Friday, June 27, 2014

Adventures before Adventuring

By July 11, I will have been in five major cities in hardly a month: Montreal, New York City, Boston, Reykjavik, Paris.

I’m excited to see how much longer the list is in another month, once I’m in Europe.

About a week ago, I stopped by Evan’s apartment on my way back from meeting with Nora about my internship. Evan had just woken up from a nap after a very exhausting morning of Bikram yoga – so exhausting, in fact, that he passed out during the class and woke up being cradled by a bunch of loving yogis. Apparently he didn’t eat enough.

“I should eat again,” Evan said. “Wanna get food?”

Yeah, I was going to grab something anyway,” I said.

“Where do you want to go?”

We went through the list – Greek, Thai, Tibetan, Mexican, Delish, that new bistro on Margaret Street, fast food …

“I’m so sick of all the food in Plattsburgh,” I said. I’ve been using my tip money the last couple months to get takeout twice a day since getting to the grocery store is such a pain in the butt.

Ok, fine. I just hate cooking.

“Looks like we’ll just have to go to Montreal,” I joked.

“You wanna go to Montreal?” he said.

“If you were like, ‘Let’s go to Montreal right now,’ I’d go.”


“Wait, we’re really going to do this? Yes! Let’s do it! Right now! I have work at 10 p.m.” I looked at my watch. It was almost 3 p.m. “Fuck it. Let’s go. Actually, I don’t know … Should we? … Yes! Yes, we should!”

Evan grabbed a hoodie and his passport, and we drove to my place so I could grab my passport and an umbrella, and we were off. It was 3:15 p.m.

In Montreal we walked maybe six blocks from where we parked and found a restaurant where he got French onion soup and I got fries and mayo, and we each got a beer. We sat on the patio and listened to the flute band playing in the square. Of course, right when we were about to leave, it started to pour. Good thing I brought my umbrella! Oh wait, no. I left in the car. Duh.

Soaking wet in Evan's car. Of course it stopped raining as soon as we left. 

We ran back to the car, but it was fruitless. We were both drenched. A double rainbow decorated the sky as we drove back to Plattsburgh. I was right on time for work.

Crappy picture of the not crappy double rainbow.

A little more than a week later, Tony and I were gliding down the Taconic State Parkway to Liz’s house in Yorktown, forty minutes north of the city. I’d never driven on the Taconic before – I didn’t know the trip to NYC could be so beautiful! I’d always staken I-87 all the way down.

This time, instead of cringing past 18-wheelers and ugly construction, I got to gaze out over green trees and hills while coasting at a steady 60 mph through a tunnel of arching maples.
Tony didn’t complain when I popped in the only c.d. I could find in my apartment – a small-city California bluegrass band’s only album that a friend gave me to me while I was out there. Tony did do plenty of hillbilly “har-har” laughs when the music got particularly backwoods, but I was just happy not to be listening to his music. Eminem and heavy bass hip-hop just somehow wouldn’t have fit the mood. (Does it ever, though?)

I recognized Liz’s house from a photo on Facebook. An adorable dark red house with white trimmed windows and a magical yard with a sloping hill, a chicken coop, a mini vineyard, and woods that definitely look inhabited by fairies or dwarves or something. Which is funny, because we did end up talking an awful lot about midgets while we were sitting up there together later on … (Sorry, Tony.)
Alex, Liz’s brother, answered the front door and led us up to Liz’s room. She swung open the door when I knocked. “FLEAAAAA! Delivered right to my door!” We spent the night talking and watching Netflix in her opium den.

Speaking of her opium den, a mummified leg protected me last night.

A piece of driftwood hangs from the ceiling of the den that looks EXACTLY like a mummified leg cut off at the knee – foot and all. It’s even the right size and proportions. One of the last things Liz said to me before I fell asleep was, “The foot will watch over you.”

Saying goodbye to Liz at 7:30 a.m. the next morning wasn’t too sad. It’s the most temporary farewell I’ve exchanged with a college friend, since she’ll be moving to Europe soon enough, too. She’ll be in England, but we’ll practically be neighbors.

