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Wednesday
Jun172009

We’re All Backpackers in One Way or Another

Kim and I said our goodbyes at the train station in Vernazza at 7:15am and so began a long day of traveling by train, bus, and plane. As I was boarding the plane from Genoa to Amsterdam, I was not thinking about the new no-liquids in flight rules so they tagged me for trying to take down a plane with Olive Oil, Wine, anda lemon liquor (In their defense, itcan be a lethal combo if paired with the right foods). This meant I had to either depart with my purchases or pack them in my carry-on backpack and check them at the ticket counter. So I checked my backpack with near certaintythat it would be reduced to a sopping wet mash of shattered glass.I was convinceit would be the only bag on the carousel that couldbe sautéed with vegetables.

I was in a tired haze the whole day and as a result, continued my clumsiness by knocking over a glass of water on the flight from Genoa to Amsterdam, which happened to spill into the shoe of a cute girl who was sitting behind me. As luck would have it, the spilled glass of water served as a conversation piece as Saskia, the girl with the one wet shoe, and I were exiting the plane.

As you do when you are traveling and meeting many different people, sometimes briefly, you give them your two-minute download-life story and why it is you are traveling and meeting at this moment in time. Saskia was a classical and jazzcello player who had been playing music and vacationing in Barcelona. We discovered at baggage claim that Judith and her boyfriend Wouter were common friends. The world is so small sometimes. We carried on talking because it appeared that AlItalia Airlines lost my bag and her suitcase. We waited for a good hour at baggage claim as flight after flight was unloaded on the carousels with no apparent sign of either of our luggage. We walked off to baggage claim and Saskia said that since I only had two days left in Amsterdam, I should enjoy it and not have to worry about coming back to the airport to get my luggage. She said she could pick it up and we could meet for a drink near where she lived. While filling out our claims for our missing luggage, mysteriously my bag appeared after an hour-and-a-half,miraculously intact. We said we would like to get a drink together in the next day or two, butunfortunately I ran out of time and that just never happened. I made my way back to Susan’s around 7pm and fell asleep early.

My plan for my final two days in Amsterdam was to spend one day with Bret and one with Judith, since her internship had ended and Susan was working. The following day, however, Judith had come down with the flu. While we were traveling together in Africa, she came down with malaria and she has not been healthy ever sinceand seems to be susecptible to sickness more than others.

***

When Bret and I met up Tuesday morning in Leidseplien our energies were a little off, but after a while we were back in the groove. I rented a bike and we took a ride outside of town and had a picnic on a canal. Afterward, we stopped at a park for a “coffee” break and continued the conversation of, “What the hell is Jack Will Travel? What are we going to do with this?” It was feeling to me as if Bret was not interested in a common vision as he was talking about doing all of these other videos and posting them on his site. Then what is the purpose of Jack Will Travel, I was thinking? But in the mean time, he was feeling as if I was driving all of this traffic to my Web site as opposed to Jack Will Travel. There was some head butting going on but there had to be a way to marry these two visions.

We went back to Bret’s place and looked at some of the pictures and videos we had taken on the tripand traded a bunch of music. He also introduced me to the wonderful world of podcasting and video blogging. During this session our creative energies were coming together and we discussed perhaps creating a spin-off of Jack Will Travel where we would create identities for small businesses, since after all that is what we did for Jack Will Travel. We created something out of nothing, which was a “perceived” company with an identity - or at least an identity we wanted to portray - so why couldn’t we do this for other people? When Bret and I come eye-to-eye in one of these creative spaces, the possibilities seem endless. There seemed to be any number of directions we could take Jack Will Travel. I left Bret around 6pm and headed back to Susan’s place on my rented women’s bike. She made me dinner and we had another mellow evening as she had to study for work the next day.

The following day I awoke on the earlier side and headed to the Van Gogh museum before meeting up with Bret. I got there at 9:45am where a line had already formed for the 10am opening. As I was walking through the museum, I was overcome with emotion and almost brought to tears. I knew very little about Van Gogh besides what most people know, that he cut off part of his ear while under the influence of absinthe (supposedly). His “psychotic” episodes were more likely caused by epilepsy it is now believed.

Van Gogh spent his early life working for an art dealer until he was fired at the age of 26 for his overtly-religious views. It was at this point, with the support of his brother Theo, he decided to become a painter. Imagine that, at 26, with no experience as a painter to decide to just become one. This was just one of the many aspects of Van Gogh that moved me and inspired me. As I walked around the rooms of the museum, I noticed the evolution of his brush strokes and subject matter as they moved into the realms Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism, which eventually gave birth to his own style, Expressionism.

