Document 164517

I do not think that the measure of a civilization is how tall its
buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have
learned to relate to their environment and to each other.
―Sun Bear
Lose your dreams and you’ll lose your mind.
―Mick Jagger
I love high-rise buildings. It gives you the feeling that you are not
only a step above but a step ahead: somehow, it feels like you see
the sun rise a little earlier. The higher the story the more grounded I
feel — a kind of spatial experience that only proper engineering can
grant me.
I wandered down to the streets early just as I usually do while traveling, to, just to wander. My life on the road is pretty much devoid of
advertising; I don’t usually give them much mind. Unless, of course,
you find yourself inside an advertisement as I did that morning. No
ad can take you places you want to go. Although I guess that kind of
sounds like an ad: a trap.
I’ve spent 14 months traveling around the world. My early morning
walks are some of my favorite memories. A beach in Thailand. A suspension bridge in Nepal. A shopping center in Colombia. A trail in
Kenya. A fish market in Tokyo.
Las Vegas at 4:30 this morning provided one of the more interesting
walks. They are still, remarkably, dealing cards at this hour — a mix
of drunks, addicts and people looking to experience something different from what they have programmed their lives to be. You know,
buck the norm. A smoke-filled room smelling of Red Bull and perfume was almost refreshing, oddly. I feel like I am inside some kind
of participatory train wreck engineered for the sport of it. The lights
sparkled outside waiting for the sun to rise on a desert town known
for making your designed experience feel independent and fresh. In
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one direction, the strip: an amazing pollution of light and faux
dreams. In the other direction lays: an economically depressed
sprawl of housing purchased by those that enable — but don’t necessarily live — the hopes and dreams that flicker as apparitions in the
The commonality of a dream warms the soul. “What can we do, together?” is like the battle cry of humanity. Indifference kills that cry.
Economic inequality feeds it; keeps it alive. Mush that all up, put it in
your high-tech blender and you get the craps table at an off-strip casino, pre-sunrise, on a Wednesday.
Whatever your past, whatever your observations, let’s gamble together. This is what the space screams to me. But this wasn’t the high
life we were promised. We’re dreaming for luck, here, dreaming for
chance. For a chance, perhaps. This isn’t really connecting with life,
right? This is a dream cycling on an unexpected turn, fueled on
prayers for the contingent, the miraculous — rather than a clear goal
that you work diligently towards. And for some, it appears to be cycling out of control. The ATM isn’t working: an obvious disaster given
the context. And neither are the four other ATMs this elderly woman
— with tired eyes, exasperated sighs and sparkling, oversized earrings — has tried.
It can’t be the lack of funding. The machine is broken.
I share a moment with this lady. We lock eyes, expressionless, but we
make a character summation. We both look down on each other and
seem content with that. I feel her gaze, the kind that says “what is he
doing here, anyway?” Yes, I was there, and she saw me, looking at
her: judging. Experiencing. Not helping. I was a solo kid not participating in the environment I shared. A passerby. A kid without a
dream or team. As drunk and broke as she was, she had a goal. She
had a purpose and someone — a whole room, a whole city — to
share that with, which, in reality is far from failure. For her. For them.
For us.
I have plenty of money in the bank, a beautiful place to stay and an
extended friend network that far exceeds what I ever dreamed possible growing up. At the end of the day, these achievements are part of
what makes me feel like I can be breeze into places while at the
same time keeping a safe distance: that I can somehow watch and
not be. But this lady sized up my observations of her and mirrored
them right back to me.
She had gambled at many things that had allowed us to be put in
that space together and it was with that energy that she called out my
bluff. I’m not just there to see, those tired brown eyes let me know,
I’m part of the cycle. Something exchanged in this moment made my
individually oriented dreams of the past, now achieved, seem trite
and childish. What we work on together is what the books remember. And working together means that before we dream as one, we
must first understand that we dream the same, differently. We have a
lot of work to do. The achievement of a stable and modern society is
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like a processed food — it’s become a gamification of the observer’s
It can’t be the lack of dreaming. This machine is broken.
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No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s
not the same river and he’s not the same man.
I consider myself to be a peaceful man. I have been in just two fights
in my entire life — though I will confess that each of these fights did,
in fact, result in just one punch of mine each. But I dislike fighting so
much, I make sure they don’t last long: two fights, two punches, two
A peaceful man.
