Hostel work. Everyone goes about planning and doing their days all around me. I look over maps with them and tell them to go here or there, to buy stuff here and to eat over there, to walk up the hill over the river or to get beer cheaper in the 24 hours stores rather than the bars. They then go out and do their days. I bumble around stumbling here and there, writing words, reading a few more, smoking my pipe, talking about tattoos with tattooed Gypsy boys, and doing just about everything except my day.
This is how I do my day. I stopped an Australian girl short the other day when I could bear the arrogant usage of this poor verb no longer. She talked of how she did this country, did that country, and how she wanted to do some other unsuspecting country. She really had a thing for doing places.
“So you did Croatia?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied rather sprightly.
“What the hell did you do to it?” I questioned her and received a blank stare in reply (she apparently did not do my joke).
You do people.
You do not do countries. What could anyone ever do to a country? Seriously. I find them big, dumb, and clearly un-doable. Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I am not man enough to do countries.
I have taken a job in reception at the Bubble Hostel . . .. or so I think. I answer the door, show people to their beds, offer them coffee or tea, and help them do Budapest to the best of my ability. I have not been kicked out yet, so I guess I work here.
As Henry Miller put it, I am in Budapest until “The chair is taken out from under my ass.”
Or until I can bear this city of stone no longer.
But I do enjoy the hostel work. I can answer the door like a lunatic and pretend to be friendly. Shake hands with tourists and act like I know what I am talking about. I suppose work gives the vagabond a task, and, thankfully, the hostel chores keep me away from the computer chores for a little more time each day. I feel much more human because of this.
I have realized that my quality of life is inversely proportional to how much time a day I spend in front of a computer screen.
The prices of hostels in Budapest are insanely expensive. I met a group of travelers in the streets a couple of nights ago. I was on a mid-night bike ride around the city and one of them flagged me down and asked for directions to a hostel. I just laughed at them. They told me that they hitch-hiked into town and that they could not find a place to stay. One kid was from Portland, Oregon – and looked very much from Portland, Oregon. He was traveling with two friends from Sweden. I welcomed this meeting, as these kids were really traveling Europe. They were on the tramp, living by their thumbs. I wanted to help them out. I also wanted to talk with them. I was sure that they would not have the audacity to try to do the poor city.
But I could only keep laughing at them, as they were trying to land a cheap bed in Central Budapest at 1 AM in the busy season. I asked if they had any money. They said that they did, but the way they answered me meant that they would not really be willing to boot the cost of a summer-time bed. I then laughingly told them that if they wanted to sleep in-doors that they would probably have to drop between $30 and $70 for a bed each. Their jaws dropped. . . . as my own did when I first found out how much the hostels that I have been working for are charging. But this is the going rate. The cost of travel in this part of Europe has inflated to the moon. Hostels, now days, are for the lonely rich and their rich children who want to have fun and do places as well as people (the last drunk standing gets the rotten egg).
I then looked up into the night sky and found it clear and I felt the air and found it warm. I told the travelers that I thought it was a waste to drop this much money on a bed for only a few hours of sleep, and pointed out on a map two places near the city where they could camp out the night for free.
The American liked this idea, but one of his Swedish friends did not – he wanted a bed – and the other was impartial. So I shrugged my shoulders and took leave of the travelers. I left them behind in the street and continued on with my bicycle ride. But as I rounded the first corner a feeling of intense guilt came over me. These kids hitch-hiked into a big city that they had never been to before – they were beached travelers without a place to sleep. I soon gave into my conscious and doubled back to track them down.
I found the three stranded travelers sitting on their packs, dejected, on the nighttime sidewalk not far from where I had left them. I know how it feels to come into a large city late at night with nowhere to go. I know the cold, unwelcoming feeling of a metropolis whose streets are not showing you the way to shelter. I knew that I had to either find these kids a place to sleep or stay out the night with them in a show of traveler solidarity. I could not just leave them on the sidewalk and go back to my soft and cozy bed unfazed.
And, like any other chap who rides his bicycle around a city at 2AM, I was also looking for something to do.
So I talked with them for a while and reiterated the options that I had previously offered up: a bed would be a silly expense at 2AM, just go and sleep on the hill and watch the sun rise. But the bed-wanting Swede did not like the sounds of my words and he soon took leave of us and waste thirty dollars at the mafia hostel that was across the street. His friends did not weep at his departure. The remaining two kids were clearly up for anything.
“Hell,” I said, “Why don’t we just go around this corner to a 24 hour artist cafe and drink some wine and wait for the sun to come up. Then you can just find a place to sleep in the morning.”
The travelers smiled at my plan. We went to the cafe and got a cheap glass of wine and a couple of beers and toasted to our newfound friendship. The American then broke out a little ghetto blaster radio and started playing tapes of weird sounds that he had recorded in his travels. A few tales of the Open Road were then shared, and we laughed into the night. A group of bar-goers who were guests at the Bubble Hostel walked by and I invited them to join us. They did.
I was with decent company, and I can remember talking and telling yarns, but memory did not collect my words. But feeling tells me that I was having fun. Or maybe I was doing fun.
This has been a really good stop in Budapest. I have become all filled up with that good ol’ human energy that comes from being around good people and making fast friends. I have gotten a good dose of the attention that every social animal needs every once in a while, and I think that I have balanced out those lonely nights of sleeping in the bush. But it is getting time to be going.
Back to the bush. I really just want to go out into the woods, shoot some animals, and eat them. Maybe I will turn their hides into clothes and wear them like a hermitage dwelling wild man poet.
For now I am working reception at a hostel in Budapest.