Stimulus (Travel) Package
Winter's dreary doldrums got to me. It was the climate, but not just the weather. One cruel Monday morning in January. Wintry, grey, banal. T.S. Eliot missed it by a few months. So much like the days before, and too much like the sepia toned days that will follow. Spring nothing more than a pencil-written promise a few pages deeper into the calendar. Too teasingly torturous to consider.
Chimes alert me of a wind that howls outside. A dark light enters through a skylight buried under a few inches or so of snow. The day starts as so many do. Glass of water. Prepare a pot of coffee and stretch while it percolates. A few sips than I shuffle towards the laptop for some Bach, Tiersen or Santaolalla. Then some email.
First message is from my subleaser. She drones on about how the current month to month agreement doesn't suit her anymore and would like for me to commit until June, with a rent increase and…delete. The others are more of the typical mix of friends, newsletters and bills that I normally ignore as long as possible.
Yet one messages sits enticingly in my inbox like the flash of a distant lighthouse. $125. I rub my eyes, a few more sips. Had I imagined it? I just had a dream about mangos last night. An advertisement, bland and assuming, even its HTML splendor, $125 USD? Impossible. For a round trip ticket from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Bogotá, Colombia? Surely not. Must be a typo. Maybe just one way? Nope, its says RT. Read the fineprint: fully legit. Hmmm. I'm awake now.
Fantasies flutter through my imagination like butterflies in a garden. My brother's apartment in Bogotá. The family farm near La Mesa. Cartagena. Mangos. Villa de Leiva. Lulo, guanabana, my favorite juices. Ajiaco Santaferreño and a full carnivorous spread at Andrés Carne de Res. Guaro. Colombia. It's been four years since I've been. My accent's changed. After one year in México and another working at a trendy Mexican brasserie in Soho, I probably talk like a Mexican. My Colombian is rusty. My family's gonna laugh at me. They always do.
I call the girlfriend. She's down too. It's the climate – economic. She's just been laid off, two days after she signs the lease on a new apartment uptown. A significant upgrade, made with the assurances that her position was safe. Not quite. She's trippin' because she can't pay the rent and if she backs out now, she loses the deposit – one month's rent. For nothing.
She's already bought new furniture and all in all she is gonna pay around $2000 just to move in and out again. Fuck. Economic crisis indeed. With no job on the horizon and a shortage of options, she's dropped the words “home” and “California” like they are a pair of lost keys she needs to find.
Straight to voicemail. “Must be on the subway”, I think. “I got an idea, baby, call me when you get this. Boos boos,” is the message I leave. The light bulb over my head is unavoidable now. It's simple arithmetic. One unemployed girlfriend, plus one underemployed, underappreciated me plus two more months of dreary winter plus untenable living situation equals…time to shake things up.
I sat, waited for her call back and kept thinking.—
At some point during the winter the ubiquitous use of the words downturn, recession and crisis reached epic proportions. Small talk among strangers and lovers alike drifted magnetically towards these themes like in a well-rehearsed script. The masses raised their voices into a chorus of financial terms and catchprases uttered by a populace of overnight novice economists schooled by CNN soundbites and the intense reading of headlines.
As a hospitality professional, it took considerable restraint to maintain an air of professional neutrality and to avoid rolling my eyes at my tables and amongst my coworkers. Clients stopped ordering that second glass of wine and my fellow employees hankered desperately over uninterested tables, spelunking for tips.
Don't get me wrong. It isn't that I believe that said economic climate is nothing more than the result of mass hysteria. Nor is ignorant bliss a favorable option. But how much of the same thing can a human being endure? Just don't see how constantly fawning over an ailing economy is going to do any good.
Not that living in ignorant bliss is an option, either, but since of most of us are practically economically powerless to begin with, why relinquish the little power that remains within our individual control? Choice. In an opportunistic twist of fate, the reconquista of our lives – some of them – has begun, by people brave enough to plot a new course.
“Darling, so check this. I found this ticket to Colombia cheap. Dirt cheap. I proposethe following. Move out of your place and move in with me. One month. February. We them move out of our place, put our things in storage, send them to California. Or sell it all, whatever. We go to Colombia for March. Stay with my family. Travel. Beach it. Mountains. Thefarm. We read, we write, we eat, we breathe, we dance and we drink. We love each other until we can't take it anymore. We enjoy our lives. Now. Not later. Now. Together.” —
And as simply as that. Our “problems” were solved. Naturally we created new ones in the process, but the elixir of travel, and all the encouragement and renewal of self that we can handle, they certainly seemed much more manageable. At least for the moment. We are not alone. And we are not special. Two units among the growing ranks of the newly un and under employed, simultaneously facing a similar set of challenges.
One who was laid off from their Marketing Director position bought a series of airplane tickets from San Francisco to Mexico through Central America and
South America all the way to Brazil. Another fellow writer simply apartment swapped with a contact of hers in Buenos Aires, declaring “Much easier tomake ends meet as a freelancer in BsAs than NYC.” And finally another simply said time out to the Manhattan Japjob search and headed to her family's house nestled in the picturesque countryside of New Mexico, her unfinished collection of poetry destined for a final round of edits.
Change for us began with a trip. A voyage. An adventure. With airfare and hotel prices at unheard of low prices, there truly is no better time than right absolutely now. Why not risk a little and find out? $125 from MIA to BOG? $380 from JFK to BCN? $550 from LAX to NRT? This, my friends, will not last.
5 weeks into said voyage, on the warmer side of March, as I repose in the sun contemplating the memories of New York City, Miami and Colombia while anticipating the weeks ahead in California and Japan, none, not one, of our problems have been solved. They persist, as they always have, and always will, with no want for worry. Are we better off? I'll let you know…later…when we get to where we are going. Wherever that may be.
By Alvaro Eduardo Rojas
Images courtesy of the author and