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  • Morgan

Held Hostel-ed


I’ll spare you the ins and outs of the beginning of this story, mainly because we all know the drill: Girl and Boy fall in love. Together, they moved to LA to chase their dreams and live a life that they’d grown up watching on cable TV.   Both waste five years in their 20s playing house before the inevitable day when Boy breaks Girl’s heart. Girl copes by chopping off her hair, quitting her job, and packing up her belongings to move… somewhere. 

Amanda was 26 and found herself 3,000 miles away from home, sitting on the kitchen floor of her West Hollywood one-bedroom apartment, crying into her Golden Retriever puppy’s neck as Boy closes the door behind him one final time. Were there signs that this was their relationship destiny? Maybe? 

There were a few issues from the get-go:  different work hours, different social lives, and Boy’s search engine history detailing Craig's List escorts ranging an impressive gamut of kinks. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. Amanda pulled her Blackberry phone off the kitchen table and hit Speed Dial 2.

“Mom, I’m coming home.”

"Okay…” Amanda’s mom tried to hide her skepticism, “What's your plan? What are you going to do with your stuff? What are you going to do with your car?"

Up until that point, the extent of Amanda's planning was:

  1. Get the hell out of there and…

  2. Um, well, that was it.       

"If you’re driving back across the country, I don't want you to do it alone.  Have a friend come with you."

Amanda was immediately annoyed. It wasn’t that complicated.  She needed to get her stuff from point A to point B with a puppy and a few stops. 

"Yeah, I already decided to do that,” huffed Amanda, who had just decided to do that. 

Amanda had a lot of friends she could ask, the problem was who could take the time off to go?  She figured she could make the trip in 7 to 10 days depending on the route.  She dialed the next four speed dials programmed into her phone and was met with four sincerely apologetic rejections from four friends with four real jobs and responsibilities. 

It wasn’t being turned down that made Amanda cry even harder on the Spanish-tiled floor. It was that she felt like everyone else had their lives together and hers was disintegrating. Chase had been her everything. She’d sacrificed going back to school, had stayed at her bartending job, modeling on the side without any real roadmap to her future. But, she’d had him. Now all she had was the puppy he’d strategically purchased before he packed his bags.

Amanda needed a friend who would drop everything (or someone who didn’t have that much to drop,) and who could take 7-10 days off at a moment’s notice to drive from LA back to Connecticut with a mostly potty-trained dog and a 26-year-old woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She watched her fingers use a mind of their own and dial one of her oldest childhood friends, Vivie. She breathlessly explained her situation for the fifth time.  

"Fuck ya! I"ll come."  was Vivie’s immediate response.

Amanda closed her eyes, imagining how the next few weeks of her life would unfold. It had been quite some time since she and Vivie had hung out together.  Vivie was one of those friends that every time you saw them, they had morphed into a new person. Free love hippy, shaved head lesbian, curly-haired family woman, astronaut, doctor, sex therapist, corporate lawyer.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. And it had been a while since they’d seen each other. Amanda had no idea which incarnation of Vivie would step off the plane.

As soon as Amanda hung up the phone, she booked Vivie’s ticket.  Vivie would come and share the driving, and Amanda would take care of food, gas, and hotels. She looked in her bathroom mirror, unable to recognize herself. Her cheeks were red from crying, her hair a mess from not washing, but, most of all, her eyes. They were completely lost.

A week later Amanda drove to LAX to pick up her friend.  They spent the day walking in the sand and dipping their feet in the ocean.  They laughed and reminisced and avoided all conversations that might involve plans for the future. Amanda had more in common with Vivie at that moment in time than she would have ever been able to admit.

They stayed up that night with maps of the US spread out before them.

"Amanda, I really want to go Santa Fe, the Georgia O’Keeffe museum is there. And artists, like, tons of artists. And vibes. Tons of vibes" Vivie pleaded.

It wasn’t that Amanda wasn’t looking for vibes, it was that she was, and yeah, this is a little dramatic, but she was sort of dead inside. She didn’t care about anything except for leaving this Southern California life where she’d been existing off of nothing but flavored vodka and kale and codependent love, and finding a way to give herself a fresh start. She wasn’t sure what that fresh start consisted of, she was only confident that she needed to get herself to the other side of the country to find it.

