Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Arrival

Posted: November 21, 2016 in Travel

On top of being depressing as hell for reasons I don’t need to elaborate on any further, 2016 has quietly been a shit-tastic year for movies. I don’t know about you, but I’m still trying to find a way to travel back in time so I can reclaim the 160 minutes of my life I wasted on watching Batman vs. Superman. And don’t even get me started on that unspeakably fucking terrible cinematic abortion that was the Independence Day sequel.

But today, the year in movies may have been salvaged a little. I saw “Arrival.” Not only did this movie deliver an experience that I was neither expecting nor ready for, it provided a broader perspective on life right now that I found most welcoming.

The premise seems simple enough — an alien race lands on Earth and makes first contact. The planet is thrown into a state of panic despite the spacecraft not showing the slightest sign of aggression. The US military recruits a linguistics professor (Amy Adams) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) with the hope of figuring out why they’re here, and what they want.

What follows is nothing short of transcendent filmmaking. For a setting as grandiose and dramatic as the one “Arrival” takes us to, its true focus is on the most basic of what makes us human: language, and how we communicate as a species. Within that larger theme is a very personal and emotional story of Amy Adams’ character, and her story is as fascinating as the larger theme of extraterrestrial visitors coming to Earth.

But for as ambitious as “Arrival” is, this is a science fiction movie that’s more science than fiction. Amazingly, I found I didn’t need to suspend my disbelief that much while watching it. Credit the empathetic Renner and Adams trying to understand the greatest moment in human history for that. This is “Contact” for an older, wiser, and slightly more pensive audience, with a dash of the raw emotion in “Interstellar.”

Maybe it’s the state of the world today. Maybe it’s my lifelong fascination with the almost inevitable truth that we are not alone in the universe. Maybe it’s a little column A, and a little column B. But “Arrival” is subtle in its delivery, beautifully filmed, and superbly acted. It’s a compelling work that reaches for the sky, but ironically enough, by the time the credits are rolling, it’s not the aliens we learn the most about – it’s ourselves.

On happiness

Posted: November 15, 2016 in Travel
Last month, I quit my job.

It was simple, really. I wasn’t happy. Convincing myself of the opposite was becoming a charade. Facing reality had become inevitable. I needed a change. So I made it.

Let me back up for a second. The truth of the matter here, I think, was that I wasn’t happy at this place from Day One. I had encountered serious adversity from the moment I settled into my desk. Normally, adversity is something I’d welcome, so long as the adversity was coming from a healthy place and in relatively controlled bursts. Having a background in journalism prepares you for this sort of thing. But this was more like an adversity tsunami. It just kept coming, and soon enough I realized I was drowning.

And the feeling of drowning is really a load of shit. Nobody should feel that way for 40 hours a week, much less have that feeling follow you around when you go home every night. I’m always shocked to see people (Americans, mostly) be perfectly content to wallow in a tsunami of misery from 8-5 every day and casually shrug it off as “just part of the job” while their personal lives implode and their sanity isn’t far behind.

It took me too long to figure this out, but more people should probably take note. If you don’t like the situation you’re in, then fucking change it.

Being happy at a job, I’ve found, depends on just a few things. Moreover, it depends on how you answer these questions:

Am I passionate about what I’m doing? I love writing, but if I’m not passionate about what I’m doing, it’ll eventually sound forced. My ability to bullshit my way through something is solid, but only for so long. And as I soon discovered at this job, I was definitely not passionate about the industry I was in. Comparing how Verzion did in Area A against how T-Mobile performed there on any given day was something I found to be not only uninteresting, but ultimately pointless.

Do I feel appreciated? I sure as hell didn’t. Nothing was ever good enough. Something was always wrong, in some fashion or another, and this became typical. If this comes directly from your own manager on a regular basis without any offer of help or support (other than “do this better”) then you’re not going to want to do any better. You’re just going to resent the very thought of waking up in the morning and dragging ass into that office every day.

Can I see the value of the work I’m contributing? To be fair, I did — but only to a point. Every time I looked at something that was published with my byline on it, I would be quicker to think about the agonizing process of having 12 people thoroughly scrutinize it and argue with me over unimportant details instead of feeling especially proud of it. (I literally had two people trying to get me to tell our very overworked designer that we need to display the “.0” in a chart because it’s “the company style.”)

