Asia, Moving

Business Classy

It’s time for a confession: I sprang for business class.  A 14-hour stretch of dehydration torture with air contaminated by the coughing tubercular denialist three rows back isn’t my idea of a good time, so I paid to put a little space between us.

It takes less than five minutes on my first long-haul to deem the price of this extravagance worth packing in. I board, and go to the left. First class is sequestered upstairs, and everyone in coach heads right. I feel delightfully free of the fray, especially since I survived three bad omens to get on board.

The first involved an overturned Mini Cooper on the ramp to airport departures. The driver lay on the cement, her head braced by a civilian as her own blood pooled at her side. Its color matched the cherry red car. I’m 90% sure she was missing her right hand, but I stopped trying to figure that out the minute I noticed it.

The second occurred just after my taxi driver/ English professor/ Masters in Linguistics candidate (“you learned your Spanish in Mexico? Ahorita is a very Mexican wor.”) pulled to the curb. According to the lovely agents at Quantas, I am required to have a visa to enter Australia, even if I only plan on spending the night. In the airport. (I’m a princess, but a stingy one.)

Luckily, I can get this right across the hall. After some back and forth, some very vague responses to my question of requirements (is this for Chileans, for planes arriving from Chile, or for everyone?), and $26,200 “leftover” Chilean pesos ($50USD), I am checked in and on my way to goof off for a bit before boarding my plane.

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Chilean money is the prettiest I’ve seen so far. Some of it has windows and the $10.000CP notes match my iPad cover.

Aside: I’m traveling with books on my ipad, which means I have to find something to do during take-off and landing. (God forbid I read Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and actually plan my trip.) I wander to the airport newsstand where I find a Vanity Fair. Disturbed by my level of excitement, I take it to the counter and tell the woman behind it I’m afraid to ask how much it costs. She laughs, and tells me: $7900CP. That’s $14 US dollars, which converts to one dollar for each hour of flight. Jay-Z better be pretty damn interesting.

I go upstairs for one last fantastic South American cappuccino before leaving. Somehow, I get this:

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A cappuccino to insult all cappuccinos.

How milk foam with a little espresso becomes coffee with whipped cream is a conundrum.  Also a conundrum: how to drink this.The whipped cream foams in the coffee, spilling over the edge of the mug and onto the saucer. I let it sit for a while until the foaming comes to an end, and I drink it. Why not?

Eventually, I slink through duty free, careful to avoid the perfume assault zone,  and find some other interesting items, like a $19USD bag of m&ms,

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Easy economic conversion for Chile: drop 3 zeros and multiply by two. Thus, this bag of m&ms costs (9,500/1000)x2. Or $19USD.

and a selection of goods in sardine cans with the brand name “Robinson Crusoe.” They are things I wouldn’t consider eating, regardless of being stranded on an island. One can’t help but wonder who does the product selection for this location, and how much canned octopus cocktail they actually sell.

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I don’t know what oil of maravilla is, and I think I’m better off this way.

And here I arrive at bad omen number three: I queue like a South American now. In other words, I line up ridiculously early and completely ignore all order-related instructions. Boarding rows 45-60? How nice. I’m in row seven and I’ll just be boarding now too. Apparently I’ve adopted this mentality during six intracontinental flights and a similar number of bus trips since leaving home.  Consequently, I unintentionally cut a long line of people who actually are in Business Class, boarding with me. Australians do not take kindly to this provincial custom, and I garner quite a few dirty looks.

When I get to my seat, I shirk off the guilt. I’m too giddy to care. I’m on to more important things, like my seat. It flat-reclines, has adjustable lumbar support, and a massage feature. A pillow and two blankets await me, and there is so much leg room, I can stick my legs out straight and still not touch the next row.

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I have my own tv that rises out of the center console and has movies, tv shows, documentaries, news, and more. There is a vast menu of food options that make my mouth water, even if I accommodate for them to be done airline-style.

The flight has a customer service manager, who introduces himself in English, with a tasty Australian accent. This is the first time I have understood a flight attendant’s safety instructions since I left the US. As soon as the door closes, I am brought a bottle of water, hot towel, toiletry kit. And then…a set of pajamas.

