Monday, June 27, 2011

In Transit...

Hour 1

The alarm goes off at 4:30am. Graham and I stumble about our respective homes, arming ourselves with coffee (Graham), a shower (me), and breakfast burritoes (intended for both of us, but ultimately lukewarm and forgotten in my bag). Graham kindly drives me to the airport where I hand him the keys to the kingdom (truck and house) for safe-keeping.

Hour 1.5

Great Lakes fails to hail United on the phone to vet my ticket so the puddle jumper to Denver leaves without me. I wait seven and a half hours in the Riverton airport for the next flight out.

Hour 5

Vacuum cleaners roar in the background. I visit the Airport Cafe and get two sausage links and a piece of french toast with cottage cheese (Evan just winced) and syrup for $5.20 with a Great Lakes voucher. I watch Beth's trio of red-headed sprites (three and four years old) give their mom a Skittles-infused send-off.

Hour 12

The threat of missing my connection is enough to dissuade me from getting my traditional boot polish in the Denver Airport although I am sorely tempted.

Hour 17

I remember feeling intrepid and independent getting shuttled around the world on planes. This time around the feeling is more one of loneliness and isolation. It's something about the combo of language barriers, disorientation and watching people in tribes of two or more traveling together that turns me into an observer. Details that I wouldn't otherwise notice grab my attention...

A mother and son sitting next to me diligently practice saying "La Torta Antipatica" as they pour over their Italian flash cards. The pair are utterly intent and sincere as they carefully repeat "The Disagreeable Cake" out loud to each other.

Sparrows duck in and out of the vents and rafters overhead, delighting the human hordes below. I never noticed the birds that populate airports until Evan pointed them out to me. Now I look for them and see them everywhere.

The smokers, relegated to plastic cubes in terminals, are all bunched together and on display below weak trails of smoke.

...The heatbreak of traveling alone is that there's no one's shoulder to rest your chin on as you quietly point out the couple over there.

I miss Evan. When he took off for India last year, I was able to successfully let go of my attachment to what our relationship would look like when he got back. I was able to stay open to unexpected outcomes and trust that all would ultimately turn out for the best. The gift of that capacity was hugely freeing.

This time has been much harder. Sitting in Dulles, it hits me how much of my life I've spent alone and how precious this relationship is to me. Fear whispers sweet nothings in my ear that leave me hungering for a sense of control in the face of change rather than relaxing into faith.

Hour 22

I hit the in-flight magazine jackpot! Articles about Muay Thai, The Cult of Cross-Fit, Louis CK, and traveling around Southwestern Ireland keep me occupied and away from the movie selection onboard the plane to Germany.

Hour 26

I have made it a habit to seek out prayer rooms in international airports during long layovers. I prefer mosques with their plush prayer mats. Sacrilegious some would say, but I would argue that sleep is a wonderful way to commune with God. The chapel in Frankfurt is full of windows and light, I can't find the mosque down the warren of narrow hallways and the synagogue is a stuffy, windowless conference room. I opt for an eye mask, ear plugs, and a bench by Gate A22. It occurs to me --not for the first time-- that a mint could be made by adding gyms and sleeping rooms to airports worldwide.

Hour 33

The Norwegian bus driver announces in broken English, "My Ladies and Gentlemen. You are lucky today. For you we have planes, trains, and buses because there is construction on the line to Oslo for the next six weeks. I will be happy to see you again perhaps? Have no worries about getting lost-- we are together. I will not leave you. Have a happy evening and please give me one meter of space when I unload your bags." Color me charmed.

Hour 35

A saxophonist and his girlfriend let me use their phone. Harald picks me up and takes me straight to a BBQ at his friend's rooftop apartment, overlooking the city. Harald was a student of mine on a WFR in Durango years ago, an inspiring innovator with exquisite taste who just got back from guiding a client to the North Pole. I am presented with my own room, internet access, a set of keys and a cellphone. Harald mentions that I should stay with friends of his in the Lofoten Islands and in Stockholm. I am reminded that it rarely pays to make plans ahead of time when traveling and that I am far more comfortable being the generous one than the grateful one in scenarios like these.

Hour 37

It's still light out when I go to bed at midnight.

Hour 38

I agonize over a relatively simple design decision and send an email home changing my mind about a detail on the back stairwell of the new addition.

Hour 48

I wake up sunken into a partially deflated air mattress, pee dark yellow, pound water and take a run by the river skirting Harald's apartment. I dodge more strollers than I've seen in ages and legions of Aryan-looking exercise enthusiasts. The light rain, salt air, maple trees, slugs and harebell flowers all remind me of the Pacific Northwest.

Hour 54

After a delicious lunch which includes raiding the fridge for brown cheese, spreadable bacon in a tube, and a bell pepper, I catch a bus and ferry to the polished museum paths of Bygdøy. To see the Kon-Tiki, the Fram and a Viking Longship in the same afternoon is to marvel at the scope of Norway's maritime heritage.

Although I followed Harald's directions every step of the way, there is still the thrill of having successfully navigated public transportation as I climb the five flights of stairs back up to his door. I even managed to look bored enough at a bus stop to be approached for directions by a Norwegian. That said, I have quite a distance to travel before I'll be able to say I've truly arrived here. At this point reading any Norwegian sign is an elaborate guessing game in which I look for the English words hidden within constellations of unfamiliar consonants. Sometimes a sense of place comes slowly, if at all.

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