I took a drive around town today. To feel the air, the sky, the wind, to soak up my desert. I stuck my hand out the window and let the cool breeze touch the hairs on my arm. Its winter, and we rolled all the car windows down and I heard the soft hum of the car engine, and the cars roaring by, I hear stereos and car washes. Its warm, and I am at home. The BMW stereo bass drones on beneath my seat. We drove down 4th Ave, and 24th Ave and 10th street. Memories, I see on each corner. Each building, each storefront reminds me of something. The Dairy Queen by our old house still sits, and I think of friends who worked there, of getting peanut buster parfaits covered in nuts. I see the Weinerschnitzel, and lady that used to work there, who my mom told one day, “my daughter says the hot dogs always taste better when you are working” and how she smiled at us driving under that big dog-house of a building. I see the blank desert lot that used to have the pet store, the setting for many of my childhood stories, where I rollerbladed with the dogs and snuck home pet rats, mice, fish, and birds and bought my dogs new collars and treats with whatever money I had. The Taco Bell next door that always gave me and my dog free water. I watch the people rushing down the streets, zooming around in the cars they seem to think are fast, revving worn and tired engines and learning forward over their steering wheels. The smell of diesels tickles my nose and fresh air awakens my sense. The air is sweet here. Dry, like desert flowers. We drove past my high school, and the Barnes and Noble where Liz and I went, where we talked to Mr. Kirsch, where I met Arty, where I read books on the German that they ‘don’t teach you in school’. Where I went with Jocelyn and fell in love with Starbucks because they bought me a caramel macchiato in high school, and the Pier 1 next door where we bought our first set of nice plates for my Mom. The mall that once stood so tall and proud, a centerpiece for Yuma culture and gathering, is now empty and speckled with car that people are trying to sell. “Se Vende” they say. I whip down streets I used to use as shortcuts while racing friends home, in my truck, in my mom’s truck, in my slug-bug. I glace upon the dirt/desert empty yards with dogs that are so mixed you can’t see any resemblance to any breed in their features. They lay tied up next to makeshift doghouses in dirt yards. Over-sized trucks with personalized plates roar past me, and cocky 5’2 men glance down at my shiny little BMW. I turn the music up.
At this time last year I was with Keith wandering the streets of Paris, the well dressed, slushy and cold streets the we braved, to see the Eiffel tower, and spend a day at the Louvre. My boots clacked on cobblestone streets that had seen wars, fires, and uprisings. I brought two pairs of shoes for that nearly month long adventure, living out of a backpack. Converse for comfort, and a pair of boots that were stylish enough for Paris, and kept my pants out of the wet streets. I wore a Navy blue pea coat to keep out the cold Paris nights. I was thankful for that the first night I arrived in Paris. I had one of my best couch surfing adventures there, staying with three different people in the week I stayed, the pilot, the stock exchange broker and the TV man. In Paris I renewed my faith in people, again.
Or perhaps it was only refreshed, and I never have really lost it. But standing on the bad street corner in the lone outskirts of Paris, and the metro stop Mai 1945, I was approached by a man at 1:00 am, where I was stuck outside the metro stop, popping my head out like a gopher from its hole. By the time my train arrived in Paris after hours of delays from Germany, I arrived, alone at the train station in Paris and had to hop on the first metro train that arrived because it was the last one before they closed for the night. Leaving me stranded at the train station. Realizing my phone was dead; I had no way to contact my couch surfing host, a horrifying realization. The parts of Paris I was in were closed and sealed up with chains and barriers and the only people that were out, were the bad people. I scurried into the only prominent object amongst the dark, gray industrialization and filth along the streets, a glass phone booth, far from the bright lights and inner city. I tried to place a call with my credit card and it wouldn’t work. I even reached a phone operator, in America, who wouldn’t put me through to anyone.
A dark man headed towards me, alone in the phone booth. He separated from a group of men far off on the other side of the street. Stereotypes raced through my head. As did all the other stories I’d read about with women, and travelers dying in Paris. Their purses yanked from them in the metros and being shoved under train wheels. Stabbed on the streets, disappearances. It was the first time while on a CouchSurfing adventure that I’d ever been scared. I wedged myself in the glass phone booth and pondered my options of returning to the depths of the underground, or running. Instead I grabbed onto the shoulder straps of my over-sized hiking backpack and stood my ground. In the glass phone booth, I felt safe , like a turtle hiding in her own shell. I stared at him with eyes like a dear in the headlights, weary from a half days travel, most things going wrong, but as cool as if nothing it the world could hurt me. He spoke to me in French. “Je ne parle pas français” I said. He pointed to his phone, I realized he was wearing a fanny-pack. While pointing at the phone, a picture of a baby boy popped up on the screen. “à Paris?” he said. “Oui…”I replied. He handed me the phone and I dialed the number of Moose, the man I had arrangements to stay with in Paris, my first night there. He arrived within 6 minutes, and the man whose cell phone I had borrowed stayed with me until he arrived. We never exchange a word, but he seemed to be concerned about me on the corner by myself. Moose arrived, I said thank you, Moose said thank you and thanked him in French, and then the man left. Moose was a large man, of Arabic descent. Raised in Paris, his family had moved there and raised him. Moose was an appropriate nickname as the man was huge, and worked as an air pilot control there. I’d never been more excited to see someone I didn’t know. He grabbed my bag and tossed it in his car. “You all right?” he asked. Knowing that any self-respecting girl in her right mind would be scared out of her wits having gone through this midnight alone, corner ordeal in Paris. He gave me a big hug, and I said laughed with a sign of relief and said I’m fine. I’m good. “I like that, you’re Zen” he said.
That instance, along with many others during Couchsurfing in Europe changed my perspective on the world, rid of the underlying fear it seems that society has of people. We hear about so many bad things in the news, robberies, murders, hate crimes, it has made us scared of ourselves, of the world, of coming out of our shells, so we hole up, we close up. But what do we as humans have, if we can’t depend on ourselves and our faith in other people? I put my faith in people and I have yet to be let down. People have saved my life. People I don’t know have gone out of their way, for me. I have enough stories about such instances while hitch-hiking in Ireland, but those stories are for another day. I hope you all take some time to appreciate the people around you, not only close relatives and family but think about that person walking slowly through the store, who has maybe been bumped into and cursed at by everyone walking by. Not everyone is as fortune as you may be. You don’t know why they’re walking slow, you don’t know how their day has been. They probably can’t move any faster. Or that car that pulls out in front of you on a busy street, perhaps they had been sitting there for five minutes and the gap before your car was their one chance to hop out. Think of their circumstances, either way, cursing them won’t help you or them, and we’re all just people, and we all have somewhere to go, the world moves a lot smoother and faster if we work together, than if we work against each other.