The woman sitting next to me is a pro. She already knows that second blanket is a bedroll to pad your seat for more comfortable sleeping.  The minute we are allowed to unbuckle and move about the cabin, she is first to the restroom to put on her pajamas. (The bathroom has a flower arrangement, and individual cloth towels instead of paper.) She is quickly followed by most of the rest of the cabin, so that, while we boarded as normal individuals, we slowly don the appearance of a doomsday cult.

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Yes, these are real. I checked.

Luxury comes at a cost, though, and I’m not talking about the price of the ticket. The cloth towels go into the trash just like paper. Does this happen with the hot towels, which are made of the same cheap washcloth? What about all those pajamas when we are done with them? Are they laundered and reused?

What about all those cases with unused toiletries, facemasks, and little black socks? The list of waste goes on, and maybe this is why I don’t sleep for more than about three hours on this flight.  I am slightly ameliorated by putting some of my beloved Chilean pesos in the UNICEF envelope provided with my headset and collected at the end of the flight, but heading into an area of the world with extreme, extreme poverty, this definitely provides some food for thought.

The price of just an average foreign vacation in much of Southeast Asia is much more than the average Southeast Asian can afford. People in the countries I am visiting don’t use toilet paper, so how does one explain throwing out cloth towels after a single use? I may be Business Classy, but the contradiction between the way I’m traveling and the standard of living in the countries I’m traveling through is definitely not lost on me. It’s food for thought for that four-star menu.

On the Road, Tourist, Traveling, Uncategorized, United States

Heaven on Earth

I’ve been thinking about heaven a lot lately, driving around the United States and finding myself fully realizing the words to ‘America, the Beautiful,’ as amber waves of grain roll by my car windows. I’ve fallen into describing the awe-inspiring landscape as “heavenly,” meaning it brings peace, visual pleasure, and possibility into my frame of visual reference, and thought. In hotels, I’ve slept on more than one ‘heavenly bed,’ some because they are branded that way, and others because they bring the possibility of sleep and the chance to unbend my frame from it’s too-frequently seated position.  And from airplanes, of course, I’ve looked down at an ocean of puffy white cotton-like clouds outside the window and thought, ‘this is what they say heaven looks like.’ Yet upon my return to Orcas (the island I’ve made home base this fall) after a few weeks away, it occurred to me that if there is a heaven on earth, it is not a place or a vision, but a smell.

Sometimes heaven smells like wet seaweed

Sometimes heaven smells like wet seaweed

Smell transcends time and place. It can carry you from where you are now to where you were when. Think about it: the smell of fresh-baked cookies – anywhere – in a home or a bakery or wafting down a street in any small town or large metropolis – any where  in the world, can pull you from the moment you are in, to another moment, possibly long ago and far away, that is anchored by the smell of warm chocolate chips and dough that sinks back to hug them as they cool on a rack, and defined by the moment of peace or hope that it brought to you back in that time and space. Isn’t that what heaven is? The transcendence of the present to a larger realm of peace and possibility?

Sometimes heaven smells like fall

Sometimes heaven smells like fall

I am a person of place. I always have been.  I engage in a place by falling in love with its landscape. When I lived on the east coast, I often longed for the west coast with its cold ocean and high foothills. I longed for the hilly streets and old Victorians of San Francisco. I longed for the stillness of this island on which I’ve spent much of the last two months, and for the serenity of the view from where I now sit – over the grass, beyond the apple trees to the sound, to Lopez Island, to the sky above it and the Olympic mountains standing guard behind. For most of my life, I have associated this anchoring, this peace, with this place. I believed, for much of  my time living in Dallas, that what made it difficult was that city had no hills, not enough trees, too much strip mall cement.

And then a week ago, I drove off the ferry, cracked my window, and was in my heavenly home. The smell of clean air, laced with sea salt and rained grass, rushed in to welcome me.  In the distance was a top-note of wood-stove burning off fall chill and deep, deep beneath it were undertones reminiscent of the sun warming sugar out of last summer’s blackberries.

Suddenly, all the smells came to me. It wasn’t San Francisco I missed when I was on the East Coast. It was the smell of old book stores filled with history and revolution. It was salt floating on fog on early mornings when I waited for the bus to work. It was eucalyptus  trees carrying their native Australia to Tennessee Valley. Strip malls weren’t the problem with Dallas. The air was. Except when it was raining, and the air was filled with the electricity of a storm, Dallas atmosphere stagnated. There was no news being brought on the wind. You couldn’t tell where the ocean was by inhaling. There was no possibility blowing through.

