You would think that having been to all seven continents and over fifty countries I would qualify as an experienced traveler. And I suppose I am. But experience hardly counts for competence, as I learned when Z and I arrived at our Heathrow terminal for our first trip back to Seattle in over a year...without our passports.
Remember the last time I did something that stupid and we showed up at the wrong airport? But like I said then, the taxi drivers in this country are professionals. The one we had this time turned tail and shot us back to St. Albans where I jumped out of his moving cab, sprinted up the stairs of our house where our passports sat in a dresser drawer and, on his turn-around lap, jumped back inside. He also let me go having only paid him for one leg of the set-fare airport run even though we'd just done three and agreed that C could pay him in two days when he flew out. Good thing he was from north of us. People tend to be nicer the further away from London you get.
I recommend that if you're going to screw up this badly, you have along side you a 5 year-old who's looking worried, hopping up and down as though he's going to wet himself. That worked at the check-in desk but airport security decided it was suspicious and I watched as my son was the only 5 year-old in recent memory to be patted down for concealed weapons or bomb making material. Then my carry-on got randomly chosen for a search, behind a line of four other carry-ons, and the agent doing the searching was going through the contents of the current bag as though he had dropped a contact lens into the middle of a pile of underwear. I hopped up an down at that point and got another agent to intervene.
But we made it and I didn't have to worry about another expensive cab ride home to add to the $260 we'd already spent on the fare (which included a $35 tip that I couldn't NOT do). It was one of those unfortunate days when you repeat to yourself, "It's only money..." Sadly, we had many of these days on our trip back to the States, not least of which was the day C smashed the back window of my brother's van with an unsecured lawn mower.
Anyway, the trip was very different for the three of us. Z essentially lived with my parents who were ecstatic (I hope) to spend as much time as possible with him and set up an air mattress for him beside their bed. I stayed with my brother and sister-in-law and had the pleasure of sharing a bathroom with my pre-teen nieces. C worked at Amazon M-F and stayed at a nice hotel on the company dime, and he didn't have to take any vacation time. For me, it was all about seeing as many friends as possible and cramming as much catch-up into the few hours I had with them.
But this post isn't so much about what we did on our vacation as it is about where we call home. I think the word "home" has a lot of connotations and meaning. I don't think home is simply where you live with your family. And a house certainly doesn't qualify as a home unless there are deeper connections to the place where that house sits. So since I was feeling almost at home in St. Albans it was a little strange to be back in Seattle. My family lives there and we have wonderful friends there. That should qualify Seattle as my home, right? But what I concluded after coming back to England was that I feel more comfortable here. Seattle, as a place, was familiar, but not so comfortable. The traffic makes me insane. Really. Totally loco. The day I got stuck at the Montlake Cut, an infamous bottleneck across the water that gets you from North Seattle to points south, I nearly abandon the vehicle. It also feels to me like Seattle-ites are in more of a hurry. When I naively failed to let a driver into the lane ahead of me because I didn't see his turn signal, he called me a name so foul you would have thought I was his horrible ex-wife who'd just fleeced him of most of his fortune AND taken away the kids. In St. Albans, I rarely drive because most things we need are reached on foot. So I don't set myself up for rage.
C put it another way. He compared here and there to the difference between the landscape and the humanscape. Seattle is a visually stunning city, especially when it's sunny and 79 degrees. The mountains surround you in all directions and large bodies of water are everywhere. You can enjoy fantastic hiking, mountain biking, skiing and water sports practically at your doorstep. England, in comparison, is a bit like a big, green Texas, where mile after mile the landscape, though pastorally beautiful, stays pretty much the same. But lord, if you can't spit and not hit something historically interesting. There are castles and dungeons and buried vikings. There are palaces, manor houses, and towers that hold crown jewels next to the former cells of beheaded royalty. No matter how far you hike into the wilderness there are hand-built stone walls and crumbling old paddocks and some village that was the site of some Roman aqueduct or other fine invention that didn't carry over to contemporary English house construction. Even just out our back door is a small neighborhood green space where is preserved an old grated-up well, said to be one of the holy wells of ancient St. Albans. There's no plaque, probably because no one can agree on the well's true significance. But I prefer to imagine it as Tony Haynes writes on-line:
It is also said that when Alban's head was eventually lopped off, it rolled down the hill. Where it came to rest a spring burst forth. This spring is a much more likely candidate for holy status, for it existed towards the bottom of the hill, and probably did so many years before Alban's head rested there.
So for now we're enjoying the humanscape, the history and richness of thousands of years of human intervention that makes this island so fascinating. When we need to ski or hike in true mountains, we have $100 round trip flights that can take us there. I'm happy to call England my home...for now. And when I saw all my mates at the first day of school drop-off yesterday, I felt comfortable again.
But the peas make my nose feel funny. ZFW, May 2014