Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Numbers of 2015

At the end of the year I often look at numbers and here is a compilation of my numbers of 2015. Some will be relevant, others irrelevant, but nonetheless here we go:

# of presentations: 115 (701 for career)
# of people presented to: 11,756 (61,525 for career)
# of counties presented in Missouri (see map)

# of Canadians annoyed by my music this year: 0 (running joke)
#of days away from home: 189
# of miles driven for presentations and flagging: 13,075
# of airline miles credited flown this year: 75,178
# of countries visited (airport layovers count): 6
# of soccer refs seen hit in the head with a ball (number is a link): 1
# of views on Asperger Insights season 1: 245,757! (season 2 will be filmed next month)
# of presentations cancelled due to illness: 2 (first two of my career)
# of tornadoes driven through 1
# of books reviewed: 1... it was my own
Name of most read blog of year: A Crash in Huntsville
# of amazing people met this year: too many to count... You know who you are
# of books written: 60% of The Aspie Traveler (just two segments to go!)
# of awesome pictures with dogs: too many but here's one
# of art museums visited: 3
# of country clubs joined: 1 (it was just $59)
# of people I hope to present to next year: 20,000... Let's do this!


Monday, December 28, 2015

To Acclimate Back

It's my 1,300th blog post today and yet I don't feel this sense of celebration that I typically do. I returned home from Norway eight days ago and my brain is still deep in reflection about the trip, the previous trips, my future trip, and what it all means. Also, as the year comes to a close, I'm having an extremely difficult time weighing this year and whether or not 2015 was a good year or a bad year.

This year, as I stated at the beginning of the year, was going to be an important one. I hoped it would be the year that I break out but many times it was more akin to 2005 which was my most miserable year that I've had. And yet, despite all the setbacks this year, just like 2005, the things that happened inspired a book at my travel book is now 60% complete at 62,000 words.

The things on my brain are the things, right now, that are setting me back are the constant thoughts that go through my brain. I'm not sure if this is 100% related to Asperger's, I think it is, but it's the thoughts that I, "need to do more" and that, "I'm not good enough." Good enough for what? I don't know, I don't have that answer. If I were to do my classic full year in review event there would be event after event of amazing stories and the places I've been and the people I talked to but what my brain sees are the downs of the year.

Yes, I think this is related fully to Asperger's because I've had conversations with others that experience this same trait of no matter how much things went amazingly well the only thing that will matter will be that one small seemingly irrelevant detail that didn't really matter and yet that one detail will become the world. For some reason this has been with me the entire time after I've returned and getting acclimated back to being in my home country just hasn't happened yet.

Could it be exhaustion? Possibly. Each year I impress myself on just how much I can push myself. Less than 12 hours after landing back home from Norway I drove 13 hours to go to my mom's in Nebraska for Christmas. This, after the trip, the events I've flagged, the presentation marathons; I mean, being exhausted is only natural and yet, since it's been three weeks since I presented, I feel this uneasy restlessness that I need to be doing more.

I feel this is fitting that this mixture of emotions is where I'm at on my 1,300th post because this is exactly where I'm at right now at this point in time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Aspie Traveler Norway: A Journey's End, Thoughts From 32,000 Feet

It’s coming to an end and I’m reminded of this each time I turn my head and look out the window at see the Atlantic beneath me. I was a bit emotional after my previous two trips, Amsterdam because I traveled alone for the first time and Tokyo because I simply survived and navigated the metro jungle, but as I look out on the horizon I’m fighting back tears because this trip was different; this trip I felt a connection and felt a great sense of normality in Norway.

            Everything I had been told and read about Norwegians had been wrong. I had previously learned that they were unwelcoming and almost aloof but I didn’t experience that at all. The conversations I had with the waitresses covered this topic and they said Norway has had to adapt in the past five years and the citizens are much more welcoming and much more global than of decades passed. While that may be so what brought upon this sense of normality? I don’t use the word “normal” when talking about myself all that often so why was this trip different? Is it simply because I’m better at traveling, or that I can operate under the alias of simply being an American far away from home? I won’t deny that each of those sentences contains a bit of truth but I had two multi-hour long conversations on this trip. One was about Asperger’s but the other had nothing to do with the subject and was open ended. Per my previous beliefs this would be impossible so how did this happen?

            I go back to what I had previously be told about Norwegians as there is still a hint of shyness, but I too am shy. Interactions will happen but not in the same way they do in America. This may go to the fact that there is that bit of alias factor in simply being an American far away from home, but no, I believe there’s more to this and I believe it to be in the language.

            When it comes to the Norwegian language I know nothing. I don’t know a single word and, but I only encountered one Norwegian that didn’t speak English so there was never an impossible communication gap experienced. However, since English isn’t their primary language the words spoken are direct and to the point. There isn’t fluff, or duel meanings, what is spoken is spoken and it’s easy to understand where one stands on the social scoreboard side of things whereas in America passive aggressiveness, sarcasm, non-literal phrases, abstract metaphors (I’m guilty of those) and knowing all those around may or not use any of the previous things listed at any point in time creates a high level of social anxiety. Now, granted, maybe this exists in the English use or Norwegians, but I didn’t encounter that so I can’t register that.

            Secondly, a repeating writing theme of this trip has been, not having things expected of me because of the language barrier. Yes, most Norwegians speak English but when they realize that you don’t speak the language it’s as if their expectations of you drop just a bit. This was much more obvious and sudden in Tokyo as I don’t look like I’m from there but I could pass for Norwegian with being blond and many times there was a look of surprise when I told a person that, “I’m not from here.” Now here’s the thing I ponder; since I knew expectations were lower did that lower my anxiety of social situations and if anxiety is lower does this increase the ability and possibility for growth because I’m not overwhelmed by fear?

            To use a main concept in my presentation and second book I also go to my “cement theory” in that early intervention is important. Now what does this have to do with The Aspie Traveler? Cement Theory and Film Theory (whatever happens first always has to happen) go together and being completely removed from everything I know and also having a lesser amount of social anxiety has, it would seem, increase my ability for growth. It’s hard for one to measure growth, it really is because it’s often in such minute ways that one doesn’t notice, but I don’t think there’s any arguing just from the words I’ve used on this trip such as, “normal” and, “wanting to be a part of the world” that I haven’t used before gives credence to the fact that there is something to this. When I am completely removed from my routine I am capable of growth.

