Author Archives: demogirl06

Online Dating & The Union Of Two People In An Impromptu Road Trip

[I can’t promise I won’t want to sleep with you, but I would like to buy you dinner.]

The message arrived to your OK Cupid inbox in early April. You couldn’t help but smile. The messenger, a gentle looking fellow approaching his sixties, had a warm, innocent smile and a profile that spoke of his love for his children and the desire to be the best father that he could be. He had taken the time to read your profile in it’s entirety–an Homeric Odyssey of rules and regulations for how to manage ones expectations if sex were his or her primary incentive.

You responded to him and said that dinner was entirely unnecessary but that you would glady meet him. You were impressed that he had reached out to you at all through your gauntlet of filters, and you couldn’t help but wonder what kind of man he was.

The restaurant he’d suggested was Zagat-rated, on The Embarcadero, and pricey. You felt obliged to dress up like a girl–walk the one mile from your apartment in your new girly leather ballet flats, feet barking, pre-bunions forming. March had been a fascinating month for such girly enterprise. You’d returned from India and Nepal a full 25 lbs lighter than you had been when you’d embarked your trip. Weight loss plus sever dehydration and a lack of appetite rendered you a shocking 170.5 lbs at one point. You’d joked and said that if your saw the 160s, you’d check yourself into the hospital. You were tired, weak, breathless, and sick. Your external appearance to others, however, did not betray your gut-wrenching condition; to them, you appeared a tall, lean, lovely, and feminine creature. You thought, however, that were it not for the bronze of Indian and Himalayan sun, you would have appeared consumptive. Regardless, your online dating profile did not betray your illness; only your first impression did that.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” you began. “I’ve just returned from Nepal and I think I may have a parasite, so if I suddenly start making faces at you while you’re speaking–” you demonstrated for effect “–don’t take it personally. It’s just my gastric distress and it usually passes in a minute or so.”

Hot.

Nice first impression. It’s a tactic: gross them out of the prospect of sex with you.

Apparently the disclosure of sever diarrhea is not enough to dissuade hopeful men from a sexual prospect.

Robert, your gentle older date, was a fine fellow. He was your average guy in most respects, save his insatiable desire for life. He’s just emerged from a second marriage and was enjoying the freedoms that came with being unattached. He felt like he’d missed out on a lot–like he’d spent his whole life working and supporting his family and being the good husband that he’d let life pass him by. But he was not discouraged. He felt he had ample time to begin experiencing the world anew. He’d been raised very conservative and religious; it was a life that didn’t suit him at all. He’d felt the need to break free from his family’s religious norms. He’d felt the need to break free from a lot and challenge conventional expectations. He was, you might say, a diet-hard relativist. 

You weren’t drinking, but were glad to sit at the bar and sip a lemon water as he ordered cocktails. Naturally the conversation turned to sex. You were under no illusions that Robert had wanted to meet you purely for your fine personality or conversation. By virtue of your having agreed to meet him, he’d managed to get his foot in the door. The next step would have been to get you a little drunk and let the conversation become flirtatious. And then… maybe after another cocktail, you might change your mind.

This didn’t happen, of course. You were very clear about being queer. You were also very clear about being somewhat smitten with a woman you’d recently begun seeing. Sex was completely off the table, but you were happy to indulge him by talking very openly about the subject–a thing older men just love about you. By the end of the night, Robert had begun to speak to you in lurid promises. You listened to his declarations patiently, with amusement.

With your eyebrows lifted, “You’re going to dominate me? Tell me more. Are you going to gag me, beat me, strangle me?”

He seemed momentarily shocked. “Well, no…” and then followed with a PG-13-rated threat.

The two of you laughed together over the conversation. He was drunk and delighted to have the freedom to speak so freely; you were sober and simply amused.

When you left him at the bar, you doubted that the two of you would meet again.

*     *     *

But Robert was persistent.

Were it not for the fact that he traveled to San Francisco almost weekly for work and had been staying in hotels that were 15 minutes walking from your front door, you probably wouldn’t have agreed to another dinner with him. But you have great difficultly ignoring earnest people. Robert, furthermore, had offered to receive a massage. You were still unemployed, very poor, and struggling to make 300 bucks a month stretch in San Francisco.

You met Robert for dinner (comped by his company), and told him what you’d been up to lately. A lot of dates–or as you like to call them, “conversational adventures.” A lot a walking around. A lot of gut episodes.

This weekend I’m hitch hiking to Seattle,” you mentioned.

Robert’s eyes flew wide open. “Seattle? I wish I’d known. I could have driven you there. We could have taken a road trip!”

It seemed a bit eager on his part, but you went with it. “Hey, no reason we can’t take a road trip in the future.”

“I’ve got a bunch of time off, too. Vacation days I’ve been saving. Hell, we don’t need to go to Seattle. We could just get in the car and go anywhere. I love the idea of just getting in the car and going with you. Have an adventure!”

“I’m good for that kind of thing.”

“Hell, we could go to Arizona, or Texas, or New Orleans!”

You chirped. Or yelped. Or some combination of the two. The noise–of girlish surprise–startled you. The noise indicated your realization that he was dead serious.

“Oh my goodness, this isn’t just mental masturbation, is it?”

Robert shook his head. He was dead serious.

You told him your reservations about a road trip. It’s expensive. The cost of fuel. The hotels. You had nothing to contribute. He didn’t care. “I want to have an adventure.”

“Okay, listen,” you began. “When you sober up you have the chance to back out. But if you don’t, and you really are serious about taking this road trip, then I will keep my word and come with you. And I promise to do everything possible to keep your costs low.” You began to hammer out logistics. Possible routes. Time frame. Budget. And more.

All on the second date.

*     *     *

You may have been less than forthcoming about the details of how you met Robert when you announced that you would be going on a road trip with a “friend.” Yes, you met him under the most lurid of hopeful circumstances. So what if he PG-13-promised you? What did it matter if he probably harbored sexual fantasies? Maybe had some hope that you would change your mind during the trip… These things you considered, but you failed to muster feelings of concern for your safety. Maybe you understand men too well by now. Maybe you’re too lenient and should be enforcing the “oughts” of behavioral expectations on them; slap the backs of their wrists when they objectify you. But you don’t. You can’t fault men for being men. You’re extremely liberal on this subject. As long as people are polite and honest, what’s the harm? (How one succeeds in politely PG-13ing a liberal lesbian is beyond the scope of this entry).

Men have their motivations, be it for sex or for company–for adventure or spontaneity. Whatever Robet’s reasons were (you decided he needed to do something radical with a partner in crime), you felt no judgement. As for you, you would get to travel through the southwest United States; it was a small goal you’d off-handedly made for yourself while still in Nepal, which you never suspected would be accomplished. So the official version of the story goes: two people met; each stated his or her conditions; the other agreed to the terms and a road trip ensued.

If there’s one thing you’ve learned about people since beginning your travels, it’s that if you treat them kindly and are honest and genuine with them, you can cut through the majority of sexual tension and potential for exploitation pretty quickly. You showed Robert your hand: you were enamored with a woman, had no desire to be experimental with men, intended to come back from the trip and immediately start school, a job, and an internship all in the same week. You would be studying biology and chemistry (and Swedish) while on the road. You would talk to him, help him find hotels, be a good navigator, suggest an itinerary, and make sure he got on his feet and saw things he might otherwise pass up. You would happily sit with him in bars and objectify waitresses, offer him moral support, and talk about sex and porn and music and movies and everything else. Bar none.

“This is really great, Maria. You’re like a guy, but much cuter.”

So you’ve been told. You have a monopoly on friendships with older, single men who want to talk about things they can’t normally talk about with their guy friends. Not without judgement; you had none to offer.

In your days of preparation, you idly wondered if you daft for saying yes. You barely knew the guy!  Maybe your character assessment had been all wrong and it was a ploy? What if…? What if…? Cue some modest level of pre-trip paranoia.

While travel has gotten you accustomed to trusting people and believing that their intentions are usually good, you do not trust people perfectly. You later told Robert that, no offense, you had a sleeping bag and a camping tent with you and could easily hitchhike your way back to the Bay Area if something untoward occurred. Maybe this hurt his feelings; maybe he accepted it at face value. You didn’t ask. He didn’t seem bothered.

Well, it turned out that you and Robert got along like fish in water. He was a most excellent travel partner, despite your differences in age, energy, and experience. The trip began on your birthday, May 23rd, which you spent sitting at the bar of Red Robin. You ordered a veggie burger and a devilishly “modest” ice cream sundae. It was then four hours to San Luis Obispo, where Robert lived when he wasn’t traveling to San Francisco. You spent the weekend lying about, eating your hormones, and watching hours and hours of The Walking Dead. Turned out you and Robert shared a passion for zombies. All was off to a great start.

You practically had to kick him out of his front door on Monday when he suggested not leaving for another day (he didn’t want to leave his daughter alone in her mother’s house in SLO.) It was endearing but frustrating. The delay made you nervous because if you lost another day you wouldn’t have time to get to Austen and back before your job started. You were ready to throw in the towel on the entire trip, nervous about your time line as well as frustrated by the voluntary separation from the new lady you were dating (yeah, you were pretty into her).

 You packed a box of snacks and made Robert get his shit together, which took him all of twenty minutes because he was, after all, a seasoned traveler for work. He later thanked you for spurring him into action. “If you weren’t here, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out the door at all.”

But you did! And the two of you drove from San Luis Obispo, CA to Austen, TX and back in fewer than ten days.

You learned that you and Robert were extremely travel compatible. He was a chilled out, easy-going guy. Always happy to check something out at random. You were appalled by the price of the petrol (turns out it is cheaper to fly and rent a car than for two people to drive). You did everything you could to keep his costs low, first by scavenging coupons and local deals on dive motels, then keeping your entrees under ten bucks whenever possible–sometimes under five (a baked potato in the southwest is not only the cheapest option, but the healthiest!). You split coffees with him, never ordered alcohol, and was simply content to be along for the ride. Robert often laughed at your impromptu lunches out of the car boot–the way you could chow down through pounds of raw vegetables. He was, like everyone else, impressed by the amount of food you can eat. You encouraged him to join you in your tail gate lunches–to shop from supermarkets for fresh fruit and veg and make sandwiches. He liked the savings and the added perk of knowing he’d made a healthy choice, but it didn’t keep him from caving to the temptation of a hot evening meal.

It was a standard American road trip. Nothing crazy happened. Everything went off without a hitch. You rolled though the desert on cruise control, took turns reading out loud to each other (A Billion Wicked Little Thoughts–a book about what pornographic web searches say about human sexual desire; and the autobiography of Rita Moreno, of all things!). The trip unfolded with no plan other than to head east. One night you were crashed out in a dimly lit motel, the next you were wined and dined at a Kimpton resort hotel! And then everything in between.

But the pictures tell the story better.

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Hitchhiking San Francisco to Seattle: Money, Guns, Drugs, and The Promise You Never Thought To Keep

 

You’ve met a lot of people during your travels.

Like, a lot.

No seriously. A lot, a lot.

But some of the most memorable and cherished people you met came from El Camino de Santiago, an 800 km pilgrimage originating in the little French town of St. Jean pied de Port and ending in Santiago de Compostella, Spain. It is a unique walk, drawing people from all parts of the globe, for a myriad of reasons. Pilgrims meet, speak, share, and form walking groups bound by purpose, similar walking speeds, and a bit of shared suffering.

You adored the core members of your walking group, the numbers of which rose and fell depending on injury rates and rest days taken. You would part ways and meet again, always unintentionally. Everyone walked their own walk. But some people re-appeared so frequently that their magnetic pull would bring you to meet them again, outside of Spain.

Loved these guys.

Loved these guys.

There were Fred and Jenn, your favorite French Canadians whom you would later intercept in Porto, Portugal a week after the end of the Camino. You went up the hill, chugged some port, did the tour for the second time in your life, and then had a heinously confusing drive back to your host’s house (a drive Fred and Jenn will remember for a lifetime).

What better pair to go Port tasting with?

What better pair to go Port tasting with?

There was Grethe the Trail Angel, a Danish woman who often stirred you to tears simply for being a warm and inspiring human being; you visited her two months later in Denmark, where she wined and dined you, brought you along to her family’s annual picnic which included a sandcastle building contest (you won, of course, but not without drawing blood); and bought you lunch in Copenhagen.

You Love this woman. Capital L love.

You Love this woman. Capital L love.

There was Niny, the incredible Dutch woman who riveted you with stories of her life and repeatedly saved everyone’s asses with her fluency in five languages; you stayed with her in Utrecht. She took you on a paddle through the canals, long walks in and around the city, and did you the greatest favor of all: allowed you to crash in her flat for a long while to re-charge your travel batteries, where you did little else but veg out and go on long training runs.

Niny, the bees knees. Incredible lady.

Niny, the bees knees. Incredible lady.

And then there was Paul…

He was a gregarious fellow with a face built around a smile. He walked and talked and laughed. He celebrated early-morning walking breaks with a beer in one hand and a shot of Jack Daniels in the other. He loved good times and good company. You loved his energy. And you’d finally met your match when it came to walking-talking energy. You and Paul got along like fish in water and chatted about everything from diet and exercise, to health food and supplements, to your shared desire to go back to school to become physical therapists.

Alas, Paul was a short-lived member of your walking group; after a fit of rain, Paul had to stay indoors on account of his tricky ear. He offered to pay for yours and (a very wet) Katie’s hostel that night, if you wanted to stay on with him, but you insisted on sticking to your itinerary.

