Traveling With Friends

BLOG-CAVESWe play the Newlywed Game even though we are the opposite.We are four couples– all married close to three decades.

We travel Italy on a boat. Close quarters.

From the moment we step onboard, until the moment we get off eight days later, we are together—morning, noon and night.

We take turns, three years in a row, getting the Master Bedroom. This year was my turn.

For a week straight, we don’t wear shoes. Boat rules.

We dance on deck to Marvin Gaye. We laugh at shrewd one-liners.

Everything we eat is delicious: arugula, pasta pomodoro, figs. All different than in the United States.

One bright morning, Italian men in row boats paddle us inside the Blue Grotto singing, “Volare oh ohhhh, Cantaree, oh oh ohhh.” The light through the cave, glorious. We swim– the sea electric blue.

We know each other: The Control Freak, The Picky Eater, The Electronic Genius, The Bloody Mary Lover.

We share everything. We negotiate and compromise. For this week, we are married to each other.

Late one night, we journey from Ponza to Sardinia, a 16 hour, overnight, expedition.

We sit at the bow and stare at the stars looking for: Orion’s Belt, The Milky Way, The Big Dipper.

I am uneasy because we are alone in the middle of the sea, no land in sight. I think about Columbus, the bravery. No electricity, no radar, no knowledge of what lay ahead.

The night wind blows, the sea waves break against the boat.

Around us, darkness—the only light from the stars above— and the Shabbat candles, four sets, burning bright in the main cabin.

A Tip for My Uber Driver

BLOG- 5 STARSI’m a nervous traveler so when my Uber driver informed me about two accidents and huge delays on the 405, he contributed to my already high anxiety. After riling me up, he tried to calm me down by assuring me that LAX was pretty cool about allowing check-in as close to 30 minutes before flight time.

I’d planned my arrival at the airport, allotting one hour and 15 minutes before flight time. (I like to stand in long lines at Starbucks and get coffee before a flight.) 30 minutes was not going to cut it.

I was not happy.

And then to top things off, my driver wouldn’t stop talking.

He talked even though I read emails, head down. He talked even when I gave one-word answers. He talked and talked and talked.

And then I started to worry. Was my Uber driver judging me?

It was in Maureen Dowd’s article, Driving Uber Mad, that I learned Uber drivers rate their passengers. And it did cross my mind, since I wasn’t in the mood to chat, that he could find me unpleasant and consequently, give me a bad rating, which would make other drivers wary of picking me up in the future.

On my behalf, I will disclose, I’d just completed a grueling weekend where, over four days, I hiked a total of 36 miles, a great deal of it uphill. And some at 18% incline.

I was exhausted, totally wiped out.

And I’d spent four days in a group. I needed to unwind. I needed to spend time in my own head. I needed a blog post idea.

I can reason about all of this now, in retrospect. But at the time, I felt bad about being unfriendly.

Was I being mean?

Rude?

Reluctantly, I listened as he talked about L.A. traffic, his previous fare and how he kept his car clean.

I listened to how he used to live on the east coast, and that even though most people in the east like the foliage and the fall; he preferred spring.

And then the conversation veered when he said, “I’d like to get a five star rating from you. If there were any issues with this ride, I’d like to hear your comments. Just be upfront.”

As much as I wanted to say, “Besides your non-stop talking everything was fine, I simply said, “I’ll give you five stars.”

After all, as far as service went, I convinced myself, he’d done a good job. In the end, because of his navigation system, his determination in maneuvering away from the 405 and his constant up-to-the-minute reporting, it appeared I was going to get to the airport on time. The only problem with the ride, I deduced, was my mood, and that I wanted some quiet.

And then he asked, “You want to know your rating?”

Over the weekend, everything I did was rated in numbers: how many miles I hiked, how much I weighed, how many inches I lost. This was just one more scale I could place myself on.

“Sure,” I said feeling confident. (You’d feel confident too if you’d hiked 36 miles in four days and lost eight inches.)

“You know, only a cool driver would tell you your score.” He glanced at me through the rearview mirror.

I waited patiently for my results to appear.

“4.8,” he said.

I didn’t think that was so bad but according to my driver, it wasn’t good. And I wondered what I’d done that got me less than five stars.

“WHAT? WHY?” I asked, all of a sudden feeling knocked down a peg (or .2).

“I don’t know,” he chuckled.

And I could tell he was thrilled to reveal this less than perfect (and supposed to be private) score.

