by Diane Buccheri
Oh so many places! Being an avid adventurer, ready and open for new experiences, my willingness has led me to some unusual places in which to rest my body and mind at night. These out of the norm places enveloped me with an escape from my usual habitat. Being one who lies awake in the deep of the night, right before it becomes morning, worrying, thinking, imagining, about little things and about big universal ponderings, my familiarly comfortable bed at home does not necessarily comfort me. Rather, it allows my usual night-time mind and soul workings to keep me awake. New, unusual places bring me away from my habitual mind and soul workings into another realm. They can allow me to actually relax and let go of all the workings and I sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep, so very peacefully. Not all of these unusual places of night-time resting, though, afforded me rest. Some were just too utterly frightening or uncomfortable.
Grand Central Station, NYC
You may, perchance, be bewildered? I’ll give you one example. Having been out to CBGB’s, enjoying a Caribbean-African-Cuban music mix, I, alas, forgot the hour. So enthralled with the colorful celebration of soulful, jungle-like, island style, tribal sounds, I missed the last train home to Connecticut from New York City. Not only did I have the misfortune of not catching the train, I had the double misfortune of not catching my friend who held both my coat and my wallet as he left CBGB’s expecting to find me seated on the train at Grand Central Station. He hopped on the train and was soundly asleep in his bed by the time his brother and I had run, as fast as we could, from downtown New York through the deserted night streets to the train station in a fruitless attempt to catch a ghost train.
It was no ordinary night in any aspect. In fact, it was about 4° Fahrenheit. I had a cute little black cotton dress on and he had an island style cotton shirt and jeans. Our desperate run warmed us up a bit but only partially. As we sweated (not perspired) we were numb from cold and I nearly fell to the dirty, uneven sidewalk in the dark, unable to feel the ground with my feet.
Arriving at Grand Central Station and finding it, to our dismay, closed and locked except for the doorways’ corridor we went to the hotel next door to warm up. Seated plushly on their elegant couch, we were politely told we were unwelcome unless we proceeded to do business there. Fine. “I’d like some tea, please.” (Hot or cold, I wasn’t sure.) And yet another alas!, for my dear friend’s brother had no money left in his wallet, having had such a whoop-dee-doo time earlier at the bar.
Okay, off we went to the corridor between the two sets of doors – one from the outside of Grand Central on 42nd Street and one leading into the station itself. We sat on the hard tile floor. And we sat. Then we got really, extra, cold. Shivering, shaking, blue, purple, white, the big younger brother decided he should keep my unquiet body still. So he grabbed me and wrapped himself with all his two hundred and ten pounds of wrought iron muscle, about my quivering, cold-as-a-corpse-like body.
Next, we became aware of our surroundings. There were other people there, sitting in the 4° on the tile with us, believe it or not. One or two were drunk polo shirted twenty year olds with khakis and docksiders. I knew they were missing a swell sleep in their mansion homes. Others were New York City bums. We all ended up having a lot to say.
The bums were quite philosophical and more coherent than a lot of people I’ve before come in contact with, and since. Our conversations with them were enjoyable and exciting. A new world opened before me. My muscled friend, unable to keep me or himself warm, thought he’d successfully do something good that night and handed over his classy watch to one of the needy looking bums who took it without hesitation. He said thank you as if he expected the donation, matter-of-factly.
As for the polo shirted, khakis and docksider wearer, I was open to what he had to say until he pushed me beyond the limit. Arrogant and ignorant, trying to prove his self-worth to me, I plainly let him know I was unimpressed to the point of disgust. Good thing Mr. Muscle was with me. Muscles weren’t used in that discussion, perhaps because the ones I was with were so daunting in size.
It wasn’t until 6:30 am that a morning train began its journey towards our homes. With the long wait we got to the point of extreme silliness, out of sheer cold distress and sleeplessness. Not to mention there was no bathroom, no water, and I severely needed both. We sang songs, turned on the water fountain over and over, offering each other the dry and invisible water flowing forth, and did things like slide across the floor after a running start for momentum.
On A Mountain Near Aspen, CO
That night having passed, I spent another interesting night, but this time at a warm and rainy locale in the wilderness on the side of a mountain, with my same muscled protector. Several of us planned on camping the night before a reggae concert near Aspen, Colorado. After a long drive over a rocky dirt road, my poor little car that could, came to rest next to the four wheel drive vehicles belonging to our friends that we followed to that spot. We built a campfire, gorgeously orange and warm, sending out rays of light into the dark night. Sitting around it on the earth, we talked, exchanging stories for a while. Becoming tired, my friend and I decided to set up our tent and the others decided to do so too.
Happy noises of a nature adventure were heard as the tents were being put into place. It was hard to see by my car which hung behind the others as I was reluctant to venture too far in the mud with my non-four-wheel-drive car. We searched and searched the trunk then the rest of the car but, in dismay, were unable to locate the stakes to anchor the tent to the ground. Did we leave them at home, two thousand miles away?
