Once upon a time, almost exactly a year ago, my family was supposed to fly from Michigan to Louisiana to attend my nephew’s high school graduation.
Cue global pandemic and all plans were cancelled.
I know; that part isn’t anything new, and it affected literally everyone in the entire world, but it’s important to the story, so bear with me.
Flashforward for a thousand years (or so it felt) and now the world is slowly starting to unfurl its wings and step out of its collective cocoon of isolation. There’s a vaccine. Safety measures. The possibility of traveling again is real.
And my niece is graduating this year.
So we transferred all our plans from last year to this one. Scheduled departure: Friday, May 28, at noon.
On that particular morning, when we woke, it was dark, wet, and cold outside. The drive to the airport pretty much set the scene for what this mini-vacation was to be; although, in truth, I suppose the pandemic that cancelled our plans a year ago was the true setup.
Apparently it had rained—a lot—all night long, because the roads were covered with standing water, resulting in spinouts scattered throughout our drive, since we live in southeast Michigan and far too many drivers in this area feel like 90 is slow…in bad weather.
We were maybe fifteen minutes from the airport when the woman driving in front of us hit a huge puddle and hydroplaned into six or seven 360s, spinning from her lane to the median to the far left lane and back to her lane again, which happened to be the lane we were in. We had to slam on the brakes to avoid being taken out.
Luckily that woman had an angel watching over her, because she didn’t hit a damn thing, not the twenty or so other cars on the road or the metal barriers between our lanes and the ones heading the other way. I’m sure she was pretty shaken up, but not hurt, which was the important part. Also, we avoided a collision and missing our flight. Wins all around.
The flight to Dallas was uneventful, which is always good, in my book. The flight from Dallas to Shreveport was delayed, though. We sat on the tarmac for an hour before we finally took off. Apparently one plane ahead of us was having issues which then created a domino effect, delaying all the rest of us.
While sitting on the tarmac I was texting my father and my niece, both of whom were supposed to have dinner with us. Dad was supposed to pick us up from the airport and also had other plans, so our delay was throwing him off. Oh, and the rental car they gave him—an upgrade, no less—was, in his words, a piece of crap, although most of the issue was that it was a make and model he wasn’t used to and car rental companies no longer spend the time to actually show you how to use their cars, and that just annoyed him (and my husband, who drove it for most of the weekend, since my dad hated it so much. They both agreed to never buy that type of car, ever, which was a moot point since they are both loyal to a brand that wasn’t that one—obviously.)
My niece, meanwhile, was growing concerned about the dinner delay because her graduation was at eight a.m. the next morning, so she didn’t want to be out too late. Hey, me neither, sista. I need my beauty rest. Every bit of it.
We finally landed, my dad picked us up, then instructed us to drop him off at a friend’s house, and promised to meet us at the restaurant after we’ve checked into the hotel.
We headed over to grab my niece, and then went to the hotel so we could clean up and change clothes before dinner. When we left Detroit it was 45 degrees F; when we landed in Shreveport, it was 75. Much different wardrobe choices were in order.
So we reached the hotel and parked and pulled our bags out of the trunk and walked toward the entrance…
Which was locked.
There was a hand-written sign on the door:
There was a power outage last night and we only have partial power. We are closed. Your reservations will not be honored. ~Mgmt
Excuse me, but what? A hotel, closed? Not no vacancy, but closed.
We stood there, me, my husband, my daughter, and my niece, in dumbfounded shock. How was this possible?
How come we weren’t alerted?
(That’s the million-dollar question still to be answered. This was an international hotel chain. One of the most reputable around. So, okay, they lost power—partial power—yet they managed to tell their employees not to come into work. So they couldn’t call national reservations to ask them to contact every person scheduled to check into their hotel that day? I’ve emailed and asked the company this question and as of the day I’m writing this blog, haven’t had a response.)
Meanwhile, another couple came up behind us, read the sign, scratched their heads, and then knocked on the door. A front desk associate unlocked the door and let them in.
We hurried to slip in behind them, looking not so much for answers but for a damn room for the weekend. As soon as we were in the lobby, the front desk associate started calling out to us, telling us they were closed.
“But we have a room. I checked in online.”
“We don’t have power. We can’t give you a room.”
“What about them?” I pointed at the couple who were now meandering down the hall toward, I’m guessing, a room.
“They were here last night. Everyone who was checked in before the storm that knocked out our power gets to stay. Everyone else has to figure something else out.”
“Like what? Where do you recommend we go?”
“I have no idea. Every place around here is sold out.”
“What are we supposed to do?” I pleaded.
“I don’t know,” she responded.
At this point, my husband stormed out of the hotel, but I was so desperate to wash the travel grease from my face that I begged her to let my daughter and I use the lobby restroom to change and freshen up. She so generously, considerately allowed us to do so. (Can you hear the gigantic eye roll in my italicized words?)
So my daughter, niece, and I piled into their tiny (public) restroom and my daughter and I changed clothes and washed our faces and put on a touch of makeup to hopefully hide the fear as we all wondered, where the hell are we supposed to sleep tonight?
