It’s been about a zillion years since I started this story, but you might dimly recall when I was deported from Canada, was very nearly eaten by a snake and/or bear as I slept, had breakfast with a retired gangster and met some very nice strangers on a train.
So when we last left me, I was on a train, chugging – finally – into Chicago, $10 richer. After all that, a few hours chatting with the man ensured that the breakup was still on (though he’s a good buddy to this day), and he drove me to the airport.
In the departure lounge, I decided I was a bit peckish, approached a Starbucks-or-Starbucks-like-establishment, can’t remember now – and asked for a raspberry yoghurt. I illustrated this request by helpfully pointing to the raspberry yoghurt in the glass case at the counter. The lady behind the counter gave me that look familiar to any non-American who has ever spoken to an American and said, “whaaat?”
“The raspberry yoghurt please. That one.” I repeated, again pointing at the yoghurt.
Now, I will cheerfully admit that I don’t pronounce raspberry yoghurt like a person from Chicago. We say RAHspberry, in contrast to the American raspBERry, and pronounce the ‘yog’ to rhyme with ‘jog’.
But still. Not only was I pointing at the sodding thing, it was the only yoghurt left in the case, surrounded by pastries and muffins. I may not have been saying raspberry yoghurt the way this lady was used to hearing it, but I clearly wasn’t bloody saying muffin.
“I don’t know what you’re saying,” she shrugged, and turned to serve the next person. As though this was an acceptable outcome of our brief acquaintance.
“WE’RE NOT FINISHED!” I roared.
I had just been dumped. Repeatedly. I was skint, homeless, jobless, boyfriendless, about to leave one country I had been illegally in for three months and return to the one that had deported me. I was not of a mood to be trifled with.
“I. Want. That. Raspberry. Yoghurt.” I spat. I do not know that anyone, in the history of the world, has ever requested a raspberry yoghurt with such intense passion. The woman gave me a look that probably raised the global temperature a degree or two, and turned pointedly to the guy behind me in the queue.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
“Uhh,” he stammered, clearly terrified, as he should be. “I think this lady wants the rasBERry yoh-gurt.”
With what could reasonably be termed bad grace, she pulled the offending yoghurt from the case. “Is this what you wanted?”
Balanced precariously on a dangerous axis between tears, laughter and exploding with rage, I squeaked yes, yanked the yoghurt from her hand and stormed all the way to my gate. At which point I realised that I had not paid for the yoghurt.
Buggered if I was going to slink back there and face the music, I spent the remaining hour until my flight boarded hiding in the bathroom in case the police came and shot me for theft.
The flight to Seattle was uneventful enough, other than the fact that it was 20 minutes late. Not a big deal, or so you’d think. It meant that I when I struggled outside (bear in mind, I was carting every last one of my worldly goods in a massive suitcase which was literally bursting at the seams, a large backpack, and, just for good measure, a small backpack) – I arrived just in time to watch the back the airport bus for which I had a ticket, departing in the direction of Vancouver. I sighed and headed to the taxi rank.
At the Greyhound Bus Station, I was greeted by a young man, for whom – I suspect – hospitality was not a first choice of career. He perked up somewhat when he got to deliver the news that the next bus to Vancouver wouldn’t be departing until 12.30am (three hours from then) and would arrive at around 5am. And also, my suitcase was too heavy. Stunned by the news that my suitcase weighed a bit, I asked for a little further clarification. Apparently the big strong men who load luggage for a living were not covered by insurance to lift up the suitcase that I (a not big, not strong, not man) had carted all over the United States. The solution my good friend the Greyhound man cheerfully offered me was to unload around 15 pounds from the case.
“And where do you suggest I put these 15 pounds?”
“Uhh… I have some garbage bags?”
With my worldly goods now packed securely in a suitcase, a large backpack, a small packback and two garbage bags, I settled down for an interminably long wait for the next bus. I was out of books. This was the days long before Kindles and smart phones, so, for the second time in a few days, I found myself telling my love woes to a group of American strangers.
“‘Ain’t no man worth crying over, honey,” a wizened old lady counselled me. “You’re better off on your own.”
I nodded, and sniffed.
A middle aged man with a long, ratty beard added that if the Boyfriend hadn’t seen what he had on me, he didn’t deserve me. “You deserve freakin’ Prince Charming!” he declared.
“I know,” I agreed enthusiastically, if a little tearfully. “I do!”
“In fact,” he added, “is that Prince Charles of yours single?”
Err… maybe not.
It was around then that I noticed that a number of busses had come and gone, but my companions hadn’t moved. Were they also all waiting for the Vancouver bus, or… ahh. The truth dawned on me. They weren’t waiting for busses. They lived here. They were homeless, and they were… feeling sorry for me. Many years later, that very ex mentioned he was considering a move to Seattle. I advised him to avoid the bus station: he’s not very popular there.
Finally the Vancouver bus pulled up. I dragged – for the last time – my suitcase, large backpack, small packback and two garbage bags to the luggage hold, and bid good bye to the US for the time being. The sun was just peeking over the North Shore mountains as I staggered into the hotel where my family were staying, and fell asleep next to my sister.