Tag Archives: Europe

“All the Miles That Separate — Disappear Now, When I’m Dreaming of Your Face.”

It’s going to be about opening doors.

It started with our landing in Warsaw…

No, wait.  Scratch that!

It started with our boarding of the trans-Atlantic flight — that carried us to Vienna — and which I nearly missed due to a row of fuck-ups on behalf the domestic airline that took me to D.C.  One thing that I must say (in the domestic airline’s defense) is that the stewart who announced our landing did make a Christmas wish over the radio:  He asked that every soul on that plane allowed those of us, in danger of missing our flights, pass through the doors first.

“Yeah, right!” I thought.  “Like that’s gonna happen!”

My point exactly:  A family of South Koreans flying in first class were the first to get out of their seats and block our way.  And then, a miracle!  They sat.  Back.  Down.  And the entire plane remained seated, and we were given a priority.

Well, I’ll be damned:  Humanity!

I started running, checked the schedule of international departures on the go and followed the arrows to my gate.

“Say what?!  I have to catch a train?!  Fuck me!”

With ten minutes before the plane’s departure, I was still running alongside the moving walkway — and I was actually faster than the mellow well-dressed passengers, much better suited for this spotless place.

“Wien?” a flight attendant with a German accent intercepted me.

“YES!  WHERE?!” I was short of breath and seemingly out of my good manners.

“This way.  We have been waiting for you, m’am.”

Well, I’ll be damned:  What dignity!

A couple of other flight attendants who checked my boarding pass were equally as chill.  Effortlessly, I passed through a pair of sliding doors and entered possibly the biggest aircraft I’ve ever seen.  It was so giant that upon our landing (forgive the shortcut past the 9-hour flight here), TWO sets of exits opened to let us out.  And it was one of those aircrafts that involved stairs leading down to the foreign soil; and then, THREE shuttles — waiting to deliver us to the Passport Check Point.  So old-school!

After the silent man who stamped my visa page, there would be another security check, more doorless doorways and then another boarding, in the same old-school manner.  This time, it would involve ONE shuttle and ONE set of doors.

“Dzien dobry!” the flight attendants cooed at me at the entrance of a seemingly brand new plane.  They all had those gorgeous Polish noses, mellow faces and striking eyes.

Is this a European thing?  By now, I began to wonder.  This dignity, this slower manner that allowed for a well thought-out response:  Was this what other travelers insisted I experienced — by going to Europe?

And it would indeed turn out to be the pattern in this city:  In Warsaw’s every neighborhood, I would be treated with respect albeit some barely noticeable curiosity.  The women here — always so gorgeous, I would gladly subscribe to the world’s conviction that there were no equals to them, anywhere! — would look at me with some off-kilter fascination.  They wouldn’t be unkind at all, but they seemed to know I was one odd bird:  Sort of from around here — but not really.  Someone who understood them but, except for my communication via gentle manners I’d acquired with forgiveness, could barely respond.

Some men would be attracted but never spoke to me.  Most studied me modestly and never interfered.  One young and pretty creature stood aside, dumbfounded, and let me pass him.  A few turned heads — but never spoke up.  And no man would ever disrespect the woman he was with by being demonstrative with his curiosity at me.

Well, I’ll be damned:  Respect!

The doors to my cabdriver’s car (he looked so very much like my father):  Those doors just wouldn’t open.  And I had tried a couple of them.  My father’s kind lookalike, despite being in the midst of shuffling my bags, ran to assist me.  He would attempt to open those doors upon my final stop, as well; but I was too American in my capabilities to wait for him.

The doors leading to the concierge office were impossible to locate.  And only after going down a dodgy alley, with multicolored graffiti and smoking teenagers, did I finally locate the back door.  (The only woman in that group — gorgeous and not easily impressed — squinted her eyes at me.)

