No hot water during my final New Orleans morning shower at the Olde Town Inn. Jesus. Can you even imagine? Cold showers at any other time and place than summer after the beach are bad enough. While suffering from aching limbs and a lingering fever? Agony. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I muttered, but felt like screaming, repeatedly, enduring a presence under the showerhead only long enough to establish a basic level of personal hygiene. I must admit the free breakfast was of excellent quality and variety, though. Every hostel I stayed at was like that: up and down, complex, imperfect yet always offering enough positives to justify at least my sleeping presence. The Olde Town’s particular feature of interest was a noticeably old ginger tomcat, who had reportedly belonged to the premises but not exactly it seemed its owner since opening day. He spent most of his time lounging in a ground-floor windowsill. What a life. New Orleans blurred past me through the taxi’s dirty windows on the way to the airport. I felt like a victim of unrequited love, watching the object of my rebuffed affection going about her life blissfully unaware of the sorrow spilling from my broken heart like blood from a severed aorta. This metaphorical experience would feel all too real in and after New York, during an experience I wouldn’t however quite associate with the word “love”. With, from memory, a couple of hours to spare before takeoff, I relaxed with a burger and gin and tonic in front of a landing-strip overlooking window. Then, during one of a couple of escapes outside for a cigarette, I checked my satchel as I often did almost fastidiously for things like my wallet and passport, stopped dead, put the bag on the ground and searched more thoroughly. Not yet successful, I searched every pocket on me, then a couple of possible pockets on my main backpack. And finally accepted the chilling reality: I’d lost my passport.
Much later, after returning to Australia, I would remember with un-diminishing interest the fact that New Orleans’ airport, at least, had not just one, or even two, but three lost and found areas. The person at the first lost and found said they didn’t have my passport, and sent me to the second where I was told the same thing, and sent me to the third where I was informed of bad news once again. I gave up, and philosophised the situation: I’d already checked in for the domestic flight, and at this stage of the journey didn’t plan on leaving the continental United States until flying out of Los Angeles on January 1, 2013. (Though I was until this incident thinking about jumping across the pond (Atlantic Ocean) from New York and visiting the UK.) So, I thought, I shouldn’t really need my passport. And even if I did, I’d lost the fucking thing, so the worst-case-scenario was that in about a month’s time I’d have to tell LAX security staff to get fucked because I didn’t have my passport, was clearly Australian because of my accent – not to mention driver’s licence – and simply wanted to go home. Thus, the crisis resolved as much as possible at least within my skull, I slumped back in front of the window with another gin and tonic and glared at the skid-marked tarmac outside. After which I joined my fellow sheep shuffling through security then sat near the departure gate reading a Time magazine and almost chuckling at disbelief that I’d lost one of two of the most important few things I owned. Until, not 10 minutes before departure, a call came through the PA system. It was a call directing me by my full name to head straight to the check-in desk and retrieve, yep, you guessed it: my passport. I approached the staff at the gate, explained my predicament, and they told me to run. I did, to the front-desk where I was told – pure bullshit – that they had been paging me for the past half-hour about the misplaced documentation. While mumbling thanks to the woman behind the desk I all but snatched my passport from her hands and sprinted back to security where I was confronted by what looked like at least 100 people inching in slow-motion through the body scanners. Somehow, because I must have sub-consciously prayed to the good Lord, I made it breathlessly back to the gate barely in time to board the plane. While waiting for my bags at the Big Apple’s John F Kennedy International Airport I met a dude who was on his way to Burma (Myanmar) to teach English. Very awesome. I knew from that moment onward New York would be nothing but an eternally memorable experience. . . .