Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

If my chiropractor could see me now… August 6, 2008

He’d probably tackle me to the ground while delivering a long and powerful sermon on the dangers of carrying 1/3 of your body weight on your back. Admittedly, I’m no fan of it either – I’ve had no less than two bad dreams in preparation – but what are you gonna do?

I got the whole mess down to about 38 or 39 pounds…and unfortunately at least ten pounds of that is books. Trust me, if I thought I could do without I’d dump them, but when the bulk of your plan for three months is to wander and wing it through Europe, leaving your Let’s Go! Western Europe, Let’s Go! Eastern Europe, and Thomas Cook Summer 2008 train schedules behind seems foolish, if not plain old dumb. The fourth book is on freelance travel writing, which is probably more wishful thinking than anything. However, seeing as I’m unemployed now, money is definitely an object. I’m feeling a bit edgy about the fact that the dollar is worth more as a piece of note paper or a napkin in Europe right now.

In other news, having turned in my company car, computer, and Blackberry last Friday (an unlike a lot of people saddled with a BB for by their job, I LOVED mine and will miss it), I am low on technogadgets and adapting to my mini-computer, the ASUS EEE. I’m not sure how they arrived at this particular name, but phonetically (in my mind) it sounds like Ass Us EEEEEEEEEEEE. Not a good name. Thus, owing to my habit of naming inanimate objects, allow me to freestyle my way to a more fitting moniker for my companion. Insouciant, Assisi, St. Francis of Assisi, Frank, Sous, Susie. I’m liking Susie. Susie it is! Welcome to our solo backpacking trip, Susie. I promise not to paint a face on you with my own blood. Hopefully.

Anyway, the keyboard is crazy tiny and has a few funky elements (where right side shift key should be is page up, there’s some key combo Ive hit twice that wipes out the last sentence you wrote and replaces it with a $1 – TOTAL DIGRESSION: what is that were true!? Every sentence I wrote gave me a dollar!? Or better yet, a pound or euro? Seriously though, I like that. In my newly jobless gypsy state, I’m taking it as a good sign – back to the learning curve: need to hit the function key to get an asterisk, etc. On the good news side of the coin, but for my two bandaged middle fingers (paper cut and weird cuticle peeling thing only my dad and I seem to struggle with), I have small hands and with some practice, I think I’ll be able to pull this typing business off pretty fluidly.

No one, not even the rain, has such small hands…

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Act first, apologize later July 6, 2008

Okay, the deed is done. I just pecked out the following onto my Blackberrry and when my plane lands, the e-mail below will find its way into my boss’ inbox. Minus some key tasks, a few purchases, and the overabundance of trivial details related to the trip, this was the last big milestone.

 

Subject: IMPORTANT issue to discuss this week

 

J-

 

Apologies for communicating this via e-mail. However, considering our hectic schedule this week, I wanted to tell you about this immediately so that you knew we needed some time to talk.

 

As I may have mentioned, when I was 19, I backpacked Europe alone for eight months. Long story short, this has been a year of tremendous personal change and growth for me, and – after a fair amount of deliberation and consideration – I’ve decided to repeat that journey. I recognize this is unorthodox, and I’ve given the circumstances and potential consequences intense consideration before making this decision. That stated, considering the nature of the work I’ve been doing and the extensive amounts of train time in my future, I’m confident in my ability to continue performing at the same level regardless of my location. With the obvious exception of availability to fly to ***your town*** or ***the mother ship*** during this period (8/2-10/31), I see no reason I won’t be able to continue reading, writing, analyzing, and playing a key role in ***unnamed employer*** customer projects as well as preparing materials for the ***unnamed event*** presentation in November.

 

As an upside, with the exception of books (or an electronic book device depending upon how many I still need to read for ***unnamed event***), I will not be incurring any expenses. I plan to purchase a mini-laptop in order to write and to access the internet when necessary. I do recognize that it may be a little harder to get a hold of me, but so long as I am well aware of what is needed and the related due dates, I feel I can guarantee that I will live up to those responsibilities without issue.

 

I’m certain you’ll have questions and possibly concerns, and I’m happy to address them and take the steps necessary to put your mind at ease. Moreover, I just wanted to make sure you knew I would need to talk to you about this while in ***your town*** this week.

 

Lastly, and most importantly, thank you for your understanding,

V-

 

Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how this goes over. Smooth as silk or ton of bricks? We shall see…

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a small world, afterall (and apologies if that’s now stuck in your head like it is mine) July 1, 2008

Okay, so now that you understand the diverse mix of critical and useless items contained in my cheap ass army/navy store external frame backpack, it’s time to talk about what happened next. Dressed like an extra on the set of Hair, I arrived – completely sleep deprived and first thing in the morning – at the Gatwick airport, and headed to downtown London. Also, and unrelated, does London have any kind of nifty nickname like the Big Apple, or Sin City, or the City of Lights, Beantown, or The Windy City or even The Town Too Tough to Die? I looked around, and came up with zilch…

Day One

Now here’s where I honestly can’t explain to you where I get my information: For some reason I was anticipating something akin to Charles’ Dickens’ London, replete with horse-drawn carriages, cobblestone streets, and gas lamps aplenty. Thus, you can imagine my horror at finding myself in a major metropolis rather like Manhattan. In fact, I was so overwhelmed, depressed, and just plain old exhausted, that I went and lay down on a park bench and slept. I am not exaggerating or making that up. Actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever admitted that to anyone, it being so out of character for me to completely abandon all common sense. Obviously, as a fairly cute 19-year old blonde, it was an incredibly dangerous and stupid (and, let’s be honest, homeless person-esque) move. Nonetheless, and happily, I survived.  Too cheap to pay the money to check my bag with an attendant at the bus station and not necessarily knowing where I was or where I was headed, I set out into the big city on foot.

