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.