That’s when he slipped a 20-euro note into your palm, suggesting that you stay in a hostel that night anyway, rather than camp in the rain. You stood there, shocked, bent on refusal.

Paul said, “You will pay me back by coming to Bend, Oregon and cooking me a dinner.”

Okay, maybe you didn’t promise to make him dinner, but as time went on, it began to feel that way. Paul became a devoted reader of your blog. You told yourself again and again that you would certainly have to make good on that 20 euros, get yourself to Bend, Oregon, and make him dinner.

* * *

Weed, California.

Weed, California.

Where you going?” your driver asked. He’d picked you up in a little town called Weed, California.

Bend.”

What’s in Bend?”

Some guy I met in Spain. He spotted me 20 euros on the condition that I come to Bend and make him dinner.”

This statement delighted you. It made you consider how wonderful and spontaneous travel can be; two people can meet halfway around the world, know each other for just a handful of moments, and effortlessly reconnect down the line.

Your travel buddies know this well: the freedom and flexibility of their lives that makes last-minute visits possible: “You’re in Estonia? Come swing through Warsaw on your way to The Netherlands…” Sure. Why not? No problem. On a shoestring budget, the trip costs virtually nothing aside from time and energy, of which people have less and less to spare.

You’d love to brag and say that you were going to Bend solely to cook Paul dinner. Oh, if only your life were as light and carefree as it used to be. Over one year later after meeting Paul, you were in San Francisco, faced with the task of going home to Seattle to put out some fires, catch up with friends and family, and ship your stuff to California. You understood that Bend, Oregon was a halfway point between the two cities.

You shot Paul an email, told him that you were on your way to make him dinner. He laughed and said he couldn’t believe you remembered. You told him that you would leave on a Sunday—grab your first-ever Craigslist Rideshare to escape the Bay Area, and then hitchhike up to him.

Hitchhiking! Your friends cautioned you against it. “Why not fly?”

Why spend a hundred bucks on a plane ticket when hitchhiking is free? And you get an adventure!

You explained your rationale: first of all, Paul was in Bend, which you’ve always wanted to re-visit; second, hitching through central Oregon and Washington, on highways that cut through farmland, desert, and mountains would not only be gorgeous, but easy, and you would get to avoid the risk of getting bogged down in Salem, Portland, Vancouver, Olympia, or Tacoma along the way (thumbing out of a city is a royal pain in the butt); third, you’d never yet had the opportunity to distance hitchhike in the United States. So in your mind, this was a win-win-win situation.

Wide open spaces!

Wide open spaces!

You admit to a bit of nail biting about hitchhiking in the USA. This may come as a surprise to many, considering the 30,000 kilometers you’ve already accumulated in Europe, and a smattering of kilometers in India. What’s the big deal, anyway?

Well… umm… the country is literally covered with guns! And what about the fact that the United States boasts something like eight times the rate of gun-related homicides when compared to other developed countries? What about the incarceration rates? The number of people on psychiatric drugs?

Fear, fear, fear, fear!

You are ashamed to have let your imagination get the better of you. You balked from hitching in your own country for years, simply because after years of travel, you still don’t trust people (which may be why you never get yourself into trouble). Americans are a special kind of crazy, so you thought.

On the other hand, the hitchhike might be exceptionally easy. You’ve never had the luxury of doing so under same-language-same-culture-familiar-infrastructure circumstances. You speak American English, for god’s sake! You understand that staring, unlike in some countries, is considered rude. You can hear the intonation in people’s words. You’d know it immediately if some guy was intent on misbehaving.

Then there was the belief that even though Americans are afraid of everything, they are inordinately friendly and ready to help. This you believed to your core, especially after Angus said, “The difference between the USA and [Ireland] is that if you walk into a pub and say, ‘I’m gonna be the best boxer in the world!’ we’ll say, ‘Shut up, you wanker. Sit down and drink your beer.’ But in the US, they’ll say, ‘Awesome! Pull up a chair and tell me how you’re going to do it!”

That’s the United States. Friendly, open, curious. So who wouldn’t pick up a nice looking lady smiling with her thumb out?

* * *

HITCHHIKING SAN FRANCISCO TO SEATTLE (DAY 1)

Hitchhiking San Francisco to Seattle

Hitchhiking San Francisco to Seattle

– 1 –

Rideshare: Technically not a hitchhike, but still a car full of strangers. You’d thrown this lift together last-minute when your original rideshare guy flaked. At 9 o’clock in the morning, the “gold whip” pulled into the Lake Merritt BART station parking lot, and you found yourself greeted by your bartender-rapper-lady-driver with a hungover, ashen-faced, black-clad gentleman lying in the backseat. After a few minutes struggling with an iPhone mummified in Scotch tape, Rapper Chick headed north.

They were hippies, both of them. Sort of. Rapper Chick had been a backpack baby, whose parents schlepped her city to city, country to country. The man in the back was a bit of a wanderer himself, never content to work the same job too long, but handy at a number of things. The three off you discussed the shared economy, American fear mentality and the downsides of too much technology. They were nice, easy to talk to, and sad to see you go.

What you’re doing…” said the pale hungover fellow (too much whiskey the night before), “I think it’s pretty righteous. Traveling around like that. Hitchhiking.” He hinted that he would like to cross paths some day again. You said the driver had your information and stepped out of the whip.

– 2 –

You waited only four minutes before a classic yellow car (just back from the car show), the make and model of which escape you, grabbed you. The driver was an energetic old fellow who’d said, “Hitchhiking! I did that, too! All over Europe.”

It was really all over the world. Alone. With his wife and babies. Often with no money. Sometimes with money.

You were impressed.

He talked at you, incessantly about himself. You chalked this up to him being an old man; older people have a tendency to waffle on forever, reliving the good old days in their heads despite their audience. It also didn’t help that he was nearly deaf.

When you got out of the car, he insisted on teaching you his fail-safe hitchhiking method: “Always look like you’re ready to go. Either wear your bag, or have it right there by your feet. When you lock eyes with the driver, start walking down the road like you already know he’s going to pull over.”

You rolled your eyes.

– 3 –

Then there was the depressed hippie, for whom you also waited four minutes. After first saying, “So what’re you going to Bend for?” he allowed you to say approximately twenty-five words before cutting you off and, too, talking about himself incessantly. Only everything he uttered was depressing.

This is a tough world. We all don’t have the same advantages. I had to make do with what I got. It ain’t always easy. And I moved up here for a quiet life. I go into town about once a week, shop for the things I need, eat at the Applebee’s, and head home. I seen you there, standing. Thought what the heck, it’s someone to talk to. This world’s going down hill. I’m just tryin’ to make ends meet. And I don’t want nothin’ to do with death. This whole life is death. One thing gotta eat another thing to live. Everything is death and destruction. You mind if I smoke this? Yeah. I used to do them drugs. Now I just smoke grass. First time I smoked, I was fourteen years old. I’ve been high ever since…”

On and on and on he went. You couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and the energy in the truck was heavy and sad. His body language was sad. Slow. But not deliberate. He sagged in his seat. He smoked his joint, hot-boxed the interior, and you rolled down the window to suck at the clean air wafting in.

He dropped you at a lonely crossroads and turned down a local road.

– 4 –

The next car, ten minutes later, carried two guys. It pulled over quickly and the guys each jumped out to arrange the back seat, which was littered in beer cans, cigarette boxes, coolers, munchies, and clothes. The license plate read Nevada. They were headed to Seattle, each of them originally being from Washington.

You didn’t feel the best in that car, you must admit. The driver seemed cool enough. He had hitched his way across the USA years ago and had also been a hardcore backpacker, even doing a section of the Pacific Coast Trail with little more than a pocket knife and some fish hooks.

But his buddy was a different story. He looked a bit like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He was drunk, and high. He kept finding excuses to turn around and look at you, reaching for another beer, or the giant mason jar packed with weed. He said things to you like, “You have gorgeous eyes.” Ugh! “You know any good live music scene, being from Seattle?” Please stop talking. “You got a boyfriend?”

He flirted with you off and on, constantly gazing upon you with a look of warm interest. Stoned interest. Drunk interest. But harmless interest. He used a few tacky lines, including, “Maybe we’ll have to swing by your place some day and cook you dinner.” To this, you did not know how to respond. Your eyelids dropped. You were exhausted. The passenger offered you his jacket as a blanket. You passed out in the back seat, against your best judgment, but you were simply too damn tired to remain awake.

You felt far more comfortable with the driver, whom you suspected was monitoring the exchanges between you and his friend, in case tension mounted. But he was clearly not a person with good judgment: he was speeding along Oregon’s very slow highways, with open containers, a mason jar full of weed, and a transient in the back who could easily be carrying illicit substances. He was covered in gold, and you later pegged him as a drug dealer, based on a few comments he made about how to make a living in Tahoe.

They dropped on you the Bend Parkway. You dodged traffic, ran across it. Then realized your error and dodged more traffic. Trespassed over a railway, dropped onto Greenway Ave, and noted the police car that had been tailing Paul, who came to swoop you.

You’re sure the police were concerned for the safety of the nice looking lady who jumped out of a car on the busy parkway.

ONE DAY IN BEND

Yo Paul!

Yo Paul!

Paul is the man. You doubt you’ve met anyone else with more interests aligned with yours. His house was tidy, but full of outdoors sports equipment: bikes, skis, boots, camping cookware. Health food items like quinoa, fresh fruit, raw almonds, green powders, and ginger chews lined the shelves of his kitchen. He takes his chef knife seriously (and now, so does your finger). He drinks Old Rasputin. He watches documentaries on the environment. His magazines: cycling, runner’s world, and others you couldn’t leave sitting unread.

You arrived with a headache and highly fatigued, but please to be there. You used a few fresh greens you’d brought from Berkeley to add some color to his bean soup, cooked up a veg stir fry, and sat down to eat. Part of you imagined going to the supermarket to obtain a few crucial items to cook a thoughtful meal, expecting Paul to live like a bachelor and stocking only mustard in the fridge (he, too, loves his mustard), but you were wrong. His food was all delightfully healthy. It felt silly trying to make good on twenty euros with the guy’s own produce, but what could you do?

Mt Bachelor

Mt Bachelor

Paul drove you to Mt. Bachelor the following morning. He took you on a walking tour of Bend. The two of you wandered into the Deschuttes Brewery for four free samples and the best beer tour of your life.

Beer!

Beer!

Then you went to Ten Barrel for lunch. Headed home and learned about a few of the violent murders that had happened recently. “Two women abducted and sodomized another woman because she had allegedly been flirting with one of the murder’s boyfriend.”

Despite the shocking news, the day ended gently. You cooked dinner again—something similar to the night before. And then decided it would be funny to check out the local Monday night hip-hop rap show at a sushi restaurant. Random.

SAN FRANCISCO TO SEATTLE (Day 2)

– 5 –

His name was Richard. He drove a van. You’d been waiting about fifteen minutes. He’d passed you once, pulled a U-turn, came back, did another U-turn, and pulled up next to you.

Now normally when someone doubles back for you, it’s a bad sign. Guys sometimes just seem too eager to have you in their car. But Richard felt okay. He had to move a bunch of tools around. The van was filthy. But he got you inside.

Where you from?”

You began.

And he cut you off and talked about himself.

I used to be a downhill skier. I wanted to go to the Olympics. I was trying to be the fastest guy in the world. I’m small. I ain’t heavy like them other guys. But I never quit. Til I got injured. I traveled around a lot like yourself. Went to Europe, too. Joined the French Foreign Legion. Went to The Congo. I was shot in the ass. I’ve been injured a lot. Yes. They shot me in the ass. I should be dead now. I’ve nearly been killed many times. And I’ve killed many people. Killed them rapist, pillaging motherfuckers with my bare hands. I’m a strong guy. Fuck! I can’t believe I’m sixty! I’m sixty! And you’re how old? Thirty? I’m literally twice your age!”

You didn’t like hearing that he was weighing his age against yours, just after telling you he’d killed people. It rubbed you the wrong way.

I mean, what would a girl be doing with a sixty year old fart like me?”

Stop telling people you are sixty and maybe it won’t matter,” you offered. He didn’t look a day over fifty.

You’re thirty. I just met my daughter. She’s thirty, too. And she’s got three kids. I didn’t even know I had a daughter. That was couple weeks back. I used to be proud of the fact that I’d never knocked up a single girl.”

You acknowledged that the reunion must have come as a great surprise.

I’ve been workin’ construction my whole life. I can build. I’m also a mechanic. No. I’m a magician. These hands–” he held them up for effect, taking them off the wheel– “work magic. I just have to lay them on a car and it starts workin’ for me. But I ain’t no mechanic. I just fix everything. I’m a tough mother fucker. I’ve been workin’ my whole life. I ain’t big. You’re tall and lanky. I’m like, sinewy. Tough as a mother fucker. I used to get into all kinds of trouble. I was a hot head. I used to do lots of drugs. I dealt pounds of cocaine at one point. But I don’t do drugs no more. Just pain killers. Love those. I’m on a lot of pain killers right now. I’ve had a lot of injuries that cause me a lot of pain.”

Richard had begun to repeat himself. You didn’t like it. He seemed very one track, like he had a narrative he had to tell. It wasn’t a good sign. When men talk at you, and not to you, and their volume increases, it usually means trouble.