I wandered by Westminster Abbey, but there was no time for tours. Plus, I hadn’t really had any practice carrying that bag around, and it was really freaking heavy. I started to realize that if someone pushed me over, I was likely going to be stuck that way for a long while.

Picture the scene: I’m feeling completely overwhelmed and even disheartened and a resounding inner dialogue of “What have I done!?!?” is not helping the situation. At one point, I realize my Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls have come loose from their place inside my sleeping bag, and a leg is dragging down the filthy sidewalk. So as I’m wandering down this insanely busy two-lane street  and trying to figure out what would be a good next move, I glance across and recognize a couple that lived upstairs from me in Santa Cruz. I swear. He always wore a black trench coat, and as a pair they were immediately recognizable. I start picking up the pace to keep up with them, and all the while I’m recollecting how she was an INCESSANT talker. I mean, the kind of person where you can not get a word in edgewise. However, I’m alone and poor in a huge, strange city and maybe they’re living here or could put me up or ??? But, then again, Angela really does run her mouth something fierce…

And at that moment they started to turn down a parallel street, and – for better or worse – I let them go. I know, I know. The odds of this are phenomenally small, and it really was an amazing coincidence, and how often in life does one get such an “in your face” of what a small world it is? On the other hand, if I hadn’t decided to let them continue on their merry way, I may have never spent all that time in lovely Liverpool.

 

 

Young, Dumb, Poor…and Woefully Unprepared June 29, 2008

A couple months ago, I was hanging out with a friend on a Saturday night. Actually, this is the same friend who gave me a copy of Care of the Soul, and she will appear again, as I am launching my trip with a week with her and her husband in Iceland. But I’m getting ahead of myself… Crissy and I were talking about travel that we’d done, and how simplifying your life to just a backpack and a train pass can make things clear. Like a vision quest without the psychedelic drugs (or not, depending upon who you know and how easygoing you are about such things). As we talked, I started reminiscing about some of the crazier things that happened to me while I was in Europe way back when, and when I got home that night, the seedling of the idea had taken root. The next day I went to Costco to get some bread and fruit. On my way to the checkout lanes, in order to avoid the perennial traffic jam of people waiting in lines five-deep for a scrap of microwaved chimichanga, I took the shortcut through the book section. And what to my wandering eye should appear, but copies of Let’s Go Western Europe AND Let’s GoEastern Europe. How’s that for a sign from above? Costco!?!? I mean, WTF!?!? From that moment, the trip seemed like destiny.

 

Meanwhile, back to 1992, after realizing I had no idea who I was without David and with no real plan for the rest of my life, had determined to backpack Europe and see what happened. I had saved a semi-respectable amount of money from working two concurrent jobs during the school year and three lifeguard jobs that summer. Thus, I started calling travel agents – this being the era before Expedia and Travelocity – to find the cheapest flight to England. My dad, it should be noted, was not amused. I’m sure he was simply worried that I’d be abducted or worse, but he manifested that concern as anger and a wee bit of condescension. I could be wrong, this was a long time ago, but I believe his parting words to me were (more or less), “They’re going to eat you alive.”

 

In a way, he was right. For reasons I cannot explain – beyond the influence of Santa Cruz and my total obsession with Joni Mitchell –  the only items I brought consisted of the following:

1.   A pair of army green hiking boots. I won’t even try to make this sound fashionable, because they weren’t.

2.   Three tie-dye skirts in Jamaican flag, banana split, and Minnesota Vikings. I’m pretty sure the red/yellow/green one was responsible for ruining every other piece of clothing laundered with it.

3.   A pair of Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls in train conductor stripe. One of my roommates at UCSC had gotten a job at the Osh Kosh B’Gosh, and for some reason (collective madness, most likely) we all bought a pair of one of the only things they made for adults – the overalls. These were the ONLY bottoms with legs (meaning only thing that was not a skirt) I had the entire time.

4.   A nice navy blue sweater with a white section with flowers that my great Aunt Margaret bought me at a mall in Ebensburg. (I wish I had a picture of this. I may have to cook up some rudimentary drawings for you guys. Don’t expect too much: I still color like a talented second grader, and my primary medium is crayon. However, so long as your expectations are appropriately low, I’m not half bad.) Back to the sweater, my grandmother had died earlier that winter, and this was the only shopping trip I ever took with my great aunt. I have a vague recollection that she was extremely worried about my upcoming trip. That side of my family were worriers in the first place, but I think I would actually classify her mood that afternoon as *deeply* worried. Bear in mind, her sister (my grandmother) never even flew on a plane in her entire lifetime. The idea of a 19-year old going to Europe with no plan, no friends, no money, and no brains must have been horrifying.

