Monday, July 5, 2010

Damn you Yul Brynner!! OR If you give a Maltese a euro, he'll want a felony to go with it

Damn you, Yul Brynner!! OR If you give a Maltese a euro, he'll want a felony to go with it.

I’m not particularly good at waking up to my alarm, certainly not the way I used to be. There was a solid decade when the *breep!* *breep!* *breep!* of the clock was enough trigger my auto-pilot: out of bed, through the bathroom routine, belt to match shoes, breakfast in mouth, and out the door toward whatever building I was obligated by law to sit and learn in. Later it was construction that called me from bed, then teaching, then surgical operating rooms. Since returning to the call of school-as-pupil, I’ve found those days of infallibly executed, semi-conscious mornings are over and I am now one of the coffee-craving, red-eyed, zombie-stumblers of the AM. An adult.

Knowing this fact about myself, the more generous of you, my audience, might think I possessed the corollary wherewithal to not schedule my departure from Malta in such a way as to involve a 4:45AM cab ride to the airport for my flight home… Alas the time taken to tack these words to this obscure corner of the internet suggests otherwise. As you’ve likely deduced, this is a story about the time I did not wake up in time for my cab. My plan- foregoing sleep entirely on the theory that one cannot oversleep if one never goes to sleep- was a disaster. I blame Yul Brynner.

We’ll skip up to the part where I’m awake and in a panic about whether I have to resign myself to a life of street-busking to save up enough money for a second transcontinental plan ticket in just a moment, but first a few key pieces of information to frame your picture of me conked out on a Maltese couch with two fingers in an open jar of nutella: I was scheduled to leave Malta the morning after the US/England game of the World Cup. I went hoarse cheering Tim Howard to his uncontested Man of the Match honors at an Irish pub that was in severe violation of its maximum occupancy limits. It was sometime just after Clint Dempsey’s lucky 25 yard left foot strike in the 40th minute, and before my third Pint, that I devised the idea of staying awake all night to ensure arrival at the airport. When I got back to the apartment to finish arranging my things, I discovered my roommate had left me a jar of nutella. Needless to say, the expression on my face whilst sleeping was one of extreme satisfaction.

Ok, so at this point, go ahead and imagine an absurd montage of efforts to keep myself awake. Go nuts, make me slap myself, take a cold shower, do jumping jacks. Whatever. Just make sure that you end it somewhere around 3:13AM. Good? Ok, so there I am, 3:13AM, and I get this idea that, in hindsight clearly wasn’t a keeper, but when your head is clouded with sleepiness, well, it’s amazing how rational and reasonable laying down to watch a movie seems.

iTunes recommended that I watch The Magnificent Seven. “Why not?” I thought, “Yul Brynner plays a great a bald sovereign of a strange and vaguely middle eastern people, I bet he plays a really compelling cowboy too!” So I rented the movie which, critical claim aside, is not exactly an attention-grabbing thriller...5:50AM is my next conscious moment.

Big yawn. Another finger scoop of nutella (What? I didn’t want to leave dishes). I looked at my watch. “Damn it’s early,” I thought. WAIT! NO IT’S NOT. I’M LATE, I’M LATE FOR A VERY IMPORTANT DATE! Like the White Rabbit of Wonderland, I clutched my clock and ran those classic tiny, speedy circles of futile self-admonishment. I said some things I can't ever repeat for sake of karma, grabbed my bags and rushed for the door, down the stairs, to the street, and up to the only two people on the street, a pair of Maltese out on either an early morning walk or making their way home, finally, from watching World Cup highlights at the bar. I stammered something maniacal and vague about my predicament, thrust out my hand and demanded a cell phone. They didn’t admit to knowing English and scurried across the street. I chose my next best option to mugging these strangers for temporary use of the phone they may or may not have to call a cab (I did not have a cab number anyway): lunging out into the street, waving my arms to stop on-coming traffic, of which there was almost none. What?! I’m desperate, half-awake, and not entirely sure if this is still part of the dream or really the ridiculous gauntlet I have to beat to get back to the Red, White, and Blue. So there I am, in a squat position, with my arms out in front of me like I’m bracing to stop a train, waiting for a car, any car, to make its lazy way down the switchbacks to where I’m standing, a luggage burdened wacko.

The car finally appears at the top of the hill, gets to me, stops, and the driver sticks his head out the window preparing to shout some angry Maltese comments at me which I assume translate into:

“For the love of Horus’ bushy-browed eye! What the hell are you doing?!”

While this Maltese man looked on in bewilderment, I wrenched open the rear door of his and start cramming my suitcases in.

“I have like 100 Euro, drive me to the airport now! It’s an emergency!!”

“What?! You can’t just go tossing your suitcases into my car and expe- did you say 100 euro?....Come On!!”

So let’s review: If you ever discover that you’ve overslept and missed your cab to the Malta airport by an hour, there is only one appropriate response: run out into the street and attempt to block on-coming traffic with your luggage and body. Someone will eventually pull over to shout insults at you, but will be brought to a flummoxed speechless state when they see you are cramming your luggage into the backseat of their car and shoving a fistful of euros in their face. This person will recognize your need and then drive you at a disturbingly high rate of speed to the airport while blaring some truly bizarre accordion-techno Euro-pop. What is it with these people and accordion techno? The driver’s sobriety will become a concern to you when you notice the several empty beer cans in the car and recall that all of Malta was in bars drinking and cheering the English to a draw against the U.S.

Speeding will become extremely concerning to you when you see a police vehicle the driver apparently does not. Malta’s lax traffic law enforcement, however, will bring your adrenaline levels back down to a “chased by bulls” level, or at least make you clear-headed enough to realize how ridiculously trusting you are being of probably the single last person on the island deserving of your trust right now. When your speeding driver somehow squeaks between an Oscarmeyermobile (recall, the buses look like domesticated versions of the hotdog-mobile) and another car on a two lane road, you will become the most devoutly religious person on the island, but your inability to make more than guttural sounds of fear will cause your prayers to be heard by the lesser-known god, Grundlemebadesh. Fortunately, unbeknownst to most, Grundlemebadesh is the god of suspending the laws of physics, and please just turn off the “one particle in a one place at a time” rule for the love of nutella hazlenut spread (You’re religious now and that’s as close to an expletive as you’re willing to get given the size of the miracle you just offered to commit all those animal sacrifices for)!

And then before I knew it, we were at the airport, the accordion techno song still playing. It's possible that I blacked out for a portion of the ride. No cop sirens behind us, no reason to suspect that I died on the road and am a ghost who just hasn’t had the Bruce Willis/M. Night Shamalamadingdong moment of realization. I hurled euros at the driver, snagged my bags from the backseat, thanked Grundlemebadesh for the miracle and charged into the airport terminal and past every person in line and up to the counter. Small children and elderly couples splayed out on the tiled floor in a wake behind me, the ones in front of me soaring cartoonishly while I used my suitcase like a cattle-guard. The woman at the counter, clearly not impressed by my American accent or frazzled bed hair or nutella smeared face told me to go to the back of the line, that my flight had been delayed, and that I should be ashamed of myself. I turned around and apologized to all the innocents I maimed in my panic. Mothers and fathers shook their heads disapprovingly as they brushed off their kids and/or kissed various booboos. The term "osteoporosis" seemed to be mumbled in pain by a few of the elderly, but since it wasn’t English, they might have been commenting about how excited they were to get past the check-in counter and to the Cinnebon inside.

Oh international travel, how you teach us about ourselves.