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Running Back To The USA

Some things are more important.

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TRANSIT ZONE, Doha- The currency exchange booth at the Sofia airport was closed and I’m now sitting in the transit zone in Qatar with pockets bulging with hundreds of dollars worth of useless Bulgarian money.

I went to the ATM and took out a wad of cash a day or so ago and then I left the country. This wasn’t by design. My wife’s grandfather died.

I woke up in the morning when my wife’s phone rang. My wife came back into the room a few minutes later and told me the news. We called and talked to her mother together. She mentioned that they were going to have the minion the following night.

I ran the calculations — porthole to porthole travel time minus time zone difference — and realized that we could make it. “We could probably be there,” I said.

At first, this was a ridiculous suggestion and my wife’s mother just kind of laughed and said thank you, but when we hung up the phone we did a flight search and realized that it could happen:

If we left Sofia on the ten thirty pm flight that night we could get into Boston at two pm the following day. Add on a half hour to get through immigration and pick up the rental car and  five-hour drive up to Bangor and we’re there at seven-thirty.

“Tell your mom to start the minion at 7:30 and we can be there.”

My wife’s family is kind of the quintessential new American family. They respect individual preferences and needs over that of the group and are tolerant to the point that selfishness is made easy. They don’t seem to get that traditions were devised for a reason: so everybody knows what is expected, what they have to do, and when they have to do it without needing to think, debate, or have consensus meetings about everything.

They are so progressive that they make my perpetually traveling, free-schooling wife seem oddly traditional:

“People don’t die on your schedule. There is never going to be a good time for someone to die that’s going to be convenient for you. It’s either you go there and be there or you don’t.”

This trip to the USA and back is going to cost me a minimum of $4,000 in airfare. I laugh. Oh well. Clawing up the side of the barrel is perhaps my unfortunate forte. But it’s worth it. In life you are so rarely presented with good opportunities to show people what they mean to you. And you don’t go to funerals for the corpses.

I was rushing down to the subway platform in the center of Sofia because I heard the train coming. I had to rush because I was in the corridors taking pictures rather than walking straight to the platform like my wife did.

The Sofia subway is conspicuously devoid of English. So even the sign on the train to the international airport is in Cyrillic only.

I sort of know what “airport” looks like and jumped in the car with Petra. But I had doubts and asked someone who was inside. As I did so the doors closed and I noticed that my wife and Rivka were still standing on the outside. I thrusted my arm out through the doors just in time for them to slam shut on my wrist. I managed to fling them open and jump out. For some reason Petra was busy daydreaming on the inside so I had to reach back inside and yanked her out with one hand.

What a hero.

I’m back at the bar in the transit zone of Sofia. I was just here a little over a week ago pounding a final giant beer before getting on a flight to the Middle East. I had just returned to Bulgaria a few days ago from Oman and now I’m leaving again. I thought I would be able to dig into this country — go out and stay for the next month in a smaller city in the hills. Who can plan?

‘What is this?” my eight-year-old daughter Petra asked while pointing at the little steel door embedded in the front of her arm rest on the plane.

“It’s an ash tray. Don’t touch it. It’s gross.”

“What’s an ash tray?”

A different era.

The flight from Sofia to Doha went well. I drank two pints of beer before getting on the plane and topped those off with a can of Heineken and a Baileys and coffee.

Qatar Airlines douses its passengers with food and drink. This sent a wave of giddy excitement over my family. “What!?! They’re actually going to give us food!?! Like real food!?! Booze and everything!”

This is by far one of the best airlines in the world. I would fly them for recreation — the service is so good who cares where you end up?


“What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen yet working as a flight attendant?” I asked the young, friendly Bulgarian stewardess.

She thought about it for a moment.

“People sometimes fake that they’ve fainted.”


I was expecting something more along the lines of catching a couple copulating in the toilet or some dude jerking it under a blanket. But instead she told me these stories of passengers pretending to pass out and be sick and then trying to get money out of the airline for it. She added that for some reason Australians are especially prone to trying this move.

She said it rarely works.

“I think that many people are so very lonely that they just want people to pay attention to them so they do things like that.”

She also said that Australians tend to complain about the food. I guess these are the symptoms of coming from a country without real problems.

Spoiled brats.

Maybe the Australians had a point about the food. My wife asked for the Immodium and then clenched up in a ball in order to hold back the airplane beef that was trying to squirt out by any means necessary.

She looked horrible.

I know what it’s like to fly on a plane when sick. I looked around for other options. We were in Qatar. There was no place for her to go but on the plane and out of the country.

She spent the layover in Doha in the toilet.

Boarding this flight in Doha was ridiculously chaotic. The “laptop ban” on Qatar was lifted back in July because the airport instituted additional security measures on flights to the USA.

Those security measures was … yup, you guessed it, another security check.

We went through a security screening prior to boarding the flight in Sofia. We went through a security screening when we entered the transit zone of Doha. Now we were to go through a security screening again prior to boarding the flight to Boston.

The only difference this time was that ALL electronics would need to be declared, removed from bags, and swabbed. I carry a backpack full of electronics: five cameras, lenses, a laptop, multiple phones, a sound recorder, and all the chargers, batteries, hard drives, and everything else needed to run them.

My gear ended up spread out everywhere in multiple baskets. Other passengers were butting in ahead, separating my possessions. A small child was rolling around on the ground screaming as his father was being interrogated and patted down. Passengers (uh … me) were yelling at the security staff because they weren’t handling their electronics appropriately. It was a mess.

I have no problem with security, just so it makes sense — when it works and keeps us safer. To impose this nonsense on Qatar just because it’s in the Middle East is dumb — especially when a large amount of bonafide terrorists are coming through / located in Western Europe. If they were serious about this screening as a security measure then Belgium and France should be the first countries to have it implemented.

I had a forgotten camera lens in my backpack that I didn’t declare and had to go back to the beginning and do the entire extra security check over again. As I got pissy about it an Indian passenger to my right looked at me and smiled smugly before saying, “Welcome to Trumpland.”

As part of the new security procedure for flights to the USA from Doha, after passing through the security check passengers go into this glass-walled holding cell waiting to board the flight. There is no water in here. No food. And, most pertinent to us, no toilets.

My wife held it in until boarding and then let it rip in the plane’s toilet. For some reason I stood outside the door listening. Vomit, etc. I guess it was my way of showing solidarity or support — or just to make sure that no other passengers would be able to get close enough to hear. I got a cup of water for her and gave her when she came out. She thought that me standing there was not normal.


We pulled into the driveway of my in law’s house at 7:30 pm to the minute.


Filed under: Airports, Bulgaria, Qatar

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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