Right Swiping Your Way to a Second Language

Well guys, I can officially call myself a paid writer. Honored and humbled by the opportunity to write for Listen & Learn. Here’s my first blog post for them:

Allow me to introduce myself:

My name is Aaron and I am an American living and studying in Barcelona, Spain.

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Ever since moving abroad, my answer to the inescapable “de donde eres” question has strategically shifted from ‘the U.S.’ to ‘California.’ I must admit, it’s a great strategy. As soon as the word leaves my lips, smiles ensue. The Golden State truly is a golden word that invites much more, well, pleasant and often hilarious queries, like…

“OMG do you surf?”

Or

“Why would you ever leave Cali?” (People who aren’t from California love saying Cali)

And

“Why Barcelona? What do you love about it here?”

My answer is always the same: options.

Barcelona offers so many options. Whether it’s visiting an art exhibit or museum, sunbathing on the beach with friends, catching an outdoor movie on Montjuic, or dancing the night away at a free concert, Barcelona is a cultural and social goldmine. Throw in the fact that the most expensive event I listed will cost you a whopping six Euro and you can start to see why I’m on the constant lookout for a wife with an EU passport. I never want to leave.

Unfortunately, for those who come to immerse themselves in a second language, speaking Spanish is also an option in this great city by the sea. One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe, Barcelona is teeming with English speakers and a local population whose native tongue is Catalan, not Castellano (Castilian Spanish). Even the courses at my university, Pompeu Fabra, named after the linguist who developed the Catalan language, were offered in English.

Want to check your skill level before heading overseas for study? Take a free placement test to see how your level measures up!

One month into my stay I realized that if I wanted to improve my Spanish I would need to make a conscious effort to capitalize on every speaking opportunity afforded. For some examples and tips on how to make the most of your language learning experience while abroad checkout fellow blogger Katie’s post. As Katie alluded to in her piece, the most progress comes when stepping out of your comfort zone and staying there. And what’s more uncomfortable than an awkward first date?

With over 50 million active users, Tinder is one of the most popular dating applications in the world. Let’s pretend you’ve never heard of it so I can give you the basics.

Pulling bio information and pictures from Facebook, Tinder users sift through profiles in their vicinity, swiping their way to romance through their smartphones. A left swipe on a profile means that you are not interested or simply “nope.” A right swipe signifies interest. When two users ‘right swipe’ each other, a ‘match’ is created and a lovely push notification is sent to your phone. The process is a bit shallow, I know, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to doing a little dance every time my phone lights up and says “Congratulations! You have a new match.”

No rookie to the dating app scene (I once met a girlfriend, now ex-girlfriend, through a similar app called Bumble. Heeey Nikki), I initially used Tinder to engage with other Americans living in or passing through Barcelona. While abroad, there is a level of comfort that comes from spending time with people from ‘back home.’ But in the spirit of growth, and like Katie already told you, FORGET your comfort.

Determined to shake off the shackles of complacency, I updated my Tinder profile, switching all of my bio text from English to Spanish. I began left swiping any user from the U.S. or England. I never thought my quest to perfect a second language would lead me down the dark path of racial profiling, but hey… by any means necessary, right? If I got a match, I made sure to always send my first message in Castellano, establishing my ability and desire to communicate in Spanish.

And it worked.

I soon found myself sipping café con leche and speaking Spanish through entire dates. Initially, I was a sweaty mess, stumbling over words as I struggled to communicate with the vocabulary of a nine year old. I’m sure the double shots of espresso didn’t help. However, a couple of months into my Tinder experiment, I noticed that my confidence had greatly increased while speaking Spanish. I am proud to say that my vocabulary grew from that of a nine year old to the level of pubescent teenager, one awkward Tinder date at a time.

Interestingly, my language skills were not the only thing that Tinder helped to improve. As I connected with more local girls, my cultural experience in Barcelona was also enriched. I gained insight into Catalan traditions, cuisine, celebrations, and festivals. Catalans love their festivals. I’ve even managed to learn a bit of the Catalan language through the process.

Yesterday I was giving a tour through the Barrí Gótic (I give street art tours in the city center in an effort to support my Tinder coffee date habit), when I met a beautiful and very Ukrainian looking gal by the name of Justina. I know, I know, racial profiling. Since Tinder has yet to teach me Ukrainian, I addressed Justina in English. Her face strained as I spoke, clearly struggling to interpret my Californian.