You know, I like you, Marie,” he said. “I like you a lot.”

But you haven’t said anything!

I’m gonna do you a favor and drive you across to the north side of town and drop you on a good road.”

You were pleased by this news, but also not. Most of all, you wanted to just get the hell out of his van as soon as possible.

Yeah, I like you,” he continued. “Will you do something for me, Marie?”

It depends on what that thing is,” you answered flatly.

He didn’t respond.

You asked, “So… you see hitchhikers around here often?”

I never pick up hitchhikers unless I’ve got my .45 with me.”

Ohjesushchrist it’s true! The United States is covered in guns!

You got a weapon with you, Marie? Anything? You should have a gun with you, or a knife, at least. Pepper spray. I got this here knife–” he pulled out a four-inch pocket blade, much larger than the little one you’d noticed clipped on his right pocket. He handed it to you.

Holding his knife made you feel worse. Possibly because you knew that in a worst-case scenario, you could stab him with it and he’d surely be able to rape and kill you anyway.

I’ve had that knife for a while. It’s a good one. ‘Course I don’t need a knife. I can kill with my bare hands. I’m a tough mother fucker. But I ain’t into hurtin’ unarmed people. I don’t kill unarmed civilians. That’s wrong.”

You said coolly, “From what I know, the people who have registered hands and know how to kill have the strongest ethics and are more peaceful than people who think they know how to inflict harm.”

Please be true, please be true, please be true!

That’s right. Yup.” He talked on and on about guns, death, drugs, rapists, pillagers, and more. His voice was frenetic, sometimes skipping like a record. There was anger and tension in it, then sudden calm and cheer. You wondered if he was struggling to hold things together. You wondered if it would occasion him to play head games with you. Sometimes men just like to scare women… so on and on he talked about all the things that make ladies feel uncomfortable. Especially about how he was always prepared to kill something.

Please! Stop sharing this information!

The large folding knife sat between the two of you.

You had every logical reason to be afraid of this guy, and truly, you wanted out of the van as soon as possible, so you watched the road for a service station. Anything that seemed appropriate. Your gears were grinding. But one thing wasn’t: your stomach. You paid careful attention to what your gut what telling you, compared to what your brain was telling you. Brain said, “Get the hell out of this guy’s van, you stupid beezy!” Gut said, “Me? Worried? Nahh…”

So you told your brain to shut up and forced yourself to maintain a cool, composed smile, and relaxed body language. You forced him to talk about his daughter and his grand kids until he dropped you at a service station.

As you wrestled your bag out of the back of the van, you realized your hands were shaking.

– 6 –

After five minutes, you climbed into a beater driven by an old Alaskan man with a teeny-weeny, mangy doggy. The type whose fur is all stinky and matted, who can’t see through its own long hair, that shivers a bit, but loves to sit in a girl’s lap.

The old man had just bought a house and told you all about how happy he was for the good deal. Conversation was warm, friendly, and easy. The lift was short and sweet, but where your highway split off from the main road, there was very little traffic.

– 7 –

Five minutes of waiting. The driver’s name was Kevin. He handled a large truck fully loaded with hay. He was on his way to the Columbia River. It was certainly the best lift you’ve had in ages, and one of your favorite truck drivers. He was a huge wall of a man, but with the energy of a gentle giant. The truck was tidy. He offered you water and soda. You chatted with him for hours.

You learned that he was a lovely liberal with a conservative upbringing. He said things like, “My daughter is a professional baby maker,” scoffing at the fact that she already had five children.

But you have five kids, too,” you reminded him.

He held up a cautionary finger. “Two of em ain’t mine. They’re my step kids.”

Oh, I see…” Three’s the limit.

Kevin talked for a while about his “gay stepson.” And his “gay stepson’s” “partner.” They lived together with Kevin and his wife.

The thing is, you wouldn’t know he was gay. He don’t dress gay. He and his partner never show any physical affection towards each other when I’m around. I guess outta respect. I appreciate that. I guess the two of ’em, they want to open a salon or something.” He spoke carefully, suppressing a laugh and shaking his head gently from side to side, a pendulum of potential patronizing.. You couldn’t tell if he was a bigot. Kevin mulled over how to phrase it. “A salon. These two guys… I have to say…”

Say what? Is it a joke? Too stereotypical?

Kevin said it,“They’ve saved me a lot of money cutting hair and doing nails. I’ve got a lot of girls. And my wife, too.” He smiled almost painfully amused. “They’re really great to live with.”

You wanted to laugh. It wasn’t what you expected to hear. Kevin surprised you in a lot of ways, stating that he was becoming more and more vegetarian, that he was happy to see more of the region converting to organics, that he would love to live in San Francisco. But when he said these things, it was with the pitch and cadence of a cautious country boy who possibly felt he lacked the vocabulary to talk about liberal ideas in a politically correct way. His stepson was not his stepson, but his “gay stepson.”

You and Kevin laughed and talked and chewed tobacco together. He got a kick out of you. “Well, you ain’t green from it yet.” You admitted to a few nasty habits you’d picked up in India. You talked about differed religions, cultures, misunderstandings. To your horror, Kevin also told you about a few recent murders in the area. You shook your head in disbelief.

Columbia River crossing

Columbia River crossing

All in all, it was a spectacular lift. He smiled broadly and said, “Take care of yourself, kid!” You threw his door closed and marched over to a line of trucks.

– 8 –

You didn’t wait for this lift. Walked right up to another truck queuing for the bridge over the Columbia. The window said, “NO RIDERS.” Didn’t seem to make a difference.

Your driver looked like Santa Claus. He was a man of few words. You pried him for information about the local industry. Confirmed that he was hauling dairy cow feed. You asked about his family, about his world views. Whether he was happy.

At some point, like the others, he talked about violence and murder in the region. Some Fed Ex guy opened fire on someone. One kid stabbed another kid because he couldn’t get a date to the prom. Two boys abducted another boy, took him out to the woods to do drugs, and then shot him over a debt of thirty-five dollars.

Are you kidding me?” you said. “Is there something in the water that’s making people so violent?”

Shudder.

– 9 –

Four minutes of waiting.

The first thing you noticed was the passenger’s bloody, scabbed knuckles. He was a young-faced, blond, blue-eyed country boy with the hint of peach fuzz on his upper lip. The driver, Scar Face, was Hispanic; it looked like someone had stabbed him in the jaw with a broken beer bottle years ago. You crawled into the back seat next to two child seats. The third one was in the trunk.

Peach Face turned back to look at you, eyes smiling. It wasn’t long after you gave him the Reader’s Digest version of your life and why you were hitchhiking that he asked, “Do you do a lot of drugs?”

Drugs? Well. I’ve definitely done them. Most of them. But I can’t say I do a lot of them.”

He wanted to know more. You listed them off. He talked about his favorite drugs. “Drugs have changed my life. They taught me that we are all the same. You and me. We’re the same. It’s all this universal energy. Cosmic. Shit like that, you know? Life is an illusion. I’m just a little kid playing with a bouncing red ball in the corner. The red ball is what I perceive. It’s there for my amusement.”

I’ve never heard anyone describe it that way,” you said pensively. You weren’t sure if you could agree. Then again, people see what they want to see. What you want to see serves you in some way, possibly for your own amusement, sense of purpose, or whatever. If you see the world as positive, beautiful, and full of possibility, you might just create something incredible for yourself. If, like the depressed hippie, you see nothing but barricades, death, sadness, and misery, you might create a reality in which you are destined to be depressed. Mind over matter. East vs. West?

–you tuned back in.

Asked Peach Face, “What happened to your hands?”

He turned his hands palms down. “Oh this? I destroyed everything in my path.”

Perhaps he saw your eyes, how they widened ever so slightly in exasperation. “Tell me more about that.”

I needed to destroy everything in my environment. My phone, the walls, my TV, my furniture. Everything. I had to let it all out. Sometimes I get that way. The anger needs to come out–”

A psychiatrist recently told me that anger is a safer emotion than sadness.” You explained how you are a crier. How your cup brims with frustration, feelings, and more and overflows. All the time.

Nah, I get angry. And it gets me into trouble, too. I get involved in shit. Always in trouble with the police. Dumb shit. And when I got angry this last time, ’cause I broke my phone, I had to walk to work in order to call in sick. They were like, ‘But you walked here. You’re here at work!’ and I held up my hands and showed them. I can’t work. I’m a custodian. I need my hands.”

You asked him if he knew it when he broke a knuckle, or if he just kept punching. Whether he’d gone to the hospital for it. Whether he would be able to return to work soon.

Yeah, soon. Hey, you know how to make lots of money real quick?”

You laughed. “If I did, do you think I’d be hitchhiking?”

This made Scar Face laugh. “No kidding!”

Listen,” you said. “I don’t know how to make lots of money. But I can tell you that it’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep. It’s about investing in value and knowing the difference between what you want and what you need.”

Yeah, that’s my problem. I spend too much. On dumb shit. Shit I don’t need. Man, I gotta become the next Bill Gates. All I need is an idea!”

Scar Face: “You could be the next Facebook kid! That guy who started Facebook. What’s his name?”

You also need a bit of luck. And you need to put in a lot of time,” you interjected. “Bill Gates admitted to getting lucky with the things he had access to. But he also put in a lot of time.”

The boys didn’t seem to hear this. They spouted on back and forth about getting rich. They just needed to find a way that didn’t take work.

You suggested selling drugs and sex.

When they finally dropped you off, after driving in circles and arguing about the best place to leave you waiting, they thanked you for the tips and wished you well. You smiled and shook your head from side to side, thinking guys like that, despite their criminal records and poor judgment, were still fine and helpful people.

– 10 –

Waited five minutes. The lift was short and sweet. The driver, about your age. An aquatics environmental engineer. Or something. Seemed to think he knew a good place to leave you. A lonely crossroads with no traffic. Perhaps he was wrong.

Then again, maybe he was right.

– 11 –

You waited fifteen minutes at the lonely crossroads. No one seemed to be going in your direction. You smiled, kept your head up, thought about how four string cheeses and a Cliff bar wasn’t enough to eat that day. Cars and trucks passed. You waved at them amicably. Many drivers shrugged their shoulders, smiled, and waved their hands in apology.

When you saw the truck, you knew it would stop. You locked eyes with the driver and practically pointed him to the shoulder. At the passenger door, you confirmed he was going in your direction and climbed in.

You’ve met a lot of people who have traveled. You know a lot of people who are still traveling. There are many types of travelers: the spoiled Euro Trip backpackers, the freegans, the hippies, the road trippers, the campers, the serial couch surfers, long-term volunteers, the walkers, the monks… You are fascinated by how people travel, by how they budget, by the choices they make. What works for one person may not work for another.

You’ve prided yourself on being pretty badass, minimalist, and independent. But you’ve also met plenty of people who go at it harder than yourself. You feel a lot of respect for most of them, and disdain for some others. You have strong feelings about travelers who travel because they don’t have their shit together, and travelers who can organize and choose to do what they do. You’ve had the “why I don’t ever pick up hitchhikers” talk more times than you can guesstimate; it’s because many people who have been reduced to hitchhiking have possibly made poor decisions and are not organized–and those are the people you don’t want in your car.

Which leads you back to your driver, who was an interesting fellow. He was enormous, with hands that could crush a skull. He was a property manager, a handyman, and a former MMA fighter. He’d hitchhiked around the United States one summer, alone, with nothing.

I left my hometown with eight bucks in my pocket. I came back with eight bucks in my pocket. I didn’t have anything. Just my clothes. I slept behind dryers at laundromats, or near heat vents on the roofs of buildings. I hopped freight trains. Went to parties. Dodged the cops. I was in trouble a lot. But that hitchhiking trip was the time of my life.”

You talked about what traveling teaches. About the kindness, the goodness in people. You told him about your previous drivers. About the ideas you’ve heard from everyone, from all walks of life, economic classes, political and religious affiliations. “Even these two boys I just rode with. I think most people look at them with distrust. And maybe they should. But my experience of them was nothing but kindness and interest in me as a person. I try to show people the same. You get what you give.”

Your driver agreed. “People have helped me so much. I owe a lot to the world. I’m doing my best to be a good father right now. A good husband. A good worker. And to enjoy my life. You make me miss the freedoms I had then.”

The conversation never dwindled. It felt nice to meet someone with shared experiences. He understood exactly many of the scenarios you described from your own travels. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” he said. “I’m really glad I met you today. I almost didn’t take that road. I had this inner conflict. I normally drive the other way. But something nagged at me and said to go in your direction. Now I know why.”

You smiled at this. Shifted in the car, preparing to get out after he pulled into town.

I’d like to give you some money,” your driver said. “And I don’t want you to refuse.”

You drew a breath. Worded carefully, “I can’t say this isn’t the first time someone has offered to give me money. Normally I do refuse.”

Please don’t.”

When you told me that you left home with eight bucks in your pocket and came back with the same amount, I think I understand why.”

He wanted to Pay It Forward.

Your driver came back from the ATM and handed you $120. You told him he was crazy. He told you, “I owe much more than that. You might be the first traveler I’ve met who will understand.”

You think you do. You hope you do.

– 12 –

Welcome home.

Welcome home.

You did not wait for your next lift. You walked past the service station pumps and up to the window of a truck with a broad, tight-lipped smile on your face, squinting against the five o’clock sun. He was an old timer, happy and astonished to see you. “Get on in!”