I yanked the door.  No luck.  Embarrassed to look back at the hip smokers, by now struck with silence, I buzzed the first key on the intercom.  Thankfully, someone chirped on the other end, and I was allowed to ascend.

The doors to our rented apartment required TWO sets of alarms and THREE sets of keys.  I waved and wiggled the keychain with my electronic pass in front of the red-lit eye for nearly five minutes before an older woman — again, gorgeous, mellow and smiling — quietly demonstrated how to do it.  The old fashioned key, like something out of my childhood’s fairytale, required some maneuvering in the lock.  Finally, I entered the spartan place that would become my home, for this week.

And this story about my random visit of Poland — where, after sixteen years, I would reunite with dad — would continue to be about doors:  The tubular, time-machine like doors of the shower; the heavy doors of every restaurant whose signs I could not decipher; the detailed doors of cozy cafes that would support my jet lag with their coffee; the wooden doors along the narrow cobble streets behind which I secretly wished to live (so that I could be closer — to dad); and the eventual folding doors of that ONE bus meant to bring my old man here —

TOMORROW!

I swear:  I’d conquer so many more doors — and miles — to get to you, today!

“Wait in Line, ‘Till Your Time. Ticking Clock. Everyone: STOP!”

Okay.  I cannot do the electronic check-in for my overseas flight.  I find that hard to believe.  But then again, it’s been at least sixteen years since I have left the country, so what do I know?

Fine, then.  Okay.

Get to the airport.  That’s pretty easy.  It’s a day after Christmas, and I ask my driver if he thinks a lot of people are going back to work this morning.

“Most should,” he says.  “But then, again, a lot of people are still off.”  He pauses.  “Of course, I’m always surprised when there is any traffic, on a day like this.”  Another pause:  “But that’s LA for ya!”

There is a layer of pink feather clouds, hanging above LAX.  It’s pretty, in an exhausted sort of way.  A few silver jets sparkle in the sky as they ascend diagonally.  What an ambition of the human spirit!  A civilization is a succession of wills.

I get out at the curb within the first meter of my terminal’s ground.  A giant Lincoln town car attempts to cut me off.

“Just run me ova’, why don’t cha?” I mouth out to its driver with a bluetooth in his ear.  Be it the black, floor-long winter coat or the tightly wound nerves (and both are quite suitable for the Eastern European winter), I suddenly feel every bit like the New Yorker I once was before defecting to this coast.

He sees me, doesn’t as much as wave.

A giant line of exhausted passengers outside — kids in silly Christmas sweaters and adults with wrinkly faces — who are waiting in front of the terminal’s sliding doors is just a small preview of the havoc I’m about to endure inside.  I do not really know on what grounds I’ve previously assumed that just because United has its own terminal, the flow of today’s events would be well practiced and smooth.

The lines inside are hideous.  I find the international portion of the airport and read its awning, “International One Hour Cut-Off.”  Someone’s ought to proofread this company’s syntax.

Breathe.  I still have almost two hours.

I walk over to the Self Check-In Machines.  One carry-on, a winter coat and a laptop.  To lug one’s baggage through life is a hideous choice.  Forgiveness, no matter how hard, is lighter.

“These are for passengers with only one carry-on,” a short woman on a walkie-talkie grumbles and then proceeds her way.

“Yes,” I watch her get back to the talkie.  “I am.  Indeed.  Just that.  M’am.”  She is no longer interested.

“TAP HERE TO BEGIN.”

I do.

“ENTER CONFIRMATION OR E-TICKET NUMBER.”

I find a six-digit combination in my printout.  That should do the trick.

“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”

Okay.  I try another number.   Another random combination on the paper.

“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”

You’ve GOT to be kidding!

Okay, okay, okay.  Stay chill.

With the most mellow smile that I can manage at this hour of sunrise, I approach the first visible uniformed personnel.  And in the background, I suddenly can hear a few hollering infants and some foreign tongues.

I wait my turn, approach the woman.  Explain the situation.