            Another thing I’ve learned is my ability to adapt. Adapting and Asperger’s aren’t two words used commonly but it’s one thing to adapt to changes within one’s environment and it’s another thing to adapt when everything has changed and it’s come to a point that I enjoy this complete change with these trips and that’s one of the sad things when I leave because I will never get to experience the first time again. I can return to Oslo, and I very much intend on doing so, but I won’t have that same sense of awe leaving the plane for the first time, wondering the process to get to the hotel, and the senses of sight and smell that are triggered when entering a new city for the first time. Yes, I can go back, but I’ve got this imprint now in the wet cement and I’ll have routines that developed from my first.

            While on the topic of adapting this is one thing I had to do on this trip. Oslo is an expensive city and if you read blogs that state, “most travelers wait until their 60’s to travel there” there’s a reason for it. I travel on a slim budget and if not for the help I got from a gofundme project I doubt this trip would’ve happened but furthermore once on the ground Oslo is, as I said, expensive. A Coke, with the exchange rates, $4! I’m thankful I brought protein bars so I could minimize my meals. It was vitally important to have a hotel that had a free breakfast because if one ate a lot and had a few protein bars to tide over for lunch and a pizza for dinner the day could be as cheap as $20. If one ate traditional meals and breakfast was charged it’d be easy to hit triple figures in a day. Yes, Oslo is that expensive if one isn’t careful.

            I still can’t believe this trip is over. I’ve never wanted a trip to continue more than this one. If there’s one slight silver lining it’s that the fourth trip of this series is less than a month and at the airport I exchanged my Norwegian Crowns for Euros which will be the currency of where I’m going next. However, that location isn’t in Europe but I am excited for that trip, but still the trip to Norway, technically, has several hours left as I’m still in the air.

            You might ask me what my biggest takeaway from this trip is and it is without a doubt to travel! I implore you to! I know it’s expensive, but if you’re deciding between a new television or travel take the option to go somewhere new. Or even travel within your own country, but travel someplace unknown. I know, for myself, I never knew I had the strength I actually do. Now I’m not saying go to the extreme as I have in traveling with minimal research knowing no one and not going with a group. For most this would be bordering on the lines of reckless, but this is what I needed when I did my Amsterdam trip and I now know I’m capable of these trips. It’s been within these trips that I’ve grown and with each trip I grew more in the last and in this one I felt a connection with the city, the people, and the country. I have the utmost respect for those that live in such harsh conditions as those that live in some parts of Norway do.

            When the plane lands and I’m back home it will finally sink in. Of course, though, home is indeed home. The fears, the anxieties that I experience on a daily basis will be there, but so too are the experiences I had in Norway. I ventured further north than most ever will, I handled a potentially catastrophic event with a scary level of tact and poise. Whereas with Amsterdam I went to prove that I could simply make it I now have a firm conviction I am capable of things I never dreamed. The normality of the tenth night at the restaurant will be with me forever and if you would’ve told me I’d be able to talk to two people in a casual manner that way a year ago I’d have scoffed at you and I would’ve said, “Never!” but it happened.

            There will be two more trips in this series and the next one will see a little bit more independence as the plan is now to rent a car. Will this add to the experience? What will I encounter? Will I once again be able to adjust to a place I know nothing about? I’m going to miss Norway and I hope to go there as a true tourist next time, but I’m excited at what lies ahead. There’s something to this relocation theory and if I continue this growth through these trips there’s no telling where the future will go for me, but wherever it is I’m excited!


Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Aspie Traveler Norway Day 10: The Final Day

Waking up wasn’t the happiest of occasions as I knew this was it; this was the last day and I was already mourning the next morning when I would be on a plane headed home. Oslo, and Norway, had become to feel like home for reasons I’m still trying to figure out.

I had a walk planned for the day as well as attending a Christmas concert at the opera house in the evening, but first would be my last hotel breakfast and I cherished every bite. I know I’ve mentioned breakfast each day, but there really is no comparison to a US chain hotel where, if you’re lucky, you’ll get milk that hasn’t soured and a make your own waffle machine, but in Europe there’s a true spread of food with meats, chesses, eggs, croissants, and a make your own yogurt parfait section. Which, with all the other meals, I finished it off with a cup of hot chocolate and as I finished the cup, a tear fell down my eye because that was it, the next breakfast I would be having would not be this wonderful routine I had fallen into.

            The walk began shortly after nine which it was Saturday in Oslo and as I took to the sidewalks the city was just starting to awake. It was much warmer than Hammerfest and the temps were in the 40’s which actually felt summerlike hot to me. It was a cloudy and gray day which made my mood all the more sour.   

            My destination on this walk was the giant park to the west of me that I can’t remember the name, nor did I write it down in my journal, but it’s famous for its sculptures. This park was two miles away and this would allow for a multi-hour walk to cap off my excursions in Oslo. Many people would probably sign up for tours, or other touristy things, but what I’ve tried to do with these trips is to immerse myself the best by not doing the touristy things but rather experience the surroundings on my own. Maybe I’ve missed out on some things, as I realized I probably should’ve gone on the toboggan run on the nearby mountain when I saw an advertisement for it, but these thoughts went away as I saw a familiar scene.

            Many of the roads in Oslo are narrow and there was a car that was having a rather difficult time performing the art of parallel parking. The wife got out of the car and started to try and give hand gestures to the man who, as known the world over when it comes to driving, wasn’t really listening or looking at her at all and he was going to do it himself. A few minutes went by and the car went back and forth and back again and always the car was partially outside the allotted lines. A small crowd was now forming watching this and the wife was now irate and walked around the car and somewhat shouted which led the man to get out of the car and she got in and on the first time the car was perfectly parked. The crowd applauded much to the dismay of the man who then quickly went inside the house obviously with a bruised ego.

            After witnessing the parking fun I continued my walk to the west and was now having a hard time walking as the ice walks, ahem, I mean sidewalks were fully iced over. The locals were running and jogging on them as you’d see an American run on a trail in the summertime with ease while I was taking it one step at a time, both arms extended, prepared for a nasty fall.

The icing got worse and as I got to Frogner Arena there was an older gentleman walking in a direct collision course to me. My internal alert systems were still on hyper-alert mode from the events two days prior and I tried to veer another direction but this parking lot had at least an inch of ice on it and I was in no state to make any sudden moves or changes in direction. It was rather abysmal to be so pathetic at this walking on ice while everyone else did it with ease. Anyway, when the man approached he said something in Norwegian which I told him, “I don’t speak Norwegian, I’m sorry” and he instantly switched over to English and said, “ah, an American; I’m sure your lawyers would love this parking lot because it’s a liability disaster. Someone should’ve told this arena the ice rink is supposed to be on the inside, not the outside” to which he chuckled as did I and he wished me luck on my walk if I were headed the way he had come because it was, “surely a deathtrap” he said. Lovely.

