Tuesday 9 July 2019

Trip of a Life Time

by Susan Borgersen


Is that really what you’ve done?” she says. Too tired for tears. Too exhausted to be angry with him. “I thought we always said we would never...”

Ginger slumps into her old armchair. Still in her red and white tabard uniform from the diner. Her legs ache. Her back aches. And now a dull nagging ache that Mel has gone against their pledge, the one they have upheld all their married life: never to borrow.

He looks up at his wife with the sideways sheepish glance she has come to know; a sign that he has gone behind her back. “Sweetie, my Sugar-pie, I didn’t mean to. I honestly had no intention of borrowing the money. But I just couldn’t help myself,” he says. “There was the giant poster in the loan company’s window, with the Empire State Building, saying, ‘you could take a trip of a lifetime’ and I thought, yes we could, yes we can, and so, yes I did. And you know I’d do anything for you. If we don’t go now, we never will, so yes, I borrowed the $100 we needed so we can go.” 

Ginger gasps. It is the longest sentence she’s heard from her husband in years. Borrowing money, their big no-no. Doing it without talking it through even worse. But his sheepish look has turned to love and determination now, and she’s tired. She nods in slow  acceptance. 

In the days that follow, excitement and anticipation start to creep in, finally working their way to her face which breaks into the big wide smile and shining blue eyes she’s known for.

So Ginger and Mel are going to New York. The news is out. It is their trip of a lifetime. Her workmates at the diner give Ginger all kinds of advice:

“You have to go to the Carnegie Hall.”

“And Ground Zero, that’s a must.”

“Don’t forget the Statue of Liberty.”

“And the Empire State Building, just like King Kong.”

Ginger listens and nods. Long ago, she decided what she would do if she ever got to New York. She and Mel saved for years for this trip and it was never quite enough. As soon as they had the right amount, the cost would soar again. They’ve never been outside of Albion Pennsylvania before, not even for their honeymoon over forty years ago. “It is our trip of a lifetime,” they say to each other. “No-one else’s. Ours.”

She sends off for tickets for Wheel of Fortune. A chance for her and Mel to see the famous Rick and Trisha in the flesh would be like a dream come true. Rick with his Caribbean tan and Trisha in her long spangled cocktail dress, the wheel spinning and the contestants screaming themselves silly when they win; Ginger wants it all. When the tickets arrive in the mail, she feels like her belly is full of purple balloons, she’s that excited.

Mel and Ginger go to New York for three days. They arrive on Tuesday afternoon and check into the Hotel Pennsylvania in Midtown, Manhattan. It’s less than $100 a night but they choose it for more than the value deal; they guess it will be like a home away from home. Ginger doesn't intend they spend much time there, no sirree; she and Mel are going to get themselves all dressed up and go for a real New York pizza, then head right to Radio City Music Hall. She wants to line up early, and watch all the comings and goings. 

Mel puts on his new navy blue shirt Ginger found for him at the Goodwill, and wets his comb at the basin in the corner of the room. The comb leaves furrows of pink as his scalp shows through his sparse grey hair. He smiles at his reflection; it is the smile of a man who, at long last, can give the woman he loves, something she deserves.

For the theatre Ginger wears a sunshine yellow polyester blouse with loose flowing white pants. She ordered them from the Sears Roebuck catalogue and paid them off over six months. The size eighteen turned out to be too snug, so she phoned the nice girl who told her how to send them back in the original packaging.

“What d’ya think?” she said to Mel when the size twenty-somethings finally arrived. She held them up against her and sashayed around the kitchen. “Do you think Rick will spot me in this yellow, on the fifth row? Won’t we look swell, you in your leather jacket and your cowboy boots, and me in this?”

The night starts out just as she imagined. Ushers keep the audience amused before the show starts. They are told to clap when the green lights flash, and keep quiet when the red light is on, especially when the contestants are answering. “Also,” they are told, “we are being broadcast right across North America.”

“Just think Mel,” says Ginger, “they could even see us on TV back home.”

“Hush, Sweetie,” says Mel, “they are making an announcement. It’s you. They are asking for you. You’re the red-headed lady in yellow on the fifth row? Aren’t you?”

Ginger looks behind her, and around her, then in front, where the ushers are beckoning for her to go forward. “Me?” she points to her generous yellow-enveloped bosom.

“Yes, you Honey, the lady in the sunny yellow, please come forward and bring your handsome man with you.”

Mel and Ginger make their way along the row, saying, “Sorry, pardon me,” until they reach the aisle.

“One of our contestants is sick and dropped out,” she is told. “You have been chosen as our replacement.” Ginger can’t believe her ears. Her face begins to flush the colour of their front door back home.

Mel nods to her and whispers, “Your dreams really are coming true, I love you, don’t be scared Sweetie, I’ll be waiting.”

Ginger is shepherded backstage to hair and makeup and within minutes joins Rick and Trisha and the other contestants on stage. Sound checks prove that Ginger’s voice is ‘hell yes’ strong enough, and the show gets underway.

The wheel spins. Ginger has seen the show so many times, the clues are obvious. She spits them out almost before the wheel stops. And then, quick as a chipmunk scurrying under the woodpile, she’s won $43,000 and is in the bonus round.

“And who do you have with you?” says the tanned Rick.

“My wonderful, loving husband, Mel,” says Ginger, who’s witnessed the scene every night on the TV back home, she can say the words in her sleep. 

The bonus wheel is spinning, it lands on W. She reaches out her plump finger and thumb and, without a tremble, plucks up the card. Rick takes her warm hand in his cool one and together they look at the board as the clues are filled. Of course Ginger knows the answer. “Boiled cabbage,” she says, without hesitation.

Rick opens the card. Ginger all but faints when he announces that she has won another $100,000. Before she knows it, she is in Mel’s arms.

“I had no idea you were so clever,” he whispers.

“I had no idea either,” says Ginger. “Is this for real?”

“I reckon so, Sweetie,” says Mel. “I guess all our worries are over now. And I can pay back the $100 I borrowed.”

They take a yellow cab back to the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan. They sit on the edge of the pink slippery bedspread and hold on tight to each other. They promise that this will not change a thing; that they won’t be rash; this is the most unexpected windfall they could ever have hoped for, and they will be putting most of it away for a rainy day.

Before they go home they will shop in New York, after all, this is their trip of a lifetime. They will go to 5th Avenue and buy Mel a soft green doeskin shirt from L.L. Bean, a pair of handmade Laredo cowboy boots and one of those fancy watches that can be worn underwater. Ginger will invest in a digital camera from the Nikon store and a fuchsia silk blouse from Bloomingdales. They will ‘do’ New York and take in the sights: The Statue of Liberty; Ground Zero; The Carnegie Hall, and they’ll go as high as they can up the Empire State Building. Lunch on their last day will be at the Plaza Hotel where they’ll watch a different world pass before them.

Ginger will be amazed that the cute little piece of plastic that goes into the Nikon camera will hold hundreds of pictures. She will snap and snap with abandon, just like the salesman showed her, so that when they get back home she can pop it into a new flatscreen TV. Their friends and family and workmates will be invited to a ‘Big Apple’ party where they’ll be shown Mel’s and Ginger’s pictures.

But the best picture of all will sit, in a gold-plated frame, on the mantle shelf. It is the official photo of Ginger and Mel standing with a tanned Rick and pretty, sequin-gowned Trisha on the stage at the Radio City Music Hall.

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