I got blister on my tootsies today. In a way, though, I’m happy about it. Today was a day where I felt a little bit like I was travelling again. I got glimpses of it, like glimpses of the other platform as a train goes through a station. I had to go down to a town called Mount Vernon which is about 30 miles south of Bellingham. Mount Vernon, Wikipedia tells us, is where Demi Moore went to middle school. And it’s also where Glenn Beck – the Fox News fruitcake who – sniff, blub, loves his country – was born. I wasn’t on a pilgrimage, though. I was there to go and get my U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) medical exam.
I was very much not looking forward to it. Aside from it costing five hundred dollars, I just feel a bit weird about a government checking me out like this. But, s’gotta be done. So Claire gave me a lift down there, dropped me off in the centre of town as she was in a rush to get to work. I’d had a glance at Google Maps last night and had a route worked out in my head. The medical centre was about two miles from the bus station. It was 7.50am, and my appointment was at 9.30am, so I’d have plenty of time for a nice leisurely walk. By the time this morning had arrived, though, my brain had forgotten the street names I’d need to take. I knew, though, that my route would be heading northeast in a zig-zaggy way.
Undeterred, I set off along the bit of road that I knew was right. After a while, I reached a junction where I was fairly sure I might’ve gone too far. Asked a woman in the petrol station if she could tell me where North La Venture St. was. “Right up there. It’s quite a walk.” I’d not gone too far. Nice sunny Spring morning. Lovely. Another ten, fifteen minutes of walking, and – just to be sure – I asked an old fella who was walking his dog. He pointed me onto another street, and said that it’s up there, “probably about half a mile.” I thanked him, put my headphones on, then heard him shouting something else, “It’s a bit further after Section Street!” I thanked him again, and went on my way.
After a while, I started to pass some medical-looking buildings (they didn’t really look medical, but the signs said they were). Still a good hour before my appointment. All is well. A bit later, when I realise I’d not been paying attention to street names, I double back about half a block to nip into one of the buildings to ask. Just as I was about to go in the door, I saw old man and his dog again, who assured me that, yes, it was the way I was going, and that I hadn’t passed it yet, “I should know, I live here!”
And there in front of me, if I’d have only bothered getting to the end of the last block, was Section Street. I walked on. The medical buildings gave way to bungalows. And after about five blocks, I saw a couple setting up for a yard sale, and asked them. The guy emphatically told me that I was going the wrong way. I needed to head back to Section Street, take a right and about a mile down the road is the junction with La Venture.
This was the point where I was starting to get a bit nervy about the whole not-knowing-where-I-was-going thing. Paranoia crept in; what if the yard sale guy is back there chuckling like a loon while his wife mildly chided him for messing with me. I soldiered on. Eventually I found it: La Venture Street. Yay! I was looking for number 1400. There were about five big buildings, and I could only see the number of one of them: 1401. I asked a woman, who’s dog was having a shit on the verge, if she knew which one was number 1400.
“Erm… what are you looking for?”
“I can’t remember the name of the place.”
“Is it an ophthalmologist?”
“No, I’ve got to have a medical for immigration.”
“Oh, do you need Sea Mar Medical Center?”
“Yes! That’s it!”
Then, a cloud of despair came across her face, she opened her handbag, got out her lipstick, and drew a big upside-down clown smile around her gob, and said, “Ooooh, you need North La Venture. That’s about two miles up there.” She pointed up the street, her finger tracing a jagged path up a mountain towards a gothic castle surrounded by thunder clouds. A bit like the one in Edward Scissorhands. I blasphemed, apologised, and traipsed off, noting the 25 minutes I had to cover her approximate two miles (I checked: it was actually 1.4 miles). Stomp stomp stomp. Oooh, that house is pretty.
Stomp stomp stomp. At twenty-eight minutes and thirty-two seconds past nine, I got there. I was sweating quite a lot in my armpits and on my back. Exactly the sort of good impression you wanna give the USCIS at a medical.
Inside Sea Mar, I was the only non-Hispanic person. All of the staff, all of the patients: all Hispanic. It was lovely. It felt like I’d gone travelling to Mexico or Central America. I was in heaven listening to, and not really understanding, all the people talking to each other. And as I began to fill in the second of six sheets of A4 that I’d been given, my name was called. I was whisked off to a tiny room, asked to sit on the paper-covered bed thingy, and asked a few questions. Yes, I drink alcohol. Yes, I smoke. Then she took my blood pressure, and gave me another piece of paper, and asked me to fill that one in first, and she left. I just about got through that one, then she came back and moved me to the room – identical room – next door.
Thirty seconds later, Dr. Hernandez came in. We chatted, we laughed as I tried to remember when I’d had chickenpox. I showed her the two scars the pox had left on my face. And somehow we got chatting about travelling. Another nurse came in and started putting sharp things in my arm as I told her I’d only spent a couple of hours in an airport in her home country (El Salvador), and that had been in the bathroom with the shits.
She told me that I should go to Asia, that it was fantastic; that there’s this place in Nepal… oh, what’s it called? Not Kathmandu… At this point, I whipped out my iPod touch, and clicked on the World Factbook ’09 app that I’d downloaded just yesterday, and pulled up a map of Nepal. “Pokhara! That’s it!”
All this time, the injection nurse was waiting to take me to the room I needed to go to next. Dr. Hernandez and I said goodbye, and as she walked down the corridor she said, “Go to Nepal!” Injection nurse told me to sit down, she was just gonna get a couple more forms for me, and I should wait for the – “Mr. Robinson!” I was called into the next room before I could put sit down.
In this room, I was to get some blood taken. Here was the only other non-Hispanic person I saw, a Pakistani male nurse with a fantastic name: Samson Riaz. We chatted about soccer and (the very little I know about) cricket. Before too long, I was holding a pice of cotton wool over a red dot on my inner elbow, and saying goodbye to Samson. Finally, I got the forms filled in on the seat outside, and the injection nurse walked by, asked if I was done, and wished me a nice weekend. The whole process was so smooth and painless, it was amazing. I felt like one of those high-powered magazine editors in films who have people telling them to do this, do that, do this, do that, because their schedule is so hectic that they don’t need to be bothered with finding the things that they need to do: those things are brought to them.
My walk back downtown was simpler. A straight road as far as the river, then turn left. I walked along the edge of the road – no pavement – passed a few car dealerships, through a park, and I was ready for some lunch.
Teriyaki. Shit teriyaki, actually. (That is, bad chicken teriyaki, not teriyaki made of faeces.) While I was eating, a couple of middle-aged chaps were eating behind me. One of them said, “I love sluts!” When he continued talking about how he didn’t want his dog eating the sluts, and how sluts were good for some plant in his garden, I figured I’d misheard him.
I had to wait a couple of hours before there was a bus back to Bellingham, so I wandered around the couple of streets in downtown Mount Vernon, then went and sat down on the floor at the bus station. I listened to Black Mountain, closed my eyes, and enjoyed the sun on my face. I even enjoyed the smell of patchouli that some student dude was wearing. I enjoyed the grey-haired woman who was using this outdoor bus stop island of concrete as laps for her walking exercise.
When I got home, I checked on Google Earth, and on my original walk to the medical centre, what should have been a 2.1 mile journey was a 4.9 mile journey. And now I’ve got blisters on my toes. Exactly like the blisters I had in Belize, Panama, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina…