Friday, May 12, 2006

Coming to America...What's been going on and impressions so far.

It's about 2am here in Omaha and everything is quiet.  Actually, it's always quiet here.  Much different than some of the noises I was used to hearing rambling around hostels in some strange South American city.  I am wired.  I was going to go out this evening and laid down for a nap at around six and woke up around 130 this morning.  Now, it is the wee hours of the morning and I feel a little too refreshed from all the sleep and thought punching out some ideas into the blog update my do the trick and put me back to sleep.  
I have been home for about a month now and it has been an adjustment.  It's nice to be sleeping in my own room and my own bed.  So nice to not be in a bunk bed that has been slept in by a thousand people in a room shared with six or eight or 12 or your closest friends. 
The following is a description of my little journey after the big journey. 
I left Buenos Aires on March 22nd.  It was one of those warm evenings where the weather was just perfect for a little walk in the park, but I had a plane to catch.  I had finally cooled down from that subway goonie who tried to pickpocket me and was preparing myself for the nice 10 hour flight from BA to Chicago during my cab ride to the airport.  It was a strange sensation to be in the back of one of those little Renaults for the last time.  Sitting in the backseat with my fist under my chin and staring blankly out the window I would split glances between the rush hour traffic, my watch, the city passing by, all of the Spanish labeled signs, the soccer fields, and the feeling that it's over. 
The trip was over. 
Even now, I can close my eyes and look back to some events that are etched in my mind.  Sometimes it is people that I have met along the way, sometimes it is the unforgettable scenery, and sometimes it is something that you only think is funny and telling someone else might just not make it funny anymore. 
There is a Kenny Chesney song, "I Go Back" that I had on my iPod during my whole trip that really rang true.  It's about hearing some song on the radio that takes you back to another place and time.  This is so true about these songs, because it's the little things on this trip that bring a smile to my face.  For example, I had a conversation with Mariano, the hostel owner of America del Sur in El Calafate, Argentina. He and I were talking about Rock N Roll and how his first impression of American Rock Music was GNR's "Paradise City."  Mariano was in love with GNR and never really said "I like 'Paradise City'"  He started to rock his head front to back, play his imaginary drum set by whipping his wrists up and down and slowly sang in his baritone voice and his Argentine accent, "Take me down to da Paradise City where da grass is green and da girls are pretty.  Oh, wont you please take me home"  Every time I hear this song it will make me think that whole experience in El Calafate.  Weird how things like that happen.  There are lots of other examples of that.  Like the time I started to kinda sing "The Gambler" while waiting in line at the grocery store in Cordoba, Argentina.  Every time I hear that song from now on Ill think about that.
So I arrive late enough at the airport that there is no queue at the checkin but early enough that I dont miss the plane.  Had a really fun conversation with the security guy while he was going through my backpack and checkin my undies for explosives.  I kinda realized that this was prolly gonna be the last time I get to talk lots of Spanish with just about anyone so I took advantage of it and chatted with Manuel about Riverplate and Boca Jrs for about 15 minutes.  
Getting on the airplane and getting up in the air was a piece of cake, the airline food was great and the entertainment was pretty good as well.  One thing that I kinda kicked myself for doing was the mistake of not appreciating the delicacy of the situation when there was a pretty ladytype sitting in my seat and the seat next to her was open.  Instead of saying, "um, yea, Im in the seat right next to ya," "um, that's my seat" escapes your lips and you are like "Dang it!"  Sometimes, I am not smooth.  Falling asleep and staying asleep proved to be sort of a problem.  The selection of airline music was pretty impressive, the variety of rock, country, and hip hop music American Airlines provided exposed me to music that I had not heard of in my little six and a half month popular culture gap.  The movie titles were great as well, but the only problem was that I kept on catching movies that I really wanted to see about 15 minutes after they had started.  "Walk the Line" was playing but I kept on catching it at the wrong time.  Darn it, this was just like the Antarctica Cruise where I could never catch a movie in its entirety.  I spent my time on the plane between dozing off and catching up on my journal entries.  The cute girl that I could have been sitting next to and who I wanted to talk with looked pretty comatose after dinner and showed now signs of life until the plane was about to land.  Couldn't really do anything there.  Bummer.  Finally, sleep!  Then i awoke right as they were cleaning up breakfast.  Drats! 