Will I be able to get away with gut-punching my manager as we walk by each other in the hallway? If yes, then don’t worry about the other questions. Just fucking do it. Eye contact optional.

Oh, the restraint I had to exercise.

Anyway. Forgive me if three of the four above sound a little too close to teetering on the edge of a motivational speaker, but my time at this place really forced me into some weird territory. I didn’t sound like myself on a daily basis. I would constantly come home and repeat the same cycle — put my stuff down, sit on the couch, light up a joint, drink some whiskey, or play PS4 until I cleared my brain of all the bullshit to a satisfactory level. It wasn’t good. Not for me, my relationship, or my career.

This wasn’t happiness. I came to that brutal realization somewhere around June, after only having been with the company for six months. Looking back, it felt like a lot longer. But before I could leave, I needed a safety net. My escape plan needed to be devised first, I thought. No way would I just rage-quit this place without something else waiting in the wings for me to transition into. That’s just crazy talk, I remember thinking.

But then I stopped myself. I often say the definition of insanity is doing the same damn thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Had anything really changed with this situation in six months? No. Not at all, actually. And in some respects, it was even getting worse. I saw no way out other than to do what I had never done in my career before — just resign. No safety net. No offers on the table. Just a few leads, my savings account, and a desire to be free of an absolutely pointless daily grind that was taking its toll.

I likened the situation to jumping out of a burning airplane and only being half-certain your parachute wasn’t going to malfunction on the way down.

But when I walked into the HR manager’s office to talk things over, I began the conversation trying to convince myself to stay. Sure, I thought, things were difficult in almost every way imaginable here. I received very little support for my writing. I had made zero friends, which was very odd for me in any environment. I had no corner to hide in. No group of people to grab lunch with and collectively bitch about management. I’d just go to lunch alone, which was in several ways a giant relief, regardless of the added expenses of going out every day. One hour out of that office was my solace.

When I began this obvious charade in front of her, the HR manager politely interrupted me and asked, “Do you want to resign?”

I stopped in mid-sentence. After a momentary pause, I replied, “Yes.”

She smiled and said, “You know…..you’re going to feel so much better when this is over.”

At that moment, I knew she was right. What, honestly, was the point of continuing to be miserable when I could just make the choice not to be?

She followed that up with “I’m very impressed you made it this long with this group.” I was not the only one who had felt this way about working here, from what I then discovered. While validation isn’t something I require when it comes to making decisions, the extra bit of external confirmation in the vein of “it’s not you, it’s us” was surprisingly comforting.

I walked out of the office that day with a smile on my face for the first time in months.

The coming days were liberating. I took my foot off the gas pedal when it came to finishing the rest of my work. I knew the pressure was subsiding. It felt good to finally sit back and relax and have time to collect my thoughts again, instead of being constantly paranoid that something else I did was wrong. My fears and anxiety began to evaporate. It wasn’t even my last day, and this decision had already paid off.

Happiness isn’t a switch you can just turn on when you want to. Anyone who’s reading this would most likely agree. But you can feel dramatically and instantly better about yourself by making the right decisions in your life. I had to convince myself that I would be happier taking an unpaid vacation than I would be if I stayed in a job that was making me feel absolutely worthless. And my only regret is that it took me this long to figure that out.

Glasgow: Day 2

Posted: May 10, 2016 in Travel

Sept. 9

I woke with a jolt at 4 a.m. to the sound of an alarm clock. Rolling over and looking at my phone, I realized that I hadn’t set an alarm at all. There was no noise. The only racket I heard was the incessant pounding on the inside of my skull. Either I had too much whiskey at the Toll Bar, or there was a tiny team of construction workers lodged in there performing a job that involved a jackhammer and a lot of screaming.

It took me all of five seconds to realize this. But what had happened? How did I end up back in this room, in this bed?!

Quickly taking in my surroundings, I established that yes, I was back in the room I had paid for yesterday, and that I wasn’t wearing pants. Sadly, I was alone.

There was a half-open Styrofoam box sitting on the nightstand. I came to the conclusion that it contained something edible, but I had no idea what. Apparently I ordered food somewhere. Something Mexican, from the look of it. This confused me. This was supposed to be Scotland, not Guadalajara.

