My phone chirps at six am. I walk half-eyed to the bathroom, lean over the sink and stare at myself in the mirror. I wonder if it’s too early to start plucking the grey hairs out of my beard. Too early in the day, for sure. I can be a morning person, but not the kind who makes his own breakfast or walks the dog. Years ago I’d get up at six, run to a coffee shop and read until 8. What happened to that guy, with his vocabulary? The… the dick.
I’d not finish packing. Somewhere between last minute planning and a solo mouth to feed I hadn’t had time to empty the washer last night. Sometimes the grownup stuff doesn’t get done. Truth be told, I’ve not emptied my own washer for a while.
I’m never nervous when I travel – Never. But I’ve not been to America for a long time and there’s something imposing about the place. I hadn’t slept, not really. Travelling around Asia is easy – you just act like you’re supposed to be on the other side of the line, like talking to the guard is a pleasure: never an interview, never an interrogation. It’s different at JFK, or at least it was.
The clothes on the rack were dry. Ten minutes later and almost everything I owned I the world was in one suitcase. Some things I keep in a lockup near Brent Cross – books, some sticks of furniture. Wedding presents. Stuff I should have thrown out half a decade ago.
Back in June, for the second time in my life and the second time in five years, I threw out all I had. Moving across the world is a hell of a chance to clear house. For catharsis it beats just about anything, before you start to think about haulage. I bought a kindle and a hand scale after a suitcase full of books sent me twice over the weight limit and cost me so much in excess baggage fees that Cathay gave me a pity upgrade.
Since then, my boots (2kg? 5?) did me a solid by succumbing to mould, meaning both I could throw them away and that never again would I carry clothes across the world.
Now I own one white shirt and one pair of shoes. A stack of t-shirts. Underwear. A laptop, iPad, kindle, phone. Three different kinds of chargers. I read blogs about travel hacks, for christs sake. I download GQ long reads to my phone before we take off. My favourite Spotify playlists jostle with photos for room on my phone.
London is cool again. Uber to the airport.
I’m on the plane, filling out the customs questionnaire. Apparently they’ve given up on asking if you are or ever were a Nazi, which is some progress. The point was always to hunt out the liars rather than the nazis – to give themselves a chance of chucking you out of the country for entering fraudulently, rather than finding themselves stuck with Wiesenthal on one hand and a war crimes trial on the other. Instead they ask if you’re carrying fruits or vegetables, which might sting a little if I were an ageing nazi.
A disabled man ambles slowly towards the front of the aircraft, around the front and down the aisle towards me, his arms low by his sides and his eyes rolling with frustration. I can see other passengers moving out of range. It’s only as he gets close that I can see his arms are holding a toddlers hands. Our eyes meet and I smile.
JFK is everything an airport shouldn’t be. Remember years ago when all airports were shit? You couldn’t sit down anywhere, or get a decent cup of coffee, or find the way out? And then gradually a bunch of airports got a lot less shit, and actually became quite nice places to be?
Not the kind of places you’d make an occasion of going to – but London Heathrow or Hong Kong or Tokyo Narida: these aren’t unpleasant places to be.
In JFK the first and last thing they do is shout at you. Corral you into pens. Quiz you, question you, berate you. Why are you even here? I joined a line and then someone just decided it wasn’t a line any more and directed me, and everyone behind me, to the end of a different line. I don’t even know what the line was for. Mental.
Would Mr. Million Dollar Cheng please report to any member of staff. Mr. Million Dollar Cheng, please report to a staff member. Thankyou.
It’s still the same day, that’s the weird thing. Like, I woke up this morning in London and now I’m on the other side of the world. I’m 31 and this shit is still magical. Walking midtown with my buddy George we hear a guy scream into his phone “Your mother’s a bitch, your father’s a bitch, and you’re a bitch”. I fucking love this place.