Apologies and yada yada yada for the delay, I've been working on something exciting (by which I mean I've been twiddling my thumbs while thinking of something exciting that I plan on working on in the future) but more on that in time to come.
As I said, in my eternal ignorance I had almost cycled past the White House without giving it so much as a second glance. Thanks to that second glance however, I realised what it was I was looking at and swung my handlebars in its direction.
Not as big as one would expect on TV, and certainly much more central in Washington DC than I would have expected, the White House is still a must-see when visiting this beautiful city. Standing in front of one of the most easily-recognised buildings in the world is a surreal experience, almost like meeting a famous actor that you've seen a thousand times before on the big and small screen.
Unfortunately I couldn't get right up to the front fence of the White House gardens this particular morning as the road directly in front of the fence was shut off by the local police. I asked the cop standing at one side of the shut-off zone what the reason was for the closure. He informed me that he wasn't allowed to say but at the same time beckoned towards the nearby Washington monument from behind which two magnificent military helicopters had just come into view.
As the pair of helicopters turned and made straight for us, I asked the cop if that was the President, realising only afterwards that I sounded embarrassingly excited. Again he smirked and insisted that he couldn't say. At this point both the helicopters were only a few hundred yards away and one of them started to tail off leaving Marine One alone to fly the last short leg of the journey over my head and in behind the White House to land.
At this point I checked my watch and realised that my diversion to the White House and my stalking of Barack Obama had made me late. So with no helmet, I pegged it back through the streets of Washington as the sidewalks were by now far too full with attendees for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
Out of breath and sweating, I collapsed back in the door of my DC hosts who threw a sandwich into me and then hurried me into their car. On the way to the bus stop, they informed me that it had been the President's helicopter I had seen. Apparently the second one was a decoy that always accompanies the helicopter so as to make potential attackers uncertain as to which one carries the President.
At the bus stop I bid my hosts an farewell and told them that I would love to return but had no idea if or when that would ever happen. I boarded a stuffy bus and hit off for Dulles Airport for the second time in a few days. The constant travelling, changing of time zones, more than one heartbreaking goodbye, lack of sleep and lugging around all my possessions from a year and a half in Canada were starting to get to me.
All I wanted now was to offload my bags at the check-in desk and have two peaceful flights home to my family. Guess what I didn't get.
You know the way in showbusiness they say you should never work with animals or children? Well the same dictat should apply for air travel. Did you know that on internal flights in the USA, people are allowed carry dogs in the luggage compartment? Did you know that it's incredibly hard to get some shut-eye if there's a little rat of a mutt barking just over your head the entire way from Washington to Boston? Well now you know.
If I thought the dog was bad, there was worse waiting for me. It might be a little rough to described the baby a few rows ahead of me on the next flight as a terrorist but she/he/it certainly terrorised me all the way across the Atlantic. Not entirely inconsiderate however, the little yodeller managed to stop wailing just as the wheels touched the tarmac at Shannon. At which point I imagine I must have resembled Jack Nicholson in the latter stages of The Shining in both appearance and mindset.
Despite my various animal and baby issues on the way home and the fact that it was 7am in Ireland and I hadn't slept properly in days, I was overjoyed to be reunited with my parents and one sister remaining in Ireland. Not wanting to displease Mammy so soon after arriving home, I even went to Mass a few hours later before going to sleep for the day. Completely unsurprisingly, there were no seats available when we got there.
The rest of the day is a blur that was mostly taken up with unsuccessful attempts to fight jetlag by staying awake until the evening time. That night brought beautiful, dreamless, deep, deep sleep.
Now I did mention a "foul-mouthed but well-meaning delivery man" a few weeks ago in my introduction to this by-now mammoth description of my journey home and I'm sure none of you at all are wondering how he is going to tie into all of this? Strangely enough, without knowing it this guy actually made me feel like I was at home just as much as my family, my home, my bed and going to mass.
You see, for me one of the defining characteristics of North American culture is the faux-friendliness shown by people in the service industry. Hearing 'Have a nice day' is something visitors to The US and Canada, from these shores at least, are not used to.
Strange as it sounds, this particular phenomenon bothered me just ever so slightly as I never once believed that any of the thousands of salespeople who offered me one of the standard issue pleasantries meant a word of it. A strange complaint I know, but every time I heard someone say it, I knew they were just wishing me a nice day or asking how I was because it was how you were meant to act when you had that kind of job. Sometimes I felt like just shaking one of them and insisting they tell me how they really felt about all of the horrid customers they had to deal with day after day.
That may have seemed like a strange tangent to go on but it was necessary to explain the role played by the aformentioned delivery man. God I really should have made this a four-parter but I've gone too far now.
The next day was Monday, meaning my parents were working and my sister was in college when I woke up to the sound of said delivery man ringing our doorbell. I stumbled down the stairs, still very groggy from over 12 hours sleep and opened the door to greet him with a nod.
"Hogans?" he enquired of me to which I again nodded.
"Nice one," he continued. "Rains a fucking bollocks isn't it?"
If taking in so many destinations over the course of a few days had left my hazy mind in any doubt about where I was that morning, this fella had let me know what was what. I was back home in Limerick.