It was late September and I was at work. My job at the time was consisted of managing about a dozen no-name actors and actresses, while occupying the role of personal assistant to a so-called ‘Soap Star.’ The woman I worked for operated out of her Studio City home on Sunswept. Her daughter owned this shaky three-story hunk of shit, while my boss, the mother lived on the bottom floor. Although you could walk throughout the three stories, the bottom level had a separate entrance from the street below.
All the character of the home happened to be where I worked. I had a west-facing window allowing me to see the beautiful sunsets. The high ceilings and arched doorways complimented the Spanish motif. My nook was adjacent to the kitchen, but I frequently worked out on the patio, enjoying the warm LA evenings and a smoke (Yes, I used to smoke cigarettes and I don’t regret it. I have many great memories wrapped around those things).
I was fed up with work and needed to get away. My parents had recently divorced and home did not sound too appealing. Being in a major city, it was always easier to find cheap flights to highly desired destinations. Let the search begin.
Well the weekend prior I had treated myself to Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl. If you have yet to treat yourself to Radiohead, please do so immediately. If you have yet to treat yourself to the Hollywood Bowl, I will take you. If you have the chance to see Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl, you will have accomplished a life long goal that will only become apparent once the experience is over. I told myself I would only see one of the two shows since tickets were atrociously priced. Of course I made the right choice and went to the two shows. Hail to the Thief was released earlier in June and the set lists where perfect, almost. I can only die happy when I hear Blow Out played live.
Radiohead was to be touring Europe. I have never been to Europe. I had family outside of London and what do you know, Radiohead will be playing two shows at Earl’s Court. My first search was my last. I found a direct flight on Virgin from LAX to Heathrow for $397. How the fuck did this happen? Before thinking twice I took out the company card and bought myself a Christmas present. I thought for a moment I would arrive to the checkout screen, only to find out that the fare displayed was for each leg of the trip. Nope.
Two months later I was frantically packing and asking my landlord for a ride to the Van Nuys airport shuttle to LAX. I made my flight with a few moments to spare, freshened up in the bathroom, and I was off to London on an overnight flight to Heathrow. I sat next to a couple of kids that reminded me of my youngest brother. For a moment I had wondered if I was being selfish by abandoning my siblings during the holidays. I could not let this occupy my mind and ruin my trip. I just promised myself to make it up to them.
Before I knew it I was lacing up my Campers and grabbing my one and only carry-on backpack without any agenda in mind. The only things I knew certain were Radiohead and dinner with the cousins. I did not even have a place to stay. I walked around Heathrow thankful that for the time being I was in an English speaking country. Walking by the duty free store, I was offered a shot of their weekly special, Dewar’s 12. I took 2. Great marketing. I bought a bottle and slipped it into my already overly stuffed North Face bag. Just outside the duty free was an information booth for stupid, poorly planned travelers like myself. You know those booths with information that you always see empty because people already have rides, shuttles, rooms, and plans? The lady shook her head at me but was glad to help.
Before long I had booked two nights at the Hotel Wellington. This was a beautiful, old Edwardian building that used to house Theology students before being reopened to the public. It had simple rooms with corner sinks and shared baths. My room had a view of the rainy streets. You could not see people, but rather little black circles hovering above the pavement. The umbrellas created a mess of curiosity in my mind, always wondering who was underneath. I checked in, roamed for about an hour, grabbed a bite and took a nap. I woke around 11 p.m., bundled up, and hit the streets of London. I walked for five hours around one of the world’s finest cities without any of the natives crowding the streets. London was mine for the taking and this set a trend for my future travels. Although it is probably not the safest or smartest thing to do alone, walking around an unfamiliar major city in the middle of the night is a great way to see things you may not have seen while roaming amongst the general public.
The next day I was thankful to have packed my grandpa’s old Patagonia rain jacket. A simple, yet highly effective royal blue, hooded jacket kept me dry all day. I wandered around the parts of the city I had not seen the night before. Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, etc. It was early afternoon when I was in taking shots at Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guards was happening and I had a great spot, perched next to the Victoria Memorial. For the amount of rainfall I was rather impressed by the crowd of spectators. It wasn’t before long that the Mall was closed on either side and a motorcade of miniature flag flying vehicles approached the palace. Following the motorcade were beautiful horses accompanied by the Queen’s Royal Guards and a white and gold chariot. No fucking way. Here I am wondering what the fuck is going on, listening to the White Stripes ‘Elephant’ album on my Discman, and there rolls the fucking Queen of England in her golden chariot, no more than 20 feet in front of me. It all happened so fast, I was quick to believe that it was all a dream.
