Count to Five

I’m sort of getting used to all of this, to living in Italy, and that I know because of one single reason– I can breathe.

When I’m at school in the States, my time is never mine. My time belongs to the newspaper that I write for, The Outlook, the Newsletter that I put together for the Honors program, Arete, the Annual Fund, New Logic Educators, and many more. Don’t get me wrong– I love every activity that I am a part of, which is why I could never bring myself to quit even one of them. But when I finally get home at night, I am sometimes a little sad when I have to miss dinner with my roommate or when I have to decline happy hour invitations or other simple hang-outs that others take for granted.

At home, my brain buzzes constantly (sounds healthy, I know) and my thoughts are echoes of the countless lists I make of the things I have to do and to consider. When I go to sleep, I count to five over and over again so that I can relax.

It is only now, in Italy, where I see that this is not normal. Today I sat in a nice little cafe near a building where Andrea, Juliana, and Sean had a meeting, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t look at the clock or think about what else I had to do that day. I sat and I breathed in cool air (thank God) and I drank a tiny cup of expresso and ate a sandwich that was an obscenely low cost. I’m glad to say that it’s only the third day, and I can already see the joys of a three hour dinner.

I know that once I return to the States in a few short months, I will go back to my old ways and I will be stressed and overload myself. And that’s okay, because things need to get done. But it’s nice to think that just for now, I think I’ll just sit quietly on a side street and sip my drink.

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Good Luck, Tourist.

You’re on a trip. You’re excited to be away from home, to not have to worry about feeding the dog, to be somewhere new and cool where there is so much to see and do. Well guess what, tourist? The locals there are NOT on vacation. They are probably not very happy to see you and they don’t want to help you or be nice to you. And you know what the saddest part is? Neither do the police. Sorry.

When I was in Paris, France, me and my friend both bought subway tickets to go from inner Paris to our hotel, which was right outside of the city. We bought the tickets (obviously all in French) from the machine and then swiped them through another machine, in which the little light glowed green and the gate opened and we stepped onto the subway.

Upon stepping off the subway, however, I was surprised to have a cop suddenly in my face asking me (in English, because, hmm, weird, he knew I was a tourist) for my ticket. This is pretty standard in many cities– the subway is kind of based on the honor system but if a cop pulls you aside, you better have it to show or face a hefty fine. In Paris, though, I guess they operate by the machines letting you through and cops. Anyway, I showed the cop my ticket, and he soon informed me that my ticket was only valid for subways within Paris, as evident by an emblem featuring the word “Paris” inside a tiny red circle. I don’t know about you, but even if I was French, I would not get this point.

The cop then told me (in English, because once again, seems that they knew we were tourists…) that I owed a fine of about 200 euro (this was all two years ago, I really don’t remember the exact amount). Being that I only had a few more days backpacking, I didn’t even have that much money, plus it was pretty ridiculous to me that we were guests in this country, doing our best to be respectful and we were providing tourism and money, yet two eighteen-year-old American girls were being punished so severely from an obvious misunderstanding. After some finagling, we ended up paying the cops 50 euro each, which was still pretty ridiculous to me, but after they started threatening to take my passport, I didn’t want to end up in a padded cell underneath the city.

I always felt like this was all so very unfair, and if the situation had been reversed with two foreigners in America, American police would just let them go. Honestly, though, I’m not too sure about this, since it seems like most cities take a particular sick joy in exploiting tourists.

When I was in Ocean City last weekend, my friend parked his car at a meter a few blocks from the beach and put $3 in to last 3 hours. When we got back 2 1/2 hours later, a ticket was waiting on the dashboard for $30, not really fair in my opinion since it seems as if there was some problem with the machine or something. If it were me, I would probably fight it for the principle of the matter, but realistically, it’s not really worth it to drive all the way back to Ocean City to fight a $30 ticket.

Being a tourist anywhere you are at a pretty deep disadvantage. You don’t have a real home, you may not have a phone, you have nowhere to park, and you have limited money and knowledge of the area. Sometimes, you get into situations that you can’t really avoid, like a French ticket and a crappy meter. All I can tell you is to be alert, really. And always stand up for the principle of the matter. Just because you’re a tourist doesn’t give anyone the right to push you around, uniform or not.

