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Never Face the Facts

My First Airbnb

Alone in the bedroom of the second-story apartment, I hear a click. My head jerks up, and through a window in a door I hadn't known was there, I spot a young man starting to open that door. What?!!

     What would you do? That's what I did.

     I screamed. He ran off and I went to the door, found it unlocked. It opened directly to an outside walkway connected by a winding stairway to the street below. My first Airbnb. I thought it might be my last.

     When the cab from Montréal's Pierre Trudeau Airport brought me to a bleak street with close-packed rows of three-story, narrow, peaked-roof houses, all with garbage bags strewn in their front yards (I hoped it was collection day), the driver himself was loathe to leave me there. I'd asked ahead for help with my suitcases because I knew there were stairs. I didn't know those stairs were outside, winding, and concrete, a three-star invitation to disaster. The photo on the website had shown what seemed a cute Victorian-style house surrounded by trees. I didn't see the stairs—they were concealed by a leafy tree. So when the answer to my query about stairs was yes, I assumed they were inside. I'd forgotten a basic rule of life. Do. Not. Assume.

     No way could I stay there, I told the thin young woman who had been sent to drag my overloaded suitcases up those stairs. It was while I was waiting for a solution to the dilemma, that the attempted break-in occurred. I was ready to cancel out and go to a hotel, damn  the expense. When the host arrived, he offered to move me to another Airbnb he had, a downtown studio—but I would have to wait where I was for two days, to give his team time to clean it.

     Absolutely not two days—not two hours! I said. But I agreed to wait for the condo to be cleaned. Much later, after being driven across the dark city in blackest night, I arrived at a huge building blazing with blinding light. I have no memory of the elevator ride. By the time my luggage and I were dumped into the apartment, I was reellng from exhaustion, had no idea where I was, had been told nothing other than, "You're gonna love it!"

     Not even close. But it was safe. a much better location, and, with the stellar assistance of Airbnb Support, the first two and a half weeks of screw-ups eventually got ironed out. Mostly. If you're interested, I can supply the sordid details. For now, here's my advice: if you're looking for an Airbnb in Montreal, avoid Arival Stays (yes, that's how they spell it, which should have been clue enough for me, a copy editor).

     With so many hitches and glitches, what was the point of staying? Why was I doing this trip at all? That was the question my kids kept asking me. Would they have understood the answer? I'd felt stuck in Seattle, stuck in Michigan. I hate feeling stuck. I was desperate to get unstuck; I didn't—I don't—have a lot of time to find out how. It's now or never.

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On My Own

Two Tiger Balm patches are attached to my aching, fleece-wrapped neck, while my complaining intestinal tract tries to recover from food poisoning. I'm in a foreign country, don't know a soul. I'm asking myself those existentialist questions—What am I doing? Why am I here? Except they aren't existentialist. And I know the answers. Sort of.

      Hi to all you lovely female travelers, especially you over-50s and particularly you over-80s (myself, I'm 92) whose relatives are trying to rein us in, wondering what in heaven's name to do about their mother or sister or aunt who, now footloose and fancy free, chooses not to settle quietly in a senior residence with assisted living around the corner. Well, where I am right now is like a hundred times removed from being that comfortable. Would I trade? No, ma'am! Not in my plans.

     But nothing about this trip has gone as planned. Before I sold my condo in Seattle, everything looked sunny, my four kids happy that I was going to visit, that I had definite plans (although I had no real idea where I might resettle). The basic idea was very simple: I would visit my older daughter and son-in-law in California for a few days before I left Seattle. From Seattle, I would go to a Detroit suburb to visit my son and his family for five or six days. Then on to Boston, for a turn with my older son and his wife. Then the long flight to Portugal, where my younger daughter had settled.

     Somewhere along the line, I would fit in Montreal, a city I loved but was not well acquainted with. And high on the list was Newfoundland, where my recently  discovered landlady of years ago had just celebrated her 105th birthday. After jaunting around for about six months, I would find the perfect rental somewhere, maybe in New England, and settle down to write.

     That was the plan.



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