With the car packed to the brim, and the route mapped, Amanda pressed the gas pedal on her black Honda Civic and got the fuck out of LA.

The first day of driving was surprisingly enjoyable. They listened to Jagged Little Pill on repeat as Vivie was rightly convinced that it was the greatest breakup album of all time. They got In-N-Out burgers and drank enough diet coke to drown their internal organs. They kept the windows down and Vivie stuck her feet out, even on the highway. In those moments, in the car, with their Map Quest directions, both of these girls could pretend that they knew where they were going. That night, it was Arizona.

Amanda had already looked up clean and cheap hotels in the area, finding a chain with good reviews, close to the Flagstaff exit. She followed her directions off the highway as the night got darker and the lights of the city illuminated the dusty roads.

"This is perfect, clean, and safe, and only 100 bucks for the night." Amanda was already mentally taking a hot shower, getting in her pajamas, and opening a bottle of wine.

"Amanda? I brought a tent." Vivie stated as if that was the most obvious answer to their sleeping arrangement. Vivie continued, 

"I have this map of all the areas where it is legal to pitch a tent for the night. ”

Amanda glanced over her right shoulder at Vivie, who was, in fact, totally serious, and tried to squash her laugh, "I’m supposed to be safer because you’re with me.  We’re not camping. Plus, where would I shower? I told you, I’m paying for the hotels."  Amanda tried to pitch her idea as light-heartedly as possible but it was obvious that Vivie wasn’t exactly on the same page.

"It’s not the money," Vivie explained, "I don't like participating in corporate culture,  I feel my best when I have the least. You should try it.”

Amanda didn’t have the emotional strength to get into this one. 

“OK, hotel tonight and we’ll figure something else out tomorrow.”

The night was exactly what Amanda needed. The hotel was quiet and clean and when she rolled over in the white sheets the next morning, she called out to her friend, dead asleep in the adjacent bed, “Come on, don’t you feel so much better?”

Vivie gave her nothing but a tight-lipped smile.

They grabbed a coffee and hopped in the car.  They were off to Santa Fe, the home of Georgia O’Keeffe. Amanda drove while Vivie studied a few maps and a Lonely Planet guide she’d pulled out of who knows where.  They listened to more Alanis and a book on CD that Amanda found wedged under her passenger seat. It must have been Chase’s. The thought of listening to something that he had picked out made her stomach drop. She looked at the disc, and then at her driving companion. Why was she even driving home? What was waiting for her in Connecticut? What was she going to do with her life? That thought crushed her, stealing all the air from her lungs. Amanda turned to her friend for some distraction,

“What did you find in there?

"I found a compromise to our sleeping dilemma." Dilemma, what dilemma? I pay for clean safe hotels and you come along for the ride, Amanda thought.

Vivie looked excited, "Ok, I found a hostel… for free, in the center of Santa Fe right down the street from the museum.  It has the best reviews and it’s not camping so it’s a compromise. We get a bed, and clean sheets so it's a compromise. Oh, and it's safe, so compromise."

Amanda took a deep breath.  She did the whole hostel thing in her late teens, traveling through Europe with no money.  She knew firsthand the grimy sinks and unbathed travelers. It didn’t sound particularly appealing. Her face must have said as much.

“If you really don't like it I promise I won’t ask you again for the rest of the trip."

And that’s how that was decided.

They drove to Santa Fe and up to the hostel.  The woman sitting behind the desk had multiple face piercings and, well, yeah, that was a snake draped over her shoulders.

Vivie looked at Amanda nervously, "Amanda, go get our stuff from the car, I’ll deal with this."

Vivie pushed Amanda out the door and proceeded to do the check-in and hear about the rules of the hostel.  She saw Amanda coming toward the door with their stuff and jumped in front of her.

"We’re all set, They have space but it’s too early.  Let's go to the museum and have dinner then our beds will be ready." Vivie said in a hurry.

They spent hours in the Museum gazing at the naked vagina imagery… I mean Georgia O’Keeffe's beautiful artwork depicting her surroundings in Santa Fe.  They found a great spot for dinner where they stuffed themselves with green chili everything.  They were full and exhausted after a day of travel and sightseeing.  Wow, thought Amanda, after all these years we still have so much in common. I can’t believe how well we’re getting along. 