However, I am big enough — and have just the right dose of a baby
face — for people to think that I really might be trouble. Or a little
crazy. Or maybe just lame. I seem to repel nice old ladies and town
bullies in equal measure. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I love assigned seating on airplanes: you can’t just look me over and write me
off in exchange for a safer, smaller, more peaceable bet. Nope, in
these instances, I am the single serving friend — your single serving
friend. No choice in the matter, you will have to say hello — if only
to then look away and attempt to find preoccupations that will allow
you to ignore me for the rest of the flight.
This is the recurring game that we all play. Flying!
Every so often, however, you find yourself in a situation where both
you and your temporary neighbor are in the mood for a conversation
and you enjoy a beverage or two together. Or five. I once shared a
few with a plastic surgeon who — after we were both cut off by the
stewardess — invites me to come in and get abdominal implants the
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very next day. I passed. Should I have? The single serving friend
should probably never provide services like that — you know, the
kinds that will leave permanent, corporeal marks.
Regret and travel share a strange relationship. It’s rare to hear a traveler speak of regrets — as if we opt instead to reach for the bright
side of every situation, where every close call becomes a glowing
pearl of a great story. I have a friend who proposed to and married a
Colombian girl right there on the dance floor. They are still married
years later and he cares for her children. No regrets. I just checked in
with a farmer from Idaho who still carries a sizable scar he got at Full
Moon Party in Thailand. He would do it again, he says, in a heartbeat.
Well, let me just say that I regret every minute I spent with a Mongolian Russian named Lev.
Lev was my single serving person that sat next to me on a flight from
New York City to Hamburg, Germany. We began the journey by chatting innocently enough — though things took a decidedly dismal
turn once the complimentary drink cart came by.
He ordered six shots of vodka and two beers.
I started laughing. That is a great joke, I thought. Who orders eight
drinks in one breath? Well, a Mongolian Russian named Lev does —
and on Lufthansa, well, they will apparently make that happen. I ordered red wine. ONE glass of red wine, just to be clear. He lined up
and took six shots, one after another, slamming a beer to wash them
all down. As if that were not enough, he then opened up his jacket,
retrieved ten or so red and blue pills and proceeded to swallow them
en masse as he downed his last beer.
I offered up a glancing look of concern as I took my sip, one sip, of
wine. The bubbly German stewardess is gone and Lev is now slurring
his words. The conversation has undergone a radical transmutation:
the “where are you from” musings with the guy I am being culturally
polite to is suddenly replaced with “where have you hired prostitutes
you fucking fuck of a fuck?” The latter being his words, not mine. My
phrasing would have been much more elegant, allegedly. It was awkward. I attempted to divert my attention and watch a movie but Lev
would have none of this. He kept poking me drunkenly, telling me
some crazy story or some off color tip like how to smuggle weed
through customs. After another installment of a fantastic story — this
one about not paying a prostitute and threatening a pimp in Athens
— he suddenly stopped his orations and wild hand gestures. He
looked up to me. There was a dramatic shift in energy as he passed
from being a boisterous ego to a little puppy dog with watery eyes. A
pale, dull look. Not in a boring way — it was not that kind of dull —
it was more of a “someone just stabbed me and you are the only one
that will tell my family I’m here” look.
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“I love you,” he said. He put his arm over me — as if we were sitting
in a respectable cabin class as lovers on vacation — interlocked our
hands and promptly passed out. The bubbly German stewardess
caught this smooth move from the Jackie Chan of drunken pickup
lines and offered up an eyebrow raise of concern.
I have my eyes locked on the stewardess. Hi, it is me, the guy sitting
next to the man you just served eight drinks to in one minute. He
now has me as his transatlantic pillow. I would appreciate it if you
would please GET ME OUT OF HERE NOW. You did this to me. You
need to fix it. Love, your caring passenger in seat 36A.
Yes, he took a fist-full of pills. Yes, he finished every drink you gave
him. Yes, I feel very uncomfortable in the bear-hugging clutches of a
blacked out, three hundred pound man. Yes, his palms are very
sweaty. No, I don’t think there is a way for me to sneak by him to the
isle. Yes, dammit, he is drooling. Sure, it was pretty funny at first, in
all honesty. But this moment has passed and so has his consciousness.
