Our American Story
I'm ready to start telling the story of that one summer in America I will never forget. The bedtime story I will keep on telling whenever nostalgia creeps in.
That time when we were all young and foolish.
Let me throw you back in time to the days right after Labour Day. It was the first week of October and we were already in the US for two months. These days all I could talk about was traveling. Making little notes to myself to remember this and that, things that I've heard of, places that have been recommended to me and flavours that still haven't yet been tasted. It was a glorious time when the tingling in my tummy came to that point that I wouldn't mind skipping dinner out of enthusiasm. We were starting our trip on the 8th of that month and it came quicker than we'd have ever imagined.
"Can you believe how fast these last few weeks have gone, love?" I said out loud without ever noticing I was making a sound. Being lost in thought was pretty much my default state lately.
"Yeah! I know, right? It's like these two months were played on fast forward. I mean, this whole year if I come to think of it.." then I lost his sight. "Do you remember when we were still back home, worrying about how to make things work so we can leave already?"
I too, was thinking about the exact same thing. "Gosh, can we ever stop this rhythm and just take a break and enjoy time for a little longer? "
We ended up wrapping up our experience in a long conversation that lasted over a few hours that night. The bed was comfy and the room was ours. Our breaths, our emotions and all of our dreams were condensed in four dirty white walls in a little city in Nevada. The bed sheets were sky blue and the bed had no frame what so ever. There were two mattresses piled on top of each other on the floor. It was common for Americans to do so, I had noticed in the mean time. On the shelves to the right of our bed were all our tiny belongings. The top shelf had all the things I wanted out of reach, like the count of the hours I was working and other papers I once thought were too important to throw away. The next two shelves belonged to me. I had all of my jewellery set down gently to match the shape of my neckline. All of the ornaments I took with me and never really felt the need to wear. They were gorgeous, but they were dusty. My business cards, my sun glasses, my skin products. All those things and my keys from home. These were reminding me of the one person I once was back home. The miniature diva with all her accessories..
Underneath was another world all together. Papers with scribbles from customers of mine leaving me notes as to what to do and how to reach them whenever I'd be in LA or San Diego, my black booklet that wouldn't close from being stuffed with those wrinkled dollars I was making, my paper work, my passport and all the other things I needed organised. Andrei was a sweetheart and agreed to take the lower shelves, even though he's so much taller than I am, so they were even more out of reach for him. We had a large closet where we' d hid our luggages. Not seeing them made us feel more like home, more like we're here to stay. On the floor next to our bed were two scented candles I found in the rest of the house, some matches that always gave me troubles and a bushy flower that was almost ready to pass away. This place was my little corner of beauty. Every time I'd come home I would light up those candles and water my flower. That's the reason why it eventually drowned, the poor thing. Andrei promised to never buy me flowers again, since I never seem to take care of them. Little did he know that I was actually killing them with overwhelming love and attention.
The candles were light that day too. It was a good sign. It meant I was happy. I was as easy as that, I swear. A tiny flame and that one small demonstration of love from my one and I felt I had it all. This was probably the first lesson I draw from this experience. I found out that it's easier to find happiness when you're not stuck on thinking about all those material things you feel you're missing. I never thought I'd grow up that way and so soon too.
"I proved them wrong." I said harshly.
"I still thinks it's funny they were so worried about me, you know?"
"Yes, you sure did." he said laughing, remembering how both of our moms were concerned on how I'd adapt with that much labour.
"I was kinda disappointed that they'd just act that way, I mean, seriously, they must know I'm driven enough to want to work.. and a lot, too."
"And they also know that you're such a princess, so it was kinda shocking." He started mocking me, before coming to pillow fight me again.
To be honest, it was a big deal, I won't lie. Coming from a city where comfort was the default and nothing felt impossible, it was quite the difference. My parents have worked hard so I can have it all and school, university and my whole universe has always treated me well. I never realised I was spoiled, but being there, all on my own and having to prove myself to a society totally different than mine wasn't something I was used to.
Our plan was to work as much and as hard as we can at the beginning, so that we could travel and shop and spend as much as we want in our adventure at the end. Andrei and I had everything figured out. We knew that the feeling of accomplishment at the end of this summer would make everything worth it. We wanted this to be all on us. No help, no funny stuff, just us learning what it means to make a living the hard way.
Labour itself wasn't bad at all, I would realise early on. I was working as a server as a main job in a local restaurant; I tried a few second jobs, met a bunch of people with whom I exchanged my life's stories and ended up finding another job as a cocktail server at the beach and pool. A relaxation point for the rich people in that area. It was something I truly enjoyed. I got to do exactly what I set up for: To learn.
You'd see me selling Mai Tais and bacon Bloody Marys next to the most amazing lake in the American mountains, talking to people, getting to know them and their beliefs. You'd follow me leaving back to the bar with a weary smile on my face, making sense of what I had just found out. I'd have my pink Nike's on all morning through the afternoon, with sand up to my toes inside. My skin was a caramel version of itself from all the sunny days that never ended. I'd have Strawberry Margaritas or Pina Coladas on every shift and they were not only delicious, but they were strong. Americans like them doubles.
But most of all, I enjoyed those full hearted talks with the bartender. It was either one of the tanned Californian girls that I could relate so easily with, or it was Mitch. Hell, Mitch was the rockstar. No, seriously, he actually was a rockstar. Imagine sun burnt skin on a tall figure, in his early 40's, with long grey hair, those hipsterish cowboy black hats and deep grey eyes. And a wicked smile. What a character! We totally killed it together. Absolutely the funniest man on earth and we made a hell of a team.
The days war long, exhausting, but full. Full of laughs and stupid jokes, new faces, new friends and new life lessons. Everything was falling in place beautifully, we were making nice money, Andrei was already a manager at his work place and well, customers loved my east European accent so they always tipped me well.
