Raughley Goes to Washington: Into the Whirlwind, And Other Short Stories

With just an hour before my flight to Georgia takes off, let’s see what I can bang out!

It doesn’t get any more American…

Lucky old me got to go on my second business trip!  Basically, the way it works is that Mallory, our Marketing Coordinator, plans TLG’s attendance at career fairs all over the world and goes to them herself.  Except in cases of extreme circumstance, I don’t get to go.  Last October, for example, the eleventh hour visa denial of a coworker led to my trip to Montreal!

Not too long ago, Mallory looked up from her desk and said, “Raughley, I might need to send you on a trip.”

“Oh?” I was mildly interested, to say the least.

“Yeah.  Either to Western Washington University or to Georgetown.”  I seized upon this opportunity and made it known that I was a Georgetown alum and that I would be thrilled to go to the conference there.  Eventually Western Washington got dropped from our hit list, but I’d made a convincing enough case for going to DC myself.  Persistence is the mother of success!  Is that a saying? (I should claim to be an alumnus of the University of Hawaii!)

It turns out the Minister of education was taking a trip to DC right around the same time!  For a long moment (about a week), it looked as if we might be coordinating some events together, but that plan fell through and my itinerary became set in stone.  In a very small stone.

After thirty hours of travel I arrived in DC and proceeded to crash into my hotel.  I was staying at a Radisson with a king-sized bed (falsely advertised as being a “Sleep Number” bed, I might add.) before showering and rousting myself to get the most American food possible: a Bison Steak.  It was amazing.

It wasn’t until I was sitting at the restaurant, waiting for my friend to come back from the restroom that I began to revel in my newly rediscovered ability to drop eaves on those around me.  I hadn’t really done so up until this point, though I’d been in the States for several hours.  Mainly, this is because I spent my time eaves dropping on Georgians and a French couple.

In New York City, at US Customs, a pair of Georgian women chattered away behind me in line.  I listened as best I could, but only caught a few snippets of the conversation.  They live in the US and have green cards!  Good for them!  A French couple followed me through the security line going into the domestic terminal.  They were complaining about how the setup in the JFK domestic terminal was “tres stupide!” and “encroyablement mauvais!”  And so it came to pass that I didn’t actually eaves drop on an English-speaker until sitting at the restaurant.

“Oh yeah, man!” the gentleman at the bar said to his friend, “I got totally tatted up.  The big one here is my family’s cattle brand!”  God Bless America.

Into the Whirlwind

My entire time in the USA only lasted two days.  I arrived on Wednesday night and left at 6 am on Saturday morning.  Being in my old haunts provided me with several opportunities to meet up with old friends!  In fact, when I wasn’t meeting with Georgetown departments, transporting myself (and my big, crappy banner), or Tabling at the Conference, I was meeting up with friends and family.

First came Stef and the Bison Steak.  The following morning I met with the Georgetown University Office of International Programs, where I used to work and where I chatted with one of the study abroad advisors for about an hour.  After scoping out the conference center (for the next day), I walked thirty some blocks to meet a good friend from college at the National Portrait Gallery, stopping off at a post office on the way.

Valerie and I got some Dunkin’ Donuts and talked for a few hours in the Portrait Gallery’s courtyard before parting ways.  I was late to meeting Jeff.

I didn’t keep him waiting long, but we had to scramble to get to the restaurant where two of his college friends were waiting for us.  No biggie!  A dish of pad thai, 13 beers, and a bar later, I was returning home to my Radisson.  The next day would prove to be even busier.

I arrived at the Georgetown Conference Center and spent five hours tabling there, extolling the virtues of TLG and of Georgia to several interested and very qualified students and alumni of the sponsoring universities.  I know that basically every applicant reads “all the blogs” before coming to Georgia, so if any of you who met me at the Government and Non-Profit Expo, 2012 are reading this, Hi!