For the next several minutes, I did nothing but lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, making a feeble attempt at piecing together my night after leaving the bar. I remembered walking, fumbling around with some ATM and trying to take out more money. My friends Katya and Matt would be meeting me here later tonight, but I didn’t know when. I had a half-finished text on my phone to Katya about that very topic.

After laying awake for what seemed like years, trying to remember who I was and where my pants were, I passed out again.

It must’ve been around 10 a.m. when I woke up. This time it wasn’t on account of some phantom ruckus taking place in my skull, but my bladder alerting me that it had long since reached critical mass and was about to violently rupture if I didn’t do something about it. “Fine, you bastard,” I mumbled as I rose up and sauntered into the bathroom. My glasses were off, so I could barely see where I was aiming while pissing. This amused me. I smiled while staring down at the blurred image of my penis. This was one of those moments I was very glad to not be in public.

When my desire for food became an actual coherent thought, I stumbled out of my hotel room and walked across the small shopping area known as The Quay.  Just north of the ETAP Hotel was the River Clyde, and just beyond the river was central Glasgow. Not too hard to navigate, I thought. There must be something reasonable to eat around here somewhere.

I shrugged as I crossed the car park and hit the narrow footpath alongside the river. Once more into the breach, I thought. Coffee, food, sightseeing, adventure — reasons I took this trip in the first place, after all.

The walk across the river to the city center only took about 15 minutes. From the view out of my hotel window, it looked like it would be agonizingly longer. But after the confusing night I just had that involved a hot Scottish bartender and a wild assortment of drinks whose names I could only begin to recount, any amount of walking was not ideal. Every muscle in my body seemed like it spent several hours getting bludgeoned by a meat hammer. Was it the whirlwind of traveling, plus the alcohol? Or only the alcohol? Jesus, was I just getting old?!

No, fuck those thoughts. Thirty is the new 20, and nobody was about to tell me anything different. I’d been to college. By now, my liver was a trained professional at processing horrible toxins with impunity. I think some strange combination of aggressive Scottish booze and women may have been the culprit here; or if nothing else, bashed me on the skull with the fury of a brick being shot out of a huge air rifle.

There was no room for complaints about self-inflicted dehydration here, though. It was a Friday, but a beautiful, sunny morning teeming with people roaming the streets. At first glance, central Glasgow reminded me a bit of parts of London, only about ten times smaller with the same amount of people. Lots of people. And though they were definitely present here in all directions, my attention was focused on the giant cathedrals intermixed with the modern architecture. There were giant rustic cathedrals everywhere I could see. But that’s a good reminder you’re in Europe — huge goddamn cathedrals everywhere; usually in wide-open squares that make for ideal photo ops.

I ducked into a pub for some eggs Benedict. I wolfed down the plate as if I’d never seen food before in my life, paid the tab, and hit the street again.

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing and meandering around town like the clueless American tourist that I was. I saw cathedrals, the Glasgow Cross, the myriad number of pubs (there were something like 300 altogether; the most in any European city if I recall correctly.) The food was surprisingly diverse, and my mind was completely fucked in half when I met a hostess in a Chinese restaurant who had a Scottish accent. I had no idea what to do with that one at all. I hope I didn’t blink and stare too obviously, but I probably did anyway.

Finding my way back to the hotel wasn’t a problem, fortunately, because it was clearly marked by a gigantic bridge at the edge of town. Once I got back there, I jumped on the hotel’s wi-fi and found out Katya and Matt were only minutes away at the airport. They’d just landed from London, and the three of us would be going to Edinburgh tomorrow.

The thought of some partners in crime was a reinvigorating thought. I knew there was plenty of trouble we could get into, and starting at Toll Bar was of course the first thought that came to my mind. What could possibly go wrong?

Fuck it, blog. Let’s write some shit today.

In seven hours, I’ll be on a plane to that place in the south of California known as Long Beach. I made the reservation a month ago on a total whim. Why not, I thought as I booked the ticket. I have a fairly insatiable need to throw myself onto a plane at a moment’s notice. If this doesn’t happen every few months, I go a little bat-shit.

It could be said that I am already a little bat-shit, but that’s beside the point. PS – go fuck yourself.

Long Beach is the home of many of my more dubious victories and defeats in my formative years. I lived there when I moved out of my parents’ house in 1999, went to college at CSULB, got my degree in journalism (one of said dubious victories), and made it another year there before I had to force myself into a dramatic change of scenery in late 2005.

