The landing gear beneath me hit the mark in Louisville, where some of my oldest friends were gathered for a graduation party. Somewhere behind the sweet taste of jet fuel, I could smell Kentucky in the icy distance as I deplaned. My red eyes told of more fun than sleep my last nights in Europe — yes, I came from Europe — more on that later.
The airport buzzes with arrivals and departures, airport speak for reunions and goodbyes; I’m glad to be done with the latter. My backpack sports a new scar; signs of a short and violent affair with a luggage handler. It’s OK, scars are sexy.
Icy wind brings tears and stains cheeks red. Unlike in Bangkok, my taxi driver doesn’t whisper drugs or sex. The front desk perks up when I enter; the 20-kilogram hump on my back is a welcomed change from leather portfolios laden with divorce and widget samples.
At $100 per night, my four-star room smells like ten nights in an island bungalow. A noisy ring announces that my old friends are the closest they have been in a very long time. The glass elevator hurries for me. Hugs are exchanged; sober smiles are traded; plans unfold.
Jack Johnson seems strangely out of place in the Irish pub. Dinner reminds me that I didn’t sleep; a Monster energy drink saves the reunion. Friends haven’t changed, but I have. Aren’t they interested in headhunters, islands, tattoos, or Sinter Klaas?
Frozen cigarette butts on black pavement; life on Fourth Street was consolidated to one club. Girls dancing on the bar open their mouths like baby birds; the bartender delivers worms from a bottle. Strangers share heat and hope on a slippery floor.
Noise pours out into the street. Cacophonous cackles and “woo-hoo” mating calls shriek from 20-somethings; future lawyers and business majors answer the call. Glasses clink away inhibitions. My army buddies fidget, until lured to dance; their wives’ smiles move their feet. Oxygen, in demand, is drank up by people with homework to do and Jersey Shore to watch. Arrogance hangs heavy in clouds of Axe body spray.
Wake up, kiddos. The U.S. has the 36th-longest life expectancy in the world, beaten even by the chain-smoking Chinese in Hong Kong and liver-scathing Scandinavians.
A nice watch and leased Lexus carry more clout than pounded passport pages and darkened eyes in this room.
Don’t these locals know I can spin fire under a full moon? I’ve spat in spitting volcano calderas and thrown poo at monkeys. Thai ink and bamboo splinters course in my veins. Jungle vines whisper my name in forgotten places. I could clear the room with one twitch of my portentous pupil. Doesn’t anyone here speak Bahasa? Where did I leave my bucket and flip-flops…
A vespertine beauty interrupts the perfect panic storm beginning to form. The forecast clears for another two hours of good moods. Time flutters away to its attic on bat wings. As quickly as I said hellos, I say goodbyes. Will it be another three years before we don’t act our age? The caffeine relinquishes my bloodstream; eyelids fall like crimson curtains to shouts of “bravo!” and “encore!”. My bed is made of angel feathers, prostituted and pawned for harp strings.
At $9, breakfast tastes like nine plates of pad thai. I hitch a ride home to Lexington; the one-hour drive is used by the engine for droning, and to convince myself that I did, in fact, leave this year. When we arrive, my mailbox is right where I left it. My house looks the same.
Squishy grass gives way beneath my extra weight without complaint; it knows I’m home. The air smells of Christmas and burning credit cards. The front door is open, waiting. Family peers out; I see my reflection in their eyes.
Thud. My bag hits the ground to make room for hugs. I remember why I still use the word “home.”
For a short while, survival will succumb to love. I am human again. The globe, successfully circumnavigated from west to east this year, keeps on spinning; international datelines make great midnight snacks. I glance down at the proud holes in my Bangkok shoes and think of my lover: The Road. Will she wait for me?
Once again, a tired vagabond has made it home.