To that point I could see myself leaving everything behind. I learned this about myself that I never knew I had inside. A willingness to risk everything. From my contacts, to my opportunities, to everything I've ever known to just go. Stand right up and leave. To be a nomad, a traveller, a somebody with no home, but place in it's heart to be home wherever. I was quite the revelation.
So I was ready to leave Tahoe. The lake had shown me sunsets in colors dedicated to paintings. I had fallen in love with gazing to the mountain on the other side of this water, that I felt like a sea. The blue cliffs on the skyline where a masterpiece. I have always had a wild fascination for water, especially when it would fill your sight, but now I knew for sure that I will move to a house with a view over the sea one day.. or at least I'll die trying.
After work I would go on the peer that ran deepest into the lake and take of my sandy shoes to let my toes sink in the bright green gras. I'd either lean on a tree or find a good shaped rock and put my phone on silent. Meditating half an hour was healthier than any kind of exercise. When I'd put all my thoughts in order, I'd open my novel I picked up in a thrift store a while ago. It was intense, dramatic and it all happened in Miami. I could relate to every word in that book, because now, I started understanding that life in the US is more than what you see in the craziest of movies.
Although me and Andrei both wanted to see Miami, we eventually had a change of plans. It was amazing how we had come to see eye to eye on nearly everything lately. I still remember how I knew this whole thing would have a great impact on our relationship. I was just hoping it would be a good one.
"This will either bring us even closer together, or it will tear us apart, but then at least we'll know and we can act upon it." I told his mom before leaving. It was a win-win on both sides, I tried to convince myself, worried that the stress and temptations will make their way in what I knew was "us".
But it was sweet. A one of a kind victory to notice we were even more inseparable than before. A power couple, having each others back no matter what. We'd ride the same bike and he would come pick me up from work every single day. We'd steal kisses and private time in the most outrageous moments and we had collected little secrets that have knitted all our bonds ever so strongly.
For our anniversary he took me to see Romeo and Juliet at a theater on the lakes shore. We had great seats, incredible food and an unbelievably good show. The seats were sinking in the sand and behind the stage the sun was setting slowly, contributing to the drama of the play. We were holding hands all through the night and I knew he was the Romeo to my Juliet.
Another morning I woke up to a breakfast in bed. I had coffee and cake as a surprise. Now, tell me, how on earth can you not be happy in a world like that?
There were plenty of good times, especially at the end of our stay in Tahoe. I'd made friends and had had learned so much about people and myself, about different cultures and mind sets, even about yoga and how my charkas are related. It felt incredible to soak it all in. Money-wise we were on a roll. I remember there were weeks when I'd make a thousand bucks without too much of a struggle.. Of course, at the beginning thinks didn't look as bright. The menus I was supposed to learn seemed harder than an exam at university, I was still rather shy with my english and we were only making as much to have a little extra after paying our rent. We eventually figured everything out, but back then we had to fight to make things right.
" We really kicked it off! I'm so proud of us. " he said after leaning in to peck me on my forehead.
" Me too, me too. "
But it was time to keep on rolling. Our bags came out of the closet and we were ready to hit the road. We were traveling with two of my closest girlfriends and Volvi, our old ass Volvo a fellow Romanian lent us for the trip. We had to drive through the desert 8 hours to reach Las Vegas, our first stop, by 9pm so we can still make the most of the night in the casinos. But first, we thought we'd take our car to a service to make sure we're safe to take off. The steering wheel was kinda stuck, which made it hard to take a turn. We usually laughed these problems off, but this here was a matter of everyones safety. We found a place to repair it and the Mexican repairman let us know that it would take several hours to be fixed. The fee was 100 bucks per hours. "Crap! Not good, not good." I was thinking when I found out. We split up, I was at Starbucks buying coffee for the crew while they were negotiating the price.
Traveling with Volvi was a life saviour. A money saviour, to say the least. We were on to being on the road for about three weeks, flying from one place to another wasn't that expensive, but it would cut all the juicy little stops on the way from our story. We knew we were in for the whole thing, not only the destinations. Anyway, it was too late by that time to book flights for all of us to all of the cities we wanted to see. Renting a car wasn't that easy either. We needed insurance and there were a bunch of extra things to consider to the price, like us being all under 25. The amount went up dramatically after adding up all the extras, and well, we already had a car. Eventually we got our Volvo fixed and the guy agreed to finish in 2 hours, rather than 5, his first estimation. We were on our way to Vegas and we were very, very late.
"What are we supposed to do if the police stops us? Are we really going to say we're on a test drive?" I asked amused of our crazy alibi for not having any kind of papers on that vehicle.
"Hahaha, yeah, sure, it's just that no one will ever believe us with that trunk of ours." one of the girls answered.
"We're testing to see if we can fit our houses back there, haha."
It was hilarious, but the risk was pretty big. The fines weren't exactly small, but me and Andrei looked up every kind of ticket we can get for what we were doing and the sum was still lower than us paying for a rental, so we jumped in and never looked back. It was one of those things no responsible adult would ever agree on. Hell, it was one of the things they would throw you into prison for a night, but we were just baiting adventure with our closed eyes.
" Oh my God!! I swear it looks exactly as if the sun is about to rise right in front of us." I was bursting out when I realised it was just slightly after midnight and it was impossible to already be morning. The tension in the car was growing by the second and music seemed louder and life seemed faster. In front of us there was ginormous Las Vegas shining so bright in the night sky, that there was a white aura floating over the city.
"You guys know you can see Vegas from the moon, right?" I remembered I read somewhere not too long ago.
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Iulia agreed, never taking her eyes out of the window.