I graduated in 2003 and found a job as the editor-in-chief of a small community newspaper in a conservative area of Orange County known as Seal Beach. Much to their chagrin, I was a flaming liberal at the time, and thought all conservative republicans were brainless morons with no soul and nothing but cruelty and hate in their hearts. I still think this today, but they’re not all terrible. Some are worse.

Writing for that paper was an interesting life lesson for me. I was naive, young, inexperienced and thought I knew everything. I think that comes standard with anyone straight out of college. It was almost as though I was hired at that paper just to eventually fire myself. The readers were intensely divided as to their feelings about me – I strove to publish content that was relevant, timely and accurate. The owners of the paper wanted to sell as many ads as possible, and didn’t give a fuck about editorial quality.

This quickly put me at odds with the men at the top.

I did things my own way, and I wanted to bring an edge to a newspaper that was otherwise full of fluff and filler to justify selling advertising. We had locals write movie reviews, and a pastor had his own guest column that was thinly-veiled Jesus propaganda. He would rarely mention any references to anything religious, but when he did, I took them out before press time. He complained once, but I told him the press is not a PR vessel for the church. He didn’t respond to that very well. I debated on telling him that wasn’t very Christian of him, but I somehow exercised restraint.

My job there took me through many trials and tests that nearly broke me on more than one occasion. I met a girl in Long Beach while working there, and she fed me lie after lie and eventually took over my life before I even realized it. My naive brain had not yet tasted true deception and scorn, but that changed with that ill-fated relationship. Everything about it was wrong and should never have happened, and my distaste for that entire situation grew venomous.

Things at the Sun were not going well, in the meantime – my publisher was a mean-spirited fat woman who survived leukemia and used that as an excuse to put herself on a pedestal above everyone else. Much like the pastor who didn’t take well to my informing of my feelings of news and church, I did not take well to Publisher’s treatment of anyone she deemed lower than her pedestal.

Of course, I was at the top of that list.

Maybe this is where it all started – my slow-rising disdain for California. Southern California, to be more specific. I think about how this all went down sometimes, and wonder if things had been better after my graduation if I’d have stayed around longer. I wasn’t making any money, had no room for growth at the paper (how much higher can a journalist get than “editor in chief” straight out of college?), and was constantly lied to by my superiors. I give them credit, though – they knew how to take advantage of the inexperienced.

But no. I doubt any of this would’ve been reason enough for me to stay. I came to the realization that what I was doing was simply spinning my wheels, with no clear vision ahead of what I wanted to be. I did know one thing, though – Seattle had been calling. My visits there were growing more frequent. I even signed up for membership at the Mercury, a private goth/industrial club on Capitol Hill, before I moved up here. It was beginning to feel undeniably like home, and she was beckoning to me every day.

The pain of not being here became too great. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I suddenly knew where I had to be. And it was Seattle.

When I packed up my car with everything I owned out of my Los Alamitos apartment in December of 2005, I was happy. I couldn’t wait to get on the road and leave this place behind. The paper had cleverly waited until my birthday to fire me, so I wiped the hard drive of my PC and took all my notes with me on everything I’d ever done. I went next door to the Irish pub to have a farewell shot, and the bar owner knew there was something wrong right when I walked in. Perhaps shooting whiskey at 9:30 a.m. blew my cover.

When I walked back into the newspaper office, there was some asshole sitting at my desk, sorting through paperwork and talking to the publisher.

It was my replacement.

They hadn’t wasted a single bit of time. This had been a long time coming, obviously, and they made no effort to hide any of it. I was quiet, but then the wonderfully awkward moment came when I realized this dickbeard of an editor had parked his car right behind mine in the back, effectively boxing me in. I told him of this, and he cooperated in moving his car, but the moment was uncomfortable and I distinctly remember wanting to punch the bastard in the goddamned throat.

With the paper in the rearview mirror, I had what I thought would be a small send-off in Long Beach for my upcoming relocation to the Pacific Northwest. I invited some people to come have a beer with me at Murphy’s, a local pub that I frequented. I was blown away when roughly 30 people stopped in throughout the night to bid me farewell.

