American Anonymous Intro by EFie27


									––-A story about an American backpacker who leaves home and discovers the world–––


                                                          By: Eric M. Fieland
                                      Edited By: Heather Abel & Tiffany Hauck
       This experience changed my life and if reading this book helps you in any small
way to do the same, then the hours and months and years of writing and rewriting will
have been worthwhile. Before I share the best four months of my life, let me tell you
how it all got started.
       When I was in high school, a pretty blonde girl gave me a copy of Jack Kerouac’s
On the Road. At the time, to be perfectly honest, I was only interested in the beatnik
writer because I somehow thought if I read Kerouac this girl would fall for me, and I
would get laid… With my adolescent, one-track mind, I imagined she was playing strip
poker, only with books. If I read Ginsberg, that would turn her on and she’d take off her
shirt. Burroughs––possibly good enough for her skirt and lace bra. Unfortunately,
reading Kerouac never did lead to getting laid but, thankfully, it guided me towards my
life’s biggest revelation; much like the narrator in On the Road, I too, had always wanted
to travel, vaguely planned, and never went…
         My parents weren’t big on traveling when I was growing up. Mom and Dad
were bleeding-heart liberals, but for some reason when it came to traveling they were
staunch conservatives. Vacation for us was as predictable as the California weather; for
one weekend a year, my family, which included my little sister Robyn, would pack up the
station wagon and drive two hours south to San Diego. Fridays were spent at our nice
resort-style hotel; Saturdays we went to Sea World and watched Shamu swim wistfully
around in his tank; then, on Sundays, we’d get breakfast and drive back home to beat the
weekend traffic.
        For me, home was a sleepy suburb twenty-two miles north of Los Angeles, called
Oak Park. My hometown featured track housing, tree-lined streets, spacious green parks,
and a population of fewer than two thousand people; ninety-eight percent of which were
white. Oak Park was, and still is, one of the safest cities in America, which is probably
why the majority of its inhabitants are content to live there for a lifetime. However, I was
not one of them. When I was a kid, I yearned for more than a safe neighborhood and a
great big whale swimming around in a great big tank. The older I got, the more I wanted
to see new things and have new experiences. I told my parents of my desires to travel but
they didn’t much listen. Nevertheless, my need to explore never went away.
        Luckily, when I reached my teen years I got to see a few more places. I went to
some new states here and there. I took a trip to western Canada with my grandmother,
and later on, with my high school buddies, I spent some time just over the border in
Mexico. Nothing I needed a passport for. Don’t get me wrong, it was good to see those
new places, places like Vancouver and Tijuana, but it wasn’t what I was looking for, or
even what I considered “traveling.”
        After High School, I put the idea of traveling completely on the backburner. Just
shy of my nineteenth birthday, I got accepted into New York University’s Tisch School of
the Arts and invested in higher education. For the next four years, all I thought about was
becoming a screenwriter with a good story to tell. One thousand, two hundred-sixty days
passed, and over that time, I accumulated over one hundred thousand dollars in debt.
I graduated NYU at twenty-two, without that aforementioned “good story,” and like the
majority of Americans who graduate college, I moved back home with my parents and
immediately entered the workforce. Although my job was in my chosen field of
entertainment, it was anything but glamorous. I was hired as a Production Assistant–– a
runner, script copier, a coffee fetcher–– not anything close to what I dreamed about while
I was in school. Under the thankless title of P.A., I worked consistently for three years.
All the while, my college friends and I talked about taking a trip overseas, but we always
found excuses not to go.

       When my father turned fifty, he took a trip called the Camino de Santiago. The
Camino, a grueling five hundred-mile walk through the countryside of northern Spain,
was a pilgrimage of sorts. On the road to Santiago you’ll find people from all over the
world who walk for various reasons; self-discovery being the most prevalent. After
reading a book about the Camino, my dad trained himself; he walked six miles a day, for
six months. Once he thought he was in good physical shape, enough to hike up the steep
mountains of the Pyrenees, he bought a plane ticket and a backpack, and made plans to
stay in these places called hostels.
       For my father, taking a trip through Spain, or any other country, was very unlike
him. He hardly vacationed. He only stayed in hotels. He was not an outdoorsman by
any stretch of the imagination, and he didn’t travel unless it was work-related. My
mother, sister, and myself didn’t know what had gotten into him. Personally, I thought
he was going through a mid-life crisis. Whatever the case, it was his time to travel. And
for a month, he was gone.
       After the Camino, my father came home a changed man. He came back with this
glow, the glow that only people who have seen the world can show you. He came back
with stories; tales of what it was like to climb the apex of the Pyrenees and witness the
Running of the Bulls. He came back with new experiences like meeting people from all
over the world, and what it was like to keep all your possessions in a backpack. Most
impressively, he came back with an answer when somebody would ask, “What have you
been up to lately?” It was immediately apparent that my father’s journey was life
changing. Seeing my father take a trip like that made me think that maybe one day I
could do the same.