He was in his seventies. Worked as a King Country Sheriff after twenty-five years in the service. You asked him about crazy things he’d seen on the job, things he’d seen in Vietnam, the prevalence of PTSD in soldiers, the care they did and didn’t receive.

He wanted to know all about your travels and about India. And he complimented earnestly. “What you’ve done is just… amazing. Truly amazing. I have so much respect for people who get out there and live their lives. My wife and I are looking to travel soon.”

Where do you want to go?”

Italy. The Mediterranean coast. And to Germany. Those are the two places we really want to go.”

You told him about Slovenia.

– 13 –

Your final lift of the day took two minutes to obtain. She was your first lady driver. She was pleasant, but cynical. She had a low opinion of her eighteen-year-old daughter.

She’s fixin’ to buy a camper van with her boyfriend and road trip all over the U.S.”

You issued a low whistled. “Expensive.”

That’s what I said. She’s got no money. She’s gonna have to get a job.”

She’s never purchased a vehicle before. She doesn’t know what to look for. What questions to ask. She doesn’t know if it will break down on her. She won’t have money for repairs… or towing… she’s going to have to worry about parking it…” you listed all the downsides to road trips.

The woman laughed in agreement. You asked her about her other children, about her late husband, who’d died of cancer. She was still emotional about it, but talked freely. It seemed that she was nearly done raising her kids and wasn’t sure where to go from there. Her conversation was appropriately cautious with her stranger hitchhiker, but by then end, the two of you were laughing about everything from traffic jams to cassette tapes. She left you smiling, and you waited outside her hotel for your brother Rory to come and swoop you.

THE TAKE-AWAYS: THOUGHTS ON AMERICANS

There are too many to generalize. On this one hitchhiking trip alone, you feel as though you caught a lift with just about every kind of person you might find in the region: old-timers, young people, travelers, hippies, rough necks, truck drivers, delinquents, drug dealers, loafers, anxious parents, folks struggling to make ends meet, former athletes, a young professional, a retiree, a proud and slightly unhinged weapon-carrying murderer…

People are people. At the end of the day, what matters is how people treat each other. You learned a lot about the people in Central Oregon and Central Washington, some about the local industry and agriculture. But you learned the most from the ideas of the people.

Americans are an odd bunch. Three and a half years in Europe, hitchhiking, and you never once heard someone describe a recent local murder (you were alarmed the numerous stories of violence you heard in just 24 hours). Europeans, as a group, ask you more questions; Americans are happy to launch into talking about themselves. Europeans make racist comments about Turks, Americans about Arabs. The wait time in America is about 2-3 minutes shorter.

STATS:

Distance: 822 miles / 1,323 kilometers

Total number of lifts: 13

Trucks: 2

Pickups: 3

Vans: 1

Cars: 7

Men: 10 + 3 male passengers

Women: 2

Animals: 1 dog, 1 dog

Number of inappropriate comments: 1

Number of guys flirting: 1

Number of less-than-totally comfortable lifts: 3

Average wait time: 5’30”

Gifts received: $120, a handful of hard candies, fresh strawberries

Gifts declined: one bottle of water, one beer, one sandwich

 

Categories: Awesome Luck, Budget Travel, Hitchhiking, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Free Radical

You were feeling like an unpaired electron.

You could have sat there on the couch, miserable. Could have stared at your feet and watched little tear droplets dampen the rug between them. You could have hate-hate-hated on yourself.

"Fuck my life..."

“Fuck my life…”

But you didn’t. You got up, dusted yourself off, and went to work. You kept busy. You medicated with people. You flew ’round the city and met with every person who had successfully managed to snag your attention, if only for a moment. Why not? You had nothing but time.

Every day, a new face. A new date. A new location. A new conversation. Then the faces and locations began to repeat. So did the words. They shot out of you like shrapnel. The faces braced against them, defensive yet curious. You sliced through time wild. Careless. Meaningless. The people were kind and inconsequential. You could take them or leave them; it remained up to them to take you.

Sometimes those faces and places came with excellent food.

Sometimes those faces and places came with excellent food.

You are the attraction of the day,” Levi said to you the first day you met him in Sophia, Bulgaria. Levi comes up a lot. He’s the kind of person you never forget. He’s invincible. You, weak, wounded, lonesome, found yourself stepping into the blow of his words. Attraction of the day. Were you so meaningless to him? Who says that to a person?

Now here you are, doing very much the same. You squeeze people into your life because they are mere attractions, distractions. How does it make them feel to know that they are not the first, the second, or even the third date that week—but in fact the eighth or the ninth? Do they feel devalued by dilution? Do they feel cherished, important?

Probably not. You sure as hell didn’t, and yet you and Levi are still friends, years later—distant, coquettish, and connected through travel. Unfortunately you can’t join him in Colombia.

Levi holds a special place.

Levi holds a special place.

Nope. You’re far too busy for that. Busy flying around like an unpaired electron, causing free radical damage. You hope all those people you met don’t sustain any of it.

* * *

Time feels like a current dragging you downstream. You gasp at first and must tread water patiently. You know you cannot fight it. But you tire yourself in waiting for what lies beyond the bend. You cannot tell if you are calm or on the verge of panic. So hands and feet paddle gently, with an occasional frantic thrashing.

Throw a temporary tantrum.

Throw a temporary tantrum.

You look around for the buoy and see one. But there’s no line to fasten you.

* * *

When you were paragliding in Goa, you felt sick. There you were, up up up in the air and staring down at the little people on the sand, dark like cigarette butts. Your guts flipped.

Goa

Goa

You can feel the freedom of weightlessness and it makes you sick.

Weightless

Weightless

You often think of your airy ways. How fast and fluid everything feels. How impulsive. How silly. But there always remained the risk of flying away. You look for someone to grab you by your ankles and tug you back to earth. To admonish you. To weigh down on you with their concern. And because you are obstinate and rebellious, you do everything in your power to drive them away, kick free of their grasp. Run, run, run away—but always looking back.

It isn’t quite the same. A light pinch at the hem of your trousers is all it takes. A gentle pull into a soft landing. What is this place? The terrain is foreign yet familiar. Like a place you’ve already been, but have forgotten in the din of a drive-by life. It’s serene. It feels like downy duvets, gentle fog, and crisp morning air. It feels smooth like ice. Clean and compartmentalized. Flawless in design.

Shhhhhh....

Shhhhhh….

You begin to hibernate.

Categories: San Francisco, Struggles | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Telling Is Not The Same As Showing

 

SHOW AND TELL

“I was wondering when I would appear on your blog,” Chris said casually, in the kitchen.

 

You shrugged dismissively. “You may have noticed that I don’t tend to write about the people who are close to me.”

 

You make your life very public. At least, that’s how it seems. What happens to you, the good and the bad, the lucky and unlucky, the slightly perverted and obnoxious all makes for good story-telling.

 

Story-telling. Telling.

 

Telling is not the same as showing,” someone once said to you. Who uttered it? Were they special? Were they close? It must have been a girl. It must have been a lover. It must have been someone who knew you so well that you appeared transparent. You probably never needed to tell her anything. She simply understood you.

 

You could have written about Chris—the story of how you met. It’s a good one. It’s a story about two off-beat people who strike up a balance; it’s a story of exploration. The story happened to you. It’s yours. But perhaps only in half.

 

Your writing ethics were called into question once. You didn’t care about that fellow (or any of the others) as you dragged him kicking and screaming into the public. He, clearly, wasn’t paying attention to your feelings. To help manage people’s expectations, you later added to your online persona: “If you behave like an ass, don’t be surprised when I write about you.”

 

To supplement that, you could write, “If I care about you, I will have shown it—never told about it on the blog. In other words, when I don’t write about you, I’m showing you that I care.”

 

Your actual feelings about events and people can never appear in true form. The words are too flexible. The people are too dear; and your feelings are too private; the feelings of those you love, too precious. Hence, this blog is a mere abstraction. It’s a slice of your personality; or a shade of your color-spectrum.

 

It reads like a series of under-exposed snapshots, viewed without context.

3038_569483044254_4994610_n

* * *

THE EXPERIMENTAL ONLINE DATING PROFILE

ABOUT ME:

Who are you? Be careful what you choose to say! All these categories are in fact neat little cages for your identity. Little prisons. You begin to draw a box around yourself with every additional word. Suddenly you are no longer yourself; you have been cast in the role of yourself.

How many identities can you create and still have them all be true? What used to stand here was pile of boxes. Truth statements. The best approximation of truth, given how pliable words can be. Words are delightfully flexible to suit your advantage; stubbornly rigid to support your defenses.

What should you omit? What should you admit?

You will merely say what you do: you create meaning and identity in every moment. You take responsibility for everyone you meet and everything that happens to you.

If you don’t like the result, change the input.

THE MOST PRIVATE THING I’M WILLING TO ADMIT:

If it were really private, admission would be out of the question.

This question should read like a statement: either, ‘YOU ARE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF’ or ‘YOU VALUE YOURSELF SO HIGHLY THAT NO ONE IS WORTHY OF ACCESS TO YOU.’

I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT…

Is there any substance to the accusation of “lying by omission?” What the hell does that even mean? To live in truth, should you remain wholly private or wholly public? Would everything in between be a lie?

People get upset when they learn the truth. Turns out they don’t want to hear it.

What to admit? What to omit? How to sell, sell, sell, sell yourself!

387336_10102234107996486_62516564_n

* * *

BEFORE YOU WRITE…

How to sell yourself?

How to maintain your relationships?

How to control people with information?

How to live in truth?

How to avoid hurting people?

* * *

HEAVINESS

In the five and a half years since you began writing this frivolous blog, you have suffered. But you have also succeeded. Loved. Lost. Experimented. Languished. You have hurt others, hurt yourself, been hurt by others. You have helped others, helped yourself, and been helped by others.

You have felt every feeling. Even told about them. Written much less.

You go around lightly sprinkling abstractions of your feelings on people through stories. You do not go around thoughtlessly dumping your real feelings on people.

Feelings are heavy. Burdensome. And a huge responsibility.

It never occurred to you that you have been such a teller and not nearly enough of a shower that the magnitude of the responsibility would come as such a surprise.

DSC_0153

* * *

HOW NOT TO PLAY IT SAFE

While traveling with Maeva, you often said, “I don’t understand your short temper. Why you get so aggro about dumb shit.”

She responded, “I don’t understand why dumb shit makes you cry.”

Fair enough.

Later, a psychologist would tell you that “anger is safer than sadness.”

That certainly explains your heaviness. Because you never raise your voice.

4742_573025555034_7260767_n

 

Categories: San Francisco, Struggles | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

When People Chase You Down The Street…

 At 4:30 in the morning, you moved briskly down Market street back towards Chris’ apartment. You’d just left Katie at a corner. She would go to work, you would go home. Perhaps go back to sleep. Unsure. You’d been awake since 2:30am—going to bed at 8pm maybe wasn’t the best idea.

The street was littered with homeless people and junkies. You cannot say that you’ve ever walked alone through Civic Center at such an hour. What you mistook for the safety of early-morning commuters or workers was in fact a community of the derelict.

A smallish man came up some stairs from BART, rounded the railing, and saw you. How he ended up in a conversation with you, you can’t be sure. Maybe he said hello; you probably responded. Maybe he asked where you were headed; home—the other home. He said something about looking for an apartment, “I can spend up to fifteen hundred dollars.”

Sounded like a lot. Where do junkies get their money, anyway?

Oh yes, he was clearly a junky, though a little more chic than the rest of them. His clothes seemed fairly clean, he wore a backpack, carried just one small shopping bag, and walked with a limp.

“I fell off my skateboard,” he said. “Sprained my ankle pretty bad.” This was after some lifeless conversation on your part about gaming. He “loved gaming!” Check this out. Something about Call Of Duty. And then, “You’re very pretty.”

“Thank you,” you replied. “Some guy chased me down the street yesterday and offered me a job on the spot because he thought I was pretty.” Oh yeah… that was weird. You’d just left Katie’s work—after turning up for a free coffee. The place was packed. The line was out the door. Katie stared at you and had said it was too much for her. You smiled back at her—somewhat guilty about stressing her out—and accepted a free coffee. You told her that you had to run some errands, but that you would be back in a couple hours when her shift ended.

That’s when the guy—Valentino—a youthful-looking, 50ish man in a nice suit and with distinguished grey temples chased you down the street. “Excuse me! Ma’am. Sorry to bother you.”

You turned, appraised him, holding a shoebox and a coffee. He sputtered. He spoke rapidly. He seemed like he was trying to sell you something. Only he had nothing to sell. Not exactly. “You see, I’ve just bought and started this cafe. We’re in a neighborhood that is in a sort of transitional phase. It’s getting better. And this cafe is for, well, you know, people who want to sit and linger for a while. You seem like kind of a high class person. The type of clientele I’m addressing. I saw that you had recently bought a coffee.”

You laughed when he said “high class.” “You’re wrong about that,” you said. “And I didn’t buy this coffee.”

“You didn’t?”

You gave him a very short version of who you were. Squatting, jobless, certainly not high class; really, the guy had seized upon you on a day when you’d cleaned yourself up in order to look hot for your girlfriend, whom you hadn’t seen in over six months.

He invited you to come into his cafe. Just to see it. You had time. So why not? He forced you to sample his coffee, he introduced you to his staff—a Colombian version of Catherine Zeta Jones and a distinguished old fellow probably named Raoul, or something. Valentino spoke rapidly, jumping from one thought to the next with little connection. He told you all about the cafe, about the theme, the cafe in Venice he was replicating. Coffee was served in tiny glasses. The lattes looked like beautiful cocktails.