He went on to say that the rating system was flawed, that someone gave him four stars because his car wasn’t clean. “Look around,” he said. “My car is spotless.” And to his credit, it was.

He told me that he thought I was the perfect customer. He said that I was respectful and I hadn’t kept him waiting.

“Unless someone throws up in my car or is disrespectful, they get a five,” he said.

“Well, I’ve never thrown up in an Uber. And I’ve never been disrespectful.”

“I have a friend,” he said, “who gives a four to anyone who doesn’t tip.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Tip? You don’t tip Uber. That’s the point. That’s the best part of Uber. Isn’t the tip included in the price?”

SIDE NOTE: Even though I consider myself a good tipper, I have to admit, I hate tipping. Especially after drinking a glass of wine at dinner.

I hate that it’s arbitrary.

I hate that I have to do mental math.

Just last week, at a restaurant in L.A, my bill came on a touch pad and all I had to do was press 15%, 18% or 20% tip. I pressed 20% and the total was added for me. All I had to do was swipe and sign.

Brilliant.

That I didn’t mind.

*****

What was my Uber driver trying to tell me? Was he going to take away a star if I didn’t tip him?

“Actually,” I said, “I thought you weren’t supposed to tip.”

“Well, it is discouraged,” he admitted.

But then he went on to tell me about the price of gas and how it’s gone up. He told me he believed the Uber App should have a place to add a tip.

And since I loved the aforementioned experience at the L.A. restaurant, I agreed that would be a good solution, even though I’d only moments before learned there was a problem.

As he pulled up to the curb at LAX, my driver said, "It’s because the founder of Uber doesn’t believe in tipping.”

Like-minds!

Me too, I wanted to scream.

SIDE NOTE #2: Don’t misunderstand. The way things are set up presently in restaurants and beauty salons, for example, tipping is important. And tipping generously is even, in my view, a moral obligation. Workers rely on their tips to make ends meet, to put food on their tables.

But there's a problem with tipping. It’s too subjective and when to do it is not always obvious. And of course how much to tip is suspect to fluctuating or arbitrary criterion like mood swings or income level.

Why not have flat rates? A standard tip included. I thought Uber was on to something.

Why should a worker’s income be placed in my hands, or any (cranky or lazy or stingy) customer’s hands, and not their employer’s hands? *****

As my Uber driver helped me lift my luggage from his trunk, I said, I’ll trade you five stars for five stars.”

He laughed and said, "Okay."

But I’ve been thinking. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to make a deal. Maybe I should’ve given him four stars (or less) for chewing my ear off for over an hour and trying to manipulate me into giving him a tip.

The ride, overall, was an uncomfortable reminder that we are always being graded or weighed or rated or judged.

Here’s a tip Mr. Uber driver- Proceed with caution. Yes, you’re in the driver’s seat and can steer conversations wherever you want; but your passengers shouldn’t feel trapped as if the air bag has just blown up in their face.

Someone less congenial might take away a star, or two.

Sisters, A Spa and the Sea

photo-31Wanting to spend time with my two daughters, I recently took them to Canyon Ranch in Miami. Even though they are 7 years apart, everywhere we went, people thought they were twins. They are becoming women. And I notice how they’ve grown.

Elaine, 16 years old, speaks up, her voice determined. She knows how to ask for what she wants and get it.

Rachel, 23, keeps reminding me she can take care of herself, which of course she can.

I watch them. And wonder about who they are as individuals, and who they are as sisters.

When I am around them I feel more my age. It’s striking.

I stare at their young bodies. Firm.

Often now, I can’t hear what they’re saying; and even when I can, I don’t always understand. They do a lot of explaining.

They share things with each other that they wouldn’t share with me.

I like that and I don’t.

We do spa-like things. We weigh ourselves. We talk about food. We try out the sauna. We relax on the beach and read books.

We laugh over little things like how Rachel fell asleep in the sun and tanned half her face.

They go to a Rock Climbing class and take Advanced Boxing, while I write. They have each other.

When they return, there are stories. There was an instructor. Adam. "He liked me," Elaine said. "The other guy liked me," Rachel added. "Okay," Elaine said. They both giggle. "No fair," Rachel said. "You’re guy was cuter."

Later, they do a couples massage. They come back to the room in spa robes. There are more stories. Two boys asked them out in the elevator.

“Every time I leave you two alone, you get picked up,” I say. And then I point out that they had an unfair advantage being naked under their spa robes.

They aren’t inhibited. That night at dinner, they go braless.