It made the goodbye bittersweet, but it was the right thing to do. My blood was not meant to subsist in this environment. It was time to go.

So, whenever I return to Long Beach, I think about all of this. I reflect back on how far I’ve come in my life and where I was when I left. The streets all look different in that town now because I’m seeing them through different eyes. The people sometimes look like cardboard cutouts of each other, all desperate to be different by blending in. The paradox is an odd phenomenon I’ve watched for a long time. It’s strange to think that I even lived in a place like that for so long now.

But these are all musings from a perspective that has evolved over the years. My former self; the one who lived in Long Beach once upon a time, is like skin that I shed a long time ago, and whenever I look at that shed skin now, it’s just an unrecognizable form of something that once was.

And it hurt like hell to get rid of all that, but I don’t regret a single minute of any of it. it’s what brought me to where I am now, and whether or not you regret the choices you’ve made along the way, I’d always like to think wherever you are is right where you need to be.

It was 6:45 a.m., and sleep had become a lost cause.

I looked out the window of our 747 that had just touched down in Reykjavik, Iceland. It had been 10 months since I’d last arrived here, and I grinned when I realized my level of sleep deprivation was almost identical to that last time I laid eyes on these barren lava fields. Granted, “last time” entailed the end of a three-country trek that started by leaving Munich at 5 a.m. after drinking enough beer to drown a large moose, but even without the flow of liquid libations coursing through my veins, the feeling in my head at this point wasn’t exactly alien to me.

The sun had not gone down during the flight at all, making sleep difficult, even with the cabin windows shut. This was a good precursor of things to come, I thought. Iceland never gets completely dark through most of the summer, which had inspired thoughts of pub crawling through the extended twilight hours and the surreal feeling of walking home at 3 a.m. in broad daylight. Those thoughts turned out to be more real than I could’ve ever predicted, but we’ll get to that terrible business soon enough.
(more…)

It was only 10:30 a.m., and I was suddenly wearing someone else’s underwear on my face.

There were no rules here. None worth mentioning, anyway. Any sense of civilization and order were thrown to the wayside. The numerous tents all lined up across the fairgrounds were innocent-looking enough on the outside, but crossing the threshold revealed their true nature. Drunk Australians teemed the long tables, waving huge steins full of freshly-tapped lager and spilling it on the bench. A crazed apish brute clamored up on one of the tables and began to chug the stein he was holding, getting a roar of approval from the onlooking crowd. He finished the stein’s contents in what couldn’t have been longer than 10 seconds.

But none of this was considered strange or rude during this time of year in Munich. This was, after all, the 200th annual Oktoberfest, where rabid hordes of beer-swilling maniacs come from every corner of the earth in pursuit of an experience so unforgettable that nobody will be able to remember it afterward.

I had only arrived in this chaotic hub of debauchery 48 hours ago, but my Lowenbrau-soaked indoctrination to the customs of Oktoberfest was a crash course in crazy.

But back to the underwear. I had been paying a large-breasted barmaid for a pair of beers when I suddenly found myself immersed face-first into an Oktoberfest tradition — the pig. Oh, the mighty pig, and woe to anyone foolish enough to stand under this great edifice of debauchery. Apparently, festival-goers have developed an unstoppable habit of throwing their underwear over the large pig statue that hangs overhead inside the Hof Brau Haus. Since the pig slowly rotates, the none-too-infrequent slip of the trousers occurs, if you will, and Mr. Pig has zero consideration for whoever might be standing underneath him at the time.

The underwear hit me as though somebody threw them directly at my head.

“Jesus fucking god!” I exclaimed as I instinctively threw the foreign object away from my face. “What the hell is going on here?!”

My friend Tashina looked on in amusement, making no effort to hide any of it. Fortunately, she was beautiful enough to get away with things like that.

“That….was someone’s underwear,” she said, accepting the beer I handed her. “And it came from up there.” She pointed above, just in time for the oompa band on the stage in the foreground to play another celebratory tune, prompting 2,000 people to raise their glasses in unison and sing together. The chorus sounded something like “I’m rosy,” but it was German and I couldn’t make out the rest. It didn’t matter, though. Understanding the words wasn’t half as important as understanding their communal intent.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I said. “Seriously. This is chaos on a whole new level. This is unprecedented.”

“No kidding,” Tashina said. “And it’s only….11 a.m.”

