Travel, like war, has a way of unveiling the truth about a man. For it is only when we choose to exist outside of our comfort zone, when we uproot ourselves from all that we know and place ourselves in situations that are completely foreign to our experience, that we get to see who it is that we really are. In my 27 years on God's ever-less-green earth, I have been fortunate to travel all over the world. I have held a baby orangutan in a rain forest in the middle of Borneo. I have drunk vodka with nomads on the Mongolian steppe. I have swum with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands and watched Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. And why have I been allowed to experience such amazing things in my short life? Because my parents are way richer than yours. By a long shot. Don't like it? Tell your lazy-ass dad to work a little harder. Because if there is one thing my parents taught me early in life, it's that there is no greater joy in this world than seeing it.
I have many friends who adhere to this ethos, and it takes more than one hand to count those who, since college, have essentially just traveled. Oh, they'll tell you they're doing something else, teaching or researching or trying to infiltrate some hostile, pinko government. They're full of explanations that make it sound like they're working towards achieving a goal, but the truth is that they were simply bitten by the travel bug and can't shake it. And there's nothing wrong with that; I just wish my friends weren't such lying fucking nomad assholes about it. Do you hear me, Joe and Gabe and Paul and Darren?
I was once like them. After graduating college, I flew to Spain and lived there for a half-year, simply to live there. Next, I bummed around Chicago — not foreign, but foreign to me, like that awful NBC slogan back in the day, "If You Haven't Seen It, It's New to You!" Then I backpacked around Mexico for two months. And then I returned home and made the mistake of taking a job, and my days of traveling were over — outside of two weeks of vacation a year.
Recently, though, I started to itch. I figured it was scabies, but the geriatric at Planned Parenthood said that was not the case. Then it hit me. I had the travel bug! But I had no more vacation days, so what could I do? Then it hit me again. I could stay at Denver's hostels and pretend I was traveling in Denver! Not only would I see this city in an entirely different light, but I would probably contract scabies in the process! That'd teach that old coot to tell me what I do or don't have.
I brought up the idea to the aforementioned Darren (currently on indefinite standby in Denver), and he jumped at the opportunity to be my traveling companion. But I soon began to doubt my choice.
"Okay, here's our back story," he blindsided me with one night. "We both grew up here till we were about thirteen, then we moved away. That will explain why it says Denver on our passports. I'm about to get a job and you're a freelance writer so we figured, let's travel across the country together before plunging into adulthood. We'll spend the night before we go to the hostel at my friend's house, which has a fire-pit, smoking our clothes and skin. Then we'll tell everyone that we spent the previous week camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, where we got into a fight, because you were upset that I saw a moose and you didn't."
I calmly informed Darren that, um, no, that would not be our story, then told him I would contact him at the appropriate time. One recent Friday evening, it was time. Darren and I took a cab to the Melbourne International Hostel and Hotel, at 22nd and Welton Streets, and proceeded to check in at the back of a storefront that sells bus rides to Mexico. I wanted to purchase a ticket to Chiapas, but Darren and I had work to do here in Denver. In the small, stale office of the hostel, a women sort of spoke English at us while what appeared to be a recently lobotomized Cro-Magnon male grunted painfully from his seat. I informed her of our reservation, and she asked if we had a student travel card. Darren promptly unearthed some sort of teacher travel card from his meandering in China, where people eat dogs. The woman studied the card and then showed it to the man. He grunted his approval.
That LoboCop was calling the shots should have been our first sign to flee, but we were still too excited to see what would happen next.
And what happened next was absolutely fucking nothing. Decently clean rooms, bunk beds, creepy time-worn red carpets that evoked memories of the Stanley Hotel — and almost no one else staying there. A guy was apparently staying in our room, but we never saw him. We studied his belongings and concluded that he was Japanese from the sheer wealth of technological gadgets he possessed, but we couldn't roll around with our fellow travelers — which, in my experience, is the only reason to stay in a hostel in the first place.
"What would we do if we were in a foreign country?" Darren asked after we'd dropped our stuff.
"We would get booze."
"Exactly," Darren said. "Let's go get some booze and come back and try to drink with whoever's here."
Cue problem number two with this hostel: not a liquor store in sight. We were in downtown Denver on a Friday night, and Darren and I wandered for blocks looking for any sort of elixir. We settled for a few drinks at the Old Curtis Street bar, then decided to return to the hostel to see if anyone new had shown up.
And lo, a voice in the hallway — another traveler, a chance to expand my horizons! I found a young Czech girl smoking a cigarette, alone, and engaged her in conversation. Although it was obvious that she loathed my very presence, she deigned to tell me that she was here for the summer, living in the hostel and working at Office Depot, of all places. She then added that she hated Denver.
"It's so boring," she said. "There's nothing to do here."
Well, fucking duh, Prague, you situated yourself in quite possibly the dullest place in the city, and you sell staplers. When I offered to take her out with Darren and me, show her the sights, she extinguished her cigarette haughtily. "I have to work at eight in the morning," she scoffed, before making her way back to her room.
Somewhere, some unseen someone piled on one last piece of straw, and the camel's back was officially broken.
"Pack your bag," I said to Darren, who was in our room studying what appeared to be a sound mixer at the foot of the Japanese guy's bed.
"Really?" he asked.
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"Fuck, yes. We have homes here, we have friends, there's no reason to continue to soak up this misery."
If there's one thing that traveling has taught me — beyond who I really am, of course — it's to recognize a shitty situation when you see one, and do everything in your power to escape it. So we called a cab and got the fuck out of Dodge, heading off to get drunk with friends in a bar we've been in a million times before. My experiment had failed. I didn't feel like I'd seen anything new, and to add insult to injury, it was Darren who contracted scabies, not me.
On the bright side, though, only three more months till I can take another vacation.