"Let’s go check into your compromise," Amanda said with a laugh.  

They made their way back to the hostel.  They stopped by the car to grab their stuff and headed into reception.  This time there was a boy with dreads sitting and strumming his guitar. "Hey, where are you guys coming from, where y’all heading to?" 

Amanda instinctively grabbed Viv’s arm, “Don’t tell him anything,” she whispered aggressively. 

Vivie rolled her eyes at Amanda, "Hey, we were here this morning and already know the drill.  They said to come by later to grab the keys, it’s under Vivie."

“Coooool,” drawled Mr. Dreads, “just be quiet when ya go in, they’re already sleeping.”

Who the fuck are "they?" wondered Amanda. Vivie grabbed the keys and pushed her down the musty hallway to a large door which she opened quietly.

By the glow of the bright red EXIT sign, Amanda could make out a row of bunk beds, or, like, a lot of rows of bunkbeds, four of which had sleeping humans in them. The one smack dab in the middle had thin, folded shits stacked on the mattress. The snores got louder. The room smelled like someone’s grandma’s attic and also a falafel stand.  Amanda looked over at Vivie and said through clenched teeth,

 "We’re sharing a room with eight strangers? And bunk beds?" Amanda wasn’t a snob, really.  But in her 26 years of hard work she felt she had accomplished enough in life to not have to share a bedroom like this.  

Amanda lgl at Vivie, "YOU take the top." Vivie got to work making their beds, avoiding eye contact with her friend in the dark room. Amanda tried to stay calm.

"Where’s the bathroom?"

"Down the hall to the right… you need the key." 

"Great," Amanda said sarcastically.

When she got back to the room she crawled under the covers and prayed for the morning. 

“Good night, “ Vivie whispered.

“Uh huh,” was all Amanda could get out. The snoring had reached a crescendo. She laid in bed, wide awake, until maybe 3am when she finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Amanda woke up and for a second forgot where she was, but was instantly reminded by the 60-something man scratching his butt on the bed next to her.  She jumped up to wake Vivie above her.  But, Vive wasn’t there. The butt-scratching bed neighbor man looked at her, "Your friend was up early. Her chores started at 6:30, what were you assigned?"  He reached out the same hand that had been down his pants to shake Amanda’s. She would like some credit for not barfing here.

Assigned?  Amanda was exhausted, hadn’t had her coffee, and was only somewhat awake because she was thoroughly grossed out by absolutely everything around her. Even this conversation was turning her stomach.

"What was I assigned? For what? Sorry, I don’t shake hands,” Amanda was doing her best not to scream.

"Chores, you get to stay for free but everyone is given a job, and you’re not leaving until they’re done."  

 Amanda marched outside calling Vivie's name.  She walked up and down the halls, 

Vivie stuck her head out of the bathroom, "Good morning," she mumbled nervously. 

"What the hell are you doing???" Amanda wrapped her arms around her body.

"I’m cleaning the bathroom.  It’s the rules of the hostel, it's free as long as you do chores."

There must have been some steam coming out of Amanda’s ears because Vivie looked scared.

"And you failed to mention this? You are CLEANING TOILETS THAT STRANGERS HAVE POOPED IN  AND THIS IS BETTER THAN A HOLIDAY INN?"  Amanda was pissed, this was the compromise?  She eeked out her next question cautiously, "What chore was I assigned?"

Vivie all of a sudden looked proud, "Oh, don't worry, I agreed to do the worst job so that you got the best.  You just have to sweep!"

"Sweep what?" Amanda seethed 

"The hostel," Vivian squeaked out in a small voice, “all of it.”

Amanda grabbed a broom and began the angriest sweeping you’ve probably ever seen. And that’s when Mr. Dreads came around the corner.

"Mornin,  so happy you guys came, this is what it’s all about.  Let me know when we’re heading out. Stoked I get to hitch a ride with you."