Valentino and his Columbian eye candy.

Valentino and his Columbian eye candy.

“What do you do for work?” he asked abruptly.

“I don’t work. I have no job,” you said.“I am actually considering becoming a dominatrix.”

Oddly, his expression did not change. “That’s very interesting.” Was he even listening? “How do you feel about working?”

You shrugged. “I like work to be challenging. Intellectually stimulating. I struggle with boredom a lot. I lose my enthusiasm for my work quickly.”

Valentino turned to his two employees. “Wouldn’t you say this job can be stimulating?”

Raoul said, “Oh yes. It can very very intellectually stimulating. You have to communicate with all types of people. You can be very stimulated.”

Raoul

Raoul

You wondered momentarily if you were in some other dimension. It felt like you were surrounded by yes men. You nodded politely to Raoul and Catherine, both of whom thought your name was Sarah, because Valentino told them so not fifteen seconds after learning your name was Maria. When he said “more prettier,” you tuned back in.

Valentino offered you a job. You made excuses. Katie already worked for a coffee shop. You weren’t especially interested. Valentino leaped from his seat, “You know who she looks like!” And listed off a number of actresses, some of whom you’d heard, some you had not. “Sarah,” he began.

“Maria,” you corrected.

“Yes, sorry. Of course. Listen. I work in TV and film, in addition to a number of other enterprises. You just have that look. It’s not every day I run out of my own business to chase a woman down the street. I went like this—did I not go like this? I was behind here, pretend that window is… and then I… so then I went out. You seemed like you didn’t want anyone to approach you. But I saw your coffee…” on and on. You tried not to burst out laughing. If he had seen you just one week ago…

In short, he wanted pretty people to work in his cafe. He suddenly leaned in and told you to “Watch watch watch! Look at the face of this man when he orders his drink. Look how he looks at her.”

The customer’s eyes continued to linger on Catherine. He smiled dreamily.

“I see,” you said. “So you want to cultivate an environment in which the clients fall in love under and with the ambiance.”

“Yes!” Valentino said. “That’s exactly it! I can tell you are a lot smarter than me. I can see that. I like how you put that. You’re good with words. Can you write copy?”

Copy?

Suddenly you were offered a job as his social media manager. “A few hours a week. Nothing much. But I need someone to pull people in.” He went on and on about his marketing ideas.

“I don’t really know very much about social media,” you admitted. “I’m behind the times. I only got my first Smartphone a week ago.” He forced an exchange of numbers, told you everything was going to be fine.

So odd… you left, not first without thanking him for inundating you with compliments, but feeling very much like your personality was ill-suited to his business. You went about your day, picked up Katie from work, went through a bit of the awkwardness that comes from two people who have not seen each other in six months. She told you about the people in her life; you told her about your marathon week of OKC dates. She hadn’t slept in over a day. 8pm came. You fell asleep.

…Which brings you back to your junkie.

His name was Ronald. He had a foot fetish. Said he would love to rub them. He was on crystal meth.

He seemed nice enough. Not threatening. He limped at your side for twenty minutes. You didn’t see anyway reason why he couldn’t walk with you, though he was slowing your progress home. You passed a lot of people: a community of folks arguing; a sketchy guy hiding under his jacket next to a van so he could hit his crack pipe, and then a woman waiting for the streetcar called over to you, “Come on, say it! Say it! Whore! Say whore!”

“Whore?” you said back.

“That’s what I thought!” she yelled.

Ronald made some snide, vulgar comment.

“I’m not sure what just happened back there. Did she want me to accuse her of being a whore? Or admit that I was one?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. She’s a crazy, blonde bitch.”

You continued on. The small talk was just that: small talk. You asked Ronald questions about himself. He didn’t provide clear answers.

“You are skittish, you know that?” you said to him. “I ask you questions and you don’t give me responses.”

Were you busting his balls? He wanted to know.

“You say you are looking for an apartment, but you can’t find the time. You also said you’re really good at wasting time. Maybe you should work on your time management skills.”

He shrugged with a dismissive laugh. “You know, you’re right.” Then he turned the conversation back to your feet. “Mmm, damn! I bet you have beautiful feet.”

“I do.”

He gurgled, moaned. Some kind of noise.

“But they are very big feet. I wear a size 13 in women’s. It’s hard to find shoes.”

“That don’t matter to me one bit. I bet you have beautiful arches.”

“I do. I have very healthy feet. And long toes, well spaced. They get lots of air. I love my feet. They’re good to me.”

He relished this information. “You’re teasing me! Man, you’ve got some legs on you, too! I like that tattoo on your ankle. Hmm…. Yeah. Hey you mind if we sit down for a minute. My ankle is killing me. I need to smoke. You mind if I smoke. Or you wanna get a drink at 7-11? I’ll buy you something.”

You told him you didn’t want the drink, but that you would sit with him while he smoked.

He talked about your feet. And other things. And about his erection. “I kinda wish I wasn’t wearing pants right now. It’s getting really uncomfortable.” He shifted a lot, pulled on the crotch of his jeans. Not in a vulgar way. In a Shifty way.

Shifty don't like his picture taken.

Shifty don’t like his picture taken.

Blink. Blink. “You’re saying that you are aroused?”

“Very.”

“That’s interesting. Say, what’s in that little baggy?” The corner of a drug bag poked out of his first.

“Oh that? I was just gonna do a little line. A little taste. Something to pick me up. I need a straw. Or a credit card. Something.”

You looked in your bag but found nothing you were willing to let him use. He settled for a scrap of cardboard from some food package. Busted off a bump, then made a great series of faces.

“Burning?” you asked.

“Yeah. A lot. Impurities, you know?”

You nodded solemnly. “Of course.”

“You want a taste?” he asked, after moving next to you from his seat on the steps across from you. You declined. Told him that your digestive issue probably wouldn’t mix well with a stimulant like that.

“Just trying to get myself home to a toilet,” you said.

Did he laugh? You don’t remember. He spoke to you, but had become incoherent. You told him that you were having a hard time understanding him. He had gotten too high. And that being the case, it was time to go home. He wanted to walk with you. Wanted your phone number. You politely declined, shook his hand, and bid him farewell.

Categories: Awkward Situations, San Francisco, Shifties, United States | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Technology Travel & Conversational Adventure

You nearly cried on the jetway. You could hear all the accents in English—distinctly American. Distinctly Californian. You heard the announcements on the PA system and couldn’t believe the feelings of relief. That you expended no additional mental energy at all to receive instructions.

It felt surreal. You couldn’t believe that you hadn’t set foot in that airport in over two and a half years. That you were back again. As though the last 18 months hadn’t happened. But they had. Really, it was that San Francisco was still there, waiting for you with clean, high-tech expectations.

You were met outside of customs by a bearded Chris—your long-term pen pal turned “gym husband” after several coincidences left you both working next door to each other three times over two cities. He was very much his same old self—soft-spoken, happy to see you, slightly impatient behind the wheel. His car was like the Bat Mobile. Jet black, clean, and smooth over the highway. You had forgotten what it was like to travel without bumping. Forgotten how nice it was to be in a vehicle and see something other than the back of someone’s head: the clear blue bay. Welcome home.

It was one hell of a welcome (from Chris alone, who was the only person who knew about your return, as you intended to surprise the daylights out of Katie). You entered Chris’ building and said, “That funky new carpet smell has finally gone down a bit.” His flat felt the same: warm, cozy, slightly more lived in. With a huge entertainment system, a soft futon, DVD shelves crammed with sci-fi series. You enjoyed the cleanness of the place. The cush. The temperature. The bathtub! The enormous mirrors in the well-lit bathroom. The conditioner! The new toothbrush. The fact that your earthquake emergency stuff was still in his cupboards—beans, vitamins, and more. You felt right at home, for in fact Chris’ flat had been something of a third home to you in SF, when you had lived there before.

Chris made sure you had everything, as he does. Made sure the voltage was suitable for your European epilator, that you had a toothbrush (and suggested that you discard the two nasty, sand-speckled ones from your travels), a clean towel, blankets, pillows, and…

…a phone.

Let the record state that you have never really had a Smartphone. In fact, over the past five and a half years, you have had a phone for just 15 months. As you hitchhiked over the years, you’d become aware that it was getting easier, largely because all of your drivers had upgraded their phones and could do things like google map your destination and drive you straight there. When you took your gap year in SF to work, you were still using dinosaur technology; clients would be confirming appointments with you then and there, on the elliptical machine, with a swift touch to their phone; you, meanwhile, had to excuse yourself to jot down a note on a clipboard and then enter it online in your calendar later in the day. At one point, your boss told you that you had to have a smartphone in order to work for him. You defied his expectations by not only having sub-optimal technology, but by working for him for your last month without any phone.

Chris made some speech about his old iPhone. About his desire to upgrade to such-and-such’s new version of another phone. About how, “I have to test games on this brand new Motorolla, so you’re free to use it, you know… just let me test a couple things at some point.” You accused him of making up excuses. He did not deny it.

You held the different mobile phones in your hands like an old lady and asked carefully enunciated questions. “So… is this a 3G, or a 4G? What is a G? A gig? Oh… it means ‘generation?’ That makes sense, because I thought fast internet was seven megabits. When they say that, do they mean ‘per minute’? What? They mean per second? How may megabits is your wifi? Fifty. Wait, did you just say fifty? And I thought seven was fast.”

You handled Chris’ phone, tried to activate it, make it light up, do something. You jabbed at it with clumsy fingers. It didn’t respond. You turned it upside down and gave it a shake. Nothing. “Oh my god, I’m a caveman,” you said.

Chris laughed and swiftly unlocked his phone to show you the desktop covered in aps. It made your head spin.

“Is that a newsfeed? Is that facebook? What is this?” you asked. He tried to explain. You felt overwhelmed. And then suddenly very emotional (probably because you had only slept three hours in the last forty). “I guess I like the size of this screen more, you said, pulling the new Motorolla out of the box.

Chris urged you to turn it on. You failed to do so. He did it. Your eyes went wide from the graphics.

“Maybe you should take that plastic off the screen,” Chris suggested. You laughed in spite of yourself, for you had mistaken the image on the plastic as some kind of holographic image displayed on screen.

“Jesus Christ, I’m dumb.” When Chris peeled off the plastic, you watched the phone power itself up with colorful images that left your eyes wide with wonder. “It wants wifi information,” you said. “But I don’t have a SIM cad yet, so… oh wait… I don’t need a SIM card to use wifi on this, right?” Drum roll! “Because it’s a computer!”

See, you’re already catching on!

You played with the phone for about 45 seconds before you felt defeated. You set it down on the couch and turned to something else. Chris inquired with a look. You explained, “I just need some time to adjust my feelings. It’s very overwhelming.”

When you finally found the resolve to explore the phone, then activate it, then tinker with it—you were continually blown away. Chris used your mobile to turn on his TV and play videos, he showed you how to download exercise apps, how to locate it online if it gets lost, how to “Okay Google!” search.

It was like technology travel. Stupid. But true. You spent so many years exploring other parts of the world, other cultures, other peoples… but there are whole new genres of travel you haven’t broken into.

Here’s one: “Conversational Adventure.”

Because you had foolishly and impulsively purchased a ticket that would land you in San Francisco pretty much the day Katie was leaving to go out of town for one week, you needed to keep yourself occupied. You’d already spent considerable time on OK Cupid, corresponding with weird, interesting, and/or exceptional people. You had dates to go on. Lots and lots of dates.

Wednesday: 50-something, 5’3” soft butch lesbian with her PhD in forensic criminal psychology and who had spent 8 years working in a prison talking to Death Row inmates. Her girlfriend had the exact same job. You could not imagine what it was to live criminal psychology day in and day out. She’d recently had some very hard luck, some very tough disappointments, and was feeling unwell. You felt sick to your stomach from your stomach issue, low blood sugar, jet lag, and her subsequent paranoid hard-to-believe story about how “things are not what they seem.” You cannot determine if it was true, but he earnestness in telling it, along with how she rocked back and forth, made you feel uncomfortable. You told her this much, and she agreed to back off the crazy. You went to her apartment anyway, had ten hours of amazing conversation, and then declared at the end of the night that you were not interested in sex, but that you would love to stay friends.

Thursday: A man in his late forties. Very upfront about wanting to have sex. You were very upfront about him managing his expectations. He took you to a Mexican restaurant which received great reviews but also made terrible food. He told you about his marital dissatisfaction, despite having been granted to freedom to sleep with other people. You felt sorry for him. Told him that he needed to ratchet down his desperation. For the sake of novelty, you offered to give him a tour of Power Exchange, your favorite divey sex club.

Friday: A lunch with a guy named Saam. He was funny, quirky, slightly socially awkward, but a perfect gentleman. He told you that you were not the type of woman he normally would go on a date with, but that he wanted to go on a date with you despite being fairly confident that you were gay. “I was sure that you wouldn’t be after my sperm.” Come again? He explained that most of his dates were with women in their late thirties who had baby-fever/desperation. You laughed. No, he didn’t ever have to worry about that with you. Sex wasn’t on your mind, though. He said repeatedly that you had a guy’s brain and how delightful it was. He asked you to go to a fort. Why not? Once there, he declared you were the first in thirty women that had agreed to go to the fort. He was touched, and honored. No woman ever wanted to go to the fort—and it was his favorite place. Please! You should stay friends! /// Friday evening, you met a very large, very tall, black-clad dude with a wicked long ZZ Top beard. He lived in his van. You checked it out. Asked him what he liked about being “homeless.” You talked about homelessness for a while. He was bright. A college drop out. A hacker. And made his living breaking into things and designing security systems. He offered to teach you how to pick a lock. You spend to rest of the time talking about his Sub-Dom relationship with his girlfriend, about control, possession, and arousal.

