Two important anniversaries seem to have converged at once. The first being that I reached a year in Vietnam. Itself an achievement as it’s the first time in over six years I have spent a year in one place. A sense of achievement mixed with a few jitters. But when I thought further back something seemed to be even more important.
A little over five years ago I sat slumped in my office in the pub in London – of which I was assistant manager. It was one of debilitating hangovers. Everything hurt and I didn’t have any trust in my own ability to function in the civilized world.
It had been a big night. I couldn’t remember why – but there seemed to have been a lot recently. I hated everything around me. I loathed the job. It was awful. I wasn’t much better. Drinking too much and behaving appallingly at times. I was OK at my job but I just didn’t give a shit. I didn’t care that we were 3% under net predicted revenue intake. I barely even knew what it meant.
I had broken off an engagement six months earlier. And had spent that time it seemed, limping though hangovers and bad behavior – leaving a trail of mentally unstable relationships in my wake – and at times testing the friendship of some of those closest to me. I was angry. I took it out on those around me, but there was only one person to blame. I’d managed to sink quite low.
On this particular morning one thing circled hawk like around my mind. This is fucking shit. This is fucking shit. I’d taken to scrolling through the Gum tree (a Craig’s List of sorts) travel job section in my spare time (in which I made plenty). On this day – as I just about summoned the enthusiasm to right click the mouse – I was confronted with an alluring headline – Want to work in the Rocky Mountains? It could not have appeared further from my current predicament.
Two interviews and a truly terrifying visit to the US embassy later it was confirmed. I would drive shuttle buses for the winter in Colorado.
I remember it was a sunny day as I left London. I was hoping for brighter things.
Colorado was like a direct injection of life into my veins. Five months of incredible fun at high altitude. I learnt to snowboard and spent many glorious days flopping hopelessly down a mountain. We road tripped to New Orleans for Mardi Gras – and enjoyed a the kind of white Christmas in a snowy little American mountain town I assumed belonged only in the movies.
A jaunt down into Central America followed. Curiously I decided to take a Greyhound Bus from Denver down to Mexico City. A mammoth two bus, 36 hour slog. The bus dallied slightly on the boarder before moving on. I looked down at the passport grasped in my hands – I assumed it would have to be stamped. The speed in which the bus picked up momentum told me otherwise. This was at a time when Ciudad Juarez was in the grips of one of those all too frequent bates of drug related violence. The military had begun on operation at restoring some kind of order. As we rolled past a tank on the streets, I decided this may not be the best time to hop of the bus, hollering “Excuse me, I’m British!”
At a service station I stood looking hungrily into the restaurant, filled with poor Mexicans. I didn’t have any Mexican Pesos. I would have thought it was a wonderful reversal of fortunes if I hadn’t been so hungry.
The next six weeks roared by. Of course the lack of an entry stamp came back to haunt me. My story seemed barley plausible to the border guards. It took a great Spanish speaking friend to smooth things over. Are there many British citizens who go to Mexico to work illegally? We crossed backwards and forwards through Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras – until a lowly rat of a human being stole my bag – while I swam -helplessly watching – in a lake. As things conspired I soon discovered that I had mysteriously packed my passport into the bag for that particular afternoon swim. A week of un-adulterated torment followed – but that is a story in itself.
Financial retardation was a particular blight of my younger years . In that care free ‘I don’t give a fuck’ kind of a way, often associated with youth. Limping virtually penny less back to England was awful. My wonderful mother was a great help in helping up her destitute son.
I tramped back to London – maybe it would be different this time. I took a job in a pub in Acton, owned by a fat little bold Irish man – with questionable morals. Battles over pay and hours followed. As did many an hour stood staring at the often pathetic clientele who managed to occupy extraordinary amounts of time of standing, drinking and staring at the walls. An awful month – a financial leg up – but that was about it.
After another disastrous job, this time as a charity fundraiser, I managed to cobble enough together to return to the USA. It had been a painful, chastening six months experience after the euphoria of Colorado. It left me with a determination to do it right this time. I wouldn’t leave the States again for two years. I traveled back and forth with the seasons. West to East – East to West. And so on. And so on. Much time was spent travelling – and I loved it. Road trips zig zagging across the country were unforgettable. I’d always fantasized about visiting America when I was a child. I had been a U.S film junky and drooled over movies set in quaint little American towns. Visiting them ten years later was nothing short of magical. I look back at my time in the US with a real sense of completion. With the exception of just a few things, I had managed to see an enormous array of wonderful things that I wanted to. I made many wonderful friends. A few relationships – perhaps a little heart break along the way –
Like often in life it is the curve balls that will surprise you. The Grand Canyon, Mt Rushmore, and New York, were of course fantastic – but you expect it. It’s the moments when you feel that the world was just designed for you – that really blown your mind in two. Leaving you shaking your head in bemusement, and thinking, why aren’t more people doing this? The lonely road through the open ranch of Western Colorado at sunset or the sunrise over the Navajo Nation surrounded my desert as far as the eye can see – or the tiny Vermont Towns baring the scars of a recent flood but still embracing the glorious New England Fall colors. I could ramble on and on, but will stop myself, regrettably, there.
The U.S – and in particular, Nantucket, Colorado and Utah will be hard to forget.
But after two years it was time to move on.