            About this time a soupy fog descended upon Oslo and while not great for photos or perhaps a mood this was exactly what I envisioned Oslo in the winter time. The air now, however, was really fresh and while the fog wasn’t that thick I almost became proverbially lost in it as I was enthralled by the atmosphere of it all.

The park, while it did have amazing pieces of art, didn’t do much for me as I was more concentrated on not falling and cracking my skull open. I’m sure in the summertime it would’ve provided an amazing view and would’ve been one of the highlights, but I’m just thankful I survived the park.

            I did have a thought as I reached the end point of how far I wanted to walk and as I turned back to walk to the hotel it was now time to put things in perspective because here I was, completing my third journey, third! I still can’t believe I’ve done one but I made it to Hammerfest, and survived Hammerfest, and now on day ten my journey in Norway was about to be complete. This made me think about life and the rigidness I’ve lived with. For many years in my 20’s I didn’t socialize outside of the bowling leagues I bowled on and didn’t leave the house. My social anxiety was high and my social confidence was flat-lined. Somehow, living through that for many years, I came out of it and as I exited the park I thought that maybe I’m just an extremely late bloomer but I’m thankful that I am because I’m part of this wonderful world and with that thought, with that single thought, my trepidations about the world and the potential random/mean event went away because I wanted to see more of the world and meet more of the people in it.

            After the four miles of walking I got back to the hotel and I was exhausted and I think any person would be after the month I had had. It truly was planes, more planes, trains, and even more trains, and plenty of hours in automobiles and now my body told me it was time to rest. I decided to turn on television for the first time and on all the local channels you could watch skiing. It was all skiing all the time from women’s slalom, to men’s downhill, to a cross country event. This was a big contrast to what type of sports you’d see on network tv on the weekend in the US.

When 4PM came I went to the hotel restaurant for my last meal in Norway and what better choice than their amazing pizza. The waitress which had been my waitress greeted me with a smile and it was bittersweet because I knew this place, the smell of the pizza cooking, and having this wonderful waitress were coming to an end. As the meal ended I told her I might come back after the concert for some water.

            The concert was at the opera house and as it began I had a thought going back to one of the early thoughts on this about language and those around me not expecting anything because I don’t speak the language. This thought resounded loudly, about as loud as the opera singers belted out songs I knew, but only the melody as the words were in Norwegian and this was a great concept to point out as to what the social aspect of a person with Asperger’s may deal with.

            So, social situations can be confusing for those on the autism spectrum but there may be a bit of grasping of what is going on. This was like knowing the melody without knowing the words and then, all of a sudden, a song came up in English and took me a few moments to grasp at what had just happened because I knew what I was hearing but because of the sudden change I had to process whether or not it was actually English and then, the very next song, it was back to Norwegian. I don’t know if I’ve experienced a better example firsthand on what the social difficulties can be like. When I knew I couldn’t understand the words I was just a mere observer but when English came up I my attentiveness increased tenfold and I knew I could understand but then the rules changed once again and I awaited the next moment when I would fully understand what was going on.

            After the concert I may the lonely journey back to the hotel. There were others about, it was Saturday night after all, but my walk was one of sorrow as the next time I’d be on this street I’d be walking the other way to Oslo Central Station to catch a train to the airport. On this walk I made sure to note each street, the stores, the countless hair salons that are in Oslo, and finally I got back to the hotel. It was 7:45 and I figured I’d pop into the restaurant for a quick glass of water and retire early.

            The waitress that I talked to once again smiled greatly and I stood at the counter and then she and her colleague chatted with me and we talked about my experience in Hammerfest, the differences between Norway and American hotel breakfasts, geography, places we’d like to see and it was all so very… normal.

            The minutes went to an hour then two and still we chatted away. An event like this, well, you wouldn’t see me talking to any one like this at home and I thought back to my thought I had when I left the park. Am I just a late bloomer and am I capable of things I thought impossible. In my previous books I use the phrasing, “never will be able…” and, “will always be impossible…” but I now wonder if this is the truth. I’ve done more things this year than I ever thought I’d be capable of and while most of these were within the realm of travel and that being the state of travel (i.e. simply being able to go to Japan by myself) I have to wonder if the next stride will be my ability to socialize because, according to the waitresses, I’m not shy at all and I had to put on a convincing argument that even a lawyer would be proud of to prove my shyness.

            The primary waitress that I had spoken to for the week had to go to another job and it was now almost 10… 10! Over two hours I had been in conversation and this made the second time on this trip I had an extended conversation with a person, the other being with an employee at the Hammerfest hotel. This simply increased my belief something special was happening to me and that this project has been more than worth the price tag. Anyway, the place was about to closed so I said goodbye to the other waitress and went to my room and closed the door for what would be the last time. I can only hope that this shutting of the door as my journey to Norway comes to a close isn’t an end of this obvious growth I’ve experienced but just the beginning.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Aspie Traveler Day 9: The Day After

How does one simply move on after the events of yesterday? I know I had a hard time and sleep did not come easily. For the first time in my stay here I was up past midnight and adrenaline was still pumping through my system. I did allow myself some satisfaction in the way I handled myself and the way I didn't externally panic during the event, but afterwards and even now I'm shaky and overly alert. 


As with each other day on this trip i awoke early, but this was due to a nightmare. It was obvious as to why this occurred and at the same time going back to sleep wasn't happening due to the ferocious polar storm happening outside. In the US last winter the phrase of the month was "polar vortex" and if I hear that again I am going to laugh because I'll tell you what a polar vortex is; it's a storm that drops the pressure to 28.9 (that's akin to a strong category one hurricane) with winds reaching 50 and blinding snow. This weather outside was a perfect symbol for what was going on within my body. 


I had breakfast at 6:30 and mercifully I went back to sleep around nine and my friend at the hotel was gracious to allow me to stay in my room until after checkout as my plane wasn't scheduled to take off until 7:44. This time in the early afternoon was a reflection of the events and my life. 


It may seem I'm fearless in doing this series but I'm not. I have a great deal of social anxiety. In any environment I am overly keen to possible problems be it something minor like knowing someone is going to come up to talk to me to the severe things like walking back to the hotel at dark and seeing a solitary figure walking and fearing that I'm about to be mugged. My world, actually, is an extremely scary place and when I'm home it does take a great deal of strength to simply cross the barrier of the front door. That being said, when major events actually occur, it reinforces the fear I deal with and it shows the world is, actually, an awful hideous place. 