Saturday: You named him King Leonidas, because that’s how he looked. He was a normal balanced guy and you found him attractive. He found you attractive. But there was no chemistry. You are, after all, a very robust flavor. After one hour, his body language had turned away from you, his eyes were avoid ant. It was clear he didn’t know how to end the date. You ended it for him.

Sunday: Morning with “Nickle,” a late forties investment manager with ADD who loves weird people and weird experiences. You got along swimmingly. He bought you a coffee and took you to the beach (which you didn’t enjoy). You offered to bring him along some day to pick out floggers. He couldn’t wait. /// Afternoon, all day long with a six-foot-six wall of a man. 53 years old. A professor of contemporary art and a member of a guerrilla grafting group (basically a group of rogues who go around grafting fruit tree branches to city trees to bypass the law that says one may not plant ornamental fruit trees. The goal was to begin a community discourse on why public spaces cannot serve the public. He loved walking next to you. Told you he thought you were very pretty and thought it would be fun to make out with you. You validated him, but told him that you would not make out with him, as you do not fake enthusiasm. He became awkward, shy, then eager, and lastly overly sentimental. //// Evening with a mad scientist meets artist. This guy created a project in which people have out-of-body experiences—they wear goggles through which they can view the backs of their heads. You asked him what happens when you wear the goggles too long. He told you that he wore them for a week and burned some pixel images into his retinas. That when he took them off, he needed to stand on a rooftop and stare at the city—for the macroscopic view—at which point he saw a man ambling down the street and momentarily thought it was himself.

Monday: Morning with Mike, a guy on a project called “One Hundred First Dates.” You were happy to be part of his project. He was an ordinary fellow, well-mannered, a bit shy at first. After you found a common topic of interest—sex—things got rolling. He made some very meaningful comments about spirituality, identity, and biology. You were pleased by the results of the talk with him. Told him so. Related many of your identity issues to him. Thanked him. Wished him luck on the project. Not too long thereafter, we was attempting to see you again, to involve you in his Orgasmic Medication group: the aim of which is… well… female masturbation. For 100 bucks, you weren’t interested.

Categories: Awkward Situations, San Francisco | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

24 Hours In Chinese Airports

You miss Maeva. You each had regarded one another casually, as though the separation weren’t inevitable. She talked earnestly about home; you mentioned anxiety about missing your flight. You were aware of augmented levels of physical contact: more hugs, more smiles, more arms linking. They were the subtle pre-goodbyes. The “I’m really going to miss having you at arm’s length all of the time” gestures.

She laughed at your farts. You gagged over hers. The two of you shared everything—towels, soap, vitamins, cigarettes, chocolate, water, bed covers, books. If there was something growing or festering on you, she’d take a look; if you had a rogue chin hair, she’d pluck it for you. Likewise, if her pubescent pores got out of line, you were there for her.

“So this is like… the second longest relationship you’ve ever had,” you said. Second only to an actual real boyfriend.

“I guess so. Man. Six months with you, but twenty-four hours a day. That’s a long time,” she agreed.

It’s true. A very long time. You’re quite used to it. Being ass-bonded to women. Girlfriends, usually. But Maeva was not your girlfriend, and the two of you had built a relationship on camaraderie alone—without the added perk of romantic affinities. When she felt like being a bitch, she’d be a bitch, your feelings be damned! And you had no obligation to coddle her when she was feeling low.

She followed you to the airport (a decision you think was stupid, since she would have to wait near the check-in counters for eleven hours before she could even get her boarding pass. But she wanted to see you off. It may have been testimony to her attachment. When you nearly cried after security abruptly said she couldn’t come with you, you realized that the separation wouldn’t be as cool and calm as you’d anticipated. After all, weren’t you sick of her yet? That nail biting? That late-night TV episode watching? That terrible mood in the morning? Her insensitive teasing?

Nahh… guess not. You miss her silly, askew, chicken’s ass of a mouth telling you to stop talking so excitedly in the morning.

Je t'aime, Movo!

Je t’aime, Movo!

You hugged her goodbye and left for security. Kathmandu doesn’t boast the most organized airport, but it got the job done. You got yourself on the first of three flights in your San Francisco-bound itinerary. Thirty-five hours of transit. That’s a long time. You didn’t bother to do the math. For whatever reason, you figured you would have two short layovers and spend nearly all of those hours in the air.

Nice try, Kathmandu.

Nice try, Kathmandu.

Nope. You re-read your itinerary on the plane and realized you had a sixteen hour layover in Chengdu, China.

Sixteen? Shit. What the hell were you going to do about food!

If there’s one thing you hate about airports, it’s the price of food. You’re basically marooned on a concrete, granite, and glass island. And everything costs about five times as much as it should. And damn! You only had fifteen bucks in Nepali rupees in your pocket (with no money changer in sight) and no effing clue what the yuan to dollar exchange rate was anyway. Also, no way to use the free airport wifi to check, since you needed a mobile phone to receive a confirmation code. So hmm… yes, your hunger would soon be an imperative.

Thank goodness for Air China. You’d never flown with them before. Why would you? Never been that far east. But now you have, and you have to say you’re very pleased. Pleased because of the freebies, the stickers, the tags, the customer service. The three rounds of beverages on a two-hour flight. The huge fish and rice lunch you didn’t expect, complete with melon, salad, a roll, and even ginger sweet dessert biscuits!

Woo hoo!

Woo hoo!

Yeah, okay, it was airplane food. But it was god damn delicious. Nepal doesn’t boast the best food, and you couldn’t voluntarily stomach another Indian curry. As a matter of fact, you’d purposely switched to continental food during your last three days in Kathmandu in order to convince your guts that everything was gonna be alright. So when those sweet little Chinese ladies came rolling their cart down the aisle (and by the way, the check-in guy made a point of giving you the exit row, which was incredibly spacious) and handed you your boxed lunch, you felt like a little kid on Christmas day. Goodie! Look at all the new tasty treats! Everything was delicious. Inappropriately delicious because your dulled taste buds didn’t know any better.

You licked up every scrap, knowing it was your Last Supper.

The Chengdu airport felt alien. Modern. Clean. Organized. Everything that India and Nepal is not. There were no people sitting on the floor—much less sleeping—and you didn’t have a clue where you were going to crash out for the next sixteen hours. As you waited for your bag to appear on the carousel, you watched a bunch of little Chinese girls work away feverishly on their Smartphones with manual dexterity you’ve never seen before. Everyone had their face buried in their phone, looked clean, wealthy, distracted… it was all so modern.

Head scratch.

Head scratch.

Ooohhhh....

Ooohhhh…. Well played, Chengdu.

You’re on your way back to modernity.

Of course you were excited to get back home, but in a way, you were disappointed. You remember what uninterrupted internet access can do to you. What a waste of time social networking can be. How many people’s expectations are set by your own technology, “You don’t have a Smartphone? You are going to need to get one if you want to work here.” Year by year, it gets tougher and tougher to keep life slow and simple. It’s the parabolic demand of other people’s speed of life that pulls you in. (So damn that airport for requiring you to have a mobile phone for their wifi! Damn it!)

The speed of life.

The speed of life.

Anyway. After you got kicked out of the transit passengers waiting area at 11pm, you camped out in a corner along a window and realized that you were the most homeless looking person in the airport—not to mention, the only white person. Wrapped in your filthy puffy coat, with enormous muddy boots tacked onto what appeared to be bare feet, you represented your country well! (Snapped some photos and then painfully missed Maeva, thinking about all your station sleep-overs you shared.) You managed maybe two and a half hours of sleep and surfaced like a zombie in the pre-dawn and wondered where your terminal was.

"I'm too sexy for my..."

“I’m too sexy for my…”

SOCKS!

SOCKS!

Just one kilometer away on foot. No big deal. Only your backpack was shrink wrapped and impossible to wear. Too heavy and awkward for long distances on one shoulder. You ended up carrying it on your head and realized how beautifully simple it is to do so. Thought that maybe some day you’ll sherpa your stuff across down like this guy. Watch the heads turn.

Is that a... solar panel? No biggy.

Is that a… solar panel? No biggy.

You looked like hell. Really. Like homeless hell. Especially in the presence of all those middle class Chinese. You remarked on a few things: their conformity in dress, for starters. Everyone at the airport (and you can only speak for the airport) seemed to be rocking the same fashion, which was sleek and clean, black, white, minimalist—but always with something designer hanging from the body. Everyone had a smart phone. Everyone had beautiful, black-framed or half-hatch eye glasses. They walked in an ordered manner (compared to the folks in Kathmandu), did not shout when they spoke, and seemed so… docile. Chengdu and Beijing were the most silent airports you’ve ever heard. And fucking modern. Everything around you was new. State of the art. They made your favorite airports in the USA look second-rate.

And then there was you.

And then there was you.

The beautiful interior of the airport.

The beautiful interior of the airport.

China, you’re gonna make it! India… not so sure about you.

For real. India has a lot of desire to modernize, but the country’s infrastructure is still in shambles. Also, you’re not sure how the Chinese are outside the airport. If they’re anything like they are in Chinatown, they’re not so different from the “me first!” mentality of India. But the feeling that you got from observing Chinese travelers for 24 hours was that China was a force not to be reckoned with. They literally seem like an army of ants that will power through into the future. India felt more like a flock of pidgeons.

Back to your list of “remarkable” things: everything was covered in fucking pandas!

To add to your list of giggles, just to meet your expectations on stereotypes, a girl flashed you the peace sign while you were photographing her cliche Chinese shop front.

Oh no she didn't!

Oh no she didn’t!

Your stomach growled, gnawed. Did that thing that it does when it’s hungry, but also when it’s not. When it has diarrhea. You couldn’t wait to get on the next plane just so you could eat. You couldn’t bear to keep watching that family chow down on cucumbers and salty-something-or-others while your tongue scavenged bits of food pulp from between your own teeth.

PANDA!

PANDA!

Categories: China, Nepal | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Knowing When To Quit: Feelings Are Expensive

The conditions were perfect: you’d gone to bed at 10pm, only to awaken every ninety minutes with gastric discomfort. It wasn’t unusual. Since the moment you set foot in Nepal, your guts have been on the fritz. At 2:30am, you were awakened by the deep, persistent churning of your bowels; you slipped your bare feet into your enormous boots and tramped down the hall of your guest house to take care of business.

No big deal. Only you couldn’t get back to sleep. Not at all. You lay there patiently in the dark for one hour and finally gave up. Grabbed your laptop and decided to make good use of the wifi when no one else was awake to share the bandwidth.

You talked on Facebook, sent some email, played around on OKCupid just for shits and giggles (the goal being to set up some interesting coffee dates in advance, so you could have some “conversational adventure” when you would eventually return to San Francisco). The minutes clicked by with laborious tedium. By 6am you were cold and hungry, but nothing was open. You walked the streets of Kathmandu’s Thamel district, desperate for a coffee. The only place semi-open still had no power, so no way to make an espresso. You gave up on the coffee dream and continued to walk. You shook your head at the rickshaw drivers and the egg roll carts. You bumped into a few Americans you’d met days before—they were out for a morning jog and invited you to come. You declined, since you were barely functioning above zombie status.

By 8am, coffee was available. You read A Short History of Islam by Karen Anderson for one hour before venturing back to your room to see if Maeva was awake. She was not. You got back in bed with a racing heart beat—caffeine plus six flights of stairs plus diarrhea and mild dehydration is never a nice combination.

“I’m really feeling pretty tired today,” you muttered to Maeva after her half-hour of cursing the hotel just after rousing. No hot water. No electricity. A noisy club outside your window. A generator that runs from 9 to 11pm every night. “I need an easy day.”

Hint #1 – You begin to get sick towards the end of the trip.

It wasn’t that the other days had been hard (if you excuse the nine hour bus ride for a mere one hundred kilometers two days before—the worst traffic you’ve seen in your life). It was that you were still unwell. The tummy troubles were excusable. But the feeling of being on the brink of a sore throat all of the time, wasn’t so cool. And then there was the pseudo ear infection: the pressure near your temples, the popping, yet no congestion at all. You swallowed Vitamin C, did your best to eat vegetable dishes for nutrition, stayed warm, tried to sleep adequately and walk in the sunshine as often as possible.

Maeva, thinking you'd escaped the traffic jam. Oh how wrong you both were...

Maeva, thinking you’d escaped the traffic jam. Oh how wrong you both were…

Later in the morning, Maeva ordered a chai, and you sat doubled over on a sticky bench, feet sliding in chicken shit under the table. Your guts—God, they were a mess. Chai didn’t go down well. Neither did the bunch of bananas you forced yourself to eat.

Hint #2 – You state often how tired you are.

“I am so tired,” you kept saying. It was a plea for Maeva not to encourage a day trip out of the city. You wanted just to rest a bit, even though lying around the room was boring.

