If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now - Jul 08
I go to bed around midnight; my alarm goes off two and a half hours later. There is that moment of indecision before I pull myself up, eat a muesli bar, and drink a red bull. The Czech foreign police- my visa finally came through, now it’s my turn to stand in line to have it validated. I’ve only heard horror stories. Even a good visit wipes out an entire day. I feel nervous; I have something that borders on a fear of lines.
The first tram comes a minute early and speeds off as I’m an arm’s length away. At the Florenc metro stop I can’t find the correct bus and take a taxi. I’m in line behind a circle of Mormons by four a.m. They ask me to join them. I hesitate. They have on the traditional Mormon missionary dress, sans bike helmet: black slacks, white button ups, ties, and name tags; some have back-packs. I accept, it will be another three and half-hours before the doors even open.
“Where are you from?” they ask.
“I’m from Minnesota too,” one of the kids with glasses says.
There is pushing at the front of the line that is already several hundred thick.
“A woman came around with a list before and we put our names down. I don’t think it really matters; they didn’t work here or anything. The police aren’t going to come and put everyone in order.”
“Honza, is there a Honza here?”
There is more pushing from the front. The whole confrontation is being orchestrated by some big, greasy Ukrainians/Russians. It’s easier to call them Russians, more slang names.
“It looks like they are trying to put people in order from the list.”
“No one’s going to care about that list,” I say.
The crowd surges backwards. The Ruskos are driving into the crowd with their shoulders down. The Mormons are big Midwesterners and put up a good fight but there are not enough of us. A Russian steps out of the crowd and pushes me. I smack his hands away and he backs up. I raise my hands, palms out in defeat, and say ‘I’m going.’ I move out of the line and he doesn’t try to continue pushing me. I watch as the Vietnamese people next to me are being literally shoved down the small flight of stairs behind us.
From outside the line, the Mormons and I watch the same fights over and over again as the Reds find everyone on their list and put them in order. They look out for their own, and the front is full of Russians. Most show up while the line is being formed.
“If they do ever get to us, you can say that you’re with the church and join us.”
I don’t have the right dress, but amazingly after an hour of pushing the Russians actually find our spot in line. We are hundreds of people away from the door, but there is relief in finding a place. At six the police come and put everyone into files of two; it stretches for a hundred meters around the corner. The line starts moving at seven-thirty and we are inside the building by nine-thirty. I’m number 597; visa registration starts at 500, after two hours of being open they are on number 520.
The waiting room is over-crowded and muggy. There aren’t enough chairs so I stand. I take numerous walks, usually joined by members of the Church. They are required to travel with another missionary at all times so there are always three of us. The numbers move slowly, but the missionaries are good company. They speak Czech well, and have a number of entertaining stories. Their Czech Republic is very different from mine. They never try to convert me; instead they have a genuine curiosity about how I live.
“Is the night life here very good here? I feel it’s really quiet in the Czech Republic.”
“It’s very good, but it starts late, and you have to know where to go, but there is a party every night of the week if you are looking for one,” I say. I offer to show them some of the bars, but they explain that they have to wake up at six-thirty and go to bed at ten-thirty while on the mission.
“Do you have a lot of one night stands?”
“No, not really, I mean some but usually it’s not one night.”
“Two-or-three night stands?” The boy from Minnesota asks. In different lives we could have both found happiness, had our situations been reversed.
There is a fear that usually comes when you’re leaving a place, a fear of spending those last days alone. The last night can be low-key, but it’s horrible to go quietly in the days before. There will be a period of peace when you are home, and you have to be tired to enjoy that.
I spend the last days with a twenty-two year-old former student who is small, sweet, and cute. She likes me, perhaps too much, but we tell the other that we are glad for the time that we spent together, and we take conciliation in the possibilities of the future.
We walk around the City during the day. From the top of Petrin Hill, I can look down on the City. Prague is a red city. The roofs of the buildings create a sea of red, dotted with green from iodized bronze, which stretches until the communist housing projects sitting just below the horizon line.
When it rains outside her hair curls into blonde waves. They frame her dark steel-blue eyes, making her look young, innocent, and Czech. Spending time with her is a very nice way to leave a city.