We all got in our party moods instantly. We had the city's radio tuned in and all the highways were flowing toward the light. It was absolutely mesmerising. I actually thought the city was small, but packed with casinos. I was wrong. The city was huge, Godzilla kind of huge, and there was something going on in every little frame of your sight, casinos were just the venues, everything else was nuts. It was simply a rush of adrenaline with a powder of lust you could smell in the air.
On the strip, our hotel room exploded with make-up products, clothes everywhere and God knows what else. We were going out and out and out and that was everything we would do. We were a handful of fashionable girls, so guest lists, drinks and rides were on the house where ever we went. The perks of being a female in Vegas were obvious, but Andrei got the best of it too. It was fun to see how easy it is to party like that in this city. Without knowing it we ended up riding in a limo to one of the best rooftops in Vegas, where a friend had a table with a jaw dropping view over all the lights. In no time we were mingling with LA producers and business people come to let go of stress and have a blast. It all felt so exclusive, so luxurious. It gave you that feeling that things happen then and there and nowhere else.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas is what they say and I'll have to agree on that this time. So I'll jump over the heavy crowds and light headed buddies we got into with crazy big cocktails in our hands, in the casinos, on the streets or at the pool parties. Roulette is our favourite, and only kind of gamble we play, but Andrei and I had a blast. That until I got so excited about winning, that I was clapping on the table. It all turned red instantly! Security!
" Why did you hit the machine? " Andrei asked me shocked of the sudden stop in our luck.
" I don't know, I was just excited, I guess."
" ... let's just take it as a sign and move on, we'll probably lose everything if we keep it this way." I tried to convince myself after abusing my seat, feeling ashamed of my brutal behaviour. This is just what Vegas life does to you, I guess.
Things got so wild at one point, that we went up all the levels in our hotel, stopping with the elevator at every other minute, at every floor, to go hunting for room service in our pyjamas. Kidnaping a random guy in the elevator and taking him with us on our mission was just one of the funniest memories I knew I was taking home.
After waking up from the haze of last night, we were back on our way to our next stop: The Grand Canyon.
I booked a spot in advance in one of the camp sights of the canyon. We had a tent, some sleeping bags and mattresses stuffed in the car. We were lusting for something to contrast the decadence of Vegas to. But of course, being hung over and all, we never wanted to leave that city... so we didn't. At least not 'till we started making sense of what we were doing a few hours later and decided to hit the road as planned.
Our delay made us arrive well after everyone had already left their work places at the camp sight. It was about 2-3am, it was dark and it was chilly.
"How the heck are we going to set up the tent now?"
"Well, we can't, in case you haven't noticed, we don't have a light and we have no idea where our spot is. We can't just put that tent where ever we feel like, my dear."
"Who cares, let's just sleep through the night in the car and we'll see to the rest in the morning when someone arrives to help us out."
"Oh Volvi, what in the world would we ever do without you?" I remember I was thinking by then, with the most sincere affection.
I twisted in Andreis grip and found a good enough position to fall asleep in. We were so tired none of us had any trouble dreaming through the night.
7am and we were all up and fresh. "I swear we should do this more often. I think it's the only way we can get out of the house sooner than noon!" we bursted out laughing already on our way to see the canyon.
And there it was, in all it's glory. One massive geographical wonder.
It seemed so big, it would make the perfect candidate for earths belly button! After playing around with a squirrel and literally spacing out into the awesomeness of the land in front of me, we decided to get closer in the depth of it. We got so close to the rhyme that one good blow of wind could scoot us over in the pit. Andrei's hands were shaking so badly he couldn't take the selfie we were all waiting for.
A storm was coming and being next to the canyon was no longer safe. Of course, we waited 'till it actually started raining to take the warnings seriously. The sky has indeed blackened from the heavy clouds, just as dramatic as the sight itself. We got out of there fast because the weather made it impossible to visit anything else for the day, but San Diego was next in line and we couldn't wait any longer to get on track.
For our next accommodation we used Couch-Surfers. I was dying to try it out and I always felt I wanted to be part of such a community. It's a software, a website and an app, that hosts a community of couch surfers - travellers and hosts, that are willing to share a piece of their world with a complete stranger from another city, country or culture. It's a win-win for both sides. Both should end up having a new friend, a new experience and a lot new knowledge about a different culture after going through it.
We got lucky and found a host pretty fast. I spent one whole afternoon setting up my account and letting people know what kind of person I am, so they'd feel safe to take us in their homes. This guy, Tim, answered ASAP and I had a very good feeling about him. He thought we were a fun bunch and said he set up his extra bedroom for us.
" Awesomeee! "
When we eventually showed up at his place, he wasn't there. A text came in from Tim saying he was at a bar in the corner of the street. I remember us four scratching our heads before midnight, in front of his home address. He had a huge boat in the parking lot. The mood was weird and we were suddenly very, very shy.
The next minute we saw the door open. It was a girl, actually a young woman stepping out of the door way. A grey haired guy helped her out and music flood the quite streets of San Diego. It smelt like sex was in the air and they probably just ended a regular booty call.
Just standing there was no good, so we went up to the door asking for Tim. That guy we just saw was his room mate and he let us in warmly. His smile was pleasant and polite, although you could tell he was the type that loved to party hard. We were excited, but tired. A bed was heavenly after spending last night in the car. Tim showed up after only a few minutes and showed us around. He too, was such a character.
