Thursday, January 9, 2014

Back in The USA

I arrived in Atlanta on a bad day or the true color of southern hospitality. I have been away for too long and spoiled by the genuine service and helpfulness of strangers. America....not so much. Wait... not at all! We are not very helpful to travelers and we really make life difficult. If you think American travel is easy, you can travel anywhere in SE Asia and Europe very easily. I promise. I saw an immediate distinction.

I was prepared for Passport control to have a field day with my form. I am honest and in the USA it is probably better to lie. Stupid me! That isn't something I do. Plus everything is computerized. My passport has been swiped at every country when I have arrived and exited. So when the form asked last countries visited on trip I listed the ones that fit. This led to a 100 questions. 

Passport Control: Traveling on business or pleasure? 
Me: Pleasure.
Passport Control: When did you leave?
Me: Feb 25, 2013. 
Passport Control: What is your work? 
Me: Unemployed.
Passport Control: (with a look of disgust) How do you pay for this travel? 
Me: (In my head with a look an idiot deserves "none of your business, asshole!") Savings.
Passport Control: (with a rolling of eyes) Seriously? 
Me: Yes. 
Passport Control: what line of work were you working before? 
Me: Scientist
Passport Control: What type of work? 
Me: Chemist for manufacturing company. 
Passport Control: how long did you have to save for the trip? 
Me: I got a severance package when my job was eliminated. Used that money for travel. 
Passport Control: hmmmm. Are you traveling with anyone? 
Me: No. 
He looked at me and then my passport. I really wanted to mess with hm and say don't worry, I am only spending a night in Atlanta and then I am flying to Central America. But I thought that would cause more issues. I will play that card in a few months. He finally stamped my passport and I was free to get my bags and go to the hotel. 
I did not realize how hard it would be to get transport to my hotel. The airport phones at the international airport were not working. I asked a few other groups of travelers and none of us could get them to work.  I walked over to the Information desk and asked if he could help me. He ignored me and continued playing on his cell phone. Ugh! I said "excuse me, where do I get some information?" He asked what I needed. I explained the phone issue to him. He said "they work fine. If not, use your cell phone." I laughed at him and said "you realize this is an international airport?  Most of us don't have a cell phone for the USA if we are having problems. Will you call our hotels for the shuttle?" He responded with a firm no and went back to playing on his cell phone. I was irritated. I asked where we could find customer service. He said he did not know. At this time, a janitor walked up and told us to take the shuttle to the domestic airport where we would find all of the hotel shuttles. We thanked him and went to the shuttle. When we arrived, the girl driving the shuttle was talking on the phone to a friend. We sat waiting for 30 minutes. As everyone complained that they had flights to catch she put her hand over her ears and ignored people. One man got up and handed out a form to rate the service. Everyone filled it out as we waited. Finally, she drove to the domestic airport. As people got off she took the forms and folded them. I watched as she tore them and threw them away. Too bad. She really stunk at her job.She needed some constructive criticism.  She was mad nobody gave her a tip. An older gentleman looked her in the eye and said  "tips are for service, not talking on the phone to your friends." I laughed! This attitude and lack of service irritated me. I know it is little things but the tipping in America is ridiculous for the poor service. It irritates me that we don't hold employers responsible for paying their workers. Tips should be provided for extraordinary service, not just because you showed up. My irritation was making me more irritable. Is all of this reverse culture shock? Or was it the realization I did not want to be back in the USA yet. I have changed so much and being here and in Paris I noticed the commercialization of everything. There is a different attitude of the people. Or maybe it was me. I don't know. I wanted to go to the hotel and go to bed. I did not want to deal with it. People were so self-centered. I was happy when the van driver started talking to me about his life in Atlanta. Ok, maybe it was me. I was tired and irritated and needed a few hours of sleep. I took the opportunity to ask the van driver about the closest post office and shopping mall. He offered directions so I could walk to the post office and told me to take the metro from the domestic airport to a shopping mall. I thanked him for his kindness and tipped him for his helpfulness. He said " Thank you. So many people are anxious and uptight for the holidays. You are the first person to talk to me like a friend. I can't take your money." I insisted. I smiled as I checked into my room. The woman at the desk was cranky..ugh! In, maybe it wasn't just me. Maybe everyone was cranky, irritable and tired. 

