An Absent-Minded Professor

2013-09-05 14.54.06

August was a long month.

And it wasn’t just because I decided, at the suggestion of a running buddy, to run every single day in August.

Or, having announced to the Facebook world that I made a commitment to run every day in August, I was coerced into setting a goal for myself of running 1000 total miles in 2013. (And by coerced, what I mean is that someone made a casual suggestion and I jumped right in…)

No, in August my workdays were growing longer as each day brought us closer to a convention of roughly 20,000 members in Philadelphia, PA. And, back in April or May (before I’d made my first mortgage payment), I’d purchased a ticket from Philly to Spain, where another smaller convention would take place afterward. One of the selling points for that trip was my friend from Spain telling me, “Chris, you can take a nearby ferry from where I live in Spain over to Morocco. You will have a chance to visit Europe and Africa in a single trip!” How could I argue with that?

So in early August, I was preparing for our convention, and preparing for my vacation, and running every single day.

I ran 13 miles on the 13th, the day Mom would have been 64.

I got a phone call one day, early in the month, asking if I would be available for an interview. The call came from Pierce College, located just a few miles from where I live in Canoga Park. If I came for an interview, they told me, they would very likely offer me at least one class section, teaching English 101 for the fall semester.

I agreed to the interview, and immediately went to their website to find out when classes would be starting. I knew I was flying to Philly on the 26th, and that I would go from Philly to Spain, returning to LA on September 9th.

The fall semester at Pierce College was scheduled to begin on—you guessed it—August 26th.

So I got dressed up the morning of the interview, slacks and a nice shirt, and printed up fresh copies of my resume and unofficial transcripts to go and meet the chair of the English Department. I knew I wanted to make the best impression possible, so that when she would tell me: “why don’t you come back in the spring when you have time for us,” she would really mean it.

Like so many conversations that happen in my head, our talk that morning didn’t go that way. The interview went really nicely. I braced myself to be met with frustration or disappointment, and then I timidly pointed out that I would be gone for the first two weeks of the term.

“Oh, that stinks. We’ll figure out a way to work around it,” the department chair said, already beginning to scan the available classes for those whose schedules might make for the least possible hassle and interruption. “I might not be able to get you paid for those classes, though…”

So, that’s the story of me becoming an English professor at my local community college. I knew it would be a challenge to switch over from the online classes I’ve been teaching the past 18 months—all standardized course content, deadlines, and so on; my role simply being to facilitate, answer questions, and grade—especially when stepping into the classroom two weeks into the term. But the classroom experience is something I’ve been eager for, and so of course I said yes.

And then came the day that I was scheduled to fly to Philly. I packed a single carry-on bag that would sustain me through a week in Philly and a week in Spain. (My rationale being: I’m bound to encounter a washing machine at some point in that two-week trip.) I made sure I had appropriate clothing for each of the various tasks, responsibilities, events. I made sure I had the right plugs and adapters for my various electronic items. I packed some protein bars for mornings when I might not find easy access to good post-run nourishment. I made sure I had all the right files and folders I would need in Philly all backed up on my flash drive (and stored on the cloud, too, of course). I made sure to check my flight itinerary the night before and gave myself adequate time to get to the flyaway, to get to the airport, to get through security, and to get to my departure gate on time.

And then there I was, in the parking garage at the Flyaway, locking my car and walking in to purchase my shuttle ticket to get to the airport, when I recalled that I’d set my passport in the top drawer of my desk. In my bedroom. At my home.


Thankfully, I would be in Philly for a week. I have a roommate who would be home all week. I have coworkers who would be in town and we work in a building that ships packages everyday, all around the world. I called my roommate and texted a coworker—crisis averted. My passport was overnighted to my hotel in Philly, and I had it in my hands in plenty of time to leave the country for Spain, once the week of work in Philly had thoroughly exhausted me. And I got a chance to run the museum steps from Rocky, so there’s that, too.

I stayed awake for the duration of my ~24-hour trip from Philadelphia, PA to Marbella, Spain, with the exception of my head nodding a few times in airports in London and Madrid as I awaited connecting flights. When I landed in Malaga, just a little up the road from my final destination of Marbella, I went to the car rental desk where to collect the car I’d reserved. I had no wi-fi, no phone or data service, and the exhaustion was really beginning to set in.

The woman at the desk asked me about my reservation, and I did my best to provide all of the right information. After a little bit of back-and-forth, we discovered that I’d reserved my car for pick-up on the 3rd. The date was September 2nd. FFS. The additional day would be charged at the full rate, rather than the discounted rate I’d gotten online. I don’t care, just put me in a car and tell me which side of the road to drive on. (Thank goodness, the drive on the correct right side of the road in Spain.)

