Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Being Abroad is the Easy Part

I rolled out of bed at around six Monday—UK time. That's one in the morning back home.

I showered and packed, unplugged my assorted chargers, then took one last look around my room at the Holiday Inn Ariel by Heathrow. When I'd booked the room, I'd been interested in the cheap rate and free bus from the airport, and hadn't given thought to the last time I'd been in this hotel. It was with Herr Marlboro in spring of 2005, a few months before moving to Uganda. I looked out of the restaurant window at where he'd worked on his motorbike in the parking lot and didn't feel too bad about things. This hotel had ghosts, but only mildly curious ones. I'm not still spinning from the first year of this blog.

London was gray—or rather grey—and raining on this Monday morning. I checked out and trudged across the street to the bus stop. At the Central Bus Terminal, I stepped over puddles to get inside the airport. At the self check-in, I snarled at a uniformed attendant who implied that I was a moron for not knowing to choose "Check-in without bags" since "Check-in with bags" was grayed out.

"Like my colleague just told you, check-in here and then carry your bag over there."

"You've got to admit that it looks like I should click 'Check-in with bags.'" I was checking my backpack, now heavy and stuffed full of new clothes I'd purchased in Barcelona. As heavy as it's ever been, even when laden down with a parka in Siberia. I'd bought a cute blue wheelie bag before I'd left home but there'd been snow on the ground on the day I was flying, plus it turned out that I couldn't fit much in the cute blue wheelie bag. I'd left it lying empty on my bed, zipped open and waiting for me to pack it.

"Yes, it does. That's true."

"So I'm not stupid, like you just implied I am?"

"No, NO! Of course you're not stupid."

"That's good. I was worried when you said that bit about your colleague having told me already, that I must be stupid. I wouldn't want you to think I'm stupid."

"No, no, you're not stupid."

mutter mutter yeahwell grumble ignore glare check-in

After some wretched toast and eggs, I headed to the gate and got on the plane. I always take an aisle seat in the middle row these days, and check my seat assignment to make sure I'm next to an empty seat at check-in. This works most of the time, except on full flights. No one wants the middle seats.

So I had two or three seats to myself for the long journey across the Atlantic. I slept some and managed to eat a fairly tasteless pizza an hour before landing at noon, home time.

I got through Immigration and grabbed my bag quickly, got on the LIRR and was at my office across from Penn Station at two. Not bad.

And after work, I went to my Flash class, which is from 6-10. I left my backpack at work. I'd come back and pick it up later. I couldn't very well drag it to Flash class. I would if I were teaching—my students are used to my quirks, and I'd gone straight from class to Kuwait last year. But I was a student, not a teacher in this class.

By 9:30, I had a raging headache, was starved for something more than that icky pizza I'd had on the plane, and was retaining no more than "I wonder if I could use Dot Syntax as a writing pseudonym," so I left early and went back to my office to get my bag. Since it was raining, I wanted to avoid being outside with my bags and laptop. I would, I figured, catch the A train to Port Authority, where I'd find the bus that goes straight to my front door.

Yeah, right.

At the gate the 126 usually leaves from, the doors were locked. They lock at 10 and the bus leaves from a different gate. I bought my ticket from the vending machine, then went up to the 400s, where there was copious signage for which bus left from which gate. None of these signs, unfortunately, mentioned my bus.

I asked some people. "Which gate is for the 126 to Jersey City?"

"Jersey City? The 126 goes to Hoboken."

sigh. I'd been here before.

"No, once an hour it goes on to Hamilton Park in Jersey City."

That once an hour, 10:20, was nigh.

I rushed back down to the usual gate to read the sign again. Actually, rush is an exaggeration. You can't rush with a huge piece of luggage.

I still had my raging headache. Now my muscles ached too from bag-lugging, and I was really, really tired. And seriously grumpy. And if someone had put monkey eyeballs coated in sugar in front of me, I would probably have devoured them.

I read the sign and rushed about halfway back to the gate before looking at my watch, then cross-checking the time with my phone.

Nope. I wasn't going to make any 10:20 bus to Hamilton Park.

I sighed with great melodrama and headed back down to the A train. What a stupid waste of time.

The A took me to 14th, where I walked up some steps, down a corridor, down some steps, and caught the L to Sixth Avenue. There I went up some steps, up a corridor, up some more steps, down a corridor, through the turnstiles—oops, no more money on farecard, better put some on, wait, here comes the train, oh, good it's not my train, it's the Hoboken one, maybe I should get on it anyway, it's here after all, and I could change to the other train there, no no, I'll have better luck at Grove Street where there are always taxis so I better get the Journal Square train—and sat down to wait.

A woman nearby was yelling loudly about wanting to shoot a man who was staring at her. No one was nearby.

Then an announcement came over the P.A.

"Due to a (rrrrtherpshgffkdj) condition, the Journal Square-33rd train is running subject to a 15-minute delay in both directions."


Across the platform, the woman continued to mutter and scream. I thought about joining her.

Next time the Hoboken train came, I got on.

At Hoboken, I dragged my luggage across the platform to the WTC train, which goes to my stop. I didn't actually *want* to go to my stop. I wanted to go where there was a reliable taxi rank. But my stop was better than waiting for ages in Manhattan, so off I went.

And there were usually taxis waiting across the street at my stop.

Except tonight, it was raining. You can never get a taxi in the rain.

I stood at the taxi stand in the rain, by the mall, and wondered if I cried, how would that affect anything? I certainly felt like crying, standing there in the rain with a huge headache, exhausted from overdoing it, carrying a giant bag. But that wouldn't help anything at all, so instead, I pulled out my umbrella and started walking home.

And when I got there, I gulped down a few handfuls of peanuts, threw all my wet clothes on the floor, curled up in the little corner of the bed and went to sleep, right next to my cute blue wheelie bag.

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