The house was a bachelors place 100%. Everything in there was just a result of half good taste, comfort and a lot of testosterone. There was a surfboard hanging over the black leather couch facing the TV. There were beer holders incorporated in the couch, an iPad, and a dark brown blanket in sight. The living room was open to the kitchen, making way to grab a drink easily. I could already notice Tim had a selection of fine Burbon and Tequilla for both good and hard days. He had a padio I recognised over the internet. I remember seeing pictures of his hot tub when I blasted out to the girls: "I found a couch surfer in San Diego!! Whoa, AND HE HAS A HOT TUB!". The thing looked even bigger than what I remembered. The place was decorated with bamboo and there was a skinny and tall looking bar next to it. A long fire place was in front of a just as long bench out of wood.. Soon enough we were going to try out everything on that padio of his.
We went to sleep late after trying out Tim's next door bar and freaked out on how dangerous it all seemed. The next days we spent driving and walking through the oh so popular San Diego. We lost the most time deciding on where to eat, since the variety of local restaurants, small pubs, chain fast-foods and food trucks was so large, that they really gave us something to think about. Of course, we had favorites. In'n'Out Burger was in our best rated quick bite place. We'd order french fries "animal style" every time, which meant they'd melt a lot of cheese on top, sprinkle fried onions all over and top it off with their version of Thousand Islands. It was just that kind of thing you can't say "No" to, no matter how guilty you'd feel afterwards.
We would make fun of ourselves 24/7. Both me and the girls have gained weight during our stay in States. It was almost comforting to know we were all in the same position and it was the inside joke of the year. Then again, what a pity it would have been to not try out all the goodies America had to offer. A sip of root bier float ( an intensely sweet soda with a dip of vanilla ice cream inside ), Cookie and Cream ice cream or Rocky Road ( the one with pecans and marshmallows in milk chocolate ), the epic Cheesecakes from the Cheese Cake Factory and of course, all those freaking delicious Burgers! We knew we were to blame for not taking more care of our diet, but I still remember my first month in Incline Village, when I actually worked out and had a month's membership at this fancy gym. One day I woke up at 5am to get to the gym before going to work in the morning at 8am. ( Don't worry, it only happened once ). Then again, even back then, when I was picky about my food and tried taking in as much veggies, fruit and avocado as I can, I was still starting to round up my edges. All-in-all, I ended up coming back to Cluj with an extra 5kg.
The beach in San Diego was wide and gorgeous. After going to see the wild seals that lived on the shore, we got to a more popular beach where we stripped down to our bikinies and popped open our champagne we picked up on our way there. Stepping in the ocean so close to Mexico was as pleasant as a warmed up pool at one of those 5 star hotels. The water was warm and shallow. The waves were playful and you had to go in quite a lot to have to swim.
There were not too many people in sight and my flirty mood switched on in a jiffy. It took me less than 5 seconds to untie my bikinies and throw them over to the unexpecting Andrei.
Boy, did I feel free.
For some reason I expected everyone to copy me and do the same, but going deeper in the water I noticed it was actually just getting more shallow. My friends started roaring in laughter by the sight of my struggle. I was doing my best to keep the water to my waist and was almost crawling on my knees underneath. Whenever a wave came, a flash of the line between my cheeks would show. But I didn't care. I was happy and I was having fun. If I wasn't careful about upsetting my boyfriend, I would have probably gone bra-less too in no time.
I knew no one and no one knew me. It was awesome. After a while I felt we've been in the water for long enough and I asked Andrei for my panties back. He gave me a shoked look and told me he already threw them back to me.
"What?!?! Are you serious?" I freaked. "No way, you didn't! Are you kidding me? I never saw you throwing them."
"They're not on me, what do you think, I put them in my shorts? I gave them back to you a while ago!"
"You're lying. Right? You're kidding, right? Right?"
"No, I'm really not kidding you, Jesus."
I was pissed off, badly. What was he thinking? Throwing them back like that when I wasn't looking? Gosh, now what am I going to do? It's illegal to be naked on this beach, Jesus!!
"Wait, where are you going?" Andrei yelled after me.
"Where do you think I'm going?? To find my stupid bathing suit, that's where!"
I was keeping calm, but I was boiling. I couldn't believe that I just wanted to do something sexy to catch his attention and he was being so goofy about it. Come to think of it, he never even reached out to give me a kiss after handing hime does! Argh!
The water was getting shallow again and no underwear was in sight, I was doomed. I wasn't necessarily ashemed of getting out of the water like that, no, I was saying to myself. "I'll just pretend I'm that crazy fun blondie type that would just naturally be kinky like that.." - "Sure, I'l just run out like I did it on purpose.".. "Yeah, and all those beach guys will sure as hell be interested after wards, that'll show Andrei.. Oh, he'll feel bad after that!"
They cracked up laughing and with a splash, my lower part of my bathing suit appeared. It was a suit I picked up last summer in Greece and I loved it. Andrei was hiding it all along.
" I knew he was lying.." I told myself quietly.
I said nothing to him, I was bummed about the whole thing. " He knows me well enough to know I don't appreciate jokes like that " I kept on thinking.
Tim and his roommate where meeting us down at the beach. We kept on drinking some Californian wine and ended up leaving for a place to keep the party rolling. We watched the sun set down behind the ocean and I never spoke another word with my lover. I knew I was being ridiculous and a total brat about it, but I just didn't feel like getting over it, not yet at least.
We played a drinking game, had some food and went back to Tim's place to change and go out in club. When we arrived back home, me and the girls were already hazy. The night was long and we felt there was time for everything. " Why hurry in a club when we can party right here? "
Raluca and I jumped the fence on the side of the house, took the overlay off the hot tub and pushed some random buttons. Lights and bubbles and the naughty feeling of being secretly inside have taken over.
A few seconds later, we were both completely naked inside the bubbles. The gang followed and when Tim came home, we were already in the middle of the best party we've had in the States so far. The daze of the night made me want my lovers affection, so I went up to him to settle this once and for all. Of course the liquor changed the way I saw things and there was plenty of room for drama. That and all the changes I've went through have stopped my period for over two months. My hormones were going wild and I was weeping for absolutely no reason at all. Andrei was scared. Why in the world was I crying like that?
