A hot cuppa

In Australia (and England, and a few other countries steeped in the Imperialist love of hot tea), any bad situation can be helped, if not fixed, by a nice, hot ‘cuppa’. In fact, it is a common response when a friend bemoans their dilemma to say,”I’ll put the kettle on.” Things start to look up when there is a big mug of tea in your hand.

The term ‘cuppa’ comes from the lazy way we antipodeans say ‘cup of tea’. We say ‘cuppa tea’, and because we shorten as much of our language as possible, over the years it has become ‘cuppa’. I have known since childhood that hot tea is a cure-all, but it was only last year when I learned why tea is such a therapeutic beverage. I knew all about the antioxidants (I don’t live under a rock), but the ‘at ease’ feeling that tea elicits is due to an amino acid called L-Theanine. Tetley tea launched an advertising campaign in 2008 highlighting L-theanine, and on their site have this to say:

Tetley is a natural source of theanine
Since ancient times it has been said that drinking tea brings relaxation. Scientists are now studying the effects of theanine and it is believed that although theanine creates a feeling of relaxation, it doesn’t shut down the brain. So it allows you to be relaxed yet alert at the same time.

Relaxed, yet alert. And isn’t that how you want to feel when your life is in crisis? I should say that I am drinking tea as I write this, and even though I am not in crisis, I do feel relaxed and alert.

I got to thinking about tea a couple of days ago when Ben and I went to a favorite coffee shop close to home (yes, I appreciate the irony). As we walked to the coffee shop in the rain, we passed by two homeless men sitting under an awning, each bundled up against the cold and the wet. I barely glanced at them, but as we stood in line to order our ‘cuppa mud’ (as the sign in Caffe Ladro says), I couldn’t get the men out of my head. I was about to enjoy sitting in the warmth with my best friend drinking a hot cuppa, and they weren’t.

I ordered 2 extra coffees and a couple of giant cookies, and put together a little tray for each of them. I left the coffee shop, and walked quickly through the rain to where they were. “Here,” I said handing them the coffee, “this is for you.” The surprise and then gratitude on their faces broke my heart a little. I walked back to the coffee shop, brushing tears away. As I sat drinking my coffee, my thoughts kept returning to the homeless men.

When I moved here three months ago I was hyper aware of the indigent population, but it soon became ‘normal’ to walk past and not look directly at a homeless person. It bothers me when I do that, though. Every time.

When I go to the supermarket, there is almost always a homeless person standing outside selling Real Change, which is a newspaper dedicated to social change. It sells for $1, and not too long after moving here, I started avoiding the sellers and walking straight past them into the store. For the sake of $1. I’ve stopped doing that. When I go to the store now, I carry the $1 in my pocket, walk up and say ‘hello’, and look the person in the eye. It is a brief exchange, and they are always thankful, but it is mostly selfish on my my part.

You see, I am still job hunting, while I work part-time for my mother. Money is tight at the moment, and I dip into savings more than I would care to, but I am more fortunate than most. I have a beautiful home, I have a bright future and I have love in my life. I can also afford a cuppa at my local coffee shop, so I can certainly spare a dollar once in a while. Those small exchanges I have through the week with people far less fortunate than me remind me to keep my head out of my bottom, and stay positive.

And when the knock-backs sometimes get too much for me, I put the kettle on and sit down with a nice, hot cuppa. It helps, really it does.

An Inconvenienced Truth

I am not a good traveler. There it is: the truth.  In my head I could win the Amazing Race. In reality, the first time we (my imaginary race partner and I) missed a plane I would shed hot, frustrated tears and settle into a pissy mood that would last the whole episode.

Last Sunday I missed my flight to Vegas.

It was not my fault, but a comedy of errors performed by United Airlines. We spent two hours on the tarmac before takeoff from Seattle en route to San Francisco. Then in SF, where at least a third of the plane was connecting to other flights, they told us the wrong gate for the Vegas flight. It was 75 (right next door to the gate where we landed), not 79 (on the other side of the terminal – and a long run with hand luggage).

By the time I realized the airline’s error, I had missed the Vegas flight. When I was informed that I could squeeze onto the next flight, which was in four hours, I was less than delighted. Four hours when you’re flying from Seattle to Vegas is longer than a direct flight takes. Irony tastes even more bitter when you’re faced with airport food rather than a meal cooked by your mother.

I asked for a meal voucher to make up for being inconvenienced. “I wish I could help you, but our airline stopped issuing meal vouchers for delayed passengers last year. Sorry.” I believed that he was sorry, and then I did what any sane and reasonable adult person would do. I cursed under my breath, and then I cried hot, frustrated tears.

As I walked away from the service counter, I wondered how in the hell I was going to fill four hours in stupid, boring , horrible San Francisco airport (to be fair, I would have thought that about any airport under the circumstances). I continued to curse to no one in particular, because cursing is my pressure valve. There are times when it is the only way for me to regain my equilibrium.  I may have looked like a crazy woman wandering the airport muttering to myself with an angry look on my face, but it was not long until the cursing did its job and I felt better.

I fixed my face, bought some more magazines, and braved the airport food court for dinner.

That killed a whole hour.

Skipping ahead to the return flight: different airline, on time, seated in an exit row. Feeling good about getting home to Seattle. Two new magazines to read. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be turning off the cabin lights for take off and the duration of the flight. However, if you would like to continue reading, there is a light above your head.”  No reading light.  Broken.

The man next to me noticed my small predicament, and said he would turn his light on so I could see. He did, and then promptly broke it while trying to angle it towards me. “Oops,” he said as the light went out. “I suppose they don’t move.” It was a sweet gesture.  I stopped the flight attendant and asked if they had a flashlight I could borrow.  “Sorry, no.”  I suppose they need those to be fully charged and working in case there is an emergency more pressing than my broken reading light.

I soon realized, however, that if I leaned all the way forward, resting my head on the seat in front of me, and angled the page towards the aisle, I could make out about a third of the text. It grew tiresome.

We landed early (Hooray). We waited forty minutes for our luggage (Boo!). And as I stood there at 10pm alongside a baggage carousel that remained stagnant, and looked around at other annoyed passengers, I started to question the whole, ‘I am a traveler’ thing.

This brings me back to my opening: I am not a good traveler. Actually, it is just that I hate flying. I have said this before, I know, but the hatred is starting to overshadow the excitement of going somewhere new. The whole flying thing is much better with Ben by my side. He is a great travel buddy. Mainly because he humors me when I behave like this.

hee hee

But also because he is far more laid back about delays and little inconveniences. When we’re delayed and we’re together, we play Yahtzee or Peggle (the world’s greatest electronic pinball game).  He keeps me grounded when we’re grounded.

So all of this begs the question: Am I a bad traveler, or is it just the transit that gets to me? Maybe I am just a bad ‘transiter’.

Once I get to where I am going, I am just as amenable to sleeping in a rustic cabin as a five star hotel. I will gladly climb, hike, swim and cycle my way around the wilderness. I happily drink with locals and share my table with strangers. I love to explore tiny curio shops, galleries and museums in tiny towns. I like to eat, try and experience new things. I equally appreciate the majesty of nature and architecture, and I am all about learning some of the native language.

Phew! I am still a traveler. I just don’t transit so well.

Next post:  When Venice isn’t Venice.