Friday, November 19, 2010

The Lock

Paris, the dream has almost come true, but I never thought that my trip would start with such a luck. December 2002, a surprise visit to Syria with a stop in France to fulfill an over 10 year-old dream so I can say I went to Paris in my twenties, late twenties, well, the very last year of late twenties, but still ...

I have arranged this trip with my friend Mike and gave him my flight details to pick me up from Charles de Gaulle airport, but despite everything I have planned to the detail, every thing that could have possibly gone wrong, did go wrong.

Starting with LAX, I was checking in on time to find out that I have too much extra weight in my luggage (my weight was just fine then). They sent me downstairs to buy a box and remove some of the gifts that I have bought for every person I knew in Syria since it was my first visit after exactly three years

I rushed downstairs and nervously bought the box to split my life in two and decide on what should go in the box and what should stay cozy in the luggage. I went back upstairs to stand in line all over again just to discover as I was checking in for the second time that I didn't have my passport. What? I swear it was just with me a moment ago, I thought I must have put it in the box by mistake so I opened the box and literally emptied its content to display my personal life on the airport floor, Ugh, it's not there (the passport, not my life, my life was sure there like a comedy that everyone was watching). Packing again what was left of my privacy in the box, I traced my steps back, looking at every single tile in the airport till I reached the store where I bought the damned big box from and voila, my passport was right there. I was so nervous, so sweaty and totally out of breath, I went back to stand in the long line only for a third time. As they say, third is the charm and it was.

I hate traveling long hours. Getting stuck in airplanes for over 4 hours is a torture that I dread. I also can't sleep, so my alcoholic friend gave me an advice "Drink red wine before you get on the plane, drink red wine with lunch and ask for red wine every time they offer drinks". And I did and those who know me well, also know that I have no tolerance for alcohol since I didn't train my body to consume it regularly. After the third glass of wine, I had the worst stomachache... ever. I went to the restroom and there I thought I was going to die, no no, I'm not kidding. I felt that life/energy/soul if you will, was leaving me. My upper body had no strength left, it just laid down on my legs and I couldn't lift myself up. I was in so much pain, I thought I wanted to throw up badly. I was too embarrassed to call for help so I took my time in that tiny restroom thinking to myself that if I die, my last sight would be a toilet in an airplane, what a pleasant way to go. In about ten minutes that seemed like a month later, I felt better. I gathered whatever dignity left in me and walked back to my seat like a drunk mess, too proud to admit that there was something wrong. Did I say that I still couldn't sleep? It was an eye opener; don't take advice from alcoholics.

Charles de Gaulle, here we are after 12 hours that felt like 12 days and what was the first thing we encountered? An angry French airport employee who yelled at us because we couldn't understand the French sign that said "this way" and we went the other way. I heard two passengers behind me laughing and saying "Welcome to France .... Americans".

It hit me there, I have no idea where Mike lives, I don't have his phone number, could I get any more stupid? I started thinking, what if he doesn't show up? Where do I go? Does he know which terminal I'm going to be at? All those thoughts ran through my head as I was collecting my luggage and the Box, but Mike was there waiving and yelling "Tony, I can't determine if you are deaf or blind" Yes, that was the second time I got yelled at in Paris within less than an hour, and mind you, I haven't yet left the airport.

When Mike saw the box, he couldn't help but wonder why I had a box with me. He asked me to pack back its content into the luggage because he didn't like the way it looked. I laughed thinking he was joking, but when I noticed that I was the only one laughing, I knew he was serious. Mike explained that he had just bought a brand new SUV and didn't like a box inside his car. I said to him "You can't be possibly serious, I went through hell because of that box" but he explained "Tony, this is Paris, we don't put boxes in our cars and drive around, this is a sophisticated city where fashion meets class". I sat down on the parking lot floor (how's that for a sophisticated look of class?) to empty the box into the luggage. I looked for a trash bin to get rid of that piece of shame that didn't belong in Paris and I thought to myself, something is definitely going wrong here. (and something definitely went wrong there, I lost my keys in the process but I didn't realize it yet)

I bit my tongue, swallowed my pride, drew a nice big fake smile on my face and got in the car. I was so excited to see Paris and spend time with Mike, but there goes the next surprise, Mike was not going to take me to his place, he wanted me to stay with his friend George. Sure I knew George, The last time I saw him or heard anything about him I was 17. Did I say that I turn 30 next year? "You must be kidding me, I hardly know the guy" But again, Mike wasn't joking.