Most of these brutes inside the building had already been drinking here for two hours — or more, depending on how much they decided to throw caution to the wind. One thing we were warned about before coming in was to pace yourself at all costs. However great of an idea it might sound like at the time, one does not simply…pre-game Oktoberfest.

Just then, there was some kind of noticeable commotion going on to our immediate left. And it had to be considerably raucous to stand out in this claustrophobic sea of drunk humans. The large brute from earlier on the table had apparently gotten into a shouting match with a much shorter, smaller man, who was speaking Italian. People had backed away from the pair of them in anticipation of something physical,

I made sure I was standing in front of Tashina as the shouting and posturing between the two men increased. The larger man was sounding as though he didn’t want anything to do with the smaller one, and just trying to avoid anything nasty. I didn’t speak German, but voice inflection is universal.

I braced myself for things to suddenly erupt, but right when the confrontation looked as though security would need to separate them, the large man took what was left of his beer and poured it onto the Italian’s head. A free beer shower.

This was when I really expected a violent outburst, but the smaller Italian just stood there looking extremely displeased, saying nothing. He took his glasses off, wiped them down with his soaked shirt in an effort of total futility, and did not react. He simply shrugged and walked away from the scene.

Incredible, I thought. Potentially earth-shattering violence just evaporated at the blink of an eye, and any dangerous ripple it left behind was swallowed by the great ocean of chaos quicker than it even began.

“That went….well?” I said.

“Could’ve been worse,” Tashina replied, taking a large swig of the huge beer in her hand. Half of her drink was already gone, and I’d barely made a dent in my own. She indicated this with a furtive glance at my glass.

Tashina is no ordinary woman. She is no ordinary drinking buddy, and certacoinly not a boring travel partner. Her spirit of adventure is rivaled only by her exotic facial features, highlighted by eyes that hold a sensual gaze that could render any man’s legs to jelly. She had extraordinarily soft skin, shoulder-length brown curly hair, and one of the most positive and optimistic outlooks on life that I’d ever had the pleasure of encountering.

We had been friends for a few years, but never what you’d call close — not until we discovered a mutual love for world traveling and finding ourselves at the epicenter of random insanity, anyway. Back home in Seattle, she had been looking at getting her master’s degree for some time, and she had been fairly certain that it wasn’t going to be in America. Part of me envied her, but a different part of me had always wondered why her sense of wanderlust would carry her so far as to live on a completely different continent than anyone she loved; let alone knew.

But a few months ago, she had decided her education would take her to Glasgow, Scotland, to pursue a degree in geothermal energy. School would begin for her in a few weeks, providing ample time to take a little vacation through mainland Europe first. My travel plans for this backpacking trek turned out to conveniently mesh with hers, and what better place to bond in celebration of life, love, traveling and insanity than on the inaugural weekend of the longest-running beer festival in the world?

Before I knew it, I had finished my liter of Lowenbrau, and she had done the same. The barmaid from earlier was nowhere in sight, and hadn’t been for the past several minutes.

“This is gonna be futile, I think,” I said, already feeling the effects of drinking in Germany on an empty stomach. “I recommend a relocation.”

Tashina nodded in agreement and took my hand in hers. “This way,” she said, advancing into the crowd behind us.

This would normally be me taking the lead and blazing the trail, but girls who look like Tashina tend to get a path cleared quicker than anything with a penis in this place. As I followed her, hand in hand, I made eye contact with an amused-looking guy who had been making no effort to hide his thorough scrutiny of my female accomplice. He grinned drunkenly at me.

“Well-done, mate!” he said in a thick Scottish accent, nodding at Tashina. “Well-done!”

I laughed. “Cheers,” I said as I passed by. He called out something unintelligible after that. Even after spending the past week in Scotand, I still didn’t understand 50 percent of the garbled hilarity that came outta their mouths.

We came to the main entrance, and I immediately felt like like a salmon trying to swim upstream in a river of beer. It was everywhere — flowing like a river on the ground, splashed across the walls and on people’s clothes, mugs in the hands of large-breasted barmaids…there was no end to it.

Finding our way out of there was no easy task, but once we did, we stumbled into a smaller beer tent that was significantly less crazy than Hof Brau. Then again, the plot of “The Hangover” was less crazy than Hof Brau.

