For years now I`ve had a long list of ‘American’ things to do: things I saw on TV and movies, read about in books, heard about from friends or my husband. The list includes but is not limited to the following:
- going to a sports game and seeing cheerleaders and waving a foam finger (regardless of sport or team involved)
- going to a bar where you can eat peanuts and throw shells on the floor
- going to a bar where people line-dance in cowboy boots
- eating a sloppy joe, a hot-dog, a good steak, a good burger, a corn dog, good Mexican, Chinese takeaway from a box, fried green tomatoes, something from Taco Bell, and lots and lots of pork (due to the fact that we live in Turkey, a Muslim country, where pork is usually not to be found)
- going through a drive-through
- shopping at a thrift store
- going to a fair.
This list is by no means exhaustive and new items keep being added or removed (for instance, I had Chinese takeaway in a box in Istanbul airport of all places!).
And now finally I got a chance to do some of these things because my husband Mike and I were going on a month-long trip to the US. This trip has been two years in the making. Last summer, with both of us working at universities in Turkey and having a whole month off in the summer we were finally able to afford the trip. Circumstances prevented us from travelling last year, so we had to put away our travel plans and already purchased gifts a souvenirs away until this summer. This year, we were finally going! Our trip lasted one month and included 5 states: Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Texas and Tennessee. This is what it looked like:
Each state will get its own blog entry, and this first post of the series is about our journey to the US from Turkey. Which looked like this for me:
Mike was able to re-use his ticket from last year, so we were travelling separately, which we’ve decided to never do again if we could help it. I had no problem travelling or entering the USA, while Mike overslept due to a faulty alarm, missing his first flight, had to stay overnight in Canada because one of his connecting flights was late and was harassed by airport security in Canada.
Getting to the US was quite a journey! I flew to Istanbul where I spent the night before catching an early flight to New York. The flight took just over 10 hours and was pretty uneventful. Once in JFK, I was seized with excitement: I’M IN AMERICA! I found the this excitement a bit bewildering: I`m not new to international travel or English-speaking countries, having lived in England and New Zealand, the latter unquestionably much more exotic and distant than the US so why did being in America made me so ecstatic? Well, for one, here were all the things I knew existed from films and books but have never experienced for myself. Shake Shack? Oh yeah, I should get the cheese fries. Ice tea? I better get unsweetened or I`ll overdose on sugar in under 5 minutes. Dunkin Donuts. TSA. Security lines. I had a vague sense of déjà vu without having actually experienced the things I felt familiar with. Secondly, this was where my husband was from. He had spent 7 years living in Russia with me, some of it in my parents’ apartment where I lived for the first 18 years of my life. So I couldn’t wait to see where he used to live, go to school, go for fun.
So, Istanbul – JFK, 10 hours. The flight wasn’t as grueling as I feared, helped by the fact that I was sitting in the front row right behind business class and could stretch my legs and by the excellent movie selection. Turkish Airlines have a lot to recommend them, not the least delicious meals. I know, delicious airline meals sounds like an oxymoron, but there I was, flying over the North Atlantic Ocean, devouring smoked salmon on a freshly baked roll and wondering if that’s what we got served in economy, what were business class passengers having. From my only business class experience (this should be a separate blog entry, but in brief I was being flown in to Moscow to be an interpreter to Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, got upgraded to business class but had my luggage with a collection of smart outfits for the aforementioned interpreting gig temporarily lost), Mimosas and caviar was involved.
Once I landed in JFK, I headed for immigration. I was somewhat nervous, considering that two of my American colleagues were thoroughly questioned about their time in Turkey on their return to the USA. But aside from a textbook exchange about the purpose of my visit and some jokes over malfunctioning fingerprint machine, I was in ushered through and into the US.
