A Dramatic Retelling of a Bad Traveling Experience

It’s not like I’ve never traveled by myself before. The first time I flew solo was September of my senior year of high school, when I met my father in Providence, Rhode Island, to take a gander at Brown University. I felt remarkably adult, even with an air time of just 45 minutes and knowing that my daddy would be waiting for me with his rental car at baggage claim. Later that year, I went to Portland, Oregon, to visit Lindsay Baltus, which was the first time I’d ever seen the West Coast. I never thought twice about flying alone after that.

On Thursday, I was all set to go to Chicago, Illinois, for work. I was pumped but anxious. Anxious like first-day-of-school anxious. What if my project failed? What if no one wanted their photo taken at Comic Con (yeah, right) What if all my social media efforts and all this money returned zero new Facebook “likes” and then I got fired?

I schlepped Zack’s NikonD60 and my co-worker, Keith’s shitty tripod and fifteen hundred TicketLeap stickers to Philadelphia International Airport by way of Septa. I boarded the plane and plopped down into 16B.

We were on the tarmac for two and a half hours, due to the sky being congested. The pilot was talking about air traffic controllers, and that started to make me a bit nervous (Zack and I finished season two of Breaking Bad last week). My phone battery had exhausted itself before we even took off and I was getting hungry. When we did finally leave, so much time had gone by that I should have already been in Chicago and having a beer with my co-workers. The airline attendants started passing out tiny tea biscuits to ease the pain.

An hour into our two-hour flight, the pilot came onto the loudspeaker with another announcement. We were trying to avoid bad weather, and the new route that he had planned for us would take another two and a half hours before we landed in Chicago. I was in the middle of heading to the bathroom when he said this, and I stopped dead in my tracks. “Did he just say what I think he said?” I asked the people around me.  Heads lifted from a sea of iPads. Yes, he did.

I went to the bathroom and felt so claustrophobic that my heartbeat felt like it was trying to crawl up my throat. I exited and started pacing around the back of the plane. Then I started crying. Not, like, sobbing or anything, but my voice started cracking and tears were pooling underneath my eyes. I looked at myself in the reflection of a stainless steel food cart. I was wearing sandals, a cotton shirt with poufy sleeves, and a pair of Juicy terrycloth sweatpants. I looked like I was in 11th grade.

A group of unrelated dads approached me. Three or four men with well-worn wedding bands, men old enough to be but younger than my own my father, started asking me a bunch of questions.  “Do you need help?’ “Are you okay?” “Do you travel often?”

“This is,” crack, “my first business trip.”

“Don’t worry,” they all said. “This is what it’s like to do business travel. Things like this happen all the time.”

An airline attendant with bad hair but a warm smile came into the cabin. “I was told there was a girl back here having a panic attack. Can I get you anything?”

“Do you have an Ativan?” I asked with a straight face.

“No, but I can get you some water.” She shooed away the group of dads. “You call can’t congregate back here.”

I drank a cup of water and took a few deep breaths with my head against the wall. She started telling me about her fear of elevators, how she can live on a plane for twelve hours a day, but she won’t get into an elevator alone. “I understand how you’re feeling,” she told me.

A nice girl who was waiting for the bathroom suggested I drink some wine and go to sleep. This sounded like a good idea. I meekly asked the airline attendant if I could have a mini bottle of the Cabernet, and told her I was in 16B so she could collect my money. She waved it off. Thanks for that, USAir.

I clutched the Cab with both hands and returned to my seat, which was sandwiched between an Indian man whose breath smelled like a septic tank and a 15-year-old Spanish exchange student named Julio, whom I told I would help navigate to the shuttle bus area once we arrived in Chicago. At this point, it had been almost six hours since my last meal and I drank the wine faster than you can say “alkie.” My muscles relaxed instantly. I closed my eyes and the next thing I knew, the pilot was talking about a “short cut.” We would be landing sooner than expected.

He made a joke when we touched ground. “Welcome to, uh,  I have no idea where we are!” Everyone clapped and laughed. “No, welcome to Charlotte. I mean, Chicago.” Fewer laughs. He wasn’t joking then.

Julio followed me off the plane.  I was walking very quickly. I followed signs to baggage claim and public transport, rolling suitcase behind me. I asked Julio if he had called his host family to let them know that he had finally arrived. He didn’t have their phone number.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “This is far as I can take you.” I waved and gave him a thumbs up. “Good luck!”

I hope he made it okay.