And so, as I prepare to leave for lands that smell of dewy mornings in thin air, of the dirt road beneath your feet, the slow burn of trash in a neighboring field, the diesel of combis and collectivos that roar by, I’m taking some time to absorb this heaven. Lying in bed last night with a rain pounding wind down through the alder and rushing the scent of leaves and water through the roof eaves to where I lay, I inhaled deeply and held my breath, absorbing just a little bit of heaven on earth to bring with me on the road.

Heaven is the smell of true north

Heaven is the smell of true north

Moving, On the Road, Preparing, Traveling, Uncategorized

Goodbye to Good Gear

Good gear is essential  to a good trip. Unlike the life-or-death technical difference that defines good gear for, say, an Everest climber, for a traveler, 80% of the “good” in gear is born of the relationship you build with it over time.

For years, I traveled everywhere with an Eagle Creek shoulder bag that perfectly held a journal, guidebook, waterbottle and camera. It came with me to Korea, China, Italy. Somewhere in India, its zipper gave out, so I sent it back to Eagle Creek, who kindly fixed it for free, and I used it again – Guatemala, Nicaragua – until the waterproof lining began to peel off, the canvas weakened, and I had to give it up. The bag, which I still refuse to throw out, had reached its bitter, beloved end.

Good Gear Gone

Good Gear Gone

So I should have been prepared for what happened my first week on the road. To minimize what I lugged in and out of one-night stays, I packed my road clothes in a small, black Eddie Bauer duffle bag I bought circa 1998. To differentiate it from the crowd at baggage claim, I tied a white polka-dotted ribbon to the haul-strap on one end. It perfectly fits ten days worth of clothes, two books and toiletries for the road.

My first night in Taos, I pulled out my pjs and saw trouble. The black tank top in which I sleep looked as if it had developed dandruff on our 13 hour drive.

Duffle Dandruff

Duffle Dandruff

My jeans seemed to have lice. Had a spider hatched eggs in there? One item after another came out of the bag with the tell-tale signs of water-resistant lining peeling off the canvas like skin after a sunburn.  For four days, I wore my clothes in shame, and mourned the imminent death of this good gear.

By Santa Fe, I was consciously suppressing the urge to tell complete strangers, “I don’t have lice – it’s just my bag.” Something had to be done. I bucked up and headed to REI to buy a duffle, aiming to spend no more than $40. I had to dig – through aisles of backpacks with padded straps and toggled bungees that hold gear, through beautiful Eagle Creek duffles with hard bases and rolling wheels. At last I found a multi-colored, slightly retro canvas bag for $49. Longer than my old one, and rounder, its zipper didn’t quite run the length of the top. There could be an uncomfortable reach to pack-in and grab-out, but it would do..

There is nothing to say about this bag other than it just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t mine. It had to go back – but not before I found the proper alternative. So I headed to Alpine Sports, a small, independent store four blocks off the Santa Fe plaza that has been the solution to many a traveler’s clothing dilemma (including my own).  I walked in and asked about duffle bags, and there I fell in love.

I don’t know the name of the man who helped me. I can’t remember it – though I do remember he was the divorced dad of two-and-a-half year old twins. I just know that when he said, “all we have are those,” and pointed to a wall display of brightly-colored, sealant-immersed duffle bags with backpack straps and multi-colored zippers, it was as if the heavens opened and parted the Red Sea holding closed my wallet.

My Patagonia Love Affair

My Patagonia Love Affair

“But they’re Patagonia,” he said, knowing I wanted to spend under $50. I looked anyway. How could I not? I unzipped and re-zipped the pockets. I pulled out the display stuffing to discover a bright green lining inside. I checked the price, caught my breath, and listened as the clerk reminded me that if I bought one of these, I better like it because I wouldn’t need a new one for another decade. And then I went to have lunch.

While sitting at the Cowgirl BBQ, enjoying a harvest salad and Arnold Palmer with Spanky at my feet, I texted my better shopping advisors for advice. Before one could respond with, “do it, girl!” and another could forward the link for the Patagonia ambassadors page, I already knew what I would do. When you’re in love, you’re in love. No regrets.

Dallas, Goodbye, Life Skills, Moving, On the Road, Preparing, Tourist, Traveling

Dallas in My Rearview Mirror

Tomorrow, I will pack my car and watch Dallas fade in my rearview mirror for the last time as a resident. As excited as I am about the beginnings this end represents, I find myself more mixed than I expected about the ‘no-mores’ and ‘haven’t-yets’ that come with it.

