It all starts when Alice has an early Monday morning eye doctor appointment in Bellevue -- a city 90 miles south of where she has lived in a small rural community for 26 years. Alice concludes that rather than enduring the grueling 2-hour (at least) commute in the morning rush hour ... she could spend the night in a Bellevue hotel. Flawless logic.
A caring granddaughter suggests The Bellevue Westin Hotel. A nice place for Gram. Alice now relies on the granddaughter's advice about cell phones and hotels. Although 50 years younger, the granddaughter has wisdom in all things technical and having to do with travel. She's been to Africa and many other places. Alice does not have a passport. Nor can she go to Canada for fish and chips.
First stop is the Buddhist Temple in Lynnwood, where the monk was previously hugged. Alice knows little about Buddhists' precepts. She locates the "hugged monk" who remembers her. Alice apologizes for her transgression. But the monk, who is very wise, tells her a lovely story in which the Buddha distinguishes between hugging a woman and hugging a person. The first is not allowed; the second receives the Buddha's stamp of approval.
They talk for awhile, and Alice feels enveloped in some special sense of peace and love from the wise monk that flows over her like a silken fog. Finally she tells him to "go away" lest she feel tempted to hug him again.
After Alice soaked up all the peace and serenity of that special place, spending extra minutes fascinated by the water rippling over a rocky slide into a pool of happy orange Koi. The air is lightly fragrant with incense. She watches the sacred ritual in the temple where people line up with scarves and candles and walk up to a raised area (like an alter). She spots "her" monk taking each scarf and gently placing it over the arm of the giant gold Buddha.
Then a second monk places his hands on either side of Alice's hands, showing her how to bow her hands slightly three times after she makes her donation. Now she's been touched by two monks. Either she is viewed as so old that she is not considered a woman; or she is somehow special. She ponders this with each reluctant step towards her car to leave that lovely serene place ... and head for the Bellevue Westin to check in.
OMG! Bellevue, once a charming small town, is now a huge soul-less city. The skyline is filled with too many tall glass towers, the roads with too many cars, the sidewalks with too many people. She actually gets lost amid the traffic and towers that all look alike.
Finally the destination is miraculously found. Alice has brought daffodils -- her favorite "happy" flower -- to the person who helped her navigate the maze of registration. And better still, the kind person upgraded her room for free. Free is always good.
She checks in and gets a card, two cards actually. No one uses keys anymore. Except the packet contains a small key in the packet that opens something. Going back to her car, parked at the front door, she continues her adventure, hoping to be back in an hour.
She has driven all the roads for years -- years ago -- so they are imbedded somewhere in the depths of her memory. How hard can this be?
But poor Alice has no clue of the changes that "progress and pavement" have wrought since she left in 1986.. She remembers when the only shopping was at Saddler's General Store. Everything you needed plus live crab. It was such a lovely peaceful tranquil place to live.
Now, as she drives up the hill to the magical plateau -- the place which used to be trees and farms and trails is now transformed to legos stacked up in row and row. Each group of lego stacks are cris-crossed with roads filled with cars.
Most cars are SUVs with cute pictures of the "family" on the back window in cute stick figures of parents, kids and pets. All the cars are big and new and shiny, filled with people taken from the pages of magazines. All looking "just right" which of course varies so much it is hard to pin down.
But Alice has driven these roads for years. She is confident of finding her destination -- even though she forgot to jot down the address. Beaver Lake is a small lake in a formerly lovely area. She lived for ten years less than a mile from her destination. Piece of cake.
Alice wheels out of the tranquil farm and takes the missed turn. Oh my! How different. Subdivisions of McMansions have replaced the horse trails her daughters used to ride. The bears who lived there have no doubt retreated ... to somewhere ... although it is hard to imagine how they implemented the relocation. So many SUVs, going so fast, to no doubt important places.
She is shocked that she drove right past the 2 1/2 acre place she owned and lived for 6 years. It was an overgrown, breeding ground for the state flower -- the Rhodedendron. And was sandwiched in between McMansions on three sides. An anomoly for sure. Also a gold mine, sold 28 years ago at a loss when the market went to hell.
\Nice people walking around the lake gave Alice incorrect directions to her destination. So she wound up on a narrow curvy dirty road going nowhere. Somehow she managed to turn around without baking into the trees that lined the dirt toad. And she gave thanks that the rental car did not hit a tree or fall off the edge.
After making a desperate phone call (on the new cell phone with help from kind strangers walking their dogs), she gets the address and locates the place. Words cannot describe how she got in and out of the narrow "driveway." A miracle? There is a God?
Covering the rough terraine of "yard" Alice discovers there is no key under the mat. So her well-planned "house warming" gifts cannot be delivered there.. After the harrowing trip to locate the elusive destination, Alice realizes she's had enough of nostalgia.
Now heading back to Bellevue and the lovely Westin Hotel. the sun is setting over Lake Washington and Puget Sound and she finds the correct tall glass tower among the flock of towers that look alike.
Ah ... but she has made it. And the sweet valet remembers her and thankfully takes charge.
Alice is handed off to a gallant gentleman, young enough to be her grandson, who grabs her odd collection of baggage. She feels a bit like the Clampetts when they first get to Beverly Hills, but is too exhausted to focus on the image.
He guides her, dazed, through the huge lobby to the bank of elevators. And then through the maze of hallways to her hotel room: 1501, which turns out to be a lovely huge corner room with 2 walls of windows and some kind of special king-sized heavenly bed.
The gallant prince, sensing Alice's frayed condition, takes care of her suitcase and bags of "stuff." Then he gratiously fetches ice in the silver ice bucket for the Grey Goose Alice brought. He even whips out the magical key from the door card packet and opens a small fridge with OJ .... but no Galliano. Can't have everything ... even at the Westin apparently.
The prince leaves and Alice is stunned at the walls of windows and towers of lights in all directions. She stares momentarily -- unable to move -- holding the vase of flowers she brought to make the room seem like home.
Then, to top off this amazing day of Adventure, Alice discovered the cell phone she learned to use -- sort of -- yesterday ... plays music! Richard Clayderman on youtube fills her perfect room with lovely sounds of his familiar piano playlists.
Alice is simply overwhelmed at her day as she sits in a soft chair with feet elevated. Sipping a healthy vitamin enriched orange juice with Grey Goose that was cleverly brought in a small thermos. She doesn't want the night to end, as she admires the tall glass towers filled with rows of lighted squares. Red, yellow, green lights sparkle below in the clear night air.
Her room of walled glass is quiet except for the lilting strains of piano music from a magical device that is apparently much more that simply a phone.
Alice eyes the massive king-sized bed with the heavenly down comforter and pillow softness ... and wonders how she will explain this night as a "vital and necessary expense" in lawyer-speak.
It seems so obvious. When one has survived for 68 years of the perilous journey of life ... then it seems that having one glorious night on the 15th floor in a room enclosed by two walls of glass ... is simply a reward for enduring all the challenges that life has scattered along the path traveled.
Who can say that one night of bliss is not an earned reward for still standing?
The next morning, Alice's eyesight has improved dramatically, delighting the doctor, who says "That just so rarely happens." She doesn't mention the monk or the other "odd" things that happen in her life. She just takes the prescription for new glasses (not so strong) and gives thanks to whomever is listening.