Archive for January, 2012
Airplane isn’t the right word for the thing that transported me across the Pacific. More like a building tipped on its side with wheels. It was one of those massive double-decker airplanes that took me from San Francisco to Sydney. Midflight I looked out the window at the endlessly long wing shaking with the slightest bit of turbulence and had to force that scene from Lost out of my head.
The contrast between my origin and destination were incredible. I left in -10C/15F temperatures, but arrived to a hot (35C/95F), sunny day. My body felt like it should be late at night when I arrived, but instead the sun was high in the sky. It felt like it should be January 26, but thanks to crossing the International Date Line, it was January 27.
But the starkest contrast wasn’t in the difference between the Minnesota I’d just left and the Australia I’d just arrived to, but in the two years since I first played this game of uprooting myself with no job or home in my new country. Approaching the Australian immigration desk, my mind flashed back to my Irish immegration experience, as well as to the endless hours of Border Security, an Austrlian reality show I spent endless hours watching In Ireland.
This time around, there was no fuss at all. She looked at the picture, looked at my face, and let me in without even searching my bag.
Last time around, I took the long bus ride alone from Dublin to Galway, lost in my thoughts of self-doubt as I entered a city where I knew nobody. This time, my friend Cate met me at the airport gate and brought me to her house for a shower, then to the mall (sorry, shopping centre in Australian parlance) to buy a mobile phone — a phone I could quickly fill with six contacts. That may not sound like much, but when I moved to Wales and had an issue with my mobile phone I called customer care.
“Can you tell me the the last three phone numbers you dialed?”
“Um,” I replied, “Well, I dialed my work, and then you.” I didn’t even have three contacts in my phone to have dialed.
These first few days in Oz have been a bit surreal — almost too normal. Cate, the friend who picked me up from the airport and is letting me crash her place, moved into a new flat the day after I arrived. So before you knew it, me and Cate’s family were helping her move her stuff into a moving van and driving across suburban Melbourne.
Last night I went to my friend Ola’s house, where her Polish parents entertained me and fed me.
This weekend some Melbourne friends took me though Chinatown during Chinese New Year parades.
What all this has amounted to is feeling very quickly like a Melbournian, more so than I ever felt like a citizen of Galway or Cardiff. So thanks for welcoming me in so quickly, Melbourne.
Next stop: Getting a job.
Twenty hours, sixteen minutes of flight time. Twenty-seven hours of travel time.
Ireland, Wales, mainland Europe and now Australia. Thanks for all your support. I’m off to the airport as we speak.
“You’re so brave,” they say to me
But bravery takes fear
The acceptance that one could fail,
Willfull risk-taking despite potential consequences
Open and empty suitcases lay strewn across my bedroom floor
Yet again, I leave the country for an uncertain future
Yet again, I haven’t done nearly enough preparation
I let others think this is my free-spiritedness
“Are you excited to leave?” my coworker asks me
Like clockwork, everyday he asks me
And like clockwork, I respond insincerely
“Sure am.” Truth is, I haven’t given it much thought
I lie wide awake in my bed. I glimpse my future
Penniless, in trouble, in an unfamiliar place
No one to turn to for help
My pulse quickens, I feel faint
I go to war with the anxiety
I push the negativity out of my mind
And replace it with my alternate future
I am happy, fulfilled, self-actualized
But the negativity remains
Whether I focus on it or not
“You’re so brave?” Hardly.
I’m just ignoring that which scares me most
When I started this blog, I promised myself I had a few simple ground rules for myself. I’d never let it become a daily log of what I’m doing. I always wanted to write with a purpose, and if I didn’t have a purpose to an entry, I wouldn’t write one. I would never apologize for not writing for long stretches of times. If inspiration didn’t strike, so be it. This blog would be a place to reflect my thoughts on traveling the world, not just a place for undigested accounts of my life.
I never accounted for what would happen if I found myself unable to digest what was going on in my life.
Since mid-December, in what must be the most whiplash-inducing job transition of my life, I returned to my high school job at Panera Bread. My old boss was incredibly generous to take me in and put me on the schedule the day I asked for it, and before I knew it I was taking orders over my headset for the recently installed drive-thru.
Six weeks later, I’m working the same job, living with my parents and going a little stir-crazy. This is what I wanted. Last March, when I returned home to Minnesota for a few weeks, I didn’t have the best time. I spread myself too thin, tried to see too many friends and ended up running like a madman all over the state in an attempt to see everyone I’d ever made acquaintance with. Not this time, I decided. I would return for Thanksgiving and Christmas, giving myself a four or five weeks to establish a routine and recharge my batteries before the next phase of my travel.
That four or five weeks stretched to ten weeks when I fell into an incredibly good deal on a plane ticket to Australia that didn’t leave until January 25. Add that to the fact that I haven’t been working since October 6, and I’ve begun to feel increasingly listless about what I’m doing with my days.
That’s okay though, I told myself. I’ll live like a monk. I’ll start working out, I thought. I’ll read more. I’ll work a lot and save a lot of money for Australia. All habitual travelers have phases where they need to raise some capital to support their travels. So I worked. I put notes all over my manager’s office saying I was free to pick up work at a moment’s notice and took every shift I could. I didn’t get completely full-time hours, but after two weeks I’d managed to work 70 hours. Real work, too. None of this “Sit on a bus and talk to people about travel and history and get paid for it” work, but “Here’s a mop” work. So when my first payday came, I was excited to finally get some real income for the first time since October. I collected my paycheck, opened the envelope and — not even $400?! Working for minimum wage in America can be a bitch.
But hey, the alternative is not making any money, so I’ll take what I can get. Besides, I’m in no condition to complain. My job might only pay enough for me to pay my monthly loans and paltry living expenses, but many of the people I work with are single mothers who have been working there for years.
Suddenly, I become shy about my travel experience. I’ve made no illusion about my plans to travel abroad, and as the date gets nearer and nearer for my Australian departure I can’t help but count down (five days to go!). But I’m working with people who, quite frankly, must struggle to make ends meet on their wages. If not for living rent-free with my parents, I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet for myself. I can’t fathom how these single moms I work with are doing it. Talking too much about my plans to travel the world seems somehow in bad taste.
Or does it?
Meanwhile, I’m faced with seeing people I know everyday. One of my mom’s old coworkers, a girl I went to high school with, a friend from my old church group — each time I see them I feel the need to awkwardly shoehorn in an explanation of why I’m working there, something that goes roughly like this; “HiSoGoodToSeeYou I’mOnlyWorkingHereTemporarily I’mGoingToAustralia IDidn’tSettleForWorkingMyHighSchoolJob PleaseDon’tJudgeMe.”
Does that make me arrogant, to need to make excuses for where I’m working and how I ended up here, as I stand beside people who have been doing it for years?
I don’t know anymore. Maybe the purpose of my time spent at home will become clearer with some distance, but for now, I’ve just been churning these ideas around in my head, unable to make sense of how ten weeks in my hometown working in my high school job have added to my portfolio of experiences.