Have you seen a change in tone from just two days ago? Two days ago I was singing praises about how awesome the world is and now I'm saying it's hideous. What gives? This is the lack of middle ground thinking those on the autism spectrum may have. I'm either all in or all out; all for or all against and for once I was all in on the world and with just one encounter I am in fear again. 


So what happened? What made this event so catastrophically dramatic? It was the randomness of it. My social skills are chameleon like; I avoid most encounters because I've been able to plot ahead and see where the foot traffic is going. I know how to weave about prospective conversations and I've got the timely "reach for phone and answer it even though it isn't ringing" tactic down pat. I've had to learn these things to make the everyday grind tolerable. Can I handle a random conversation? Yes, I can but I prefer not to. However, on this trip, I was starting to open up and when this man joined me at the table I thought, "well, what luck! Another person I can talk to and enjoy it. This is swell!" Okay, okay, I didn't use the word swell in my thoughts but I didn't see this random event as that; random. This was now the welcome norm!


Back to the randomness; the conversation was normal and then, suddenly and fully unexpected, it took that turn. I'm rarely taken off guard like that. While I can't fully facial expressions I am a barometer for social tension. I can sense passive aggressiveness 600 nautical miles away and if the environment is tense so am I. It's odd I can sense this so great but it's been a must to prepare myself because I can't read, exactly, when the proverbial powder keg is going to blow. In this pizza place incident there was no warning, no indication; it was sudden and could not be predicted and that is the part of life I struggle with the greatest. 


Travel, as I've said, isn't just about the places one goes but it's also about discovering one's self and I was reintroduced into my greatest fear. Secondly, I now have to deal with the after effects from this as, for one, I'm stuck in that moment. Over 24 hours have passed but in my brain I'm still at that table knowing I'm about to die. I wish my writings didn't take this turn to the level of seriousness it has but this is life, this can happen, and it did happen. The second aspect that I'm going to have to deal with and do everything I can to quell is the fear of it happening again. 


When I was younger I was told a lot of my fears were irrational to which I could always have a debate to prove their validity. I was afraid of storms, storms can kill, the fear was paralyzing. If one were to look at the true odds of being killed by a storm it is rare, but my comeback was that it could happen. One in a thousand, or a hundred thousand, or millions it didn't matter because it could happen. So too, now with social encounters, I know the random aspect to the extreme like yesterday can happen. I've known it could happen and my event in Kenya in 2005 proved this all too well. 


What am I getting at with all this? The first is I'm going to have to be stronger than I've been to put aside the doubt and fears. When I was headed to the Hammerfest airport today I was extra attentive in the cab looking for potential dangers which as we got halfway to the airport I realized this was asinine because there wasn't much traffic out due to the storm outside of dedicated dog owners walking their huskies. Lots of huskies! Anyway, and secondly, the other part is just how much strength it takes for myself, and others on the autism spectrum, to handle normal everyday life. Try it sometime; try going through your day analyzing every potential danger. Try and, as you walk down a sidewalk or office hall, calculate every possible encounter and what's going to be said. Try to hear every noise in your environment and analyze it for potential dangers. After an hour you'll probably be exhausted but now imagine this at all hours and often times in the dreams as well. 


Does every person worry? I'm sure, I'm not going to argue that, but the thing I've discovered venturing to the top of the world is that these defenses I've built up are there for a purpose. Maybe there were signs this person was going to be unstable. I had let my guard down in opening up. Again, this is the all or nothing system; I'm either full on red alert or I'm naive and over trusting. 


As for my day today, I spent four hours at the Hammerfest airport deep in thought and also worried because flight after flight got cancelled due to the storm and I was concerned that my flight would join that same fate. Tomorrow's forecast didn't look good either and I head home on Sunday and if I got stuck in Hammerfest for two days I would have a long ordeal trying to figure out how to get home. An hour prior to the scheduled departure there was an announcement and at this airport English is not given and I saw people give looks of disgust so I panicked figuring I would be stuck there forever, but then the departures screen is played said, "delayed to 2002" and at the same time an army of vehicles started to tend to the runway to deice it as freezing rain was pelting the ground. 


There handy been an aircraft in or out all day and when the plane we were going to be on landed there was an enormous cheer by the 40 or so people in this small airport. We got on and we were off to Tromsø where the connection would be tight, like five minutes tight but thankfully these airports are small and they held the plane and I got on and was headed back to Oslo. 

It seems like a year ago since I left Oslo though it's been just two days ago. In a way it feels as if I'm returning home which is saying something. Even though the awful episode happened yesterday it appears as if the strength I said I would need is already there. I thought about cancelling the rest of this series as I already have my next trip planned, but how could I quit now? There's a world out there and my discovery of it, and myself, has only begun.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Aspie Traveler Day 8: Drama in Hammerfest

The world is a beautiful place. Earlier today I took one of the more scenic selfies imaginable with the artic landscape behind me. I was smiling because I had just written a great chapter for the book version that ended with, “The journey isn’t over but I’ve learned more about myself in these trips than I have doing almost anything else outside of the first night I sat down to start writing my first book. How’s it going to end? I’m probably more excited than you to find out.” Oh, how little I knew on what was going to play out just hours later.

            Also, remember how Day 7 Part 2 ended, “This may make no sense to you, but this journey here has given me so much knowledge about myself and others and from that I feel this greater sense of confidence because people may not be that scary after all.” I was feeling rather elated today and this evening I had an amazing conversation with a fellow Aspie that I met here in Hammerfest and his awareness of Asperger’s, well, he could take my job! No, really, the terminology he used was akin to mine. It was a great conversation but I was getting hungry so I walked down towards a pizza place and that’s where the drama began.

            When I walked in this place had an aura of creepiness. Being a writer I could probably come up with a better word, but that’s the exact thought that came to mind. There was no waiter and one man at the bar. I didn’t know whether to wait or sit and I approached a table but was unsure whether to stand or sit. The man at the bar made a motion of sit or come here, I’m not really sure, so I walked to him and asked, “Is this the pizza place?” to which he said yes. I then took a random table and then from the kitchen the waitress came and brought out a menu and apologized for the lack of an English menu. I ordered my usual pepperoni mushroom to which she replied, “No other veggies?” You should see the pizza menus here; I’ve learned ordering two toppings is a rarity as Norwegians love their toppings by the dozens… or five.