"Love, we're in America. We're having the time of our lives. I love you, you love me, what is bothering you?"
To be honest, I can't even remember what I said further and how we made up, but we did and I was back to being myself again. I was being overly emotional for some reason still unknown..
"Let's jump back in that hot tub, okay? "
" Hah! I'll race you to it! "
The next morning we got back on our way. LA was next.
"Los Angeles.. The city of Angels!" I was saying out loud with a dramatic radio voice. I was thinking of that song from one of my favorite bands, 30 Seconds to Mars. It's the place to be, it's the one city in all this world where I was just begging to see and now I was just minutes away. What a feeling!
We booked a hotel downtown and went out and about to visit Hollywood. Strolling on the Walk of Fame, bumping into VS models at Universal Studios, seeing the sets where all the movies are made, Andrei winning me an XXL Homer Simpson ( that we passed to a little Mexican boy later on ), finding an open air cinema on a rooftop where the only thing you could hear was the popping of popcorn. It was stunningly animated and it was crazy crowded. We met actors on the streets, pretending to be Edward Sissor Hands, Jack Sparrow or Wolverine. They were brilliant.
"Can you just imagine how many talented actors lurk in this city? Coming here to pursue their life-long dreams and get big shot contracts for blockbusters? I mean, look at these guys. They're perfect. Most authentic actors ever and they're performing here, on the street, waiting for a few bucks and some pictures. If these guys are so awesome and they can't stand a chance, how can others make it? Or people less talented, you know what I mean?"
"It's a harsh world, I'm telling you.."
We started debating after seeing ever so many performers here and there, from dancers, to comedians, to copy cats. Hollywood was pretty dirty and homeless people were everywhere you'd look.
"It figures, warm weather all year long, no wonder they like it here, poor fellas." You could tell life wasn't easy on them. I wasn't sure if I was blaming society or drugs or lack of motivation for the high numbers of begging people. It struck me how easily you can end up on the streets in America. Life is so cruel for those with just a share of bad luck.
Once, when we were in LA's subway waiting for the next metro, we got into some small talk with a random guy standing next to us. We were sitting on a stairway wondering where to go next when we noticed him waiting to start conversation. He was a solid man in his mid 30's with dark hair and eyes, but a big friendly smile. We liked him. He was so cool about everything and terribly eager to help us out. We asked about clubs and restaurants to go to, as well as a good rooftop where we can see the city by night. He gave us a few hints and we were scribbling the names on our iPhones.
"Can you help me out, guys? I just got out of the hospital. See?" a slim figure was approaching us with his hand stretched out forward to show off his white paper bracelet. He had some papers in his other hand, all to make his storyline credible. He was probably telling the truth about the hospital, but he was harassing us. He just wasn't at all polite. " Darn. These things tend to happen a lot around here", I was thinking.
"Look, buddy," our new friend started with a settling, but strong voice "these folks don't even understand english and I just left prison, I'm having a hard time too, okay?"
The slim man stared in disbelief and continued asking for our money, while we were all stunned by what a good method we had just witness to fight of intruders. Wow.
"C'mon now, can you leave us alone? I was in prison for reason, got it?" his voice strengthen and our harasser eventually left. After he was out of sight we all started laughing hard.
"Oh my God, man! That was SO clever!"
"I mean, I can't believe I never thought of that!" I was thinking, although I'd probably never go by being as an ex felon anyway.
"Seriously, that was genius! Hah, prison, that was really a good one!" one of us continued.
"Well, it wasn't exactly a joke. I mean, I did just get to out. I've been there for the last 7 years." he said, stopping our laughs in a mere second. His voice was honest and just as friendly as before.
Okay.. what we have here is our very first convict buddy. Now that's something.
While we were walking down a street in Hollywood one night, we noticed a small crowd and a lot lights in a gas station. We went over to see what's going on and a police officer filled us in: "They're filming a movie tonight" he said with a sqeeky hispanic accent "Hang Over 4, they're gonna walk like this out of a car." and he started acting like a distressed drunk man barely keeping straight on his feet. The guy was hilarious. "Isn't this kind of information supposed to be confidential?" I asked overwhelmed by the man fooling around in front of me. Andrei couldn't stop laughing.
"When does it start?" I said loudly, so the "drunk" police man can hear me.
"They're setting up the cameras right now, but the actors will just be here later. Around 11 they said.. you know how actors are." Now that was a streight forward answer, I liked it.
"Sure, I can imagine.."
"Thank you, sir, we'll be back then! We love the movie."
"Did you see that guy pretending to be drunk?" my boy said still looking backwards.
"He was totally nuts!"
"I know!" he said with a grin that covered his whole face. Andrei loves a good laugh more than anyone.
After leaving LA and having our share of visiting and enjoying, that one story stuck to us. How that guy in the subway was actually some kind of killer and we never even guessed. "This place is crazy, I'm telling you." I kept on saying to Andrei after every person I got to meet this whole time. We had so many weird acquaintances I can't even keep track.
Our next stop was Santa Barbara. A trendy, clean and extremely chic city on the West Coast. You could easily pin point the city's centre, unlike every other place we've been to this summer. There was a gorgeous long street, parallel to the ocean, where we went to the movies, had an ice cream sandwich at a popular place and ended up partying in a pub on that strip. Andrei and I took off to see the lil' city by night and left the girls with their margaritas inside. When we thought it's about time to go back, we noticed them hanging out with this guy that reminded me of Katy Perry's ex boyfriend. We joined the chit-chat and were quite impressed with this dude. Not only was he outgoing and very open minded, but you could tell he was smart and entertaining.
The party was done early for Romania's hours, around 2am, but our stories were still on the flow. We decided to follow our new buddy to his motel and keep getting to know each other on a balcony facing the ocean. The sight was truly epic. The moon was low next to the water and our talks were really worth while, not to mention that we actually had no place to go. We never got the chance to book a room in the area, since we had no idea when we'd want to leave Santa Barbara in the first place. But none of us were worried about that at this time.
" Oh-oh, and this one was the best!" Andrei remembered enthusiastically "imagine us laughing like crazy about this guy telling off a homeless person by warning him he just got out of prison..."
" Oh, we'll I've had my share of time in there too. I've been in like 5 times up till now."
Uh, the second grand fail of the summer. We all exchanged meaningful looks and knew we were in for a surprise again.
We kept on asking questions and finding out all the details you never though you would get to know without having trouble yourself. Our guy was pretty much on the run. One of my friends asked to use the restroom inside before heading on further and came back with an expression I haven't seen before.
Two minutes after he shut the door, she let it all out:
" Oh my God! You won't believe what this guy had on his bed! "
" What?? " she totally caught our attention.
" There was a bag about this big of weed and another one of white powder.. This guy is totally dealer." she kept on explaining with her hands still showing off the size of the bags she saw.
" Second convict friend, checked. " Andrei was making fun.
" Let's just go, this is freaking me out. Is everyone out here doing something illegal? "
After passing out a few hours in the car again that night, we finally got the chance to set our tent somewhere. On a beach, to be more precise.
Just like the car that was so sweetly borrowed to us, the tent came as a saviour and quite a luxury from two people we have grown greatly fond of. Imagine Andrei finding out he had a cousin living just less than an hour away from Lake Tahoe, here in America. "Seriously now, what are the chances?" I kept on thinking after hearing about this news. Andrei's cousin, Jordan, and his wife, Dana, came to meet us at the lake.
"They are by far your coolest relatives, dear." I said shortly after having the time of our lives with them on a weekend. They took us on a surprise date, parasailing on the lake. I fell in love with the feeling instantly after letting go of my fear. I still remember how serene and quite it was up there, in the sky, where you could see the whole world. I owe them that, oh, and making me be crazy about sushi too! Anyhow, they were the greatest people in America and they were quite a helping hand with the camping equipment.
" Can you imagine we have a handle on the door of the tent? Like, how cool is that?! "
We set up our new little home for one night on the heavy sand of a beach named Jalama. Of course, we had no idea you have to say the word with a "H", like hispanics do.
" Hamala, halama, jamala or whatever this place is called like, haha. " was the struggle we had to go through whenever we wanted to say the word in conversation. The place had just one little shop, where they also sold famous burgers, and nothing else except the beach and the people.
This place was by far my most precious memory from whole America.
I can't even start talking about it, since I know it won't give justice to the strong feelings I have tied to it. Imagine this long, endless beach with rolling waves coming from the ocean far away.
It was just the sound of the sea, the sun and the sand, me and them, and that was all.
I can't remember the last time I have ever felt so genuinely happy to be alive. It was just the simplicity of things, the ever so slowly passing time, that made it all so intensely satisfying. We would look at our clocks just to be amazed by how slowly it seemed to be ticking. There was no hurry, no places to be at, no traffic, no lights, no responsibilities, no judging, no troubles or loses or greed. It was just us, as plain as mother nature has made us.
We never opened our make-up bags, nor or luggages those days. We had just one row of dirty clothes we sat on the life guard's little tower on and that was all.
The sun set was spread on everything you could see. Cotton candy clouds where covering the sky above me in a shade so pink I have never seen before.. at least not for that amount of time they had lasted in our wonder. But I was focused on one particular spot in the horizont. To my left hand side were cliffs that teared the border between land and sea very abruptly. Above them where these clouds that were almost spilling in the trees, the cliffs and other brighter clouds from behind. The view was epic, I imagined it looked exactly how a gigantic wave would spill on earth and cover it in one amazing splash. I told everyone to notice it and they all agreed.
I laid back in the sand and just stood there, when Andrei hugged me from behind.
" I'm happy. " was all I could think of.
The rapture I felt was as innocent and as natural as it could ever be. I have learned a lot from Jalama, I knew it. Having less truly helps you see more in the things you sometimes may never have noticed.. Making love on the beach, with no soul in sight except the two of us.. Sleeping in our tent with the sound of the waves in the background. Laughing till we cried and dazing hours at the sun set. That was Jalama for me.
San Francisco was coming up next.
We have already been there twice this summer already. 'San Fran' was my favourite city I've been to in the USA. It is one of the very few places in this world that I got a particular vibe from. You know? When you just have a thrilling feeling just by being there. I've only felt that here and London. These two had a spark for me. I believe they're either going to be truly special for my life in the future, or I'm completely nuts and imagining things. Who knows?
I knew I wanted to get a pierce this trip, so San Francisco was the place to do it!
Of course, I got the girls excited about pierces too, so we all decided to take one together. This was serious bonding time, for good and for bad kind of deal. I got my dermal, a little sparkling stone, on the back of my neck. I almost fainted, twice, and I think Andrei almost fainted when he heard I was about to faint, haha.. I think I'll make an independent post just about this one.
San Francisco is the kind of place where feel important some way. It gives you a sense of purpose for some reason. Wealth is obvious, but so are the hard working people that keep the economy steady.. Our favourite spot we came across of was Baker Beach. To the left was Golden Gate and to the right were all the villas, where only famous or filthy rich people live in. We could actually see dolphins swimming next to us. Everyone around seemed to have a fascinating life and an interesting carrier. There were surfers and dogs, and hot ladies getting a tan, while discussing investments over their smart phones. Things really seemed to be going on a lot out there. We strolled in the neighbourhood next to the beach and were mesmerised by the unique and terribly practical architecture of the houses. Rent in San Francisco is so high these days, people that have lived there all their lives are pushed to move out to the Bay Area surrounding the city. "Even lawyers can't afford to live here anymore." I told my friends after overhearing a discussion earlier on the trip from a lady talking about her big shot son that had to move out too.