Cry When You Get Older

My grandma never comes to Pennsylvania. Last August was the first time in six years since she’s left her Florida condo for the likes of the northeast, and when she came up she stayed for a couple weeks. She was in Devon for my littlest brother’s graduation party, saw the family, met Zack. I didn’t think she’d be back for awhile, but my uncle is having surgery and she wanted to be there for him. She wanted to take care of him like another mother would, even when her son is sixty years old.

I was really excited to see her. I talk to my grandma on the phone every week or every other week, usually when I’m walking somewhere. Gotta walk 15 blocks? Time to call Leone. She’s always there, she always makes me laugh, she always wants to know what I’m wearing, who I’m seeing, and how much wine I’m going to drink. We like to gossip about celebrities and family members.

My office is really close to Suburban Station, which makes getting to suburbia a breeze. I took the 5:05 Express to Bryn Mawr with about a million other main line commuters and sat down with a book. I’m rereading “Local Girls,” by Alice Hoffman, which was one of my favorite Young Adult novels when I was of age. I plucked it off my bookshelf in Devon last time I was at home, along with “Chasing Redbird,” by Sharon Creech. When we approached Wayne, I took out my toiletry bag and started applying makeup, because I wasn’t wearing any. Eight hours at the office with wet hair, no makeup, a striped jersey dress and stinky cotton sandals. Professional? Eh.

I took out my blush and mascara, then hesitated. Uncapped the eyeliner and eyebrow pencil, because why not? Every time I see my grandma she tells me how I would benefit from eyebrow pencil. A few months ago I finally took her advice, bought the damn thing and you know what? My face looks way more complete. Grandma knows best. At least, mine does.

When I take the train to Devon from work I feel so grown up. I walk up Station Avenue, cross the five-way intersection, wave to the neighbors. I open the side door of my parents’ house, and my mother greets me from the kitchen, always. My grandma was in the living room and said slyly, “who’s that?” as I walked through the doorway, and immediately complimented me on my eyebrows, figure and face. She didn’t like my dark nailpolish, though. Five minutes and five hugs later, she gave me a beautiful gold ring she purchased in Florence in the 1970s. It is so very chic.

My brothers, parents, grandmother and Zack started sipping on wine, nibbling on a sharp cheese from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, when I brought up Le Grand Continental, which I started rehearsing for at the beginning of July and will continue until the performance weekend, which is the same weekend I turn twenty-five. Two hundred Philadelphians of all ages will perform a thirty minute performance piece in front of the Art Museum steps. My grandma laughed at the idea of me in a “dance recital.”

“Oh that’s right,” my mom said. “I think Justin has something that weekend, too.”

In case you didn’t know, my 19-year-old brother Justin plays guitar for a band called McLovins. They tour nearly every weekend in New England. They play festivals, concerts, and they are recording at the ESPN studios this week for the second time as Sportsnation’s house band.

“What, no,” I started in. “You have to come see me. You can’t miss this. You see Justin do everything.”

“We’ll see, I’m sure it will all work out.”

“But you drive everywhere for him! You watch him play all the tiiiiiime! Moooom!”

Zack kicked my foot under the table. “What?” I snapped.

“You’re whining.”

“I can talk to my mother, she’s my mother.”

But I was whining. And even though I knew it didn’t sound good, or professional, or adult-like, I didn’t care. I’ve been working hard, trying to memorize a half hours worth of choreography. I’m doing my part within the community! I’ve been putting four hours a week into this thing! And fuck, it’s going to be my birthday!

I asked Zack to accompany me to the garden to pick some rosemary for the dipping oil we were going to eat with dinner. “I turn into a child when I’m home, you realize that, right?”

I didn’t go up to my room at all. Most times, when I’m home for an afternoon or just for dinner, I don’t. I get lost in it. I open all the notebooks, the drawers, the closets. I read passed notes and finger through jewelry and shuffle papers. My room overwhelms me. So I avoid it.

I was planning to spend the night in Devon after Zack went back to Philadelphia, but the thought of not sleeping in my “own” bed at my parents’ (currently occupied by my grandma) was making me anxious. Like, how weird that for half a dozen years growing up I would never sleep anywhere but home, and now I’d rather be in my “own” bed, in Queen Village, with Zack. As I dumped a quick load of laundry into the dryer, I apologized to my mom for whining, or being rude, or as I often do, “jump down throats.”I felt bad. I always say the wrong things, say too much, get emotionally involved too easily- even after just one glass of zinfandel. She said not to worry, and that she wouldn’t miss my performance for anything. I made sure I’d see my grandma again sometime before she left to go back to the sunshine state and got into the passenger seat of Zack’s car.