You were not just physically tired, but mentally tired. When you’d met that group of Americans and told them you’d been floating for eighteen months and had been to like.. god… something like eighteen countries, you finished with, “I’m very tired. I’m going to Malaysia in a week. I will travel there for a few more, and then I’m going home.” You were counting down the days. You’d been counting since you bought the ticket to Malaysia for $212 before your Base Camp trek.

But you hadn’t been counting the days for Malaysia. You’d been counting for home.

This is pretty much how you look most recently.

This is pretty much how you look most recently.

Hint #3 – You get angry when time doesn’t pass fast enough.

As if a week in Kathmandu wasn’t insufferable enough! What could you do? Just wander the streets every day and look at all the things you wanted to buy but couldn’t because of the strain of shipping/transporting it? You dreamed feverishly of bringing home sacks of tea and spices, soaps, balms, and more. But you couldn’t, because you were not at the end of your trip. Your trip was far from over.

Hint #4 – Shopping feels more therapeutic than usual.

Sure, gifts for friends can come out of a totally different budget. It’s not exactly travel-related for you. But gifts for yourself became an issue. These pants, that shirt, those books. You had stopped shopping for travel needs; you were shopping for the needs of your future life.

Hint #5 – When the batteries are recharged and you still think about home, it’s a good indication to go.

You’d been saying that when the travel batteries are low, you must be careful. Making decisions when tired is never a good idea. Get some good deep rest, sunshine, good food, and then tackle your problems. You’ve noticed on your trip that when the travel batteries are low, you think obsessively about home. But once recharged, you are usually excited for travel again. But recently, even when rested, excitement for home prevails.

That’s when it’s time to go home. Truth. You had begun to resent the calendar. You had begun to resent Malaysia as a barrier to home. As though it stood in your way as a necessity. An arbitrary one, for sure. But you had a ticket! You have to go! You bought the ticket!

“I can’t stop obsessing over the idea of scrapping the entire Malaysia trip and just going home,” you said over lunch. Maeva encouraged this. She had, in fact, been encouraging you to not go to southeast Asia for weeks. You both had known that you didn’t have the energy for it, and yet you’d stubbornly decided to book the trip anyway.

Maeva smoked her post-lunch cigarette and you jiggled in your seat, anxious to rush back to the hotel and jump online for a looksee.

Hint #6 – You stop giving a shit about tickets.

It’s really only happened in college when you were so manically desperate for escape that you would pay one hundred bucks to change your ticket to leave just to leave campus one day earlier. On the way home, you secretly hoped that a ticket to SFO would be outrageously pricey so last-minute, thereby excusing you of any responsibility for decision-making. An expensive ticket would simply make you bite the bullet and go on traveling.

But it wasn’t. That damn ticket was ten bucks cheaper than a ticket from Malaysia to SFO.

That’s when you started to cry. Stupidly. Pathetically. You ran back to your room, brandishing the laptop.

Maeva asked, “What’s wrong? Expensive?”

“No. It’s cheaper!” you whined and thrust the laptop into her hands.

“Well why the hell are you crying?”

“I don’t know!” Silly, but you felt like some kind of travel failure. You knew that your impulse was guided by tummy troubles and a lack of sleep. “This is a terrible time to be making this kind of decision.”

But was it? Or just what pushed you over the edge? Had you not been regularly advancing the date of your return? End of April? Mid-April? End of March? Had you not been secretly consulting Katie’s friends to organize your surprise visit?

You had. Going home, on all accounts, seemed more desirable than continued travel. You bought the ticket. And oddly felt no relief.

"Fuck this game!  I'm out, bitches!"

“Fuck this game! I’m out, bitches!”

Instead of immediately feeling that you’d made the right decision, you felt nothing. You set down the laptop and slid your butt down to the floor. Stared at the bits and pieces of food, sticks, lint, paper and everything else that littered your guest house room floor–tried to find some meaning in them.

Maeva told you it was the right decision. Austerely, sternly. With a “no room for bullshit” expression you so often wear yourself.

You have often wondered about Maeva. Even after six months of being bonded at the hip, she can still leave you wondering. You once asked her, “Do you think you understand me?”

She said, as she should have, “No. I think I know a lot about you, but I still don’t fully understand you. You surprise me sometimes.”

You feel the same way about Maeva. For starters, she never cries. And perhaps you surprise her constantly with your choices in matters you determine worth crying about: like cheap airline tickets, frustrating yoga teachers that judo chop you in the neck, teeny amorous Indian men.

And what does Maeva cry about? Nothing. Ever. She’s too damn tough.

Oh Maeva...

Oh Maeva…

It took a few days for the reality to settle. And then you were shopping like a banshee. Bought kilos and kilos worth of shit: teas, spices, pashminas, soaps, and more. All the things that made this part of the world a famous trade destination in the first place. You totally get it–the intoxicating allure. Things began looking up, but you couldn’t bask in any real feelings of relief.

Probably because you were still pooing liquid three dimes a day and felt like a colony of hamsters was running a marathon through your guts. It really sucks the life out of you. Food no longer looks good, tastes good, smells good. You eat, and then you double over with stomach cramp. Then you get dizzy. Then you scamper to the toilet–which is usually a stinky closet with no light and about 3 ounces of water left in a plastic scum-stained pitcher.

Two days before your departure, you hit rock bottom. It was a day that began with a breakfast ruined by a brass band playing three feet next to your ear outside the window, stomach troubles, an hour-long traffic jam, an outrageously priced entrance fee, weakness and fatigue that left you incapacitated on a stone pathway near a fancy restaurant. The restaurant manager entreated to to please go about your dying around this corner, in the sun, and out of sight. When Maeva resurfaced from the museum you had to skip, you told her, “I think this is what it feels like to die.” You had energy only to lie still, stare at your dehydrated limbs and wonder if you are anemic, jaundiced, or some other off-color ailment.

Back on the bus. Then to your restaurant for dinner. And then… that fucking brass band returned! You wanted to stand up, throw a stool at them. No. You want God to damn every person who has ever considered taking up the trumpet. Was life playing a cruel joke?Why were you being followed by fucking trumpets?!

Then, back in the room, you were too exhausted to do much of anything. Some crappy yoga. Some mindless journal reading. You could just feel your nerves were raw. Your tampon was overflowing. And dear God, you were so thirsty! The beginnings of that sore throat were still there. needed to buy some water. Needed to check the price of tampons… so many imperatives!

Then you smeared your last clothes in grease when you skated by a metal gate. You flipped out at a poor young man who asked you which country you were from. “I don’t want to have this fucking conversation! I’m tired! I’m covered in grease from your gate. I have to answer that fucking question fifty times a day! Enough!”

And the shocked boy said, “Why you angry me?”

You were overrun with guilt. Burst into tears. Maeva assumed you’ve had some kind of death in the family. No.

You were just. Throwing. A. Temper. Tantrum.

Good thing you had a ticket home.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Can You Kathmandu?

What are you going to remember from your week in Kathmandu? That week of rest, shopping, relaxation, and gastic distress?

MEN SLEEPING IN PUBLIC

At your local chai shop.

At your local chai shop.

Catching flies outside the temple.

Catching flies outside the temple.

Clearly without enough to do.

Clearly without enough to do.

THE ARCHITECTURE

Everything made of wood.

Everything made of wood.

Old squares. UNESCO site.

Old squares. UNESCO site.

Still don't understand these.

Still don’t understand these.

The monkey temple.

The monkey temple.

HIGHLY DECORATIVE ANIMAL CARCASSES

Here piggy piggy.

Here piggy piggy.

Egads!

Egads!

Maeva

Maeva

Aaahhh!

Aaahhh!

GRAPHICALLY DEPICTED ANIMAL GENITALIA

Horse balls.

Horse balls.

These boobs...

These boobs…

That... thing.

That… thing.

THESE SCARY ASS PIGEONS

The birds.

The birds.

Rats with wings.

Rats with wings.

They're coming!

They’re coming!

SHOPPING

Pashminas!

Pashminas!

Goodies!

Goodies!

AND THE MOST AMAZING YOUNG WOMAN YOU’VE EVER MET

Meet Shirine

You couldn’t believe your luck. You happened to meet her on your very last day in Kathmandu. Wondered where she’d been your whole travel life. 20 years old, traveling around the world by herself on a bicycle on… drum roll… five bucks a day. Your inner hyper-competitive traveler didn’t even have time to awaken. She knew she’d been defeated. Shirine was doing it at twenty. Had been traveling around for years… in her teens.

Full of energy, always smiling, bubbling. Had a few complaints about Indian sexual harrassment but had no horror stories to speak of. No loneliness. No boredom. No emotional breakdowns. Just loving raw life.

You asked her everything you could. About the gear, her bank statements, her means of making money. If she had a blog. She does: http://awanderingphoto.wordpress.com . You talked gear like there was no tomorrow. She needed to sell her tent. You happened to want to buy one. It was perfectly synchronized traveler luck. She couldn’t believe how easy it was to sell it. You couldn’t believe the deal you just got!

It took 4 years to meet her. You haven’t been this impressed with someone since you met Levi back in Bulgaria. She, unlike you, feels at home everywhere. Life is full of wonder and possibility. You may be a traveler, but you could never deceive yourself; you are not, have not, and never will be the kind of traveler that doesn’t struggle with boredom and loneliness. Some people have it in them, some people don’t.

It just so happened that you’d met her two days after you’d hit rock bottom in travel enthusiasm. That day there were wifi malfunctions, health malfunctions, and later a complete emotional malfunction. It was one of those days when everything went wrong and you didn’t have an iota of patience for anything or anyone. You were reduced to a puddle of tears and snot when you realized that you’d managed to destroy your vestiges of clothing by skating by an iron gate to avoid a throng of shuffling Japanese tourists. That gate slathered you in the thickest, blackest grease you’ve ever seen, and you had to plead with the hotel staff to give you  a bar of soap to lift it off your skin and watch. The clothes went straight into the trash; there was no saving them. All you’d wanted was a bottle of water. Maybe some tampons. But the goddamn tampons were more expensive there than they are in the States. So, after re-dressing and storming out of the room, you bought that stupid bottle. You  drank your water and stared at the tampons in the shop window like a person who has all the tampons, and no water. Travel sucks sometimes.

You dreamed feverishly of going home. You couldn’t wait. You just wanted time to pass faster. You cursed yourself for buying a ticket to Malaysia. But what could you do? Suck it up. Wake up the next day and start fresh.

And then you met Shirine in the wake of an invitation from Levi to join him in Columbia and manage a hostel with him for a couple of months. You cussed at him. Damned him. How dare he tempt you when you were feeling so low? But the appeal was strong. And then Shirine rejuvenated you. You couldn’t wait to hit the dirt again. Couldn’t wait.

One of the greatest gifts of all is the gift of inspiration.

Categories: Nepal | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Trekking In Nepal: Stool-Softening, Nausea-Inducing Wonderfulness

Your last seven days in India were spent in Rishikesh, a veritable hippie nest. It was a much needed week of rest, given your whirlwind three-week tour from Goa, to Mumbai, to Orccha, to Khajuraho, to Allahabad, to Varanasi, all the way to Darjeeling, all the way back to Lucknow, and finally a miserable and expensive time in Chandigar. You remember the insides of trains, mostly. And buses. And being cold. And struggling to keep costs low.

So in Rishikesh, you were quite pleased by the cheap guest house rates, affordable food, and leisure walks along the river. You and Maeva gathered your strength, slept 10+ hours a night, and plotted your escape to Nepal.

You are proud—a little too proud—of the fact that you spent five months in India and didn’t get sick. Ha! Your gut bacteria are little bad asses! By the end, you were drinking local water, eating all the raw veg you wanted, and tearing like a boss through all the local hole-in-the-wall eateries.

Enter Nepal.

Crossing the border on foot.

Crossing the border on foot.

You crossed into the country on foot via Bambasa-Mahendranagar and felt newly rich, despite the $40 fee for your visa (one U.S. dollar buys 96.5 Nepali rupees, compared to 60 Indian ones). You began to feel stomach cramps, went straight to bed, farted powerfully under the covers, developed a sore throat and a cough, rose only to choke down a thali, and then popped a Valium for the night. The next morning, you pooped liquid but otherwise felt okay.

No big deal.

You hopped on a bus to the next major city, Butwal—an awful nine hours you’ve since blacked out. You and Maeva were practically at each other’s throats, so overrun with fatigue from the transit. You were determined to hustle through the plains, away from the dust and the thalis and get to Pokhara, but not first without seeing Limbini’s Unesco World Heritage Site: the birthplace of Buddha.

What's up? You're in the capital of World Peace.

What’s up? You’re in the capital of World Peace.

Stomach felt okay, bowels felt a bit dodgy, so you returned to your diet of 12+ bananas and curd to set conditions right. Sorted.

Pokhara was everything you wanted it to be, and more. It was your mecca. Filled with outdoorsy European tourists, discounted outdoors gear, pashminas, and book stores. You felt yourself going weak in the knees at the prospect of a shopping spree. Nepal was going to be a complete budget breaker. You knew that you could avoid the temptation of shopping for things you didn’t need, given the bulk of your backpack—one laden by a large 2.8kg wool blanket and a voluminous down jacket.

And a very pretty place, too!

And a very pretty place, too!

No, shopping wouldn’t be a problem. Trekking would be. After all, everyone comes to Nepal to trek. If you don’t pony up the dough, you’re left without much else to do besides the same city-hopping rhythm of India. And god forbid you pass up an opportunity to mountain run in the Himalayas!

