Wednesday, August 24, 2005

a step back

I've only been here for twelve days or so, but I have had time for some initial observations. But first, I would like to tell a story about Chicago, the city I most recently inhabited before coming here to teach.

On August 11, I woke up early, having slept fitfully at best for maybe five or six hours. This was the day I left Chicago for Taiwan. I wasn't afraid. I had already gone through that. The saying "be careful what you wish for, for you just may get it," is a very fitting one. As a matter of fact, it's one of the most profound ideas I've ever encountered. I spent probably three weeks coming to grips with the idea that I was finally going to do exactly what I had been wanting to do for the last eighteen months, probably longer if I were completely honest with myself. As a pessimist, this is tough to make peace with, this getting what you want.

So anyway, I said my goodbyes to my roommate and good friend (one person), and got myself ready to begin my journey. I had one problem, however. My luggage weighed a ton. More accurately, each of the bags I was checking weighed 65 pounds, and my carry-on bags weighed another 50 pounds easily. They didn't have wheels, either. I had picked them out of thrift stores for their big size and junkiness, because I did not want to worry about them getting beat up on the flight, which they were. To make matters worse, it was really hot and muggy outside. I was going to get a great workout, just what you want when you're going to be traveling for twenty-some hours. The great workout was the least of my worries. After I got about halfway to the blue line stop, I was completely wiped. My lack of sleep, the mugginess, my lack of eating anything much that morning and the previous day, all these conspired to shut down my energy. In short, I was fucked. I've pressed more than two hundred pounds. I know I can carry 80-pound dumbbells all over the place. But luggage is not the same.

I was semi-seriously thinking that I might unpack the bags right there on the street to lighten them up, or leave one, go a street over where I could catch a taxi, then come back, pick up the bag if it were still there, and pay the taxi fare to the airport. This would have cost a ton, especially compared to $1.75 that I had planned on paying to ride the subway. The other idea was to stop every twenty feet or so, catch my breath, then move another twenty feet. I only had two blocks to go. I figured that was the way to go. The thing was, I was already wiped. I needed a break already. Plus, I felt like a fool, red-faced, sweat running down my face, trying to ignore peoples' looks.

Out of nowhere, I hear a guy's voice ask me if I'm going to the train. I look up and see someone I've not seen in the nine months I've been in the neighborhood. I nod, yes, and he grabs one of the heavy suitcases, says he'll help, and we're off. He even commented on how heavy the one was. I explained through gasps of air that I was going away for at least a year and needed to pack my life in these bags. He had been going to the post office, which was not very far from where we started, but decided to help me instead. Once we got to the station, we negotiated the stairs down into the train stop, and he was going to use his card to get me onto the train. I already had my card out, so it was unnecessary. I was ready to take the bags from there, because for him to go any further, he would have to pay the fare as well. But he yelled to the booth attendant that he was helping me, and she opened a gate to let him through without having to pay. He then grabbed both of my heaviest pieces, leaving me with just the carry-on, and said to hurry because there was a train coming. It wasn't necessary that I catch that train, but he didn't know, he was trying to make sure I got on the train. All I could do was shake his hand and say "God bless you" before the doors closed.

As soon as the doors closed, I realized that I didn't even get his name. At the airport, someone else asked me if I needed help. I was touched, but somehow, the previous episode had given me my energy back. I didn't need any more help lugging my baggage to a baggage cart, nor did I need any help once I ended up in Taiwan. Thank you, Chicago.

2 Comments:

Blogger Cracker said...

Pretty amazing, but not all that surprising. I've been pretty amazed by all the good that's come my way in town. Sure makes it easy to shrug off the bad when it does come!
I know what you mean about getting what you wish for. Were you right about what to want? It really is a hard road, in its way, when things are going well. Just the same in intensity as when it's all going to shit.
The one conclusion I keep coming to as I get older: it's always a better story when you did it than when you didn't or you just heard about it.
Turning back on the "god bless you" thing... I would remind you that "god helps those who help themselves." Same idea as the paragraph previous, eh?

9:31 PM  
Blogger englishteacher said...

I am glad that I came here. So far, I can't think of one thing that I don't like. People- locals, my boss, other ex-pats- are very gracious and generous. It is beautiful here. I'm close to the ocean and mountains. I'm learning a lot. And, I genuinely enjoy teaching, more than I even thought I would. This, at least for now and the next couple of years, is exactly what I should be doing.

9:53 PM  

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