Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reunited

It has been two weeks since I watched my family run down the jetway at PBIA. In the days and weeks leading up to our reunion, I imagined what it would be like, and just the thought of seeing them again caused me to tear up and a lump to form in my throat.

The actual reunion was anticlimactic. Elise's father, brother, and his girlfriend came to the airport with me, so I had an audience and had to be on my best behavior. As Sam and Clementine ran toward me, something happened to Peter. I am not sure what, but he ended up on the carpet of the jetway crying. Moreover, Elise had passed the invisible line of no return beyond which TSA will not let you retrace your steps or renter the terminal. So, there was Peter on one side of this invisible line, crying and visibly distressed and Elise on the other with a TSA officer warning her not to go back for her fallen brood.

Once Peter made his way over the invisible barrier, I swept him up in my arms, and we were all back together again.

The next two weeks were a blur. There was a wedding on the beach a few days later. We rented a house in Tequesta with a swimming pool in the back yard, and there were several afternoons of poolside revelry, an extended family reunion with great-aunts and uncles, small boys flying through the air, splashing down into the water, and beers drunk in the sun.

A few days ago, the newlyweds headed home, and Elise's parents got on the road to head north to South Carolina. The house grew less hectic, but in this vacuum was an unwelcome quiet. The chaos suited all, and now there is too much space and not nearly enough bodies lounging about. The house was seemingly made to accommodate large numbers of people dripping in wet bathing suits. Fortunately, we look forward to filling it back up on Tuesday when more company arrives and the second half of our Florida beach vacation begins.

I was recently talking to a colleague at work in India about Florida. As my flight from LAX to West Palm taxied into the gate, I distinctly recall not feeling as though I were coming home, but that I was coming to Florida to visit family. It has been almost five years since we moved from Florida, and I don't know if I suspected this feeling to come sooner or later. Perhaps, five years is just about right to emotionally separate from a place. We still own our townhouse here, but that stopped feeling like home a long time ago. Certainly when we rented it out to complete strangers and unquestionably when we had--not one--but two floods in the unit to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

I have a visceral disdain for South Florida. My colleague sensed this and asked why, and I could not clearly articulate my feelings. Don't get me wrong. Florida is a nice place to visit. The weather is generally good. It has nice beaches, good restaurants and Disney World, but perhaps not unlike a Nebraska farm boy who can't wait to get off the family farm, I had long ago outgrown Florida.

I grew up in Florida. I spent three years there right after I graduated from college and another ten after grad school. I ventured away. I went off to college in Baltimore and again wandered away to Colorado, but for some reason always came back. Maybe it was to return to my parents' safety net where I could regroup rent-free while plotting my next move. I was like a boomerang. Only no one had flung me far enough outside of Florida's gravitational pull until I took my present job.

I still do not really know why I left Boulder and came back to Florida in 2000, but I am glad I did. After meeting Elise, who is from Washington State, we quickly recognized that our joint fortunes lie west of the Rockies. Even before we left Florida in 2010 for my current job, I had been trying to move into a real estate job in Denver. I had one job offer in Portland to join the Department of the Interior, but the package wasn't quite enough to make the jump. A few months later, I'd be out of work.

Florida is still a nice place to visit. I just wouldn't want to live here. I have spent a lot of time in the last two weeks trying to figure out exactly what I don't like about Florida. That may sound like a negative pursuit, but it is important for me to know why I feel this way, and, perhaps in doing so, learn a little something about myself, because, on paper, Florida seems like a wonderful place. Sun, beaches, boats...who wouldn't want to live here?!

Therein lies part of the problem. Florida is paradise. So a large majority of the people around you are retired or on vacation. Especially in South Florida. So Florida becomes a stereotype of itself, and the tropical, Jimmy Buffet, "It's 5:00 Somewhere" facade replete with palm trees, boat drinks with tiny umbrellas, hammocks hung between coconut trees, cold Coronas, flip flops, and fishing boats that we sell vacationers and Snowbirds from the North becomes reality. Everyone lives the "Salt Life". I am not exactly sure what living the Salt Life entails, but imagine it has something to do with cleaning pools or waiting tables during the week, then anchoring the boat at Peanut Island on the weekends and drinking 27 cans of Miller High Life before passing out in the sun. To each his own, I suppose.

And after two weeks of serious contemplation, I think I have discovered it all just boils down to personal preference. I like the beach, but I like the cold better. I love snow, seasons changing, and leaves turning. I like the water, but I like to ski, hike, rock climb, camp more. I love to run, but running in Florida is miserable all but, perhaps, two days a year. I love coffee shops and dark beer.

I like mountains. Sorry, Florida. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

R&R

I am writing this on a four hour lay-over in London. I love London already, though I will only see the airport. I am sitting with an ice Americano from Starbucks, my first Starbucks coffee in eight months, looking out over the tarmac, at giant jumbo jets taxing down the runway, taking off and landing, and can’t help thinking how much Pete and Sam would love to see this, then remembering that they have already seen this when they flew through London five weeks ago.

