Essay: Finding home on Crestridge Loop
As someone who used to spend her Saturdays buckled into the plastic seat of a ShopRite shopping cart, I find it hard to believe that “going home” in the middle of March doesn’t require a jacket of some kind.
My journey begins at 10:02 a.m. Holding the handle of my small purple “carry on” (though I plan on checking it because it’s cheaper and, as a vertically challenged individual, I have an intense hatred for overhead storage compartments), I look at my distorted reflection in the silver elevator door and chuckle at the little green head peeking out of my polka dot backpack. That’s Nigel – my stuffed turtle that an old boyfriend won for me at Dorney Park when I was 17. He comes everywhere with me (the turtle of course, not the boyfriend). I’ve never been on a plane without him and I never will.
As a struggling college student and lover of animals, inanimate or otherwise, I’m a frequent flyer with Frontier Airlines, a small domestic airline with woodland creatures branded on everything. Frontier, however, being as small as it is, is selective in terms of its origins and destinations.
While the airline is incredibly inexpensive, flying Frontier means traveling to Philadelphia, via public transit. It also means I need to get on the 10:27 train at Convent Station. Walk faster, Jenna.
As a “Jersey Girl,” N.J. Transit will always hold a special place in my heart. The multilevel trains are my favorite – probably because they’re newer, have readily accessible outlets and don’t smell of stale, cigarette smoke. Aside from the occasional vomit puddle left behind by Hoboken pub-enthusiasts, the trains are chic and, as far as I can tell, pretty clean.
To my surprise, traveling by train from Madison to Philadelphia is no easy task. It involves three transfers. One at Secaucus Junction onto a Trenton-bound train at 12:23 p.m., one at Trenton Transit Center onto the SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) rail to 30th St. Station in Philadelphia at 1:59 p.m., and, finally, one at 30th St. Station to Philadelphia International Airport.
I make the 10:27 with a few minutes to spare. Starting off on the right foot today. Despite my love for the multilevels, my bags and I stay on the main level of each train instead of attempting to go up the stairs. We all know that’d be a disaster.
Almost a one hour wait at Secaucus. There are escalators. And a Dunkin Donuts – thank God.
Onto Trenton. A considerate older gentleman moves two of his five bags to the overhead rack to let me sit down. What a guy.
We stop at Newark Penn. I adjust for two young men to take their seats. Each has a large rolling suitcase and is hesitant to inconvenience any of the people already seated.
“You can sit here,” I say, having already moved.
“No, I’m OK,” the broader one says, trying to remain on his feet as the train sways back and forth.
“Are you sure?”
“No, maybe you’re right,” he says, stumbling as he anchors his bag against the wall.
I’ll have to keep my own bag from rolling away by securing it between my knees. An hour passes. The young men are having an uncomfortably loud discussion across the car, even though it was possible to sit together and speak quietly. The older man next to me has been sound asleep for approximately 40 minutes. The pair of young men deboard at Princeton. I adjust only to realize that my bag fits under the seat. Leave it to me to find convenience in the last five minutes of an hour and 20 minute train ride.
The next transition is quick. The SEPTA train is waiting on the opposite side of the platform in Trenton. Before today, I’d never had a need for the SEPTA system. I grew up in the part of New Jersey where “the city” refers to New York City, not Philly, so I used the subway. Even compared to the New York subway, SEPTA trains are not pretty. They’re dingy and outdated and smell faintly of urine, despite the fact that they don’t have bathrooms.
Of course, they don’t have bathrooms. Unfortunately, I was born with an underdeveloped bladder and ever since I was a kid, traveling has been a hassle. I have the bladder of 70-year-old woman who’s had about six kids. I have to pee. All. The. Time. And, as of now, I’ve had to pee for over an hour. I’m going to die.
