Even though our home state of New Jersey’s opening date for outdoor dining – June 15 – was still in the distance, Pennsylvania was opening its al fresco tables on June 5. And, living about 40 minutes from the state border, we were more than ready to start making calls to secure our own reservation for that following Monday which we were sure would offer us a taste – literally – of our former foodie lives.
So, Adam, my boyfriend Mike’s coworker and friend who had come to feel more like family in the last few months of the pandemic, and I sat on the couch and began to make some calls to New Hope, Penn. restaurants a few days before June 5. Dialing sequence after sequence of numbers, it began to feel a bit reminiscent of my days working as a telemarketer.
Growing up, I was never very interested in history. Important historical events like the American Revolution, the Cold War and the Vietnam War never resonated much with me. Fittingly, I became a journalist – a profession that forces you to care about what’s happening at that precise moment in time above all else.
However, as I realized when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – otherwise known as Saigon – many other people around the world don’t have that luxury. In Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnam War is all around them, everyday.
Although I’m a journalist – a social career if there ever was one – I don’t particularly like, at first anyway, to meet new people. I don’t want to make small talk or try to make this conversation less awkward. That is, until, you turn out to actually be pretty cool.
On every trip I’ve ever been on, it starts the same way – I meet our fellow travelers and do my usual hide. But I soon remember, every time, that travelers are a different kind of breed – one that is full of the curious, the adventurous, and the interesting – despite what first glances may suggest.
When we first arrived in Vietnam, I initially felt the same way as I always do. I was surrounded by two older couples, a lone Asian dad-looking guy and a dreadlocked millennial. Looks like I’ll be spending the trip palling around with Mike, I thought.
I still remember that drive to Philadelphia when Monika told me from my passenger’s seat that she was moving to Denver, Colorado. I was trying really hard to not make my crying too obvious as she told me the fateful story.
For years, as Monika lived in her mom’s apartment in New Jersey and worked at a public relations job she hated, she told us how she was going to move out West, which seemed to be a fitting spot for someone who loved hiking and running so much. However, Monika’s immediate family, her entire network of friends, her boyfriend and her best friend and sister all lived here.
It seemed like a pipe dream and selfishly, I was glad – I didn’t want to be left alone without one of my best friends, who could always make a lame Saturday night into a memorable one and, with her questions, curiosity and great listening, always made me feel like my life and problems mattered to someone else, too. She was, and still is, simultaneously one of my favorite people to stay out until 2 a.m. with and also one of my favorite people to vent to, a combination you don’t find often.
My time at Monmouth University as an undergrad was nothing short of a blast.
I lived in rental with my pals that was so close to the ocean that we fell asleep every night to the sound of the roaring waves. At least three times a week, we went out on the town and we were rarely disappointed with the characters we would meet, the bars we would stumble upon and the shenanigans that would ensue. I attended classes taught by thoughtful professors with big personalities on a stunning campus that’s regularly named as one of the most beautiful in the world.
However, of course, it could also be stressful. I’ve always kept busy, and I certainly did so during my time at Monmouth – I was an editor at the school newspaper, the editor of our honors program newsletter, a supervisor at the honors school mentoring program, a supervisor at my job at the university calling center, a member of the honors student council, a personal assistant to a local woman and a member of several clubs, including an outdoors club and a philosophy club. And did I mention I loved to go out?
Growing up in a town with literally one traffic light and a rambunctious herd of cows at a neighboring farm which often made me late for work, I was always itching to escape the no-man’s-land that is western New Jersey.
About one year after I graduated college, I finally escaped for good – I got an apartment in a small city about 45 minutes away and a few years after that, I moved again to central Jersey, where I live now. Five years later, I still feel grateful every time I only have to drive five minutes to go to the grocery store or the mall, and a quick 30-minute Uber to the airport.
Yesterday, Mike and I made a visit to another where the heck am I region in Jersey – Hunterdon County, which may only be about 30 minutes from home but as we wound through back roads (I think they are main roads here????) surrounded by farms, open fields and not an itch of traffic in sight, it felt much further away.
Before I started dating Mike about four years ago, I had never dated anyone who I really went on any dates with.
Sure, I had boyfriends, some serious, some not-so-serious, but for the most part, they all fell into the same (trash) basket – we hung around the house with most planned outings organized by me, while these boys seemed pretty content to hang out on the couch. Day trips often seemed like an impossible, enormous endeavor.
However, it quickly became evident to me during my rampant succession of dates with Mike after we met in 2015 that this was not normal. Every time we went out, it was to a place that was new! exciting! different! (Cringeworthy, right?)
I’m much less excited to get up for our morning tour now that I feel I have already given myself a pretty good Prague tour thanks to my Lonely Planet guidebook, plus I’m exhausted and it’s about 20 degrees colder than it was during our wandering yesterday. Luckily, the rain holds off for our two-hour tour, which also shows us the Municipal House, Powder Tower and the Jewish Quarter.
This morning, I’m excited to take the one-hour bus ride to Bratislava, the capital of Slovenia, adding another city and country to my growing list of 26 visited countries that I wasn’t even aware when we booked the tour that we would be going to. Although I’m so exhausted in Bratislava after days of sub-six hour sleep, I still truly feel richer having visited so many new places on this trip.
I’m so exhausted today that I’m feeling kind of loopy, chasing Mike around the grounds of Parliament at our tour around 7:30 a.m. Getting into Parliament, though, is no joke – you have to bring your passport and go through a security check just like at the airport to get in.