I have never had a four hour lay-over before and don’t really know what to do with myself. I am used to rushing from one connection to the next. As I ponder my next move, I remind myself that I have a five hour lay-over awaiting me at LAX, so save some for later. I might have a late-lunch/early-dinner, grab a salad. I know that sounds lame, but you have to understand the lack of lettuce in India causes one to just crave something crisp and fresh. Though I just walked past an advertisement for juicy hamburger that looked pretty good, too.

I don’t even know what time it is. Airports are timeless, places outside the normal time continuum, places where time stops, and morning, afternoon and night all become one. Airports are one of the only places it is okay to drink something other than a bloody mary at eight in the morning, so I think about having a beer when realization washes over me….I’m on vacation!

The flight from Chennai was uneventful, except I was a minor celebrity on the airplane. My job in India is to facilitate travel to the United States, and half of the passengers recognized me from recent visits to my office.

In my half hour in Heathrow I already recognize it as the intersection of the world. I don’t think I’ve heard so many languages spoken in one place or seen so many people from different spots around the globe. It is fascinating and amazing and makes me love my life even more, that I get to see some of them.

A friend confided in me recently that he “doesn’t believe in borders”. I found this an interesting sentiment given our line of work, but not one I can’t appreciate. Especially as many borders are meaningless lines on a map and do nothing to demarcate one place from another and especially as so much time, money and effort is used in patrolling and protecting them, one can’t help but wonder what a world without borders would be like. Certainly, there would be an initial period of chaos were the world to decide to capriciously and spontaneously remove all borders, but after an initial settling out period, I wonder if natural forces wouldn’t take hold.

I don’t know what the free movement of people would bring. Most of the people I know growing up haven’t strayed from their hometown. I imagine most would want to stay in a place that was familiar, where the food, the language, the customs and norms were comfortable. I some level I know this is fantasy and a na├»ve ideal. Of course, as natural resources become scare or climate change affects the world in new and unpredictable ways, the free movement of people may bring conflict, but war already has the ability to destabilize entire regions despite borders. For now, borders are good job security, if nothing else.

I have already traveled nearly ten hours and have just under 24 to go. It already seems like a lifetime ago when Sundar was maniacally ringing the doorbell while I was in the shower, panicked I’m sure that I would miss my plane. I didn’t have the energy at three in the morning to argue with him, so I let him take me to the airport at an ungodly early hour to only sit around for another hour waiting for my flight to board. I was so tired, I didn’t realize I hadn’t given him overtime for the ride to the airport until a few hours into the flight. Oh well…he knows where I live.

The first flight went quickly and I hope the next one does, too. I am beyond excited to see the kids but also nervous to parent again. Will they listen to me? Will they be the crazy hellions Elise has been describing to me over Skype? I don’t want to have to yell at them. I just want to play with them and read to them, make them breakfast and play in the pool. I am cautiously optimistic that if I do those things with them that the listening will fall into place. We’ll see.

I am also nauseous with excitement to see Elise. I can’t wait for her touch. I know that sounds weird, but when she does it is like sticking your finger in a light socket. I am all of a sudden alive again.

Less than 24 hours. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Happy 5th of July!

As the rest of 'Merica is celebrating the birth of our nation, it is July 5th in India. No watermelon. No fireworks. No BBQ. I am currently longing to be in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, and fortunately for me I have only to wait one more week until I board a plane to London then Los Angeles (don't ask) then West Palm Beach to be reunited with my family.

As far as July 5ths go it has been a pretty good one. The end of July 3rd brought a wave of relief. I volunteered to be the lead coordinator for my office's July 4th reception held on Thursday evening. No one volunteered. So far, all of my responsibilities at work have come in the absence of anyone else wanting to do them. Maybe this is a bad precedence to set: "Hey, we need someone to meet with an Afghani warlord then take him on a cage dive with great white sharks and hike an active volcano....."

After months of logistical preparation, the event was a success. The band--an Indian blues band--was awesome and loud. The food, including Maryland crab cakes, was delicious. The decor, which took every second from six in the morning until thirty seconds before go time, was stunning (if I do say so myself). I received compliments from my bosses. Of course, I couldn't have done it without the help and support of my committee. But I accomplished the biggest task at my job since I lead the Environment and Science section in Brasilia and I'd be lying if it didn't feel good.

As the official program was winding down, really the last piece of the evening to truly fret over (in the middle of which someone told me that the Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry's armed guard force was asking if they could have dinner, to which I responded, "Shit, I don't know. Ask the Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry. He's sitting right there."), I thought to myself, "I can do this job. I hope I get tenured." The last job I was really good at was lifeguarding in high school; no one drowned on my watches.

Next up? Vacation. R&R in the parlance of my office. I can't enjoy vacation unless I know it is earned, deserved. I remember when we visited Elise's parents in Spokane with Sam as the real estate business was crumbling around me and it was so hard to enjoy it, because I hadn't closed a deal in a year and a half and I was transferring money from one account to another to stay solvent. Not the case now.

One week until I get to see Peter, Sam and Clementine. One week until I hold Elise in my arms again. One week until Mexican food, nachos, juicy burgers and Fat Tire. One week until Starbucks (though I entered a contest to be invited to the Grand Opening of the 1st Starbucks in Chennai July 8. Keep your fingers crossed!!), One week until R&R. Earned and deserved.

One week. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014