Month: June 2014

The Shore Was Made for Scavengers

Following my graduation from the Jersey Shore beach paradise that is Monmouth University, I did the most reasonable thing and I could think of rented a house a block from the beach for the winter with no job prospects in sight. What could possibly go wrong?

As I signed my name in blood in that overly-air-conditioned Century 21 office three months before graduation, I knew, as a hopelessly logical human being, that what I was doing was stupid. I was panic-struck I wouldn’t be able to afford my rent, I was petrified that it was much more difficult than I had imagined to find a job, and I knew that employment down by the shore was few and far between. However, that panic was outweighed by an even greater fear – that of returning to the mountains with my parents. I hoped it would all just work out. 

I couldn’t even bear the thought of leaving my one true love, the shore. I couldn’t imagine not hearing the waves as I slept or taking an afternoon walk down Ocean Avenue or staying with all my beachrat friends in one-square-mile seaside towns. I literally didn’t know if I could fathom the loss of the paradise that I had grown accustomed to for the last four years.

1

So I signed, and nine long months proceeded to drag by, similar as to how I dragged my tattered suitcase on the floor back-and-forth and back-to-forth from my dream-like beach home to my new-found place of employment… two hours north.

Even though I had fun (on the weekends) – I enjoyed long crisp runs on the Long Branch boardwalk, supplied a boarding house for my backpacked friends, and wandered to my favorite seaside bars and restaurants only miles from my house – the whole debacle was a nightmare. I totaled my car, put 9,000 miles on my new car in six months, spent money people spend to live near their jobs only I lived two hours from my job, and pretty much gave up my life for a constant view of the ocean. It was not worth it. It did not all work out.

I grew resentful of the place that I loved. I angrily drove down Ocean in my 9,000 miles-older car, glaring at the winterized and empty version of the place that used to be mine. I probably spent most of my time in my room, drinking wine alone and packing my things for the next journey north, which came every four days at which point I would camp out at my mother’s home for three days (an hour and a half away from my work also) before returning back to the shore.

But, thankfully, all bad things must come to an end. The lease ended, I got a new job, and… I moved back to the mountains. With my parents.

This transition seemed equally daunting. Move home? Back to the middle of nowhere? With my… mom? Oh god. Why life.

However, the summer started up quickly and my friends rallied me to their places in Seaside, Point Pleasant and Long Branch. Most weekends, I run around my room, eagerly throwing my belongings into a patched backpack before getting in my car and eating my dinner on my lap so I can make it to my friends’ homes before they go out for the night. I sleep on dingy basement couches, I eat Jersey bagels from my driver’s side, I shower at the beach, and… I’m so happy. 

Things will probably change once the summer hoopla wears down and I miss my beach (and my old reliable beach house) once again, but for now, I think a lot of the shore appeal for me is the nomadic pull of it all.

Part of the fun is wondering on Friday afternoons, How am I going to get there? and Where am I going to sleep? I kind of like trying to find a secluded spot to change clothes in my car or sketchily sneak into bathrooms. I like not knowing when my time in paradise is going to end and who I am going to end up seeing from my favorite spot on North Beach. If paradise becomes the everyday, is it still paradise? If it becomes your home, can you resist not taking it for granted, not counting its flaws? Can you get sick of the most stunning window view you could ever think up?

I really don’t know.

But what I do know is that the shore was made for scavengers with backpacks in their cars and dirt on their faces… which is why that’s where you’ll find me every weekend, every time.

Be Your Inner Crazy Grandmother Dentist

When I asked my 75-year-old grandmother if she wanted to visit me in Florence, Italy for the weekend, I didn’t really think she was going to say yes.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want her to visit – hell, the more the merrier when you’re running around Europe armed with only a reusable water bottle and a Wal-Mart backpack – but realistically, why would someone choose to fly 5,000 miles and spend around $1,000 for one weekend, especially at an age when most are packing their bags for the nursing homes?

But she did say yes, and even better, she flew to Bergen, Norway first to spend some time with the fam before hopping on the next flight to Florence where we visited the Perugia Chocolate Festival and bought obscene amounts of Baci, hung out at the Boboli Gardens and basked in the sun, and spent our (few) evenings at local trattorias, drinking fine wines on the house with the friendly owners.

Perugia

I can’t say I’m really surprised at the fact that my grandmother wore me out, a freshly energized 21-year-old, when after being divorced from her husband and house-wifery around 40, she headed back to school to become a nurse, moved to Florida, and still works as a nurse today as she takes her time off to hop around Europe and skiing in the West.

I won’t lie – I don’t see or speak to the lady very often and when birthday cards come around, they’re regularly empty. Even though I have family members who are spiteful of her absence, I have to hand it to her – she’s living the dream at 75. Missing out on it at 25 was never a reason to mope.

