Things That Comfort Me When Every Fucking Thing Goes Wrong: Townes.

Things tend to go wrong. This is a series of blog posts about the things I think about during those moments when the wrong things happen.

So it’s January 2008. My alma mater, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to allow me to attend a semester of classes in Alicante, Spain, a little town on the Mediterranean coast. Let that sink in: I am getting college credit for going to school by the beach. I’m flying out there before they can change their minds.

My grandma insists on helping me out with the travel arrangements. She’s got a travel agent down in Boca that she uses for international travel. Call her, she says.

So I do. The travel agent turns what should be a two legged trip — DC to Madrid to Alicante — into three. I pack my bags. I fly to Atlanta mid-afternoon. I take the overnight flight to Madrid. We get off the plane in Madrid and onto the jetway. Then off the jetway and into one of those special international terminal hallways that shuttles you straight to customs.

We stop moving.

But I’m feeling alright. Tired, but alright. It’s 6 a.m. in Spain, midnight back home. I’ve got Jack Johnson strumming in the earbuds, so I don’t even mind when an airline rep comes to the front of the pack and tells us: The door to let us into customs is locked. And the guy with the key to unlock the doors won’t be here for 45 minutes.

Still, I’m in no rush. It’s 6 a.m. My flight to Alicante isn’t until 11. I didn’t really sleep last night, so I’m a bit too tired to be mad. I just chill. Enjoy the surf music. Try to nap while standing upright. Ignore the crying children and annoyed parents and harried businessmen. I put myself in the zone, and I feel alright.

The keymaster shows up, and the door opens, and I wait in customs for a while, and then I’m through. Grab my bags, get on a shuttle and head over to the domestic terminal for the last leg of my trip.

My flight’s already on the board when I get there: 11 a.m. to Alicante. The line for Iberia, Spain’s national airline, moves kinda slow, but I’m in no rush. I get to the front. I throw my two massive bags on the scale. I hand the rep my confirmation number. She is a very pretty airline check-in lady sitting in a row of very pretty airline check-in ladies. It is hard not to feel at ease.

I try to start the conversation in Spanish, even though my travel Spanish is pretty much limited to, “Hi, here’s my photo ID.” The check-in lady starts typing my information into the computer. She types with the same fury that American gate agents tend to use while typing; she types as though hoping to inflict pain upon her keyboard. I try to wonder what this keyboard has done to wrong her.

The check-in lady stops typing, and looks up at me. And then she says something in rapid-fire Spanish.

I gaze blankly. I am far too tired to actually put together the energy to stare.

She switches to English. “Your 11 a.m. flight to Alicante has been cancelled,” she says.

I point to the board. “But what about that 11 a.m. flight to Alicante?” I ask.

“There is an 11 a.m. flight to Alicante,” she says. “You are not on it.”

So this is the kind of moment I am in: It is 9 a.m. in Spain and 3 a.m. in America. I have 70 lbs. of luggage with me. I do not have a cell phone. I am booked on an 11 a.m. flight that does not exist. I have not really slept in quite some time, and each moment I go without sleeping is making the lack of sleep more evident.

Things are not going well.

Of course, things get fixed. The check-in lady explains that my initial flight was cancelled, and then a different 11 a.m. flight was scheduled. She does not know why I was not re-booked. She mentions that I should have been notified of this weeks ago, and I start to wonder whether or not my grandma’s travel agent knew about my non-flight flight. The check-in lady says she cannot put me on the 11 a.m. flight, even though the flight is not full. She puts me on the 1 p.m. flight instead.

This is how it will be.

So it takes a while, and I’m not entirely alive by the time I land, but I do get there, and when I get there, I am immediately taken to a hotel on the beach. It is January, and it is 65 degrees.

This is comfort enough.

But I like to think of two songs by Townes Van Zandt at such moments. There are days like the one I had at Madrid Int’l, days that seem to confirm that whatever gods exist spend most of their existence seeking to make my life as difficult as possible.

Townes’ “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold” is a song about those very gods.

But it’s also got this magic bit of wisdom at the end. The song is about two men, Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold, and a game of poker. Mr. Gold’s getting all the right cards. He’s winning hand after hand. And just when it looks bleak, the gods change their minds, and Mr. Mudd gets an unbeatable hand. Mr. Gold gets confident. Bets it all. Loses it all.

And the final verse goes:

Now here’s what this story’s told
If you feel like Mudd you’ll end up Gold
If you feel like lost, you’ll end up found
So amigo, lay them raises down

That’s always a nice reminder on the worst days. Stick with it. Be patient. Luck always evens out.

The other Townes song that helps is called “Rex’s Blues.” It’s one of his best. And this is the part that crushes me:

There ain’t no dark till something shines
I’m bound to leave this dark behind

Make of that what you will, but for me, it’s always said: We can’t really understand the lows until we’ve experienced the highs. I mean, really: How can we know what is good until we’ve known that which is not?

But once we understand it, we can always hope for something better. We can always hope for a little bit of sunshine.

Or in the case of my study abroad experience, six months of topless beaches and sunshine.

(How I got college credit for it all, I’ll never know.)