I know, if anything, I’m known for being hyperbolic and rambling in my travel blogs. But I’m not all that bothered, these are writings that fill me with joy. If I could make a career out of them like Rick Steves or Samantha Brown, I’d immediately quit my job and forget the degree I’m almost done with to tell you all about the best things to do in Brasov, Romania and Mexico City and Paris and Gaborone, Botswana and my beloved Luxor. I was meant to travel. I know that just as much as I know that the sky is blue and the pope is a Catholic. The only real regret I have in life is that I’ve never found a way to monetize my love of adventure. And I hate the word adventure.
This rambling preamble is merely an introduction to a short series — well…we’ll see how short it winds up being — of posts that is going to cover the deliriously wonderful spring break I recently had. I know that I’ve only gone over the first two weeks of my second to last visit to Mexico City, but since then, I’ve been back yet again and fallen ever more in love with it. I don’t know why it suits me so much or why I feel so at home there. It makes no logical sense, but I’m more a citizen of the world than I am any one place. Mexico City is like another home for me. It fills me with the satisfaction that Paris and Luxor do, and if I’m honest, it’s a place that I honestly see myself living. Once I finish my degree, I honestly don’t know why I wouldn’t move there to teach English. It would satisfy me in ways that I can only daydream about. I would be able to immerse myself in a new culture, I would be able to teach linguistics, and I would be able to live a life that feels appropriate. I don’t always feel that way back at home. There’s always a little lingering doubt that I’m wasting my time and my expertise and my joy. I never feel that way abroad and I certainly never feel that way in Mexico.
Before taking off, my procrastination was, if you can possibly believe, even worse than usual. For whatever reason, I couldn’t pack my bags. I knew exactly what I wanted to take, but I couldn’t get myself to do it! We were scheduled to start driving to Chicago at four o’clock that morning, and I finally put my bag together at midnight. I was almost impressed with myself that I did it at all instead of buying an entirely new wardrobe when I landed. I don’t think Jessica would have had the patience for that.
Bleary eyed, we set out for the airport, the six hour drive to Chicago passing by quickly. It was almost a good time even. I actually quite like the drive to Chicago if you set your GPS to avoid the toll roads. I hate toll roads. They give me PTSD. I took one maybe the first month with my new car and I was in terror most of the time. People are going a hundred miles an hour, swerving every which way, and the threat of danger is palpable. Now that I’m a more experienced driver, though, this is more fun for me.
We were, obviously, starving to death and couldn’t wait for the restaurants at the airport. We probably would have starved to death, there was nothing in sight. There was nary an Arby’s to be found. (And can I just say how good Arby’s is? Go get their Cajun fish sandwich. Now. I’ll wait…did you get it? Was it not BOMB? There’s no reason it should be that good.) There was no glow of the golden arches of McDonalds on the horizon, so out of desperation we pulled into a rest area and prayed for a good vending machine.
I was pretty excited for a machine that dispensed seemingly every kind of coffee ever concocted. I’ll happily drink bad coffee as long as there’s caffeine, but I couldn’t even come close to finishing this one. I swiped my credit card and chose a latte. A plastic cup violently shot out, the machine made a horrible sound, and then a dribble of tan liquid flowed into the cup. I was wary, but I took a tentative sip. Reader…wow. Those beans should sue for assault. Disgusting. And I was sadly reminded that as much as try to love where I am and what I do, the middle of rural Illinois is still not Paris. In my favorite European city they have amazing hot beverage dispensers in some of the RER stations. They make fresh espresso! And they make the absolute most delicious green tea I have ever had. This travesty was far from comparable. A travesty.
Chicago came into view, and I started to hope and pray that my next scheme would work out. We were going to leave the car at a garage off property at a place called Wally Park. I wasn’t sure it would go smoothly, if my reservation would be accepted because I had to change a couple details, and then if the shuttle to the airport would be timely. I shouldn’t have worried, and if you ever need to park your car in Chicago, I highly recommend them. You just pull up, chat with the guy at the desk, give him your keys, and get on the next shuttle. It took all of ten minutes. The building is clean and warm and safe and I was completely at ease.
Moments later we were at the airport and through security in no time at all. Honestly we didn’t need to arrive early at all, which is absurd. O’Hare is usually insane. I was almost offended that there wasn’t even a mild kerfuffle when the screw in my skull wasn’t questioned. How dare they not offer me a complimentary pat down? I had a card from my audiologist at the ready, and I was so eager to flash evidence of my disability. Maybe I would get preferential treatment! Well, this never happened and I was livid. Not even a cursory glance was thrown my way. Rude.
