In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Tourist Trap.”
When I was sixteen, my parents had the bright idea of letting me go to Europe for the summer with friends. There was a semi-rigid set of destinations agreed upon beforehand since you had to get flights, bus passes, train tickets and other things in order. Of course this was before global issues took hold and you now have to look both ways before crossing the street. Onto a plane at JFK we went, roughly twenty 16-18 year olds, hormones rushing, excitement filled the air. Our parents were just plain nuts for letting us do this!
The last thing my friend Jill’s mother said to me as we boarded the bus to take us to the airport was “Take care of my daughter. Make sure she is safe. And make sure you don’t do something silly!” Sue was a wonderful woman. My only reply was “Hey, I’ve got a credit card. What could go wrong?” Words that today scare everyone, children with unlimited spending power in a foreign country!
We landed in Austria and were met by armed guards. A little unusual sight in the U.S. at the time [1988!], but we later learned the Pope was also making an appearance so the security made sense. For the next three weeks we hit all of the fun spots. Vienna, Venice, Salzburg, a lovely resort in the Black Forest, Brussels, Paris, my personal favorite from that trip being Innsbruck. But that was because on the off chance of any place on the planet I ran into someone from high school who I had a major crush on. The mountains were great, the remnants of the Olympics were amazing; but lunch with that girl made the day and a portion of the summer.
The school had arranged for us to live with a family in Holland for a few days. Our own very short immersion program! My German was barely passable for a conversation with a toddler, let alone having never been exposed to Dutch! But these are minor things to worry about in a country where I was concerned I could be living in a Windmill for a few days. Man was I completely mistaken.
Everyone is sitting in a large room waiting for their name to be called so they could go home with their new family. In walks this pair of hardcore looking Heavy Metal guys. Long hair, jeans, t-shirts, they completely gave off the “yeah, let’s get this over with” vibe. You can see where this is going. They call my name and every single person who I was travelling with starts cursing because they just know I hit the jackpot.
This family lived on a tomato farm, really a series of hothouses. They had a basketball hoop and a soccer field directly across from the house. All things I could get behind, but the best was yet to come. That night their band was playing a some local place. So while my companions were enjoying the “Disco” in town, I was living the wild life. The next night we went to see Carlos Santana perform. Don’t ask me much, everyone who found out I was an American bought me a beer and the entire evening is sort of missing details. Thankfully this is before Instagram or I’d still be explaining to my employer what I was doing! There was even the guy who was trying out his English on me. He kept talking about having sex with a cheeseburger or a chicken. I think somewhere along the night, the alcohol hopefully confused him. [He later went on to teach Dutch and German at Boston University!]
My friends were so jealous, they didn’t talk to me for a day. Here I was doing something even more amazing that they couldn’t. Most of the families were older, without children and well there was that lonely disco for them to party at. I’ve kept the cassette tape of the band- Assassin [so very Metal of them!], but more importantly I actually learned something. People, no matter where they are or what they have are basically the same. This family opened up their home to some 16 year old guy from America whom they had never heard of and let me behave as if I were one of their own.
I’ve seen some amazing places in my life. But that couple of days, touring the windmills aside, have left a mark on me that I continue to hold dear.
[I’m the guy between the two lovely girls! Almost miss my hair too…]