Tuesday, November 12, 2013

pr travel journal, 11/1: fellow travelers

Friday, 11/1

1. san francisco, patron saint of animals, merchants and stowaways

San Juan felt like arriving back home after our vacation-within-a-vacation. Outside our hostel, Posada San Francisco, we saw the guy from our kayak tour we’d been calling “San Francisco” (for the city in California, not the street in San Juan that our hostel was on).

Posada San Francisco on Calle San Francisco.
“Are you stalking me or am I stalking you?” He had a lilting Indian accent.

We invited him to join us for dinner after we all got a chance to check in and change.

This time our room was on the sixth floor, similarly spare but to the point of having no shelves or clothing rods in the closet. As with our previous room, there was a wooden cross above the bed.

No bible in the drawer, though, because there are no drawers.
One of the nice things about traveling is that you don’t necessarily learn the most textbook things about each other first. We learned that Hakim had gone tavern-diving in the Yucatan and evaded several speeding tickets and signed up to take French in school because the teacher was pretty before we learned anything about his family or what he did for a living.

But that stuff came out too; he’d grown up in Bangalore, studied electrical engineering at Stanford and worked for startups. He liked traveling, he said, becaue he didn’t have to talk about startups with everyone he met. I knew what he meant. Sometimes the sentence “We make small grants for literary events” felt like rocks falling out of my mouth.

Hakim lived in Pacific Heights. I remembered an article I’d read in Vanity Fair about old money and tech money colliding on one specific, coveted block of mansions in Pacific Heights. In his early thirties, I guessed, Hakim was probably a smidge too young for that block, but he was contemplating taking a month or more off to travel, so his startups must have been doing okay.

He was friendly and funny and wanted to know what AK’s psychology training enabled her to guess about him. It was fun hanging out with someone new. At home I was always competing for one-on-one time with AK, the energetic extrovert, but after a week alone-together time, I welcomed the mild wild card of another person.

We wandered uphill to San Sebastian Street, a strip of Old San Juan aimed at wealthier tourists. T-shirt shops gave way to Gucci. The blue cobblestone was shiny from the afternoon rain.

The view from San Sebastian (in daylight).
We went to a bar with a beer menu as thick as a binder of karaoke songs. While we flipped through it, Hakim asked if there was anything about him that read as gay, because twice recently—including yesterday in Esperanza—guys had hit on him.

I told him it was because he dressed nicely, which he did. Trim plaid shirt, straw fedora. He’d just wondered if there were one specific thing, he said; if he was communicating something he didn’t know about himself. His guess was his intricately trimmed facial hair. We agreed that it was a likely contributing factor.

We talked about salsa dancing and who would lead, AK or me. AK explained the difference between gender expression and sexuality. She’s always maintained that our problem is we’d both want to follow. I’ve always maintained that I’m terrible at all partner dancing, and especially salsa. Give me an empty dance floor and some hip-hop or lyrical jazz. When it comes to dancing, I’m a much better fake black girl than fake Latina girl.

AK at the Nuyorican Cafe salsa, etc. club.
We were joined by Billy and Samantha, a couple we (Hakim, really) had met outside our hostel. They had an REI wholesomeness about them; it made sense that they’d flown in from Anchorage to do a surfing/rock climbing tour of the Caribbean. For months! They’d bought a one-way ticket.

2. first class envy

Who were these people who wanted to and could quit their jobs and travel for months at a time? Earlier that day, when we’d stopped for coconut rice and tostones at a strip of beachside kiosks in Luquillo, I’d remembered out loud how much I’d envied those world travelers when I was in my twenties. They’d seemed cooler, more noble, full of wisdom I wasn’t permitted to question.

There is wisdom in the coconut-rice pyramids of Luquillo.
And then I’d realized there wasn’t a discernible difference, in settled people in their mid-thirties, between those who’d globe-trotted and those who hadn’t. We had all learned and grown one way or another, in Bangkok or Valencia. I started to own my own provincialism, and my envy shriveled.

I realized that this was/is how I see people with children now: as if they have secret knowledge I must submit to. Cancer gave me a bit of a trump card, if a depressing one. I’d learned all those lessons about ceding control and seizing the day too, and maybe moms would be forced into an (un-envying) awe of me, dammit.

A difference between the mysterious wisdom of travel and the mysterious wisdom of parenthood is, of course, that I never tried to travel. I could have joined the Peace Corps or taught English in Tokyo or bartended on a beach in Puerto Rico, and I chose not to. Now I’m doing the parenting equivalent of trying to board a flight that constantly gets delayed. Two and a half years ago I got on the plane and taxied around the runway for a while, and then was shuffled back to the gate while I watched line after line of my peers take flight, all seemingly in first class. (I know the reality is probably that they’re in economy, trying to cram their bags in the overhead bin and drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups.)

I sit in this metaphorical airport knowing that their destinations are no more and no less fraught with heartache and wisdom, Starbucks and locals of all stripes, than LAX. But I still don’t want to live at LAX; I’m still not ready to give up and go home.

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