Without notice, a torrential rain let itself loose from the night sky so we hurriedly climbed into the open hatchback rear of the car. The small Ford Escort was packed fully with bags and gear for our trip. The only clear spots to sit on were the driver’s and front passenger’s seats. Crouched in the back with the hatchback lifted, we continued our search in utter darkness. With the heavy downpour down came the hatchback with a loud crash. We stared in the direction we both thought the other one’s face was in, and froze.
Did . . . ? I think so . . uh-huh . . . yeap . . . it’s closed. O-kay. Now what? We’ll climb out the front doors. Yeah, that’s it.
Well, the bags were piled so unforgivably high that none could be budged more than a few inches each way. He certainly couldn’t get past them and I tried until I nearly got stuck, pinned between the roof of the car, the bags, and the driver’s seat head rest.
So, we had another great, awake night together. The rain continued to loosen its torrent on the car as we were held hostage in the hot steam. We moved some of the bags in the rear of the car towards the back seat so as to have some room to stretch out. Stretch out? We were both slammed, jammed, tightly pushed, against bags, the side of the car, the back of the car, the back of the back seat, and, of course, each other.
Finding ourselves thus in this uncompromising position, we sort of . . . held our breath. Realizing that wouldn’t help, he said, “I’m feeling claustrophobic.” Great. I pushed some more on the hatchback, and can you believe it wouldn’t budge? No escape.
“Oh – there’s a star!” In between the riveting, rolling drops of rain on the window, we could turn our eyeballs far enough to see one lone star shining between the clouds. With that, we had some hope, and began to chatter.
Beneath the distracting chatter, we felt increasingly uncomfortable with the tight, unnaturally pressed positions we were in, with the heat, with thirst, and of course I had to go to the bathroom.
We shouted and shouted for help and pounded our fists on the sides of the car to no avail. The happy campers, our friends, were soundly asleep in their tents, snuggled in their fluffy down sleeping bags.
Oh, for freedom!
Some more silence in the hostage holding car. Then a little laughter, hesitant, unsure. A responding small laugh. Then laugh, laugh, laugh. Oh! Stop! I’m going to wet my pants! More laughing, uncontrollable, there was nothing else we could do.
Somehow we passed the night. This time, it could be we dozed a little. I can’t be sure. What I can be sure of was the stiffness we suffered when we were finally discovered by our friends long after the morning sun rose and baked us in the steamy, wet car. They were astonished and we were far over astonishment.
Not A Good Liar
Many more astonishing nights of sleeping in my car came upon me as I traversed the country many times. My muscled friend and I drove from the east coast to Colorado several times. One night as we were I don’t know where and it was very late and my eyes were shutting while driving we decided to pull into a motel parking lot and inquire about rooms. We wanted to spend as little money as possible and the place looked cheap. In fact, it was not desirable at all in appearance and the man behind the counter looked rather rumpled and rough. Going in alone, I added to the late night’s scene by asking for the cheapest room he had. Handing me the keys, I remembered. “Oh, does the room have two beds?” Dumbfounded, he looked at me and said, “I thought it’s just you staying in the room. The fee is doubled for another occupant.” “W-well, I need two beds.” Giving me a doubting, dark look, I nervously responded and finished my explanation with, “well, I’ve got to do special exercises and they require two beds.”
Forget it. That was it. I put down the key and left without looking at him.
In the Woods
The following night, we arrived at my friend’s house in Colorado to find it locked and dark. Where was she? She knew we’d be arriving that night. It was my muscled friend’s sister’s place and she was looking forward to our arrival! Evidently, she left a note on the front door telling us to meet her at a larger house around the mountain where she was baby sitting for the week and where we could stay in more spacious comfort. Before we got the note of explanation, a breeze ripped it off the door and sent it flying haphazardly through the woods. Not knowing where to go in the tiny town twenty miles away and already asleep, we pulled out the air mattresses, beginning to set up camp on the small lawn. He said, “you got everything, right?” and shut the car doors. No! No? All I had were the two air mattresses. The tent and the car keys were in the car and now the doors were locked.
No way to fix that problem just then. We wandered around a bit but got to wondering about bears. Then mountain lions. Then snakes. Wolves. Quietly, down we went, onto the mattresses, only to swipe tiny ants crawling all over us, invading our bodies, all night long. Owls hooted, we heard howls from the black distance, a few screeches, twigs cracking, and any number of eerie, scary awake at night things. In the morning, we growled at each other and argued over who slept and who kept watch and what good would it do anyway.
I went on my way, leaving him to a summer job in Colorado, going to my summer job filled with yet more nightly adventures in California.
Rio Vista, CA
Visiting with some friends for the evening after work, I arrived just in time for dinner. My friends were staying at their family’s vacation home along the Rio Vista River, just north of San Francisco and slightly inland. I was teaching windsurfing about one hour’s drive away. Since I had to teach early the next morning and my apartment was a two hour drive south, I stayed with my friends overnight.
We had a great barbecue, eating dinner over looking the river. Afterwards, our motor boat ride along the river was wonderfully peaceful and serene. The water was mirror-like with no wind blowing. We drove the boat slowly and watched the ripples spread out quietly. Ahh, such peace.
