Is she for real? We’ve just travelled 2000 miles to Zagreb, Croatia, and she has no idea where we are? I can’t help myself, I have to ask.
“Are you serious? You’ve no idea where we’re going?”
“To their country’s capital?” Patricia grins and points to the young couple who so graciously welcomed our accidental intrusion on to their property while in search of a restroom.
“Un-fucking-believable.” I smile.
After flying in to Zagreb, Croatia, we’d travelled into Slovenia on our way to Ljubljana, 60 miles northwest. I’d met Patricia once, 2 weeks prior to the trip, picking up snippets of a multi-faceted, carefree, and intelligent woman. This is going to be an interesting journey, I think to myself as our impromptu host rushes into his cellar, reappears and pops open a bottle of homemade wine.
“Na zdravje”, our host says.”To your health”, he interprets in his broken English.
“Na zdravje”, we repeat.
I gulp it down. Patricia winks at me.
And there I was, after two long flights, hopping in a rental car and starting a journey through Eastern Europe with three relative strangers.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I hit ‘ignore’ in response to a needy client’s call. “Fuck. Let it go to voicemail.”
It was June, 2012, the beginning of summer. Twelve months after leaving a successful architecture firm to start my own practice, bringing with it 80 hour work weeks, the overwhelming urge to run away torments me.
I’ve been avoiding calls all morning. The monotony and stress of another day is in full swing. I’m irritated by the never-ending barrage of unrealistic deadlines established by demanding clients. This is further amplified by the missed deadlines of ‘moonlighting’ interns, just trying to make ends meet with their full time jobs and the extra spending money that I supply in the form of ‘under the table’ wages. I find myself desperately seeking direction with the course of my business. I have only gut instinct and insight to go on, with no formal business training.
I pour myself a glass of wine. It’s noon. I’ve not eaten anything and eagerly anticipate the light-headed, relaxed state which an empty stomach and quick drink brings. In a few hours the kids will be home and I’ll transition my drink to an opaque, plastic cup, or make the switch to the ever-invisible vodka. Hints of alcohol abuse start to rear it’s ugly head. No, more than mere hints, this is full-blown alcoholism. I was arrogant in thinking I had beaten down the demons of addiction. At age forty, succumbing, via the expected roll-call pickup of the ‘ticket for escape’ that my strong, addictive genes have gifted me.
Alcoholism infested my family. My mother liked to drink. And growing up, it was like a quiet mouse in the house, padding softly, all of us hoping that it would go away on it’s own if never addressed. Eventually, it chewed it’s way through our lives. My father turned a blind eye to my mother’s problems, prompting many an out of town business trip or long-term out of town business assignment. And, upon his return, with my mother being on her best behavior, he somehow justified the planning of his next escape. I learned this art of escape, these tendencies being modeled throughout my childhood. I now put them into practice. And, here I was, the stress and pressures of a business I could barely maintain prompting another episode of “Run or Die”. The alcohol started out as a crutch to get me by, a temporary escape. I had always played with fire when it came to alcohol, but, never did I use it to escape, to temporarily numb. No more wrestling with my demons, these days, we just snuggle.
Now, I yearned for that drink, and counted down in anticipation of my blissful reprieve. This had been going on far longer than I cared to think. Alcoholism was sneaking up on me all along, just like the mouse who lingered my entire childhood. I was in survival mode. Not a brazen or adrenaline-filled, idea-rich survival, but more of a passive, defeat-laden survival crawl. I wanted to throw in the towel. Engage my auto-pilot flight mode. But I knew I had to stop the mouse dead in it’s tracks. I decided to take a leap, but this time, with proper planning and eyes wide open, I left the country in the company of three strangers, wandering in to a two week adventure of experiencing all that Eastern Europe has to offer. A loosely planned return was in order and the continuation of my practice was on the books with contracts waiting and a fresh new perspective upon my return. Maybe this time I’ll get the drinking under control. I hoped.
