4:45AM. Waiting patiently in line at the baggage check for Hawaiian Airlines at the Sacramento International Airport, and an old lady wearing a floral uniform with a vibrant tropical flower in her hair and a distinct scowl on her face clocks into work and beckons me to approach the counter. She waits for me to speak first, then cuts me off and just asks me for my I.D. I check my suitcase and my guitar (hoping she doesn’t carelessly fling it onto the belt like the other bags) and she points me to the T.S.A. “Mahalo,” she mutters through a yawn. As I jump my way through the hoops of a modern transpacific flight, I hear that phrase uttered repeatedly, yet hardly ever with an ounce of enthusiasm. “Will passenger Alana Dominguez please approach the boarding station? Mahalo.” “Please check to see if your carry-on baggage fits the proper size dimensions. Mahalo.” “In the event of an emergency crash landing, life vests are located under your seat. Mahalo.” In this strange world I find myself, phrases of welcoming carry a hint of disdain, attire of relaxation ironically signals career dissatisfaction, and the deep-seated sense of wonder, excitement, and even fear of watching the ground fall away as this hunk of metal ascends to its cruising altitude of 36,000 feet is usurped by a tablet you can rent for 17 dollars. Mahalo.
Except, I’m not going to Hawaii. I’m not going to check into the Hilton for 10 days to lounge on a crowded beach, more stressed about trying to enjoy this vacation than I would have been if I just kept going to work. I’m not terribly interested in the culturally-appropriated images of jolly heavyset Hawaiian men playing the ukulele at a luau lighting up the overhead screens. Amidst the anxious mothers, apathetic fathers, and uncomfortable preteens lining the walls of this 747, there I sit, with a different destination on my mind: University of Auckland, New Zealand. A five-hour flight, a five-hour layover, another nine-hour flight, and I’ll be there. I’ve been preparing for this day for months, and now I’m here, on my bridge between two worlds, watching the patchy swaths of clouds stretch out like islands into the horizon, not quite sure how to feel or what to expect. Traveling can be a veritable Purgatory. I’m occupying my wifi-less time with a book called “Why Does the World Exist?,” if not for just the intellectual substance but also because (as you can see) at times I demonstrate a flair for the dramatic. When I arrive, I’ll be farther from home than I’ve ever been- two hemispheres and many time zones away, and I’ll be all alone as I try to sleep in the Auckland airport before I meet the orientation crew at 7am. I’m picturing their warm, welcoming, well-rested faces and a new phrase comes to mind, perhaps one that, to me, seems a bit more genuine.
Kia Ora, New Zealand.