The Amtrak portion of 30th St. Station is beautiful and stands in stark contrast to the SEPTA portion of the station, which looks very similar to an above-ground subway station, only less dirty. In Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge (where the bathrooms are located), there are shiny marble floors that look as if they’ve just been polished (but let’s face it, this is Philly). There is an enormous, handsome clock face embedded in the innermost wall. I wish I were able to admire it for a moment longer, but I am on the verge of bursting.
Lucky for me, the SEPTA rail to the airport is nine minutes behind schedule – just like me on a good day. Bathroom – check! Ticket – check! Now to wait.
The trip to the airport is short. I choose a seat at the front of the car, adjacent to the door. Get me off these trains!
It’s 3:30 p.m. at Terminal E. E, I’ve decided, is for early. Well, that’s a new one for me.
I wonder if security will ever not be a stressful place. After checking my bag (which I’d had enough of at that point), I stand in the staggering security line for 20 minutes – a myriad of bodies, all different colors, ages and species.
There is a nervous Chihuahua timidly peeking out of his carrying case. I even get nervous in these situations; I can’t begin to fathom what that poor thing is going through.
Successfully making it through security, I’ve learned, means abandoning almost everything my mother ever taught me as a kid.
Frisked by a complete stranger – check. Put your most valuable possessions in a bin and leave them in plain view – check. Walk around in your socks – check. Get yelled at by pretty much any and everyone you come into contact with – check.
Maybe this just happens to me, but by the end of it all, after you’ve raced to the conveyor belt to grab every expensive thing you own while standing there in your socks, trembling and shoving your belongings into your bag with people brushing past you in a rush … all you can think to yourself is, “what the hell just happened?”
I try a place called Currito, which is a knock-off Chipotle or Qdoba, I suppose. The chicken is green. Maybe it’s the salsa or, now that I look at my hands against my white keyboard, maybe it’s just the lighting in this place. I don’t think their slogan “burritos without borders” necessarily means “poultry from out of this world,” but I could be wrong. Space chicken… Mmm…
Frontier Airlines occupies two gates in terminal E – 8 and 10. They lie adjacent to one another, separated by a restroom that is currently under construction.
There is a gentleman here, businesslike and thoughtful, dressed in a sky blue polo with faded blue jeans, a brown belt, sneakers and glasses.
I sit down on the opposite side of the power kiosk on the left-most wall of the gate and plug in my dying phone. Looking up from my burrito bowl, I find him pacing back and forth next to the six window panes that line our half of the waiting area. He holds a packet of papers in his left hand and gesticulates with his right, whispering to himself and nodding. Every once in a while he glances up from his papers and bashfully looks around to see if anyone is watching.
He catches me. Shit.
I look down at my bowl and frown, fishing about in my rice and moving each piece of green chicken to the left side of the bowl. I’m not hungry anymore.
It’s 5 p.m. – only 30 minutes to boarding. The waiting area is filling up and they’re starting to make announcements regarding the flight. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this way, but when I look around at the faces of people that will inevitably end up on this plane with me, I begin to wonder- “is this it? If the plane goes down, are these the people I’m going to die with?”
The young gentleman next to me asks which WiFi signal I chose and whether or not it’s working well. I point him toward the “linksys” signal (clever, Philly). Little does he know I’m writing about his imminent demise.
5:39 – We’re boarding. Oh, God, it’s happening.
Nigel has deflated quite a bit since I got him. His neck is of no substance and his head flops about like that of a newborn. When it can be helped, I go for the window seat to maximize nap time and sometimes I’ll fold Nigel in half and use him as a travel pillow.
Naptime. I can feel it.
A boy of maybe six or seven is sitting in my window seat when I finally wiggle my way to row 22. His older brother, who looks just like him, looks at me curiously.
“That’s my assigned seat,” I say to the older brother, “but would he like to look out the window?”
“I’m sorry. No. We’ll move,” says the older, grabbing the younger’s hand and standing up.
“No, no!” I say stopping them. “Have you ever sat by the window?” I ask the little boy. He shakes his head. “Well, in that case, you simply have to! Stay where you are. I’ll sit here,” I say, indicating the aisle seat.
