Monday, 20 June 2011

Homeward Bound

"Heat prickled my cheeks.  My hands went clammy.  Love is a lot like food poisoning."
-Suzanne Supplee

Homeward Bound started with food poisoning.

I traveled for 19 weeks in places like India, Egypt and Turkey and routinely ate food from street vendors and local hole-in-the-walls.  I thought my stomach could handle anything, and I mean anything.

Apparently "anything" does not include a ham and cheese sandwich from a train station in Marrakech.  That sandwich took a few hours to affect me, but when it did I began projectile vomiting:  in the Madrid airport bathroom, in the Madrid metro station (I apologize to the person who had to clean it up!), and on Sister # 2s terrace.  Not pleasant, and I was distraught because I had to catch an 8:54 a.m. flight the next morning.

Still feeling the ravages of food poisoning, I woke up and walked from Sister # 2s apartment to the metro.  I got lost on my way to the metro which is improbable; it is literally one block away.  I should have been at the hospital with an IV hooked in my arm and was practically hallucinating.

Once at the airport, it took too much effort to even stand while waiting to check in.  So I sat on my backpack and scooted my ass along the floor as the line moved.  When I finally reached the check-in desk, I requested an aisle seat close to the bathroom.

Luckily, I felt better by the end of the day, and I got to sit next to Alex from Russia on the plane.  This was Alex's first international flight, and it was his first time in America.  I do not know who was more excited to arrive in NYC, me or Alex.  I have never seen anyone so giddy about the Big Apple.

I helped Alex fill out his customs forms and realized how much more compassionate I am toward foreign visitors after being one for nearly five months.

Next, I caught a Greyhound bus from New York City to Savannah.  I've never ridden a Greyhound before and my immediate impression was that waiting in the Manhattan Greyhound Station is 50 times more shady than sleeping on a park bench in the Czech Republic.

These were some of the conversations going on around me:

"Jermaine, you get over here now or I'm gonna SLAP you!"
-Angry black woman to her disobedient son.

"That bitch, she stole my car!  I'm gonna KILL that bitch!"  
-Man in a trench coat to a man in a trench coat. 

"I got yo' money.  Aight, meet me behind Tyrone's place." 
-Man on phone, possibly to a drug dealer.

"Oh yeah, baby, work that ASS!" 
-Man to morbidly obese, legging-clad girlfriend who was performing a "shake my ass on your crotch" dance move.

The station was awash in afros, gold teeth, one-legged men, crack addicts, and midgets.  I felt like I was at the circus.

Obese children sucked on sugary beverages, attacked economy-sized bags of Cheetos and text messaged friends on their iPhone.  Please explain to me why a nine-year-old needs an iPhone?  Or rather, why a family that can afford to buy all three of their under-10 children an iPhone is taking the Greyhound from New York City to Oakland, California?

Was this really the America I missed so much?  

The Manhattan Greyhound Station made me understand why we're losing our economic edge in the world to countries like India and China.

With that said, I predict that cross-country bus and train companies are going to undergo a revitalization in America.

When purchased online three weeks in advance , it costs $79 to take the bus from New York City to Savannah.  Meanwhile, it costs $280 to fly the same distance.  Of course, bus travel is more time intensive, but if you travel overnight you might sleep away 7 or 8 hours of the journey.  To pass the rest of the time, there is free WiFi onboard.

At a bus reststop in South Carolina, I'm embarrassed to say I feasted on some Popeye's.

While the people riding Greyhound are "weirder" than the ones you find on a plane, I gained a new appreciation for America's bus and train network during my Homeward Bound expedition.    

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