Last summer, I took a family trip: The archetypal American Summer Road Trip, across the southwest. My brother stayed home, unattended, because he dislikes things like Going Anywhere At All. I started in San Marcos, CA; a logical decision, seeing as that’s where I live. Then I made my way to Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, Cortez, St. George, Las Vegas, and back home. 6 new cities in as many days.
Needless to say (probably), I quickly went from excited to exhausted, somewhere around the third multi-hour trip in a row. It was not entirely horrible, though. I had a lot of time to listen to podcasts (primarily Nerdist and You Made It Weird, both of which focus on T.V. shows getting made, careers getting started and continuing onward in LA), as well as marvel at how much of this country is a flat, uninhabited terrain.
The small towns we passed on the way to our destinations were often puzzlingly distant from things like bodies of water and supermarkets (the two things I require for survival). It seemed so bizarre that anyone lives in these tiny towns, where the closest thing to an “attraction” is a gift store full of mugs and other tchotchkes, regardless of how appealing the multiple garish billboard advertisements leading up to the shop made it seem. 138 miles to the Big Old Shop of Junk. 89 miles… 20 miles… Exit now for Junk.
“Can we help you?” If my roommate Wendy and I had smart phones or even internet access back on January 7th, 1989, we might never have heard those reassuring words spoken by two young, nice-looking Italian guys on that fateful Saturday night. Wendy and I had just arrived in Florence the day before to start a three month overseas studies program. We were placed with a host family, the Miniati’s, in the “suburbs” and we could only get home by bus from the city center. According to my travel journal, we had gotten on bus 23C, realized it was the wrong one, and then got off, completely turned around and lost. We found a payphone, but then realized that we needed a special token called a getone to use it, and we had no idea where to get one. Had we had our handy dandy mobile devices, we could have done a number of things like look up the bus schedules and routes, gotten exact directions to our host family’s house and hailed a taxi, or just have even called our host family to come get us. Instead, we just stood on the street corner not knowing what to do, laughing because it was better than crying.That’s when we heard those magic words first spoken by Leonardo, a tall slim guy with dark hair, deep-set blue eyes and an authentic Italian nose. He was accompanied by his buddy, Filippo, who was more boyish looking. We told them we were lost and needed a getone to make a call and they got us one. They also offered to give us a ride home. Wendy and I looked at one another wondering if we could trust these guys, and then Leonardo offered to show us his ID. That cinched it for me.
In my junior (third) year of high school, I visited London and Paris with a handful of my classmates. My high school, the wonderfully fictional-sounding High Tech High, had something called “Intersession”. The week before spring break, every student was free to choose something they wanted to take part in for a week. Every event was hosted by the teacher, and it was usually something along the lines of surfing, or visiting restaurants, or, the one I usually chose, creative writing. Some offered international trips, like snorkeling in Belize, and, of course, a trip to London and Paris.
It was in the months leading up to this trip that I started to learn French. I went online, to websites offering free lessons, and learned as much as I could. Much alluded me (like the pronunciation), but I learned basic phrases, numbers, how to say what time it was, how to ask if there was a bakery nearby. “Est-ce qu’il y a une boulangerie près d’ici?” was the first phrase that I fully memorized, and prided myself for doing so. I also learned the art of being exceptionally annoying. Well, I don’t know if it took me until age 16 to be annoying, but I certainly perfected it by then.As a teen with a newfound knowledge of basic French, not to mention, a complete fixation on Doctor Who, I was an unstoppable tirade of irritation to those around me. Every conversation was an opportunity to bring up something cultural or etymological, some examples include, “Hey guys, Allons-y! Right guys? Right?” and “Oh man, counting by tens is so weird in French!” (I caught myself bringing up the latter topic recently and could tangibly feel the loathing that the other person was emitting).