And then the next day, they are kids again frolicking in the ocean, splashing and shrieking when jellyfish swim by. I sit on my lounge chair and watch. Listen.

We play a game. Name 3 characteristics that describe each of us.

They say I’m unique, and as much as I’d like to believe this is a compliment, coming from them, it’s questionable.

They make fun of everything I do; but then, unexpectedly, and miraculously, they’ll come for a hug or sit next to me and put their head on my shoulder.

While sometimes, in my eyes, my daughters go from being my babies to young women in the world, for them, I think, I am always, simply their mother.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Mirror, Mirror I was born Celia Corie Sutton.

There are many stories attached to my name; but the one that I recently discovered not to be true is the one in which my not then married father flirted on a beach with an attractive girl and asked for her name. She said, Corie.

In the real version, he was at work, and no flirting was involved.

A true story is that my father’s mother’s name was Celia; and it is Syrian tradition to name a first-born daughter and son after the father’s parents.

My parents broke tradition in naming me Corie. They simply used the “C” from Celia. (It was the 60’s.)

No one ever called me Celia. Not once.

And no one ever spelled my name right. No, I mean, NEVER. Cory, Corey, Cori, Corrie- are just a few among many variations.

This drove my mother crazy. I don’t know why, but I didn’t care.

On top of all the misspellings, Corie is sometimes a boy’s name; and in sixth grade when my hair was cut short, very short, at a Broadway show, while visiting Manhattan, the usher called me Sir.

When I was fifteen, I went for my driver’s license. I presented my birth certificate as identification and so my license was issued, Celia Corie Sutton.

This was an identity crisis in the making. I then had I.D. with a name I’d never used.

A few years later, I got married. My marriage license said, Corie Adjmi. My passport said, Corie Adjmi. My American Express card said, Corie Adjmi. (Actually, it says, Corrie Adjmi.)

And so of course, spelling continued to be an issue. (Go spell ADJMI correctly.)

“There are no vowels,” I heard over and over again in regards to my new last name. And “What an unusual name. Where is that from?”

“Syria,” I’d answer, my identity shaky once again because I didn’t feel connected to my Middle Eastern heritage. No one ever questioned Sutton.

I got into a routine. I simply spelled out my first and last name before giving anyone a chance, or offered to write it myself; and the fact that all my identification didn’t match didn’t matter for the next quarter of a century; but everything changed after 9-11.

Soon after 9-11, at the airport, because my ticket was issued Corie and my license said, Celia, I was frisked as if were a national security risk, violated from head to toe. My carry-on was dusted with white powder and then unpacked on a metal table in front of everyone, bras and all. They detained me for half an hour and I had to beg to be let through. Thankfully, security relented, although I wouldn’t take that chance again today. Now, I issue my tickets accordingly. For domestic travel, I use my license and I am Celia. International, a passport, and I’m Corie.

But my airport problems still linger. My husband and I recently applied for TSA PreCheck.

He was approved. I was rejected.

And the reason given was that the names on my I.D.s didn’t match and apparently that appeared suspicious. While my husband breezes through security, I wait in long lines and get felt up, barefooted. He smirks on the other side, relaxed and drinking coffee, reading the newspaper; or he browses in Hudson News deciding if he should buy raw almonds or cashews.

Fed up, I went to motor vehicles. (And I resist going to motor vehicles as most people resist being brutally beaten and interrogated.) Armed with my social security card, my passport and my marriage license, I thought I could change the name on my driver’s license to Corie. I was informed that unless my birth certificate and passport matched, there was nothing they could do.

I applied for a name change. Even though I didn’t want to change my name, I convinced myself it didn’t really matter if I was Celia Corie or Corie Celia. I guess the heavens (and possibly the spirit of my dead grandmother) disagreed because the paperwork, which I completed, was over an inch thick; and at least four court appearances were required. I gave up thinking I’d rather be strip-searched.

Not too long ago, I submitted a short story, That’s How It Was With Howie. And it was published in Verdad. The story has a male protagonist and, as requested, I submitted my bio in third person. The editors at the magazine assumed I was male, and the bio printed at the end of my story, reflected that assumption. Again, I didn’t care. I took it as a compliment. I’d nailed the voice of the main character. (But that’s me, I guess, whoever that is- always looking on the bright side.)

But this is the craziest part- I did it again. (The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.)

About two years ago, for writing purposes, I started using my maiden name. I went from Corie Adjmi to Corie Sutton Adjmi and in the age of the computer these might as well be two different people.

