In a recent post I said that I didn’t do anything interesting between Thanksgiving and mid-January. That’s not really true. I went to Madrid and stayed with three college girls. It was, in fact, pretty interesting.
I have a cousin who was doing a junior semester abroad, and when we communicated earlier last fall she said “You should come to Madrid!”
I told this twenty-one-year-old college junior to be careful what she asked for, but when she said it again, I booked a ticket to Madrid and forwarded her the itinerary. Then she asked her roommates, “Hey guys. Uh, is it OK if my cousin comes to visit for a week in December?”
“Sure!” the responded.
It was at this point that Jenny added, parenthetically, under her breath, “he’s forty seven.”
So December 4th, the morning of my departure, I packed. I moved the laptop and camera to a bigger bag, and got all of my clothes into a small backpack. For a week in Spain I had only two small carry-ons, one that fit under the seat.
I parked Walden under a carport, and had my father drop me at the airport. On the flight to Atlanta I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me. She is a teacher in NYC. We talked a bit about teaching. Since she was someone whom I knew wouldn’t think that all professors were education professors, I let on that I still identify as an education professor. She was in Birmingham visiting her husband, a Yemeni, who is managing a cousin’s grocery store in Birmingham, somewhere near some low income housing. In Yemin, he was fairly affluent, so being a shopkeeper in the projects was pretty hard for him to stomach. Times are hard. I imagine that having to take a job that was beneath him, and 1200 miles away from his wife was a real bummer. NYCTeacher also talked about how hard it is to be a teacher and how easy it is to work long hours to do it. For her first several years as a teacher she routinely work 10+ hour days, prepping, teaching, and grading. (If you were going to a 45-minute talks, how long would you prepare? OK, now what if you had to give three different ones the same day?) After several years feeling like she wasn’t seeing enough of her family, she is no longer willing to spend that much time away from her kids. Of course, having a husband in Birmingham doesn’t make that easier either; her son was to take the SAT while she was in Birmingham for hubby’s birthday. She lamented that she wasn’t there to see that her son got up on time, got a decent breakfast, and made it to the test. Word was that he’d made it on time, though, and that he had felt pretty good about how he’d done.
In Atlanta (you can’t go to heaven or hell from Birmingham without stopping in Atlanta) I sat at the bar next to a wine-drinking woman in her early twenties who was on her way to Stuttgart. Her sister was in the military and had an off-base apartment in Stuttgart where WineDrinker could stay for free. WineDrinker had lined up interviews at several bars where she hoped to tend bar, which is what she had been doing in Colorado before deciding to move to Germany. The sister offered the free housing with one caveat, that the bar-tending WineDrinker would promise not to drink. I am neither an alcoholic or a chemical dependence counselor, but in my nascent understanding of such matters, I am pretty sure that if one were to stop drinking then spending long nights tending bar might not be the best profession. I think that Anthony Bourdain would concur. As we headed off to our respective flights, I wished her luck and picked up the tab for her glass of wine. I questioned whether it would be her last.