It is a long way from my house in Seattle to Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina. It is longer if you go via New York, which I did, but I was not even the least bit sorry for the extra time and distance.
In New York I found coffee and a laughing Puerto Rican janitor — “Oh no! You understand Spanish!?!?” “Just the dirty words.”
And in New York I was found by Mike Barish, who fetched me in a red car and drove me to Coney Island where there was a pink sky and a full moon and a lot of Russians fishing off the pier. There was peeling paint and fenced up amusement park rides and the smell of salt air. A little bit later there dinner at Totonno’s and even if we just had the classic pie with mushrooms, it was superior pizza made by people with kick your ass Brooklyn accents, accompanied by soda in wax paper cups, served in a place that was tiny, eight, maybe ten tables and oh so New York.
Thanks to Mike, I was able to have a whole visit’s worth of Big Apple in about four hours, plus, a walk in the fresh sea air which, after a long plane ride, has resurrection like qualities.
But there was still more transit. A nine hour plane ride from the cold air of New York December right in to the middle of an Argentinian summer, hotter than July in Seattle by ten, maybe twenty degrees. I sailed through the muggy customs and immigration terminal and fell into a taxi. There was a girl in a summer dress with a tattoo on the back of her thigh. There was a shirtless potbellied man on a crumbling balcony. There was a battered, graffittied Citroen 2CV abandoned on a curb. An enormous synagogue, a neon bakery sign, billboards with a phone numbers and the word “AVAILABLE” on them in Spanish. I understood the taxi driver but couldn’t answer him.
Then, I was in my Argentina meets Ikea hotel, washing away all that transit in the shower, dressed and dry just in time to meet Editor Amy and hand off the peanut M&M’s she’d asked me to bring from El Norte. You can’t get them here and I am sympathetic with unexplained expat cravings.
Off we walked, in the company of Nick and Heather to find a cash machine and Sarkis. And an amazing plate of grilled chicken and onions smothered in yogurt sauce. And hummus that leaked delicious green olive oil on to the table. And a tiny cup of sweet Turkish coffee, all mud at the bottom. And then, a cinnamon and chocolate chip ice cream. Plus, company, distraction from the dizziness of jet lag and transit confusion and better, an afternoon in Buenos Aires that is nothing like the one I’d have had if left to my own devices.
It is a long way from my house in Seattle to Ushuaia, but it gets a lot shorter when you have kind people all around the world who will take time out to help you along your way, to make you forget the shiny, hard surfaces of air world, who will help you with the indulgent waiter, the one who has the eyebrows that make him look perpetually surprised. Friends who will take you to smell the ocean because it is exactly the opposite of the inside of an airplane. Friends who are genuinely interested in how you ended up in New York or Buenos Aires when it is not your destination at all.
That sort of kindness — a little time, some translation, saving you from anonymous interiors — it shortens a long trip tremendously, it whacks the hours right out of it. All of a sudden it becomes much too short, you want more time in those in between places where you had no plans to be in the first place. It is a long way. But it feels like just a blink when there are stopover angels everywhere, looking out for you and making the time fly.
Pics: Coney Island Sunset/Full Moon & Waiting for Express Transit at Ezezia Airport (thanks, nice kid from Seattle, for taking the picture.)