It took all of five minutes to make it to the boarding gates, and we had more than enough time, so we decided to find something to eat. We were, of course, starving, and luckily there was a very interesting looking food court. I was drawn to one that featured Middle Eastern food, and you know at heart I’m Arabic, so I went here for a bowl of falafel. I didn’t expect much. It was airport food, after all, but that was a bop!
The falafels were traditional ones with fava beans instead of chickpeas, so I was sold. But the best part of the entire thing was a little container of chimichurri. It was insane. Like, I want to plan another trip out of that terminal just so I can go back and shovel that stuff in my mouth.
We had hours and I like to walk and Jessica likes to sit, so I wandered around and Jessica spent time at the gate. She really missed out. I thought it would be a good time to go grab a coffee, and let me just tell you, it was the perfect time. As I approached the shop, I heard an inhuman shriek of rage and then one of the airport employees was dodging blows from an enraged woman. She was hurling obscenities, ripping out hair extensions, and flailing her limbs in every direction. It was CAPTIVATING. I, of course, joined the crowd around the brawling duo and tried to figure out what was going on. We never did, unfortunately, airport security arrived in a timely manner. Like they were supposed to, I know, but still, I wanted to get to the bottom of this. Morosely, I got in line at the coffee shop. The latte was good, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the fight.
On the way into town, we decided we might as well upgrade our seats to the first row and pretend we were living our best first class lives. And it wasn’t first class at all, it was just literally a chair in row one. We were flying with Volaris, a Mexican budget airline, and though I love them dearly, they don’t exactly offer a luxurious experience. I mean, even with our front row tickets, we were the third group to board. That, to Jessica and I, who had spent exactly $28 to upgrade ourselves, was UNACCEPTABLE. We were somewhat sated, though, when we got to our seat and saw that they were at least fake leather and said PREMIUM on them. So we were feeling fabulously. Everybody else had cloth. SAD.
And Jessica had fallen in love with the flight attendant, she was mesmerized by her flawless makeup and flawless hair and casual elegance. I have never seen Jessica, who I must mention is not a lesbian, so entranced by an in-flight safety demonstration in my life. She even liked her perfume. I enjoyed that enormously.
The doors of the plane closed and the first of many vacation miracles occurred. You see, dear and beloved reader, the seat beside me was empty. Nobody sat there. There was nobody in the chair. It was open and available and I immediately commandeered it, spread out, and stared dramatically out the window as we took to the air.
The flight was blissfully uneventful and time…get this…flew by. God, I’m hysterical.
As soon as we began our descent and cut through the clouds, my eyes were darting all over the window, cursing Volaris that the premium seats had smudges on the outside of the window. Everything was kind of hazy, but still my eyes looked all over for anything at all. I was dazzled by giant hills, mountains, farms, great stretches of barren land, and then as we found ourselves nearer to Mexico City, I had to fight myself so that I wouldn’t gasp or shriek or cry. Directly below me, reader, were pyramids.
I was awestruck seeing the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan, and in an instant they were gone, but that sight is one that will live forever in my memories. In fact, it sits right next to the one of me arriving in Paris late at night. As we flew over the city, the Eiffel Tower started to sparkle, and honest to god, it felt like a scene from a movie. It was absolutely decadent.
And then the city appeared. We were miles and miles from the heart of Mexico City, but the extreme edges were densely packed. It was wonderful to pick out the roads and soccer fields and parks and bigger homes. I barely dared to blink. And then we touched down and I felt the most extraordinary sense of calm. All of the tension that I have been carrying around with me lately melted into my pleather premium seat. I could breathe. I swear my back unclenched. I could have melted. It was divine.
The airport is a behemoth and difficult to figure out when you leave, but the day you arrive, there’s nothing simpler. You just follow the signs, fill out a paper, chat with the immigration worker, and then the city is yours.
Jessica rolled her eyes much too dramatically as I used Spanish when our passports were being approved. She’s just jealous. We were allowed to enter the county and we were off. We didn’t linger at the airport, we jumped in the first Uber that would pick us up. And, reader, the second that I stepped out of the airport’s door, I could have cried. The breeze was warm, flowering plants festooned wildly in every direction, and the indescribable smell of Mexico wafted on the wind.
The drive was twice the length it normally is. Traffic was abominable. But this didn’t perturb me in the slightest. I was more than happy to revel in the scenery, to listen to the cacophony of honking horns. Like Eartha Kitt sang in my favorite song, the music of their squeaking horns was music to my ears. I delighted in watching the cars pass, looking at the people, looking at the shops, at the vendors, at everything. The trees were incredible and I saw jacarandas for the first time. These trees blossom with blue and purple flowers and they are all over the city. An obsession was born that Jessica couldn’t even start to handle. I’m still talking about it.
