Vacation Part Three: Coming Home

I’m back from vacation. I talked about going away, about swimming, and now, well, there’s really not much left to say. We spent the whole day traveling and all I want to do now is go to sleep. But I’m determined to write something.

The whole day was all about the actual travel, getting from one place to another place. And I always think, it shouldn’t really have to be this way. I mean, a flight from New York to Puerto Rico only takes about four hours. That’s nothing. That’s not even half of a workday. But our whole system of travel, of airplane travel, yes, historically speaking it’s unbelievable that human beings have access to pretty much anywhere on the planet. But wasting an entire day on only a four-hour flight is a little crazy.

Today was definitely a little crazy. We wanted to check out one last Puerto Rican restaurant before we headed home. And we planned it out so we should have been able to. But as soon as we got in the taxi from the hotel, the driver started chatting us up. “How’s it going? Where are you visiting from? How long were you here?”

I don’t mind chitchat. I don’t necessarily prefer it, but I’ll always engage in a conversation. If I don’t have anything to say, I’m an expert at maintaining eye contact, putting on all of the appropriate facial expressions, throwing in stuff like, “Really? Huh. Wow. No way,” at perfectly spaced intervals to trick the conversationalist into thinking I’m an active participant.

But again, there’s a limit. The conversation has to be somewhat normal. This guy’s questions started getting a little too specific, slightly veering off the normal Q&A route. “What did you like about Puerto Rico?” What did I like? What am I going to say? “I liked the weather. I liked the people. I liked the food.” Bingo, that’s what he was looking for.

“Oh you like Puerto Rican food? I don’t. Not anymore. You see, I’m a vegan, I switched to a vegan diet about four years ago. I only eat potatoes, liquid yeast, string beans …” and this guy starts telling me his whole diet, how it cures every disease, how he’s going to outlive all of his friends and family members.

And it got weirder. The food talk lead to a one-sided conversation about genetically modified food, about the evils of the food conglomerate Monsanto, how they’re teaming up with the oil companies to keep us all enslaved. He told me to take out my phone so I could look up these documentaries that he kept mentioning every other second. I didn’t know what to do, so I just took it out and pantomimed the hand motions.

It was taking all of my effort just to act like I wasn’t in the middle of one of the craziest conversations of my life. He was going off about food, about aliens, about the second coming of Christ. Not knowing what else to do, I was still clinging to my guns, “Really? Wow. That’s unbelievable. Huh,” until finally he made a turn off the highway and there we were, right in front of the airport.

“Hey man, why are we at the airport? What about that restaurant?” and he kind of smiled, “Oh yeah, sorry guys, I guess I got a little caught up in our chat. Hold on, I’ll turn around,” and he made a u-turn, got back on the highway, and it was like bumper-to-bumper traffic. While we thought we had the whole day planned out by the minute, first we already lost like twenty minutes heading to the airport, and now we were supposed to wait in traffic, eat lunch, find another cab, and make it back in time to catch our flight?

“So where was I? You know Jesus only ate potatoes, in fact …” and I looked to my wife like, we can’t do this, we’re not going to be able to get lunch. “Hey buddy,” I told him, “look, I don’t think we’re going to have time for lunch anymore. You’ve got to take us back to the airport.”

He got quiet. “Now you’re telling me?”

Like this was all my fault. He was genuinely pissed off. “Yeah man, sorry, I don’t know what to tell you.”

And we sat there in awkward silence as the car crawled toward the nearest exit, we got off the highway, back on in the opposite direction, and there we were. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe I was acting too captivated by this guy’s theories? Maybe he thought he finally found a kindred spirit in all things insane? And then when I made him do that double u-turn, he realized that I didn’t really care?

I should have been like, don’t worry about the restaurant, or lunch, or even the flight. Please, continue, I want to hear more about how Monsanto hates the fact that you’re a vegan, or why weather patterns are really a trick played by extraterrestrials to keep us from seeing their ships fly overhead.

And it’s all because, what, because I have to be at the airport three hours before a flight? We’ve got to wait on the tarmac for an hour just so we can take off? And then stand around at JFK for another hour before that luggage conveyor belt even kicks into gear? More waiting. Another cab. More traffic. All of the sudden it’s midnight. Why am I so tired? How could a whole day have passed and I didn’t get a chance to eat anything? Again, I think about people travelling along a dirt road in a covered wagon, everybody coughing and wheezing with typhoid and dysentery, so yeah, I’m very, very spoiled. But come on, why does a four-hour plane ride have to be such a huge deal?

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