I kept waiting for the moment when I got overwhelmed. I’ve had it on planes when I look out the window and feel small and far away, and I’ve had it at the beginning of important things, like starting university. I sat in the plane for hours and hours waiting to feel like it was all a mistake, but really I just watched movie after movie and felt tired. I was already stupidly tired before I started flying, from anxiety insomnia the night before, and a next-door house party before that.
I thought it might happen at LAX where I transferred. By this point i’d been awake for days, and being herded around through endless lines of customs and checkpoints and confusing transfer desks and hidden baggage claims seemed a recipe for nervous breakdown, a lab test to determine mental fortitude. At one bewildering fork in the line, I asked a guy I recognised from the plane named Sam if he was transferring to NY. We wandered around the maze together and helped each other find things, which was comforting. At one point he said ‘this whole place is like a rat maze. At Sydney we’re treated like cattle, but here, it’s rats’. He also felt the need to tell me that he reckoned the guy he was sitting next to was probably gay.
On the flight from LA to NY, I finally became so exhausted that I started fitfully napping, my head bouncing up when it fell forward. When we got to NY, I got my bag, said goodbye to Sam and then went outside and immediately got hustled by someone with a private cab. This had happened to me in Vietnam, and the same instincts, the desire to just let someone take me somewhere because I am so goddamn tired almost got me again. In the line for the cab, two of my sister’s friends recognised me and yelled ‘are you Patrick?’
It finally hit when I got to my AirBnB and my host emailed to say that he was stuck at work for an hour. It was cold and raining slightly and everything looked like old factories. I realise now that people live in hip lofts in those old factories, but it felt like I was abandoned in an industrial zone from the unspecified past. I felt overwhelmed because I was alone, and because I was tired and because I didn’t know where anything was or how it worked.
I walked around the corner into a bar and I sat at the bar like I knew was a thing in America and asked what kind of beer the bartender recommended.
‘What do you mean, have you never had a beer before?’ he sneered.
‘OK, how about what beer do you recommend for an Australian who wants to try an American beer and has been on a 28 hour flight and feels awful?’
He recommended an IPA, and when he gave my change back, I suddenly remembered I had to give him a tip. The guy sitting next to me said ‘just give me a dollar’ and I realised he had an Aussie accent, and then I sat there and drank beer and talked to him and his sister and her boyfriend for a while and the panic ebbed away. Probably because it seems like there are Australian’s everywhere so I’m really not that alone, but more importantly because I’m pretty used to dealing with unfriendly hipster bartenders.