On Sunday morning I left Prague; I don’t know how long I will be gone. Before leaving I wrote messages to myself in a beer garden in Vyšehrad:
Tomorrow I will leave for the States. For a long time now I’ve been jealous of the people that can continue to call Prague their home. I will miss this place very much, but it’s not the first time I’ve left. The foreigners in Prague are transient; it’s a stop on the way to somewhere else. But I felt that Prague was home the first time I moved here three years ago, and I felt it again when I returned it September, each time stepping off the plane whispering to myself, ‘welcome home.’
Everyone comes here hoping to find something. This is what I know as I leave: I’m 23 and my hands shake, I enjoy teaching, I like to read and I like finance, I sleep best in the middle of the day and I like the sunset but hate the sunrise, I drink coffee with cream and no sugar, I fuck up every relationship but it’s not so simple, I have an almost constant feeling of nausea, and in the mornings if I’m not too hung-over I feel euphoric.
When I come back it will probably be under different circumstances. This may be the end of my life as an English teacher. It felt like child’s play, a year of vacation, something every night. It’s probably for the best, that borrowed time was starting to catch up with me.
I’ve felt in transit these past weeks. I spent time at home in Minnesota. I was in a mood to be left alone, and was. In Denver I visited with relatives and college friends. It was also quiet, and I wanted that less. I pick up a truck in Colby, Kansas, and drive across the state to Kansas City for training. Next week I begin a sales job in Illinois.
The Western part of Kansas is flat and empty, even more flat than Southern Minnesota. The East gets greener, and I drive by wind farms along Interstate-70. Many of the turbines are built on the base of hills next to the road so that all you can see are the blades spinning beside the car.
To live out of a bag is pretty natural, but it’s frustrating carrying it from the car. I pass time in my hotel room watching too much television, and eating at nearby chain restaurants with a book. I drive now, when I would have walked in Prague. But even if I wanted to walk, I couldn’t, the streets are too busy with traffic to get across.
“The girls here are pretty, but something is not right,” I tell my friend, as we walk through a farmer’s market in Boulder. “They’re in good shape,” pause, “but I remember them being more attractive.”
“Like in Europe?” Sarcasm, he is sick of hearing about it.
“Uh yeah, but I meant Minnesota. It was a nice surprise how many cute girls I saw. These girls have better bodies though.”
I laugh, “What’s that?”
“Pretty face, big body.”
“That’s true. I know a few.”
I look again at the girls. They’re dressed casually, sun-dresses or high shorts with a t-shirt, clothes that show thin legs, tanned red instead of brown from the high altitude and dry climate.
“They are pretty though.”
The way I remember Kansas City is as a dry city, the city of fountains, and the first time I visited there was a draught and the fountains sat empty. I thought the city was ugly, hot, and brown. Now it’s green, with better bars, and girls that are prettier than I remember.
The air in the farm fields outside Kansas City is wet. I feel like I’m suffocating. I try to stay up-right; it would be bad for the youngest guy to go to his knees. Despite the moisture in the air the ground is dusty, and kicks up light brown dirt onto my Levi’s and Tiger shoes. I’m inappropriately dressed. Not well enough for one half, and not farmer enough for the other. A pair of Dockers and brown shoes would help.
As we were driving to the farm plots, they tell me about Chiggers. Tiny bugs, too small to see, that burrow into the skin and suck blood until they’re full and drop out. I spray Off! along my beltline and ankles to prevent chiggers from getting into my boxers and up my legs.
“You itch until you bleed,” they tell me.
I’m forced to exit on highway US-36.
“There is water on the road,” a tan and skinny construction worker with a sun-blister on his lip, tells me in Macon. “Go south, and then take 24 east.”
In a small town called Monroe City I stop for gas.
“Hi, does 24 eventually meet up with 36?” I ask the middle aged woman working behind the counter in BP.
She pauses for a moment. “It joins up ahead.” She motions to the left. “I’m not too good with directions. I’ve never been anywhere besides St. Louis. People have been asking for help all day because they’re routing them through here.”
I thank her and go out to the car. Her directions are partially correct.