Thursday, February 12, 2015
When sidewalk tarot gives you a card you don't want
One of my everyday games is to look at whatever turns up in the street as a tarot card being played to me by the world. Sometimes I have a question in my mind. Most often I am simply open to what the world gives me. Anything may count as a card in sidewalk tarot. Sometimes you feel you are getting a specific message. Sometimes the game is more about recognizing patterns of connection.
While a tarot deck has 78 cards, the number of cards the world can give you is limitless. The cards in a deck are numbered and ordered in suits and kinds - number cards, court cards, major arcana. You can look up their meanings in a book. Cards in sidewalk tarot - unless they are literally spilled cards from a deck - do not have assigned places in a system, and you'll have to figure out meanings and connections for yourself. This makes the game very interesting indeed. When you play sidewalk tarot, as with a tarot deck, you may not like the card you draw. Let me tell you how that worked out for me on Tuesday, in the midst of one of my odysseys of airline story.
Prequel: I was due to leave on Monday on the first leg of a long journey to Prague, where I am teaching at Maitrea this week. This gave me a very definite deadline for delivery of my new book, Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life. I made my deadline, sending the book to my editor before dawn on Monday. A few hours later, I learned that my flight had been cancelled, due to snow storms in the Northeast, where I live.
I got on the phone and managed to rebook my flights. I was now scheduled to leave 24 hours later, on Tuesday on a revised itinerary. I would travel via Washington's Dulles airport, as before, but would go on to Prague via Munich instead of Brussels. I was not enthralled by the historical echo in "going on to Prague via Munich", but I was grateful to have snagged the last available seat and resigned myself to enjoying a snow day befor taking off.
On Tuesday morning, I took care of a few chores, and walked to the bank. Walking back, I came upon an upturned shopping cart, directly in my path. Uh-oh.
I noted that it was a cart from Price Chopper. Put that together with the fact that I was returning from the bank, and I had little doubt that the upturned cart might be connected to a possible tumble in my modest "shopping cart" of investments. When I got home and checked stock market prices, I saw that this was correct. A stock that I owned had taken a major tumble.
I was uneasily conscious that when we talk about something upsetting an apple cart we might be talking about any kind of plan or situation at all. I hoped that the cautionary message in the spilled cart would not relate to my travels - or anything else - in addition to the investment spill.
My first flight on Tuesday got to Dulles a couple of minutes early. So far so good. We boarded on time, and seemed to be taking off on time when suddenly the plane halted its run along the tarmac. Monitors went dead, reading lights went out. Electrical problems, we were told. An hour later, we were told that everything was "fixed" and we were airborne. We were somewhere east of Boston, heading towards open water, when the plane turned around. The captain informed us that the electrical problems had not been fixed after all. We had bee re-routed to a different airport, Newark, and he would let us know what would happen next when we go there.
Relatively good news on the ground. They had found us another plane. While we waited at the departure gate in Newark for re-boarding, I struck up a delightful conversation with an academic who agreed with me that the trick in life is to find your pleasure in your work so you never have to distinguish them. He also proved to be a considerable expert on German beers.
We out on the runway again five hours after our original scheduled departure. We set on that runway at Newark for ninety minutes. We were given no information for nearly all that time. Eventually the captain said something incomprehensible about a "passenger discrepancy." A couple of irate passengers confronted flight attendants who had no more information than we did.
I had a row to myself, and diverted myself with my in-flight reading, Jaroslav Hašek's grand comic novel The Good Soldier Švejk,, an immense, rambling satire about the incompetence of those in authority and a mode of passive resistance through irony, feigned idiocy and parody. I decided after ninety minutes that the Švejk approach could not go on indefinitely, or else we might never take off on that plane just as Hašek never finished his novel.
So I went to the forward galley and had a quiet word with the flight attendants. They were very good people, as frustrated as we passengers were with the lack of communication from the cabin and the authorities at the airport. One of the flight attendants decided to take action. She leaped into it, clarifying that the "passenger discrepancy" involved a triviality - a baby car seat occupting a vacant passenger seat. Now she was on the phone to the boss, laying out crisply and briskly what was wrong about holding up the flight over such a minor issue, and what was especially wrong about leaving everyone outside the pilots'cabin in the dark.
Two minutes later, the captain told us we were on our way, number three for takeoff.
"Congratulations," I told the feisty flight attendant. "You did it."
"It was probably just a coincidence."
"It is very rare, in my experience, for anything to be just a coincidence."
I explained that I had delivered a new book that is all about coincidence the previous day, and that my book The Three "Only" Things opens with an account of five chance encounters on airplane trips. After cabin service, when the lights were dimmed, the flight attendant curled up for a bit with the copy of The Three "Only" Things that I loaned her.
As we disembarked at Munich, over six hours late, she promised, "I will never say, 'It's only a coincidence' again."
At Munich airport, when I was getting a new boarding card for my new connection to Prague, a Lufthansa agent told me he knew all about the history of my flight from Dulled, which was the talk of the ground crew. "You know," he said, "when something goes as wrong as that, you always have a story."
"Thank you for saying that. I agree completely. It's one of my keys to survival.
This is why Upset Shopping Cart enters my personal guide to sidewalk tarot as a challenging card. The sequence of upsets reminds me that for every challenge there is an opportunity, at least the opportunity to make a new story.