I arrived at the home of my lovely hosts, Inigo and Victoria, and we had a nice evening snack before crashing hard around 9:45pm. Victoria asked what time I would wake up, and based on my week in Philly, I said, “Probably 6:30 or so… then go for a run and come back and take a shower…” When I finally crawled out of bed around 9:15am the next morning, a slight jetlag headache setting it, Victoria smiled and laughed at me, and made a Pinocchio nose-growing gesture as she said, “6:30am, going for a run…” Inigo and I went down to the beach so he could show me the good running paths—along the Mediterranean, people—and then we went back to his home where Victoria made some delicious gazpacho that I haven’t stopped thinking about since.

I met with some friends from Sweden and Australia down by the beach, and we went and had a nice tapas dinner in the old downtown area of Marbella. I made plans with a friend from Southern California: I would pick him up at 8am, we would drive an hour to the ferry landing, and we would take a 35-minute ferry over the Mediterranean to another city, another country, another continent.

I picked Matt up at 8am, as planned, and he looked as tired as I felt. We made the trek to Tarifa, where we found the last available parking spot at the ferry landing. I turned off the engine, and we got out of the car.

I thought, “My passport isn’t in my pants. It’s not in the car. Is it… with me at all?”

I broke the news to Matt, who took it in stride. We went ahead and went inside to verify that, yes, you do need a passport to travel to a city in another country, on another continent. We drove back to Marbella, retrieved the passport, and left Inigo and Victoria laughing hysterically as we turned the car around and made our way back to Tarifa to try again. (This time, sans parking space in the ferry landing parking lot.)

We saw dolphins in the Mediterranean as we crossed the water, and we had a whirlwind tour in Tangiers, complete with folks in the kasbah asking for “tips” for doing so little as not tripping us as we walked by. We accomplished our number one goal for the trip—checking in to Africa on facebook—in a little internet cafe with French-Arabic keyboards that made it nearly impossible to type our passwords. We ate traditional Moroccan food, shopped at a store where we had to repeat many times that we had no interest in buying a rug, carpet, or any other tapestry, and then hurried back to catch our ferry back to Tarifa, to collect our car by 8:30pm as the guy in the parking garage had instructed (or so we thought).

The ferry was full, and they told us we’d have to wait for the next one. There are two companies that operate ferries for that set of ports; one operating on even hours, the other operating on odd. The next ferry on the company we’d purchased our round-trip tickets for, unfortunately, would be a two-hour wait, putting us back too late to collect our car before the garage closed for the night (or so we thought).

We rushed out to swap our tickets for the other ferry company, and the guys who “helped” us charged both a 20 euro “tip” and the full price of a one-way ticket (40 euro) to get the tickets into our hands in a matter of about 10 minutes, when it otherwise might have taken us… I don’t know, 15-20 minutes? We were very anxious about catching the next boat, though, and so we called it a wash and get on the boat we did.

The ferry we took in the morning, run by the company Inter Shipping, takes 35 minutes. And they leave on the hour. The other company, FRS, got us on the boat quickly on the hour, but then we sat for roughly 40 minutes before the boat moved at all. And when it crossed the Mediterranean, it moved much more slowly—the trip took just over an hour as compared to the morning’s 35 minutes. Matt and I watched the clock anxiously as the trip progressed, realizing with each passing minute that there was a good chance I’d be busting out my running skills to get to the parking garage ASAP when we landed.

And I did bust out my running skills: at least a dozen people broke out in a foot race from the boat to the port, all eager to be first in line for customs. DAMMIT. I had to go through customs, and it was now at least 8:40pm. Our car would be locked up for the night (or so we thought), and we’d have to beg Inigo to drive down from Marbella to get us, or split the cost of a hotel room in Tarifa, or…

I ran as fast as I could (probably an 8:15 min/mile) from the port to the parking garage. I walked into the parking garage with sweat making my glasses try to slide off my face. The man behind the counter looked as though he had not only been sitting there for an incredibly long time, but also as though he would be sitting there for another incredibly long time before he made any motion to leave that seat.

Apparently, we’d been mistaken.

The following days were filled with good times and laughs, with friends from Sweden, Germany, Finland, Holland, and so on. One of my favorite parts was meeting a friend from Kenya, who I’d emailed with off and on for nearly 5 years but never met, who quickly became a great friend. (He asked, at one point, “Where is your car?” In the lot behind the hotel, do you need to go somewhere? I’ll take you… “No, I just want to make sure you know where it is.”)

I arrived back home on the 9th, after another long, long travel day, and got my real official start as a college professor. (I’m purposely not mentioning that I chose an 11:45am connecting flight in Madrid that I thought was 11:45pm—12 hours earlier—which meant staying overnight in Madrid. I got to run 2.5 miles there, and my total for 2013 is currently just under 730; just 270 to go.)

Long story short: I’m a professor now. And, as the post title indicates, I fully own the fact that I’m an absent-minded one.

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