Sharks were frequent in these waters, that's why it was always a thrill when you'd see large fish playing in the waves..
Time went by quicker than ever and we had to move to catch our flight to New York. I wasn't too sad about leaving this particular city, because I knew for sure that I'll be back as soon as I could, promising myself I'll look for some kind of internship I can apply to when I'd get back home.
This is when our road trip was done. We went in a circle, from North California to the east towards The Canyon, then down close to Mexico next to San Diego, then upwards again till San Francisco and back to Tahoe and Reno where we took our flight!
We had gone 3600km with Volvi in about two weeks and a few days - and my dear, the police never stopped us! Whoa! We saw a total of 12 cities ( including New York ) and have been to the states of California, Nevada, Arizona and well, New York..
Alicia Keys was right.
If you could make it here, than you can certainly make it anywhere, I thought to myself after finally arriving on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where our accommodation was at. When Andrei told me he had found a cozy, nice place in such a great neighbourhood I truly felt we were lucky. Not to mention that I knew a few things about this place from Gossip Girl, my favourite series as a teen. I was already worrying about having to waste one whole day looking for a free room at an over priced hotel just because we never thought of booking something ahead.
One day previous to our arrival Andrei yelled: " I got an email - We have the room! Yeah!!"
I was impressed by our luck. Seriously, do we even deserve it? But my impression kind of changed when we got there. Imagine us having 3 keys from our landlord's buddy, a young, blonde woman with a pale face and shaky voice. She looked like she just got out rehab. We never got to meet the real land lord. And yeah, we were astonished. The building was old fashioned and had the classic New Yorker stairway in front of the facade. It was dark brown with black metal and a heavy front door. There was one door in front, a second one after 3 just stairs, the one upstairs at the 4th floor, from the apartment and another one from our private room inside. Now, the only funny thing was that we had just 3 keys to open all 4 of them, and what was even funnier was that none of them ever worked.
It was an adventure just to get inside our own place, not to mention that it was all so shady from the beginning. The apartment had about 5 rooms inside, after closed doors. Ours was the one straight in front of the hallway. We both took a meaningful look at each other and waited till we were alone.
" What the hell is this place?! "
" I swear, this is nothing like in the pictures. "
" It looks like a crack house. You know, with heroin and stuff. If I knew how it smelt like, I'm pretty sure this place would be reeking of it! " I said, almost freaking out.
" I know. And how can we know we're safe around here, you know what I mean? Who knows who the hell lives in the other rooms. "
" What about all our stuff? Damn it."
We calmed down for 5 minutes, took a deep breath, closed the window to noisy New York and made a plan.
I convinced Andrei to hang around for one night to see how things work out. I wasn't going to waste another minute in this city doing anything else than enjoying it and going on a hunt for a free room or a decent hotel wasn't an option I was ready to waste my time for.
We already searched the web and everything in Manhattan was booked. Queens, Brooklin and all the other parts of NYC weren't something I was ready for, at least not after all the stories I've heard this summer about them.
Nothing happened after all. The girls even moved in with us and soon enough the place was so crowded with our clothes and bags, that the room was almost invisible.
I didn't like New York at first. The background noise seemed to never stop. Everyone was in a hurry and only one out of three people was polite. The subway gave me chills most of the time and I was either scared or pitying the poor people around me. Unlike San Francisco, people here just weren't that happy.
We took Manhattan by foot with Andrei. One night we walked 90 blocks to home. From 1st street to the 91st where we lived in. We stopped by one of Beyoncé's concerts in Central Park, went to China Town, Little Italy and Soho. We pushed ourselves through the masses in Times Square, saw all the epic buildings and even had a little escape to Brooklin, just to see if it really was such a big difference.
Oh, and I also wanted to buy a hot dog on the street. It was a cliché I loved from movies and series I also wanted to do. So one day I found these little old man with a very modest hot dog cart. My compassion was over the roof when I saw him, so although it didn't look as tasty, I knew I wanted it to be him.
" Just mustard, please. "
He handed it over carefully, with his week, elderly hand.
" Thank you very much, sir! You can keep the change." it was the least I could do.
But he didn't quite get what I was saying, although he was nodding the whole time. He handed me my 3 dollars back when I said I didn't want it.
He looked up like a sweet old puppy and asked slowly: " For me? "
I swear I could have cried then and there. But I held it in for afterwards. I smiled widely and he smiled back. It looked as if his face muscles where tired and as is he has forgotten how to use them. He was adorable.
" Wow. Just wow. I bet he's been through a lot, the poor man." I kept on saying to the crowed after we left, never even touching my hotdog I was craving so badly. " I have never seen someone be so impressed with so little. Hell, why didn't I tip him more? I could have left him a 10 dollar bill! He is so much more worth it than any stupid Starbucks cup I wanted to buy with a 20!" I was actaully shedding a tear already, wow-ing the whole time on how good it felt to help someone smile. "I think this is what New York does to you if you're not strong enough to survive in this chaos."
"I think you're right.. Have you seen how many people are talking to themselves over here? "
"Yeah, I guess this whole place is a nut house, not only our apartment, hah."
The Statue of Liberty is way smaller than we had expected. We also found out it was gifted to the Americans from the French, and once again, I was so very proud to be European.