One thing that I did not expect to happen was to have swollen feet that were twice their normal size.  Rafal had told me that would happen because you are stuck the same seated position for quite some time and the blood just pools in your feet.  I really didnt think it would be that bad, until I tried to slip on my hiking boots and had to force them in and feared lacing them up.  Yaowza!  Another thing that I was not prepared for was the dehydration, the jet air just dried your nose out and dried your lips out too. 
Made it to Chicago in one piece at about 5am.  All the international travelers were treated like cattle and moved slowly through the lines at customs and immigrations.  I really feel for those folks stamping your passport at the airport.  Their jobs are kinda like IT jobs: you are either a dog or a bad dog.  Got my stuff and then waited in more lines to grab my connecting flight to Omaha.  Still hard to believe that the airport folks make you remove your shoes.  If I had slip-on sandals this would not be a problem, the problem is that I am wearing heavy leather hiking boots that are a chore to take off and then to put on again.  Dozed a little more and then got on the plane to Otown. 
It was hard to believe that I made it back to Omaha in one piece.  I used a little change to call up one of my friends to pick me up and grab a little food before I hopped on another plane six hour later back to Chicago and ultimately New York. My first meal back in Otown was California Taco.  Cali Taco is a great establishment in the heart of Omaha where one taco fills you up during your lunch time visit.  I washed down the taco with large amounts of Dr. Pepper.  I made up for not drinking any DP in seven months that day, think I drank too much because I got sick before my plane boarded later that day.  Loaded up on the Loperimide and was good to go. 
Back in Chicago.  Chicago O'hare Airport was packed that evening and I could not help but notice the proliferation of fat people.  In not talkin about a little bit of pudding under the skin, im talkin about the security guard who cant see his own toes and is destined to have eternal back pain because there is an untapped keg of lard sitting right in front of him.  Holy smokers, seeing obese people was sort of a new experience that I had not seen in South America.  Another new thing to me was all the English language signage.  I thought to myself, "Wait a minute, everything is in English...that's weird."  Another thing that kinda caught me by surprise was that prices are now in US Dollars, not the Argentine Peso.  Sorry, no 3:1 currency conversion rate. 
The long way home.  OK...The trip route home sounds a litte strange.  I went from Buenos Aires to Chicago to Omaha to Chicago to New York City to Houston to Omaha.  I chose this route not because I enjoy touring airports but because I was surprising my two sisters in New York and Texas.  It was actually cheaper to fly back to Omaha first than to change my original ticket.  It was also worth it to see my fam. 
Well, I was definitely not in South America when the cab ride cost me 25 bucks.  I was in the Big Apply, baby.  Everything is expensive here.  My sister was really really surprised to see me. "You're here!" and "Oh my gosh, you have a beard!" and "Man, that thing is scraggly" are the first things that my sister, Sandy, said to me as this travel weary gringo passed through her door into her Manhattan apartment.  
New York City was sort of a shock.  People in South America are warm and easy to talk to.  New Yorkers are not.  You are alone in a crowded city of eight million people.  Folks isolate themselves with their iPods and appear vain with their "Who the f*** are you type attitude."  
I really like to visit my sister and see the museums in NYC.  There is always something to do in NYC.  The problem is that it seemed to be full of North Face posers and ostentatious jerks.  These are the type that are out to impress people they dont even know.  North Face posers really get under my skin because they have these 300 dollar Summit Series Gore-Tex coats and have never set foot on a trail.  It's a ridiculous fashion show.  It is a silent one-up.
Sorry to sound like a downer.  Im usually a really positive person.  One good part about coming to NYC was to see my sister that I had not seen in almost a year.  I had finally met one of her friends that I had only come to know through stories.  Melany was a pretty funny person to hang out with.  It was also nice to see some folks I knew that lived there.  I hung out with my PKI buddy, VInce, and enjoyed a four dollar PBR.  Also hung out with some friends I had met a few years ago during one of my earlier trips to NYC. 