I find when I go see an art exhibit, it is not necessarily always the work of the artist that moves me or that I identify with, but the struggles andpain the artist endures for his or her own vision of truth, beauty, and expression. What moved me so much about Van Gogh was his sheer determination and focus to become an artist and to have the courage to create works which were not the norm of the day. This fact was compounded by the fact that Van Gogh’s entire body of work, which consists of more than 2,000 works, including900 paintings and 1,100 drawing and sketches were produced in a ten year time frame. Van Gogh shot himself in the chest at 37 and probably died thinking he was a failure. Imagine that. What moved and humbled me most was the single-pointedness of his focus, desire, determination, and quest for truth, and I hoped that some day I too could possess an ounce of that drive.

After the Van Gogh museum, I met up with Bret and we drove around the city for the afternoon on our bikes. We stopped by the old Olympic Stadium and finally came to a shared vision of what Jack Will Travel will become (more on that later). The true challenge, however, is; can we continue this momentum and inspiration when we return to our colloquial day-to-daylives?

For the rest of the day as we drove throughout the city, my mind was consumed by the visionwhat Jack Will Travel could become. The conversation moved in and out of Jack Will Travel all day. At one point we sat on the edge of a river on the island of Ijburg, which is a residential neighborhood in east Amsterdam and the island is completely manmade. Apparently, many of the architects and designers who built this island have been recruited to help build The Palms in Dubai. As we were sitting by the water, we started talking about the future, which included wives, kids, etc. He told me a story about when he was a child, how his grandmother used to drop him off at her friend’s place who was 70 and never had any children.

“I don’t know if my grandmother dropped me off because I was such a hyper-active kid and she couldn’t handle me or if she felt sorry for this woman because she never had any children,” he said. “But this little old lady said something to me that I will never forget. She said, ‘Don’t go childless, Bret.’” How is that for an impression-bomb to drop on a ten-year-old? I feel like somehow that has haunted him his whole life.It’s almost as bad as when my family put coal in my stockings when I was ten-years-old, but that is another story for another time.

He went on to talk about this older couple in the waning years of their lives and how Ernie, her husband, was practically deaf and used to hold a horn up to his ear instead of a hearing aid. “I mean, even at ten I wanted to be like, hey Ernie, there are hearing aids, you know?” He closed that part of the bike tour by telling me about the no-sugar rule his mother tried to lay down, which only last two weeks. He remembers being in someone’s house and spinning wildly round and roundon a bar stool and his Mom looked over at him with a straight face and said, “No more sugar.” After spending all of our time traveling together, I could totally see that whole scene. My only question now is, what is fueling that wild energy these days?

We drove around more that day and ended where it all began several weeks prior, in Leidseplien. We had a final beer at Dan Murphy’s Irish bar, which had sayings on chalk boards such as, “Liquor in the front - poke her in the back” and “Life is full of difficult choices, isn’t it silly Billy?”Our Jack Will Travel talks continued as we hashed out some final details of creative differences, reachingthe point where I think we both feel comfortable about what we are going to do next.

I gave Bret a hug goodbye and said to the him, “Imagine if we had someonepay us to doanother one of these things? Think about all we’ve learned and what we could do to take it to the next level.”

He replied with, “I want to move from a one-star hotel to a two-star hotel, and keep adding stars. Then you get better sanitary options, your own toilettes, new bars of soap in fancier packaging, TV, and then CNN on the TV,and so on.”

We snapped a few final pictures, and I walked off towards the tram to head back to Susan’s.

My mind was still reeling with the possibilities of Jack Will Travel when Bret called out to me, “Timbo! Aren’t you going to return your bike?” Sometimes when I am locked up in creative thoughtsI can be a complete space cadet. That would have made the following morning challenging, having to get back into Leidseplien to return the bikeand then head out to the airport.

I returned the bike and got on the train back to Susan’s place.I watched a backpacker who was obviously exploring the city for the first timecuriously and somewhat nervously looking at the sign which listed the stops of the train and then look out the window searching for names of stops or landmarks. Only a few weeks prior I was that same person, uncertain as to where I was going or where I was going to get off, much like all of us in life. We’re all backpackers in some sense, all trying to get somewhere, always moving from one place to the next, more often than not in a state of flux. Sometimes we land somewhere for a while, but mostly we are in transition, whether it is from one place to another, one addiction to another, one lover to another, one job to another, or one space in our minds to another.

When I did finally get home that night, Susan was waiting for me and we headed out for a final drink. Her neighbors sawa sight that had become common in her housing complex; her driving away on her bike and me running along side while trying to hop on the back as she drove me from one Amsterdam location to the next.

August 5, 2007
Seattle, WA

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