After a shower and lying in bed, I felt better but got to thinking. My reaction to everything was in my control. I know that. I have changed. I take things at a slower pace and don't expect much when traveling. Everything takes time, road travel is slow and long. Travel days are always the most tiring. I was not prepared to have so many difficulties getting from the airport to the hotel when all I had to do was get a shuttle from the airport. The problem was I had forgotten that in the USA we don't depend on public transportation. We take a cab or rent a car. A backpacker on a budget doesn't do that! I also realized I was immediately judged when I arrived in the USA. I had traveled for 9.5 months with a backpack. No job. In Asia and Eastern EU. The Passport Control Officer has been trained to judge that lifestyle as a hippy, druggie lifestyle and he treated me that way. His body language and tone was one of a skeptic and judgemental. Not welcoming. It was his job. I realized part of the problem was I am not living the traditional "America Dream." Working my life away and living in debt to own a big car and bigger home. Trying to keep up with the Jones'. Why would I want to when I can have this freedom? One day I will have to return to work but I will never live that lifestyle again! I realize now how it traps you. Gone are my days of a place on the ocean, a BMW, designer purses, spa membership and weekly nail appointments. That is money better used for enriching my life through travel. Others can have that "happiness." This trip has been a springboard to a realization that less spending means more travel to beautiful and exotic locations. A life of freedom from debt and my personal happiness. With the new year coming, I need to sit down and reflect about what is important to me and map out my future. What are my goals? What do I want to do? Not following the path society thinks I should. It is my life and this year has made me realize living is following your dreams. Not the dreams society wants you to have. My life is different than I had ever imagined when I graduated high school. I was going to follow the American Dream because that is ingrained in us from and early age. If you want something different then, there is something wrong with you. I don't want the traditional dream...I want one that gives me freedom and allows me to travel and connect with others. I want time to continue exploring my artistic side and learning languages. To read books from around the world and to learn every day. I have wasted so much time watching television. Who cares about celebrities? Not me. I am at a turning point. These next few months will be exciting and interesting as I begin to map my future. I want to spend time thinking about this each day. Dreaming and visualizing my next steps. It will come to me. No worries and no hurries. Time is on my side. I fell asleep happy and centered. Ready for the next day with a fresh look on life. 

In the morning, I packed up my warm weather clothes and hiking shoes. I was not going to need these where I was going. I kept one pair of jeans, a sweatshirt and a pair of socks because I needed warm clothes to wear today. Atlanta was cold. I ate breakfast and then took the bag and walked to the US Postal office. It was a mile away. I noticed nobody walks here. So odd as everywhere I had been people walk to work, a metro station or school. I was the only person walking. It felt strange but I loved it! I packed up a box and sealed it at the post office and sent it home. Yippee! My backpack would be a little lighter for the next step of the journey. I decided to take my bag and check-in for my flight then take the metro to a shopping mall and buy a new swimsuit. My swimsuit was getting big across the bust and I was tired of checking to make certain my boobs were not hanging out each time I got out of the water. Plus, it would be nice to have a second suit with all the time I plan to be at the beaches.

