I have two days left in the United States of America, three if you count the 12 hours I will spend in a train on Wednesday returning from San Francisco to LA, four if you count the day I spend in US air space getting from LA to JFK in NYC, airport to airport.
That leaves two precious days, one of which is already half gone; spent, like rare coin, in Starbucks.
I know, I can feel the collective shudder of the Australian nation: Starbucks?
I am tying up loose ends from the book tour: free to spend hours and hours accessing high speed free internet for the price of one drink; enjoying the company of strangers in an easy welcoming public place; now and then tuning into the always great sound track in the ceiling above me; sending thank you notes, three months’ worth; unscrambling writers’ notes scrawled on scraps of paper stuffed in my bag; making iPhone travel notes – details of hotel bookings, train schedules and, importantly, flight times.
I am, after all, leaving the US with exactly 65 minutes left on my visa; I need to get it right.
Sunday San Francisco Starbucks swirls around me. I love it here – see? I’m nostalgic already. Starbucks – as with so many American icons – make sense in the USA. It is when they colonise other cultures they are problematic; but in their own land, as an expression of their own culture, they make truly perfect sense.
Standing in the forever queue that spilled out the door, a sight that is replicated all over the country, I wondered why so many of us love Starbucks so much we are willing to wait this long for a coffee.
Or, in my case, a soy chai latte.
It’s partly the logo. She’s beautiful.
And it’s lotly the service.
My order goes like this:
Her: Can I help you?
Me: Soy chai latte thanks.
Me: No water thanks.
Me: With 3 pumps of chai.
Me: And extra foam (that’s their word for froth. Finally I have learned to say it.)
And that’s all there is to it. No attitude. Just my soy chai latte made exactly as I want it, every time, deliciously, richly, spicily, not too sweet with lashings of billowing creamy froth.
And here I sit, lamenting three months in a foreign country that feels so much like home it feels like going away, rather than moving on; as if I am leaving home, rather than traveling through; as if I belong here rather than have no right to return other than through the grace of strangers defending a border.
Oh dear, there are tears in my eyes.
I am a traveler. Moving on is my way. I have a ‘wherever I hang my hat’ kind of life. Yet I cannot wrap my bones around the notion I do not belong here. That a three month book tour is finished. Perhaps it’s the fact I signed that book deal a year ago – and spent an entire year working towards this, and three months devoted to doing whatever was asked from me: all in the name of My Pilgrim’s Heart.
Yes, that’s probably it. Not just leaving the USA, leaving an entire intense stage of a middle aged life.
Trading absolute focus for the wide open plains of a world beyond a land called Booktour.
I have my thoughts about what I will do . . . visit friends in London and soak up the Olympic city . . . watch my mother go for gold in the world tennis championships in Croatia . . . I may walk El Camino again . . . I may pay homage to the funniest year of my life and visit Hopeman, a small fishing village in the far north east of Scotland where four strong sun-tanned Australian teenagers landed overnight in 1975 . . . all the while with my eye on the true prize: wintering at the North Pole.
In reality I have only one goal: to stay north of the Equator for a year.
Last night I celebrated lifting my hat from its US peg with a fine wine and a tiramisu; I was fresh from the final literary event of the tour – a big crowd and a panel of San Francisco writers; anticipating a TV interview and back to back radio interviews tomorrow.
Loose ends. Or, in my case, ever and always, the absence of.