I finished up and needed to kill some time before meeting Rebecca and Nana for dinner in Georgetown.  I glanced at the time, gauged the distance, and excitedly scampered off to see Star Wars in 3-D.  It was the perfect way to fill the afternoon!

After dinner with my family, I got dropped off at Stef’s townhouse for a Mardi Gras party that would keep me occupied until the time came to depart for the airport at 3 am.  Alas, I didn’t have it in me, and fell asleep almost right away–waking in time to catch a cab to the airport.  My journey wasn’t quite over yet, though!

Upon arriving in New York for my nine hour layover, I called my good friend Jay and zoomed downtown on the subway to meet him near his apartment in Manhattan.  Jay, Kasey (Casey?), and I met up with Tyler and had a great morning together in the Big Apple before it was time for me to return to the airport.

Several transportation snafus later I found myself in the security line watching the minutes tick by before my plane would begin boarding.  It was getting tense!  A very friendly Turkish couple took me under their wing and we vowed to stick together until we were on the plane.  JFK had other plans for us.

As I neared the security terminal, I was informed that “Your American Airline boarding passes are no good here.  We need something more real.”  (Just kidding!  That second sentence is from Star Wars!)  I was told to visit the Turkish Airlines counter and exchange my boarding passes for Turkish ones.  Oiy!  As I waited, I watched as my Turkish friends were whisked into the fast lane by a Turkish Airlines employee, leaving me lost and in the dust.

Finally, I made it through security, stressed and sweaty (lovely, right?).  The Istanbul airport has hardly been calmer as I’ve been bouncing all over the place trying to get some coffee, take care of some business, and rescue Mallory’s kindle from international limbo.  Here I am writing and pushing the envelope on when I should be heading to my gate–just encouraging more whirlwindyness.  It’s all been a little much and I’ll be glad to get back to my regular routine of thirteen hour workdays and work-filled weekends.  What a relaxing time it will be!

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace…in 3-D!

With exactly three hours to kill, I decided to make a dash for the movie theater and see Star Wars in 3-D.  According to the website, the film ran about two hours and ten minutes.  Factor in twenty minutes of trailers, a twenty minute walk, and a five minute walk to the restaurant and it looked like my movie would release me to the world at 6:43.  Two minutes before I was supposed to meet Nana for dinner.  Perfect.

I considered booking tickets in advance, in case the show sold out, but I needn’t have worried.  I was one of two people in line at 4 pm on a Friday, and I got a ticket with ease.  The man even told me I could bring my suitcase and my huge, crappy banner into the theater with me!  This called for snacks!

While I waited for a large family to order their popcorn, a man at the end of the counter gestured for me to come to him instead.  He was making strange sounds and pointing to a piece of paper.  It quickly became apparent that he was deaf.  I wrote my order on the receipt paper and he eagerly filled it, ringing me up, deftly.  When he saw that I had a suitcase and a banner, he sprang into action with a grunt.  He stocked my popcorn and American-sized soda into a cardboard carrier and before I could reach for it, he had snatched it up and curiously pointed, asking which direction to go.  I showed him my ticket stub and we trotted off towards screen 13.  He let me set my things down and handed me my snacks, smiling all the while.

A few minutes later, as I made a pre-movie bathroom run, I saw him laughing and joking around with a coworker.  The deaf man was gesturing and making noises while the other man laughed and gave him a high-five.  I don’t know what it was about this whole encounter, but it put me in a great mood.

Now, the only thing that could improve upon this mood would be to see Star Wars on the big screen.  Lucky for me, that’s just what I was there for!  I slipped my 3-D glasses over my 2-D glasses and settled into my popcorn. 

As the 3-D words “STAR WARS” blasted onto the screen followed by the 3-D scrolling text that faded into the starscape, I grinned in anticipation.  Sure it was The Phantom Menace (the one with Jar Jar), but it was also Star Wars, and what’s not fun about that?