            I sat patiently staring out into the Hammerfest evening and the occasional car that would drive by when the man at the bar asked me what I was doing in Hammerfest. His English wasn’t the best but he then walked to my table and asked if he could sit down. He asked me my name, I replied, he said his name which I couldn’t make out, but he asked once again what I was doing and I responded with writing a book. I then discussed travel and that “travel isn’t so much about discovering other places but discovering one’s self” to which he grabbed my hand and said, “I like you. You’re special.” This was an odd reaction, I thought, and I hoped that this would be the end of the drama. I was wrong.

            The pizza came out and he asked if he could have a piece. It was a gigantic pizza so I said yes and that’s when the bizarre started to happen. He talked about US policy and Donald Trump, I think, I’m not so sure because his speech was starting to slur and he admitted his English wasn’t the best. He talked about Norway/US relations in how we are great allies and after that he grabbed my shoulder and said, “It’d be nothing for me to kill you.” I froze.

            I’ve had intense moments in my life the most of which was the hour long ordeal being held captive by a mob of homeless boys in Kisumu, Kenya with my dad in 2005. While my dad and I were both powerless we had a local pastor in the driver’s seat that essentially kept us alive. Here, though, in the heart of winter in the blackness it brings I was alone in Hammerfest with a stranger with his arm firmly on my shoulder making a claim against my life. My brain instantly went into planning on how to escape. I did think about running out screaming but this proved to be risky. I was unaware of Norwegian gun laws and furthermore if I left without paying and it was his word against mine I was sure I would lose and besides all this his hand was still gripping my shoulder.

            His grasp released and he said, “Nah, I like you, you’re special and he stroked his hand on my face and inched closer. I was all but pinned in my seat now so I decided to ignore it all. I ignored his comments, I ignored his threat and kept eating. I had gone to eat and that’s what I was going to do. Inside I was a train wreck and he, as I kept looking out into space, said, “You’re thinking a lot, what are you thinking?” and I replied, “Oh, you know, jetlag has hit me hard, I’m just trying to stay awake.” And in my brain I was thinking, “breathe… breathe… Ignore it! Hopefully he’s just drunk and he is harmless.” All the while he kept touching my hand, arm, and shoulder.

            Whether or not he was harmless, at that moment, was in material because a real threat had been posed. My appetite quickly waned and I wanted out. He kept talking about the “impending fight to the death” which was about the only words I understood for a while then he said, “I hope you realize I don’t speak for all Norwegians… I’m drunk.” And then a few sentences later he once again said, “But yeah, it’d be nothing for me to kill you.” I had to get out now!

            There were five others in this place now and I thought back to when I made a potentially catastrophic mistake in 2011 when I gave a ride to two strangers in Springfield, Missouri in the heart of winter and I told myself I’d learn from that mistake by never being isolated. During those times he said I was, “thinking” I indeed was; I was thinking escape plans. Screaming was high up on the list as was, if he chased me, jumping into the water as that would surely cause a scene… this, obviously, was a last resort. My primary objective was to get out of there without a scene and without any event that was beyond words from happening. To do this I figure I’d use him against him because I made eye contact for the first time and said, “I’m unsure of how one pays in Norway, do I go up to the counter?” and like a switch turning off the nonsensical musings went away and in perfect English he said, “yeah, over there” and he backed up and I was able to get up. He walked with me to the counter and then sat down at the bar and instantly picked up a conversation with a man that was there. I paid as quickly as possible and I didn’t worry about the change but I didn’t leave unnoticed as the drunk man stood up and said, “I like you” and he extended his hand so I extended mine and he gave me this almost secret society handshake and as soon as that was over I left as fast as I could and I made sure he wasn’t going to follow and I had plans as to where to go should this happen but he remained seated at the bar and I’m sure tomorrow he will have no memory of the threat he laid upon me.

            Was he a threat? Probably not. Was this anywhere to the magnitude or length of the Kenya ordeal? No, but when a man you don’t know stares you in the eye and says, “Kill you” the internal reaction is going to be severe. I didn’t know who he was, if he were dangerous, and I figured he was drunk which increased the potential volatility of the situation. I’m going to play over and over in my brain if I did the right thing. Should I have just left the second things took a turn for the worse, or was ignoring it and continuing onward as if he wasn’t there the right thing to do?

            If one is going to travel one may come across this. Going back to my day one conversation I had with the two people on my flight from Saint Louis the man who had lived all over said, “Yeah, I don’t know how many times I’ve had a gun to my face but you give them a hundred bucks and they leave” but he was talking about impoverished third world nations. This event, tonight, was in the country just voted as, “best place to live” in the world. Maybe it was just the beer he had drank, and maybe, according to the person I had that great conversation with just prior to this event that I conferred with after, “some Norwegians just have to be strong like that and may not realize that a joke like that will be taking seriously.” Joke or not it’s been two hours and I’m still shaking. For those twenty or so minutes I was but along for the ride. I had my various escape plans but I couldn’t predict a single thing that could happen. Was I simply frozen into eating my meal and powerless to ask for help, but how could I ask? The waitress didn’t speak English so if I yelled for help it may have just riled up the drunk man.

            Where do I go from here? I had just found this newfound confidence and was willing to open up and immediately I’m reminded of the randomness and potentially villainous ways of some. I can’t let this influence me, but how can I not? Events like the one tonight can and usually play over and over in my head and the feeling of his hand firmly gripping my shoulder and uttering those awful words are as vivid now as when it happened. However, what I also need to force myself to realize is by my words, and lack thereof, I got out, I’m safe, and nothing was done that will have any lasting physical consequences.

            You’re reading this either thinking I did the right thing, or maybe you’re thinking I should’ve gotten up right away, but it’s easy to second guess the play call when you’re not flooded with panic and fear.

            To end this I have to go back with what I told the drunk man, “travel isn’t so much about discovering other places but discovering one’s self” because am I going to let this moment become the memory of Norway and hinder my ability to travel or am I stronger now? I think I handled this ordeal in the most professional way possible. Is this what I was supposed to discover on this trip in that I can be on my own, and handle whatever life throws at me? This is the essence of travel and if one isn’t willing to find out the answers then perhaps that person may never know what it is like to live.

Day 7 Part 2: Journey to the (almost) top of the World

The first leg of many legs on my flights to Hammerfest was a little over two hour flight from Oslo to Alta. I had never heard of Alta before today and I didn’t know it was in such close proximity to Hammerfest but today I’d be taking the scenic route.