       The Revelation
       One February night, my good friend, Kris King, came to Los Angeles from his
native Toronto. Kris was a Canadian buddy of mine from NYU and I hadn’t seen him in
almost two years. We met up by the beach, and before I knew it, we were drunk as
skunks, like the good old days. In an inebriated banter, we began to talk about life.
Mine, which consisted of post-collegiate unemployment, a recent break-up with my
girlfriend, my want–– no check that–– my need to become a prolific screenwriter. And
his, which until recently, consisted of backpacking, traveling the world, and living life
like Kerouac–– on the road. What impressed me most about Kris was that he didn’t
travel for a measly two weeks, as most Americans do. Kris had traveled for nearly a year
and a half. That was unfathomable. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
        “Isn’t this great?” I turned to Kris. “We’re as far west as you can possibly get.
Out there (I pointed east) is where all the shit is happening–– all the problems, all the
wars, all the chaos.” Then, after another sip of beer I said, “And out there (I pointed to
the Pacific Ocean), dude…out there is the unknown.”
       Kris stopped my light beer tangent right away and said forcefully, but in kind
Canadian fashion,
       “No, Eric, out there is not the unknown! Bro, out there is China and I know
because I’ve just been.”
       Kris’ words were miraculously sobering and left me silent. Usually I can find a
comeback to anything, but on that occasion I found nothing for a response. To hear Kris
say that Asia was beyond the horizon of Manhattan Beach was like a lightning crash, a
revelation. He was right–– what lay past my line of sight wasn’t everyone’s unknown––
it was just mine.

       The Decision
       I woke up the next day with a few certainties: (1) I had a terrible hangover (2) I
was unemployed (3) I was single (4) I would soon have to move out of the house I was
renting so that my landlord could move his girlfriends’ bratty kid into my room (5) I
wanted to travel, and now was the time. And since I’d never left North America before, I
would most certainly need a passport.
       I now knew that I wanted to travel, but I didn’t know quite where. There was an
STA Travel agency in my neighborhood, which specialized in student and youth travels,
so I popped in. Most Americans who travel internationally for the first time choose
Europe, probably because it’s safe and easy to travel around. However, at the time,
Europe was an expensive destination and the US dollar was weak. I needed to go
somewhere with favorable exchange rates. So, I told the agent that I wanted to go to Fiji,
Australia, Thailand, and possibly China or India. For me, that also was the unbeaten
path; the path I wanted to take. It took about two hours, but we finally put together an
itinerary. I put the tickets on hold and went to sort out my finances.
       Checking my bank account was the first of many pendulum swings on whether
my decision to travel was the right one. It also made me realize exactly what was at
stake. I had about six thousand dollars in savings. Kris said that would buy me a couple
months on the road, but from the looks of things I would come home flat broke. Not to
mention, after I traveled, I would have no place to live. The upside: I wouldn’t have to
pay rent while I was gone. The downside: when I returned I would be forced to reside in
Oak Park, with my parents, at the age of twenty-six. The risks didn’t end there. The
effect traveling might have on my career could be devastating. I would lose most, if not
all, of my job contacts. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is an expression that fits no better
than in the business of entertainment. The biggest risk, however, was the risk to myself.
I had no prior travel experience. The dangers I could face on the road were endless.
       And yet, I still wanted to go.
       Breaking news to people that I was planning a trip of epic proportions was not as
easy as I would have thought. My parents were the first to hear of my newfound plans
and they did not share in my enthusiasm to see the world. My mother dismissed the trip
right off the bat. “What?” She questioned, “You’re unemployed? What about work?
What about health insurance?” What about this? What about that? On the other hand,
my dad had concerns of his own, mostly financial-related qualms.
       My family’s doubts continued for weeks on end. My mother said, “I don’t think
this a good idea.” My father said, “I am not sure this is the right time.” My sister said,
“Whatever.” Honestly, she couldn’t have cared less what I did but, deep down, I knew
she thought that I’d never see this trip all the way through. While the reservations of my
family might have hindered me at one point in my life, this time they did not. From a
source, unbeknownst to me, I found the confidence to say, “I am going and that is that.” I
had never been so sure of anything in my life.
       With confidence in tow, I went back at the STA travel agency and handed over
my debit card (because I am one of the rare Americans who doesn’t own a credit card). I
bought plane tickets from Los Angeles to Fiji and from Fiji to Australia. To satisfy one
of my mother’s many concerns, I also purchased a health insurance policy.
       I will never forget that feeling of elation, and the sense of joy that came over me.
I could feel the excitement build from having just made one of the biggest decisions of
my life. In six weeks I would leave North America for the first time ever. The cost of
the airfare: $600. The cost of health insurance: $250. The cost of knowing I was about
endure the biggest risk of my life: priceless.

