Here’s the second and final part of another excerpt that didn’t make the final cut for Cheers, Beers, and Eastern Promise:
“Gerry, get up!”
“What? Get off of me,” I said flailing my arms and rolling over.
“Gerry, the boat is going to leave! Wake up!”
“Whoa. What?” I woke up. I was looking at Rodney stumbling away from me and gathering his bags. It was daylight. No one was in our room. And a horn was sounding.
“Ump went home with one of those girls last night.”
“Home with one of those girls?” I slurred with confusion.
“Wherever. Her home. Her room. We gotta go!”
Rodney looked exactly how I felt: wasted. The beers were a bad idea and the vodka after was a worse idea. I could see the empty bottle rolling around on the floor beneath our seats.
We had to go. I stood up.
I know my head couldn’t have hit the ceiling, but it certainly felt like I’d just slammed it into one made of concrete. I fell back into the chair. I felt paralyzed. I gasped for breath.
“Dude! We gotta go! Some lady told me that the boat was leaving!”
“Yeah, leaving Finland!”
“What lady? Wait, are you serious?”
“We could miss Finland?”
“All of it?”
“Yeah, all of it.”
“We’re going to miss an entire country?”
I grabbed my head, grabbed my bags, and grabbed whatever coherence I could find on wobbly legs, a glass-filled stomach, and a hangover-shattered skull.
Rodney led us out of the room and we ran to the center of the boat, where we found exit signs pointing in every direction
“Which way do we go?”
“I have no idea.”
“Follow the signs?”
“How? They’re pointing everywhere!”
“I don’t know. Pick one!”
“Up we go!”
And up we went – two stairs at a time. But every level we reached turned out to be wrong. Finding an exit amidst seven levels of boat while still lost in a drunken haze isn’t easy. It’s damn near impossible. So we panicked. And we ran. And we continued to run until we reached the top and realized that we’d gone the wrong direction.
We looked over the deck and finally saw a clear view to where people were exiting the boat four floors below us; the floor beneath where we’d started from. We turned, we ran, and we continued downward.
“Let’s go! Go! GO!” I yelled behind Rodney as we cut the corner and jumped down the stairs a flight at a time. Going back to Sweden was not an option – that would waste a day and a half and we were already tight on time to make it back to Pamplona for the running of the bulls.
“I’m going! Hurry the hell up!”
“Where’s the exit?”
“Two more floors?”
“I have no idea!”
“Shit is right.”
We sprinted, we heard another horn, and we finally saw the exit. Everything was all too familiar.
“Almost there! Keep pushing!”
“I am! You too!”
“We’re gonna make this!”
“Shit!” Rodney yelled back to me as I finally pulled even with him while sprinting down the hallway.
“There’s the exit! We got this!” I yelled in hopeful desperation.
Then the boat started moving.
As we arrived at the exit, we were able to see that the gate was already up and the boat was slowly inching away from the dock. But like back at the terminal in Sweden, the distance was jumpable. We looked at each other, we looked at the gaping space, and then Rodney reached out to throw his bag.
As the bag hesitated above his head before launching forward, a hand reached out and grabbed his arm to prevent him from throwing it. It was one of the crew. “I’m sorry. You cannot do that. You must remain on the boat.”
And there we were, stuck on a boat that stood mere inches away from Finland. Inches that would now take us thirty-two hours to cross because we were on our way back to Sweden. At least we could sleep. We went back to the room to begin another thirty-two hours on our cruise.
“I hope Ump made it.”
“We fucked up.”
“How do you miss an entire country?”
“By drinking way too much.”
“Let’s try not to do that tonight.”
“No need to think about it now.”
“I need sleep.”
We dropped our things and started to settle back in when we noticed a pair of legs a few rows over. It was Ump, passed out. He’d been right next to us the whole time but we’d been too confused and frantic to see. We went back to sleep, and then it almost happened again the next night, mostly due to new friends who’d brought out a bottle of Jäger.
In hindsight, Jäger was a bad idea. At the time, it hadn’t seemed that way.
“Gerry, get up!”
“I’m moving, I’m moving.”
“No you’re not. Get up!”
I looked up through my haze and saw Rodney and Ump exiting the cabin and realized I’d better hurry. I followed them closely and together we found the exit and stepped off the boat just as the last horn sounded. We’d made it.
“Wow, we’re finally off the boat.”
“Finally is right. We almost missed Finland…again!”
“Don’t mention it. If we’re gonna party that hard we need team work. I’m just glad you didn’t make it off the first time.”
“Yeah, that would have been disappointing, Ump.”
“No worries. It worked out great. We got a free two-day cruise.”
“Hell of a time.”
“Where to next?”
“You wanna continue traveling with us after that mess?”
“What? Why wouldn’t I?”
“We almost left you on a cruise ship. And then we needed you to help drag us off of it.”
“You guys are my people.”
“What do you mean?”
“You guys make me feel normal out here. It’s not weird or uncomfortable or foreign when we’re hanging out. It’s fun. Know what I mean?”
“I think so.”
“Before I met up with you two, I felt a little lost out here. Europe is a big place with a lot of different people. I was having experiences but didn’t know what to make of them and I didn’t have anyone to share them with. Now with you two clowns, I can be myself: drinking, joking, missing ports, and laughing about how we missed an entire country because we’d had too much fun the night before.”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
“How else could I put it?”
“I guess no way else.”
“Having friends around keeps me balanced. Haven’t you guys found that as you’ve traveled together?”
“Yeah, for sure.”
“Traveling alone makes you lose yourself. It’s easy to forget your identity in unfamiliar places. You two have brought me that sense of home. Sharing these crazy sights around the Baltic Sea and the adventures of partying with all these Scandinavians gives me that tangible sense that reminds me how amazing and different this is from my everyday life back in the U.S. I’m glad I met you both.”
“Shit, I’d still be on that boat without you. Damn glad to have ya around, Ump.”
“Glad to be here.”
“So where to after Finland?”
“Estonia it is then.”
We sat there at the port awaiting our train to downtown Helsinki, appreciating that not every day in life offers such ease, such relaxation, such comfort in the wake of such chaos.
From Finland to Estonia to Latvia and beyond, we checked into many hostels, never really slept in any of them, and found every good time available that we could. Anything and everything was possible as we traveled together – pushing and competing to find more fun and more adventure to enliven our days and nights.
Go to Germany next? I’ll find the schedule. Go to a Stones concert tomorrow? I’ll get the tickets. Rent a car and drive a hundred miles to an underground rave in the countryside of the Czech Republic? Why not? Bungee jump off a 170-foot bridge? No fucking way. But I’ll drive and take the pictures.
Thinking back on those European adventures after that first night meeting Doba, I saw some of the similarities between those first encounters with Rodney and with Ump, and my first interactions with Doba. I hoped the end result of friendship would be similar, but it was hard to tell. I was in such a foreign place and so far away from everything I knew that it was difficult to see reality for what it was, myself for who I was, and others for what they would mean to me in this new life I was forging across the world.
My travels to that point had scattered my brain and left me falling into reflections of the past that had helped me forge my way forward into the existence I was leading.