to spend the summer working at Taos Ski Valley, which offered tennis and hiking in the off-season.  I’d found the position in a thick paperback called Summer Jobs for College Students, and had applied from my basement Ohio dorm room, shared with Lindsay,  through the mail.   I was hired, sight unseen, unless you count the head-to-toe photo I was required to submit (terribly illegal, now). 

Very excited, I flew from Kansas City to Albuquerque, arriving in the evening.  My parents had instructed me to  hang out in the airport and take a bus in the morning to Taos, where my new boss would pick me up.  But when I landed, I really didn’t want to wait, so I figured, “Hey, why not catch the night bus to Taos and wait there?  At least I’ll be closer to my destination.”

So I hopped on the bus and watched the desert go by in the moonlight, putting my eyes on distant focus to see past my own reflection.  We got to the little one-room bus station in Taos around midnight, and people started filing out.  I settled on a bench with a book, feeling smug and smart.  “Hey, I’m almost done with my trip, and this is certainly a cozy place to spend the night!” I congratulated myself.

I became aware of the grizzled old big-bellied bus driver looking at me curiously.  He said “Miss, aren’t you going to leave now?”  I said calmly, “No, I’m fine, I’ll just stay here for a few hours.”  That was when he told me he was locking up and turning out the lights, and wasn’t anyone coming to get me?

I glanced outside, wondering what my chances were for whiling away a few hours in the dark.  Only men were out there, and they were clearly drunk, reeling and hooting.  I recognized this behavior from Denison.  There were no cell phones, and I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with my new boss, so I certainly wasn’t going to call and wake him up, demanding he get out of bed and spend 30 minutes coming to get me.  A stupid decision, as it turns out.

The bus driver said “You can come sleep in my motel room.”  I hesitated.  I weighed my options.  Then I agreed.

I remember him parking in front of a battered metal door.  The bathroom was on the left, then two beds separated by an endtable.  The room could not have been grimmer.  The driver stripped out of his grey Greyhound uniform.  From the corner of my eye, it looked like he wore dingy grey underwear beneath. 

I took the bed closest to the door, and opened my book, sitting up against the headboard, fully clothed.

The driver settled into his bed, then said “Would you turn off the light?  I can’t sleep with that on.”  I complied.  From the darkness, he said “How about a little goodnight kiss?”  Panicked, I wondered how to refuse without making him angry.  I decided to blame religion.  “I can’t,” I said.  “I’m Mormon.”  Lindsay was from Las Vegas, and she had educated me about the Church of Latter Day Saints.  I knew they avoided racy behavior.   This backfired.  The driver said “You’re not Mormon.  I know what they look like.”   I don’t remember what, if anything, I said next.

I do remember silence, and being more alert than I’ve ever been in my life.  Every nerve was on high alert.  I counted slowly to 200, until the driver’s breathing was absolutely deep and regular.  When convinced that he was truly out, I moved as slowly as possible, cursing every creak of the cheap  saggy over-used mattress, tiptoeing into the bathroom with my book and locking the door.

All night, I sat on the toilet and sometimes in the tub for a change of scenery, reading The Thornbirds and examining the cheap shiny white wrapper on the mini bar of Camay.  The room was cinderblock, with no light but a sickly flourescent ring above.

Finally, there was a knock on the door.  I answered gingerly, ready to scream and run for the outer door inches away if I had to.  The bus driver, fully clothed, looked ashamed.  ”Did you spend all night in here?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I wasn’t tired.”  I relinquished my fort, my refuge, the bathroom, and went outside to wait for him.  We rode back to the bus station in silence, where I  tossed off a quick “thank you” in his general direction. 

 And then my new boss drove up in his sporty red convertible, a French ski champion and gourmet chef, ready to whisk me off to meet his German wife and their trilingual children, asking in a pro forma universal kind of way “How was your trip?”

And I’m sure I answered, “Fine.” 

Travel horror stories now being collected in the comment section below.

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