In Parts I&II (posted on Wednesday and Thursday) I wrote about my first solo trip abroad back in 1988-89. I considered my journey to be open-ended and had no real desire to return home. By the time I got to Israel, I was nearly broke and decided to go to the UK and work for the winter and then spend the next summer traveling again. Life had other plans…
It is the yarn Millionaires always like to tell: How they started out with nothing and managed through pure gumption and hard work to build something marvelous. My tale didn’t turn out that way. When I arrived in London in November 1988 I really was down to my last pound. I still had a return ticket home but had no desire to return back to the US. Traveling had seeped its way deep into my spirit and I was determined to find a way to stay in Europe. As a US citizen, I had no work permit and I knew I’d have to find some ‘under the table’ work arrangement. For the record, let me say with 30yrs hindsight the idea was half-baked at best. There are smarter (and legal) ways to do this better. But try convincing my 24yr old self that probably wouldn’t have been possible.
I was fortuitous in finding work fairly easy. I found a youth hostel and offered to work for room and board. This led to an actual “job” handing out leaflets at Victoria Station for the hostel. Each person I got to book would net me one pound fifty. I actually got so good at it I got offered a job managing one of the hostels. I ran everything, I did the books, cooked meals and kept the place clean. I still, however, did have to go to Victoria Station and hawk leaflets when the place wasn’t full. I was in the UK from mid-November 1988 through early March 1989. I had the privilege of spending Christmas and New Year’s Day abroad. The Spector of my poor choice in working somewhere I wasn’t legally allowed did catch up with me. From pretty much day one, there was a policeman who worked at Victoria station who every time he saw me would run me off and warn me the next time he saw me he was going to have me deported. Well, one day he did. I was arrested, put in jail overnight and was told I would stand trial for working without proper authority. I told the police, I would leave on my own volition and they agreed. They held my passport until I could prove I had an onward ticket. (The ruling specifically stated I would not get my passport back unless the onward ticket was to the United States) So on March 4th, 1989, it all ended.
That transatlantic flight was the longest flight I had ever taken. I remember looking out the window listening to my headset and the song “Space Oddity” began playing. The lyrics “sitting in a tin can, far above the moon, planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do” pretty much said it all. It was one of the lowest points in my life. When the plane landed in NYC, a huge part of me wanted to not go back to Kansas City but just to stay there and try again. After all, I survived in London broke, maybe history could repeat itself.
I know my mother meant well, but the first thing she said when she picked me up at the KCI airport was ” At last, now you can finally get on with your life.” I felt just the opposite. I felt like I just left my life a half world away.
My spirit went to sleep that day and didn’t wake up for years. The 90’s were a terrible time for me. Not dating, drinking way too much, Fluttering from job to job, always dreaming of going somewhere. When I felt bored, useless or trapped at work, I would start making travel itineraries imagining my impending journey. I felt like I had been ripped away from what I really was supposed to be doing.
As the 2000’s began I found my way out of my fog. I was able to find stable employment and began to develop some healthy relationships. I have been back to Europe a couple times as well as the Caribbean, Central America, and all fifty states.
I wanted to tell this story because I needed to make sure you knew my sense of urgency came from an honest place. I spent too much time following someone else’s map for my life. Even people who I know mean well. I have to take responsibility for the things I’ve lost, the poor choices I’ve made and the time I can never get back.
The mantra of my blog is “Tis not too late to seek a newer world” it’s from the poem Ulysses. I need to believe it to be true. I have no other alternative.