I don't know what it is about the foreign that attracts me so. From women to food, language to culture, I bask in a subtle euphoria and sheer wonder when I am surrounded by new. When asked about my favorite hobbies, I would say travel, without a doubt, is my favorite activity, but unfortunately, I’ve never really gone anywhere. I plan to change this when I have the means to, but until then, I’ll have to settle for those domestic oddities most people overlook or stay away from. And that’s fine, for now.
I took a bus with my friend Draven to Philadelphia a couple weeks ago. A transsexual boarded in Washington D.C. A very large mentally handicapped gentleman tore up the bathroom and opened the bus door while it was still moving. The ride was about as interesting as an eight hour bus ride can be without narcotics. We arrived in Philadelphia, met up with my father and his wife, and boarded a train to the country.
On the train, there were three women speaking, or rather yelling, in a language that I didn’t recognize. Their style was unspeakably unique. One wore a white beach hat that I suspect she stole from my grandmother’s closet – I’m sure I’ve seen her wear this thing before. To complement this anti-fashion statement was a pair of designer gold laced sandals with three-inch platforms. Her companions were dressed equally as odd, but this stuck out to me the most. The other passengers seemed irritated at their volume, though I suspect they were more put off by not understanding what was being said. I played along, joking assurance that whatever they were yapping about, it couldn’t be interesting, as it was taking way too many words to explain. But secretly, deeply, I was interested. I wanted to understand every word. I wanted to eavesdrop my way into understanding why they dressed this way, why they talked this loudly, why they were free and happy and careless. It tears me up that I will never know.
I got a haircut across the street from my father’s colonial-style flat in the middle of nowhere. It was a men-only barber shop, fully equipped with large straight razors, hot towel wraps, and those red, white, and blue swirly things that I never see anymore. I wonder why they went out of style? My barber told me that a heroine dealer lives beneath my father’s apartment. I wonder how many of the 4,250 residents of this rural township are addicts.
We arrived in New Hope in the early evening, where we dined at a beach bar, which I found quite odd considering we were at least one hundred miles from the Atlantic. Everyone working there still had nice tans though. Impressive act.
A shop that only sells hot sauce. My paradise. I bought and tasted my first bottle of Naga Jolokia hot sauce, made from the hottest peppers in the world. It was everything I dreamed it would be, and more. I wonder what onlookers thought when they saw four adults walking, three of them laughing, talking, and carrying on like old friends, and the fourth sweating, red faced, sniffling, and possibly even crying a little.
As dusk fell upon the city, it lit up, and almost as if this was an all-clear to the youth of New Jersey, the bridge to New Hope was suddenly and densely crowded with the most attractive “per capita” group of people I have ever seen in my life. Perhaps it was their accents that piqued my curiosity – most of them were Italian. I wonder where they came from, by foot nonetheless, and what they came for. All the shops were closed, and only a small percentage appeared to be over 21. We witnessed a girl getting caught buying cigarettes for minors. It probably wasn’t such a good idea for her to buy four packs when five people, four of them obviously underage, accompanied her. Draven and I shared a cigar, and watched as a man fed bread to the ducks and the carp. Everyone was rooting for the carp, I suppose because he was so slow. It appears part of the human condition to sympathize with the weak. Or maybe we all just love carp.
We arrived in Atlantic City, and felt immediately at home. It was just like Virginia Beach with two key differences. One was the casinos. They are everywhere, and vices are advertised to the shameless masses with a hint of class, a share bribery, and the promise that if you put faith in them, they can make you feel like a king. The second key difference was the pushed carts. Even at a heat index of 111°F, there were hundreds of men and women offering to push you in a cart down the boardwalk for a small fee. Obviously, I couldn’t resist – I was promised to feel like a king after all – so Draven and I picked an older black gentleman, as he seemed the most eager when we approached the mass of carts. Dad and his wife chose a younger man, a choice that, in painful hindsight, should have jumped out at me as the right choice. They arrived at our destination in fifteen minutes. We arrived in 35. Their guy jogged. Ours limped. I can’t say for sure how safe their pusher was, but I pray, for the safety of the people, that he did not collide with three other carts like our guy did. Halfway through, the elderly man asked if he could just let us off where we were because his feet hurt. Why did this man choose this occupation, I wondered not-so-quietly to myself (and to Draven, and the pusher). He overcharged us, and explicitly asked for a tip. We caved, and I justified it by pretending that his antics were intended for entertainment. He was a showman, and he worked hard to give us a good story to tell.
The Irish pub was dark, loud, exciting. An Irish folk band serenaded our intoxication with a subtle reassurance that somehow, we were all at home. Amidst our banal and utterly ridiculous conversation, it hit me all at once that there was nowhere else I’d rather be, and no one else I’d rather see. We had made a home for ourselves in this strange place, and stumbling back to the bus that carted us to the hotel, we took that home with us, as we do on every new adventure.
Our bus driver started honking the horn whenever he saw a pretty girl. Then he just started honking. At one of the hotel stops, he left the bus, told us to wait, and returned with a cup of coffee, a lit cigarette, and an old friend that he apparently ran into inside. We sat there, watching them talk for 10 minutes. I hope to reach that level of shamelessness at that age.
I didn’t get that sigh of relief that is common to returning from a vacation. I wanted more. More new, more alien, more vibrant, piercing life. It was raw, and unrefined. It was everything I expected it to be.
This is the life I want to live. This is the legacy I want to leave.