When people are young, they make a lot of excuses not to travel. When I was in school, students I knew made studying abroad to be this huge endeavor, when really all it took was a summer of extra shifts at the diner, some responsible saving and papers to fill out. Even though it’s these kids who have the real opportunity sitting right under their suitcases, I’m beginning to see it’s the more seasoned citizens who take advantage of their time by spending it all where it counts.

My friendly neighborhood dentist is also in his 70’s, yet he spent the last weekend before Good Friday in New Orleans, dressed to impress and rummaging the streets for Mardi Gras. It’s actually pretty difficult to get an appointment with him because he’s always away in the Galapagos Islands, Venice, or Thailand, armed with his camera so that he can print out his professional-quality photographs and hang them all over his office ceiling (for patients staring up at it from the dentist’s chair). I actually feel pretty guilty when he asks me “What’s up?” and I have nothing to say yet he responds that he spent last week in Aspen or visiting his son in Hawaii where he works as a scuba instructor. Oh, and he also runs a Christmas tree farm…. in his spare time.

It may be because they feel they’ve deserved this time after a lifetime of raising their bratty kids, it may be because they finally have the cash, or it may be because they’re realizing they spent too much time sitting at a desk under florescent lighting and it’s time to make up for those years. Whatever the reason, if my 75-year-old grandmother can hop on an international flight for some stellar pizza, so can you. Learn from your elders and take the time to do what you want now instead of making up a new excuse for every decade of your life. Be your inner crazy grandmother dentist.

Perugia 2

Why I Love Being Poor

“Jen, I could seriously hook you up in a heartbeat,” says my father. “Why the hell wouldn’t you want to work on Wall Street?!”

Like everybody else who has ever existed, I would love to dine with millionaires on two-hour lunches, drive a red Ferrari, and wear $2,000 shoes… from nine to five, Monday through Friday. As Jordan Belfort so kindly pointed out in The Wolf of Wall Street, “I’ve been a rich man and a poor man, and I choose rich every time.” I, too, have been a rich woman and a poor one (although not quite as rich as Belfort) and although I relish extensive shopping trips and boat outings, there is one occupation that I feel is better off experienced as a nomadic, dirty being – and that is of a traveler.

45

I’ve stayed in fancy chain hotels in Budapest and hairy hostels in Milan. Although I kind of remember laying in that Budapest Marriott and watching some Disney movie on TV, I can vividly recall the off-green Italian hostel with pubic hairs littered on the itchy twin bed next to the barred window. I remember sitting up at night, wrapped in my sweats, trying not to touch anything as I listened to the drunken tourists stumbling home from outside. I remember spending the day being dirty, wandering Milan with a backpack strapped on wondering where I could pee. At the chance of sounding like your mom, being a poor traveler makes you interesting, resourceful, and perhaps most appealing, the most captivating storyteller on this side of the Atlantic. 

I’ve purchased overpriced designer dresses in Madrid and lost my shoes at the airport. That navy blue dress still sits like-new in my closet from four years ago, a little too European and expensive for anything casual here in the States. However, my $20 brown boots from Kohl’s ventured Italy years later, stomping the cobblestone streets during the night many times over before eventually falling to pieces at the Amsterdam Shiphol Airport. It’s the cheap items that become priceless; living out their days being worn and being useful before dying a noble death most likely outside of the confines of your closet.

I’ve met rich Columbians with closets as big as my room and dirty Australians who spend their days wandering shirtless. When we think of the rich and powerful, our minds default to thinking of their exciting lives jet setting the world, eating the finest food, and rubbing elbows with the coolest people. In reality, it’s the nomad travelers that do this without ever having to fake one sentiment. I’ve met countless backpackers who spend their days with smiles on their faces picking fruit, bar tending, and food running as they see countries that others don’t even consider as destinations. It’s these behind-the-scenes people that live the real adventures, not the ones who have never had to leave their comfort zone.

I’ve eaten “top-notch” food at the finest restaurants in the world and home-cooked stews on grandmother’s porches. It’s undeniable that $100 steaks and the rarest wines aren’t scrumptious, but when you leave, what else do you have to say but Wow that was a great steak but now I’m out $200? When I think back to my most memorable meals, I don’t think of these gourmet pastas at tourist spots but instead I remember the nights I spent on Norwegian porches sampling home-cooked elk and whale with a view of the fjords below. Food needs a story – something you won’t find for many restaurants in the guidebook.

Being rich is great when you’re a shopper, great when you’re a businessperson, and great when you’re trying to impress the flavor of the month. But when that time comes around when it’s my turn to see the world once again, I prefer to revert back to the filthy nomad I am at heart.