            From Oslo straightaway there wasn’t much visibility to the ground as the cloud cover was immense. About a quarter of the way through the trip the clouds broke and being able to see the terrain was, and I’m probably going over use this word in this post and about this trip in general, amazing. To see small towns nestled alongside snowcapped mountains to lakes between mountains and a town along the shore put me deep in thought as, and I’m sure most people are like this; it’s hard to conceive of life elsewhere unless you’re there. Right now it’s hard for me to think of the daily grind in the metropolitan jungle of Tokyo and I’ve been there, but to think that people live above the Arctic Circle isn’t something that comes to mind on a daily basis. Furthermore, what type of life is lived there?

            About halfway through the trip, now about 1PM, the sky was now completely dark. As if jetlag wasn’t bad enough now being so far north the sun was now something I wouldn’t be seeing until I return south. This is an eerie feeling because I kept looking at the clock on my phone and looking at the window to the horizon and even though I knew it was only 1 in the afternoon the little voice in my head kept telling me, “It’s a lie! It’s later, it must be later!”

            We landed in Alta and I don’t think I’ve ever felt a 737 slow down so fast. The runaway appeared to be long but as we did a 180 to taxi to the terminal the latter third of the runway was covered with a massive amount of snow and ice. The runway looked like a moat between the walls of snow and the wind started to pick up which created some heavy amounts of blowing snow which is, when I did think about life this far north, exactly how I envisioned it.

            Inside the terminal the mood was one of apprehension among those that were there and I quickly learned why as the departures sign was full of delays. Airline delays aren’t something I’ve sat at home wondering, “How would a person in Norway handle a delay?” but it turns out that it felt as if I were in Salt Lake City or Atlanta. However, with just one set of windows and one runway when the plane that people were awaiting to board landed there was a chorus of cheers. Had I not deduced this I would’ve been rather confused as to why 100 people seemingly at random applauded.

            There were delays and my flight was scheduled to leave at 14:44. It’s hard to get accustomed to the 24 hour clock and as 14:30, or as I’d prefer to say 2:30, neared there was no plane at the gate. No worries, I hoped, as the other plane had a turnaround of just 10 minutes. Yeah, try seeing that at JFK or LAX! Anyway, it was now 14:45, or one minute past due of departure, and I now had a fear that I missed my plane. There had been no announcement of any kind but this meant nothing as I’ve learned in some European airports one can’t depend on PA announcements, and the departures screen still listed 14:44. Then, mercifully, the sign changed and said delayed and the new time was 16:00. I panicked being used to the old clock and thought I was in line for four hours in this airport but then I noticed the one in front of the six and whew! I’d be leaving shortly.

            On this plane there were no seat assignments, no zones, and no first class. Boarding in this fashion was certainly a different experience and choosing a seat wasn’t easy. The flight attendant told me something which I didn’t understand so I just took the first seat I found. I sat next to a man which I think he was hoping to have the row to himself but I was hoping for a window seat by my math we were even.

            We took off towards a town that I don’t know the name nor would I be able to type it since it has one of the fancy “o’s” with the line through it and the flight attendant came by to offer drinks. On this airline and the one before it all drinks and snacks come with a price so next time you fly a US carrier and you get a tiny bag of pretzels don’t complain because that small bag of pretzels with a soda would cost you about $5!

            I didn’t have a window seat but it was obvious the weather was taking a turn for the worse. The engine pitch changed frequently as did out altitude as the swirling air made for a choppy go. By the reactions of those on the plane I gathered this was the norm for this part of the world in winter. I tried to look outside but there was nothing, and I mean nothing. It was like looking into the very soul of the color black and conjured up a feeling of truly being alone, isolated, and certainly as far away from Kansas as possible.

            The landing at the first airport told the tale as the windsock was at full and there was now a dense fog with severe blowing snow. Crews were scurrying about in an attempt to keep the runway clear and the fortitude it must take to work in these conditions impressed me. Yeah, working at Denver, Salt Lake, or any airport in the mountains in the US, or Canada for that matter is probably the same, but it’s just never crossed my mind the work it takes to keep a small regional airport that’s terminal looked like an itty bitty train station in operation. And keep it operational they did and within 15 minutes we were back in the air.

            The second stop in line in this island hopping route was further east and as we neared the plane started to pitch in different directions. The weather was as inhospitable as could be and then an announcement came over the intercom from the pilot. The other passengers all looked concerned but I had no idea what was being said. On the first route from Oslo to Alta all announcements were made in the native tongue followed up by English, but when one is this far away from home this goes away and it was up to the flight attendant to do her best to summarize after the fact and sometimes this was immediate and on this time there was a gap which led my imagination to the horrors that were about to befall us.

            When the announcement was made it wasn’t as bad as I imagined as it was that the airport runway was iced over and the winds were 65kph and landing was too dangerous so we would be skipping that stop. Again, I felt, that the travelers here are accustomed to this because there had been a sense of concern by those on board but no protest. In America any time I’ve seen the slightest delay much less a skip of a stop there will be those that will adamantly protest.

            With each subsequent landing my fear of flying grew as I’m not a fan of rollercoasters much less one that has hundreds of gallons of highly combustible jet fuel and is traveling in the triple digits in miles per hour. This was truly a frontier experience for me (I say for me because those that live here, as I’ve mentioned, are used to it and my respect and admiration for those that choose to live here is great) but I was getting closer to my destination and then, finally, we landed at the Hammerfest lufthavn.

            Okay, so I’m there, but there was one slight problem; I had no idea what the procedure would be to get to the hotel. Were there taxis in Hammerfest? I had emailed the hotel several days prior and didn’t get a response. I was prepared to walk the two miles but that was before I saw blinding snow and the severe wind gusts. Surely though I could manage the 50 minute walk without boots, or a hat, but I did have the scarf my mom made me for Christmas two years ago so surely I’d be up for the task and that’s when it hit me and I let out the grandest of grand smiles.

            I’ve been a preparer my entire life. I’ve lived by rules on top of rules on top of provisions dictated by whatever I have done first. When I was in school I was as rigid as they came when it came to the schedule and rules. It was a sin upon all other sins to not be prepared for something and to not know what was going to happen next and how I would need to react for it. Heck, even in the recent years I have kept this persona of keeping everything even keel and being prepared and minimizing socially because socializing may result in changes of plans and yet through it all here I was standing in the arctic air having no idea how to get to my airport and I was smiling! Me! Smiling at the unknown!