This tent served a deliciously different, darker ale that was a nice break from the norm. I could tell it was stronger, too. And at this point, stronger wasn’t necessarily better. We’d both had three liters apiece at Hot Brau, and I was beginning to wonder when we’d both hit the Wall. It would happen, no doubt, but stories like these are always so amazing that nobody ends up remembering them in the first place.

We started talking to a group of Canadians at our table. There were a couple of Spaniards there too, from what I recall. What I don’t recall is the conversation we had, or the point at which Tashina and I looked at each other and silently reached a mutual agreement that the Wall was fast approaching.

The last thing I remember is stumbling around the metro, asking some stranger where the hell the Tent was, and having him return a glance that said “good god, this town is full of savages and drunken swine.”

I woke up later in bed at the Tent, not entirely sure how I got there or what was going on; let alone how long I’d been out. The only thing I was entirely sure of at that point was this: Oktoberfest is a place where only the professional drunks have any business attending, and nobody lasts the entire day without either puking or passing out. Or both – preferably in that order.

Sept. 8, 7 p.m.

It had only been two hours since I landed in Scotland, but it was already beginning to feel like I had been transported to another dimension; a parallel reality.

I looked around my strange hotel room — a cramped space with a TV and desk, separate tiny chamber for the shower, a sink, mirror, bunk beds, and a narrow room with a toilet that redefined the term “water closet” — and thought “fuck this, I’ll come back and sleep here tonight eventually.” No point in surveying this domain any longer. There was a world out there I’d never seen.

The hotel was situated right on the edge of the Glasgow city center, in the middle of a group of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues known as The Quay. There was no discernible way across the river and into the city center aside from a couple of bridges that could only be accessed on foot. Seeing that it was already 7 p.m. and I hadn’t slept in what felt like weeks, I wasn’t planning on venturing in that far.

Fortunately, this was Scotland, and I was still within drinking distance. You are, by definition, always in drinking distance when you’re in this country.

There was a street behind the hotel that led to some shady-looking neighborhood that wasn’t even a five-minute walk. Deciding the lack of obstacles and visible proximity of a “Guinness” sign in the distance looked more promising than any other options around, I wandered in that direction.

The sign turned out to be in the window of a place called “The Old Toll Bar.” From the outside it looked like a dive bar; something you’d see in Pioneer Square in Seattle. And probably in one of the shadier areas. Sensing no better thing to do than saunter into an unscrupulous bar after being launched halfway across the world in the past 24 hours, I shrugged and went inside.

Once inside, I noted the bar had the unmistakable vibe of being one of those places you’d go to if you’re a) on a budget, b) wanting to get drunk before yougo outto get drunk, c) a travel-weary foreigner who has no idea where he is, or d) both.

The wall was plastered with signs advertising a variety of drinks that were £3 or less; most of which being shots or shooters. The floor creaked with each step, and the atmosphere was somewhere between a half-empty pub and a particularly rowdy library. Taking a seat at the bar, I ordered a local lager that I can’t recall the name of and settled in. The bartender immediately noticed “my accent,” which I always find to be a hilarious observation when traveling abroad.

“An American,” she smiled. “Where are you from, darlin’?”

“Seattle,” I said. “First time in Scotland. Got off the plane earlier today.”

“Well, welcome to Glasgow,” she said as she walked by, bringing another patron their beverage of choice. “It’s a great town.”

I smiled and nodded, taking a big gulp of the intoxicant I’d been served. It reminded me a little of the over-marketed crap beers in the US — Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light — but with substantially less of the bland piss-water taste that so often characterizes them. This was real beer, not the redneck swill used for kegstands at frat parties.

The beer was gone quicker than I usually drink. I ordered another. Hot Scottish Bartender, Lisa, was more than happy to bring it my way and chat me up a little more. Then I noticed a sign on the wall for an assortment of cocktails and shooters of which I’d never heard of before.

“What’s a ‘flying Scotsman,'” I asked Lisa. “I’m intrigued.”

“Let me show you,” she said, grinning suspiciously.

Mother of god, I thought. I could see the can of worms opening right before my eyes. My gaze met hers, and I could read into what she was thinking: “Let’s play ‘Get the American fucking drunk.'”

She poured me the drink and I took it in one shot without a moment’s hesitation. The unmistakable flavor of Jager was in there, but I couldn’t make out the rest. No matter, I thought.