Moments later we were twisting and turning though the streets of the Centro Histórico, and I was back in my old stomping grounds, smiling from ear to ear, unable to contain my enthusiasm for another second.
Last year, I made a copy of the key to the courtyard, so I didn’t have to wait for anybody to come to the door, I just went inside as if it was my own, as if I was coming home. It was a bit overwhelmingly wonderful. Jessica gasped at once, and I knew that she had seen a cat. Which one, though? My darling Simba? Sassy and shedding Patron? His sister Little Chiffon and her moody little meows? A kitten? Slim? Or was it the angel of everybody’s heart, Bitch Cat?
It turns out that it was her, that nasty little angel from heaven, our dear and darling Bitch. I swear to every god that ever existed that she recognized us. I mean, unlike the first time we met, when she glared lovingly across the courtyard at me with hateful eyes and refused my attention, instead focusing solely on a gigantic rabbit that was in a cage. Looking back, I guess I can’t really blame her. That rabbit was extraordinary. But tonight when she and I saw each other again, she must have remembered the treats that I used to spoil and pamper her with, and she trotted right over to Jessica and I, more than delighted to accept our affection. At this point, Jessica was openly weeping tears of joy. I was close, but I had to keep myself collected to get into the apartment.
The doors were open and the lights were on, and Layla, one of the owners was waiting for us. After a warm greeting and a little notice about what was new, Jessica and I were given the keys, dumped our bags, and finally felt like we were home. I immediately unpacked my bag, hanging up my shirts on the hangers that I bought the last time. I marveled at a new light fixture and a new table, and sighed contentedly. It was perfect.
Unpacked, Jessica and I darted out to grab water and nibbles at 7/11, and it was as joyous as seeing the cats again. Jessica and I are somewhat inexplicably in love with this chain of convenience stores. Remember that one time when we drove halfway across the state and then literally crossed the Mississippi River to go to a 7/11 to buy things we did not need? It was absolutely worth it. I bought myself a lighter that says 7/11 on it and that is one of the best thing that I own. I have it next to my candles in a place of pride. But that’s beyond the point. 7/11 was a dream come true. We bought so many candies and nibbles that we had to pack what was leftover in our bags on the way home. I just now used up the rest of my chocolate in a batch of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. They’re bomb.
Cash in hand from the ATM and the apartment loaded up with water and nibbles, Jessica and I were ready to get some dinner. We were, I’m sure you know, starving. And so we decided that we had to go to the finest restaurant in town, to the greatest establishment on this or any other continent, a gastronomic delight that never fails to delight: Olive Garden. Discovering Olive Garden in Mexico City cemented my love of the city and convinced me that I could live there for the rest of my life.
Jessica and I were the definition of lit and giddy as we descended into the Metro. Our card passes still had some pesos on it, so we felt like real chilangos as we sped through the underground tunnels down to the Paseo de la Reforma. It was wonderful to be back in the trains, squished by locals, making the journey to the finest restaurant in all the land.
We truly floated past the shops, Jessica squealed lovingly at the gays who unashamedly held hands and canoodled.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the vendors and the lights and…oh reader, it was all too wonderful. Like being in heaven. If I ever have to die, which I really don’t have any intention of, I wouldn’t mind the afterlife being exactly like Mexico City.
Jessica and I nearly had a heart attack when we rounded the corner and didn’t see the Olive Garden’s green logo illuminated in the second story window. I gasped, she started muttering, but a breeze drifted by that shifted a palm frond that exposed the gorgeous Olive Garden sign. We were going to be all right. We were going to get food.
My eternal queen, Angie, was at her post. She’s always there. And she’s always a treasure. She’s one of those friendly faces that I start to miss when I’m away. I suppose she’s like my cranky lady in Paris at Miss Manon. When I see her there, I know everything will be all right. Angie took good care of us and sat us on the terrace with an absolutely sensational view of the Avenida de Reforma.
Sunset was seconds away and the modern skyscrapers glowed the most beautiful orange. We were seduced by a warm breeze that wasted through the trees, and for the first time in much too long, I felt myself thawing out. I was coming back to life.
Winter had been too long. Too painful. Too endless. Chicago had been frigid and grey that morning, but now we were surrounded by the lushness of a better climate. The food was sensational, the way it always is. I mean, reader, the Olive Garden is always the right choice, but somehow it’s even better here.
We were both so happy. And we were both so relaxed. And we were both feeling blessed because we still had another week and a half of this decadence to enjoy.