Tony and I passed the sign for Yonkers on the way to the city. “Yonkers!”

“I love those things,” Tony said.

“What? Tony, did you think I said gnocchis?”

“I guess I’m just hungry.”

We got into the city at about 10 a.m. Tony was a natural driving. I don’t think I’m aggressive enough. We parked and arrived at 10 E 74th Street an hour before my appointment at the French consulate. We may or may not have run a few red lights in Harlem.

A man in a guard uniform opened the metal-grated door for me, asked for my name, and checked me off on the list. We chitchatted for a moment, and I went through the metal detector. “Here’s your number for when you go upstairs.” He handed me a little plastic card. 25.

“Thank you.”

“I should be thanking you. Keep that personality!” I wasn’t sure what I did or said to make him think I was great during our brief encounter, but in forty minutes I would be thanking my lucky stars for it, whatever it was.

“Make sure you have all your papers ready,” he said. “They hate when people rustle through all their papers and don’t have them. Also, if you’re phone goes off, they’ll have me come escort you out,” he whispered.
I checked that my was off for a third time and his hoarse whisper disappeared as I went up the stairs and entered a smelly sauna.

The room was at least 100-degrees, and the windows were only cracked open. People were speaking in hushed whispers all around me – I heard Arabic, French, Spanish, and English. Everyone was nervously tapping fingers and shaking feet, or both. It was ten times worse than a doctor’s office waiting room. I’ve never felt such dense, apprehensive energy.

I thought of my friend Meg, who is moving to Australia in September, and of Liz, who is moving back to England, and how they just had to mail in all their visa paperwork. They wouldn’t have to go through this hell.

The loudspeaker called Number 19 to Window 1. Everyone’s wide eyes followed a girl not much younger than I as she walked to Window 1.

I couldn’t see Window 1’s face, but I could hear her voice. “Where is your acceptance letter?” she demanded.

“It’s there. I gave it to you – see? It says, ‘We are pleased to inform you that – ‘”

“This isn’t good enough. I need a copy. Where is ….” On and on and on.

The conversation kind of reminded me of a trip to the principal’s office in fourth grade, and the rest of us were the bad kids waiting for our turns.

When the girl sat back down, everyone looked away like they hadn’t been watching the whole thing like an episode of Mean Girls the whole time, but I saw her face was beet red. She sat down in the chair next to me.

“You ok?” I said.

“Yeah. But that woman is NOT pleasant.”

I shuffled through my folder to be sure for the 20th time that I had all my paperwork and copies of that paperwork, and copies of the copies of that paperwork. The air was getting stuffier and stuffier. At one point my eyes got dizzy like they do when I take off my glasses and I felt very faint – like I might have an Evan moment. I might as well be doing Hot Yoga with how hot it was in there and how fast my heart was beating.

Thank Neptune there was a water machine. I gulped three cups.

The only person in the room who didn’t look nervous was a handsome, 30-something-year-old French man. He sat with his legs crossed comfortably, reading a newspaper, with the most pleasant look on his face. He looked like he’d done this before. I hated him.

“Number 25.” Oh no. Window 1. Not the principal lady.

“Your passport and application.” She was pretty and younger than I expected. Her blue eyes were naturally slanted, making her look perpetually suspicious. I wondered if that helped get her hired.

I handed her document after document. “Your au pair contract. What is this? These are two originals. I need a copy.”

“I thought you could just take one of the official ones since I got two, anyway ….”


My heart sank. Surely she would send me away and make me come back another time when I was prepared. I heard her send away one girl already, who was crying, “But this is my second time coming back already!” I’d have to find a way to get back down here and somehow come up with the money to do so and probably have to reschedule my plane ticket, which would cost a couple hundred dollars, and I’d have to tell Maia and Matthieu and Gael and Laetitia that I wouldn’t be in France until way later than expected, and I’d have to postpone all of my adventures … Oh god.

