Everyone is a pastry.
You're usually either glazed or fluffy or tied into weird knots, and everyone has a different filling. I'm fluffy on the outside and my three filling ingredients are enthusiasm, wanderlust and disaster. The former two taste mostly sweet, with sharp jabs of bitterness as you start to eat too fast and hit a pocket of the latter.
You're going to have to bear with me. I'm fond of extended metaphors.
Lately, probably feeling inspired by Jim Carrey's ever-sterling performance in Yes Man, I signed up for a trip to the United States of America to work as a camp counsellor all by myself. That takes care of the first two pastry fillings. I got all my paperwork done on time, I made it to London alone for my visa appointment, and I made it to Manchester alone for my orientation. The third pastry filling came into play (and probably should have served as a warning sign) when I missed my flight.
I've never travelled abroad before. I didn't register how important it was to do things like check what damn day your flight is, or double-check, or make absolutely certain that the people around you are up to date too. So I woke up that morning at 6am, feeling confident and ready to travel through to Manchester Airport later that day and stay overnight to take my flight on the 12th of June, and checked my phone.
It's the 12th of June. Today.
There's something about waking up and immediately crapping the bed in horror that you just can't prepare for. I spread the panic fairly quickly to both of my parents like a bad cough, and we all spent the rest of the day making phone calls back and forth to organise a new flight for the following Monday (dropping another £600 down the toilet) and working out what I'd now have to do to get upstate from JFK Airport: catch the bus to Chestertown.
The flight went smoothly. I almost missed that because the ticket had the wrong plane listed for some reason but I asked an attendant and I totally made it. Stepping off the plane at JFK airport into a solid wall of humidity, I hailed a yellow cab to the bus depot and confidently relaxed in the back seat.
Things that happened in the cab: the driver asked me if I was a boy or a girl (score!!!), then proceeded to have a brief shouting match with a car full of street-savvy young men with the most amazingly thick New York accents I've ever heard outside of TV, swerved so hard on the highway underpass I almost fell across the back seat despite my seatbelt, and finally proceeded to charge me a 30% tip on my card. I was sort of too amused to be annoyed.
Warning sign number one: "Chester town? I ain't never heard of Chester town. You mean Chester?"
Okay, sure! That must be it, I thought, sinking my cash into a coach ticket and hopping on to head north. It was when I got into Mahwah that between the three of us (me, my dad, and my camp employer) we figured out I was on the wrong route. In a panic I hopped off the bus, grabbed a water bottle from a service station, and sat on the verge muttering to myself to clear the fog of oh god I'm going to get myself murdered.
It was at this point that a family pulled up in their big white car like a metal angel from hitchhiker heaven and asked me if I was okay. I said yeah, actually, no, maybe, do you know how I can get to Albany?
Warning sign number two: the simultaneous look the father gave me was a shock-concern combo with a side order of pity. It marked the moment I really registered I was well and truly cocking everything up. To my great luck and eternal gratitude, however, they offered to take me to a bus stop (it's pretty easy to trust someone who has kids and a 2-year-old in the back seat) and then proceeded to check back on me repeatedly while they ran the errands they were in the area for in the first place.
One of the coaches I was watching out for did eventually pull up, and by this point the humidity and road smell was making my mouth taste like slime - but the driver kindly let me know that the last one to Albany had long flown the coop. I was essentially stuck in New City overnight.
Cue the third glorious return of the guardian angel four-by-four. I can't say if I've ever felt more grateful to anybody than I was at that moment. As it turned out, they had a spare room, a warm welcome, and air conditioning. Also, the prettiest house I've seen in years, which I must have told them about eight times in the midst of urgent thanks and gratitude - until I got done sorting out next-morning plans and using their phone to call my boss, and keeled straight over on their spare bed.
At this point, you're probably thinking, wow, things sure turned out well for you. Yeah, they did! At least after another mess-up with my card being rejected the next day and having to wait for 1:30pm for the next one, which my boss had to call through and pay for, which made both of us MORE stressed...
Well, that's pastry filling number three for you. I'm a disaster magnet and I'm well aware of it, but on the upside it means I'm getting very good at coping with disasters without doing things like having meltdowns or taking it out on other people. My mother calls this "cruising" and from her implications this means I don't care about anything, which is a sentiment I've learned to take with a pinch of salt (read: that's bollocks, mom, if that is your real name!!!).
Hunting for silver linings keeps me stable. So, more upsides: I'm getting less terrible at talking to Americans in customer service jobs. Americans, take note - when you go to England, everyone will seem like a wet blanket in comparison. We barely know what we want, and we'll mostly dally about waiting for someone else to magically know and solve our problems, even if this takes all day. English customer service departments are long-suffering and kind. American ones are just sort of long-suffering, and want you to know about it.
The trick, then, seems to be to keep it quick, speak as clearly as it's possible for someone with a slight Yorkshire twang to manage, and smile as genuinely as possible at as many people as possible.
I'm not going to write lies in my personal diary of experiences, so I'll say it straight: most UK citizens think Americans are rude. But this is, as I've found, not quite true. The simple fact is that America is so big and so busy that getting things done quickly and efficiently is pretty much paramount to society functioning as a whole, and this makes people very loud and their patience equally clipped.
The thing about being British is that we're naturally compliant and meek. It's a little pathetic, and we'll usually be the first to admit it, but in situations where others are expecting you to throw your weight around this tends to put people a little off-balance. What I'm saying here is that I've found I can make American people behind desks smile at me in surprise, because it sometimes feels like they weren't expecting a genuine thank-you to take place. And being smiled at is a big help to my peace of mind and general sanity, so it's times like these that my ridiculous British politeness habit actually comes in handy, even if only for the sake of my psyche. When travelling through the USA, mind your Ps and Qs.
Another silver lining is that I'm learning to handle myself better. I'm figuring out my limits, my capacity for timing things, and how to interact with others. I was never very social as a kid and that coupled with parents who maybe do a little too much for me has made me pretty green around the edges.
On that note, my parents called my boss before I even headed over there and expressed their Concerns. My boss, you know, the one I'm working for in America by myself as a grown-ass adult. I was embarrassed at first, but after I ran out of credit and couldn't activate my US SIM card, a lot of phone tag back and forth between me, my dad, and my boss pretty much saved the day. I'm more grateful than embarrassed now, so I suppose I learned my lesson about that too.
So, here I am in a bus station in humid New Paltz, watching a finch(?) flutter around in the rafters of the shelter, eating vegan chocolates my dad bought for me back in the UK, and filled with a deep sense of gratitude for everybody who helped me on my way so far. And I'm really glad I bought a good pair of trainers.
I'm also vaguely prepared for some further mishap to happen today, but logically I know that's the stress talking. I've been through a lot of stress over the past couple of days, but things will be okay. As a bonus, my US SIM card works now (thanks again to my dad) and I got to say hi to someone pretty deer to me. I'm feeling a lot better.
It's been a wild ride so far; today is good, and tomorrow will be gooder. Logic dictates the worst is over.
Stay tuned for Bug Cannot Into America 2: Electric Boogaloo, when I actually get to camp, apologise profusely to my boss, and actually get to do my job.
Also: why do you guys have flags everywhere, holy frick. Is it in case anyone forgets where they are? Goodness BALLS. (This is a rhetorical question, it's just as bad in London.) You're also weird for having actual wildlife in your gardens, but that's a cool thing.
(written at a bus stop, posted on a bus a couple of hours later. YOU GUYS HAVE WIFI ON YOUR BUSES WHO DID THIS)