Every once in a while, someone asks, "What do you miss most about home?" There are a lot of things I miss--family, baseball, good beer, hot dogs, the lakefront, beer gardens, live music--but, quite honestly, I knew I'd miss these things even before I left. So my answer is usually a vague, "I don't know."
Last weekend, I came a little closer to an answer.
When some friends invited me to join them for a trip to Rishikesh, I wanted to go, but I also wanted to chill out and do nothing. The thing that convinced me was this: the hotel would have a swimming pool. I live in a place without bodies of water, without bathtubs, without a chance to sit back and soak. And after two days of wandering the hillside, of taking five-hour walks up and down some steep inclines, I realized I needed, not just wanted, a day in a pool. So I said yes.
And in Rishikesh, I discovered the Indian version of truth. When we arrived at the hotel, we wandered over to the pool and found it filled with green water. Almost solid, thick, algae-overgrown water. We spoke to the manager, demanding a discount because the pool was unswimmable. He just looked at us, wondering what the problem was: when asked about the pool on the phone, he had replied that, yes, there is a pool. And I guess he wasn't lying.
I wasn't the only one looking forward to swimming, so we called other hotels, asking if they had pools, and more importantly, were they clean? We drove over to another place, this one with a great view overlooking the Ganges. Down below, we could see white water rafters going past.
The conversation at reception went something like this:
"Do you have four rooms?"
"And do you have a pool?"
"And is it clean?"
"Yes, sir. You will find it to your satisfaction."
Not ready to commit, we went over to look at this clean pool. And there it was: completely dry. Empty. No water. But certainly clean. We left and ended up staying at a place without a pool. We didn't feel like being mocked by a pool we couldn't use.
And I realized: one thing I really miss is the chance to just submerge myself in cool, clean water. That, and I miss direct responses to simple questions.