You Never Forget Your First Time (in the Inland): A Deleted Scene from the Unexpected Inlander Series
Part I: The Arrival
As Angelica flipped through the Primer on Inland Culture on the plane, she didn’t understand why her company had wanted to send her to Des Moines on Friday when her meeting was not until Monday. It wasn’t like she had never traveled before. She had vacationed in Nova Scotia, New Haven, Atlantic City, Charleston, Miami, Biloxi, Galveston, and San Diego.
And she really did not understand this Primer on Inland Culture her boss had insisted she take with her. Her boss had told her they wanted to send her a few days ahead of time to “acclimate” to the culture. He said he did not want the different culture to “distract” her during the meeting.
How insulting. Angelica considered herself to be very well cultured. She had grown up in Seattle and had been redistributed to San Francisco upon turning eighteen. That, combined with all her traveling, was more than enough to show she knew not everywhere in the world was the same.
One reason she had refused to go on Friday was because she had not wanted to spend so much time away from her husband and kids; the other reason was because she felt like it made her look like an amateur. She compromised by going to Des Moines on Sunday, even though she could have easily left Monday morning and still would have had enough time to set up and prepare for the meeting after arriving. Though this was her first time traveling for business, she knew what she was doing. She did not understand why they treated her like she could not just get on a plane one morning, hold a meeting in a different city, jump on a plane after the meeting, and be home in time for dinner. That’s what all her friends who had to travel for business did.
It had been a while since she had traveled, though, so for that reason she was secretly excited for the trip and to see a new city. Every city was different. (See? She already knew that because she had already traveled to so many places. She didn’t need to be educated on the fact that every city was different, including having a different culture. That’s why she traveled: to see new things and marvel at the architecture and taste the different cuisine and see the different people and landscapes.) She put the Primer back in her carry-on bag. She had skimmed it. That was enough.
As the plane landed, she peered out the window to get a glimpse of the city. Beige was the best she could describe it. Beige everywhere. Rows and rows of beige buildings surrounded by beige haze. Maybe this was just a neighborhood on the outskirts. Maybe the airport was nowhere near the city because she could not see a city anywhere in sight.
At the baggage claim, there were no handlers as far as she could tell. She saw other Coastals getting their own bags off the conveyor belt, so she did the same. Then, she followed them and got in line for a taxi, nodding to and greeting the other Coastals in line in front of her and the ones who joined after her.
When it was her turn, the taxi driver enthusiastically exited the car and ran around to open the back passenger door for Angelica.
“Please,” she said with a small bow as she motioned toward the inside of the car, “have a seat and make yourself comfortable.”
Pleased to have such a cheerful driver, Angelica got in the car while her driver loaded her luggage into the trunk. As soon as she sat down, her knees came up to her chest as her bottom sank nearly through the cushion to the floor. She looked down at the worn and dirty seat she sat on and grimaced.
Her driver got in the driver’s seat and turned back toward her and held out her hand.
“Oh,” Angelica said as she pulled her itinerary out of her purse, which, unbeknownst to Angelica, had cost the same amount as her driver received for an entire month of work. She pointed to the address of her hotel as she handed her itinerary to the driver.
The driver looked at the name of the hotel and said, “Yeah, I know where it is,” and handed the paper back to Angelica. After Angelica took the itinerary from her, her hand remained outstretched.
“Yes?” Angelica inquired.
“Your card,” her taxi driver said. The car behind them honked, and the attendant at the front of the line motioned for the taxi to hurry up and leave.
“But we haven’t arrived, yet, and why should I give my card to you?” Fares were paid through a mobile app after drop-off. At least, that was how it was on the Coasts. Angelica looked toward the trunk, where the Primer on Inland Culture was still in her carry-on bag. With the cars honking and the attendant yelling at them, it was too late to try to read through it now. She didn’t remember seeing anything in there about taxis, but then again she hadn’t seriously looked at it. Even when she was skimming it, she was thinking of other things.
She pulled a payment card out of her purse and handed it to the driver. After swiping the card on a reader next to the steering wheel, the gear changed from “park” to “drive.” The car would not move until it was activated by a customer’s card.
The driver handed her card back to her and said, “Thank you,” with a large, fake smile. As she pulled away, she asked, “So where are you coming from?”
Still unnerved by the odd custom, Angelica did not respond right away. She needed a drink. She looked around and suddenly realized just how small this car was. There were no refreshments. There was not even enough space for a cooler or glasses or plates. And it was dirty and smelled, not necessarily bad just…old. And used. She frowned at her surroundings.
“Miss?” the driver asked. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Angelica said. “I live in San Francisco.”
“Which Coast is that?”
