“Have you been here before?” the clerk asked.
For a moment I was frozen in time. I stared blankly back at him. While my eyes fell upon his face, my mind’s eye carried through him and morphed into a target-less gaze.
He was in his 50s and the vantage of my height over his allowed me to see thinning hair in all of the usual places. He wore a tie that nearly matched his earthen brown shirt, with both tie and shirt following the contour etched by his protruding belly.
“Had I been here before?”
“Had I been here before?” I again asked myself faintly, cryptically, as if my mind were whispering to itself – afraid that others might perceive the question. I felt embarrassed I didn’t know. Here I was at yet another hotel. Another hotel, in a long string of hotels. But not the end of a long string of hotels, for there would be many more hotels to come. This was a blip, a single dot, in a sea of unending dots that carried off in both directions of time.
His question certainly referred to geography, the physical space which he and I both occupied at that moment, though his chosen attire, the pinewood countertop and empty wooden mail slots behind him left open the suggestion that he might have been vaguely alluding to time.
I had no idea where I was or if I had been there before. Thirty minutes prior to this question, I had touched down at San Diego airport. I was met by a driver, black suit, well-groomed hair, grey goatee. He was fit, with an easy demeanor. A surfer, I thought, who drives at night to cover bills without encroaching on his ultimate passion. He led me to his black town car parked outside. I followed him mechanically, unconsciously, but trustworthily. As we began to pull away, I instinctively asked him how far we had to go, but before he could answer that first of questions, I asked sheepishly where in fact we were going and admitted, even more under my breath that I didn’t actually know where I was going.
So here I stood in front of the desk clerk. After regaining myself in both time and geography mumbled, “I don’t know.” I looked around but nothing suggested a familiarity. I had no idea if I had been there before. I was strangely ok with this, but felt a subtle unease, unsure if I was uneasy about not knowing or being strangely ok with not knowing.
I left the front desk, weaved through the main building, onto a covered walk outside, made my way across the property as I cut through the dark, quiet night. Eventually I stumbled into my hotel room, the window blinds offering a familiarity that I had in fact been there before. “Surely I’ve been here,” I thought to myself. “have I not been at most of the resorts along this stretch of coast?” I considered. “how could I have not been here before,” I wondered.
Perhaps the morning will offer new details.