Navel Gazing

Wednesday evening, we speed towards Zurich in an InterCity SBB train. Feelings: anxiety, generic sadness, some anticipation, but unable to see the vista beyond -- home in L.A. with family and friends over Christmas. What's that like? At once totally familiar and banal and yet... abstract, distant, foreign. Like returning into an embrace that you're not fully certain will feel the same.

I've spent the past month struggling, feeling trapped. I've become less communicative towards Amy. Her office politics and stratagems that used to occupy large portions of our daily conversation seem increasingly petty to me. Someone said something to someone else and now someone is offended. Someone hates someone else and here's more evidence of that. Everyone is enclosed in a state of the art glass cube marvel of an office building with unlimited free coffee and soda and is paid 1.5x the median white collar salary of the country and 3x the salary of neighboring countries and certain cretins are paid 10x thanks to tenure/relationships while contributing nothing but "favors" and gossip. Big tobacco is not evil. They're dull and overpaid.

I've entered partial shutdown. "You must be excited going back to L.A. for 2.5 weeks," someone said. Yes, but I'm already sad that I have to come back, I reply. It's defeatist and I know it. It's pure self pity, a state which I am contemptuous of. It's hard to be good all the time.

I've also spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about customs. After the interrogation in Newark in August, I've had low fidelity nightmares about Amy being hassled or trapped at the boarder, the subject of Trump-fever over-zealousness against foreigners. I've printed out dozens of pages of bank statements and bills and other evidence of U.S. residency, all neatly collated in a binder that will in likelihood not be used. I'm even dressed in a Brooks Brother blazer, dressing to impress the CBP officer who perhaps will look more kindly towards a couple who is neat and easy on the eyes even after a 12 hour trans-Atlantic, trans-Continental flight in coach.

We are overnighting at Zurich for a more relaxed travel experience. Last year's debacle with the snowstorm, the missed flight, the unresponsive discount travel agency, the detour to Barcelona and to Iceland, and the coup de grace, the trans-Atlantic on the Greyhound-like WOW Air (inspiring jokes such as, wow, never again), followed by the pig pen of tired and frazzled travelers jamming up IAD airport customs convinced us that, you know what, an extra $200 for a nice hotel room and a good night's sleep is well worth it.

Inside Zurich Hauptbahnhof is the Christkindlimarkt, one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in the world. Its centerpiece is a Swarovski Christmas tree, soaring two to three stories tall, dripping with Swarovski ice. People mill about with mulled wine and cheese and browse stalls of handcrafted goods. Zurich is an awesome city. It's small compared to major global metropolises but make no mistake, it is a metropolis, thoroughly modern, full of diversity, underpinned by impeccably solid infrastructure and world class transit hubs.

The flight home is as smooth as could have been hoped. We zone out to movies on the seat-back screens. We have ample elbow room because the plane is not full. At LAX, we duck into the restroom before customs to tidy up, to hopefully be a milder sight for sore CBP eyes. We wait in line for not too long and step up to the counter of an officer Park who asks just one question: "You work in Switzerland?" to which I reply, "On a temporary work assignment." And then we are out. Mom is picking us up. I buy an iced coffee at the Coffee Bean. On a sign by the cash register is scrawled in bad handwriting, cash only. "Cash only?" I ask. "Cash only," an airport worker in line replies. Speaking English to English speakers is a weird luxury only expats understand.

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