When Sickness Strikes

In less than twenty four hours I will be getting on a plane to Mexico, and I am covered in hives.

On my arms, my legs, my feet, my back… I have little red dots. Everywhere. It is not pleasant and the only thing I can do is pop the steroids the doctor gave me. She also mentioned they would not be gone by tomorrow. And probably not a week from tomorrow either.

I’m sure many of you have had similar issues during your travels. Maybe you weren’t covered in little red dots, but everyone has gone on a trip where there (or before) they contracted a godawful stomach virus, got strep, maybe started getting some chills. Whatever the case, being sick before the time you have been looking forward to gives you two options… You can either wallow in it and hide in your fancy hotel bed, or you can put on your game face and have a good time.

Because the bottom line is this: one day, you won’t be covered in hives. One day, probably very soon, your stuffy nose will be good as new, your strep will have moved on to the person sitting next to you on the airplane, and your stomach cramps will wander off. However, the memories of your trip will hang on for the rest of your days. And during the rest of those days, do you want to have memories of wallowing in the hotel bed, or do you want to think about the running rampant late at night and sitting next to the breezy blue ocean, even if you were a little uncomfortable, a little embarrassed?

So even though I’ll still wear long sleeves and my sister will make fun of me and my dad will continue to ask me if I have fleas, I will still be smiling.

It reminds me of another instance– a few months ago, on the Friday before my twenty-first birthday (aka the best weekend of my life) I got flu-like symptoms within some sort of cold. I was not happy. Originally, my dear wife/roommate and I had planned a party at our house, since her birthday is the day after mine. I was seriously debating saying eff it to the party, to the following day at the bar, to my parents’ visit the next day (that one I should have actually cancelled). However, instead, I popped some pills, made a drink, and we partied till the next Tuesday and had the time of our lives. (Plus, when you’re inebriated, it’s a lot easier to forget that you’re sick.)

So keep your head up and have a laugh about it. If anyone asks you what’s wrong, tell them you have gang green and it’s highly contagious. Then take some meds and go to the damn pool.

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Where are We, Anyway?

Today, my mother’s usual (and chronic) lateness led me to stomp off to the hotel breakfast alone, which, although I’m sure appeared pathetic to the average person, seemed perfectly fine to me as I was still half asleep (at 11:00 am).

Anyway, I think that this one waiter felt kind of bad for me, so he came out to chat since there was no one else who needed to be seated anyway. We got to chatting, and the 21 years old double major in Drama and Business turned out to be a New Orleans native.

My annoying self: “Wow! That’s so cool! Man, it must be so fun to live here. Do you go out on Bourbon a lot?”

Him (names have been forgotten): “Na, not really. It was fun when I was younger, when I had to pay a 20 to get into one of the clubs. But now it’s just like… I’ve already done it. It’s boring.”

WHAT? NEW ORLEANS BORING? was my first thought. But, when I thought about it, we all feel this way, like where we are has become too stale, whether we live in Paris or Sydney or a small tow in New Jersey.

When I moved to my current town, it actually wasn’t so bad. We drove around the dark streets at night, standing in fields and stargazing. We built forts in the backyard next to our bonfires. We swam in the neighbor’s pool till we pruned, then crept home in a spook. Then, we did it all again the next day.

But it seems to me like no matter where you live, you reach a point that, for many reasons, the romanticism fades away and cabin fever takes over from the outside in. Who knows, maybe one day that kid will come back to NOLA and I’ll go back to my mountain town. Or maybe, he will move far away and never even call. Who knows.

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The Joy of Nothing.

While living out of your car, you are sometimes faced with an odd predicament. Most of the time, I find that my time is taken up by the people that I have to see, running, eating, working, or driving to somewhere else. However, sometimes the hours pass where I realize, Damn, I have nowhere to be and I have an hour to kill. 

While at my own house, I would probably sit in my awesome bed, watch some nick toons, Facebook creep… you know, the usual. However, these are not activities that are easily accomplished while in the backseat of a Ford Focus. And, as any other overachiever feels, we can’t just sit here and do nothing, can we?!