Here’s the thing, Star Wars is always better on the big screen.  The effects are pretty incredible, the story is pretty epic, and everything is just that much more right.  The issue was that Star Wars wasn’t made for 3-D.  A lot of scenes are close-in dialogues and the 3-D doesn’t really do anything.  When it does work, however, boy is it exciting!  The Podrace that makes up the middle half-hour of the film kicked a lot of butt in three dimensions, as the fantastical creatures zipped over, around, and under the audience in three dimensions.

The epic three-way lightsaber fight at the end was still awesome, but I have to admit that the 3-Ds didn’t really add anything to it.

All told, it was an awesome experience and I was super pumped to see it in theaters, though I wish the 3-D was a bit more impressive.

The Thirst Games

After dinner, Jeff decided to reprioritize his friendships.  Ditching me and two of his college buddies, he headed out into the night to “stock a coworker’s fridge.”  But we all know what that means!

It doesn't mean anything. I just like making pretend euphemisms to make Jeff uncomfortable!

And so it was that I found myself sitting across from two lovely lady-friends of Jeff’s in a bar in downtown DC.  Not wanting to turn in quite as early as Jeff, we decided to head downstairs into the…well shoot.  I don’t remember what it was called.  It was two words and the first word was a gerund beginning with B.  Oh well!

As we sipped our Bud Light Platinums (in strange, opaque, blue bottles, I might [and will!] add), Sam decided it was time to play a game.  More of a competition, really.  The name of the game, I have decided, was The Thirst Games.  It’s similar to the Hunger Games but instead of having a bunch of children fight each other to the death for the amusement of the Capitol it entailed the three of us taking seven minutes to see who could get someone to buy us a drink first.

The girls raced off at the starting bell.  I was a little more…hesitant to play.  Sam let her hair down, so to speak, Kathryn turned up her charm, and I sat smiling wryly.  As they began chatting up some older men I finished my beer and sat at the bar.  I have no idea how to play such games.  I’ve only very rarely had drinks bought for me, and never by complete strangers.  My hopes were not high for victory.

I did come up with a winning strategy, though: Cheat.  I bought myself a White Russian and returned to our table.  Kathryn and Sam were now chatting with the same group of three dudes.  Kathryn beckoned me over, and I joined her in watching Sam tell outrageous stories of organ loss and receive worldly bear-centric wisdom in return.

The guys were really quite nice!  One reminded me of Rene, a Canadian recruiter I had showed around Georgia in October.  A second was a funny, but quiet man who kept feigning outrage at pretend racial insults (it makes more sense if you were there).  The third guy was even quieter, but older.  I have no idea who these guys were, but when the girls took off for the bathroom together (as girls are wont to do), I was asked, “So what’s the story with you three?  How do you all know each other?”

I didn’t want to tell them that I had just met them mere hours before, so I obfuscated.  And quite well, if I may say so myself!  “Well, those two know each other from college,” I began.  I continued talking about how they knew each other long enough that my own connection to them was forgotten.  After a few more minutes of increasingly pleasant conversation, I felt an arm seize me from behind.  Sam had come to collect me, “Come back to our table!”

The Thirst Games were a tie.  None of us had gotten a drink purchased for us, alas, but we had managed to enjoy the Games nonetheless.  Shortly thereafter, Jeff showed up and, as they always do when Jeff shows up, shenanigans ensued.  We left the bar later than I had expected, but pleasantly so.  All told, it was an interesting night on the town!

When Worlds Collide

As I sat at the rooftop brewery of an expensive Italian market looking at the peak of the Empire State Building peaking up through the glass roof and thinking of run-on clauses to write later in my blog, I realized what a strange day I was having.  A good strange.

Across from me sat Tyler, one of my best high school buddies, and next to me was Jay, one of my best college buddies.  They had never met, but they were getting along swimmingly now as they spoke of opera, barbershop quartets, and the history of a capella.

