What's the strangest travel situation you've encountered?Meg Tuite
I’m flying over the Atlantic. Claustrophobic. Seems I’m off to England to read sonnets on barium swallows, sestinas on myelograms and Greenfield filters, free verse on angiograms of femoral, carotid, and renal arteries. The plane’s chock-full of die-hard Steeler fans traveling to Dublin’s Croke Park to see their Steel Curtain kill the Bears. We land and I can’t understand English? I can’t breathe. Train, tube, bus, cab. Which? Down, down, down into the Underground. We set off but arrive at Piccadilly Circus again, again, again. Finally, we hit our destination. I meet a man dressed in white with enormous angel wings. He is a poet, too. When he reads, he flaps. I meet a man who’s lost his leg. His replacement keeps falling off. Someone reattaches it. It clicks. Now, I’m suddenly at Milton’s cottage in the lush garden, sardined among poets. We nod a lot and talk words, flowers, weeds. A hip photographer roves, drinking wine, snapping pictures, and trying desperately—I can tell by his look of drunk determination—to score the winning shot. He climbs the shrubbery. Is he sauced? The sound of branches giving. A thud. He’s fallen through the tall green. Not hurt. No. Not at all. Petals in his hair send me into fits of church giggles. I run to the musty “pretty box in St Giles, Chalfonte” where Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Next I’m in awe of Big Ben. I’m along the Thames. Then, I’m next to Lady Macbeth. I grip the gripped wrist Lord Ronald Gower gave her. I’m spooked. She’s whispered to me. Off again, we walk where the Bard-of-Avon walked, get pickled where he did. No rain? No fog? I order a ploughman’s everywhere we dine. Robert Pinsky suddenly appears reading The Inferno of Dante. We’re circling, circling, circling Windsor Castle. Our driver keeps missing the exit. Roundabouts! I lean over the castle’s walls, fixated by shadows of soldiers who’d once scaled them. I’m in a van with Donald Hall. We’re talking about Jane (and Gus). I practice medical terms on him, for my poems. “Which is most melodic, do you think? Carcinoma, melanoma, hysterosalpingogram, vertebrae?” We laugh. When Hall takes breaks from his readings, I find smoke spots for him. His hands shake. Jane’s been gone fifteen months and he’s not had his hair cut since she’s passed. It’s nighttime. A poet goes missing. We call Scotland Yard. She’s found. She’s had a stroke? At the airport again, British Airways announces “No Flights.” A strike. We wait. Hours. We board Laker Air, upgraded to first class. We drink champagne, eat smoked salmon, and talk in British accents, calling each other mental blokes.
Some days I think none of it happened, but strange is always my most hungry fellow traveler and, yes, it’s all true. It was a blast. It was the summer of 1997.Jolene McIlwain
I moved from Oakland to Austin in 2014. Two days before I was set to make the three-day drive, I freaked out. I hate driving and would have my elderly cat with me. I had laryngitis. I was nervous.
I ended up asking a guy I dated briefly to come with me. This guy was unemployed. He was young, annoying, and had ADD. He drove the whole way talking non-stop about growing up in the garlic capitol of the country, drinking and its effects on him, what he wanted to do for a job (retail, EMT, singer), what he liked to eat, what he didn’t like to eat. He talked about his sister, with whom he lived. Their relationship was weirdly close. He hated my cat aside from feeding him stuff from fast food restaurants. I wanted him to shut up.
I had a bad reaction to a medication I started taking just before the trip. I couldn’t see, had vertigo and was really out of it. We ended up going to an emergency room in Blythe, California. (Yeah, I don’t know where Blythe, California is either.) The guy told the admitting nurse that I was on drugs. I said “prescription medication, not street drugs.” This guy was an imbecile. All I can say about our brief period of dating is that he was cute. I am not proud of this.Lauren Becker
In Saudi Arabia I learned that haram means anything that is forbidden by Allah. No one ever hands me a list. I sort of pick it up as I go along; sex outside of marriage, pork, drugs and alcohol, movies, men and women mingling in public, and homosexuality.
In the busy port city where I live, I find my way through the crowded streets to the apartment of the smoking hot guy I met at a super secret gay pool party this afternoon. It was on the rooftop of a small hotel, the beige and dun colored buildings spread out all around, skyscrapers shimmering in the heat, the call to prayer rising up to us throughout the afternoon from the brightly lit mosques. I skipped out early when some guys who weren’t invited showed up. There was alcohol someone had smuggled in, there were gays, there was haram everywhere. Lots of ways to be hauled off unceremoniously by the government, fired, and deported.
But before I left I got the hottest guy’s number. We messaged until we grew boners that drew us to each other like antennae and now I’m following my hard dick up the stairs, stepping over stray cats to his crash pad, the place he rents so he can get away from his family. He’s half-Bahraini, half-Egyptian, and half-Saudi, and I know that’s too many halves, but he’s so hot he needs them all because he is just that much man, bulging everywhere, biceps, ass, lips.
He opens the door in a robe. I haven’t been with anyone since I moved to the Kingdom. He holds me close and strokes my face. “You miss this,” he says. “You miss this closeness, this tenderness.” I want to melt, dissolve like sand. Gay porn thrums from the TV. No idea how he got it. He offers me beers, impossible to smuggle into the country. He smokes hash, strips off my clothes, and blows me as the wind rustles through the narrow streets outside.
