Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Where in the World is Karen Sandiego?

I'm home for the rest of the month. No more cruises around the Latin American coast, no more business trips to Chicago. It's been a confusing experience for me. While I wasn't looking, my travel tastes have radically changed. The relief I felt when I curled up in my very own bed last night was on par with the relief I felt when I walked off a plane from London after three months of a very, very bad relationship to see my family standing at the end of the arrivals gate, waving American flags and smiling. So, what am I whining about now?

I hate cities. That's news to me. I've lived and worked in them for years. I grew up in the Sex and the City age when every college-bound girl that I knew dreamed of moving to Manhattan. Sometimes on my afternoon walks around Boston harbor, I still catch myself thinking about lofts and window shopping and sky-high stilettos despite the fact that I know perfectly well that I don't like apartment buildings, spending extravagantly or sore feet. But living in the suburbs has distanced me from the hum of a city and not just geographically. It took Chicago less than four days to make me realize how far I've really moved from metropolitan life. From the second I stepped foot in our hotel, I couldn't wait to trade concrete squares for grass and traffic lights for trees. Even the beatboxing homeless man who followed us down Wacker Drive couldn't cheer me up. I mean, I missed the Supermoon for that? It all felt cold and lonely and suffocating in a way that no city ever has. It's not Chicago's fault though. That's just where I realized that I've changed.

Not for me

I want something else. Before this traveling stint, I got up-in-arms reading a blog that asserted that most American cities feel the same, unlike New Orleans which has a vibe of its own. Now I agree. Another thing I didn't like about Chicago is that it just felt so done. Chicago felt like New York to me, like Atlanta, like Newark, like Philadelphia, like Providence. What I liked about New Orleans - other than the endless hurricanes and Jello shots - was that it was different. In that town, I was aware that I was on the edge of mayhem. There was an air of literal insanity. Not everyone-has-their-issues insanity. Pure, profound mental instability that suggests that literally anything is possible, even probable. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland walking down Bourbon Street and that was before I was drunk.

The cruise stops were disappointing for a reason similar to Chicago's. The ports of Costa Maya, Belize City and Roatán were little more than outdoor malls. Probably because two of the three are owned by the cruise lines. I didn't even get off the boat at Cozumel which looked like Cancun 2.0. At the other ports, the intent locals crowded around the port exits were enough to deter us from going into town proper. Never before have I been afraid of going into less than savory areas. Hell, I've lived in several. This time, the close inspection of my purse, my clean clothes, my skin color made me too scared to explore. And I hated that. The next time I go to one of those countries or any others in the region, I won't be arriving from the direction of the ship terminal, that's for sure.

But there certainly were highlights. We saw sting rays, giant lobster and barracuda while snorkeling in Belize. We learned about the local Belizean beers from the friendliest waitress on Bannister Island while we swung in side-by-side hammocks. We molested half the statues on the Norwegian Spirit. We sat at a window in the front of the ship when it passed through a squall with hurricane force winds. We swam around and laughed and ate well (mostly).

Banana courtesy of me

Still, home is best. I've been steadily turning more homebody for the past few years but this is different. Maybe it's because for the first time since I was 18, I really feel like the word "home" applies to where I live. I'm not couch surfing and living out of my Corolla anymore. I'm not relocating constantly from town to town or apartment to crappy apartment. I like looking out the window and knowing the exact location of every shrubbery in my backyard. I like the neighbor with the cute golden retriever and the elderly one who takes 10 minutes to get her car in the driveway. In a world of constant comparison, everything else is being compared back here to my perfect little bubble where everything is to my liking. Nothing can compare to home, no matter how fabulous the cruise state room or how grand the view from a hotel room. I would trade any number of jacuzzis, fluffy towels and concierge stewards for the smell of my front hall.

Curiouser and curiouser

1 comment:

  1. If Texas and New Orleans (or honestly all of Louisiana) seceded I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. They are truly unique places :) I think Atlanta has a different vibe too.