Return of the TravelWeeds: David

Posted on December 28, 2011


Return of the TravelWeeds: Video

Return of the TravelWeeds: Pictures

Airplane flights provide bookends for an event. There’s usually an outbound and an inbound, and in your seat, sitting quietly with nothing but whatever’s in your carry-on to distract you, there is plenty of time to think. When I was working, the flight out was usually filled with last-minute anxiety about the impending trip. As an Account Manager, I was responsible for making sure our team accomplished our objectives in front of the customer. Up at thirty thousand feet, I would rack my brain for possible forgotten loose ends in the presentation or worry about cat-herding all the meeting participants. However, after the meeting, the plane ride home was typically a pleasant and relaxing experience. Although just as cramped and physically miserable as I was on the ride out, the meeting was now behind me. With the stress temporarily over, and with my own bed to look forward to, it was easy to smile, close my eyes, and recline my seat the generous ¾ of an inch American Airlines gives to its coach passengers.

Flying for the Euro 2K11 mega-trip was different. Even though it was impossible to plan for all the contingencies for our upcoming time in Europe, I felt very little anxiety on the outbound plane back in March. Jenny and I had spent years thinking about the trip and months in detailed planning- we had done all we could. What I was feeling on the plane was giddiness that the daily grind of day-to-day corporate life was temporarily on pause, and an epic adventure was about to begin. Even though I had barely slept on the overnight flight, when we landed in Barcelona I felt as energized as if I had slept soundly for eight hours.

Fast-forward six and a half months to the present- we were headed home. We’d begun the long process of getting back to Texas by flying from Cork, Ireland to Paris on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 (which turned out to be a very windy day). As we sat in the modern, largely glass airport, we could hear the wind howling, and the ever-present Irish rain splattered on the windows.  In the terminal, people went about their business as usual, oblivious to the inauspicious signs. As we walked across the runway to our Paris-bound plane, I comforted myself that if our fight went down, at least we had finished the trip.

Our tickets across the Atlantic were from Paris (not Cork) because when we booked, we didn’t know exactly where we would be when it was time to go home. We chose Paris because we had good friends there we could stay with, the tickets were affordable (free with frequent flyer miles), and best of all the flights to DFW are direct.

Luckily, the flight was trouble free, as were customs, immigration, and all forms of transportation home from Charles De Gaulle. Cecile picked us up at the RER station in Croissy, and yet again, we were in her debt. We drove over the Seine and arrived home to kiss hello to Stephanie, Cecile’s goddaughter. We all sat down to a nice meal of soup, quiche, salad and chocolate cake, which would be our last dinner in Europe. During these proceedings (and the last few days), I seemed to be noting things that I had been taking for granted the past few months. Things like tidy, green, cobblestoned villages with streets named things like “Rue Du Coeur Volant.” Interesting discussions with people with completely backgrounds and different life perspectives. Ceremonious multi-course three-hour dinners accompanied by excellent local wine.  I’d miss the adventure of waking up in a place where even everyday things can be mysterious and new. Of course, we had been away for over half a year, so when we finally got back, would everything seem back-to-normal, or would we feel like strangers on our home country? We’d find out soon.

The next day, we woke and left the house earlier than we probably needed to, to allow for problems with our train to the airport. After a quick petit dejuner, we were soon at the Croissy station boarding the RER en route for Paris. It was early enough that the morning commute had not yet started in earnest- a very good thing because we were carrying all of our gear from the trip and we took up enough space for four people. Rush hour was gaining momentum as we switched lines at the huge underground Chatelet station. Commuters were swarming everywhere. We were like huge lumbering eighteen-wheelers parting through motor scooters as we made our way through the dense human traffic to the next platform. We aggressively jockeyed to be among the first onboard as our train arrived- we knew that if we didn’t there might not be enough room. We managed to squish into the back of the car among the sour potpourri of human smells for the long, warm, and bleary eyed trip to the airport.

More productive slogging put us at our gate with plenty of time. I watched the bags as Jenny procured breakfast. Security was in a high state of alert as we passed by the gate agent onto the jet bridge. Random searches were being conducted, and a massive tank with soldiers cruised by on the tarmac out side. When were finally seated I groaned as my fears came true. The overly boisterous group of man-boys annoying us in the terminal was seated directly in front of us in the perfect position to annoy us for the ten-hour flight home. They were excited, and it showed with their shouts and spastic shoulder punches- we independently came to the conclusion that they were on their first trip to the US, probably connecting in Dallas on the way to Las Vegas.

After a long flight, we were over the yellowish-brown drought ravaged countryside of Texas. Ten hours is a long time for anything, and staying seated in less room than a coffin is no exception. I filled my time by reading, organizing pictures, and half watching the in flight entertainment. Every once in a while I’d look up at “Thor” (our in flight movie) and pose questions to Jenny regarding what Thor was up to and the status of the intergalactic/trans-dimensional portal between Earth and Asgard. It was more fun to hear Jenny try to explain the muddled plot than it was to watch it. Towards the end of the flight, poor Jenny started looking like death from altitude sickness, but as we landed, she seemed to be improving. Stepping off the plane, even with the semi-seal between the plane and the jet bridge in place, we felt a blast of hot, dry air hit us. We were back home.

