An Insomniac Travels

You can't sleep. You wake up an hour before your alarm because you're worried about missing your plane. You went to bed late so you're already starting the trip with even less sleep than usual.

You doze off briefly on the plane while it's still at the terminal, but wake up shortly after takeoff. That's the only sleep you get on the three-hour flight. That's not the case with the guy next to you. His snoring is augmented by a higher pitch squeal due to a cold or some other condition blocking his nasal passages. The two sounds together nearly follow the tune of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Your day passes as expected. No opportunities for naps. No dozing off in meetings. But you're affected by the two-hour time change so it is an early night. You are exhausted.

You get into bed at 9:30 local time, but that's 11:30 to you. Way past your normal bedtime. You start to read, but after only half a page you put the book down. You know it won't be long before you're asleep. You put on a podcast—the tried and true method to stop your mind from spiraling by focusing on something else interesting—and you barely make it past the introduction of the show before you're asleep.

It's 2:00AM and you wake up. You slept hard, not surprisingly, and you wake up hard too. Fully awake. There's a light on in your hotel room. The drapes are open. You get up to use the bathroom and brush your teeth. You turn off the light and close the drapes.

Back in bed you put the podcast back on, rewinding it back to the beginning. You are hopeful this will work again. You toss. You turn. Lie on your left side. Lie on your right side. You even try lying on your back. You hear the whole podcast episode. Sleep is not happening.

You get up and open the drapes to look out the window. You find the road in the darkness and see a car. Then a second car. You wonder what the drivers are doing out at three in the morning. There's another car coming over the hill. Is there a story here? What are all the things compelling someone to be on the road in the middle of the night? A job? A night out on the town? A secret liaison? It's less likely they are up to something nefarious.

Let them keep driving. You get back in bed after turning on the light and writing down the story idea in your notebook. You turn off the light, put on another podcast to try again. Not hopeful this time. You know what it feels like when sleep won't come.

You turn off the podcast and let your mind wander. You think of that book from the 80s where the narrator addressed to the reader as you. You remember being confused whether the narrator was talking about himself or talking about you. The memories of Bolivian marching powder crashing through your brain are strong.

You turn on the light and read for about an hour. Your book is holding your attention, but you look up and see a poorly patched section of wallpaper. It is so obvious that it is more likely a bad repair as opposed to a hiding place. You wonder what someone was up to in a hotel room the damaged the wallpaper—or the wall—so much that a six-inch square section of wallpaper needed to be replaced.

You put the book down and turn off the light. You're going to try to salvage the night and see if you can get any more sleep. It is highly unlikely. No podcast this time.

You roll to the right, close your eyes and wrap your arms around an extra pillow. It helps. You fall down the chasm of sleep. You only realize it when you open your eyes and see daylight streaming in around the edges of the drapes.

You have made it through another night in a hotel room.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen