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I almost got stuck in Mexico

My alarm goes off at 6:45 Sunday Morning in Mexico, to get the airport shuttle from the resort at 7:15, to catch a flight at 10:25. Tired and anxious to get home, I hand my customs slip to the boarding agent, and look for my assigned seat. The plane accelerates rapidly, preparing my heart to lift when the wheels do. Except the plane brakes. Then my memory brings back the feeling of landing, as we coast down the airway. Immediately, all passengers look around at one another, searching for answers and validation. Over the intercom the pilot explains maintenance is going to come to check something out. A large portion of passengers get up and walk around, as if he announced there is now cerveza gratis (free beer) in the overhead bins. 

Stories of sitting on the airway in an airplane, unmoving, have always been my worst nightmare. Now I was living in it, getting bumped by a family passing a baby around, closing my eyes, and praying to God. My eyes open and watch other people on their phones, updating their loved ones. I stare at my phone like it’s supposed to magically connect to Wi-Fi or receive service in a foreign country. I want to talk to someone. But I can’t. 

The pilot’s voice becomes music to my ears. Everyone takes their seats as maintenance confirms they fixed the issue. The plane accelerates rapidly once more. And then it brakes. And then, I’m pretty sure, I actually say the word, “fuck,” out loud. The issue is worse than they thought and we have to deplane. I weave in and out of more passengers standing in the aisle for no reason and head toward the airplane bathroom. I’m fairly certain I got sick from some kind of water in Mexico and I’ll just leave it at that. 

The Fiasco Begins

Eventually, I make it back through the swarm of humans, grab my belongings, and descend down a staircase out the plane door, into an open field of pavement, displaying large airplanes, and two empty buses waiting to take us to Customs. It is as if we landed in Mexico, and weren’t just trying to leave. The crowd of people feels apocalyptic. All of us stand around lost, tired, and thirsty.

Suddenly, I hear a voice shouting random names. Some in perfect English, others in perfect Spanish. The voice is listing off the plane’s passengers, as if he is a teacher taking attendance, handing back permission slips for a field trip. One by one, people collect their winning ticket and race down the black ropes. A new line forms as I wait to be called. As people leave, the crowd decreases in size and I realize the voice doesn’t belong to an airport employee, but a fellow passenger. Suddenly he looks at a slip and says, “Oh that’s me… Hasta Luego!” He pretends to go and says, “Nah…” and laughs, before reading the remaining slips in his hands. This kind, random passenger, stayed behind to help the rest of the aircraft, and even paused with the best comedic timing to joke about doing so. 

The third time my heart drops in an hour

He stands in front of me with empty hands and announces the slips are done. I stand there with my hand gripped to my carry-on, holding back tears. My name hasn’t been called. Only a moment passes but feels like an entire lifetime before a random employee appears with another stack in his hand. The passenger turned announcer says, “I have more!” Finally, my name is called. Except the line is somehow longer and my stomach is churning.

An employee instructs me to follow someone, and then another employee turns around and tells me the line I’m in, is only for handicapped. There’s a joke there, but I don’t have the energy to find it. The long line turns into a large moving clump. A woman working at Customs shouts at all of us how she needs one line, as if it’s even possible. A woman from the plane shouts back she needs two workers. I can’t argue with her there.

Finally, I make it through the checkpoint, only to go through another security system, to find I am exactly where I was when I landed, just four days ago. I’m in a lobby with a bunch of shuttles to hotels, and rental cars, but no representatives or information on our next, new flight. Desperate for guidance, I check the airlines app on my phone. It informs me my flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning now. My heart sinks again. Suddenly, I hear a man arguing with an airport employee. “No, I need a flight out of here today!” The employee nods apologetically as the angry man’s family quietly follows behind him. It is now some time after noon, and I’m alone with nowhere to go. 

Now what?

I find a bathroom and decide to weigh my options while I’m in there, but can’t hold my tears back any longer. In the stall, sobbing, I find that my Wi-Fi connection is poor. I can’t even check for other flights with different airlines, much less, contact any of my loved ones who can help me. I’m fairly certain I can’t go back to the resort I was staying at. It’s an all-inclusive with strict rules and a lot of required documentation. Furthermore, I don’t even know who is still there that I could stay with. All my friends have left, just like I was supposed to. However, I can’t stay in an airport in Mexico for 24 hours either. I order myself to stop crying and figure this shit out.

None of the alternative flights are better. They are all outrageous prices, none of which I can afford, and they still all end with me getting home tomorrow, one way or another. I check multiple airlines, for multiple airports in Florida. Nothing. I try to contact American Airlines on my phone, but a Spanish recording comes on and hangs up on me. I’m assuming she said I was out of area, or something of that nature. I give up and call my mother.