Docking the boat, two of the friends decided to go to sleep. One suggested it was so beautiful out, we should take a quick sail along the water. We both love to sail and this was such a magic night, who could say no? We couldn’t find the keys to start the motorboat’s engine so, since it was such a lovely, warm evening, we decided to take a refreshing swim to the anchored sailboat, about a quarter of a mile away. The river’s current was gentle just then and our swim was about half over when I heard thunder. Thunder? More thunder then more thunder. Just as we reached the sailboat, lightning streaked the sky. I had quite a difficult time pulling myself into the boat and slipped back down into the now not so quiet river. Waves started swelling and the wind picked up. Finally on board, we thought we might find the keys to start the motor, “forget the sail, let’s just get back to shore.” Oh yes, we found keys but they were so corroded they could no longer fit the keyhole!
With the thunder getting louder, the lightning more violent, and the boat rocking steeply from side to side, we managed to climb under the cover and into the cockpit. It was a small boat but two fit fine inside. There were no cushions and nothing to hold onto so we rocked and rolled with each swell, right up, smashed against one side of the boat, then the other, both together. He crushed me on the right while the boat crushed me on the left then I crushed him on the left as he got crushed by the boat on the right.
It wasn’t a quick, fifteen minute squall. Oh no, it lasted for several hours. By that time we were thoroughly beat up and exhausted. With the lull of the night’s fury, I was lulled to sleep and had a wonderful, calming rest. I awoke bruised but feeling soothed and at one with the motion of the water.
Cape Hatteras Island, NC
Another watery night was unexpectedly spent on the east coast at a camping ground by the sea. With no running hot water, I pulled the cord in the open air shower room and washed myself with frigid water with my one free hand while I pulled, with all my might, on the cord to keep the water flowing with the other hand. Green tree frogs celebrated the event by hopping off the ceiling, landing on my head and shoulders, on the way to their puddle splashing fun on the shower floor. Coming out dried and dressed, a man came out of the men’s shower room at the same time. We looked at each other with silly grins and laughed. “It’s tough around here, isn’t it?” He had no idea what he really meant.
This time I was alone and had set up the tent during daylight. (Getting smart!) Having taken a lovely walk along the water’s edge with the waves crashing and running up and over my toes and ankles and the stars sparkling in masses overhead, I laid down to sleep with a feeling of content in the still night.
Soon after I was awakened by a rippling noise. “Darn. The tent is flapping.” Ignoring it, I tried to go back to sleep but it flapped more and more. Now, really darn it! Out I got and fixed the problem. After two winks of the eye, not forty, I was disturbed by the tent nearly collapsing. I got out angrily and was nearly blown down the beach by the wind. Giving up on the tent and used to sleeping in the car by now (and at least I was the only one in the car taking up space this time), I curled myself up in the back seat. Not bad. Not bad except for the fact my tent blew itself smack against the car door.
Really angry, I grabbed the tent and stuffed it into the trunk. Can’t ever get a decent night’s sleep! Back in the car to the back seat I went. Almost asleep, the car started rocking, side to side. Wind whipped past the car, shaking it with its might and bringing hail along with it. Hail, then pelting rain. But not rain pelting the roof top, this rain flew sideways, at the car and past it.
For hours the wind increased and rain was swept by. Soon, the campground flooded inch by inch then by the foot. I sat up in the driver’s seat but there was no place to drive to and the car couldn’t maneuver through the flooded ground anyway. Hopeless, I held onto the steering wheel and flinched with every new onslaught of wind and rain, hour after hour. With the coming of daylight came three tornadoes in a row. I was so astounded and worried, I was past coherence of mind to ever describe that scene.
All I know is that when I could make sense of things, lightning was striking the campground within feet of my car. The vivid streaks and cracking sounds were shockingly violent. There was so much water and wind I didn’t know if I would float away or be swept away through the air. Maybe, I’d be struck by lightning. That ought to feel good. Thunder pounded my ears, my head ached . . . I always liked The Wizard of Oz . . .
Gradually, with the storm’s diminishing, the winds lessened and sunshine shone. In fact, it sparkled. All was soaking wet and whipped clean. The wind subsided to about fifty-five miles an hour which seemed like nothing compared to what it had been. It was a brand new day, a new beginning in life for those of us at the campground. One by one we stepped gingerly out of our vehicles, still uncertain as regarded our safety. As I carefully splashed my way towards the ladies room, the man I met the previous night, before the storms, carefully splashed his way away from the men’s room. He gave me a silly grin and repeated, “it sure is tough around here, isn’t it?”
I laughed, relieved to be alive and on the ground. And I still smile at the memory.
I’ve made a point of sleeping in my own bed at night now. Those adventures are there to be remembered only, not further experienced. I’ve resorted to lying in my comfortable bed and trying to sleep through the night. Regardless of my efforts, I’m often awake and many nights, for a long time. When the old night becomes the new day, there I lay, wondering, thinking, imagining, worrying and pondering the little and big things of life and this universe. At least I’m safe in my bed, I think.