“The West Coast of the Western Sector,” Angelica replied. She wished she’d had the wherewithal to grab the Primer so she could read it in the car. From what she had seen from the plane, the city was far enough that this would be a long ride.
Actually, the ride was less than fifteen minutes. During that time, her overly friendly driver had asked all the usual small-talk questions: where she was from, how long she was staying, if she had any plans, etc. When they stopped in front of an average, uninteresting building, it took a moment for Angelica to realize it was her hotel. Only the broken sign over the door was the clue. The building itself looked like all the others: a beige rectangle with evenly spaced rectangular windows.
She pulled out her phone to pay, but her app did not register the ride. She looked up to ask the driver, who had a big, forced smile on her face.
Her driver said, “I hope you enjoyed your ride. It was a pleasure to serve you. How much will you add to the charge?”
“What?” Angelica asked.
“A tip–would you like to add one?”
“No,” Angelica said, not understanding the question. She did not know what a “tip” was, so, no, she did not want to add one.
The smile on the driver’s face was replaced with an angry glare. She turned back to the dashboard and punched the button to end the ride and handed Angelica the receipt.
Angelica took the slip of paper and looked down at it, not knowing what it was. Then, she remembered something her boss had said about saving the receipts to turn in later and figured that must be what this was.
“You can get out of the car now,” the driver said.
Realizing the driver was not going to get out and open her door for her, Angelica said, “Yes, okay,” as she fumbled with the door handle and stepped out.
As a bellhop stepped toward the car, the taxi driver honked to get his attention. She shook her head and yelled out the passenger window, “She doesn’t tip.”
The bellhop hesitated, considering that it was not worth the effort, then, to help Angelica. Then, he gave Angelica the once-over before turning back to the taxi driver and saying, “Maybe it’s just you,” and proceeded to get Angelica’s luggage out of the trunk for her.
After finding the front desk, with the help of the bellhop, Angelica gave the clerk her government-issued ID card and the travel permit that had been provided by her employer. She stood while the clerk entered her information and got her checked in.
After she was given a room assignment, a key, and a welcome packet, Angelica asked, “Is there a restroom I can use?” Then, she pretended to laugh and lied, “I should have gone at the airport. I just don’t think I can make it to the room.” She figured that was less embarrassing than facing the bellhop (who was still standing next to her) at the end of this interaction. The clerk pointed to a hallway, and Angelica turned to the bellhop and said, “I’ll just be a second,” and grabbed her carry-on bag.
In the restroom, she set her bag on the sink and found the Primer on Inland Culture. She flipped through the pages until she found the section on tipping. After quickly reading over what tipping even was in the first place, she found the part about hotel staff. At the end of her stay, she would have the option to add a tip to the entire bill, which would be divided amongst the hotel employees who had assisted her in any way during her stay. Either the hotel would divide the tip among them or she could specify who got how much.
She put the Primer back in her carry-on bag and went back to the lobby, where the bellhop was still waiting with her luggage. Apparently in the Inland (unlike everywhere else she had traveled–which she was now painfully aware had all been Coastal cities), she would have to actually interact with these employees.
On the Coasts, luggage would just show up in the room. Upon arrival (in a taxi which was much bigger, nicer, and newer than the one she had just ridden in and which had cold beverages and sumptuous snacks), someone would open your door for you; you would immediately be welcomed by a host who would escort you to their desk, where you would sit down as they checked you in to the hotel, while someone else served you a moist towel and refreshments on a silver tray; after check-in, you would be escorted by your host to your room. On the way, your host would take you on a short tour of the hotel, and by the time you arrived at your room, your luggage would be there waiting for you. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure who got the luggage out of the trunk of the taxi and took it to the room. She had never seen anyone actually do it.
As they took the rickety elevator up to her floor, she thought about how the bellhop had hesitated when the taxi driver said she didn’t tip. Had the bellhop considered not helping her at all? Would she have had to get her own luggage out of the car and carry it up to her room herself? Was such a thing even a possibility? The bellhop couldn’t just refuse to work, right?
The view from her room was absolutely boring. She should have expected as much by now, but when she pulled back the curtain to get a view of the skyline, there was none…or rather, what was there was just a bunch of beige rectangles with evenly spaced windows. It was uninspiring. It was depressing.
She shut the curtain and sat down on the bed to read the Primer. According to her itinerary, she had the option to go to a car show in the convention center that was attached to her hotel. She decided to skip it. Not only did she not care about cars, she had no desire to walk around in such unfamiliar territory. She had already had enough of the Inland.
The Primer only took about twenty minutes to read and, true to its name, barely introduced what she should expect and answered none of her questions.
She grabbed the menu for room service and called her husband. When he answered, she just said, “I want to come home.”