Hitch a ride? They were going to invite this strange man from the free but do-chores hostel to ride in a car with them? Something flipped in Amanda. Her eyes burned. This wasn’t her. She wasn’t someone who could go along with any and every hair-brained scheme that fell in front of her. She was a person who wanted structure, plans, and a clean shower. Where had this part of herself gone? Had she spent the last five years holding herself back so she wouldn’t scare away Chase? Only for him to have left anyway? These thoughts crashed into Amanda’s heart like Interstate bugs on a windshield. She still wasn’t quite ready for them. But she could put an end to this hitchhiker nonsense.

"I knew you would be mad, but don't worry, we are dropping him off in St. Louis. It will be fun." Vivie assured her, pressing her lips together as if promising her friend that she knew what was best.

Amanda clenched her teeth, "We are not bringing him with us, we have no room in the car!"

"Oh, don't worry, he said he can hold the TV on his lap the whole way."

Amanda laughed, "I'm sorry, I wasn’t clear. WE ARE NOT TAKING HIM WITH US. Not because there is no room, but because this is how Dateline episodes start. The whole point is to get back to our area code without getting murdered.”

Amanda packed the car and honked the horn.  Vivie jumped in and slammed the door…

Amanda took a left as she saw Mr. Dreads staring at them from the parking lot, next to a Patagonia duffel bag. 

They drove through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and then North through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Amanda mapped out every gas stop, pit stop, and clean hotel. Late at night, in a Fairfield Inn and Suites, Amanda booted up her online calendar which she hadn’t used in over a year. She logged into her college’s job placement webpage and began brushing up her resume.

She noticed a disconnect between her and Vivie. It had been so easy to see her old friend a week ago when she was equally as untethered. But being confronted with a real free spirit was suddenly making Amanda feel worse about her situation rather than better like it had on the beach six days ago. She was exhausted, drained, conflicted, and sad.

“Can you take the wheel for a few hours? I’m so beat.” If they got 400 miles done that day, they could be home the next. That was really all Amanda wanted. Vivie nodded, equally as annoyed with Amanda as Amanda was with her.

“I think you just need some adrenaline, some adventure, untie yourself from all these expectations,” Vivie began as she put the Civic in drive. Amanda couldn’t even respond. She bunched her sweatshirt up under her ear and closed her eyes. Was Vivie right? Those words sounded good, sort of, but didn’t ring true. She was sincerely done fucking around, for making excuses for people, for limiting herself to make everyone around her uncomfortable. This thought felt right. As Amanda drifted off to sleep, she felt confident that when she arrived in The Constitution State, she would have a plan.

Unfortunately, she woke up in Northern New York at the Canadian border.

It took a few minutes for Amanda to get her bearing and figure out what the fuck was going on because Vivie was all too eager to explain herself.

“We’re going to move to Montreal. There are plenty of job opportunities and free healthcare. I didn’t wake you up because I knew you would fight me on it but, come on, what do we have to lose? LET’S BE CANADIAN!”

For fuck’s sake. When you’re in a deep depression, sometimes you wonder what exactly will snap you out of it. It can feel like you’re drifting through a cloud, squinting your eyes as hard as you can for a landmark by which to orient yourself. Funnily enough, being kidnapped by a childhood friend to Canada was exactly the wake-up call that Amanda needed. 

“Get out of the car, NOW.” The fear was palpable in Vivie’s eyes as she unbuckled her seatbelt. They didn't make eye contact as they switched seats. Amanda adjusted her rearview mirror and spun that car South faster than Speedy Gonzales on a mission. She drove through the night, her brain spinning. She was going to go back to school. She would live with her parents for the first year. She would bartend at her friend’s pub right in the center of downtown. She would stay single and was going to learn Portugese because she had always wanted to. 

When they finally arrived in Connecticut at 3:00 in the morning, Amanda flipped down the mirror on the sun visor, knowing that she would probably look like less of a mess than she felt while seeing her mother. Looking at her reflection, Amanda was startled. She didn’t look great. She’d been eating gas station snacks for a week and had spent the majority of every day sitting in a car. She didn’t look lost, either, the spark was back in her eyes. Maybe Amanda needed to be confronted with what a real lack of direction looked like before she could find her own. And, she found it. And she’s still in touch with Vivie who now lives on a mushroom-growing commune in Oregon. Of course.


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