In between my sobs, I tell her my flight info, and ask her to call American to see if there’s anything they can do. I’m still in the lobby full of rental cars and shuttle drivers. I don’t even know where American Airlines is. I call two friends who may know the numbers of other people at the resort. In between my sobs, I ask if they can contact them, and see if there’s any way I can go back if necessary. But I don’t want to go back. I’m already thinking it’s not feasible or smart.

New flight, who this?

My mom calls back and explains I have a new flight to Miami that leaves at 3:45 PM. It is now after 2. I march through the shuttle drivers and see a sign that says free shuttle to terminals. I ask a guy how to get to terminal 3. “Departures?” he asks. Clearly, he is confused why someone who looks like they’ve just arrived would want to go to departures. “First door on the left,” he says. Facing an empty street I quickly realize terminal 3 is behind me. I don’t need a shuttle.

I sprint to the staircase, pick up my carry-on, and race up the stairs, no time for the escalator. As soon as I’m about to re-enter the line at TSA, I realize, I don’t have my new boarding pass. The app hasn’t received my update so I jog back down the stairs and sprint to an available kiosk. It doesn’t work. I go to another one and stand behind the slowest couple in the world. Once they leave, the kiosk’s buttons suddenly don’t want to be pushed. Without my permission, tears fall down my face, as my finger rapidly pushes the same button from every angle I can think of. Finally it works. Then it informs me my record locator number is incorrect. I enter it again, just to be sure. Now the screen informs me I need assistance.

Finding Assistance

My eyes frantically search for anyone who looks like they are heading over to assist me. I see no one. I wipe the tears from my face, but they continue to fall. My hands want to reach for a customer service agent, too far away, but my feet stay planted. The line for customer service is another long one, so I decide to take my chances in front of my broken kiosk.

Suddenly, a man in a red jacket appears. He is also confused, and walks away with my passport. I stand there, realizing if this man doesn’t come back, I’m definitely fucked. Another man in a different jacket appears, asking if I’ve been helped. Unsure, I state a guy came over and I gave him my passport. The man asks if he worked here and I say, “He had a red jacket on.” He assures me the man will be back. That man vanishes too and I realize he was an angel I needed in that moment. The man in the red jacket is now back with my new boarding pass and my passport. He tells me to hurry, and I almost ask him if I can skip the line at TSA. But I don’t. I thank him and run away. It is now 3:08.

Groundhog’s Day

On a Sunday afternoon, it is now the busiest time to travel anywhere, and my indecisive Libra ass looks for the shortest line. I run to the one furthest from me, all the way to the left. It’s moving and now my indecisive Libra ass looks for the shortest line to put our bags in bins. This time I make the wrong choice. My line is the slowest, but it’s too late now. I’m in it, and afraid to move. I remember my toiletry bag got flagged just seven hours earlier, so I take it out of my carry-on and place it in a separate bin. I wait for my bags on the other side. The toiletry bag and now my backpack don’t make it through. My hand shoots in the air as the TSA agent, formally explains who she is and how she will search my bag. Anything she pulls out I tell her to throw away. I’m ready to leave all my belongings with her at this point. But she doesn’t take anything. She hands me my things and I don’t even adjust my bearings. I thank her and run away. It is now 3:23.

I quickly weave in and out of tourists shopping for alcohol and souvenirs and employees trying to upsell them. I repeat my gate number over and over. In my head, or out loud, I’m not even sure. While running, I think to myself, this is why I keep my cardio up, and laugh on the inside. I finally see my gate. Everyone is boarding. I don’t even know what boarding group they’re on, but I get in line anyway.

Leaving my Nightmare

Once, my boarding pass is scanned, I place my toiletry bag in my carry-on, and adjust the straps to my backpack. My stomach clenches for the millionth time today. It is unclear if it’s the same sickness or hunger now. I haven’t eaten or drank anything in over 12 hours. Walking down the aisle, I find that my seat is one that reclines and has a pillow and blanket. I smile on the inside. My phone is now at 1% and my Wi-Fi connection isn’t strong enough to tell some loved ones I’m making it out of there; as long as this plane actually takes off. The plane quickly accelerates but my heart doesn’t lift, until the wheels do. Then I look through the clouds and realize how tired I am. My phone dies, but I don’t even care. I’m going home.

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Six values Chicago gave me

2018 was a great year. I lived in Chicago for the first half of it, completing a little over a one-year contract for work. Living in a new city, I felt as though I was constantly exploring and learning new things. While the first half of my stay in Chicago, in 2017, was the most I had ever used FaceTime, also full of friends and family visiting, I became fearful that wouldn’t be the case in the winter. Fortunately, it wasn’t.

