After I resigned from my job at the publisher, I was asked to do a contract gig to help exhibit at a conference (Minimally Invasive Neurological Society) in Mackinac Island, Michigan. What an opportunity!
I wanted to see Michigan because I hadn’t been there since 2007, when I got my Filipino tribal tattoo done by the famous Leo Zulueta who owns Spiral Tattoo in Ann Arbor. Prior to that, I was in Grand Rapids at Camp Miniwanca by the American Youth Foundation in high school. I love that place.
I decided to drive up there because flying would be too costly, and I would have to leave her in St. Louis. Since she would be returning to San Diego soon, leaving her would have been silly.
Also, due to the strict “no extra guests” rules at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac, I booked a room in St. Ignace instead, very close to the water and just as beautiful. I would take the ferry over to the island in the morning.
The first night, we eat at Mackinac Grille, where I have awesome fish boil. I finished that plate!
When we arrive at Mackinac Island, via the Star Line Ferry, we’re not immediately impressed. It smells like horse piss and shit.
I’m stuck in the exhibit for most of the morning and afternoon, but after, we explore the vicinity of the Grand Hotel, which has its own labyrinth, as well as the circumference of the island via a tandem bike.
To try the famous fudge, I get ice cream on the way back to St. Ignace. We have dinner at Driftwood Restaurant and Sports Bar. I go for the seafood pasta, which was delicious.
The next day, after exhibiting, we find the sand dunes on Lake Michigan. We get lost initially, but we are told to keep driving until we see cars on the side of the road. There are no signs. There’s something so freeing about an unofficial beach. The tides were low, so we walked pretty far out into the water. We thoroughly enjoy the afternoon there.
That night, we go shopping for picnic food at a local grocery store. There are fireworks at St. Ignace tonight. At dusk, we take one of our hotel comforters and our food and drinks to the nearest open area by the water. We wait and laugh at our countless adventures.
We head back to St. Louis on Sunday afternoon, after the exhibit gets taken down. I consider a career in sales so I can travel like that. Many of the exhibitors bring their families along and prepare to vacation after work.
Alas, the semester begins in a week. I’m excited and nervous.
We arrive in Chicago by 6pm, about 3 hours behind schedule. From Union Station, we must take the blue line to O’Hare, where our hotel shuttle will take us to Sheration Four Points. Since we will only be in Chicago for one night, we might as well stay comfortably. Besides, it was a good deal. Nothing downtown was available for less than $300 that night because of Lollapalooza in Grant Park. This is our second time in Chicago together, and the festival was going on then, too. It’s an anniversary of sorts because we had just begun seeing each other last year at this time.
We have a “full-circle” conversation on the blue line, assessing where we are now, emotionally, compared to then, when we were both freshly broken from long-term relationships. It’s been a whirlwind of a year that included healing old wounds, denying love, damaging our livers, touring Southeast Asia, maintaining communication internationally, surviving car wrecks, graduating college, transitioning into new careers, moving across the country. It feels like a script of a movie I need to write one day.
At around 10p, we take the blue line back to the Loop for food and drinks. We are not surprised by the man in a plastic bag, asleep. And back of the train, a gay male couple are comfortably in each other’s arms. I love Chicago for its culture and 24-hour trains.
We go to Cactus Bar and Grill on South Wells. Their beer of the month is Purple Haze by Abita, which I’d first tried in Syracuse last year. We get some drinks at Bennigan’s. After, we walk a while to the lakefront. Because of mosquitoes, we decide to head back to the hotel.
We ask for a late checkout the next morning. We both wear dresses: green (mine) and plaid (hers). The shuttle driver seems extra nice.
Once we get to Union Station, I’m on a hunt for Italian Beef to take to my stepfather in St. Louis. Luke’s is about half a mile away, so I run, dress and flats and all. I grab cheese pizzas and pink lemonades for us since we haven’t eaten.