“Want another?” Lisa asked  on her way back to the register.

“Tuborg for now,” I said. “It’s important to pace yourself, after all.”

She shrugged and poured the beer. I looked around the bar for a moment — not many others had trickled in; it was just me and a few other wary-looking lads in a sleepy bar in the middle of a sketchy neighborhood in Glasgow at 8 p.m. on a Thursday. I felt distinctly American, but not with the expected sense of embarrassment that came with it. I felt comfortable, and not exposed or vulnerable. It was a good feeling to have on the beginning few hours of a two-week trek across several foreign countries.

I flagged Lisa down. “I’ll go for another shot,” I said.

“Ah, why not, eh?” she said as she grinned that same goddamn grin. Even though her accent was thick and the dialect a far cry from what I’m used to, sexual tension is a universal language.

She poured my shot and passed it over to me. I noticed she was also holding one of the same drink.

“Oh, joining me then?” I asked.

“Cheers,” Lisa said, holding the drink up in front of me. Our glasses touched and we gulped down the contents.

I felt the first rising vibes of intoxication creeping over me. My head began to swim a little. I laughed at nothing in particular. Maybe it was the booze, but then again, maybe it was the giant blast of pure, unfiltered freedom that I was getting high off of. It was too early to say.

Lisa came by with another drink for me. I didn’t order it, but that didn’t seem to stop her from giving it to me anyway. I don’t remember what the hell it was, but I do know I chased it with another Tuborg.

The thought occurred to me that I could somehow crazily drag Lisa back to my nearby hotel with me, but I doubted she was off anytime soon. I wasn’t going to last much longer here anyway, as I recall swaying a bit on my bar stool. Part of me said “why NOT drag the hot Scottish bartender back to your room with you?!” and the rest of me was saying “no, you stupid drunk fiend, go gorge on some bad grub somewhere and pass out!” Ah, to be a conflicted drunk traveler.

As if to interrupt my train of thought, Lisa came back my way with yet another shot. I almost didn’t accept it, but I’d have hated to refuse such unrivaled hospitality. I raised my glass, said “Hell with it” and took the shot.

I won’t say I instantly regretted it, but it was a close call.

I walked downstairs to the head, where a pack of younger-looking dudes were convening inside. They were apparently waiting for the guy in the stall to get out, and becoming impatient about it. None of them said anything about needing to take a shit, so I assumed they had nowhere else to snort whatever they had on them. Whatever it was, I didn’t care.

“Tell him to move,” said one of the pack to me abruptly.

I raised an eyebrow. “I’m just here to piss, don’t mind me…”

“Ah, that motherfucker!” he lashed out.

The pack engaged in some energetic shouting that I couldn’t quite make out. Understanding these bastards is hard enough to do sober.

I zipped and washed up and mumbled something indistinct. One of them asked me what I said, to which I responded by mumbling louder.

“HORHKFHSKHDA,” I said. “Just…just trying to fit in, you see.”

This resulted in more yelling, and one of them kicked in the stall door of the poor bastard who was sitting in there taking a shit. I didn’t want to see how this one ended.

I told Lisa what was going on once I got back upstairs and paid my tab. She shook her head. “Assholes,” she said. “I’ll go down there and see what’s goin’ down.”

Before she had a chance to go down, I asked if she’d be working tomorrow night. She said no, but that she’d be back anyway to party and meet up with a bunch of friends before hitting the clubs downtown.

My intuition from earlier about this bar had been spot-on — this was a place people went to pregame.

“I’m meeting two friends in town tomorrow night, also from Seattle,” I said. “Mind if I bring them along?”

“Oh, of course love!” she said. “Bring ’em on by.”

I tipped her heavily and thanked her as I stumbled out the front door. The bar had rapidly filled up, drawing in a rowdy crowd full of rugby fans. The music had gotten louder, and it looked like the night hadn’t even started yet for most of these people. I, meanwhile, was sauntering out of the place after hauling ass across half the planet for the past 24 hours.

Christ, I thought. It’s only been one night and this is already shaping up to be a true test of my endurance — in more ways than one.

Somewhere off in the distance, sirens pierced the silence of the night. Fucking Glasgow. It had only been one night, and I could already tell it was all downhill from here.