“Thank you,” the older brother says, smiling, while his younger brother buckles his seatbelt and excitedly looks out at the wings of the plane. “I’m afraid of heights, but he doesn’t mind,” he continues.
“Not to worry. You’re safe in the middle,” I say, happily, pulling Nigel out of my bag.
He smiles at me and my turtle and then follows the cue of the little boy, looking out the window as the plane reverses from the gate.
It turns out that it is, in fact, possible to nap in the aisle seat. I put Nigel behind my neck once the plane is in the air and sleep for 20, 30 minutes? Good enough for me.
When I wake up, I find both brothers holding hands and still looking out our window. If that isn’t gratifying, I’m not sure what is.
Flying to Florida and driving to Florida are two very, very different experiences. When you fly, you’re suddenly deposited into a land where senior citizens thrive, Publix stores dominate the supermarket niche, and the plants and animals seem to be inspired by Dr. Seuss (or, perhaps, he was inspired by them). On the other hand, when you drive, it is possible to adjust to the fronts of Waffle Houses, Winn-Dixies and – my mom’s favorite – the palm trees. In short, it’s not as much of a “culture shock.”
Exiting the plane, the warm air envelops me with a tinge of humidity. Tampa International Airport is beautiful, decorated with artistic versions of Florida wildlife. There’s even a fish tank in the wall by baggage claim. A young man allowed me to get on the escalator before him, despite getting there first.
In contrast to Philadelphia, Tampa, Fla., is a whole different world.
Baggage carousels are one of my least favorite things on the planet. I love nothing more, after sitting on a plane for hours, than getting whacked by your gigantic bag with 17 multicolored ribbons tied to the handle. Relax. The belt isn’t going that fast. You’ll get your stupid, ugly bag.
As compared to Newark or even Philadelphia Airport, Tampa International is relatively easy to navigate by car. Better yet, when you finally do get out, you merge right onto Veteran’s Expressway North – the final stretch. However, Florida drivers, regardless of the time of day, are equally terrible. Instead of jug handles, Florida actually has turn lanes in the medians of multi-lane roads. (No, I am not kidding and, no, these turns do not have traffic lights.)
Instead of slow traffic deferring to the right-most lanes, those looking for their turn make themselves comfortable in the left-most lane. Jersey… road rage… building…
Take the exit for New Port Richey, turn left onto Route 54 and at the third light, turn left into the Trinity Preserve. Take a left onto Imperial Key Drive and a right onto Crestridge Loop and you’re at my house.
Despite having lived in New Jersey my whole life, there is an undeniable essence of “home” upon entering my house in Florida. Over 1,200 miles away from where it used to stand, “home” still smells like Mom’s Yankee Candles. Grandma’s sewing machine takes up half of the dining room table and the barks of my stepdad’s three long-haired Chihuahuas still overpower that of my shih-tzu Charlie.
I drop my bags at the door and flick on the light. My room. As a result of constant transition and four years away at college, I haven’t had my own space since I was 17.
When we were house shopping the summer before last, I told my grandma how much I wanted a purple and beige room when we finally settled down. While I was away at school, Mom and Grandma went to work on this very room, perfecting every little detail, and provided me with a bedroom straight out of Better Homes & Gardens. The room is small and simple, but it’s stunning and so grown up. And, best of all, it’s mine.
I brush my teeth, slip on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and flop into my first-ever queen-sized bed. With Nigel in the crook of my arm and my bare feet hanging off the side of the bed, I close my eyes and listen to my stepbrother playing video games through the wall. The palms from the tree outside are tapping on my window and suddenly, honestly, I can feel my heart beating for the first time today.
Time moves so much slower here.
Seconds linger in the warmth, almost providing you with an experience, followed by a moment of appreciation for each.
There’s time to think and to feel and to see, even with closed eyes.
Home, I’ve learned, isn’t restricted to a particular place or even a state – it’s a feeling. It’s an intangible thing.