The ride to St. Louis was quick. We played Plants vs Zombies, which is incredibly addicting. As soon as we arrive around 11pm, my parents ask: “You guys wanna go to a party?”
“We have to pick up 3 other people.”
There are already 6 people in my mother’s 5-seater SUV. We head downtown to pick up their “friends” who are Filipino immigrants in their 20s. Soon, we are cramped in a small SUV, heading to North County, where food, people, and karaoke await us. Welcome home.
After running errands–Walmart to purchase a blanket and the post office to mail my textbooks to St. Louis–I arrive to board very late, by my standards. The line is long, and an attendant had already distributed seat numbers. I’ll be on this train for two days, so I hope to get a window seat. My gadgets and I need to be adjacent to the electrical outlet.
As I approached the coach car, I request a window seat, but the attendant insists that he cannot give the seats out of order. Thankfully, my neighbor, a Hispanic woman from Yuma, lets me have the window seat. She, too, only stayed in NOLA overnight. She did not even bring a bag.
“What do you do?” she asks.
“I’m an adjunct professor,” I say, which surprises her and prompts additional questions.
She is in social work, she says, and thinking about going into education. She talks about her Guatemalan boyfriend, and the train departs.
There are two white lesbians across the aisle who whisper and snicker. There is a French family of three, and the father needs a bath. He sits next to a black man who has trouble with flatulence. This leg of the trip will be long.
After a stunning view across the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi, I catch up on sleep for 5 hours. We arrive in Houston early and stay for 1 hour. I appreciate the nightview of downtown Houston with a bright moon.
It occurs to me that I should have contacted my brother or father, but they did not know I was passing through Houston or traveling this summer. According to my itinerary, I did not have enough time to stop here anyway. (I did not feel bad about this since I’d just seen both of them twice this year, which is more than the usual.)
We continue on board the Sunset Limited, and I write poems until late into the night. I intend to finish my second manuscript–a series of disjunctive, non-linear poems–before I arrive in Los Angeles where I would meet my significant other and continue the trip northward. I am at poem 25 of 30. Aside from the man of flatulence in front of me, I am as happy as can be.
For breakfast the next day, I have a banana, an apple, and mixed nuts. My neighbor–the woman from Yuma–stayed in San Antonio, although her ticket was for Tucson. We pass a ravine:
It was windy, beautiful, breathtaking, short-lived–exactly what life should be. (Those are my neighbors who wished to get across as quickly as possible.)
The landscape for hours is amazing: vast blue sky, green horizon, hills, wildflowers, prickly pear atop cacti, which reminds me of the best margaritas I’ve ever had at a now-closed Delmar Loop bar, Mirasol, in St. Louis.
I read about a town called Langtry, Texas, which was named after a saloon keeper’s love: a British actress he had never met. I think about our obsessions and their legacies.
Somewhere near Mexico, I have no cellphone service for three hours. There is something freeing about disconnection, a theme I have previously visited in life and in poems. I’m sure I will again.
Behind me, a 4-year-old child reads a story about Harriet Tubman to her grandmother. A spelling lesson follows after.
We stop in Alpine, Texas. There is no platform for us to step on, only rocks. Not much is here but sun and distant hills.
New Mexico greets us with a haze of gold, sunset, rain, mesas. Cornflower blue sky. Cerulean storm clouds.
The Arizona desert disappears into the blackness of the night. I want to see it during the day. We stop in Tucson, and a friend brings by a chicken sandwich from McDonald’s. I find out that Mountain Standard Time is really Central Time in the spring.
Another night passes, and the morning brings another adventure.
Underneath my computer monitor is a 2-year-old acorn. I picked it up on the day I began this desk job as an assistant editor at a medical publisher. I’m not sure why. I don’t have any special attachment to acorns or squirrels. Besides my antibacterial gel, a box of tissue, and snacks, there are no other personal items around my half-cubicle.