I was on a ten hour layover in New York City and I had decided to make the trek into Manhattan for breakfast and lunch with some good friends.  After walking around for an hour or two with Jay and his girlfriend Kasey, we ran into Tyler and found our way to the market/brewery.  I’m sure everyone has introduced a high school friend to a college friend and can relate to how strange that feels–at least initially.  What made it all the stranger was that I was in Manhattan.

I live in Tbilisi.  I hardly ever go to New York, even when I’m in the states (despite what lots of Georgians assume).  So not only was I in New York, but I was mid-tripbacktoGeorgia.  It was surreal wandering amongst the skyscrapers and seeing the Freedom Tower rising up out of Ground Zero knowing that within a few hours I’d be boarding my Turkish airlines flight back to Georgia.

The previous night, I had experienced a similar moment of non-comprehension as Nana drove my sister and me around in DC, regaling us with stories of her youthful adventures to the sea with a pantsless man named Ivan and how she wore a wool suit to an outdoor ball one summer in DC.  Nana’s awesome.

I slouched in the back seat, listening to Nana’s tales and watching CVS and Five Guys roll past.  A strange feeling overcame me as I thought to myself, “How am I here?”  The whole trip felt like an intermission from my (real) Georgian life.

But boy, with intermissions like this, who needs to watch the show?

Lost and Found in Istanbul

With my trip nearing its end, I had one last adventure before returning to Georgia.  I had spent some time in Istanbul on my flight back from Hong Kong, and so I have a still-active Turkish visa.  Boy would that come in handy!

Mallory had tragically left her Kindle on her flight back to Georgia in the beginning of February.  Luckily, she found it!  In the lost and found in the Istanbul Ataturk Airport Domestic Terminal.  She sent me the retrieval information and I told her I’d get it back.

I visited the Turkish Ground Services Desk in the International Arrivals area and they informed me that I was wrong.  “No,” the man insisted, “We cannot bring it to you.  You have to go get it yourself.”

“But I only have an hour and a half before my flight!” I protested.  I would have had longer, but I needed to relax a bit and drink a coffee first.

“That should be enough time!”  The man pointed towards passport control, “Just go through there and then left until you get to the Domestic Terminal.  It’ll be right there waiting for you in the Lost and Found!”  Oh were it only that simple!

I got my Turkish stamps and headed in the direction he had told me.  It turns out the domestic terminal is more than a “three minute walk” from the International terminal.  Or maybe it just felt longer.  When I got to domestic, I found my way upstairs and saw only a lost baggage desk.  I asked the man inside, “Hi.  I lost a kindle on an airplane.  Do you have it?”

“Lost and found,” he offered by way of response.

“…And where is that?”

“Through the exit in the baggage claim section.”

Well, that’ll be a new experience!  I waited by the non-responsive automatic doors (they’re designed to open for one direction, you see!) until they sprang open for some arriving flyers.  I peeped in and asked a pair of security girls, “Lost and found?”

They ushered me in, apparently not minding the suspicious look of my huge, crappy banner in its torn case.  When I arrived at Lost and Found the Turkish man at the desk looked at me quizzically and said, “Istanbul to Tbilisi, you say?  That would be in the International Terminal.”  No way.

Upon my insistence, he checked anyway, and he found it!  Sure enough, Mallory’s pink Kindle was safely ensconced in the Domestic Lost and Found, for some reason.  I scooped it up and signed for it.

“Georgia, huh?  Do you know Georgian?  Rogora khar?” he giggled.  I humored him and he asked again, “Uh…bitcho!  And…gogo!  That’s man and woman!”

“Yes,” I smiled, not wanting to correct him.

I returned to the International Terminal and soon found myself in a long, slow line for passport control.  My time was ticking and I had nothing to do but wait it out.  Finally, my turn came and I ended my brief sojourn into Turkey.  I was legally there for about twenty five minutes.  Not bad!

Addendum

I can’t think of an exciting or interesting way to end this post, but at  3258 words I’ll be impressed if I’ve held your attention this long anyway!  Besides, I should get back to work!

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