http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2126/2479891276_ff5186d3b9_m.jpg|Lauren and I|inline right}}I couldn't sleep. I was supposed to get up at 4:30, so I should have slept, but I was far too excited. The morning would bring several firsts--first time flying alone, first time flying to another country, first time taking a connecting flight, and of course, first time meeting someone I've known only online. I finally managed to get to sleep after around 3:30, but my dad promptly woke me up at 4:30. I rolled out of bed, got ready, packed the last of my stuff, and we were out the door.
Boarding at Thunder Bay was pretty easy. It was early in the morning; everything seemed too bright but not very loud. It was cold outside. I also happened to be the only guy (the only 6'4" guy) standing around outside in the freezing morning air in a windbreaker, T-shirt, and shorts. I was going to need that gear when I got to Ohio, though.
The flight to Minneapolis was on a small, somewhat cramped aircraft. I was over the right wing, in an aisle seat. I put my iPod on and sat back to read my airplane book: Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire. I don't know much about that period of history, so I figured this was a good chance to learn.
I cleared customs in Minneapolis just after getting off the plane; that was much easier than I expected. Seems a Canadian passport does help! Minneapolis' airport is huge compared to Thunder Bay. Mindbogglingly, leg-burningly huge. It has so many more gates ... I had to cross an entire terminal (just one of the many buildings in the facility) to get to my departure gate, and my legs were sore by the time I got there (I was worried I would miss my flight). I didn't miss it, of course, and boarded with plenty of time to spare. The plane was larger, although I found the seats even more cramped. I got a window seat this time, which was neat, because I could actually see out the window. I find the entire concept of flying a fascinating example of technology manipulating our understanding of physics--we are defying gravity. It's amazing!
We landed in Columbus on time. I'm not sure if it's because I hadn't slept, or it was only noon and I felt like it should be later because I hadn't slept, but it felt like the flying had aged me. I was tired. :D As soon as I was off the airplane, I started looking for Lauren, but I couldn't see her. She had promised me a very ostentatious sign, so I kept an eye out for that. With no sign of her, I went to claim my checked luggage. Once I had that, I proceeded to get thoroughly lost in the terminal. Eventually I gave up, found a pay phone, and phoned Lauren (first time I'd ever done that). She was apparently at the luggage claim carousel where I had been minutes earlier. :P I returned to the carousel, and there I was confronted with the first physical sight of a person with whom I've formed a strong emotional connection over the past two years.
For anyone who has never done something like this, it's hard to describe the sensation. Prior to going on this trip, many of my friend expressed reservations about whether I would really enjoy meeting Lauren in person--they hoped it wouldn't be "awkward." While I understand the source of those reservations, I never shared them--I couldn't, not after chatting with Lauren on AIM and via webcam for so long now. I was more worried about the logistics of my flights than that I wouldn't enjoy my stay with her. Still, seeing her holding that sign and then hugging me for the first time was when it finally sank in that I had gone to another country to meet someone I'd known only online. Even though I knew we emotionally synced, it was still a surprise to confront her in person--but not awkward. It was a particular flavour of strange and wonderful all mixed into a single package.
We proceeded to get lost trying to find where Lauren had parked (as if I knew). I snapped a photo of Lauren, one of her in her car, and some part of the airport from the parking lot while waiting for her to get her car started. Finally, we were on our way, and I was seeing a foreign city.
Like Minneapolis, Columbus strikes me as so different from Thunder Bay. It's not alien, but it is grander--larger than life. It's like Toronto in the sense that Columbus has absorbed surrounding cities, transforming them into suburbs. And I do mean suburbs--winding roads between perfectly kempt lawns of vibrant green grass. And every house looks so similar. Oh, and all the mailboxes are in a gang.
Lauren took me to her house, where we had some lunch and she serenaded me with her talented piano playing. We played some games of chess, I met her dad and brother, and we just sort of hung around the house. Toward the evening we went out on an expedition to find Lauren some matting paper, while I needed to get a phone card. In the course of this expedition we ended up in the nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter. For my Thunder Bay friends, let me take the time to explain the difference in magnitude. Visualize our Wal-Mart, if you will. Our Wal-Mart is a puny pomegranate seed compared to this behemoth. It has thirty-eight tills. It's ... huge.
Oh, and I will take this moment to also interject that I had forgotten Americans lack milk bags. :D I opened the fridge only to be confronted by this gallon jug of milk. Talk about culture shock.
After some ravioli for supper and the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, I sat down to write this. I'm going to try to blog as much as possible, both to let my friends know how my vacation is going and to preserve these memories for myself. Those not following the Facebook album can see the photos I take as I upload them to my Flickr photostream.
So after my first day in Columbus, I'm still under the influence of that "whoa, this is so crazy" feeling I got when I landed. And it is crazy, and wonderful, and I'm having a great time. I love having Lauren as a friend, because we always manage to introduce new and exciting dimensions to our friendship, yet it still feels comfortable. Relationships that endure and flourish through change are some of life's most precious commodities.