I dissolve into haram. I want a life of haram. This is haram bingo. How many spots on the card can I cover? I want it all: his boozy breath, the sweet hash smoke, the groans from the TV, the moans from his warm mouth on me. And if I had a pork sandwich I’d eat that too. Even with Allah watching.James Joseph Brown
Marcos never knew there was something called magic. He always thought magic was just the name of the Brahman bull on his father’s ranch tucked in the hills like a sleeve. “Magic,” he would hear people say, “you are ugly” or “Magic, you are not so fierce.”
Such talk was common and enduring to Marcos, in a way. So when he and his father went to see ‘Hernando the Magnificent’ do his show on the boulevard right outside the Rebeles Theater, Marcos was amazed to learn that magic was indeed more than the name of a bull. He loved the sword swallowing, the fire eating, and the rabbit out of the hat he knew he would never forget. “Papa, you are the best.” And in one skilled, slow move, his father pulled an egg out of his deaf ear. This too, Marcos thought, was magic that nearly rivaled the great Hernando.”
David (pronounced Da-veed, as in the painter) dreamt a lot of walking on the Seine. It was less a God complex, more Houdini inspired: escaping to the impossible, with gentlemen in top hats and women carrying parasols crowding the banks to watch him conquer the river.
On a Sunday stroll, he arrived at a group of people pulling a woman, lifeless, from the water. “She didn’t have love, or too much,” a man folding a newspaper said. David watched long enough to see she had a most pretty face, still white as porcelain. He finally continued on and that night another dream of walking on the Seine came. “Hurrah, David!” he heard with every step he took. He never felt more alive—and he wished he could have told that woman, “Take my hand. You won’t believe how easy some things in this life are.”Tim Suermondt
In 2002 I was on tour, playing with a hardcore band. In Lawrence, Kansas, we played at a punk house called the “Blood Diaper.” During our set, which was in the “Blood Diaper” living room, I accidentally put my fist through a window. There were no injuries and everyone, even the people who lived there, thought it was awesome. We also played in basements in both South Dakota and Michigan, a frat house in Indiana, a rehearsal space in Philadelphia, and a botanical gardens center in Iowa, among other places. In a Chicago rest stop bathroom the singer and I ran into Kyle Gass, the guy from Tenacious D who isn’t Jack Black. He was really nice and despite the fact that we pretty much smelled like garbage, he agreed to take a Polaroid picture with us. The driving between gigs was long and boring and whenever we’d stop for food, usually at a Denny’s late at night, parking lot van checks were implemented in case anyone tried breaking in it to steal our shitty equipment. We mostly slept on floors at random houses and apartments. The guitarist and I were the only ones who snuck showers on tour; the bassist would only ever wash his feet in a random bathroom sink somewhere. One evening half the band did not want to play a dilapidated gas station in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. At one point our singer got so angry about having to play a dilapidated gas station in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, that he kept punching himself in the face. So we decided, then, to go see Blade 2, which was showing at a movie theater in the next county. We agreed that if the movie sucked and we were still in bad spirits afterwards that we’d skip the show and go on to the next town. Well, we ended up playing the dilapidated gas station in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Wesley Snipes had saved the gig. As for the whereabouts of that Polaroid we took with the guy from Tenacious D, well, who the hell knows?Brian Alan Ellis
We said whoever wins the lottery first takes the other to Italy for a shopping trip. Back in the day, I was sitting down reading the New York Times as I did every morning with coffee. This helped prepare me for a day as government employee for the Smithsonian Institution While reading the newspaper I discovered the most extraordinary full-page ad. TWA (yes it was that long ago) was having a special promotion; $99.00 round trip to Italy. There were extensive restrictions. One of them was to leave and return on a Tuesday and return on a Tuesday out of JFK. I lived a walkable distance from that airport.
I rang Lisa. “We didn’t win the lottery yet but we’re going to Italy.” Lisa worked for the French Consulate, so they were cool with whatever plans one could dream up.
We left JFK at some unusual hour on a Tuesday. It was during the initial “no smoking” in airports. Half the passengers on our flight to Rome were native Italian. The other half: a very unusual group from Staten Island. Only one neighborhood in Staten Island managed to get this deal. They all knew each other.
One of the Italians found an ashtray. We all huddled around this aluminum-covered cardboard square and lit up. Whenever a TWA authority would approach we gestured and yelled curses in Italian.
The Staten Islanders embodied every stereotype one could imagine. The Italian passengers were clear that the Italian Americans had very little Italian left in them. We arrived in Rome at an ungodly hour. We saw a sign for a train leaving for Florence. The adventure began.David Carter
I had bought with a guy I had met on a kibbutz a Mercedes postal van in Athens and we drove it all through Europe during the winter of 1974. As we were crossing from France into Belgium, we were stopped by border guards. There had been an art theft and they were looking for the thieves. It was midnight and we had a painting my friend was bringing to his aunt in Ibiza rolled up in the back of the van. The guards went crazy when they discovered it, strip searched us, and tore apart everything in the van. They kept us for about an hour and then let us go. I have no memory at all of what I saw or did in Belgium.Bill Yarrow