Foggy Day in Dallas

Foggy Day in Dallas

This isn’t an ‘I left my heart in San Francisco,’ kind of moment; Dallas and I have never had that kind of relationship. I came for a job and brought an attitude with me, assuming I’d be here two years, and leave. I never actually checked in, so I’m not sure you could call my approach checked-out. But it definitely was disengaged.

My sweet hundred-year-old home in a rare snowfall

And then a few things happened that kept me here. I liked my job. I could afford to buy a house on my own.I fell in love with the house – and then with the convenience of living in Dallas. I ignored that part of me that wasn’t actually doing any actual ‘living’ – an ignorance that is easy to come by when you do yard work, house work, and burglary prevention, get a dog to play with, and watch too much t.v.

After years of returning to San Francisco and Seattle on vacation and wondering how to respond to questions like, “when are you going to get out of there,” I started getting defensive. “It’s not so bad. It has it’s good points,” I’d respond. And then I’d try to list them, and realize my list was short. ‘No state income tax’ is a weak argument in Seattle, which also has no state income tax, in addition to Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands, the Olympic Peninsula, and public transportation that actually gets you somewhere. So I realized I needed to augment my list. I started getting engaged.

I actually liked what I found. Dallas has great music venues, many of them in cool old theaters with no such thing as a bad seat in the house. It has Big Tex, the Texas Star and a handful of good dive bars. In the last couple years, I’ve heard speakers from Junot Diaz to Madeline Albright, watched a taping of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, seen Hair, West Side Story, and Alvin Ailey (among others), and heard bands from Metric to Loretta Lynn. I’ve seen Gordon Parks and Cindy Sherman exhibits. I’ve watched the arts district grow by one theater, then another, then an amazing public park the draws people outside for food trucks and chess games and yoga class. And when I tire of Dallas, when I crave some lefty funk, I head to Fort Worth for an afternoon at the Amon Carter or a night at Billy Bob’s. My time is here is ending, but my opportunities to explore are far from over.

Relentless Reunion Tower

Relentless Reunion Tower

I haven’t yet made it to the Canton flea market, or another Chef DAT dinner. I haven’t learned to love the Cowboys, or even how to talk about football, no matter how good it may be for my social life or career. I haven’t learned to two-step, though I have the boots to do it. I haven’t yet eaten at Nazca, that new place at 75 and Walnut Hill – someone go and let me know how it is.

Despite all I haven’t done, my life here has much familiarity that I will miss: driving by the 1-2-3 Divorce storefront on Fitzhugh, which always makes me smile; brunch at la Duni; morning dog walks on Swiss Ave, watching old, neglected houses come back to life during a loving restoration. I’ll miss Taco Joint migas tacos to start the day. Pizza, wine and writing Wednesdays at Times Ten. Nights at the Granada, or the Kessler, falling in love with music I’ve never heard before, or moving on from music I thought I loved. I’ll miss frontage roads to anywhere, and valets to park you everywhere (actually, I won’t – I HATE valet). And of course, I will miss my friends.
In truth, what I will miss most about Dallas is the one thing so obvious to those who know me here, and so foreign to those who know me elsewhere. Even as a resident Dallas, I am an intellectual tourist. The joy, frustration, challenge, and growth that have come from being unable to assume the people around me, even close friends, agree with my outlook (political, social, economic, artistic, what-have-you), are unlike anything I have experienced in any of the other wonderful cities I’ve been lucky to call home. At home in Dallas, I travel regularly through a place so foreign, I could likely stay forever and never have it feel like home. And there is some benefit to that, as I’m sure I will find on the road.

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Dallas, Life Skills, Preparing, Traveling

Packing It In

The problem with packing is this: it forces you to consider every item or habit you’ve stuffed away in the dark corners of your literal and figurative closets. It starts as a logistical puzzle (why do wine racks not fit in any normal sized box?) and inevitably (d)evolves into a psychological review at the worst possible time. What’s better than a personality assessment in the middle of a giant change?  Packing is the process of taking stock: Who are you? What have you done? What are you neglecting?

Forensically, here’s what one could deduce about me from the items that have now been pulled from my apartment and packed away in a climate-controlled 9’x23’ storage unit:

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