Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When Jet Lag Leads to Pocket Snags and Eye Bags

One of the only things I don’t like about traveling abroad is the jet lag you experience upon arrival in a foreign country. (Not to mention the 2nd round you experience upon coming back home.) And while some people seem to recover rather easily from this type of system adjustment, I find that the older I get, the longer it takes to make the time zone switch.

When I was in London a few weeks ago, I found myself walking around in a fog for the first few days, which ironically had nothing to do with your typical English weather. It was bright and clear, but I was off somewhere, two steps behind everything that was happening in front of me.

Several days later, when I again made a slight time zone adjustment when traveling to Madrid, the lack of clarity brought about a rather unfortunate snatching of my iPod, which was conveniently stashed in my front coat pocket. Conveniently for the thief, that is, who managed to get the coat unzipped during a crowded subway ride. And even though I felt something happening, it still took a few seconds to register before I realized someone was going through my pockets. At that point, the subway door opened and the huge crowd surrounding me suddenly dissipated, leaving me feeling like I’d just missed something rather important.

It wasn’t until the next day that I figured out exactly what that was. My 80GB iPod, filled with music, pictures, movies and more. I was shocked, as I’d only put it in the zippered pocket several minutes before. The theft was a huge disappointment, as the iPod contained several walking tours of Madrid, which I’d planned to take over the next few days. My one consolation is knowing that whoever stole the iPod probably won’t like any of the content, as it mostly consists of horrible pop music and Disney musicals.

Nevertheless, my normally acute knowledge of my surroundings, educated during my twenty-year residency in New York City, had been severely dulled by my lack of sleep. Unfortunately it doesn’t dull the humiliation and sense of violation you feel as a result of falling victim to the pettiest of crimes—pick pocketing. Madrid is apparently notorious for gangs of “gypsies” who work in packs to infiltrate the belongings of the common tourist. (Or so my neighbor Ramona told me.) They target the weary traveler, who may be carrying several suitcases and packages, surrounding them on all sides with a tight grip. This makes it almost impossible for the traveler to move at all, and that’s when they make their move. But before anything can be checked, they are out of sight and onto the next victim.

That being said, you can just imagine for the rest of my vacation how differently I viewed things, and how overly diligent I might have been in my fight against “the gypsies.” I think I even scared a few people in Plaza Mayor when I inadvertently swung around and nearly hit them in the face, their bodies coming uncomfortably close to my zippered pockets. One girl even screamed, perhaps assuming that I might be one of the gypsies myself, my sudden outburst clearly indicative of a bad moral character.

Or perhaps she was horrified by the growing set of luggage under my eye region. Though I tried to catch up on my sleep, the typical bag under my eye had grown to enormous proportions, threatening to convert into a large steamer trunk if I didn’t do something fast. And even though I was finally beginning to feel like myself again, my face apparently hadn’t caught up with the process. It was still in London somewhere, perhaps searching for the next Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

I wish there was an easier way to make the transition from one continent to another. I also wish there was a cheaper way to travel. These days, the dollar is so bad, you can barely get out of McDonald’s in a foreign country without paying twenty dollars. (And that’s just for the Happy Meal.) So while I thoroughly enjoyed my time in London and Madrid, I’m afraid Europe is out of the question for a while. Not until somebody keeps our dollar bill from suffering the same kind of jet lag we suffer when traveling abroad. Because if the dollar ever began suffering from chronic jet lag, it would not be beneficial for anyone.

But that’s just me. How do you react to jet lag?

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