I sold my car, deferred my enrollment to Columbia Grad School of Journalism, left a full-time job, did hours of paperwork, and now I’m finally serving the deployment it took me six years to get.
My first flight was to Boston. I had a few hours to contemplate my past and future. I sat staring out these windows that stretch taller than some houses I’ve lived in. The sky was not gray, but a kind of dark white. Rain drops stuck to the glass and brought a sense of nature and peace to this manufactured environment. It was easy to see how heavy the rain was when I looked at the surfaces of the puddles splashing and popping like pots of boiling water.
I tried to think about the deployment, about my goals, but I couldn’t get over thinking how shitty it must be to work as a baggage loader. Sure, it seems like a sweet breeze under blue skies and sunshine while you zip around in funny little cars in areas where pedestrians aren’t allowed to bother you. But it can’t be so much fun tossing sixty-pound bags for ten traumatically cold hours in your stinky sweatshirt beneath stiff plastic gear, just hoping for a bomb threat credible enough to send you home for the day where you can take a hot shower and slide under the covers watching re-runs of Law and Order SVU. Since that’s not really likely, all you can do is take your anger out on the never-ending stream of bags; tossing them, punching them, flipping them, hating them. It reminded me of my days as a garbage man, more than eight years ago. I pitied these poor bastards in their yellow rain gear, looking cold and pissed and pissed on by the steady rain over the tarmac.
My life for the last two years had been pretty comfortable by comparison. Of course, leaving the cocoon of my father’s basement to fly internationally offered a few rude surprises. I flew British Airways out of Boston, then misread the connecting flight out of Heathrow. Heathrow is an awful maze of terminals, buses, international security checkpoints, customs and agents called “border force” guarding a pretty official looking, yet arbitrary line into the UK part of the airport. I have been through plenty of airports in the US, where I am quite the professional traveler, but I was truly confused in Heathrow – which doesn’t speak well of my aptitude for international travel, particularly considering this was an English-speaking country. I felt at any minute I might make a wrong turn and get stuck between countries and live out the rest of my days wandering around an airport terminal.
So I missed my flight. I went to rebooking and stood in line. This experience both reinforced and dispelled some of my stereotypes about British people. For one, I assumed Brits were notoriously respectful of the “cue,” never cutting, never appearing vexed, out of some old sense of imperial civility (I had read something about this is a VICE article I can’t find right now). But one couple did cut the line, and instead of passive-aggressively clearing his throat or making a face, a British guy unleashed a vicious tirade of profanity in the most vocal reprimand I had ever seen for jumping ahead in line.
“You know there’s a fuckin cue here for a reason, don’t you? You can’t just jump the fuck ahead like you own the bloody place, now can you…” He hollered for a good minute or so, ensuring everyone in the terminal could hear him and sneak peripheral glances as these shameful blokes.
When I got to the counter, a sweet young lady told me all about how to get around. I barely understood a word she said, not because of her accent but because Heathrow is that confusing. She suggested I had time before my flight to take the train to Windsor and check out a bit of London. I decided not to, because I had no communication ability with my phone and I felt pretty concerned about missing another flight. But she did suggest, if I was a smoker, I could cross the border hang out for a few hours just outside the terminal before going through security. I had never been more of a smoker than I was in that minute.
I managed to get on the internet for long enough to send a Facebook message to my new boss. “Missed my connecting flight. Stuck at Heathrow. Flight BA 920: Leaves at 1555. I can't yet tell what time it lands.”
Then I hung out for the whole day, reading the British newspapers, spending some pounds and pences, really living it up. I wasted some quid on a sim card, but I couldn’t get it to work with my unlocked phone because it was out of power and I didn’t have a UK adaptor. I bought a UK adapter, but my phone charger couldn’t get passed the lip. Communication problems continued, but I had cigarettes and time, which was really all I needed.
Eventually I went to some of the pubs and restaurants. I met a fellow from Glasgow who I talked with for about an hour. His Scottish accent was kicking my ass. I’ still not sure what we talked about, whether I laughed at the right times, or what I might have agreed to. Although, in the sentances I could make out, it seemed he was a fan of baseball.
I also spoke to a girl named Raphaela from Brazil. She was about to backpack through Europe. She was 29, had a degree in international affairs, but just kind of seemed to be floating around the world, not working, but having fun. I told her she could couch surf if I ended up taking an assignment in some country where she was bumming it, and we connected on Facebook.
Finally I got to my flight, and the Master Sergeant picked me up at 18:30 with his kids. We drove the German countryside, but it was pretty dark out. He described what I should be seeing – farms, green stuff, etc.
Master Sgt. McMeen is focused on smart public affairs work, which is ideal for me. Some leaders in the PA field are much more concerned with the physical responsibility of being a Marine. I always liked both of those worlds because in my younger days I was a PT stud, but having spent so much time as a fat lazy civilian it’s nice to have the chance to ease back into the life. More importantly, I am interested in professionalism in media, both as my passion and as a entryway to my career. McMeen is one of the most well-known PA Leaders in this regard. We spoke about using social media, getting our work on Twitter, Vine, Facebook and DVIDS. I can tell this is exactly the place I want to be.
Now I’m checked into the base hotel and ready for a nap. Tomorrow, I’m buying a sim card, a bicycle, some European plug adapters, a quick German phrase book, and anything else to starting putting together my new life.