I had just started dating Luis. Two months into it, hardly an acceptable amount of time to know someone. It was simple, actually, we just liked to spend time together and had a lot in common, mainly through the outlet of sports and exercise, a lifestyle that was currently being rivaled by my penchant for alcohol. Of course I left out the ‘I can’t wait until happy hour, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ trait during this time of getting to know him. How was I supposed to sell him on my newly surfaced habit?
“Hey, Luis, alcohol may be the road to nowhere, but at least it’s the scenic route, let’s go!”
I am never telling him this.
Instead, I shared my wistful fantasies with him. I spoke of downsizing and minimalism. Luis lived it. My children were older and my career was blossoming, this kind of play was just what the doctor ordered. We weren’t your average couple. Our idea of a date was a three hour long tennis match on a Friday night, scarfing some food down on the run, and waking up at the crack of dawn for a sunrise run. There was no wining and dining, and what little expectations I had were immediately squelched. Pushy and restless by nature, Luis was an obsessive type, never staying still for long. A raconteur of travel, he was constantly seeking out his next adventure, his nomadic tendencies meshing well with my reckless tendencies of escape. His life was simple, and the more people that came along on his adventures abroad, the merrier. Striking, prime in my desperation to flee mode, I agreed to travel for two weeks with him and two of his friends. I looked forward to meeting his friends and embracing this journey to a region I knew little about and with people I knew even less.
Luis proposed the itinerary and immediately started planning our trip. Overly-formulated spreadsheets detailing the nooks and crevices we’d be visiting, foods we’d be experiencing, and detailed travel routes along with their exact pre-dawn time to be in the car with an occasional motor engineering formula sprinkled in. I was pretty sure he kept his own version as well, scheduling and keeping track of his daily bowel movements and calories consumed. It was important to him to crunch in as many countries as possible, so, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia became the destinations.
What organized, structured bullshit, I thought.
But, what the hell!
Just wait till I introduce you to my mode of travel, Luis. No planning involved except for the daily scheduled sleeping in, lounging, drink in hand.
A seasoned traveler, well-versed in the art of budget travel, Luis was the polar opposite of his friend from Houston, Patricia, my third travel companion.
I had met Pat one time prior to our trip for a brief itinerary discussion set up by Luis. Being an ‘inner looper’ and having ventured outside of 610 for this get together, she was running late and flustered due to her extended travel time to meet us. Her distraction and disinterest became more apparent when I soon learned that she had not so much as peeked at the itinerary.
Hmmmm, I thought, is she more open to the flow of where travel takes her than me? Does she really not give a damn, is she just too busy? I couldn’t tell. As we talked, I learned that she was the owner of an expanding medical practice and was in the midst of the construction of her second office. Despite her busy life, she welcomed the opportunity to take off, fully aware that there would never be a ‘good time’ to do so. This self-driven passion and success along with her relaxed demeanor and nonchalant, unassuming character, drew me to her right away. And, after discovering her penchant for wine, I knew I had a companion who would be more than willing to cut loose from Luis’ tightly threaded spreadsheet. Exotic in her Guyanese beauty, with cocoa skin, ink black hair, manicured nails, she exuded an effortless class. She had an eloquent, relaxed, wistful way of articulately speaking. Her words pouring forth, smooth like silk, yet brushed with the confidence of a doctor. With an infectious, hearty laugh, I’d discover time and time again throughout our trip, and on in to our current day friendship, Patricia was a genuinely happy person.
Pat’s methods of travel and ideas of accommodations were quite different from mine and Luis’ budget-guesthouse-staying agenda. She travelled first class, was used to 5-star accommodations, and refused to share a room with anyone in order to cut costs. She felt no need to apologize or make excuses while in the presence of folks whose priorities it was to see as much of the world as possible with little time and little money spent in posh hotels. She worked hard, for decades, and finally postured herself to experience and enjoy the finer things in life. Whether she knew exactly what city she was in and location on a map or not, her mind was untethered and open. Leaving language barriers behind, she was always seeking out the locals, her humor and kindness luring all around to mix in, enjoying the present moment, the gifted company of others, and the sharing of good times.
Let the adventure begin…