I arrived at Delta airlines and checked-in. I got a message on the screen asking if I was willing to bump to the next day and how much I wanted in free flight vouchers. Yes! I am not in a hurry and I could use that to get back home! I looked at the screen and they listed $200, $250, $300 or other. I wasn't stupid. Other. It asked how much I wanted. I entered $700. I was added to the wait list. I took my bag and boarding pass to the counter. She looked at the time and said I needed to wait an hour to drop off my bag. I decided to go sit in a cafe and write. The hour passed quickly and I dropped off my bag then took the shuttle to the domestic airport and the metro to the city. A mile and a half walk and I was at a swimsuit store. I passed the aisles of bikinis- too much of me for that! I found a couple tankini's and tried them on. I only had an hour and a half before I had to be back at the metro station for the trip to the airport. I decided to try on 4 and would buy the best one. I wasn't going to be picky. Something comfortable that fit for snorkeling and lounging at the beach. I found one and the saleswoman said it looked really cute but wanted me to try a color other than black. She brought back a pinkish coral color. Why not? This is a year of change. Go outside my comfort zone. I decided to go with it. I looked at it and said "Does this look like a shirt?" She laughed and said I could wear the top out to dinner. BINGO! Not sure I would but I liked the option! As I was paying, she asked where I was going on vacation. I laughed and said "I am going to Nicaragua and then traveling through Central America to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru." She and a co-worker looked at me and asked if I was doing all of that in a 2-3 week vacation. I laughed and explained that my job was downsized and I have been traveling for 9.5 months around the world. Wow! They had a million questions. Was I traveling solo? How safe was it? Favorite country? How expensive? I could see their wheels turning. They asked if I had Facebook and I gave them my information. One of the women said "You have inspired me. I have always wanted to travel but I don't because nobody want to go with me. I am going on my first solo trip. Thank you!" I smiled and told her she would love it. We said goodbye and I left with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. I wondered...where would she go? I hope she enjoyed traveling solo as much as I have. It is fantastic! You meet people and share times with them. Dinner or sightseeing and then some time on your own. Everything is how you want it. It is your day. Nobody you have to make happy except yourself. It is easy. It is powerful. You realize they world isn't as scary. You can do anything! 

I smiled as I walked along the streets of Atlanta back to the metro stop. I sat on the metro and an older lady sat down next to me. She had several bags and I asked if she needed more room. She smiled and shook he head no. I noticed she had tears in her eyes. I asked if she was ok or needed any help. She smiled and said it was a hard day. I told her I was sorry to hear that and asked if she was sure she did not need anything. She smiled and patted my hand. She proceeded to tell me it was her wedding anniversary but the first one without her husband. She was lonely. I listened to her story and got teary-eyed. So many years together and she missed him today. I asked if she needed a hug. She nodded her head and I put my arms around this stranger to offer her a little comfort. My eyes became teary as I thought of family members and friends that had lost loved ones. I told her my heart breaks for her loss of a loved one. I understand and know nothing I say makes it better. I told her I sympathized with her pain and knew she would have a hard time at Christmas but to remember her husband is always with her in her heart and memories. She smiled an said thank you for caring and the hug. Then she told me she wanted me to have a nice dinner on her and handed me a bill. I told her no I could not take it. She insisted and told me I was the only person to smile at her that day. I was an angel sent to her at a moment of weakness. She was sweet. She reminded me of my grandmother. She wanted to pay it forward and offered me a meal. Her only request was I do it for someone else one day. Wow! I thanked her and wished her a Merry Christmas as she said goodbye. I needed this encounter as much as she had. I was irritated the day before. Frustrated with the self-centered employees at the airport and memories of the entitled American attitude that had seemed so prevalent yesterday. Today I was open, happy and inviting and look at what happened. Maybe coming back to the USA will not be as difficult as I had thought. 

I returned to the airport and decided to get a quick dinner then wait for the flight. I stopped at the gate and verified they needed someone to bump. The woman at the gate told me they needed one person and I was the only one on the list. They were offering $600 flight voucher, $50 credit at airport and free night at a hotel. I said sure. As I sat waiting, I met a couple from Managua and a man from Rivas. They told me about their country, sights to see and foods to try. They said their goodbyes and wished me well on my travels. I got the flight voucher and was headed to the hotel for dinner and a good nights rest. 

I tried to bump the next day but was told they did not need anyone. Darn! I decided to do a little shopping with my $50 credit. I needed face cream with SPF and then found a swimsuit cover-up. I got both and still had a few dollars for dinner. I sat enjoying the live music and travelers dancing in the food court. The holiday season was upon us and people were starting holiday travel. 

I heard the announcement that my flight was boarding, gathered my belonging's and walked to the gate. I was bound for a new adventure in Central America. Goodbye USA. Hello sunshine and adventure! 

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