On our last days we finally went shopping and bought a few items we were very proud of. We had worked for that money and we have bought the very best things we could think of with the remaining cash we had after spending on our travel. We had a lot of trouble cashing out from our bank, too. Our cards were blocked almost every day we went shopping and it was such a pain to have to call our banker every time we needed to make a purchase. But it was half my fault. I wasn't comfortable to carry cash around with me in NY, so I just rather have it safe in my account, but before leaving back to Romania, there was practically no way to get it out anymore.. We figured it out in the end, after Andrei had had a loud talk to one of the managers, about the incompetence of the system. Oh, what a pain it was.
Nevertheless, the biggest tension was in the Subway one evening. Me and Andrei were heading back home, tired after a long day of visiting, when the doors shut and a man started speaking out loud.
" I've spent 20 years in prison. 20 years! I got out of prison after 20 years." he shouted, turning around to all the corners of the vagon, so that every single person could here his cry.
He was a large man, covered in meaningless tattoos and with a very intimidating rough gaze in his eyes. His jaw was strong and large, he was brutally shaved and was almost bald. I was wondering how he looked like before those two decades in prison. Maybe he used to be a normal fellow, not this massive being, ready to explode of frustrations and sorrows gathered among the years.
" Do you think you're better than me? DO YOU THINK YOU'RE BETTER? I HATE YOU DAMN PEOPLE. WHY DO YOU THINK YOU'RE BETTER THAN ME??
Yeah, I have tattoos, I got them to adapt in prison. To scare people away! That was what it did to me! Yeah, 20 years! "
he went on and on, repeating that awfully long time he had spent there. Everyone was still. No whisper, no sounds. Everyone in that train was breathless, trying to go unnoticed until the man would stop. I was trying to keep calm and having everyone act like nothing was wrong was getting me nervous. Are these people used to stunts like this?
" I killed him." I heard the wild man saying all of the sudden. "I KILLED HIM! And you know what? I would do it again.. and again! I would kill him again if I had to."
No trace of regret on his inhuman face. I could only take a glimpse before looking away. He was dangerous and this here was no bullshit. He was saying the truth.
" Of course I killed him! He - RAPED - MY - SISTER! "
..oh, wow, this was a deal breaker.
" Wouldn't you do it too?" he asked loudly in the silence of the train.
It was the first time I had felt silence in New York. I was contemplating now. What f someone would hurt my brother? Wouldn't I seek revenge myself? Wouldn't it be human nature to react? What if it was my mom? What if it was me? What is justice after all?
... I had some time to think while he was quite. I came to no conclusion, just a lot of compassion. This man was hurt. He was deeply, traumatically hurt by the cruel life he had had to endure, both before, in and after prison.
I just felt sorry for him. For his sister, for the murdered perv that has lost his way. Sadness conquered fear when he yelled again.
" You stupid people, you don't get it! Why do you think you're better than me? Huh? I hate you all! Nobody want to help!"
I took a peek and saw him standing way too close to a lady in front of me. Then he started harassing her.
" You stupid cunt, do you think I never stabbed someone??"
When I saw him getting personal to someone in particular, then I was truly afraid. I noticed Andrei being steady, thinking on how to get us both out of this mess. The train had to stop eventually, but still, there was no police inside the vehicle while we were there. It was dense and everyone was frozen.
When the doors finally opened, that lady was the first one to get off. She ran for her life, distressed, scared and very, very angry. It wasn't her fault he had missed his life so badly.
We got off there too. I whispered we should just stand up and go, it was our best chance to escape who knows what was in store for us next. Or for his next victim. The next person thinking they were better than him..
We left NY with two conclusions.
First, that there's nothing you can see in an American movie that isn't at least inspired from real, daily life in the US.
Second, that you can never, ever get bored in New York City.
On our plane back home I was sad. It had all went by me already.
Just like that, 3 whole months of my life with the most precious adventures of all my history were over. Then I realised I was grateful. What an opportunity this was for my growth. What a shift in my character it has made that I will surely never turn back. The things I've seen, the emotions I've felt and the freedom that lies in the unknown are my most precious values I have today.
If I would all round it up one piece of advice, it would be to go for it! To do as much as you can and see as much as you can while you still have the health and the time to do it.
There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that I would rather have this summer.
I wouldn't change anything for the world, not even the bad parts, they too have contributed to one of my life's greatest adventures.
Sitting next to the window on our flight from the US to Paris was a nice lady I got to talk to. She was 70 years old, although I would never have given her more then 55..
She told me she always has dessert and that she still travels. She still rides on the back of her friend's motorcycle on the coast and that she too, has stopped at the same Greek restaurant over the ocean that we have been to. She said she still enjoys herself while she can, because soon enough she will get sick and all this will be over.
I'm overly emotional in a general manner, but her saying this and being so positive and bright about it inspired me deeply. I was out of responses. What could I have said? It was the truth and we both knew it. Then, as if she was comforting me, she continued.
" All of my friends have started having little issues. You know, we're old, we get sick, that's just the way the world works.." but she seemed happy. I could tell she still had a purpose in her life and that she felt blessed to still keep on going.
I went quiet and clenched Andrei's soft hand between my fingers.
" We're going home now. "
" We are. " he said gently amused, knowing I was weak for this kind of conversations. He was happy to get home, he has a purpose too.
Now, it was just time for me to find mine.
I left for America thinking I would figure out my whole future when I'd come back.
I'm more confused about it than never before.
It's not that I don't know what to do, it's that I want to do too much of everything.
The only thing I did figure out, was that I love life too much to not make the most of it. To not do everything in my power to get to see as much as I can, now, while I'm still healthy and smiling.
Pin after pin, we pinched out most of California in our Map from Home. We took out our little white flag we use to mark the next continent we want to conquer, from North America and put it to the South.
For next year we have Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and so on in sight. Another bucket list is in the making..