“You have to call?” she tells me in her thick Asian accent.

“Excuse me?”  (Okay.  Be kind.  It’s wiser, lighter.)

“You have to call — the company?”

Oh, fuck it.  I assume my place in line.  The young man in front of me is calm and utterly consumed by his iPad.  On his cart, I see a guitar with a lime-green bandana around the handle and one piece of carry-on.  Like me, he has forgiven.  A couple of hippies with mounts of luggage on their cart are making out ahead.  An Asian couple is demurely standing by and holding the handle of a tiny bag, not deserving to be called “a suitcase”.

“And don’t forget the tag?” the Asian attendant hands me two tongues of paper.  Apparently, she only responds with questions.

“Thanks for your help,” I say.  Mmm-hmm.  I’m glad she’s saved the day with these.

I’ve got less than thirty minutes to make it through this line.  We’re moving slowly.  The grumbling woman with a walkie-talkie reappears.  I notice that underneath her United blazer, she’s wearing a summer dress.  She, right away, begins to create order.

“Sir!  You cannot stand here!” she is demonstrative when speaking to a smartly suited Indian man who, just like me, is carrying no luggage.

“My flight leaves in an hour,” he sings in a way that’s expected from his heritage.  “And your ticket machines are broken!”

Okay!  So, it was NOT just me!  I glance at the now baffled Asian attendant.  It feels a little better to know I’m not a solitary idiot, afraid to ask for help.

“Somebody’s GOT to help us!” the Indian businessman continues singing, as if echoing my thoughts.  “Somebody’s got to do their job!”

“I’m doing mine just fine, sir!” the walkie-talkie woman grumbles and listens into her gargling apparatus.  “Anyone — to Mexico?” she hollers in a moment.

A few timid hands appear above our heads.  Their owners are ushered into the line behind the Indian man.

My check-in finally happens, and it happens exactly an hour before my scheduled flight.  Ivy — the mellow attendant who takes orders from the walkie-talkie woman in a summer dress, before she serves me — has done her job quite quickly (although she does appear to have typed a whole of a dissertation in order to issue my boarding passes.)

And in the next hour, I do remember Ivy gratefully when our entire gate is transferred to another one, where we, again, proceed our wait.  When, finally, we begin boarding:

“As you may have noticed,” a voice comes over the speakers, “we’re experiencing mechanical difficulties.  We’ve dealt with three different mechanics and shall be in the air as soon as we are done with our paperwork.”

Okay.  Stay positive.  Stay grateful and stay kind.  

I have about fifteen minutes to catch my connecting flight.

Money Makes My World Go ‘Round

Definitions, definitions.  This year has been all about definitions.

How I’ve gone through my entire life without defining my boundaries or my personal relationships, I haven’t had time to wonder.  Because I’ve been surviving, my comrades, up until recently:  maneuvering through a hormonal cocktail of adrenaline and testosterone that came from either my obnoxious determination or fear (both of which I often covered up with sex).  But it is now that I feel clear-minded and calm enough to examine my life’s choices and figure out my future ones.  

And according to numerous testimonies:  I’m right on time.  My 20s were supposed to be chaotic.  So, okay, I could’ve settled for a calmer childhood; but that is the very tragedy of children:  They don’t have a choice.  They survive whatever circumstances are granted to them, whatever chaos they inherit.  And I could hope that they come out as strong and compassionate adults at the end of it all.  But then, I’d rather spend that same hope on a continuous prayer that every child is granted a more peaceful, innocent childhood in the first place.  I myself no longer harbor any feelings of being gipped as a child.  Instead, I chalk it up to a lesson in my own better parenting, in the future.

One of the leading topics of the year — is money.  Or rather, whether or not money defines success, and how? I find that for most of my American contemporaries, this particular definition has been long established:  They are more at ease with cash; and many make it the ultimate goal of their living.  Which must be why there is no better plot to an American life than the one in which the pursuit of making a living — is often synonymous to making a life.  (And if there were any saving grace in the current recession we’re all still surviving, it has to be the necessary — generational! — reexamination of our values.)