            A couple minutes went by and I looked into the airport where there was a security guard and I figured I could either walk or maybe I could ask the guard to call me a taxi. That is, of course, if they existed. Just as I was about to turn in a few more people came out and one of them gave the distinct whistle that was straight out of New York City and that was the hailing of a cab. I turned around and I could’ve sworn the streets had been deserted but here was a taxi pulling in and I felt rather envious of the group that just came out of the terminal. But then, unexpectedly, the person who hailed said something I didn’t understand and he knew I didn’t understand so he gave a slightly gracious bow and put his hand out to indicate the cab would be mine. Going back to what I’ve said on this trip about what’s on the web and what I’ve heard of Norwegians being cold and aloof to foreigners I must say I haven’t encountered that.

            I told the driver the name of my hotel and we were off. It was only two miles, and I was extremely tired, but my eyes were fixed on anything and everything. How could life exist up here? What would it be like to live? The road was snow packed and there was a light snow falling which was adding to the piles of snow that could be seen in all directions. To the left I saw a woman running with her two dogs. It was… It was so normal!

            At the hotel when I checked in I was informed that the hotel restaurant was closed and I thought about not eating, but I hadn’t had any food in far too long so I asked the man if he had any suggestions and he was so gracious naming five different places within walking distance. For a town of a population of only about 6,000 there were many options and I chose the option that was the most Norwegian of them as I had done the pizza (there were two options) and a burger place, um, I can do burgers in practically any spot I’ve been to so it was time to further my boundaries and try something new.

            The walk to Qa, the name of the eatery, was only three blocks but I was mesmerized by the streets, the cars, the buildings, and even Christmas lights in the window of an apartment building. I go back to saying that it’s hard to conceive of life outside of one’s world and I had this image in my mind of what this place would be like and it wasn’t anything like I expected because everything was just so, normal.

            I also had this image of what the people inside Qa would be like. Images of a surly group of lumberjacks came to mind and I figured when I walked in all heads would turn momentarily at look at me with a hint of disgust then all would go about their business. Was it like that? Well, no, not at all. Walking into the restaurant was like walking into a fine dining establishment in any given city in America. There wasn’t anything foreign at all as there was one table of businessmen obviously talking business over dinner while a boyfriend and girlfriend were by the window lost in each other’s words and there were two teenage girls constantly showing each other whatever text message they got from whomever just texted them. I don’t want to sound like I thought this place would be locked in the 1890’s, but I just didn’t expect this level of what I would deem normal and I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t either.

            What I assumed to be the manager was also my waiter and when he caught on I didn’t speak Norwegian he asked me if I were an American or Canadian and when I said that I lived in America he mentioned that he lived in Pasadena for several years. I mentioned that I work a race in Lancaster each year and he knew exactly where that was which another thing I didn’t expect to find was; that being someone who knew California geography.

            I scanned over the menu and there was typical bar food affair with mozzarella sticks being the thing I wouldn’t have thought I’d find. For the entrée I decided to try something completely new and I chose the reindeer because that’s something one isn’t going to find back home in Saint Louis. The manager left and a minute later he came back with the statement of, “Houston, we have a problem” and he said this because they had just sold out of the reindeer. No worry though because I went with my second choice of duck on top of peppers and mushrooms served with fried potatoes. How was it? It was exceptional!

            During my meal I made sure to just sit and hear the ambient noise. The snow started to pick up outside as I could barely see across the small harbor and the flags with flying almost in an upward manner as the winds were howling but inside Qa the mood was just like any restaurant I’ve been to. There were hearty amounts of jovial laughter and conversations abounded. It was a shame I was so tired I was shaking because I could’ve sat in there and just observed for the rest of the night.

            When I left Qa a tranquil, slow snow fall had resumed after a brief hiatus. It was an astounding beautiful snowfall make even grander by the lights which highlighted the snow. I stood almost at attention, and in shock, and the beauty of this but this tranquil scene was quickly replaced by a scurry back to the hotel as what had been beautiful, soft snow flakes had been replaced by nasty pieces of sleet. And big ones at that! The kind that stings the ears so I made every effort to hurry with caution as I didn’t want to slip on any ice and I made it back to my hotel, entered my room, and tried to make sense of the day.

            It had been 14 hours since I left my hotel room in Oslo and I had to take stock on what I had learned on this day. It might be cliché, might be overused, but what had already been my favorite trip of the three so far quickly vaulted so far out in front because here’s this town further north than one would imagine and life is normal. I know there’s no normal, but it’s something to learn and see that even though thousands of miles can separate up people really aren’t that different from one another. I thought back to the man who gave me the cab he had hailed, and the atmosphere to the restaurant. This may make no sense to you, but this journey here has given me so much knowledge about myself and others and from that I feel this greater sense of confidence because people may not be that scary after all.

            As I turned off the lights to go to sleep I thought that I’ve probably been too closed off in my life. Asperger’s has probably played a big role in that but being here… I don’t know, it’s a soul changing experience and to experience a different culture and yet to still see people at that core, well, it just makes me want to be a part of that world instead of the observer I typically am and with that thought I floated off to sleep.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Day 7 Part 1: Journey to the (almost) top of the World

From the moment I booked my trip to Norway in the winter there’s been a goal to see the Northern Lights. I haven’t mentioned this up to this point because, well, the weather forecast to where I’ve been and going has been lackluster. In Oslo it has become cloudy every evening and the forecast in Hammerfest has been awesome only if one is cheering for clouds and snow. Then, this morning, the forecast opened up in Hammerfest, which is where I am going today, and tomorrow should be “mainly clear.” I don’t know what the difference between that and partly cloudy are but I’ll take it.

            Before I could get to Hammerfest the journey to get there has to take place and once again jetlag showed its face. I don’t know why it’s impacted me so greatly this trip but last night around 5PM I got extremely tired and I powered through it and stayed up until 7:30 but then I got what I’m calling reverse jetlag. I don’t know if that phrase exists but I’m going to use it and what it is, to put simply, is the body going from full stop to full tilt. All of a sudden I got this burst of energy which is exactly what I wanted four hours prior.

            Sleep was finally ascertained around nine and at 3AM I awoke. It’s been like clockwork (ha!) that I can sleep soundly for exactly six hours and then my body is ready to go and 15 minutes later I’m back asleep. Thankfully when I got back to sleep I slept until 5:45 and had to wait 45 minutes until the hotel breakfast opened which gave me time to pack.