New York was sort of a bag of mixed emotions.  While there was the fam and friends to hang out with there was also the ostentation that reered its big, ugly head.  It all started when I turned on the TV.  My sister has cable and so I tuned it to MTV and came across "My Super Sweet 16."  I nearly threw up in disgust.  The idea of throwing a gigantic party for your bratty 16-year-old just because they want you to made me want to punch these kids and their parents in the throat.  Dropping 100 or 200 THOUSAND dollars for a freaking party made me think, "Wow, look how many mouths you could feed with that and do some actual good."  Look how many people you could have helped.  Instead, you get to see a horrible parent-child relationship where the snot's demands control the parents.  This type of thing just rubs me the wrong way.      
After visiting my sister in NYC, I borded a plane to Houston where my brother-in-law picked me up and I walked into my sister's house to a surprised quartet.  My three nieces and sister were like, "Oh my goodness!"  I had the same expression after seeing how much my nieces have grown.  Things in the Houston suburb are a little slower than NYC, but I still had lots of fun.  I ate lunch at my nieces elementary school and then got invited back the next day to give a little talk about my trip.  During the past seven months, Skyler had brought postcards to her class that her uncle had sent to her from all around South America.  Now, she brought her uncle to class who had been all over South America.  It was fun to give a PowerPoint Presentation to the class and show off lots of fotos to the class.  The third graders really enjoyed penguin pictures as well as many of the nature fotos that I showed off.  It was lots of fun.  
So after surprising my two sisters it was time to surprise Ma and Pa.  What better day to do it than on April Fool's Day.  My brother Jonathan and I had this all planned out.  I showed up to the house and walked in.  My dad was at the kitchen table reading the paper with his back to me.  I gave him a little hug, looked over his shoulder and said "Hey, Pa..."  Pa kinda looked at me for a second with this quizical look, grinned, and was like "Hey...Big Guy!"  The surprise Ma had was even better.  She was in the shower, and no, its not what you think.  I talked through the door into the bathroom and said, "hey there, how ya doin, what's goin on."  But the thing was that she confused my voice for my brother's.  So I had to wait about 10 minutes before she came out of her room.  She was askin my brother to get ready whle she was curlin her hair and stopped in her tracks.  My brother and I were standing side by side and she kinda did a double take.  She kinda cried a little bit while giving me a big hug.  Recieving a a hug from my Mom was really special after a long time away from home.  Ma and Pa had a few more gray hairs than the last time I saw them.  I might have had a hand in that. 
Some of the things getting used to.  Hmm.  Ya know, it's the little things.  Things like having ice in your glass again.  Things like sleeping in your own bed.  Things like buffets.  Things like driving.  Things like hearing songs that you have not heard in a long time for the first time again.  It definitely has been an adjustment and I can see in some ways how people are the same and I have been the one who has changed.  I do a better job at thinking about what Im gonna say before I say it.  I do a better job at speaking a little slower and mumbling a little less.  I thought I had the travel bug out of my system after such a long trip.  But, following some of the adventures of the folks that I met along the through their travel blogs starts to build little itch to travel again.  Rafal was right, traveling is adicting.  My buddy Dean was right, it does change you.  
So now I am on the lookout for jobs.  It is time to grow up, move out, and make some sweet mouhla.  The feeling I get from some of these jobs that I am applying for is that I will get stuck back in a cubicle for the rest of my life and never get to travel again.  Seems kinda intimidating.  Just gotta find the right job that will let me do some international travel on their dime.  If I could get a job using my Spanish, too then that would be even better.  
Holy smokers, this has turned into an marathon journal entry.  It's like 4am and Im still wired.  Well, I think im off to bed. 
Dont worry, there will be more to come.  Random stories that I think everybody will like.  jp


Anonymous said...

hey hey james!
haven't heard from you since i saw you in nyc. how's it going back in omaha? hope all is well. i don't have your new number. email it to me, i'd love to talk to you.

Mariana said...

James!!! tus historias son muy buenas! Deberias dedicarte a escribir en vez de buscar trabajo de sistemas. No pensaste en escribir un libro con todo esto lo que hiciste en el viaje? Deberías!!!
Saludos, Mariana.

Dan Perry said...

Hi James,
Thanks for letting me know what to expect when I go back home. I can envision those same thoughts upon my return, but it just doesn't seem like a reality yet. South America is my reality now!

BTW, I didn't get to La Paz and am instead in Trinidad preparing for a canoe adventure. But maybe I'll get a picture of your cokehead friend in a month or so.