The following is my best attempt at summarizing everything into six separate chunks.

1. Explore

At the beginning of the year, I saw Buddy Guy himself perform at Buddy Guy’s Legends. I had never heard of him before, but quickly learned he is a legendary Blues guitarist and singer. He has worked with some of the great’s, including Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and John Mayer. I was witnessing a true musical craftsman that night.

Out of all of the tourist attractions, the aquarium is by far, my favorite. I have a great love and appreciation for ocean life, but if for some reason you don’t, well then, I’m not talking to you.

Arguably, the best view of the city is at London House. It overlooks the Chicago River and almost makes you feel equal to other tall buildings surrounding you. I went multiple times, wanting to share the view with other visitors. Cindy’s Rooftop and the Signature Room are close seconds. In my opinion, those views are of the city, as if you are a far away observer, while the view from London House reminds you that you are smack dab in the middle of downtown Chicago.

2. Mind

Winter is tough. At a young age of growing up in Michigan, my mental health wasn’t affected by the effects of winter. Well, it may have been. I just have no recollection of it. Perhaps, I blocked it from my memory.

Finding ways to escape and calm your mind I believe to be important for everyone, especially in the winter. Which is how and why I read a lot in my spare time and rediscovered my love for yoga. This was the first time in my life I became on a first-name basis with a yoga instructor. It’s difficult to put into words how valuable that was for me, without even realizing it, until it was over.

3. Money

I paid off a significant amount of student loans and credit card debt. Those major things alone would have been enough, but I also treated myself to purchasing Beats headphones, something I had desired for months. It is one of the few, tangible items that genuinely add value to my life. Most importantly, I finally got a passport. This year, I’m going to put at least one stamp on it.

4. Work

I finished a complete draft of my book; a goal I had for nearly a decade. Then I queried countless agents, pitching the idea to them as best as I could. Most declined, some I never heard back from, few wanted to read it, and only one gave me constructive criticism. While I have yet to be a published author, I have one goal to be proud of. I wrote a book. Whether everyone in the world read it or not, is irrelevant.

I went through an interview process for a TV show. I never heard back. Not if they went with another girl, the show didn’t get picked up, production was delayed, nothing. If I’ve learned anything from trying to be a part of the art and entertainment industry it’s that nothing is ever certain and to just let everything roll off your back. I’m just happy to be given opportunities.

I killed my improv Level D performance at Second City. Having a lot of support in the audience for that show helped. Having awesome classmates on that stage with me helped even more. Afterward, I saw two Second City shows, a luxury I wish I would’ve taken more advantage of as a student.

5. Play

I was a part of some legendary events, like celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago and being on a float of the Pride Parade. I couldn’t help but feel like I was a part of history experiencing those two things.

Boystown quickly became one of my favorite neighborhoods to go out in. It’s not hard to fall in love with cheap drinks, good music, and people who dance.

I also crashed the bachelor party of my prom date in 2005. At the strip club, I couldn’t help but think, if only we knew then what we would experience together now.

The night before I moved away from Chicago, I threw a dope house party. Something I had always wanted to do was even better because my apartment technically wasn’t mine. Yet it was full of friends I always had, ones I made, and even girls I worked with who happened to be in town. And then we had the simple luxury of walking down the street to bars we frequented. The location was stellar.

6. Family

I experienced the architecture tour with my parents and also went to Wrigley Field with my dad, a place that had been on his bucket list his entire life.

While it’s hard to narrow down all the valuable things Chicago gave me, I realized that career opportunity had given me so many more opportunities. Besides tangible items and things of monetary value, I see things differently. I have grown into a different woman. One that still has work to do, but is adjusting accordingly.

It’s nice to look back, but it’s essential to look forward.

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New York City

This time, last year I was in New York City. It was the first trip I took for myself in I don’t know how long. Maybe ever. Although I had been to the city, at least three times before, it was always brief. There’s so much to see and do there, it’s impossible to get it done in a short amount of time. The following is what I was able to accomplish in a long weekend.

Food I ate in New York City

As someone who is a huge fan of desserts, it has been a goal of mine to indulge in a beignet for years. I’ve always heard how delicious they were, so much so that my friends named one of their dogs after them. When my friend discovered this beautiful, little French restaurant called, Augustine, I knew my dream would come true. This was the perfect place to enjoy my first beignet as it was more delicious than I could’ve ever hoped for.