I keep it for no particular reason. It has since turned brown, taking only a week. The nut is separated from its base, and whenever I accidentally knock my monitor, the acorn rolls, not unlike how I imagine my head would if I let the tedium of the days get to me.
Perhaps, it’s one reminder to stay calm when my co-workers, who are not at all bad or obnoxious at every moment, seem to congregate around the printer by my desk and divulge every banal detail of their weekend, including but not limited to how the rain flooded the basement—clearly a hyperbole, how the doggies just looked so cute playing at the park, or what financial mishap now further ruined her life.
I could be an acorn, dead with no means of escape or chances of propagating my legacy, my seed, or even quell the perpetual hunger of some transient squirrel. I serve no other purpose but to sit beneath a computer monitor on some dusty desk, next to a stapler.
Maybe that is what a 9-to-5 feels like. Dead or dying. A poet colleague recently sent an email: “I started to die a little each day,” as she tells me about her 9-to-5 before she opted for a life of adjuncting.
I’d been teaching part-time at a community college for a year while working at the publisher, intending to eventually teach full-time so I could escape the silent subversion of the office.
All day, my co-workers toggle back and forth between complaints about how things aren’t done properly at the company and their personal lives, neither of which I’m hardly ever interested. Because I usually try to stay out of office politics and seldom ask questions about goings-on in their lives, my co-workers have described my nature as “detached.” It’s my way of coping and not getting eaten up by the environment while I devise plans to escape.
And my escape plans were gradual: a five-day weekend here and there, three weeks in Southeast Asia in March. Then, upon confirming five classes to teach at two universities in the upcoming fall semester, I wrote my resignation letter, indicating my intention to leave in two weeks. My immediate supervisor was initially flustered as we now have to quickly transition all of my responsibilities to other team members, but she is supportive about pursuing my dreams. She and I had sporadic conversations about having the guts to make such a decision. Being the overworked daughter-in-law of the CEO, she’s felt the same dilemma of staying at a place for the sake of security.
The CEO indicates that my resignation letter was the best one she’s ever received. Once a teacher herself, she is genuinely sad to see me go but supports my decision. Last year, when I began to teach part-time at the community college, I had to drastically change my schedule at the office. I worked 7a-6p M/W and 7a-12p T/R, 8-4 on F. My boss said then, “If it was anybody else, I would have just let [him/her] go or reduced [his/her] status to part-time.” She had, just a month before, fired a project manager. Perhaps it is my work ethic, diversity of skills, or courage that helped me receive such an accommodation. Perhaps it was my low pay.
Regardless, my plan is set. My final escape includes a month-long plan to circumnavigate the country by train (Amtrak).
The goodbyes are bittersweet. I am humbled by a going-away party. My bosses, who hardly ever participate, bought gifts: maps of the US and the Pacific Northwest, a photo album, journals. There are bags of other thoughtful gifts from the rest: traveling paraphernalia, books, more maps, cookies, a lavish cake with evergreen trees and a train.
I will, despite my curmudgeon-like demeanor at times, miss their company. We had a lot of laughs and memories built around camaraderie and team work. There was a certain feeling of warmth in being able to see their faces every morning. Even in routine, I did find comfort, security, and some version of happiness. They had seen me through some rough times, as I had gone through a rather emotionally-jarring break-up the previous year. I received hugs, flowers, and mini-consoling sessions in our kitchenette. They had even seen me transition into the next whirlwind of a relationship. I did, then, also divulge plenty of inane details about my life, in which they seemed interested to hear. I’m eternally grateful.
While I may have more freedom and responsibility in the fall, I will essentially be alone. I’ll have an immensely challenging workload with 5 classes (with 3 preps) and 80 writing students. As I submit myself to an unglamorous life of low pay and no health insurance, I’ll perhaps turn more into that decaying acorn, now placed in my back-pack, which I am taking with me through my travels this summer. Maybe I’ll plant the acorn somewhere and see if life begins somehow.