       The Tests
       When I was in the eighth grade I met a tall, blonde, pig-tailed girl named Joanna,
and we had been friends since. In high school, I had a crush on her, and during college,
even though we were far apart, we remained close. After college, we both got stuck
living with our parents in Oak Park and spent a great deal of time together dreaming of a
way out. It was around then that I started to fall in love with Joanna, only she didn’t
quite know it yet.
       It was a complicated situation because Joanna and I had been friends for years.
Her older brother was my best friend and her younger brother was like family to me. If I
told Joanna how I felt it could’ve changed all of those scenarios. And those were just the
minor complications. The major snag was Joanna’s jock boyfriend, Josh, although, he
did appear to be on his way out.
       While it seemed she and Josh had nothing in common, Joanna and I were always
connected. We bonded most over the romance of travel. Not surprisingly, it was Joanna
who turned me onto Kerouac. We’d talk all the time about taking a road trip, but it never
came into fruition. Now that I had made the decision to travel, I didn’t know if I was
ready to leave her; the one person I couldn’t live without.
       Joanna was very excited for my travels, but when I broke the news to everyone
else, the general consensus was that I was nuts. My mother’s reaction was the worst. I
hadn’t seen her that upset since I pierced my eyebrow in college.
       “I hope you find yourself out there,” she said with a disapproving smile.
       As for my friends, they didn’t quite understand either. None of my American
friends had done any sort of long term, backpack-style traveling before. It’s not in our
culture, so they couldn’t fathom taking that much time off from work to see the world.
Trading months of salary to live life as a nomad barely registered in their brains, and the
fact that I was a “suburb slicker,” venturing out alone, with no prior travel experience
whatsoever, made them question my sanity even more. But, for some reason inexplicable
even to myself, all this didn’t scare me. I was acting out-of-character and it felt great.

       As the departure date grew near, the tests became greater, and I soon became
overwhelmed with all of the things I had to do. Three weeks to go and still I needed
clothes, hiking boots, durable sandals, and a camera; I needed to buy this new mp3 player
called an “iPod;” and I needed my first ever passport to arrive in the mail. Getting my
immunization shots was the most important item I had put off on my “to do” list.
       In my search for vaccinations I learned that I needed to seek out a travel doctor––
a normal physician wouldn’t do because American insurance doesn’t cover those who
want to travel. With frustration building and not knowing where to look, I turned to the
Yellow Pages. I wandered into the random office and, apart from a waiting room with
travel magazines, nothing went as expected.
           Dr. Rock, Travel Doc M.D., was in his early forties, wore acid washed jeans,
and had long, teased, jet-black hair. The “doctor” looked more like the lead singer of a
rock band than someone who should be sticking me with needles. I wanted to make a
little small talk before being prodded, but Dr. Rock had already ordered, “lift up your
sleeve,” in his raspy smokers’ voice. I then got two shots for Hepatitis and one for
Typhoid, all into my right arm. “You may not feel anything now, but in a few hours,
you’re gonna feel like crap,” he explained.
       Dr. Rock gave me pamphlet after pamphlet of all the dangers I could encounter
“on the road,” and an encyclopedia-sized book of what precautions I should take. The
last thing he said to me was, “Dude, go travel, just don’t pet wild animals, they all have
rabies.” On my way out, one of Dr. Rock’s groupies–– I mean nurses–– blindsided with
me with an eight hundred dollar bill. EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS for three shots and
cheap advise! I wanted to scream. Somehow, I thought the immunization shots would be
more reasonable. That was a major hit to my savings. Angry, I called Kris King, right
       “How come you didn’t tell me about this?”
       “What are you talking aboot?” Kris questioned, with his Canadian accent coming
       “Man, you are supposed to be my travel guru. How come you didn’t tell me
about the high cost of immunization shots?”
       Kris, who was smoking a joint, said lazily in between hits, “I’m Canadian. We
don’t have to pay for shots. We don’t pay for doctor visits. We don’t have to pay for
healthcare, remember? Bro, (he paused to take another hit) if there is anything else I can
do for you, don’t be afraid to ask.” Then he hung up the phone.
       “Great. I got Alice Cooper for a doctor and Bob Marley as my travel guru. What
am I getting myself into?” I questioned.
       I started to think that traveling was a huge mistake. My trip was now an
“investment,” and if eight hundred bucks injected into my arm didn’t sway me from
going, I thought nothing would–– and then something almost did.
          Just one week before I was set to leave, a news story broke claiming several
American soldiers tortured Iraqi inmates in a prison called Abu Graib. To add insult to
injury, the unforgiving act of cruel and unusual punishment came with gruesome
photographs; photographs that set the international community ablaze. Abu Graib was
important news for all travelers, especially Americans. On the U.S. Government website,
various warnings were posted advising citizens traveling abroad to be careful. With the
Iraq war getting worse by the day, my father questioned once more,
          “You sure this is the right time?”
          The tests didn’t stop there. Five days before departure, my travel agent informed
me that I couldn’t have just a “one-way” ticket to Australia. Due to new security
precautions, I now needed proof of onward travel. I rationalized all these trails and
tribulations as obstacles that one has to face when making a big choice in life. I just
hoped that was the last test because I felt like I was about to break.
          With no time to waste I made my way back to STA. I knew I wanted to go to
Thailand after Australia. My travel agent said that was fine. Then she asked me if I
wanted to make a free stopover in Dempasar. I froze like a deer in headlights. I didn’t
know where Dempasar was. I felt like an idiot. After my lengthy silence, the agent said
          “Bali?” I questioned to myself. After a few moments of back-and-forth
considerations, I answered, “Sure, why not?”
          Having Bali on my new itinerary, and not knowing where it was, added to the
excitement and mystery of what I would soon encounter on my travels. Perhaps I should
have gone home and done extensive research on Bali, but I did no such thing. Kris had
challenged me not to have maps, schedules, budgets, or travel guides of any kind. With
the exception of leaving Joanna, to live life without a set plan was going to be the most
difficult test of all.