The familiar sounds of Texan accents surrounded us during the mad rush through the never-ending airport halls to immigration. Mixed in was a smattering of French, but it was out of place in the atmosphere of Terminal D of Dallas Fort Worth International. I would need to give up on hearing any language outside of English and Spanish for the foreseeable future. A feeling of truly being home hit outside in the oven-like outside waiting area where we gratefully dropped our bags. I left the recuperating Jenny with our bags, and walked up and down the streets of the waiting area looking for our ride. I passed by a couple of enormous, Chevy Suburban taxis running their V8 engines and air conditioners in the intense sun. They were there the entire time we were and as we were leaving, so I have no idea how long they stayed there burning gas. It was strange to contrast this with Edinburgh, where we witnessed people driving hyper-fuel efficient cars still turning off their engines at red light intersections to conserve fuel.

Other minor differences popped up just at the airport: plentiful and spotless bathrooms, the absence of graffiti, people wearing shorts and being normal, easy, plentiful parking and wide lanes for driving. Eventually, I saw a big white Cadillac pull up, and out jumped my Mom with a big grin on her face. As she walked towards us, with her arms outstretched, the weirdness I was feeling was replaced by a gladness to be home and close to family. I hadn’t seen my dad in over half a year, so of course I couldn’t stop smiling while telling him dozens of disjointed stories and random thoughts. My mind had so much to relate, but the mental act of assembling stories and getting them out of my mouth seemed unusually difficult. I thought this was probably due to the sheer volume of stuff I wanted to talk about, and the ten-hour plane ride’s debilitating effects.

We left the airport and ended up at a “welcome home” lunch at an Italian restaurant with my parents, Jenny’s dad, and her uncle. We were sitting around a table, enjoying water (with ice) and the quick, almost overly attentive service when I began to suspect the problem with communicating wasn’t because I was too tired, or because there was too much material, but rather because I hadn’t really formed how I felt about being home yet. Conversation ran all around me, Jenny was having a great time; my parents were laughing and happy. It wasn’t that I wasn’t glad to be home; I was just sort of… removed. I had climbed the mountain, achieved my dreams, now I was just back home, and no longer a visionary, no longer an adventurer.

We left and picked up Jenny’s car, which her dad had been taking care of. It felt massive careering down the freeway in the oversized lanes. Again I was struck by the fact that we were back. The next morning (at Starbucks, of course), we made a spreadsheet with all the tasks we needed to do to live normally again. Soon enough, we had visited storage and pulled out the things we needed to start back up again with everyday life. Our old room at our friends Katy and Justin’s house was just as we’d left it and we made it ours again. We visited the grocery store and filled the refrigerator and pantry. We made fitness goals and joined a gym. The following Monday, we were back in the office. It became real: we were back.

Over a few weeks, as we met up with our much-missed friends, I realized that they were interested in hearing about the trip, but once Jenny or I went over some of the basic things, it was time to move the conversation on to something else. People had gotten on with their lives when we were gone. Most of our friends are just at the start of a new phase in their lives, having recently had children (or actually gave birth when we were gone). Careers were being advanced, businesses were being built, people continued to go out to eat, go to the gym, watch television, commute to and from work. The world continued to function perfectly well without us. I knew that things wouldn’t stop when we were gone, but knowing is different than experiencing firsthand.

During the first week back, we still couldn’t sleep particularly well. We’d wake at three in the morning, and then struggle to go back to sleep. Sometimes, since I was wide-awake early in the mornings, just as soon as the sun was high enough to light the trails I’d go to the forest behind our place and run. Although the weather was reaching one hundred degrees during the day, at six thirty in the morning, it was cool as I made my way through the trees. It was peaceful and isolated, and a good place to think. I was doing a lot of thinking, most of it about how the good things were over, and how it was back to a dull life of nine to five in corporate suburbia.

One morning, I pulled Jenny out of bed while it was still dark and we went down to the lake to watch the sunrise together. Emerging from the dark woods, we found a seat on the water. We talked about our plans for re-entering society (careers, babies, where we’d live), and just tried to connect again after the big change. I had been feeling weird, and she had picked up on this, so this was a much-needed check-in. I think this might have been the point where I realized that I needed to get going again.

Not surprisingly, acclimation wasn’t just about sleeping, but facing up to the reality that the trip was over and it was time to switch gears. As memorable and awesome as the trip was, it was in the past, and I had the present to deal with. Just because we were back in boring old Dallas didn’t mean that it was impossible to live a fulfilling life where we would be challenged and actively engaged in living. Sure, it would be easy to fall back into the process of muddling through Monday to Friday, medicating ourselves with Netflix and other semi-pleasurable but lotus-eating-like activities. With the trip, we had worked very hard, not just in planning and earning the money for the trip, but putting ourselves out there and getting outside our comfort zones. We dove in with enthusiasm, usually reaping the benefits of incredible experiences, but sometimes falling flat. Now it was time to do the same with real life.

It is time to stop living passively. What happened to signing up for classes on oil painting and speaking French? What about registering for a marathon? Or teaming with Jenny to write our book? These are just three of the millions of other things I realized I wanted to do while on the trip. If I want something, I need to take steps to make it happen. If I don’t know what I want to do, I need to spend the time to find it out. I cannot afford to skip the step of discovering my calling. I don’t want to live like a zombie, holding myself to standards created by corporate media. Nor do I want to perform some kind of blind imitation of my peers, or just settle for something due to my own lack of creativity. I don’t want to strive for other people’s goals. The trip was supposed to provide an epiphany- a moment of clarity where I realize “blank” is what I am meant to do. Well, it didn’t happen- So what? It’s on me to keep searching, to stay active, and to never fall asleep at the wheel of my life. It’s time to realize that the plane ride home from Europe was not the closing bookend, but rather the open one.

October 12, 2011, Irving, Texas


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