            Breakfast was had and I’ve quickly fallen into a routine. I sit at the same table and get the same wonderful food in the same order each day and at the end of the meal I go to the coffee machine and get a creamy hot chocolate. Today, when I was finishing the creamy hot chocolate, I was moved to tears. Here’s the thing; things that mean things to me mean more and this is a trait that those with Asperger’s, I feel, will have more often than not. What do I mean by this? How much have I talked about the hotel building, or the street I’m on? Most travel writers will describe with great descriptors the atmosphere, the architecture, and the people but how often have I done this? It isn’t that I haven’t taken notice of it, it’s just that it isn’t a priority. For me, what’s more important, is the psychology of travel and the thoughts in invokes and while some may have the memory of the smell of the lobby, or the feeling of going outside into the all but lung freezing air each morning, but for myself I knew that one of the big takeaways I’m going to have is this cup of hot chocolate because with each sip it, for me, is a taste of victory.

            Wait, what? Victory? Yes, victory. Perhaps this is where I do give you a descriptor of my surroundings and it is through that cup of creamy hot chocolate. You see, if you haven’t read Finding Kansas (if you haven’t, you should) I talk about “Small Things.” One of the things the DSM-IV says about people on the autism spectrum is that, “those on the autism spectrum may have an inappropriate attachment to objects.” I’ve complained about that one word of, “inappropriate” for years because it makes sense to me because it is through objects, or in this case a drink, that my memories are webbed together. This morning, as I sipped the final sips that were left and contemplating the trip to Hammerfest I thought that I only have two more nights at that hotel in Oslo and every future time I taste any drink like that I will be back at that place, staring out the window at an awaking Oslo and watching the streetcars go by with people off to work, or school. I’ll remember that feeling of victory, which I haven’t described yet, which is that, sitting there at the table, I am so far away from home doing something I never thought was possible. Earlier on this trip I mentioned that I have always wanted to come to Norway since the Games in 94 in Lillehammer and here I am not just here but getting by better than I have in any previous trip.

            It’s an odd feeling, truly, to sit there and rue the days in the future knowing that the memories of these breakfasts will be so personal and so powerful, but that’s the difference between Asperger’s and not. The thing is I feel as if I fit in here. That’s a phrase that I don’t think I’ve used in any book chapter or blog post ever, but I had a conversation with the waitress at the pizza place I mentioned yesterday about what I'm writing about which is an oddity for me. A friend told me, and this conversation is almost 20 years old, that Norwegians are, “cold to outsiders and almost aloof to others” but I haven’t encountered this. Maybe it’s the “trick” I’ve learned to always be smiling.

            So all those thoughts came at breakfast and it was now 7AM. My plane’s scheduled departure time was 12:20 and it’s just an eight minute walk to the train terminal with trains leaving every ten minutes with a 19 minute ride to the airport. I know those times are rather exact and that’s the way they’re advertised here and things to operate to the minute and aren’t rounded. I love that! Anyway, I figured I’d go to airport early because I don’t know what security and the like would be so I went to my room and got my bag and, on my phone, went to the flytoget app to buy a train ticket and that’s when I got the message, “card declined.”

            Declined? I instantly feared some sort of nefarious event such as identity theft and I was sure my bank account had been wiped clean. I quickly went to my bank app and found, thankfully, I was not taken to the cleaners, but why then was it declined? Another travel tip for you, and this obvious, if you’re going to travel overseas it’s best to let your bank know you’re going. In the previous two trips I just used my AMEX card and had never used my bank card so all sorts of red flags probably went off when a debit came from Norway of all places. I hope this gets rectified before I leave; I’m not in any danger of running out of cash but that is a lifeline that has been taken away should something awry occur.

            What all of this meant was that I needed to go to the terminal to buy a ticket which I didn’t know how this was done (flytoget and NSB are two different companies with two different sections of the station) so I was glad to get there early. I feared it’d be difficult and I worried it would be card only and few places take AMEX but thankfully, at the self-service kiosk, they do take AMEX (but the app won’t accept it. I don’t understand this) so ticket purchased and I hoped on the train.

            At the airport I now had to figure out how to check my bag and I didn’t fully know if I got a bag checked for free or not. I tried using the SAS APP and tried reading their website but I didn’t know what class of ticket I had so if they did charge I hope they took AMEX.

            I looked desperately for a check-in place for SAS but the only thing I could find was a bar code self-scanner that people were using and their bags were whisked away on a conveyor belt. I tried to scan my boarding pass but that didn’t make any sense because what tag would go on the bag? Other people had the tag so where were they getting them? I wasn’t going to ask for help so I looked around some more and found another self-service kiosk where one could scan their boarding pass. This was a concept I didn’t understand because I’m used to the structured lines of using a self-service kiosk to print out a boarding pass if one doesn’t already have it on their phone then going to the desk where the airline rep checks for authentic identification but here there was no personal interaction at all.

            I printed my baggage sticker and then it took me longer than I’d like to tell you on getting the sticker off the paper (it works better when one pulls from the side it’s stuck to. Not one of my shining moments… 10 minutes later) but when I finally did I attempted to loop it around the handle and instead of being loose fitting and readable I made it tightly wound and I just hoped things work off a barcode and not the actual letters. I would find this out as I went back to the conveyor belt, took the scanner, and green lights went off everywhere and off my back went and I could only hope my back found its way with me to Hammerfest.

            Going through security was an oddity as well as there is no TSA, no credential check, all that’s needed is a boarding pass. That’s fine that it is that way but, as with the baggage process, I’m accustomed to the numerous ID checks but that’s not the case here. One thing is the same is having your bag checked at security as mine was and my heart sank. What did I do wrong? Did I have liquids? Did someone plant something in my bag? I was sure my life was coming to an end and an extended stay in a Norwegian prison cell was coming up.

            The security man held my back up and said, “Who’s bag is this?” and I didn’t want to say it was mine because he was using English and that could only mean bad things. Why could it only mean that? Because I’m a catastrophic thinker and logic isn’t needed to come to these conclusions. I slowly lifted my hand and he motioned me to come to the other side of the counter. Now he spoke Norwegian and I gave him the blank stare and he then said, “English?” and I said yes to which now I prepped for the news that would end my life as I knew it. He said, “Your bag…” and there was a lull and I was screaming in my head silently “spit it out… Come on… If my life is going to be drastically changed don’t leave me hanging…” and he then once again said, “your bag…” and finally the second half of the sentence came, “your bag has been randomly chosen for a check. Is this okay?”

            Crisis averted and my bag passed the explosives test and I walked to my gate and I awaited the upcoming trip to the frigid north.