And so the trouble with my name continues because I’ve tested out different names like I’ve tested out different hairstyles, which is to say, without much forethought. But I’m figuring out, okay slowly and the hard way, things get complicated when you change your name like day of the week panties.

According to tradition, when either one of my married sons has a daughter, her name will be Corie.

One name. One identity.

And for a moment, I am happy for her, thinking this is a good thing.

But really, if I’m honest, I like being more than one person. Or at least, pretending I am. Maybe this is the sign of a personality disorder but I prefer believing it’s because I’m Aquarian.

Like a butterfly, I flit from project to project, always changing jobs.

I moved four times in the last four years, constantly changing my home zip code.

Why not my name?

The Other Woman

I resist technology. My family jokes that I can’t turn on the television but that’s not true. What is true is that I like some hi-tech advances and refuse to go along with others. I’ve stopped calling 411 and now use Google; but I still insist on looking out the window instead of using a weather app. In France, last summer, Mark reserved a rent a car with GPS. I hated the sound of the woman’s voice. She kept barking out orders and interrupting every conversation.

“Can’t you turn that thing off?” I asked. “No, we need it,” Mark insisted. “No we don’t. She’s always wrong.” “That’s ridiculous.”

Call me stupid or old-fashioned but I wanted to get us where we were going. I wanted the challenge. I get that going it on our own wasn’t imperative, and could be construed as unnecessary as someone insisting on memorizing a cell phone number instead of adding it to contacts. But getting lost and finding our way, I claimed, was part of the journey, wasn’t it?

Mark likes to call the shots, do things his way. It’s difficult for him to accept influence from me; in life and in the car. So when the GPS told him to take a left and I said to take a right, he listened to the GPS, defending the voice from the navigation system with vigor.

“I can’t believe how you’re sticking up for this thing,” I said pointing at the dashboard. “It’s like there’s another woman in our car.” The GPS voice droned on. “Marguerite. That’s what I’ll call her.” “Call who?” Mark asked.

Before long, we were lost. I know you must be thinking that’s not possible. But that’s the thing about technology, if the program or setting is off, if the computer is inadvertently told to do the wrong thing, you’re going to end up with a problem. So, we got lost. Marguerite had us going in circles.

“I told you to take a right,” I said. “You have to use your head and common sense. You can’t follow blindly. Bad things happen when people follow blindly. Look what happened during World War II.” “Don’t you think that’s a bit dramatic?”

Eventually, with my help, we found our way to the highway. We zoomed on, parallel to the sea, Mark going way too fast. Instead of enjoying the beautiful flowers and trees along the roadway, I sat stiff and kept imagining my funeral, wondering if the upcoming tunnel was like the one Princess Diana died in.

“You’re going too fast. Please slow down.” “I’m going 110 kilometers. Everyone in France drives this way.” “Please slow down.”

When you sit in the passenger seat, you give up control. I had flashbacks of the time our rent a car soared over a cliff in Colorado; Mark, me, and four of our children inside. The car landed on a boulder, perched like a bird in its nest, instead of rolling and rolling, but it was totaled; a huge crack in the windshield where my bare foot had landed. I’d tried to control the situation, stop the car from going over the cliff, by stepping involuntarily on imaginary brakes. Remarkably, other than my sprained ankle, we were all fine. (Although my son, Richard claims he bit his tongue.)

Mark slowed down and for a few minutes I was able to relax. He was okay when a Lamborghini sped past us but lost it when a Fiat whizzed by. Ultimately, we got where we were going.

“Marguerite did a good job,” Mark said pulling up to our hotel. “She got us here.” “You’ve got to be kidding. I got us here.” “You’re jealous! I can’t believe you’re jealous of the GPS voice,” he laughed. And if I am honest, I was. I wanted him to listen to me. But instead I said, “That’s ludicrous.” “She does have a lovely voice,” Mark instigated. “Well then you can have dinner with her,” I said half-kidding, half-hurt. “She’s not perfect,” Mark said. “She doesn’t have your legs.” “She’s a controlling, manipulative, bitch who always thinks she’s right. She’s always telling us what to do and where to go.” “But when I drive the wrong way, she doesn’t yell at me. She nicely helps me find the right way.”

We just bought a Tesla. It has an app that lets you change the temperature in the car from your cell phone. It’s meant to be a helpful feature, one that allows you to warm up your car while you wait in your house on a freezing cold day. But I’m miserable about it. I envision Mark sitting behind his desk, at his office, changing the temperature in our car from his cell phone while I’m driving and there’s no one even in the passenger seat.