I’m speaking Spanish, aciidentally, to a McDonalds employee at 2 am in LAX. McDonalds is the only place open this late. Construction workers in orange hard hats, orange vests with neon yellow stripes, order in front of me. They are remodeling this section of the airport. The booming gong of steel crashing into steel, the smell of cleaning liquids, the rhythmic hum of a floor polisher clutter my already stressed out mind. I’ve been shleping my fifty-pound backpack from Terminal 7, where the empty United ticket counters await the morning rush, to Terminal 4, where the food court, except McDonalds, is filled with shadows. There are obviously some people who are getting screwed over the same as me, an eight-hour layover in LAX. Heaps of clothes and bags with sleeping bodies underneath occupy metal benches painted green. At least, I think, we’re safe in numbers. I don’t have to worry about being robbed by other disgruntled travelers who are just waiting, like I am, until they can check their bags, pass through into the secure area, and fall asleep again, slumped over an armrest, or fortified in a corner on the floor behind a wall of luggage.
I order the Combo #3 in Spanish and, at first, don’t notice my mistake. The order-takers, burger-flippers, french fry friers are all conversing in Spanish. I say “Gracias,” ask for more ketchup.
The green metal benches are ergonomically curved to cradle your ass. Laying on my side, I discover that they are actually fairly comfortable beds. I use my shoulder satchel as a pillow, prop my huge backpack against myself, put my hat over my eyes and drift into sleep, feeling so exhausted from the last ten hours of travel that I hardly notice the deafening gong of the construction. Still, it is enough to wake me an hour later, so I stuff toilet paper in my ears and go back to dreaming.
I’m trudging up a snowfield. Visibility is nill. Turning around, I can see the rope snaking away from my harness and disappearing in the blizzard behind me. I scream into the wind, wondering who is back there and why we are still going up. We should be descending in this weather, but something is drawing me forward. It is irresistable. Hearing no response from my partner, I decide, as if the decision is simple, to continue. After a few steps the snow stops and the clouds begin to clear. The wind is blowing everything away. There is a huge gust that sweeps the mountain clean, an immense squeegee pushing milk off a window. And I’m suddenly surrounded by other climbers. There are people carrying packs so huge that they block out the sun for a moment as they pass, casting a lumpy shadow over my dumbfounded, motionless self. Everyone is trudging along without noticing me, focused directly ahead on the summit that they know must be there even though it is beyond their vision. I begin to follow them, stamping my crampons into the soft snow, when I wake up.
People walk by dragging luggage behind them like a stubborn pet. I rise to a sitting position, wiping hazy sleep from my eyes, wonder what time it is.
Mom, Dad and Joss meet me at the top of the escalator by the baggage claim in Sea-Tac. This is when I know I am finally home. Hugs and kisses, smiles signal my arrival. It feels great to see them and I am so distracted, so involved in hearing and telling stories, that I don’t notice my bag has been sitting on the floor since I got here. Joss gathers it up and carries it to the car for me, commenting on the awkward bulk. In fifteen minutes we are on the ferry. Not long after that we pull into the Central Market parking lot. I’m so overwhelmed by the place, this enormous burgoise supermarket, that I can’t figure out what to buy. The produce is spotless. The seafood doesn’t even smell, which seems impossible to me. The salad bar must be a mirage. It feels funny for a moment, having all these luxuries after not having them for three months. I relish putting toilet paper into the toilet, instead of into a wastebin, which I am suprised to find is not in its usual place next to the toilet in the public restroom.
There are many little things I once took for granted for which I now enjoy the novelty : drinking tap water, putting toilet paper into the toilet, no-passing zones, quality beer, water pressure, paying with a card, change for a twenty, strangers not staring at my height, schoolchildren not gawking at my height, English newspapers, driving, not being honked at, more than one change of clothes, cotton underwear, clean underwear, normal keyboards, decent music, savory ketchup, real yogurt, sharp cheddar cheese, mail, hot tubs, 45-degree sunshine, cell phones, wallets, shaving cream, baseball, basketball, hokey, football instead of futbol, soccer instead of futbol, sake, quality beer, public trash cans, litter laws, tennis shoes, free internet, Waterfront pizza!, dogs with owners, cats, sourdough, and old friends, to name a few.
Driving into Port Townsend, the stench of the Paper Mill assails me. There are also things I didn’t miss, but for the most part, it is wonderful coming home. Three months in South America has undoubtedly affected me in ways that I will not realize until passing years have provided perspective. Still, something has changed. After almost 24 hours of travel, I immediatly start unpacking, organizing my room, doing laundry, and setting about picking up where I left off. My motivation far outwieghs my fatigue.