Why We Sometimes Need to Wait

Sometimes, I don't like waiting on people.

Like when I show up to my friend Will's place at the time we're supposed to leave, and I say, "Hey, are you ready to go?" and he says, "Yup. Just gotta take a quick shower." Which to me is the same as if I show up to a restaurant to pick up a pizza I ordered, and they tell me, "Sure, just let us stick it in the oven first."

So I wait while he takes the longest quick shower a human being can possibly take--the man doesn't even have hair, so it's beyond my brain's capacity to understand how this shower lasts longer than three minutes. As I sit on his couch, ready to go, I'm annoyed. I think to myself, "If we were running on my schedule, we'd be out of the door ten minutes ago." 

I'm terrible at walking with people, too. I walk fast, something close to power-walker levels but with less arm movement and only slightly less spandex on. When shorter friends walk with me, I have to remind myself to pretend I'm moving with two pudgy children clutching my legs so I don't race ahead.

I also don't like to wait for people's schedules to sync with mine to do something I want to do, like see a movie. If I have to choose between waiting two more weeks to see The Revenant with my friend Jeff when he's finally free or going to see it now when I'm free, my ticket will be purchased on Fandango for tonight before you can finish reading this sentence.

And then there's travel. There might not be a better example of how much I dislike waiting on other people than how I approach travel. This is my process: I come up with an idea for a trip--a four-day outing to California, a two-week trek across Europe, a one-day run up to New York City. Could be near, far, short, or long. Then I might ask one or two people if they're interested. If they can't make it work, forget it--I'm going alone. If I'm being honest, most of the time, I don't even give people a chance to join me for the trips I plan. I'm good with just me.

I'll always and forever value travel by myself to a certain extent. Shauna Niequist, author of Cold Tangerines, expresses my love for solo travel better than I can:

"You look differently when you're alone. When you're with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there's no other way to preserve it."

I lay the case to rest. I won't apologize for loving to travel with me, myself, and I.

But then there's this Iceland trip I took last week. Twelve of us (yeah--that's one multiplied by twelve) met at BWI, hopped on a plane stewarded by flight attendants who despite working for a budget airline looked like they were also Versace models, rented three SUVs, and drove all over the Land of Fire and Ice for four days. Going into the trip, I only knew two people--the other nine were strangers to me. Right off the bat, I was uncomfortable. I had to get to know a whole bunch of new folks, which means get-to-know-you conversations, and I dread get-to-know-you conversations. I'm bad at them. I'd love to skip the "where are you from/what do you do" phase, but what else can you do? "Here's a pamphlet with all of my background info and interests. Read it over, and get back to me when you're done." How charming.

Even worse than introductory small talk, traveling with twelve people--whether you know them well or not--means you wait. You wait because somebody forgot something back in the room. You wait while somebody goes to the bathroom. You wait because you have no idea where one or two or four people from the group wandered off to. 

If you don't like to wait on others, a four-day trip in a foreign country with twelve people isn't exactly something to be excited about. It would be tempting to think, "I'd be better off doing this on my own."

Then I got my SUV stuck in the snow.

To make a long story very short, as our three-vehicle caravan stopped to take some pictures of the scenery, I pulled the car over to the side of the road a bit too far, and as I drove into what I thought was shallow snow, I felt the right-side wheels sink underneath us. That was it. Tires spinning. Car not moving. Me thinking, "Juuuust perfect." The half-Korean pulls the first and only driving blunder of the trip. In a Hyundai. Let the Asian jokes commence.

The Hyundai stuck on the side of the highway. My sarcastic celebration.

The Hyundai stuck on the side of the highway. My sarcastic celebration.

We tried to wiggle it out. Rock it out. Push it out. Forward. Reverse. Turn the wheels that way. No, the other way. No, back that way. Take all the weight out of the car. Put some weight back, but just on that side. We tried to dig out the wheels with our tiny ice scrapers which honestly felt kind of like when a toddler vacuums the floor with those toy sweepers that bounce little balls inside as you push them. No luck. We had to send a car back to the nearest town to try to find help.

There I was, Mr. I-Hate-Waiting-On-People, and now the whole group was waiting on me. We had no idea when exactly we'd be able to get someone to pull the car out of the snow. We knew for sure we were going to miss the next item on our agenda, a walking tour of Reykjavik. Sucks to be me.

And yet, when I looked around at the rest of the group, I was met with smiles. Laughter, even. I'd go as far as to say grace. Not even one person said something mean to me. A lot of Asian jokes, sure, but okay--those made me smile. People were on their hands and knees (some without gloves) hacking away at the tires; they were pushing the car and getting snow in their shoes. Everybody was out of their vehicles and in the cold air.

We pushed in vain. A superhero disguised as an assuming Icelander named Johann eventually pulled us out with his truck.

We pushed in vain. A superhero disguised as an assuming Icelander named Johann eventually pulled us out with his truck.

It could be possible someone wrote a profanity-laced journal entry later on that started with, "Dear Diary, let me tell you about this idiot and his weird face," but everyone's attitude seemed to say this: Hey. No sweat. We're in this together.

On the side of that road in Iceland, surrounded by white-haired mountains and snow glimmering in the sunlight, a bunch of people who were recently strangers reminded me why I don't always travel alone, why it's good to travel with people from to time.

Over the course of four days, twelve of us drove through constant set changes--rain, snow, clouds, sun, fields, tundra, mountains; we fueled our vehicles with diesel and our bodies with gas station food and whatever available means of caffeine we could find; we reminisced about what sleep was like and ignored our exhaustion because every turn, every mile, every stop made us say, "God, is this real? How lucky are we?" We did it together. We were in it together. We walked through the wind and rain together. We huddled in the cold together. We fought off our fatigue together. We dealt with an SUV stuck in the snow together.

We began as strangers, and then we came together like family does.

Waiting on each other plays a big part in how people come together.

Waiting on people we love isn't a restriction; it's a removal of the distance our selfishness places between us. Waiting on each other does the dirty work of sewing us together, a stitch a time. It holds us down and makes us sit still when we want to go. When we want to hurl criticism, it knits our mouths shut. When Will takes a forever-long shower and we're going to leave later than I want to leave, it forces the corners of my lips into a smile and reminds me it's not a big deal.

When you're stuck in the snow on the side of a road, it can make some people who a few days earlier were strangers get on their hands and knees with you. They'll sit with you. They'll pull you out of your ditch. They'll come around you even stronger than before.

The closer you become with anyone, the more you'll bump and bend and stretch and scratch each other. You'll have to wait on each other. You'll be forced to remember you're in this together. And in the process, the needle and thread will poke you, weave between you, and tighten and strengthen your seams, stitch by stitch by stitch.