Later that weekend, I had an amazing Easter Sunday dinner with three very dear friends. We met at a nice restaurant, Dell’anima and laughed endlessly throughout our meal. Our waiter got a kick out of our desire to share a four-course meal, as we ordered one entree from each section of the menu. I can’t remember if we ordered one or two bottles of wine, but I know our mouths were wine stained by the time we got our bill.

Things I Did in New York City

I visited the Oculus building for the first time. Before going inside, my friend and I paid our respects at the 9/11 memorial. Something else I had never seen before and was overwhelmed by the number of names inscribed on the stones. While the Oculus building is mostly shops and restaurants, the design of the building is magnificent.

The Rockefeller Center is another infamous spot. Ice skating can be a bit expensive, so I had fun simply exploring the building and enjoying the view.

Also, I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Although, I almost didn’t. Someone mentioned something about a boat and as I waited for one in a large building, I got that funny, familiar feeling that I was lost and doing something wrong. Thinking I was going to the Statue of Liberty, I almost ended up on the Staten Island ferry. Fortunately, I had the courage to ask the custodial staff of the building to make sure. They were very helpful while looking at me in amusement. After walking in the rain in the right direction, I boarded an overpriced water taxi, but hey, I saw her.

I treated myself to a Broadway production and saw The Book of Mormon. It was hard to choose which show to see, but I was more than happy with my decision. The show was original, hilarious, well-written, and full of a talented cast. There were so many shows to choose from, but I believe picking that one was the best decision I could’ve made. If you love musicals or the writers of South Park, this is the show to see.

I also saw the Grand Central Terminal and the Roosevelt Hotel. Both of which are exquisitely designed buildings. If you’re a big movie fan like I am, the Grand Central Terminal is a set location for multiple films. Some specific examples that come to mind are Friends with Benefits and the recent film, Second Act. 

Friends & Family

My parents met in New York and lived in a few apartments there together. Although I didn’t get to go inside to their specific apartment, I did see the building, the lobby, and the hallway leading up to their front door. I Facetimed my mom so she could see the building and walk me through a part of her past.

I got to see my Godfather, for the first time in almost four years. He met me at a bar in Times Square after a long day at work. Those few hours we got to spend chatting and catching up went by too quickly but was meaningful and memorable.

That entire weekend, I had the best amount of quality time with such a great friend of mine. Besides indulging in restaurants and dancing at 1Oak, we explored Brooklyn together, for the second time in 3 years. We chilled on the Williamsburg bridge, a reminiscent memory I was fond of with her, the first time I went. It’s interesting that the best view of New York City is outside of it.

New York City Locals

I walked a few blocks with a homeless man. I remember standing on a corner, debating going out of my way to avoid him. But then I was reminded how lately I felt I shouldn’t judge books by their covers, so I stayed put.

He looked at me, alone, and asked, “Are you sure you want to go to this way? It’s kind of dangerous.” Which was probably the last thing I needed to hear. The light changed to “Walk,” and the look on my face must’ve made him regret that statement because he recovered with, “Come on, it’ll be fine. I’ll walk with ya.”

I must admit, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to hear him say this either. He walked ahead of me at first for a while, talking over his shoulder about the neighborhood, what streets were ok and which ones weren’t. When he asked where I was going, I was hesitant to tell him which hotel I was staying at and acted as if I couldn’t quite remember, speaking vaguely of the street corner instead.

Then he began telling me some of his life story and how he ended up to be where he was. I wish I remembered more of the content of our conversation, his name, or what street corner he said was his post. What I do remember is him stopping in front of my hotel to simply say, “Thank you for not judging me and being afraid. It was nice talking to you.” As if he knew that was my inner conflict the entire time.

I realize he may be the exception, not the rule to such encounters, but it is one I’ll never forget.

Gotta love New York City.

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Goodbye Chicago, the city

I procrastinated writing and editing this. Don’t ask me why. My best guess is I was telling myself, “it wasn’t ready,” and I would get to it eventually. I needed personal time and wanted to enjoy my time off. Realistically, I think I didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that my time in Chicago was over. I’ve only been gone for a few months now, but it often feels like a lifetime ago. Sometimes I can’t believe I was just there and soon, I know, I will be shocked at how long it’s actually been. I didn’t anticipate leaving Chicago and being back in the Sunshine State to be bittersweet.

After living in Chicago for a little over a year, I have to say I take pride in the fact that I have a clear visual and general knowledge of many neighborhoods within the city. I can wholeheartedly say, I know that town and I will miss it.

MegBarrett_GoodbyeChicagoCity
Cindy’s Rooftop

Besides living in Chicago, living in the neighborhood, Logan Square, feels like a century ago. I moved in, in April 2017 and out of it by November. It’s barely been a full year since I left that part of Chicago and sometimes that place feels like a distant memory. What I can recall is this.

