On the Road Again

http://youtu.be/2LeqaIzGk5k

 This is my first time taking MegaBus and other than the bus being two and a half hours late in subzero weather, it’s been pretty nice. A middle-aged woman and her seven-year-old daughter took shelter in my car while we waited for the bus, and the little girl explained Minecraft to me while excitedly slashing my green slinky like a sword through the air. 

 Once on the bus, I took a seat near the stairs which had a lot of forward space, but a man offered to buy me lunch for the seat so he could do work on his laptop, so I took him up on the offer. We spent most of the journey between Kansas City and Chicago discussing his job, which was traveling between large cities (almost exclusively on MegaBus) to film concerts and edit the footage. He works on the bus rides between cities and only lives at home for 4-8 days a month. 

 Unfortunately, as beautiful as I-70 is in certain parts of the country, it’s path through Missouri and Kansas can be quite drôle, especially in winter. Even the cities that punctuate the otherwise uninterrupted deadness look pretty soul-sucking. But I have a lot of fond memories of the interior of these cities– concerts, dinners, stupid teenagers smoking hookah in an exotic restaurant, falling hopelessly in love, expensive shopping trips with friends– it’s all there. 



The beating heart of a city is never visible at the surface, but it loves to draw people in so they can try their hand at cohabitation with a big, bright, loud monstrosity. And that’s the only way I could possibly describe New York.

After nearly 30 incredibly fun hours of watching the bland wintery lands of America race past from the upper level window of a bus, you start to forget that there is actually a point to what you’re doing and some kind of destination you’re headed to. And once you’re finally there, you think, “Wait, what am I doing here?” Of course, that quickly passes and you’re forced to stay on your toes and keep three steps ahead of everyone else, including fate…

It seems I have a knack for planning so poorly and keeping people in the dark so long that many of my “plans” don’t actually work out and I’m forced to find an alternative solution. This time, I had forgotten to notify my host in New York that I was coming quite soon, so when I messaged her (for those of you who followed my blog last time, this was Kata, the woman who saved my life in Annascaul) and she was sick, on top of not in a position to host. Back on CouchSurfing though, I managed to find (even with the spotty MegaBus internet) a couple in Keansburg, NJ who were willing to meet and put me up for the night. 

After 30 hours on the bus, it was time for another bus ride. A few blocks from where we were dropped off, there was another bus station just waiting for me. The bus from Port Authority to Keansburg took another full hour, but I ended up sitting next to a woman from Jamaica who was working in technology and we spoke about travel and how to get back to the JFK airport the next day at length. 

At some point I realized that Keansburg had several stop, called my hosts to find out where to get off, and ran out of minutes on my stupid brick phone before I could get the name and ended up getting off a full minute of driving farther than I should have. 

The neighborhood was quiet — too quiet, and a poorly lit water park stood sadly in the frozen wasteland of the Jersey shore. Only the street had been cleared of the snow following a nasty blizzard. My hosts texted to say they were walking down the road and would meet me halfway, so on I went. 

http://youtu.be/7b5qvj2eMHg

Jorge and Jeffrey came around the bend with their excitable 2-year old mutt puppy, Paloma. There’s always a certain nervousness when you meet people through CouchSurfing for the first time, but when they come bearing a puppy (or puppies) it’s easy to forget you’re not already friends. 


They welcomed me into their home with incredibly open arms. Jeff had CouchSurfed in China but hadn’t hosted before, while Jorge was from Mexico and had just recently moved permanently to the U.S. when he and Jeffrey married in his home state of New Jersey. Jorge made quick work to take my things for me, heat up some amazing rice pilaf and pesto. Once that was done, we toasted to CouchSurfing and enjoyed a glass of authentic Mexican tequila and locally made blueberry wine (which evidently is New Jersey’s thing?). We talked until around 11 before I was ready to pass out, so they gave me things to shower and stay warm in bed, and I showered and slept.

Jorge and I talked a bit more in the morning, but Jeff had already gone to work. I was fed fresh pineapple and a Mexican dish called batida (like a smoothie made of oats, milk, fruit, and sugar) as well as a perfectly-made omelet. Since the U.S. immigration system is so screwed up, Jorge is allowed to be in the country but not allowed to work until he receives his first round of paperwork back, and even then will have to wait for his green card for several months before he can travel again. 

Anyway, the bus back to down didn’t take a card so I begged the driver to let me buy a ticket back at Port Authority (which he did) and continued on to meet another CouchSurfer who was interested in my trip and I wanted to interview him about living in Tibet for several years. 

Jorleiv had something like 250 positive references and zero negative ones (which I’d never seen before) and I have to say he lived up to expectations. I was so caught up in his stories of traveling in Asia and Europe, hosting people from all over the world and his family’s story (which was simultaneously about the evolution of New York from an eclectic city of expression and art to a tourist captial) that I forgot to interview him about Tibet. He made me some coffee and even fed me some Szechuan food from a restaurant around the corner while we exchanged tips for cheap travel and how to survive as a CouchSurfing host and guest.

 


And then, before I even realized it, it was time to go. Morelia suggested I see the High Garden, which was a rooftop park spanning several blocks, since I had a bit of free time before I needed to be at the airport. And, while I was walking the garden, I received a text saying my flight had been pushed back a couple hours, so I had time to walk to Time Square and back.

http://youtu.be/HtjZYhWaQcQ

Time Square is where people on crack go to feel like the world is going as fast as they are. It is insanely bright at night and the huge crowds look like they will never disperse. There are multiple pedestrian walk-lights at each of several intersections, lots of ad space above the businesses, and plenty of selfie sticks. But from there, it was a pretty benign walk and subway ride to the airport. 

This is where things get exciting and a little weird. I didn’t talk to anyone at the airport until a voice on the intercom called “This is the last call for passengers flying to Oslo– you may board using gate 4,” and up to this point I had no idea we were boarding. There was a Norwegian family I’d been listening to sitting on my right, so I turned to them and asked in my absolute best Norwegian:

“They say uh… we go on plane uh… now?” The man sitting closest to me smiled widely at me as I was straining to form a coherent sentence.

“No, not now,” he said, “and that was good!”

We started fumbling along in my crappy Norwegian and their very limited English, until I’d finally gotten my story across to them and made it clear I was CouchSurfing. When I asked where they were from, they said Drammen. 

“Oh! I go to Drammen. Three days,” I said. 

“With who?” One of the women asked me. 

“Her name is Liv.”

“I KNOW her! She was my roommate! We live in the same building. She has many CouchSurfers all the time.”

“What?! That’s so weird!” 

“Yes, I am Kristín. Tell her… She will get her remote back soon.”

They were all at laughing at how ridiculous it was, and when they repeated the story to the other Norwegians sitting opposite us, they gave me odd looks and started laughing with us. 

It’s a small, small world. 

That’s Kristín on the left. 

Now I’m finally on the plane headed for Oslo, sitting one row behind the family I’d been talking with, and next to an adorable French couple whom I’ve just convinced to make CouchSurfing profiles. I’m exhausted, but it’s been a great, great trip so far and I haven’t even really begun. 

LET’S GO GO GO

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