George was waiting for us to arrive, I think I stood next to him first not even realizing who he was.
As I was getting my luggage out of the SUV, George approached and warmly welcomed me. It's weird how sometimes you meet people and effortlessly connect with and other times you make every effort to break the ice and you don't succeed. With George, things felt natural, I didn't feel that I was intruding, he made me feel at ease almost immediately. Mike had to leave and I said "Wait, I have something for you from the US as a token of my appreciation to your hospitality" (right!). I put my hands in my pockets, I couldn't find my keys, I searched myself over and over again, nope. Wait, no keys? how am I going to open my luggage and how am I going to change? the hell with Mike and Mike's gift, I need to access my stuff. Luckily I had a carry on with clothes. It worked out fine, Mike's token had to wait till I came back from Syria.

Three days of fun in Paris, lots of walking and Buses and Metros in that cold weather because Mike didn't want to deal with parking his SUV (or maybe because he thought I looked like the box that he didn't want in his car) and now I'm finally heading home, Aleppo ... Here I come again

I specifically asked Mike to book my ticket to Aleppo, not Damascus. I can't stand the idea of landing in Damascus and having to take a 6-hour bus ride to arrive to Aleppo. Now let me explain something here, it almost never, NEVER snows in Aleppo, but sure enough, my charming luck made me look down at a city covered in snow. I refused to believe the announcement I heard, I must be dreaming, this is NOT happening to me, No way. I closed my eyes and prayed that the airplane crashes and falls over Aleppo Airport, I was sure that the unwanted snow would have made enough cushion. But my prayers remained unanswered, maybe because I wanted to celebrate the holidays as opposed to get buried. I finally gave in and waved good bye in silent sadness on a silent night, I was almost there, yet not quite there.

We landed in Damascus because of the snow (Thank God, not in Jordan). We waited inside the airport for over 3 hours because they were not prepared to handle such a dilemma, I wish they had told us upfront how unprepared they were so that we would have shared a cab and taken off, but no, they assured us that it's their responsibility to get us home safe and sound. Long story short, I arrived home at the exact expected hour, just AM instead of PM of next day.

Home sweet home, I'm putting the keys in the door to open it at 6:30 AM and mom's voice filled the silence with "This is Tony, he's here for Christmas, I knew it" We hugged, we laughed and cried then talked and ate and it was time to unpack. Dad brought the tool box, with a big hammer and a screw driver and we broke the lock in less than 10 minutes.

Now if you think about it, what has anything to do with that lock? The lock happened to be itself, and happened to do what it does best; locking things up. It was all in the keys, the misplaced keys at Charles de Gaulle, on the floor of its parking lot due to an unwanted box in a brand new SUV. An unwanted box that traveled from one continent to anther due to extra weight. Extra weight due to lots of gifts and I can go on and on justifying why it was the worst start of a trip, but that all didn't matter.

A lot of times we encounter so many locks in our lives. And instead of searching for keys to unlock them, we make it all about the lock itself (AKA luck). Sometimes the key is right there in front of us. Sometimes the key needs replacement, and some other times the key doesn't exist. But there's always a way to open the lock, no lock is made to remain locked forever (and no such thing as a constant bad luck). I had all kind of locks in one trip from the minute I stepped a foot into the airport till I landed in the wrong airport, yet that trip turned out to be the most amazing trip of my life and I would do it all over again and not change anything about it (Not even the Box or Mike)