5.   A yellow velvet tuxedo jacket (outfitted with a large blue and white flower pin) picked up at a used clothing store in Santa Cruz.

6.   A variety of hippie t-shirts including, but not limited to: ‘Bread Not Bombs’, Grateful Dead ‘Frosted Freaks’, ‘War is Not Good for Children or Other Living Things,’ and ‘I survived the Reagan era’ (with a drawing of Ronnie riding a nuke). Is it any wonder the Japanese would take pictures of me??? All of these shirts were either pinky gray or murky gray within weeks, thanks to my cost-saving habit of laundering everything in one load.

7.   A VERY cheap external frame backpack (also in army green, to match the shoes.) upon which I had cut out and sewn felt flowers. Sad, but true.

8.   A bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Miracle Soap in peppermint

9.   A copy of Let’s Go Europe

10.   The world’s largest paperback copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses – a door stop, if ever there were.

11.   A large bag of trail mix from the bulk section of the Pathmark grocery store in my hometown.

12.   A Eurail pass and $300 USD (As a side note, this was not 1942, but 1992. $300 was as paltry as it sounds!)

 

As for my personal appearance, I’d been working as a lifeguard, so my hair was particularly blond. It was also very long and – in keeping with what was hip, or at least I thought was hip, at the time – the entire underside were dreadlocks wrapped in colored thread. I’m not sure how to explain this: At some point the previous winter I had braided the underside of my hair into a dozen small braids and wrapped those in cross-stitch thread. Every inch or so, I’d change colors. After a while, as it kept growing, I kept wrapping the new stuff. Lo and behold, the new stuff  became dread locks. I honestly don’t know if this (the string) was some kind of fashion, or just some weird thing I dreamt up. Anyway, those beauties were waist-length.

 

Speaking of which, I just now had an insight as to why all through my senior year of high school (when the Age of Aquarius really took hold of me), my dad would ask with concern, “Are the other kids wearing that???” Sadly, with extraordinarily rare exception, the answer was pretty much “no”.

 

In short, as I departed for what would ultimately be eight months in Europe, I was young, dumb, poor, and woefully unprepared for what lay ahead. Simply put, I was a hippie hot mess.

 

 

 

 

Some days I realize this may be a bad idea June 12, 2008

Filed under: Travel — wideawakeinwonderland @ 12:14 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: The backpack has arrived! First impressions

  • LOVE the color
  • It is small. So very, very small.
  • It scrunches my boobs a bit
  • It’s a very nice bag – high quality. NOTHING like last time. Although that delightful Army Navy store bag is long gone, I can still remember its aluminum external frame and cheap green baggage compartment. Oh, the times and the backaches we shared!
  • Flashing back sixteen years, how the hell did I manage to carry a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleep sheet, books, clothes, several worthless things I never once used (like those pills to make poisonous water drinkable. That’s a bad idea if I ever heard one), and personal effects enough for seven months!?!?

I’m feeling a little bit deflated at the sight of its smallness, so I think I’m going to procrastinate the official “trial pack” for a few days. I think the next step is to get all the clothing and shoes and other things I want to bring into one pile. Then divide it in half.

Then scrutinize and  ultimately slim by another third…and take that third. From there, it’s “project overload”: force, squeeze, roll, twist, crunch, and cram.  After the seams are breaking, and there is nary room for another atom, it’s off to get on a scale with the whole mess to make sure I’m not trying to carry more than a third of my body weight. Feeling ever dubious about the whole thing…

Speaking of which, I woke up this morning and had an idea as to how to open this paper I need to write for work. I was kind of buoyed by that since I’ve been procrastinating my @ss of on some of these writing projects. (IHMJ) Then I noticed it looked like it might be a sunny day outside (an illusion, as usual), when this overwhelming feeling of WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THIS (meaning planning to take an unpaid leave and/or quit my job and backpack Europe by myself for thirteen weeks) came over me, and I felt like crap. And then I thought about this blog, and sure, it’s only been a week, but I can’t help but notice that I am essentially keeping a secret diary. Hell, I may as well start confessing some embarrassing sh*t, because no one will read it!!!!!!

I log into WordPress and the crickets start chirping…   Despair.com sells these t-shirts, “More people have read this t-shirt than my blog,” and if weren’t the equivalent of a post-it with the word “loser” on my own back, I might get one. But this too shall pass!

Moreover, since I seem to need to constantly remind myself, the reason I’m doing this all is because the job is not what I *really* want to do with my life – not even close. Things are not working out, and I feel really futile and even kind of useless. Moreover, even if they were going along swimmingly, I suspect that would serve only to mask my calling to more creative and fulfilling pursuits. As it is, I’ve already blown through my twenties and now half my thirties without listening to or heeding the siren song.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll share with you THE BIG DREAM so that all this wavering and push and pull and moments of self-doubt become a little more clear or a little more pitiful. Whatever.