In Prague with an old friend who showed me the way.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic- Andy is here, as previous blog posts have alluded to. Andy was my first mentor, I guess you could say, the guy that plucked me out of the ether and believed in me — made me believe in myself and, perhaps more importantly, take myself seriously. You can’t place a value on the people in your life who completely disrupted your wayward course and set you on the proper trajectory. He did that for me and I don’t know where I would be without him.
My two daughters and I went to meet Andy at his hostel in Prague 7. He looked good. Andy’s now 60-something years old and has been traveling for 20-something years. He was still traveling with the same small backpack with the American flag sewn on it that he’s had with him for decades:
Andy’s arm was a little crooked. His leg was a little crooked. I could see the scars from where they put the metal plates in. He was still recovering from the attack that he received in the Dominican Republic. But he joked that this recent accident actually evened out the length of his legs again, correcting for a previous accident he had on a motorcycle when he was in his 20s.
You can travel for 50 years, read all the travel tips ever published, study all the travel manuals, and have the survival skills of some kind of wannabe Rambo but you can’t prepare for what happened to him last year: an intoxicated expat on a golf cart hit him from behind as he was walking back to his hotel in Sosua. You just can’t defend against that.
But it’s the ordinary stuff that takes travelers out:
Lawrence of Arabia was killed when he ran his mo-ped into a tree after veering off a country road in England to avoid hitting a kid.
But Andy recovered fast and never seemed to have let the accident rattle him. It would not have been unreasonable for him to say, “F’ck this, I’m done, it was a good run, I’m going home,” after that happened, but this didn’t seem to be a consideration. To him, being run over by a golf cart in the Dominican Republic was all a part of the travel experience.
Andy came to Europe to rehab. “You have to walk in Europe,” he said. He would track the amount of steps he took each day on his phone and try to up it the next day. Considering what happened, he looked strong.
It has been eight years since I saw Andy last. Interestingly, the previous place we met up was Sosua, where the golf cart accident would eventually occur. My first daughter Petra was still a baby then — maybe six months old — and this was the first place we traveled outside of the USA as a family. We assumed that we could do it … but we didn’t really know. Andy invited us down to what was for a time one of his haunts and helped us get settled in.
That baby that I had then is now nearly nine years old. I have a second child who is nearing three. We kept traveling as a family.
Andy looked a little older but he didn’t seem it. The guy’s basically a 35 year old driving a 60 something year old body. Travel steamrolls the body — we all have scars and broken bones, nicks and gouges that we can point to and tell a story — but it chisels the mind into something sharp and sleek. Andy was still sharp but seemed more comfortable and confident in his intelligence — less intent on displaying it or challenging the people around him with it, more intent on listening and trying to understand. He’s still intellectually virile but is no longer the guy in the locker room cracking people on the ass with a towel.
As we hung out through the week he would tell me the ongoing saga of his conversations with this young British lady in his dorm. She seemed overtly naive, perilously disinterested, trend dominated, but rather than ridiculing her Andy seemed to take her seriously — he listened to her, debated with her, disrupted her neat and tidy world-in-a-box, and tied her into a few knots of logic. But from the way he told these stories he seemed to give her energy and confidence, rather than the complete intellectual dismantling that was probably warranted. He seemed to leave her feeling strong, and when she departed she left him a nice note.
Leaving people feeling strong is a skill that travel teaches but is one that is very difficult to learn.