Living there felt tough sometimes, because it’s on the west side, a good distance from everyone and everything. For someone new to a city, and a big city at that, I’m rather proud of myself with how much I stepped out of my comfort zone to adapt to my new environment. The first time I rode the bus felt confusing and terrifying. The first time I rode the train, I went in the wrong direction. Also, confusing and terrifying. Toward the end of my stay, I rarely got lost and only felt confused or terrified over different aspects of life. I grew to love Logan Square, based on its culture and colors. Without a doubt that neighborhood has character.

I made friends with a yellow Labrador named, Olive, who lived down the street from me. Her owners never knew about our relationship, so our visits were brief and secretive. This sounds creepier than I want it to, but it’s the truth. I actually befriended tons of pets, none of which were mine. Having a liquor store across the street was dangerous, but amazingly sold some of the best avocados. I loved having easy access to the library across the street as well. For a while, there was a local produce grocery store that I occasionally shopped at when necessary, due to spending over $50 on essentially hummus, carrots, yogurt, and strawberries.  I guess you could say I became a well-read, well-nutritioned, drunk. If that gets me closer to channeling Ernest Hemingway, I’ll take it.

There is also a Hispanic culture there, mostly Puerto Rican, which I found comfort in, missing the vibes of Orlando and Miami. Overhearing the Spanish language felt like home. I enjoyed running and working out at two local parks, and made the best of my circumstances, riding a bike to and from work every day on the 606, also known as The Bloomingdale Trail. Riding home with the sun setting will go down in history as one of my favorite views. I wish I had a photo, but every time I tried, it never did it any justice.

My apartment was pretty up to date with nice counter tops, an Apple TV, a fancy AC unit, a good washer and dryer, and hardwood floors. My favorite part was I lived alone and slept anywhere I wanted. The neighbors were pretty cool and not very loud. The more I write this the more I genuinely miss it, whereas before, I couldn’t wait to get into a new place.

All different views of Humboldt Park

Thus, moving into the neighborhood, Old Town was a nice change, especially being above a good family owned restaurant, Nookies. I became on a first name basis with one of the employees there, Speardon. Personally, the biggest perk was being a quick walk to Second City. Alright, being a quick walk to Second City and the bars. I also splurged on a gym membership to Equinox, because it was across the street, and ultimately left me with no excuse to not go. I got my money’s worth going 3-4 times a week, sitting in the sauna and the steam room after every workout. I could probably count on my fingers and toes the amount of times I showered at my apartment, rather than the gym. Which was preferable, because the water temperature at that apartment was less than ideal. It’s funny how when I lived in Logan Square I admired older Chicago apartments, because they felt, “authentic.” Yet, when I found myself in one with loud floorboards, a creaky dryer, and a horrible Wi-Fi connection, I was no longer impressed.

The grass is always greener, friends. Remember that. There’s good and bad with everything. I think the character of a neighborhood can make up for its location and vice versa. Still, I can genuinely say I was happy with both apartments, for multiple, different reasons. I was beyond grateful to be in both.

Rather than riding a bike, I was able to walk to and from work from my new apartment. A twenty minute, mile walk, that was well worth it every time, due to being indoors for at least seven hours a day, every day. This became a daily thing for me starting in March. I once made the mistake of walking to work in January or February when it was eight degrees outside. I was fooled by the fact that the sun was shining. I ran to work, out of actual pain and pure fear that my legs were going to get frostbite. I wore cropped leggings, a rookie mistake. I learned a hard lesson that day. After that, if the temperature was below freezing, I took the bus. That walk and those twenty minutes of personal time and solidarity, is something else I already miss. I never realized how important it was for my mental health to be outside, year-round, until I lived in Chicago. I took it for granted in Florida.

As soon as it began to warm up, it was amazing to be reminded how many people actually lived in the city.  May was the most I had seen humans in months. Before there would be nobody outside except for the homeless and myself. Suddenly, it was Memorial Day weekend and I found myself on crowded sidewalks. Want to now how many times I was in the way? All of them. I was in the way every time.

As I’m reflecting on all this, I’m now wondering if because I knew Chicago would one day come to an end, I knew to appreciate every second of it. Usually, you don’t even know you’re living some of the best times of your life, until they’re over. This time I knew. It’s odd feeling nostalgic for a place, people, and a time while still living in it. When I think back on my time in Chicago, it will always come back to the people. The friends that visited, the friends I already had, and the friends I made. I truly can’t say enough about the people. Everything else was just a bonus.

What’s your favorite thing about Chicago? Or what was your favorite thing about reading this? Let me know if I left anything out!