But this is travel, after all. And as a “traveler” I feel this obligation to
be open to the adventures of chance happenings and random events
like this. Sure, there was a drunk, prostitute-loving, Mongolian Russian forcibly holding my hand and bear hugging me, but no harm
was really being done. I should be happy as long as I didn’t get hurt.
Then he stopped breathing.
Well, we thought he stopped breathing. Team Help Passenger 36A
sprang into action, consisting of the bartender/stewardess, a Russian
native (with a Bible!) and the person in 35A who later admitted to
just wanting to watch something better than the airline edited version
of “The Notebook.” With a drooling Lev blacked out and holding
hands with me, Ms. 35A said this love story was more authentic.
The whole event is quite the scene. The Bible is being read in Russian, steadily increasing in vocal elevation until it’s full on yelling.
The stewardess and I are trying desperately to find a pulse or signs of
breathing. I ask her if she is more concerned about the pills or the 8
drinks she served him. Oh, the pills, of course. She serves that many
“all the time.”
I am asked if the Mongolian Russian and I are dating.
My mind flashes to all the other victims of the airlines version of Lev.
Huddled in their seats just hoping their single serving friend doesn’t
die on them. Don’t die on me, Lev. We “plus-one’s” all share a commonality that we will discover one day. One defiant day. All the Lev’s
didn’t keep us down. We beat the Lev situation. We grasp arms and
sing a theme song. Do you get a first class seat if your assigned neighbor dies?
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All these things I wonder while the drool (mostly vodka, let’s be honest) accumulates on my shoulder. You did this to me Blondie, fix it.
Fix it for all of us. Fix it in the name of every single air travel safety
trinket sold at every airport in the world.
Lev wakes up and the chorus sings: gasp (me); shriek (bartender); and
“Аллилуйя!” (person that carries a Russian Bible at all times).
I think this is where the story of Lev and other “I’ve been served three
cups of vodka” Lev’s differ. Lev wakes up like someone who’s just
had a bucket of cold water tossed on him and thinks I’m his
boyfriend/girlfriend/person he is comfortable enough with to try and
nuzzle up for a snuggle. I don’t feel the same way. This causes conflict. And in a traditional (I can assume) Mongolian Russian courting
ritual, conflict is an invitation to be strong, to show dominance. Lev
tries to lay down the law. He grabs my wrists. The stewardess grabs
his wrist. The Russian Bible crusader (seriously, the oddest thing
about the story) says “стой!” She means it. I assume it means more
tling match — but I had to get free from his grasp. I unbuckle my seatbelt (this has not occurred to me before?) and prepare for a jump. We
struggle back and forth a bit more until Lev blacks out, again.
My crotch is equidistant to his head, which is in butting distance of
my face, which is all impossibly close to my ability to be fearless in
order to ensure this event doesn’t turn from being a funny, table talk
story into a tragedy that involves an emergency landing in some
country, a stay in lord knows what hospital, and a drawn out lawsuit
testifying against Lev in a foreign, white room dominated by the cold
hum of vending machine’s. Intimacy is usually earned. Not so, for single serving airplane friends.
As far as escapes from arranged marriages go on airplanes, I think I
did somewhere between “convincing a publisher that the Hunger
Games is one sentence” to “the USA in the Summer Olympics.”
Аллилуйя. The vault over the head of Lev gets me standing ovation
honors from Ms. 35A.
of “stop that you idiot” and less of “you, me, destiny.” “стой! стой!
Ms. 35A smacks him on the head. “стой!” I’m a peaceful man, or I
may have done the same. There is a scuffle; a battle for control. In
tight quarters I’m sure this looked like a slow, uneventful thumb wres-
I have a stern conversation with the bartender/stewardess/German
twenty-something with soft eyes and a flirtatious touch. She is very
apologetic and brings me to the back of the plane. Intermixed with
the line for the bathroom, she pulls out two shots of rum. We link
arms and eyes like we were drinking fine wine on a third date and
take the shot. The shot washes down roughly, we laugh about what
just happened, and I ask for another seat.
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One of the only remaining seats is in the far back of the plane. First
class is full, I am told.
There still are four hours on this flight when Lev might die. Or wake
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Thank you.
-Andrew Hyde
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