After the doors were locked and teeth were brushed, Zack said out of nowhere, “You’re a good daughter.”

“Why?”

“You love your mother and grandmother so much. You treat your mom like she treats her mom. With care and love.”

Springing

There’s a man who sits on his stoop next to Dmitri’s, right on my corner of third and Catharine. He’s there every day, wearing those old school headphones that hug his ears and connect around the back of his head. When it rains he holds an umbrella; when it snows he sits in the driver’s seat of the pick up truck that’s parked right in front of his house. A stack of books a foot high rests on top of the console. He’s probably in his early forties.

I walk past him at all hours of the day, no matter if my work day starts early in the morning or late in the afternoon. He sees me ushering the boys out of the house in their karate uniforms and watches them race to their front door once they let go of my hands crossing third street. After a few months of nannying, I started waving and smiling at him. Just little nods, or a “good morning!” type exchange. Neighborly, curiously, kindly.

Two weeks ago I was offered a full-time job at a Philadelphia start up company called TicketLeap. Everything happened so quickly- I applied for the position Monday night by sending a tweet to the CEO, corresponded with him on Tuesday, interviewed Wednesday morning and was hired Wednesday night. I can fully apply my finding a job is like finding a relationship theory to the hiring process at TicketLeap. No games, no messing around. “I like you and you like me, let’s do this thing!”

After I got off the phone with TicketLeap, I burst into tears. This is what I had been waiting for for almost a year and a half. A job that matched my skill set and personality perfectly.  I moved to Philadelphia in November of 2010, worked a part-time job for a non-profit, interned for Yelp for 9 months (“It’s like we made a Yelp baby!” my boss said to me at my last event as an intern) and nannied for nearly as long. I had applied to countless jobs, went on over a dozen interviews and had a quarter-life crisis every two weeks or so because of it. My time had come. And now I had to tell the boys’ mother that I was going to leave.

I called my parents first, barely able to speak through my tears.

“I always knew you were emotional,” my dad said, “but you have to calm down. Where’s Zack?”

“Sitting next to me.”

“Is he wondering who this crazy person is he’s been living with?”

I hiccuped, then smiled. “No.”

“This is what you’ve been waiting for. Cheer up and go celebrate.”

Before we could enjoy a fancy cocktail at Southwark, I had to run down the street and tell my “family” about the job I was so excited for. At this point my face was red and puffy, especially below my right eye (you can always tell if I’ve been crying by looking at the beauty mark). I passed the guy on his stoop but barely made eye contact.

“Is everything okay?”

I stopped in my tracks. I’ve never heard the man say more than two words.

“Yeah, I just,” deep breath, “I finally got a real job and now I have to tell the boys I can’t be their nanny anymore.”

He smiled sympathetically. “Ah, I see.”

“Yeah.”

“You’ll be alright.”

I nodded.

***

This is what I will miss about nannying (in no particular order): greeting the boys as they get off the school bus, perfecting the toasted bagel with butter and cheese, M’s serious thoughts from the bathtub, A’s self-confidence, hearing A ask to be tucked in to bed, mid-day trips to the bookstore and Mama’s Vegetarian, being constantly flabbergasted by M’s level of intelligence, the look on their faces after they earn a new stripe on their karate belts, making friends with the other Queen Village moms (they don’t recognize me unless I have the boys by my side), my #nannydiaries, the fudgey brownies their mom bakes every week without fail (I will probably lose three pounds by not having one of them each day), Shabbat hugs, brushing up on my Hebrew while helping them with their homework, sleeping nine hours a night, spending my mornings at Bodhi drinking tea and writing (the one place I can truly call myself a “regular” at), catching M in the middle of a nap, introducing A to some of my favorite childrens’ authors (Judy Blume, Julie Andrews Edwards), listening to M ask questions about life, love and my relationship with Zack. He is truly the most insightful and adorable kindergartner I have ever known.

***

This is what I’m looking forward to (in no particular order): having a “regular” schedule, interacting with real adults, Tweeting for a living, planning events, working on a MacBook Pro at a desk in an office with green and brown walls in the heart of Center City, making new friends and contacts, putting everything I learned from Michelle C to good use, blogging and learning more about WordPress, using my brain and being proactive, wearing clothes other than leggings and a t-shirt, “evangelizing” the company (how many people did I convince to sign up for Yelp? I’m confident in my abilities), and finally, managing an online community. This job was made for me.

Ramblin’ from the Deep South

People are really nice in Texas. The follow-up calls I make at work could be much worse if I lived up north. “Hi, I was just calling to see if maybe you guys were planning on putting Shrek the Musical in your calendar event listings? I sent you a press release last week? No? Okay. Um, bye.”

