Sunday, July 4, 1999
Yeah, well, sometimes you plan, and you plan, and you still wake up to find your bathroom flooded.
“You’re sure?” I asked Tom sleepily, when I woke up to find him flopping towels on the ugly carpet. “The dog didn’t just knock over her dish?”
“I’m sure,” he said. “It’s the toilet.”
I looked. Not that I don’t trust him. And it was.
He went to see the manager. A very nice woman who was completely helpless at seven in the morning on a national holiday and a Sunday as well. “I’ll call the plumber,” she said tentatively. Or so Tom reported.
“Now what are we gonna do?” he asked me. “We can’t leave the dog here. First, the floor’s all wet. Second, when the plumber comes in the room, the dog might get out.”
“A cautious plumber might not even come into the room,” I suggested.
“Meaning this’ll never get fixed.”
“Did you ask if they had another room?”
“Yeah. They didn’t.”
“Let me see if I can do anything.”
When I was a kid, my father always embarrassed me in restaurants by sending back cold food. I couldn’t deny it was cold, and he certainly had the right to send it back. But I was young and didn’t like that kind of attention. By the time I reached college, I realized you don’t have to eat cold trout, and your carpet shouldn’t squish under your shoes. This wasn’t even Motel 6.
Though you couldn’t tell that from the—formerly—nice woman at the counter. I said, “Good Morning.”
She said, “I paged the plumber and haven’t heard back. And I left a message on his machine to call us. And I left another message on the owner’s machine, but he’s away.”
“Could you get someone to clean the room?” I asked.
“The maids don’t come in till later.”
That seemed reasonable, it being a holiday and all. “But what would she do in an emergancy?” I asked.
“This isn’t an emergancy,” she replied. That’s when she got less nice.
“It is for us,” I explained. “We rented the room for two days so we’d have a safe place to leave the dog. We’re up early to get to Carlsbad Caverns before there’s a six-hour wait. We leave town in the morning.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”
“There must be something.”
I went back to the room. “Well?” Tom asked.
I picked up the phone book and began calling other motels. Nothing. Nothing. Holiday. Are you kidding? Yes, we have a cancellation.
“We’ll be right there” I assured them, then went back to the lobby to check out.
“You have a two-day reservation,” the woman insisted. “You’ll have to pay.”
“I have a two-day reservation for a room with a dry floor.”
“That was an accident.”
“I understand. And so is our leaving. Now charge me for one night and let me out of here.”
“I’ll get in trouble.”
“If you explain nicely to your boss, you won’t. If you understood the trouble you’re putting us through, you’d simply comp us.”
“I could never do that.”
“And I’m not expecting it. Now here’s my credit card. Let me pay. Then we’re gone.”
She wasn’t happy, but she did it. Tom had already packed the car when I got back. In twenty minutes, we were relocated two motels down the street, to a much spiffier Best Western, and were on on way to the Caverns.
Jangled. And an hour late.
The sprawling parking lot was already two-thirds full. Inside, there was a wide ticket line down the long corridor and out the door. Other people had the same early-bird idea.
Fortunately, the line was moving quickly. Though the place was jammed, each group had four or five people in it, and only one needed to buy tickets. Also, there are two ways into the Cavern: The elevator, straight down. Or a winding walk through the bat cave.
I’d always preferred the slow way. In fact, I almost liked the hour-long hike better than the main cave. The switchback path is almost completely dark. You’re cool—it was over eighty-five above—and the tour’s unguided, so can move at your own speed. And even if there’s a group just ahead of you, and another close behind, you feel completely alone.
Plus, fewer people walk down, so we were soon on our way.
“Busy today,” I mentioned to the ranger taking tickets.
“If it keeps up, our busiest day ever.”
It was good that we hadn’t waited for the plumber.
The caves were terrific. We rambled slowly downward, then spent another couple hours circling the main floor. There are new caves, semi-attached to the present public ones, and some of thoee tours are less domestic than this one, all flood-lit, with shining steel guard rails. Waiting on the ticket line, I’d read a pamphlet mentioning Expert-level adventures, which involve squirming through holes barely wider than your shoulders and swimming underwater. But I’m not Indiana Jones. Still, the Medium-level explorations might be fine.
Another time. You need reservations, anyhow. And we were hungry.
You can buy boxed lunches underground. They seem proud that the food has changed little in the seventy-years they’ve been giving tours—other than in price. But I don’t need American cheese on white bread any more than a pencil sharpener souvenir with the Caverns logo on its side.
Before taking the elevator upstairs—the only way they’ll let you leave—we took one side tour. The area had previously been open to the public as part of their main exploration, but for a couple reasons it was now partitioned off. Mainly, because the stalagmites (down?) and stalagtites (up?) were getting damaged. Also, ’cause the rangers could charge extra, and a little more money never hurt any national park.
This tour was led by a ranger-nun, Sister Mary Wilderness Explains It All. We learned what the Rule of Three is, and it has nothing to do with Mao. Tell three people where you’re exploring. Take three sources of light—flash, matches, candles. And something else. Obviously, I’d die in a cave in minutes. At one point Sister Wilderness turned off all the lights in our section of cave, just to prove how dark it would be.