Yes. Yes you can.

The other day, with an hour before a barbecue started, I said to myself, okay, what can I do now? I can go to the mall. I can call up some friends and see if they want to grab some food. I can run down the boardwalk (again). Instead, I said to myself, you know what? The beach is looking awfully nice today.

So I took my throw blanket (towels are for moms) and a book and I camped out on the beach in my leggings and t-shirt. No swimsuit over here. I let myself enjoy the warmth of the sand for a bit and just DID NOTHING. At first, I felt antsy, checking my phone every minute to try to figure out when I should leave. But the joy of summer is that you don’t have to DO anything (while you’re still a wee one, that is).

I’m still getting used to this whole free-time-thing. Sometimes, I feel my muscles throbbing, aching to do something, anything. But doing nothing takes a surprising amount of courage- it is the time that you are forced to spend with yourself, with just your thoughts. There is no one or nothing to distract you from who you are and what you have done. So if you can handle that- being in the company of yourself, of the quiet- then you deserve it. You deserve it to enjoy the nothing and then get up and do something else, again.

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Let’s Go Home.

Today in the car, after an unfortunate visit with boring and expired family members, I had a thought–

I just want to go home. 

Yet curiously enough, when I thought of the “home” that I wanted to go to, I didn’t think of my house nestled in Morris County, the house that I have lived in for most of my life, where my family is, my childhood friends, my blue room, my dumb animals. Instead I thought of a different place– the beach house I rented at school and the room that I lived in for a measly three months, which I shared.

When I am old and gray, the time I spent in that house compared to the years that I have will be incredibly inconsequential. A few short months in a house that I had only seen once before, a house where I owned nothing inside it but my clothes and my bed sheet (and yes, just one, because the other one was my roommate’s). Yet, that will always be a time that I remember, in a room that I shared with my best friend (and a room stuffed with beds so I ended up sharing it with a lot of other people too). It was a house where we threw parties and danced on the same countertops that I learned to cook in. Where my friends would light fireworks in the front yard and try to jump in the closed pool and spray the fire extinguisher for fun. It was where we stumbled home a countless amount of times, and where we tried to catch kittens in the backyard and poked around through our landlord’s endless amount of stuff hiding in the damp basement.

It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in a place. It doesn’t matter if it’s your car, an apartment you spent a weekend camping out on the couch, or an otherwise forgettable house in an ordinary neighborhood. What makes a place home isn’t how much of your stuff that you can jam in there. It’s the significance of the people that you get lucky enough to be shacked up with.

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Pack the Car, Mom

I have a confession to make.

As much as I love to wander, I also love my house. My house on the hill with my dear animals and blonde mother feels like a battery pack in which I can stop in between wherever I have to be and I can eat some food (for free, mind you) pet the cat, sit on my awesome bed, read a magazine, and change my clothes (again). However, a major problem is presented when you opted to spend your summer working an hour and a half away from where you live.

You end up with a new home. And that is your car.

At first, I was a little anxious about having to literally pack up everything I could possibly need (gifts for happy hosts, cooking utensils, sports bras, clean underwear, stuffed animals) and stuff it into my dear Ford Focus, since I often forget things and end up having to make some pitstops. But there’s something raw about living out of your car. As I drove out of the wilderness where I live for the first time to embark on one of my many journeys, I realized:

I don’t need anything. 

Yup. That’s right. You don’t need your running clothes, because you can run barefoot down the boardwalk. You don’t need clean clothes, because you can wash them in the sink. You don’t need water bottles, because there are water fountains in the local department store. You don’t need anything. You can relax.

And with this came a freedom. For once, I wasn’t worrying about how I was going to stop home and run these silly little errands that don’t really need to get done anyhow (Read the mail? Why bother). I didn’t worry about anything. Instead, I put the to-do list away, left my phone in the console, and went about my merry way. Having nothing solid to do is refreshing, wonderful, new. Stay out a few extra days? Who cares. Miss the Saturday morning workouts? Whatever. I would rather spend my time with the ones I find, the books I come across, or the scenery I stumble upon anyway.