But people here always give reasons as to whether or not they’re going to put information about my event in their publications. They’re kind, they’re respectful, they’ve got that southern drawl. Many of the women I speak to on the phone are giggly and helpful. The men are cordial with their “yes m’ams,” which is appreciated when I have to nag them over and over to find out when said article is going to hit newsstands.

So I ride my bike to work- just picked up this little gem of a helmet yesterday. It’s a pretty flat, neighborhoody commute. There is one busy road I have to cross, comparable at some parts to Route 30, but it’s never too difficult. Last week, however, I noticed an eldery black man on the opposite side of West Gray, wearing a bright orange vest and holding a stop sign. He saw me from across the street and walked right into the middle of the road, waving his stop sign and blowing his whistle. School had started, and the man was back in business. He has learned to expect me every day around 3:30 and always lets me cross the road.

There are a lot of homeless people in Houston, just as with every major city. Though the baddies are on the crack corner that is Hyde Park, there are goodies that generally just hang out at highway intersections with signs and change jars. Last week Zack and I were biking the Buffalo Bayou and came to a resting point by the highway (the whole trail runs underneath). I saw a young professional open his car door and throw something at a homeless person. Trash? A rock? No. A packet of peanuts. I smiled at the guy and he smiled back. Good people do exist in this world.

Riding to and from work, with errands in between, is difficult in a pencil skirt and smiliar business casual attire, I’m not going to lie. I’ve tried different ways of hiking my clothes up and down and all around but it’s hard. Most of the time I just pretend I’m not flashing everyone but then I wonder why the loiterers on Hyde Park stalk me when I get home from work with compliments like, “Oh there she is, the best part of the day! I like your dresssss.” The other day in the Kroger parking lot, a woman called out after me. “You should wear some shorts under there, honey!” Thanks. In other unrelated Hyde Park news, our neighbor Brooke just informed us that she saw a man jump the fence and take a shit in our backyard last weekend. Hooray!

Driving and parking lots are weird here, too. There is a grocery store called Fiesta where we usually buy cheap produce and $16 Bota Boxes (but never, ever meat). Zack gets mad every time we pull into the lot. “The dumbest parking lot in Texas,” he mutters angrily under his breath. People really do not know how to drive in Houston. Turn signals here are a thing of the past, or the future, I don’t know. People don’t use them, and they’re constantly cutting you off at the red light, on the highway, or in the parking lot. I do not drive here often. It makes me kind of nervous- that and I feel like I’m sixteen and driving with my parents. Zack tends to clench his jaw or say things like “whoa, whoa, slow down.” Or “whoa, whoa, stay in your lane.” I’m not a bad driver, I’m really not.

My grandma and grandpa used to come visit us from New Jersey, where people aren’t exactly known for their road skills. They would slowly and carefully pull into the driveway and step out of their Lexus For Old People and always make the same remark. “That was such a nice trip. People in Pennsylvania are so nice. They always let you into their lanes and they never cut you off! Are Pennsylvanians nice? I never really noticed.

There are a few things I really miss about Pennsylvania summers. Jesse Hein wrote on my Facebook wall last night- I smelled bonfire driving around Berwyn and realized, again, what August was missing. I miss that. Firepits in the backyard. No one wants or needs a firepit for late summer nights in Houston. The temperature is still way above eighty after the sun goes down. The other evening we were hanging out with our neighbors in the yard. I was tightening my cardigan across my body. “You cold?” “No, I’m not cold. I’m hot as balls. I keep getting bitten by these fucking mosquitos.” Houston is a swamp.

The thing I missed the most about Pennsylvania this summer was the sound of the cicadas at night. Always calm and quiet, like a little murmur from the trees, mumbling last-minute thoughts into your bedroom. Windows open, brisk August wind through the curtains. Sounds like the end of summer, tossing and turning in bed before the first night of school. Sometimes I could hear the cicadas in State College, but I would always hear them in Devon. My mother told me she recently held the phone up to the trees so that my grandma, who once lived in New Jersey but now lives in Florida, could hear the sound.

There are crickets and cicadas, mosquitos and roaches in Houston, that’s for sure. Only the sound of the crickets here is not low-key or calming. It’s just the opposite. The sound here is loud and scary and painful, like bad sex or an anxiety attack. A fearful heartbeat, as if the end of the world is coming and the cicadas found out about it first. The air conditioning drowns them out but as soon as you open the front door the sound will startle you. Lucky for us, I guess, we never get to sleep with the windows open.