You Are a Tourist

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“When there’s a burning in your heart, an endless yearning in your heart, build it bigger than the sun. Let it grow, let it grow. And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born, then it’s time to go and define your destination. There’s so many different places to call home.” ~Death Cab for Cutie

“Not a good day to fly,” said the short, sassy man donning a bright red blazer behind the check-in counter at Philadelphia International Airport.

Unamused, I stared at him and the wave of jet black hair combed over his tan and unfriendly face. My eyes skated over his nametag: Bulent D. This should be good.

I had just spent a half hour fumbling with the check-in machine 10 feet away as two confused students I’d never met before lugged my two giant suitcases through the check bag line toward Bulent D’s counter. I was initially baffled by why my mom had thought it was a good idea to leave these poor travelers with my bags when she had to go move her car, but I later thanked her in my mind as they let me hop to the front of the line after many frustrating and fruitless attempts to procure my boarding pass.

“Listen, Bulent. I’ve heard about the delays and am determined to try my luck anyway. So can you save the sass, print my boarding pass and check my bags?”

That’s what I wanted to say. Instead, I just smiled.

“Don’t you need a visa to go to Argentina?” he asked me snottily, as if that’s something I hadn’t looked into before embarking on a transcontinental excursion.

Actually – and rather characteristically – I hadn’t. (Kelly, stop laughing.) But a trusted friend had.

 “No, Bulent, I don’t need a visa.”

“Well, you’re going to be gone for more than three months,” he said.

Thanks, Bulent, who apparently was now doubling as an immigration official.

“Well, I plan on traveling outside the country every 90 days.”

Can you please just give me the GD pass?

He resigned, but not before sighing dramatically and contorting his face into a sufficiently arrogant expression. After clicking away on the computer for several minutes with pursed lips and a bored expression, he finally handed me my boarding pass and baggage receipts.

Miraculously, I had gotten everything I needed to do done before leaving for the airport that day, all the tasks that I’d – also characteristically – left until the last minute. I even found the iPod that I’d lost four months ago, which somehow had inched its way impressively far underneath my bed for being a nano.

But things were deteriorating fast at the airport. Although I’d remembered to pack two yoga DVDs and several pounds of brown rice products, I’d forgotten to put my liquids in a plastic bag – the most obvious airport task – so I was the obnoxious girl holding up the security line as I fumbled to seal away my hazardous tinted moisturizer, toothpaste for sensitive teeth and men’s deodorant. I eventually made it through, but not before getting randomly selected to have my boot swabbed for illegal substances. #really?

It was way too hot to be wearing leather boots, but they didn’t fit into my bag so I had to wear them. I flashed back to the first time I’d left home for an extended period – to do an exchange program outside Detroit when I was 15. I had to wear the snow boots my grandma had given me – which I never even wore when I got there – because they didn’t fit in my suitcase.

I had also forgotten to leave clothes out for that flight to Detroit, so I had to dress myself from the reject pile that I’d been planning to leave behind. I don’t think the family I was staying with was too excited when they picked me up from the airport and discovered they’d be hosting Napoleon Dynamite for two months.

As I exited security after my boot passed its drug test, I spotted a wine bar. Pinot noir was calling my name after dealing with Bulent, but after another embarrassing weekend of calling and texting under the influence, I’d put myself in time-out for a week.

Instead, I squinted at my boarding pass to locate my gate. Never a numbers person, I find these passes impossible to read. But I was determined not to bother someone with a stupid question after sufficiently pissing off a health insurance representative last week when I asked what a deductible was. D12. It was turning out to be a Detroit day.

The area surrounding the gate was packed, which was not a good sign for me because I was flying standby and was not guaranteed a spot on the flight. All flights had been delayed because of fog. A weather condition I’d never even given a thought to was now threatening to stand between me and Argentina. The airport was off to a rocky start.

But I tried to channel a mentality I had been diligently practicing all year, a new school of thought previously unfamiliar to me until my ex-boyfriend nicknamed me the Grinch: optimism.

I had already crossed two airport hurdles, and there were just two more to go. I did not want another round with Bulent tomorrow if I couldn’t get out of Philly today, and I also was not up for spending a night in the Atlanta airport, where my connection was, if I got there too late and missed the day’s lone flight to Buenos Aires. A friend had told me the entire Atlanta airport smelled like fried chicken, and I don’t eat meat, gluten, salt, items fried in oil and whatever drugs they pump animals with these days.

Optimism.

“I will be on that Buenos Aires flight tonight. I will be on that Buenos Aires flight tonight,” I repeated to myself.

I decided to dream bigger, so even if fate wanted to disappoint me, I’d still at least be on the flight.

“I will fly business class to Buenos Aires tonight. I will fly business class to Buenos Aires tonight.”

I’d arrive the next morning – just in time for the Katy Perry concert there. After all, it is the California Dreams tour.

Dreams. I was on my way to reaching some of them.

Buen viaje card from Molly

I am going abroad to live in Buenos Aires for half a year with a friend from college, Jess, and her friend, Angie. Jess and I met in a Latin American studies class sophomore year and have planned on adventuring to Latin America together ever since. But it always seemed so far off, something nebulous that we’d probably only talk about but would never come to fruition.

We felt drawn to the cultures and wanted to become fluent in Spanish. I studied the language in high school, college and during a semester abroad in Spain. I can read and write in Spanish pretty well, but my speaking and listening are seriously lacking. I still have an American accent, and I struggled subbing for a Spanish III class last week.

I’d also been itching for my next abroad experience since the minute I stepped off the plane from Spain at the same airport three years earlier. And all of the sudden, the dream was about to come true.

My dream job is enabling me to go on this dream adventure. I edit for a unique international journalism and women’s empowerment organization. Since we operate entirely online, I am fortunate that I can live wherever I want. And I plan on living in a lot of places.

Before starting this job in January, I had not been in a good place. For the first time in my life – finally off the school track in which every step was laid out for you – I’d felt unsuccessful. And it wasn’t a feeling I knew or enjoyed. I probably cried more than the rain Philly has received during the past two months.

But I started wearing a silver ring that I found in my little sister’s room that said, “Be true to your dreams.” It helped me reaffirm that, despite feeling like a Kenny Powers has-been spending my days subbing at my old high school while all my other friends secured full-time jobs, I was not going to rush into anything that wasn’t my dream.

In September, I started reading a book that Jess, always helping me to pursue my dreams, gave me called “Half the Sky.” While I hadn’t found any job postings I was remotely interested in applying for, this book encompassed exactly what I wanted to do – call attention to injustices against women and marginalized populations worldwide via journalism. In October, I started volunteering with an organization recommended in the book. In November, I contacted the organization I work for now, which was a sponsor of the volunteer program. In December, I received my dream job offer. In January, I began.

That winter, my previous boss gave me a wildly fitting parting gift. It was a beautiful jewelry tray that said “Dream.” I looked down at the ring I’d been wearing that was inscribed with the same theme. It was like a sign that I was on the right path.

I then consulted an amazing psychic who told me that I was done with Philadelphia. She said I would spend the next five years traveling, and my first stop would be Argentina.

Suddenly, a woman’s voice over the airport intercom ripped me from my reverie.

“All standbys have been cleared,” she said.

I exhaled in relief and boarded the plane. Like a true Gemini, the mature half of me closed my eyes as I sank back into my seat and said a prayer of gratitude. The immature half did a victory dance for clearing the final hurdle in level one of my new travel video game.

Bulent and Philly down, Atlanta to go.

I awakened my iPod from its hibernation gently with my thumb. Drowning out my surroundings, I selected my first song:

“Can’t Go Back Now.” ~The Weepies

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