Did you know that you can get Cheesecake Factory to go and then decadently eat it in your bed at a four-star hotel? I didn’t until I did. This discovery was astonishing. It was life changing. It powered me through what was to come. Nothing bad happened at the end of my trip, mind you, my travels from Doha to home were fine and my pants remarkably stayed together, but the thought of a stuffed mushroom in bed was so fascinating to me, that it assuaged the fatigue of international travel.
The descent into Manchester, England was a bit abrasive to me. Instead of the burning hot sun and golden sands, I was given uneven green grass and a grey sky.
Having been swaddled by the desert, this was unpleasant. The transition back into the world that I know was gruesome. Gone were the smiling faces and the people that were friendly for no reason. Instead, I was greeted by grim shufflers, people consumed by their assumed privileges, and a return to the customary hustle and bustle. It was a blow to the psyche.
Manchester International Airport is not attractive nor is it conducive to wandering. It is a labyrinth that makes very little sense. I made it through customs and then onto a bus and through the drizzly morning to another building. Here I went on what felt like a lengthy hike to a departure gate. For whatever reason, the other people who were going to Chicago were either lost or not as quick as I was, so I was allowed to check in absurdly early. I was the only one for hours, so I gloated over this. I was also charming and given a minor upgrade. I don’t know why, but I was grateful to the kindly woman and her lengthy braided hair.
There was absolutely nothing to do, so I read all the tabloids, sat in a variety of chairs, and got a bit of cash out of the ATM so that I could get a foot massage from a lonely looking machine. It wasn’t worth the money, but it proved to be a pleasant diversion. I freshened up and decided to go get some food.
The options were limited and I decided against a pint of lager in the airport pub. It’d be overpriced, and I just can’t get used to beer. Besides, I would think of those charming afternoons with Hassan at that dusty cafe by the Valley of the Nobles and I would start to sigh wistfully and allow melancholia to swirl around me. I didn’t want to do that. So instead I had a coffee and an apple muffin. It wasn’t thrilling.
Hours and hours went by. The plane was delayed, of course, and then it was delayed again, of course. I was beyond annoyed, but I didn’t let it get to me. I just drank more coffee in the hopes that the added caffeine would help me whack my internal clock back into US Central Time.
After an eternity, we boarded, and my seat was DECADENT. It was economy plus and I was more pretentious than I have been in absolute ages. Instead of just being the front few rows, we had a little section of the plane to ourselves that all the rest of the economy people had to walk past as we sat comfortably in our seats sipping complementary water bottles. It was a glorious feeling.
I stretched out luxuriously in my extra spacious seat and read and listened to podcasts and watched England fade into the distance. I don’t really know what I did during the lengthy jaunt to Chicago. I probably dozed. I know I ate every single thing that was offered and gladly accepted free refills of white wine every time the kindly stewardess strolled past.
“You’re going home!” she smiled, leaning over my less than pleasant neighbor to top my glass off.
“I’m going home!” I faked enthusiasm, holding the cup up to give her a rousing cheer.
I didn’t really want to be going home. You know that as well as I do. I had little interest in returning to reality. I don’t mind my job, but I didn’t want to go back just yet. I don’t mind learning at college, but I wasn’t ready to start the doldrums. I don’t mind having busy days, but I wasn’t ready to have no time for myself. It’s decidedly detrimental for my mental health. I need to be active and creative, but with work and school and having a life, well, there is simply little time for it. You’ve heard me complain about that for years, though, so I won’t carry on.
We were over the United States again, and I felt decidedly disconnected. I am an American, and I fully expected to continue being proud of that after we logically elected Hillary Clinton as the successor President Obama. We all thought that was inevitable. It should have been. What halcyon moments those fleeting hopes were. Since that ugly day when our next president was elected, I have been uneasy. A lot of you have, too, we can all feel the cultural shift. It’s ugly and if you disagree with me by all means stop reading this. I have yet to experience a good thing thanks to the latest administration. But I felt hopeful if disconnected that August afternoon.
