By Paul McGuire © 2010
When I traveled to Europe for the very first time, I rode the trains from country to country with other backpackers. The longer people were on the road, the smaller their packs got. You could easily pick out the life-long transients because they carried the least attachments. To be totally free is to be rootless. Floating. Freedom is more precious than gold.
Sometimes it's not easy to stick to the plan. I started out in London and planned to visit thirteen other destinations in a short amount of time. I brought too much stuff. That's what Americans do during their first sojourn to Europe. We over-consume and over-pack. I actually brought two bags and ditched my huge backpack at a locker inside Central Station in Amsterdam. About 32% of the total weight of my bags were travel guides. London. Holland. Spain. Italy. Germany. Greece. Czech Republic. France. Portugal. I didn't need any of those. I stuffed only a few pairs of underwear, a dress shirt, and a raincoat in my book bag. Everything else was useless.
The lawless nature of Amsterdam turned me into a clumsy soul. I blame the lenient laws on drugs and prostitution. I had never purchased an illegal drug in a legal manner before. Back in the days before the Euro, the Dutch used Guilders as their currency. All weed and hash transactions were 25 guilders. Depending on the actual market price of the product, you would be able to buy two grams or three grams. For 25 Guilders, you could buy five grams of Jamaican ditch weed, but you only got less than one gram of the top shelf Moroccan hash.
European women were insatiable compared to the annoying American and British girls in our hostel. And all the model-like Dutch girls on bicycles made me horny. My desires and needs intensified as I sat in the afternoon shadows of the candle lit back room of a hash bar. The grey-eyed German vixen told me that her name was Juliet. She rolled joints with hash, tobacco, and marijuana. She constantly removed little pieces of weed from her tongue with her thumb and middle finger. She told me that she was on a year-long holiday after her mother died from a serious illness. She had a sorrowful smile. Her friend looked like your pissed-off lesbian cousin. Short spikey hair. Only one ear pierced. Constant scowl. Doc Martens. The lesbian's English was not very good, and she rarely spoke. Or many she hated Americans and simply used that as an excuse not to talk to me. She knew my impure thoughts without even peeking into my soul. It was hard to hide my excitement for life at that point. First trip to Europe does that to you.
After a week in Amsterdam, I had had enough. After striking out with the grey-eyed German girl, I was tempted by all of the window hookers. That's when I knew it was time to leave. I hopped on a train to Spain and gazed out the window as the blurry Belgium countryside rushed by.
In Barcelona, I met an ex-pat hustling on Las Ramblas. He said that he drove a UPS truck for a decade in San Francisco. He was an admitted hardcore heroin addict and made no excuses for his behavior. He sold me hashish and suggested that I drop acid inside Gaudi's La Familia Sagrada, which has been under construction for over a hundred years. He didn't have any acid, but he said he could score me some if I gave him a few extra bucks. The former UPS driver was in bad shape with open sores on his face and arms. He smelled like a homeless guy who shat himself. It was hard talking to him because of the rank smell. I had to hold my nose and my breath.
He spent his afternoons trying to scam unintelligent tourists, explaining to me that, "Americans are so fuckin' dumb. Italians too."
When the junkie weaseled away enough cash, he'd head to the ghetto to score a couple of bags. He stopped shooting and tried snorting, but it wasn't giving him the glorious buzz that his body craved. He smoked the dope. Chased the dragon. Nightly. Near the entrance to the zoo if you can believe that. He said that he slept in the park, well, passed out or more like nodded out.
I went to check out the late-night junkie scene. I had no intentions to dabble, but was curious at what I'd see. What I found was nothing special. Junkies are the same sorry lot wherever you go, except most of these addicts spoke Spanish and Albanian. A dozen shrunken heads sat on a series of benches looking out over the landscape. Everything surrounding them was in decay. Their teeth. The sidewalk. The bench. Their hearts.
I nearly got robbed when one squirmy-looking dude brandishing a knife decided that he wanted the contents of wallet. I hid most of my cash in my hiking boot and proudly displayed my empty wallet. Before he could search my pockets, I took off running out of the park. He was too lazy to chase me, but I continued to run anyway until the saltiness of the sweat raining off my head stung my eyes. I stopped to catch my breath when I was approached by a pimp in a light blue pinstripe suit. He introduced me to his product, a 17-year old Polish girl who wore a tight skirt. She looked 15. My inability to stop sweating freaked her out. She whispered something in his ear and they quickly took off. I guess she didn't want to lick my sweaty balls for $20.
For the next few weeks, I ate bread and cheese across Europe, drank red wine and smoked hashish whenever I could find it. In Vienna, I splurged for a nice hotel room, but the room must have been a vortex for a powerful energy force because I lost all semblance of my self, sort of like a flash of amnesia, except all of my confidence vanished and all of my happy memories were erased from my memory banks. I lost myself in Vienna of all places, as it became the crossroads of my youth as I transitioned into adulthood. I grew more and more infuriated by the sad sound of the leaky faucet. I looked at the haunted gaunt stranger in the mirror. Brooding. Misery. I spent the next day wandering around the city when I decided to bum around Germany for a couple of weeks.
I frequented the hip discos of Berlin, with Swedish-techno-pop music blasting on the sound system. Every disco seemed the same -- filled with a heavy fog of cigarette smoke and "former model/currently a hooker" types in latex who were all wasted on ecstasy, which is why they talked to me. One late night, I got a hand job from one of the Odalisques while waiting at the bar to order a drink. She tried to steal my watch, but wasn't smooth enough to pull off the heist. Hey, I didn't mind thwarting the robbery because I shot a juicy load all over her green dress.
I met an Aussie at my hostel who loved to spin fantastic tales about his travels. I suspected some of it was bullshit and fabricated, but I didn't care too much. He was a red-nose drunk, or maybe just a cokehead. We traveled together from Munich to Budapest, swapping stories about ourselves until we went hoarse. We found a hostel on the Pest side of the Danube. We threw pebbles at pigeons, got drunk at a cafe drinking Czech beers, made fun of tourists with fanny packs pouring over maps. I took pictures of the Parliament building and lost a chess match against an old Danish guy smoking a pipe.
I went sleepless on the second night. Our hostel was rowdy. Too many wasted kids fighting, fucking, screaming, puking, and playing soccer in the hallways. I spent the last of my cash on a brick of hash and depended on a credit card for the rest of the trip. The last time I saw the Aussie, he was off to see a prostitute.
"She's from Transylvania. I can't wait."
Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.