          On the eve of my departure, my mother, who was still uncomfortable with my
decision to travel, took me out to dinner. The dinner was a last ditch effort to convince
me not to go. My mother knew if she had any shot of changing my mind she’d have to
take me out to sushi, so to sushi we went.
       Though “sushi” was my favorite, I’d always been too squeamish for the raw stuff,
so over a variety of California rolls and shrimp tempura, my mother expressed her
worries. My inexperience as a traveler, and her son abroad while the country was at war
were now her main concerns.
       “You won’t even eat fish. What if you don’t like the food in these countries?”
asked my inquisitive mother.
       “I see your point there, but as far as the war is concerned, we are going to be at
war for at least the next four years; the Republicans are in office!” I said jokingly. “I’ll be
fine,” I continued to say over and over, not surprised to see that my reassuring words
were doing little to comfort her. I, too, wanted to believe that everything was going to be
fine, but honestly, I had no clue what would happen on the road.
       Right as the check came, my mother broke down in the restaurant. The tears
uncontrollably fell upon her. She had such a hard time when my father went traveling,
now here I was, going for a lot longer, and at a most unstable time in our world.
       That night as I went to bed, the whirlwind of emotions that had built up over the
past few months came to a head. I couldn’t help but think of all that was about to change.
How different would I be when I returned? How different would my family and friends
be? What about Joanna? What would happen between us? I hadn’t even left yet and I
was already wondering about how things would change when I got back. Not
surprisingly, the rush of thoughts kept me up all night.

