The Best Laid Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

– Robert Burns, To a Mouse

The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese. 

– Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese

Lessons from Who Moved My Cheese

I recently read an old book called Who Moved My Cheese. It’s a short parable about the value of being adaptable. I’d never read it before, but I remember that it was super popular in the early 2000s. The copy I found at my parents’ house had a Borders price sticker. 

In the story, there are two tiny humans and two mice living in a maze, and they all know each other, and they have a supply of cheese that they are all eating every day. But one day, the cheese is gone. The mice quickly go off in search of New Cheese. The little humans, named Hem and Haw, wait around for days in disbelief, complaining and worrying, and hoping that the Old Cheese will come back to the same place. It never does. After some time, Haw strikes out on his own (Hem refuses) and goes in search of New Cheese. Eventually he finds it, and their mouse friends have already been there for days. 

Basically, the moral of the story is an echo of some of the core tenets of Buddhism. Everything is impermanent. Attachment is suffering.

What I Hope to Learn

I’m a planner by nature. I like to have a plan, and I like for things to go according to that plan. Last-minute changes fluster me. I can be inflexible. But I know that I will be a lot happier on this trip if I can roll with the punches a little. Things are going to go wrong, some of them will be due to stupid mistakes I make, and some things will be out of my control. 

There’s a great post from Mr. Money Mustache about focusing your energy on your Circle of Control. He talks about how much energy we waste when we worry about things that we can’t control. So the essential question to ask when we encounter a problem is, Is this something I can influence? If it absolutely isn’t, then the solution is to suck it up. Don’t engage. But for many situations, though we can’t influence the cause of the problem, there are ways for us to affect positive change. And that’s where we should focus our energy. 

Confident in My Capabilities

Luckily for me, in addition to being a planner, I am a fixer. I like logistics. Give me a problem, and I will give you a bulleted list of possible solutions, organized by order of operations. Even if you didn’t ask. Sorry. But hey, I’m doing this trip by myself. And that skill might be annoying for my loved ones sometimes, but it’s actually pretty adaptive for me right now. 

One of my favorite things about being an adult is being confident that I can figure out a solution to most of the problems I’m likely to encounter. I don’t need to be too stressed about what just might happen. And when difficult things do happen, I don’t need to be too stressed because a) I think better when I’m not panicky, and b) being mad and fixated on the source of the problem doesn’t produce a solution.

Obviously this is easier said than done. Even though I’m pretty even-keeled, I sometimes do get anxious and I’m learning to be more mindful of that. Like when I physically feel my anxiety rising, I’m getting better at recognizing the sensations in my body. My heart rate picks up, there’s tightness in my chest and stomach, my thoughts are addled. I’m also getting better at combating that. Square breathing is good. Reminding myself that I’m good at solving problems is good. Zooming out and remembering that existence is meaningless, and we are all just bald apes blasting through space on a speck of rock and water is also good.

The best way to make things better is to see how they are. And then do something about it.
Acknowledging the problem is not the same as giving up.
Too often, we’d rather not hear about it, or we choose to catastrophise as a way of protecting ourselves from the reality of what’s actually happening.
Denialism isn’t a long-term strategy.

– Seth Godin

Rubber Meets the Road

So anyway, all this is to say that my journey from Hawaii to Guatemala did not go as planned. I was supposed to fly from Kona to Los Angeles to Miami to Guatemala City. But while I was in the air on my first flight, my second one got canceled. So I found myself in LAX at 12:30 AM with a lot of logistics to sort out. 

Luckily, Who Moved My Cheese was fresh on my mind. In the story, the tiny human Haw realizes that the mice had always been monitoring the status of the cheese, anticipating the need to find New Cheese. And that’s why they were able to pivot quickly. I had also heard that many airlines are canceling flights due to COVID staff shortages. So this was an unpleasant turn of events, but not entirely shocking. I saw that there was an opportunity here to freak out, and I denied it.

I immediately googled: “What to do if your flight is canceled” and found a CNN article with some basic tips. I also texted my parents, who said they’d heard that it’s better to just call the airline’s customer service instead of waiting in line to talk to the airport help desk. I was glad I did. When I got through the gate, I found that lots of people on my flight had been booked for that same LAX-MIA connection. There were about 40 people in that line and only 2 or 3 agents to help them. So I sat down off to the side of the craziness, made my call, and was able to talk to a phone rep right away. 

I had booked my flights on two separate reservations, KOA-MIA was on American and MIA-GUA was on Frontier. I left on Tuesday afternoon from Kona, and American proposed rerouting me in a way that would put me in Miami on Thursday evening. Which would still leave me needing to find a hotel and another flight to Guatemala the next morning. 

I was still texting my dad, who was able to find a United flight that would take me from LA to Houston, then on to Guatemala City. Thanks, Dad! After doing some research into replacing my MIA-GUA ticket, I determined that going with United would probably be cheaper, and definitely faster. So I ended up requesting a refund for the 2nd leg of my American reservation, and the American rep was able to get me a hotel voucher for LA. 

Rolling With the Punches

I caught the 24-hour free airport shuttle (thank goodness), and checked into my room. From there, I set about adjusting my other arrangements, starting with canceling my Frontier flight. Frontier was basically a total loss. Because of the last-minute cancellation, they took a pretty hefty fee from the credit they gave me. Now I have 90 days to use $30 on Frontier, but it seems unlikely that I’ll be in a position to do anything with that. I also had to adjust my shuttle reservation from the Guatemala City airport to Antigua, which was straightforward, with no money lost. I lost a small deposit on my hostel reservation, equivalent to the cost of the night I missed. 

The next day, I slept in and spent the whole day at the airport hotel, writing on my computer in the lobby after checkout. My flight wasn’t until 7:00 PM, but I was unwilling to spend any more money to go do anything in LA. Everything went smoothly at LAX, though I was mentally preparing for that flight to be canceled, too. I arrived in Houston around midnight, and had a 9-hour layover before flying to Guatemala. 

Kismet in Houston

I looked at the recommendations from Sleeping In Airports, and went to Terminal 4, which is apparently quieter overnight. Though there are still automated announcements over the loudspeakers at regular intervals. As I was walking down a hallway, I happened upon a young couple sitting by some cots that were set out by some comfortable chairs. I stopped to ask them what the deal was with the cots, and they told me that this was a USO office.

I didn’t know this, but they informed me that the USO is a volunteer organization that provides comforts to American military members and their families in transit. The boyfriend is in the Navy, and they were on their way to visit his family. They told me there were cots to spare, and invited me to post up there. They left soon after, to wander around the airport before their early morning flight. I got about 2 hours of sleep on the cot, which was a solid REM cycle, and about as good as I could hope for. 

At about 5:30 AM, I got up to get some Starbucks breakfast and waited around for a few more hours to board my flight to Guatemala. Fortunately, that flight was also not canceled, and I successfully arrived in Guatemala after about 45 hours of travel. 

What I’m Learning

It’s a little funny to look back on how much I had researched, and how carefully I’d selected my flights. I looked for optimal timing and optimal cost. But in the end, that completely didn’t matter, and I spent a full day longer in transit than I’d planned. I’m not sure how much American Airlines will decide to refund for the canceled flight. Depending on that, I also most likely spent a few hundred dollars more than I thought I was going to. 

So, I’m very thankful that I have some buffer time before my Spanish classes begin in Antigua. I’m also very thankful that I have the financial means to withstand a pricey hiccup. And I’m doing my best to learn to expect the unexpected, and not get too bent out of shape when things don’t go the way I thought they would.

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NEVER EVER EVER buy a frontier ticket. Now you know why.

stay loose, keep guard up!