Because that lady wasn’t exaggerating; there were no rooms within a 40-mile radius of Shreveport/Bossier City. And if you know anything about northwest Louisiana, when you’re 40 miles outside the city proper, there is nothing around but miles and miles of nothing.
My husband found a room at a low-budget motel in a tiny town about 40 miles away, which meant we were going to have to get up damned early to make that eight a.m. graduation ceremony, but beggers couldn’t be choosy, so he proceeded to begin booking it.
Meanwhile, I’m texting my best friend the story. She lives in Dallas, which is only three hours away, and had plans to head over after the graduation so we could spend the rest of our weekend with her. We hadn’t seen each other in a million years (or since before the pandemic hit), so we were super excited to finally get to hang out.
At this point, we’re at dinner with my father and his friend, and doing that thing that I hate when people do while they’re dining together: tapping away at my phone, while my husband chatted away on his. Family dinners are supposed to be for spending quality time with the family—unless you’re desperate to find lodging for the night.
(My dad had arrived the night before and actually did have a room at one of the casinos, but it was a single room with one bed, so not particularly viable for four people.)
Suddenly, my phone rang; it was my bestie. I answered and she said, “My brother (who lives in the area) is out of town until tomorrow and I just called him and he said you could stay at his house tonight!”
Can we all say it together: What. A. Life. Saver.
The husband cancelled the process with the questionable, far, far away motel, I expressed my undying gratitude, and we all settled in to finally enjoy our dinner.
Except that was only for one night, and we were in town until Monday, so our struggles weren’t done yet. While drinking lots of wine and dining on delectable Cajun food (shout-out to Ralph & Kacoo’s, which is a place we always make time to visit when we are in town), I searched first my VRBO app (no go) and then Airbnb, which, I admit, for some reason is never my first choice.
Was, I mean, was, because bingo! Found a place to stay!
A three-bedroom house in the totally adorable neighborhood that, had I stayed in Louisiana after I married my husband, was exactly where I wanted to live. I pressed all the buttons necessary to secure the rental, and then sat on pins and needles during that agonizing wait for the owner to respond.
And finally she did, before dinner was concluded. We were in! Our problems were all solved. We could enjoy the rest of our stay without issue.
Oh, but wait…
So we went to my BFF’s brother’s place, spent the night, went to the graduation the next morning, then brunch, where my bestie met up with us and we sat around drinking mimosas until it was time to check into our new abode. After that, we parted ways—my dad left to go hang out at the casino and the rest of us went to check out the house.
It was totally cute, albeit not without quirks. The toilet paper in the main bathroom was blue. Bright, in your face, blue. (Not that this was a problem, but it was…odd.) And the other bathroom didn’t have a door, which was made a tad challenging when we discovered the bedroom it was in had a door that didn’t close properly. And there wasn’t much in the way of furniture—there was a nice deck out back but no chairs to sit on and enjoy it.
Still, it was a house and there were beds and we had a reservation until Monday—oh, and they left coffee, creamer, and bottled water in the fridge, so it was damn near ideal, given my state of mind at the time.
Since we had such a big place, versus the hotel room we’d initially planned on, my bestie decided to stay with us instead of with her brother, who lived on the other side of town. No problem, since we had three bedrooms. One for her, one for my husband and I, and one for my daughter. Plus, two bathrooms. Easy, peasy.
Flashforward to Saturday evening, when we were scheduled to have dinner with my niece and her grandparents. My bestie dropped us at the house, where we were meeting my dad, who was going to take us back to the rental afterward, while my bestie visited with her own family.
We sat down for dinner and my dad said, “So, I have a small problem. Now I’m homeless.”
Turns out, his room at the casino had been comp’d by a friend of a friend (probably shouldn’t tell the casinos that people actually do this, oops!), and the reservation got messed up—it was for two nights, not four. My poor dad had gotten locked out of his hotel room—with all his belongings inside—and he couldn’t even go to the front desk to figure out why because the room wasn’t in his name.
So he tracked down the friend who tracked down the friend, who found out that the casino was sold out for the rest of the weekend. Sorry, nothing they could do.
At least he was able to get his belongings, though.
Needless to say, we invited him to stay with us at our three-bedroom rental. My daughter wasn’t happy initially that she’d gotten booted to the couch, but she got over it. Know why?
Because the rest of the time we spent on our mini-vacation was absolutely perfect!
We ate phenomenal food, we hung with friends and family we hadn’t seen in ages, we got to be there for my niece during an important milestone in her life. There was a festival going on that weekend (maybe why all the hotel rooms were booked, eh?), where we spent the day hanging out. We got henna tattoos. I got to walk down a whole lot of memory lanes with my bestie (we went to college and lived together in Shreveport, back in the day). We ate crawfish, which is something we only ever get to experience when we’re in Louisiana.
And mostly, we enjoyed our time with friends and family. It was a fabulous vacation with the bonus of an almost unbelievable story to go along with it.