“Oh, honey,” he said. He had been to cities in the Inland for business trips before. He knew what she was going through. “It will get easier.”
“I’m just going to stay in my room until the meeting tomorrow. My flight is scheduled to leave shortly afterward, so I’ll just go straight to the airport when it’s over.”
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” he told her. “You need to get out there and get acclimated. You don’t want to be shocked by some of their weird customs when you’re at the meeting. You’ll look like an amateur.”
“This was a horrible idea. I’m not cut out for this.”
“You are. You’ll get through it and show your boss that you are able to handle business travel. And then you’ll get an increased stipend. Then, we can use the extra money to vacation on the Coasts.”
“How are the kids?” Angelica asked, changing the subject.
“You know they’re fine. We all miss you and can’t wait to see you tomorrow. But seriously, go out and explore the area, just to get used to it.”
After a few more words, they hung up, and she knew he was right. She would still skip the car show, but she would go to the musical, titled “Green is the Forest,” to which she was given tickets in her welcome packet from the hotel. She had time before it started to get a quick bite to eat, so she put the menu away, took a deep breath, and went back to the lobby.
The concierge told her there were no Coastal-exclusive restaurants in Des Moines. It was probably for the best.
As much as she wanted to immerse herself in Inland culture, she knew she could only really handle easing into it slowly. So she asked, “What’s the best restaurant you have here?”
“There’s one three blocks away that a lot of our regular patrons go to,” the concierge said as she pulled out a map of the area. She showed Angelica where they were located on the map and where the restaurant was. Then, she pointed to the entrance of the hotel and told her to turn left when she exited the door.
Angelica looked toward the entrance and could see Inlanders walking on the street through the transparent doors.
“Or, perhaps, I can call you a cab?” the concierge offered.
Angelica turned back to her and nodded. “Yes, that would be lovely. Thank you.” She was not ready to venture out among the walking traffic, even if it consisted of upper-middle-class Inlanders and visiting Coastals.
“Certainly,” the concierge said with a smile.
Having read the Primer and having already experienced riding in an Inland cab, Angelica handed her payment card to the driver as she got in, ignoring the aged wear of the interior, and left a tip before she got out.
She should not have been surprised, but for some reason the interior of the nicest restaurant in Des Moines left her speechless, not in a good way. Like everything else in this city, the interior was beige, though there was a soft yellow hue to the color that was probably a result of age. The tablecloths were various neutral colors, and there were prints hanging on the wall without frames (never mind that they were not originals).
Though not Coastal-exclusive, when she glanced about the dining room, she thought she only saw Coastals. She had never noticed before just how wonderful Coastals were in appearance–to be fair, she had never seen an Inlander before today–but now she relished in sitting in a room amongst her own people.
Coastals were beautiful, and now she truly appreciated just how beautiful they were. From the cosmetic genetic modifications their parents had gotten for them before birth to the plastic surgeries and consistent sessions with personal trainers, their bodies were sheer perfection.
She had not been prepared for the appearance of Inlanders. Did they not take care of themselves at all or did they just not have access to spas and skin treatments and hair products and makeup and nail polish? They all just looked so…raw. Worn. Aged. Like the seat cushion of the cabs she had taken and every piece of furniture in her hotel room–and her whole hotel, for that matter–and this whole city, for that matter.
And she had definitely not been prepared for the clothing. Every Inlander she had seen was wearing something bland, uninteresting, and not tailored. All their shirts, pants, shoes, and dresses looked like just anyone could have designed and made it without any sort of training or creativity at all. At least they wore colors, though all the clothing was one single color without patterns or texture. And had any of them ever heard of accessorizing!?!?
She was seated at a table along the wall and caught the eye of a fellow Coastal. She smiled, as was the custom on the Coasts when making eye contact (she had read in the Primer that Inlanders largely ignored each other), and she felt a warm relief when he gave a polite nod in acknowledgement. It felt so good to connect with at least one person in this city. Like finally having a friend on her side.
The young woman he was sitting with was facing away from Angelica, so she couldn’t see her, but she was wearing a dress that was way out of style. Angelica had owned a similar one long ago and for a fleeting moment wondered if it was coming back in style. Or maybe the new fad was to wear vintage. She felt so out of touch with today’s youth.
She ordered wine and steak and sincerely tried with all her best effort to hide the appalled look she must have had on her face when her wine was served in a plastic cup and she was expected to cut her steak with a plastic knife. It was then that she realized the tablecloths were not cloth but plastic.
The best steak knife on the Coasts could not have cut through the meat on her plastic plate. Upon seeing another patron do it, she pulled some of the meat apart with her hands and used her fingers in combination with the plastic fork and plastic knife to pull off chunks to eat. Like the wine, it completely lacked any flavor.