I took it in and walked the city for a few more hours. I went to the British Museum and admired the architecture. I loved taking the tube and seeing all the suits. Beautiful men and women so perfectly dressed. They all looked like robots. I stood out as a foreigner in a royal blue jacket, rolled up jeans, black boots with red laces, and large headphones and a smile.
My bottle of Dewar’s came to good use. I soaked up some scotch and jumped on the underground a few stops to Earl’s Court. I had purchased a ticket for the sold out show from a ticket broker for £40. It was worth it. Unlike the Hollywood Bowl where any chance of getting close to the stage requires A-List status, amazing contacts, or an incredible amount of money, if you showed up early to Earl’s Court, you could be as close as you allowed yourself to be. Thom Yorke stood 5 feet from me. The show went as follows:
The Gloaming, 2+2=5, My Iron Lung, Where I End and You Begin, Kid A, I Will, Myxomatosis, I Might Be Wrong, Sail To The Moon, Lucky, Paranoid Android, Go To Sleep, Sit Down Stand Up, Just, Idioteque, Fake Plastic Trees, There There, You And Whose Army?, National Anthem, Wolf At The Door, Street Spirit (Fade Out), We Suck Young Blood, Karma Police, Everything In Its Right Place.
Wolf At The Door and I Might Be Wrong stole the show. For the encores I made my way to the back of the floor. It was wide open. I could sit down and still see the stage and hear the tunes from an entirely new perspective. A guy named Iggy came and sat next to me and offered me a smoke. We made small talk and before we knew it, had lit another fag and were lying on the dirty floor, laughing our asses off at the fact that we are hearing Radiohead right now. I didn’t want the night to end.
On the third day I wandered around Liverpool Station in search of a train to Wickford. There was a mix-up with Uncle Eric and I took a nice venture to the countryside for no reason. Why? Because I was not to get on the train till Eric was off of work, across the street from Liverpool station. I had to rush across town, grab my bags, head back to Liverpool Station, and off again through the city and off to the countryside to Wickford. Teresa and Eric welcomed me to their home and before long I was out to dinner with Hannah, Terry, Francis, and Eric. We enjoyed pizza and wine, spoke of our families, and laughed. It was the best Thanksgiving a kid could ask for.
(These cousins come from the O’Connor side of the family. My grandfather’s brother’s kids, etc, they are the Cranes and the Stanleys and I love them)
Well I forgot to mention that during the rainy day prior I had to make some plans for the rest of my stay. I booked a flight to Belgium and was leaving early the fourth morning.
Before long I was waking and having tea, ready to head to Stanstead for my flight to Brussels. Terry was kind enough to make the 45-minute drive before dawn. Next stop, Brussels. We arrived about an hour later than anticipated due to fog. We had circled the runway numerous times only to touch down in what seemed the same dangerous conditions that they were avoiding earlier. It was fucking cold. I had my blazer buttoned, and my scarfed covered most of my face. I boarded a shuttle that took me to the main train station and again I was lost.
I made my way through the city streets in search of the International Youth Hostel. They had one single room available and I was ready to conquer the city. Another sip of Dewar’s and I was ready to go. I cannot begin to describe the beauty of Brussels. The narrow side streets, the food, the people, the square being lit for the holidays, the street vendors, and the joy off being alone in a city unknown. I was free. I wanted more.
The next morning I packed my bag, grabbed some coffee and chocolate and hopped a train to Amsterdam. I was only a few hours away, I had to go. The train ride was cold. I poured some Dewar’s into my coffee and before long I was warm and toasty. I arrived to Amsterdam mid morning with a familiar task at hand; find a place to sleep. I checked in to a shady looking hostel in the red light district, but who cares, I needed a locked, a pillow, and a place to get some rest.
