4:30 am CST Kansas City
This morning when I woke up to realized I had the beginnings of an ear infection most likely. I started to get upset. Which made me even more upset, because I really wanted to be cool about this trip. Ben was really helpful and talked me through it, and gently took the coffee out of my hand to lower the adrenaline rushing through my body.
We got in the car, drove to the airport, he dropped me off. Then I called him 10 minutes later, upset because the security at the airport said they didn’t recommend flying with an ear infection as it “could cause serious damage.”
Ben said, “God damn it. Why do people have to say things like that?”
I went and spoke with another security guard, and she said I would probably be fine. And I should go.
So I went through security, and I got on the flight.
I don’t remember most of it, and my ear was fine. I had weird sleep/xanax dreams about changing my life around, becoming everything that scares me. All in all it was good. The woman cursed next to me about the wind as we landed. She warmed my heart with that comment, and we became kindred spirits.
12 pm EST Philadelphia Airport
I’m rushing to catch my next flight, which starts boarding in 10 minutes. I make it into the airport lobby, and look at the board.
My flight has been cancelled.
I’ve never had to deal with this before. I go to the gate, and it is empty. I ask the airport workers what my options are. They say the next flight they can get me on is at 8 pm. Or I can fly to DC at 4 pm, and then to Baltimore after.
I ask them if they can give me a minute to think about it. I walk over to some seats in a corner, put my combat boots up on the seat and sprawl out.
I call Ben. Mostly, I admit, to get some much desired pity. He tells me I should just take a bus. And I think, that’s a great fucking idea.
The East Coast, man. Everything is basically in each other’s backyard. I practically could have walked to Baltimore.
I walk back up to the airport workers, and ask about wifi.
No wifi in Philly. They don’t even have internet on their airport computers.
A really nice guy with dreads and tattoos named Lamar helps me out though. He looks up prices for buses and trains, and finds a Megabus for $31, tax included. He books it on his smart phone for me, and writes down the confirmation number. Then he tells me how to get down to the megabus pickup, in downtown Philly.
I tell him that if I ever see him again, and he ever needs anything, I’ve got his back. I ask him how he likes working at an airport, and he says he likes it for the diverse interactions he has with people from all over the world. He has a little smile on his face when he says it, and you can tell that it’s not always an easy cultural exchange, but it’s helping him grow, he says.
I ask him if he likes to fly, and he says HELL NO. HE does it once or twice a year, but only when he has to.
I run down to the ground transportation level, ask a taxi driver how to pay for the train, take out cash from the ATM, buy an orange juice from a pretzel stand to break up the twenties, then I run to the light rail.
I don’t know if I’m on the right side of the platforms to get on the train, so I yell at the person across from me, asking how this all works. They yell back with a smile, say I’m all good and it will be here soon.
I jump on the train when it pulls in, and am directed to a car.
12:40 EST Downtown Philly
Sitting on the pretty dirty ground in the sunshine under a bridge at the Megabus pick up location. I am so happy that the people at the airport were able to help me so much. I feel back in it with the people, the sunshine, and the xanax is wearing off so I’m a lot clearer.
I talk to an African immigrant living in Philly who’s standing next to me in the megabus line. Then I realize suddenly that I haven’t changed my tampon since 5 this morning, so I have to run blocks to find a bathroom, and take care of that before we get on our two hour bus ride.
Honestly though, I have no idea how long the bus ride was. I was falling asleep constantly, a few times accidentally onto the nice person sitting next to me. I kept waking up to the woman in front of me who was shouting something to a person sitting next to her, except there was no person sitting next to her. And when I woke up hours later, I was in the most soul sucking mega mall parking lot of my life.
3:30 EST The Burbs of Baltimore
Okay. So I’m in Baltimore now. This is great. I’m way earlier than I would have been if I’d waited around for a flight, and I’ve had some adventure and met some great people. I still am a little disheartened at the sight of everything though- mega consumerism. It takes me about 10 minutes to walk through the massive parking lot to their food court.
Pop on my laptop, grab their wifi, find the fastest public transportation out of here.
Which proves harder to navigate than I had anticipated- because I am in MALL LAND, and I can’t tell what is North, East, Left or Right. I talk to bus drivers sitting out front, they direct me to another bus pick up, which isn’t right. Hit the wifi again, and zoom up a little closer on the map. Head out again, find the bus stop, and post up.
Wait an hour for something that never comes.
Walk into the local library, see what I’m doing wrong. She tells me the bus stop I want it just 40 feet further up the street.
I drag my loaded bags (which consist mostly of books. I have brought TEN books with me on this trip. And one of them is a big ass Franzen novel. I will never again do this.)
Sit down, and wait for another thirty minutes. Call my brother, shoot the shit, then get on the bus, and we take a 40 minute ride on the highway out of suburbia, and into the city.
5:30 EST Downtown Baltimore
Everyone’s getting out of work and school, and everyone’s using the light rail. I get on and off three light rail rides before I find what I’m looking for- one to take me all the way to Baltimore Washington Airport.
Taking the lightrail was probably a great experience. Baltimore has a very strong African American population, at least in the direction I was heading. It was a good experience to be such a minority, and also to be using city transportation again.
I was amazed with the amount of green space on the light rail ride. But also at how much trash, poverty and addiction manifested the green space. It reminded me of California.
It’s getting dark, and my map tells me to get off the light rail, and find another bus to get on, but I make an executive decision to stay on the light rail and go to the airport this way, even if it’s longer. I make it to the airport, and walk inside to find that my phone has lost power long ago. I need to make a call to the hotel so they can pick me up in their van, so I use a payphone for one of the first times in my life. The receptionist at the hotel puts me on hold for a good five minutes or so, all the while a woman to the left of me in the corner is giving me the stink eye. I’m trying real hard to get out of this room, so I’m happy when the receptionist comes back on, and tells me the bus will be there in 15.
7:30 pm EST at the AFS Conference
I make it to the Conference. A little lonely, a little out of my comfort zone. Expecting luxury hotel like I had for the conference in DC this summer, but instead walk into a receptionist yelling at the man on the phone about his toilet overflowing, in a dark barracks with buffet style food and a crowd a little too small and elderly to disappear into easily. We are staying at the Maritime Institute, an old Merchant Marine lodge.
I sat at dinner alone and ate as fast as I could, in case someone came up and tried to talk to me. I’m back in my room now, and it’s beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. But the thing is, I have a room mate. Which is weird. There are two beds, and hers is full of things. I have not met her, but the way we are going to meet tonight is by her walking into the room. It feels a bit like NCCC, especially with the military style, and sharing a room with strangers.
I’m starting to settle in and feel better. And I’m reminded that the discomfort of travel is not the negative of it, but the whole essence. You travel to be taken out of your comfort zone. You travel so that you have to make fast decisions and new plans and old plans and new friends and to realize how much those already in your life mean to you.