Chicago grew on the horizon as we flew over Lake Michigan, and then with a bump, I was back on my nation’s soil. I thought of Cheesecake Factory and the Drake and new pants, and found a new spring in my step — not a very big spring mind you, since I didn’t want to lose my pants. They were barely holding on.
It took absolute ages to get out of the airport, and being back in the West was just hideous for me. The people at Border Control were hideous to me. I was lengthily interrogated about why I was in the Middle East and what I did there. I was offended, but I knew that being offended would do me no good, so I just explained that I was there to view the archaeological sites. This didn’t seem to please the guard, but I had nothing else to say. I was there to pursue my Egyptological passions, to bask in the sun, to daydream. I wasn’t there to join some terrorist society. It was Egypt not Syria, after all, and why on Earth would I do that? I was finally allowed to go with a suspicious glance from the guard, and I felt very uneasy.
The train was slow and long. When I finally reached my destination near the Drake, I emerged into light rain.
I was not happy. I checked in to that beautiful hotel on the banks of the lake and freshened myself up. It was getting late, so I had to hurry to grab some food before everything shuttered. I regretted not having time to buy new pants.
I scurried as quickly as my pants would allow me to the Cheesecake Factory and ordered everything. I had fried cheese and stuffed mushrooms and loaves of bread and hibiscus tea and a salad. The kindly woman behind the counter restored some of my faith in humanity and I was thankful for a respite from the rain as I emerged. So I went to Sprinkles down the road and got a chocolate cupcake out of their “Cupcake ATM.”
Back in my room at The Drake, I spread my feast out on my bed, turned on the television, and gorged myself. I watched the news and reality television and ate a million calories and it was delicious, but I was sad. I watched the rain fall and I was blue. I didn’t want to be here. I missed Africa.
My body woke me up at an ungodly early hour of the morning. I was shook, I never willingly get up before eight o’clock. It was round six. So, I had a lazy couple of hours around the hotel. I tidied myself up and researched shops to go to so that I could get new pants. There was a Forever 21 some distance away, so I determined to go there, since that is where I bought the pants that failed me. They had served me for a good year before then, so I trusted their construction.
It was still awfully early, so I walked along the beach before the humidity could grow too high.
Inevitably it did, and I thought I would make it to the shop around opening time. The door unlocked seconds before I pulled on the handle and I soon found myself in the most amazing pair of slim fit black pants. This was a life changing moment. They were denim, but the fibers were blended with spandex. I could do a high kick if I wanted! I couldn’t.
I knew that these would survive an adventure in Egypt as I climbed through ruins and into tombs. I also knew instinctively that Harry Styles must wear something like this when he’s on stage flailing about. I did squats and I jumped and I kicked in the dressing room, and I’m sure the attendant thought I had fully lost my mind. Maybe I had? I bought those pants.
And then I found an H&M and a gorgeous floral print top, so I was ready to be a new person in new clothes. I was quite sick of wearing the same clothes every day after six weeks abroad. And I must admit, I looked fabulous.
I had a bite to eat and bought several cupcakes. I changed, freshened up, and checked out.
The bus was timely and I was soon at Union Station waiting to board the train back to Iowa. I was blessed to find a Jamba Juice inside the terminal and though I didn’t have any need to eat any more, I had a gigantic green juice and boarded the train.
Surprisingly, the train left on time, and soon we were chugging away. There was a deranged man behind, so I made my way to the lounge car and stayed there the rest of the journey. I had gin and then I had pizza much later and then I had another gin and soon we were nearing Osceola.
It was late and it was dark and the train only stopped for a moment. And I stepped off into the quiet night and all my travels were done as if they had never happened.
That night, reunited with my cats and my possessions, I marveled at the absurdities of my life. How odd and wonderful it was to travel so far from home and how bizarre it was to feel so out of place and far from home whilst I was.
I couldn’t wait to get out again.