I came down from the hostel to the bar. The bar served coffee, beer, and weed. I thought I would enjoy the luxury of smoking a joint legally on the city streets of Amsterdam. I asked the ‘Rasta Trent’ working the bar if there was anywhere to buy a pre-rolled joint. I was in a new foreign city, the last thing I wanted to do was break up some nuggets and roll a joint. Time was precious. He pointed down the hall yet I failed to recognize what he was identifying. Again, I asked, again, he pointed. I felt stupid and was certain he was thinking I was your stereotypical first-timer who had never smoked weed. He was kind enough to walk around the bar and show me what he was pointing to. The motherfucker was pointing the vending machine! Yes, the vending machine. I looked there twice but only saw candy bars and chips, oblivious to the fact that there were vials filled with massive spliffs. I purchased a ₡4 spliff of white widow. I had ordered a box of weed in NYC once and they delivered this amazing bud.
Well I had my joint and I was off. I was back on the streets, joint in hand, and walking freely amongst men, women, and children. It did not feel right. Soon it did. I walked into many stores gawking at drugs and people. I knew my destination was the Van Gogh museum and recalled a friend telling me to find some mushrooms to take before going. When I told the shopkeeper this he told me I would be just fine with the rest of my joint and that he didn’t want me to freak out in the museum. Good point. His work boots can still clearly be seen in my head. I stared and imagined Van Gogh putting these on and removing them day in and day out. I was Van Gogh for about 45 minutes, and then I realized that I just purchased a fucking joint out of a vending machine and I should move on.
I walked the waters and imagined making love inside of many homes. The lights twinkled off the water and couples walked hand in hand, arm in arm, holiday shopping for those they loved. I walked the alleys of the red light district, men paid to feel for moments. I heard some familiar music and entered a narrow smoky bar. I found a seat at the bar and it was not but four hours later I was stumbling home. I had met Peter and his boarding school mate whose name I can’t recall. Peter lived in Munich and his pal was from London. They hadn’t seen one another in years and decided to include me in their reunion. We drank beers and talked of the states. I had a Velvet Underground CD in my bag and was drunk enough to beg the bartender to put it on. It felt so good.
Falling back to my hostel, the temptation of paying for an erotic end to an eventful evening crossed my mind. I’d probably feel less shame and regret if I just jerked off in the shower. I woke up on the bottom bunk surrounded by Europeans all lost in different worlds. I had to catch a train.
I grabbed a pastry and a coffee and headed for the terminal. It was a sunny day in Amsterdam. I purchased a copy of OK Computer at a store within the train terminal. I had a copy at home but really wanted to hear Climbing Up The Walls. When I want to hear a certain song at a given moment, there is very little that can keep me from doing so. I finished my Dewar’s on my train ride back to Belgium. I decided on a good night of sleep and splurged on hotel room that had heavy thread count sheets and private bathrooms. I called some friends and family and got some rest. The next day I flew back to London and did the same thing. I splurged on another nice hotel and walked the city that I had seen only three days prior, yet felt like I had not been there in years. I felt like I was on my second trip overseas and getting to see everything through familiar lenses. Sadly, I had a flight about 14 hours from my check-in.
A wake-up call failed to get me going and I found myself desperately trying to catch a train to Heathrow that would allow me to catch my flight. I was almost out of money and was ready to be home. I arrived to lines upon lines. Of course, the holiday was over and everybody was heading home. I begged to slip in front of families and checked in with about 30 minutes to spare. If you haven’t been to Heathrow, please allow yourself a bit more time. I rolled up my pant legs and tied down the backpack. It was a full sprint to the gate. I arrived to security ten minutes later dripping sweat. I arrived to the gate only to see that the doors were closed. I wanted to cry. I wanted to be home. I was tired. I approached the service desk and was informed that the doors were still open but the gate number had changed. I looked across the way and they were still boarding. I had time to change my shirt, buy some breakfast, and make myself comfortable well before takeoff.
We flew over the ice caps and landed at LAX 12 hours later. My feet were swollen, my eyes were puffy, and I was ready to sleep in my bed. I just experienced more in 8 days than most experience in a lifetime. I got home, threw my bag on the couch, checked my mail, smoked a cigarette, showered, and slept. I woke not the following morning, but the morning that followed that. I woke to pee and maybe snack on something, but I wanted to sleep and dream of all that had just happened. I was glad to be home, but excited to go back. I went back seven months later. This time I spent six weeks in five countries. I can honestly say I did more in 8 days than I did in six weeks.
Would I have gone if my parents had not been divorced, probably not? Am I thankful they got divorced, not at all? Sometimes you have to look at the fortune that comes from the bad and use that to make the best of life. Give yourself the chance to live for the good and rid yourself of the memories that will only hold you back, letting you move forward for the better.