Many of my friends with more traditional professions invest their lives in the purpose of their jobs.  For the sake of these jobs, they work insanely long hours, taking a few sick days here and there; and they rarely take vacations.  But even then, their typically American vacations don’t last long.  They are comprised of a quick, and sometimes stressful getaway to an exotic location — for just a week; while most European families I know won’t even consider packing their suitcases unless they have a near month to spare.

As for me, it has been ingrained in me by my own socialist childhood that money is merely the means, not the end.  But then again, I’ve witnessed my parents’ poverty; and let me tell you, my comrades:  There is no more brutal dehumanization or humiliation than that.  So, as far as experiencing poverty goes (for me or my folk) — I’m done with that one!  All set, thank you very much.  Good to know; but here, I’d like to think I’ve fulfilled my life’s quota, so I’ll just to join the money race now.  Where do I start?

My bohemian friends who manage their survival via freelance gigs and an occasional income from their artistic endeavors tend to define money as energy.  Many years ago, one of my first LA-LA comrades defined it this way:

“If you use your money to help people — not start wars — money becomes the force of goodness.”

However simplified, I had to write that one down; and thank Shiva I did!  Because back then, so painful was the lack of my own money, I could only be preoccupied with investing it in my basic needs.  But these days, as I invest endless hours in the pursuit of my self-made career, I’m also in a position to start defining the purpose of my money:  current and future.

A couple of days ago, a sensitive and inspiring young creature descended upon my evening, but nearly ended-up staying the night.  I have adopted her, you see, as my soul’s guardian.  It’s a two-way exchange:  I look out for her physical wellness, while she — continuously saves my soul.  (What can I say?  It is a habit of mine:  To walk through every chapter of my life while keeping an eye on a handful of young women.  “Feminism”, “a delayed maternal instinct”, “a comfortably bisexual orientation” — call it whatever the fuck you want:  I believe in helping those who, just as I, have been robbed of a peaceful childhood.)

While she vented, albeit gracefully, about a job at which she was underpaid but also humiliated on a weekly basis, I thought:  Bingo!  My definition of financial success must include helping my friends.  But then again:  My friends are my equals (which is why my friendships have always worked out better than my romances), so I wouldn’t go calling it “help”.  Rather:  I would consider myself ever-so-successful if I were soon in a position to hire my friends.  Of course, I am very careful about entering into any business ventures with acquaintances.  But what better way to pay it forward — for any possible success or prosperity of my own — than to eliminate unnecessary suffering from the lives of those I love, by granting them better opportunities?

And then, of course, there are those beloveds whom I have adopted as my family (which includes, by the way, my own old folks).  There aren’t very many of them, but they are my very truth — the very gist of my worth; and for them, I wish my prosperity were limitless.  I would dream of no better success than to be in a position to contribute to my goddaughter’s education, for instance, or her plans to travel the world.  It would thrill me with gratitude to contribute to my best friend’s first house downpayment or to purchase arrangements for my girlfriends’ getaways while they’re the midst of their undeserved heartbreaks. To buy a luxury vehicle for my old man — just so that nerd could take it apart and put it back together — it would break my heart with humility.  Because what better manifestation of a life well-lived than its limitless generosity?

Finally:  What is the definition of money for my own existence?  Easy-peasy, comrades:  MONEY — IS FREEDOM.  Freedom to pursue my own opportunities, to fulfill my own wonderings (and to pay for my wanderings), to chase my own dreams.  Freedom to have the privilege of time.  Because not every life may have the deficit of money — but the deficit of time does appear to be universal. 

So:  “Time — is money” it is, eh?  And considering I’ve already been quite successful at defining the ways I choose to spend my time, I’m right on time in defining the spending of my money.