       I got out of bed at eight a.m. with so many things to tackle I had a hard time
thinking about which one to take care of first. My grandmother, who was the only family
member that supported my decision to travel, wanted to have a chat, so at ten a.m. I went
to see her. My ex-girlfriend, Melissa, a world traveler herself, wanted a visit; we had
lunch at one p.m. At three p.m., I had to go to the bank and check on last-minute
finances. After that, I drove around town to see my friends, mostly at their places of
work. Those were some tough goodbyes.
        Eventually, I ended up at Joanna’s house. She answered the door looking as
beautiful as ever. I remember vividly trying to stay with her for as long as I could. As
we posed for a photo her mother was taking, it crossed my mind that I might tell Joanna
about my feelings for her. If she accepted my proposal that would’ve been great, but if
she rejected the “more than friends” idea, I would have months to get over it. It was the
perfect opportunity. Unfortunately, I chickened out. Before I left, out of nowhere,
Joanna expressed an interest in meeting me at some point along the journey. Regardless
of the fact that she was in a committed relationship, I found this surprise to be a good
one. Maybe I would get a chance to tell her how I felt while we were traveling the
world? For me, and for possibility of there being an “us,” this was the best note on which
I could’ve left.
        By seven p.m., I had finally returned home. The backpack my dad used on the
Camino, sat by the front door, completely empty. I felt like this was my big moment, my
big introduction into the backpackers’ world. It was as if there was a little voice in my
head saying, “Eric this is Backpack, Backpack this is Eric.”
        I had ignored packing up until that point, which probably wasn’t the brightest
idea. This luggage-wearing contraption was going to be a major part of my travels. In
my room, all my stuff was neatly laid out. With some assistance from my parents, I
hurried to stuff the backpack to the gills.
        The contents of the pack went as follows: three shirts (two short sleeved, one
long), one sweatshirt, three pairs of pants (that with the pull of a zipper transformed
into shorts), two pairs of shoes (hiking and tennis), three pairs of socks, three pairs of
underwear. All my clothes were simple––no logos, and minimal designs. Kris King
had told me, “On the road, a fashion statement should be the farthest thing from your
mind. Your clothes, like your sleeping bag, should be weather resistant, lightweight, and
        In the top pocket of my backpack was a small pack of toiletries, and the
electronics: a brand new digital camera and a first generation iPod. Buried within the
electronics was––my journal. In the pocket of the pants I had a travel wallet. The
oversized wallet contained my passport, proof of vaccinations, and a hundred US
dollars. On my feet, I wore the official shoe apparel of the nomads: flip-flops.
        When we were done, I strapped on my pack and felt its weight for the first time.
The sucker was overwhelmingly heavy! There was no room in it, either. What if I
wanted to buy something? Where would it go? The awkward sensation of carrying my
life on my back, the absence of my normal wallet, car keys, and cell phone, already
started to feel a bit strange. Fidgety and nervous, I stood in front of my parent’s full-
length mirror and thought, “I look homeless.”
        At eight forty-five, I was ready to go to the airport. There was so much emotion
running through our house that you could cut it with a knife. My mother had gotten
herself so worked up over my leaving that she became ill. Bedridden and cranky was the
last visual I had of my mother before I left. It was another emotional goodbye, with tears
on both ends. After a few pets for the dogs, my father and I headed to the airport.
        The drive to the airport was mostly in silence. When we arrived at the
International Terminal I thought, “In all my years, I’ve never even seen the inside of this
place.” With hands clenched to the straps of my backpack, I walked luggage-free into
the terminal. It felt weird to be at the airport and not have handfuls of suitcases. The
International terminal was surprisingly busy at that late hour. While travelers whizzed
past me, I stood in stillness taking notice of all the destinations displayed on the giant
departure board hanging above my head. Cities like Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, Madrid,
Rome, Lisbon, Paris glowed with the message “on time,” as did my eleven-thirty flight to
Nadi, Fiji.
        Having a little time to spare, my dad and I went for a quick snack. Over pizza,
my dad began to tell me ways in which my life might change out on the road. My father,
who had a spiritual side to him, gave me the “everything happens for a reason” speech. I
usually listen to his advice, but on that night, whatever he said went in one ear and out the
other. I had too many conversations going on in my own head to focus on ours.
         Before I joined the human snake–– the line for the security check–– my father
took some photos of me. Then, I said my hardest goodbye. My dad was my best friend.
Like my mother, he had always been there for me. From this moment on, the only one
who would be there for me, was me, and I now knew that more than ever. The tears
welled up when I hugged him. After the embrace, we said “I love you,” and then my
father left. I did my best not to watch him leave the airport, which was hard, but I
succeeded. I was officially on my own.
        The Air Pacific gate was noticeably quiet when I arrived. Attendants in flower-
print t-shirts did their pre-flight work while fellow travelers pretended to be relaxed in the
uncomfortable airport seats. I, on the other hand, couldn’t sit still. I was too full of
nervous excitement.
       After an hour of pacing around, we started to board the plane. When my row was
finally called, I showed the attendee my mint-conditioned passport and boarding pass.
My ticket was scanned and I heard that beep giving me the “all clear” to board. A huge
sigh of relief came over me; “I did it.”
       The 747 with two stories was, by far, the biggest plane I had ever been on. It was
spacious. There was a screen in front of every seat showing multiple movies. Eager to
get settled, I took out my iPod and journal and threw my pack in the overhead
compartment. The first song to come through my headphones was “Time To Move On”
by Tom Petty.

                         It’s time to move on, time to get going
                         What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
                         But under my feet, baby, the grass is growing
                         It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going

       “We are second in line for take off,” the captain announced.
       The next thing I knew we were speeding along the runway. My mind raced along
with the plane. “What kind of people would I meet? What would the weather be like in
Fiji? What if it rained? How long would it take to meet someone? How would staying
in hostels be? Do they speak English in Fiji?”
n Fiji?”

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