My next step was to take a Virgin America flight to Portland via San Francisco, but after I`d already checked in, I was told at the gate I wasn’t going to make my connection and was re-booked onto JetBlue and then had to go retrieve my suitcase which was pulled off the plane, totally convinced it went to SF without me when it failed to appear after 20 minutes. It eventually appeared, so me and my suitcases moved to a different terminal, checked in with JetBlue and I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when I realized that my boarding pass had no seat number on it.
I went to the gate to see if it was something I needed to worry about. The guy at the gate looked at the boarding pass and told me I didn’t need to worry – all it meant was that I was booked into the new section of the plane. New section, I inquired? That’s right, he said. The new section. Standing room only, I`m afraid. But don’t worry, you`ll be given a strap to hold on. I felt the panic rising – nearly 6 hours of standing in an airplane? Was he joking? As it happens, he was. With a wink, he handed me my boarding pass with a roomy emergency row seat assigned and told me he got the idea from the movie Soul Plane. I was speechless.
Soul Plane is this cheesy, silly movie full of ridiculous stereotypes and dirty jokes. For some unfathomable reason I happen to like it. I couldn’t find anyone to watch it with until this year, when my office mate and friend Jena admitted to possibly liking it to and so the movie was fresh in mind when it surfaced in the form of joke. I berated the guy for joking with a gullible foreigner, and was ready to settle in for a long wait when I remembered that I was supposed to arrive to Portland at 9 pm but was now arriving 2,5 hours later. I had to let Michael’s uncle Leon, who was supposed to meet me at the airport, know. But how? My Turkish phone wasn’t working. The public phone was our of order. I had used up my free 30 minutes of wi-fi. I resorted to asking a perfect stranger to use his phone. Luckily for me, he obliged, and after 10 stressful minutes of nobody answering their cell phones, I shouted some voicemail messages and, after finally getting trough to the house by phone, handed the slightly sweaty phone back to the kind stranger. He refused my offer of money so I gave him a candy bar I bought in the Istanbul airport.
By the time I boarded the flight, I was exhausted from all the excitement of air travel. I watched live TV, mostly Friends, snacked on the junk food we were given by way of food as I few across America.
Almost 6 hours later, I had my feet firmly planted on the famous PDX carpet.
If you think I`m nuts for taking a photo of my feet on this worn green carpet, listen to this podcast. I myself only listened to this podcast a few weeks before my trip. Turns out, Portlanders are crazy about this particular carpet with its geometric pattern that is supposed to represent runways as seen from above. The carpet is slowly being replaced by a newer version, which upset many people. There are various merchandise items with the carpet design and some people even got tattoos of the carpet.
Finally, I was in Portland. I was met by uncle Leon and Kristijan, Michael’s Macedonian cousin. We met him this spring when we traveled to Macedonia for a conference and as soon as I stop dragging my feet and finish the blog post about the trip you`ll learn more about how wonderful Kristijan and his sister Katerina and all their family are.
It was dark by the time we pulled up to Leon’s house. My eyes half-closed with exhaustion, I noticed thick forest surrounding the driveway. Sen, Leon’s wife, showed me into our room and gave me some food. I petted Zorba, their rambunctious 2-year old Lab, ate my midnight feast and collapsed into bed.
The next day passed in a fog of jet-lag. I napped in 1-hour bursts and tried to help with preparations for Leon’s 80th birthday party which was to be hosted in a few days and was the reason for us to come to Oregon.
That’s what cabbage salad for 200 people looks like.
That thick forest I mentioned driving through? It was all around us! This was one of the most beautiful setting for a house to be in.
Michael was supposed to get there that night, but due to flight delays he had to spend the night in Vancouver. His family did get there – his parents Ted and Colin we saw last year, while his sister and brother we haven’t seen since our wedding 5 years ago. We were both yet to meet her new husband Wilder and their son and our nephew Teddy.
I also met some of Michael’s cousins. Even though I was meeting almost everyone for the first time, I felt like I knew them, from Michael’s stories, Facebook posts and email exchange. I went to sleep, happy in the knowledge that I was surrounded by family.