The principal wrote something on a post-it note and handed it to me. It said, “11:41.”

“Come back here by 11:41 with copies, and I’ll see you.” I looked at my watch. It was 11:28.

I rushed out to the guard. “Where can I make copies?!”

“Uh, Madison Avenue. Right up there.”

Tony was outside. I ran past him without explaining. “Come on!” We bolted up 74th Street and then back and forth on Madison Avenue looking for a place to make copies. I asked multiple people on the street and walked into three or four stores to ask. Three people said, “There’s a FedEx on Lexington and three blocks that way.” I didn’t have time to go that far without being sure I’d even find it.

I ran back to the guard. “What’s the address?! Nothing is there!”

“Up there somewhere,” he said frantically. He was pointing at a florist.

I looked at my watch. 11:43. But I wasn’t giving up that easily.

This time, I sprinted up 74th, purse smacking pedestrians and clutching the folder that held every proof my identity. My brother was jogging effortlessly behind me.
Lexington Avenue.

“Where’s FedEx?!”


I burst through the doors, probably slamming them into my poor brother behind me. I took a deep breath so my mind could slow down and comprehend how to use this weird copying machine. Ten minutes and three paper jams later, my insides were crying and my face was dripping sweat. I never sweat. I hate sweating.
I was keeled over and panting when the guard opened the door for me for the third time. My hair was sticking to my burning face. It was 12:03 p.m. I was more than 20 minutes late.

“Go on upstairs,” the guard said quickly. “She’s waiting for you.”

The principal lady was waiting for me? How did he know that? He must have talked to her for me …
I didn’t have time to think about it. I ran upstairs to Window 1. “My colleague will help you at Window 4.”

My fingers slipped in sweat as I crossed them behind my back, another thing I hadn’t done since fourth grade. I watched the guy behind the window stamp a receipt. “Come back next Wednesday between 9 and 10 a.m. to pick it up,” he said. I thanked him in French with an earnestness I’m sure he’s used to seeing.

Downstairs, the guard was on the phone. He set down the receiver, came to the door, and hugged me. “You did it, sweetheart.”

Outside, I high-fived my brother, who sat patiently waiting by a spikey fence. “Now what I really came all the way down here for,” he said.

We stopped at the first pizza place we saw. I don’t remember what it was called, but it didn’t matter. The slices were cheesy and floppy. That warranted another high-five, of course.

Before realizing I hadn’t washed my hands all day, I licked some sauce off my fingers. That was the first time I ever tasted New York City. I could taste it on my skin. It tastes just like it smells – like sewage and peanuts, and it left a burning feeling on my tongue like battery acid. As much as I’ve never been fond of the Big Apple, (it tires me out really fast in most parts and I always feel grimey after walking around there), I embraced the acidity and the smell of sewage and thought about all the nice people who’d been more than happy to take a break from their city life to give me directions. Of all the cities I’ve been in across the United States, I must say New Yorkers are the friendliest people. They’re always more than happy to help. I’ve read that in Paris you should apologize profusely if you stop to ask someone for help. I’m interested to see if this is true, especially since my favorite way to get around in a new place is through approaching strangers.

Even so, going to New York felt like a dreaded chore, and I’m happy to at least have that part out of the way, even if that means I now have to go back to the black hole that is summertime Plattsburgh. It’s a strangely suffocating town when you’re there more than 4 months at a time, especially when college is out and most of your friends are gone. Ben took me on a 20-mile ride on his motorcycle the other day, and even just being two towns over made me feel like I could breathe again, just not being in Plattsburgh.

It’s a good place, though, really, with good people; I’m sure I’ll miss it once I’m gone. I’ll miss talking to the Del’s regulars and chatting with people at Koffee Kat and having political discussions with my 80-year-old friend Vince at the book store and going to the co-op every day, and being on a first-name basis with the workers at most shops downtown. I’m grateful for my time here, but I’m definitely ready to get out.

As Anaïs Nin said, “I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”