As I sat with Don Crawley at Sea-Tac Airport on my way to Italy he said, “Wow, you’ve had a lot going on in your life.” Don’s right, and it’s clear I haven’t had a lot of time to sort through it all. The after-effects of the many changes appeared at different times yesterday.
The most obvious change, of course, was leaving Seattle to go to Italy. My arms felt like they were glued to Theresa as we hugged at the Departures driveway at SeaTac Airport. I didn’t want to let this great woman go. She’s become very important to me since we met on October 31st last year and I’m really not ready to put our relationship on hold with so much yet to discover. This whole Italy plan was hatched before we met and I’m not sure I could’ve passed up a summer with Theresa if I’d known about the possibility as I got the wheels rolling for this Italian guidebook adventure.
After passing through security, my friend Don Crawley was waiting for me with a cheerful smile. He had noted via Facebook that we’d be at the airport at around the same time — Don going to Los Angeles on business. while I headed to Italy. We sat together over coffee and a pleasant chat while we awaited my plane which would be the first to leave. We began plotting a future rendezvous — Don is cooking up a holiday in France this summer while his wife, Janet, is teaching a class near there and we’ll meet in Florence for a guys’ holiday in the city of Michelangelo.
As we talked, Don may have noted that I had already started to succumb to what I’ve come to call my “travel coma.” My speech starts to slow down, my eyes take on this drowsy look, and my brain begins to operate at partial capacity. It’s something like going into shock after an injury, but a travel coma for me is an odd deadening of senses that somehow helps me deal with the discomforts of being jammed into a small seat for hours at a time while changing time zones, languages, currency and cultures.
After saying goodbye to Don the coma began to take hold. The flight to Iceland took off at 4:30pm Seattle time and arrived at 5:30am Reykjavik time, but somehow there was never a sunset. Our jet took us north quickly enough that we squeezed dusk and dawn together somewhere above the Arctic Circle. By the time I got to Iceland I’d slept just a touch. I grabbed a sandwich, and orange and some chocolate milk for what I guess was breakfast and then stepped right onto my London flight. The couple next to me must’ve enjoyed watching my head bob up and down as I drifted into and out of sleep in the window seat.
I briefly emerged from my coma as I arrived in London and I realized right at Passport Control that due to the lack of a pen I hadn’t filled in my Arrival Card. I borrowed a pen in line and quickly filled it out with a quick scan and some scribbled responses. Then, when I arrived at the passport desk, the immigration officer asked one of those innocuous but deeply meaningful questions.
“What is your occupation? You left the space blank.”
How could I tell her that I wasn’t sure anymore? I’d just retired after 34 years of ministry as a pastor and was heading to Italy to study Italian and write a guidebook. Not only that, but I hadn’t had time to consider all the consequences and was in a jumble of feelings in the purgatory between the past and present.
“I’m self-employed,” I blurted out.
“Self-employed doing what?” she said in her British accent.
I thought for a long second and then said, “I’m writing a guidebook.”
“OK, you could just put down, ‘writer,'” she said as she filled in my occupation for me and stamped my passport.
And there it is. If anyone asks, I’m a writer. The lady at the desk said so, and I’m not going to argue with her. The vocational transition occurred in a 10-second conversation. Goodbye, pastoring. Hello authoring. The pastoring took four years of seminary, a handful of interviews, psychological testing, much fervent prayer, and the laying on of the hands of two bishops. Becoming a writer took a book contract and the quick decision of an Immigration Officer. Both were conferred on me by others, came after a period of waiting and involved paperwork. So my new vocation sounds official and, at least for now, the appellation will have to do.
After being ordained a writer I stumbled my way between Terminal 1 and Terminal 5 of Heathrow and boarded British Airways for Rome. Following more dozing in the window seat, bathed in the sunlight-that-should-be-nighttime we landed at Fiumicino Airport. Italy at last.
I boarded the train for Termini Station where I’d reserved a B&B for the night and am pretty sure I had a pleasant conversation through the drowsiness of my coma in French, Spanish and English with a retired couple from Montreal in the seats across from me. Then I made my stupid mistake.
I was on the curb outside Termini Station, still partially comatose, when I suddenly realized I didn’t know where my B&B was located. I vaguely remembered it was close to Termini, but without an Italian cell phone plan, my usual guide — Google Maps — was unavailable. A man yelled “Taxi!” and I ignored him, but then impulsively turned around, threw my bags into his car, and told him where I was headed. He took me on a whirlwind drive for about 10 blocks — right back to a point at the train station about 2 blocks from where we’d started. Then he demanded 25 Euros.
I just laughed. Then I said “No,” and handed him a 5 Euro note and some change. He complained loudly in Italian. I smiled and politely stood my ground — I wasn’t going to pay this scoundrel another cent. After he drove off in a cloud of probable profanity (speaking words I may not learn in my upcoming Italian studies) I wandered a couple of blocks away and found my B&B — right across from the train station, not a block from where I had picked up the cab.
I buzzed the door at the B&B, found my simple, cozy room, had dinner nearby, and headed to bed to sleep off my coma and begin my Italian adventure as a writer. Ciao, Seattle. Bongiorno, Italia.