The theater was small, more like an auditorium at an academy, and–wait for it–beige. She was beginning to think that the city planner had accidentally ordered beige paint for every building and then had to use it for lack of funds to replace it.
She opened her program and flipped to the biographies of the actors. It was her favorite thing to read about when she went to shows. She loved reading about them, what academies they had studied at, what their particular take on art was and how they personally liked to interpret their roles, what their philosophies were that you could expect them to bring to the parts they portrayed, the title of their theses at the academies, and what they had starred in previously.
She frowned as she read the description of the lead below what looked like a selfie he had taken with his phone: “This actor has been in other plays.”
Well, which ones? she thought.
She read the description below the head shot of the next actor, which was also a low-quality selfie he had clearly taken with his Inland phone: “This actor has been in other plays.”
Where? she thought.
Most of the descriptions were the exact same, but a few had slight variations to the wording. For example, one read, “Has acting experience.”
Becoming distraught, she was happy to be interrupted by a man saying, “Excuse me.”
As she stood to let him pass her to get to his seat, she recognized him as the man she had seen at the restaurant! Angelica was delighted to see a familiar face in such an unfamiliar place.
“Hello!” she said with a genuine smile.
He gave a polite nod as he had done before and said hello.
As Angelica sat back down, she watched him sit next to the woman she had seen him with at the restaurant. The woman turned toward Angelica and smiled like she was a Coastal, but her clear plastic purse indicated that she was an Inlander. (Angelica had read in the Primer that Inlanders were only allowed to carry see-through bags.)
After returning the woman’s smile, Angelica turned back to her program.
Wait a minute.
Angelica looked back at the couple again, focusing on the woman in the out-of-style dress. Was she a Purebred?
Though the couple sat a few empty seats away, Angelica fought the urge to cover her mouth with the collar of her shirt. Purebreds did not have the genetic modifications that prevented them from getting sick. Of course Angelica had them, so she would not get sick, but she didn’t want to sit so close to someone who could have a disease.
She tried not to show disgust. She glanced at the man again as the lights dimmed and the musical began. What was he doing with a Purebred Inlander?
Even more so than the restaurant, the opening act left Angelica speechless, not in a good way. It was…awful. On all accounts. Her high school drama club had put on a play that a sophomore had written and directed, and it was way better than this. From the set to the costumes, everything looked thrown together, like they didn’t even try. The acting was painful to watch. She was so embarrassed for them. And the singing made her cringe. It literally hurt her ears to hear the off-key, inconsistent, weak sounds emanating from their lips.
She did not know how long her mouth had been wide open, but at some point during the second song she realized it and self-consciously glanced around as she shut her mouth and swallowed. As she did so, she glanced over at the couple from the restaurant, and her eyes widened involuntarily. Was he holding hands with that Purebred?
She looked around the small theater. There were plenty of empty seats. She would sit somewhere else after intermission.
When one of the stage crew walked across the stage, dragging the curtain along the long rod attached to the ceiling, there was a screeching sound as the metal rings from which the curtain hung were dragged along the metal rod.
She got up from her seat and went outside for a breath of fresh air, avoiding getting too close to any Inlanders walking nearby. There was a group of Coastals, so she joined them and made small talk.
When an announcement over the speaker alerted everyone that the show would resume shortly, she began following her new Coastal friends back inside. But she stopped short of the entrance and watched as they continued walking.
Why go back? As far as she could tell, there was no plot in “Green is the Forest.” (She was surprised they even knew there was another color besides beige.) So why did she care to see the end? Why was she putting herself through this?
She had never left a show before, that’s why.
But then she had never had the desire to leave one before. She just wanted to go back to her hotel room and sleep, not because she was tired but because the sooner she slept, the sooner tomorrow would get here, the sooner her meeting would be over, and the sooner she could go home.
She took a deep breath, and crinkled her nose at the smell. Oh, how this place stinks, she thought.
She knew the factories were far away in Lower Inland, but the smell of the chemicals and pollution was apparent, even though the Coastal Districts were supposed to be situated in the nicest areas of Inland cities and even though the buildings should have acted as some kind of shield against the smell. Instead, they seemed to trap it in.
She turned back to the street and hailed a cab. This was enough “acclimating” for one night.
Her boss had been right. She should have come on Friday.
(Read Part II: Acclimation at https://kellynthompson.com/2020/05/30/part-ii-acclimation/)
The Unexpected Inlander is available at Amazon.
For more deleted scenes from the Unexpected Inlander series, visit https://kellynthompson.com/category/deleted-scenes/.