You’re gonna talk The Budget for a moment.

First you had to gear up:

Rain poncho: $8

New socks: $2

Map: $2

(Trekking boots purchased earlier in Darjeeling: $35)

Not too bad. You’d managed to budget for the boots well in advance. The rain poncho was wonderfully designed and would certainly be useful to you in the future. You had no regrets there.

But the fees didn’t stop there. Then came the permits.

TIMS registration card: $20

Annapurna Sanctuary Permit: $20

Last-minute passport photos: $3 (Price gouged by a vicious little Nepali woman! And you know she’s not going to lose any sleep over it.)

Nepal has decriminalized homosexuality, btw. Hooray!

Nepal has decriminalized homosexuality, btw. Hooray!

Ouch. Forty bucks just for the right to hike. Then you learned some other appalling things. First, that temperatures at Annapurna Base Camp were as low as -20 C… but usually -8. You knew you didn’t tolerate the cold well and decided that a sleeping bag was a must.

Sleeping bag rental: $8

Also… your army surplus rucksack, while great for travel, is just about the most poorly designed bag for trekking. So…

Backpack rental: $8

Sigh.

Warm enough and comfortable walking now, with all your permits? Great!

But what about the cost of food up in the mountains? Rumor had it that a dhal bat (unlimited rice and lentils with paltry piles of vegetables could cost as much as $6… and that’s only one meal of the day). You knew just eating up in the mountains would cost you and arm and a leg. Local guides recommended a daily budget of $20/day… which you were totally unprepared to pay. So you went shopping…

Food Stock: $24

…for about 8kg of food.

Which dramatically offset later costs, even though it was heavy.

Which dramatically offset later costs, even though it was heavy.

Everything fit neatly into your rental bag and you knew that you would make back your money in savings in a matter of days. So great!

What about a mountain guide? A taxi to the trail head?

Go fuck yourself!

You weren’t going to shell out another penny for that kind of luxury. You and Maeva rose at 7am for the first time in… err… one month, and walked forty-five minutes to the local bus stop, paid $1.10 for the transport, and finally began the trek of your dreams…

PHEDI TO ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP – NOTES FROM THE FIELD

Day 1

  • Sunny, warm. Ready to go!

  • Maeva has a horrible start. First 90 minutes is nothing but steep stone stairs. Your legs feel strong. Lungs okay. Enjoy the beautiful views while waiting at the top for Maeva.

  • Learn that Maeva has near diarrhea explosions. Thinks she ate too many oranges. You wonder idly why your foolish little friend decided to buy one kilo of oranges right before beginning an uphill trek.

  • Progress is slow. Maeva’s body not used to the activity. Quick lunch of muesli soaked in cold water. Continue walking. Maeva drops all her oranges. Makes you eat one.

  • Reach your first overnight village after much time walking uphill. Very charming. You are cold. Order a dal bhat.

  • Maeva has a real diarrhea explosion just before bed. Keeps it clean. Keeps muttering about the oranges.

Day 2

  • Amazing view of the mountain in the morning. Legs feeling good. Then you feel a sore throat. Then the beginnings of tendonitis in Lefty (just like on the Camino). Then sciatica in your back. You are falling apart.

  • Maeva screamed when she saw it, so startled by the majesty.

    Maeva screamed when she saw it, so startled by the majesty.

  • Feel pissed that you can feel so good one day and so shitty on the next. Body feels very weak.

  • Stagger through some beautiful villages. Sit in the sun and stretch your back. Sciatica immediately goes away. So does your sore throat. Tendonitis never peeps again. You wonder if Vitamin D is a performance enhancer.

  • Maeva has a good walk. Then meets more stone stairs. A lot more. She bitches a lot.

  • You eat a delicious veg curry for dinner. Notice that you are not hungry at all.

  • Feet are stinky.

  • Maeva informs you that the book she’s reading, Into Thin Air, mentions that diarrhea can occur as a symptom of altitude sickness, due to the amount of oxygen required for digestion.

Day 3

  • Hot springs! First warm bath in 6 months. Warm, not hot. But good. Happy to soak and wash some laundry.

  • The hot springs.

    The hot springs.

  • Calves are a bit sore. Maeva’s are dreadfully sore. She feels pain. And she struggles with more stone stairs. There is no end to stone stairs. Damn stairs the whole day!

  • While going upstairs, you met your favorite sherpa, who might weigh only 90lbs and was carried 50kg of rice.

    While going upstairs, you met your favorite sherpa, who might weigh only 90lbs and was carried 50kg of rice.

  • You love stairs. Stairs are easy.

  • Meet a lovely young French-Canadian feminist who practices Kung-Fu. Talk Women’s Self-Defense for a couple of hours.

Day 4

  • Wonder if you are feeling a touch of altitude sickness. Learn that the smell of your socks was making you feel sick.

  • Chat with one of the guides. Ask him if he thinks its safe to eat your raw, unsalted, slightly moldy peanuts. “These are okay. Should roast them. Yes, they are okay. Except for that one. And that one. And this one…” he picks so many from the bag. “Don’t eat too many. Digestion hard in high altitudes. May cause diarrhea.” Why the hell does no one ever talk about that symptom?

  • You, after a peanut snack.

    You, after a peanut snack.

  • Slow and steady wins the race. Meave learns how to not stop. Only 3.5 hours of walking for a projected 5-hour walk. Super champions.

  • All afternoon to rest in snowy village 1,000 meters below Base Camp. Very bright. Beautiful. Sunny. Then fog. Learn that it is snowing at Base Camp. Local guide says Base Camp might not be achievable the next day. You are worried.

  • Snowy village.

    Snowy village.

  • Feel intense stomach cramps during dinner. Eating is hard and takes time. But you finish your dinner.

  • Oh my god… oh no!” Famous last words. You run to the bathroom and have a poop explosion. Lots of activity in bowels. Three poops before bed. Afraid to fart.

  • Maeva finishes Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air before bed. Declares she no longer wants to walk to Base Camp. Is too afraid dying. You try to talk some sense into her.

Day 5

  • Wake up bright and early, feeling great. Stuff 500g of muesli into your face. Hear a helicopter and damn it because you know Maeva is going to freak out.

  • Rescue helicopter wakes Maeva, who has had nightmares of dying in the Himalayas all night. She screams, “I don’t wanna go!” Everyone is outside, watching the helicopter, which has arrived to air lift some Korean trekker who fell and broke her arm.

  • Rescue helicopter.

    Rescue helicopter.

  • Everyone came out to watch.

    Everyone came out to watch.

  • Maeva talks to the guide, feeling very concerned.

    Maeva talks to the guide, feeling very concerned.

  • You beg Maeva to come to Base Camp. She comes along, bitterly.

  • Sky is clear, but trail is icy. Maeva falls often. She yells. She cries. You wait for her often, but are anxious to get to the Base Camp. Snow everywhere.

  • Snow!

    Snow!

  • Maeva very upset and tired. She says you can go on ahead. You leave her ass and ascend to Base Camp without stopping—three hours of vigorous walking—and pass everyone like a possessed sonofabitch.

  • Pretty the whole way.

    Pretty the whole way.

  • Air is thin. Stopping feels bad. Light-headed. Face burning from solar rays reflecting on snow. But very happy. Blow lots of snot rockets. Total “runner’s high.

  • Happier than a pig in shit!

    Happier than a pig in shit!

  • Achieve Base camp. Decide that you are probably the worst person ever to hike with, because it would take nothing short of an actual emergency (Alexis’ hyponaetremia in the Grand Canyon) to make you slow down for someone (Katie’s wicked sore throat; Neil’s fallen arches; Alexis’ prior night of food poisoning are not exceptional enough!) Once your exercise high kicks in, there’s no slowing you down.

  • Wait for Maeva for one hour. Clouds roll in when she arrives. No more views of the mountains. Maeva rests for one hour, but weather forces you to descend.

  • Annapurna Base Camp

    Annapurna Base Camp

  • Cold up there!

    Cold up there!

  • No visibility at all.

    No visibility at all.

  • Come back ice-sliding downhill. Whee! Super fun. Fall and slide on your ass for 20 meters. Lose coat. Don’t care.

  • Maeva looked like this the whole way down!

    Maeva looked like this the whole way down!

  • Last bit of clear sky.

    Last bit of clear sky.

  • Coat is returned later in the day. A guide recognized it as yours.

  • Starts to hail. Then to rain. Shoes are soaked. Feel very tired. Eat well but sleep little.

  • Wet....

    Wet….

Day 6

  • Wake up feeling like shit. Then shit liquid. No other problems.

  • Descend slowly. Knees are barking, especially arthritic Righty. And you’re starving.

  • Steepest stairs again. Hard to regulate temperature. Day is cold and cloudy. Your are sweaty. Hands go numb. End the day early. Fell like you’re about to get hypothermia.

  • Can’t get warm. Stay in bed. Pass out. Wake up. Starving. All you have left is spicy canned fish.

  • Sunburned and pathetically cold in bed.

    Sunburned and pathetically cold in bed.

  • It is the hottest thing you have ever attempted to eat in your life. You eat it anyway. Just barely.

  • Trouble finishing dinner. Brain is hungry, stomach is not.

Day 7

  • “I gotta poop. I hate pooping. It’s so much work.” Poop is not super solid, but not a problem. in the morning.

  • Completely out of food. Walk seven hours. Get yourselves out of the mountains fast. Knees are sore.

  • Descend to trail head, expecting lower prices and good eats. Prices terribly and disappointingly high. Remain hungry.

  • You feel mild nausea in the middle of the night. It goes away.

  • Liquid poo in morning. No rhyme or reason.

And then…?

The real fun started.

You returned to Pokhara by bus, happily found that none of the stuff you’d left behind had been stolen, and checked into a lovely new hotel. You and Maeva had steaming hot showers and did all of your laundry and scrubbed yourselves more thoroughly than you ever have—in the last 6 months. It felt good to be back in civilization. You spent the latter half of your day walking up and down the streets, looking at things to buy for your friends back home.

You ate dinner in your hotel and shortly thereafter felt some mild nausea. It lasted for about 90 minutes. You couldn’t explain it. But it went away.

The next day, you spent the entire day shopping and haggling. It was fantastic. And after the deed was done, you went back to your room, did some yoga, read a book, ate a bit of cereal and…

…felt the nausea again.

It wasn’t intense. Not really. But is was persistent. You burped a lot. Told Maeva that something was wrong with you, but that you were hungry. But also tired. But hungry. But then worried you wouldn’t be able to eat. You then abruptly ran to the toilet to dry heave. Nothing.

Meave got you out of the room. You burped constantly. Retched occasionally. Spit. Burped some more. And then screeched like a pterodactyl, as you do, wondering if you might puke. Nothing.

You bought a Coca-Cola. Drank it. Hoped it might settle your stomach. Made you burp more. “If it’s possible to vomit burps, that’s what I’m doing!”

Ordered some cabbage and noodles. Realized in short order you had lost all interest in eating. Packed it up and went back to the hotel. Slowly. Felt terrible.

Collapsed in bed. Focused on breathing. Whined.

Got up and went to the toilet. Vomited promptly. Didn’t feel better.

Laid down in bed again. For ten minutes. Got up, vomited urgently. Voluminously.

“That’s it!” Maeva cheered. “Get it out! You’ll feel better when you do.”

Only you didn’t.

You never got that post-vomit relief you’re supposed to get after a bout. You curled up in a ball on the floor, close to the toilet, and waited for the next bout.

“This is pretty unpleasant,” you said.

Maeva couldn’t stop laughing. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “But you’re right. You really do sound like a dinosaur when you puke.”

It was true. You laughed even though you felt pretty bad. Then got up and puked again.

And again. And again. And again.

But the end of an hour, you were shaken, dehydrated, exhausted, dizzy. And totally unable to vomit anything more. Just stomach bile.

“Oh my god, you really sound like you’re suffering.”

More like drowning in bile, choking on your own fingers. You gasped for air, thanked God for the spray hose near the toilet (and thought all Western bathrooms should be equipped with one) to clean up the mess, and crawled on your hands and knees across the white tiles of the bathroom and went back to your place on the carpet. Like a sick dog.

Just how you like it.

Just how you like it.

No relief. Ever. Not a bit. If felt like mice were stampeding through your intestines. It felt like a stone sat in the bottom of your stomach and no amount of violent retching could dislodge it. You passed out.

Then woke up and puked again. Told yourself you wouldn’t cry, even though you were pseudo sobbing—or coughing—or gasping—or all three.

This isn’t worse than Spain. Nothing beats what happened to you on The Camino.

That’s true. But it was damn unpleasant. And maybe you’re just so used to getting violently ill during your travels (read: pneumonia, flu, strep throat in Ireland, stomach bugs in Spain, persistent coughs in France, alcohol poisoning/hospitalization in Bosnia) that nothing phases you anymore. Who knows?

You heard a neighbor in your hotel puking in the morning. Maeva experienced discomfort in her bowels the following day, as well as no desire to eat. You can’t be sure if you have a stomach virus, Delhi belly, or giardia.

Maybe you should be more concerned. But aside from occasional stomach cramps, loose stool, occasional nausea, and your one night of violent, pterodactyl vomiting, you feel great! Like, really! No foolin’.

“I’m one more stomach bug away from my goal weight.”

Categories: Illness, Nepal, Struggles | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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