I stopped mid-sentence and asked, “Hablas Español?”

“Of course,” she replied, relieved. “I feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish,” she continued in perfect Castellano.

Surprised, I asked how she, a recent arrival from the Ukraine, had learned the language so fluently.

“My husband of course.”

“Oh wow,” I responded, “and how did you meet your husband?”

Justina blushed and replied through grinning teeth, “Tinder.”

The Terrible Towels

My abuelito thinks I’m gay.

“When I was your age I already had 7 kids!” He teased me in Spanish.

No gracias Abuelo.

But in his defense, it has been a long time since I’ve brought a girl around the family.

My younger siblings getting married and having babies doesn’t help.

Thanks a lot guys.

The final straw took place in January when I went home to spend time with family. Trying to show off my improved Castellano,  I made the mistake of lisping the “c” in Barcelona in front of the old man.

He slapped his knee and pointed his finger, letting out a laugh that I’ve never heard him make, like an ‘I knew it!’ kind of laugh.

I thought it was hilarious. 

Don’t get it twisted guys. This isn’t some homophobic rant, some of my greatest friends are gay. Like they say in Spain, me da igaul. But I know my old man doesn’t like his old man thinking his eldest young man is gay.

Ever-cognizant of this antiquated yet completely hilarious quandary I’ve put my pops in, I wasn’t going to tell ya’ll about what happened to me last month.

But here we goooo.

Sharing a living space is never easy.

After spending my first eight months living in the Barri Gótic with some of my best friends in the city, it was time for me to find a new flat. After a month of some serious searching, I finally found a room in the beautiful neighborhood of Gracia. Although Gracia is often considered the most gentrified neighborhood in Barcelona, a certain charm of authenticity remains. I hit the narrow streets during sunset as the locals take their evening stroll around the neighborhood. The paseo is a delightful tradition, bringing a strong sense of community to the barrio. Young parents chat as their children laugh and play in the street. Sometimes I sit and watch the old men play their pick-up games of bocce ball in the dusty squares. 

The neighborhood more than makes up for the size of my room. “Shoebox” is an upgrade. And I haven’t had a bed so small since I was eleven.

“We’ll share the shelter of my single bed?”

Bob Marley was full of shit on that one.

But I have my own terrace that gets amazing sunlight and a cool breeze. I even strung up lights and bought some flowers and aromatic plants from a local nursery. Please don’t tell my grandfather.

I share a wall and a huge bathroom with Melissa, a rad chica from the U.K. who’s in Barcelona for hairdresser school. Our bathroom has a bidet and I’m not sure how I’ve managed to live this long without one. So fresh and so clean clean.

My two Italian roomies, Franceso and Andrea, best friends since childhood, share a room and a smaller restroom down the hall. After about a week, I noticed that they had begun taking the liberty of utilizing our more spacious lavatory. ‘Not a big deal,’ I thought to myself, ‘mi baño es su baño amigos.’ I’m prone to fits of claustrophobia myself so I understood their need for ample leg room whilst handling their business.

I forgot to mention that our apartment is technically a student housing unit of sorts. I was leery upon finding this out, but essentially the title is just… well… a title. A way for the management company to assuage a community that has witnessed rent prices skyrocket in their neighborhood over the last decade. But the title does come with some perks. Basically, any appliance or piece of furniture that we need is a simple text message away. Need an iron? Text our landlord Sebastian and you’ll have it within a day or two. More plates and silverware? How about a fan in my room? No problemo.

When I noticed some new hand towels hanging in the restroom near the door, I smiled and thought, ‘Sebastian… what a guy.’ 

For about a week I used those lovely little towels with gusto. I preferred the green towel, which was bit more course, for drying my hands.  I reserved the white towel, which had a higher thread count and much finer fabric, for my evening face wash. One night, after plunging my face in that lovely white cloth, I noticed a hint of funky smell emanating from the fabric. ‘Hmmph,‘ I thought, ‘must be time for a wash.’ After finishing up with the green towel, which still had a sweet fragrance, I took the white towel, along with some other clothes that needing cleaning, and started up the washing machine.

A couple of hours later, Andrea returned from work after a long day at the pizzeria. He changed clothes and made his way to my (our) restroom, newspaper in hand. But before the door closed Andrea muttered something in Italian and remerged into the hallway, angry, quite uncharacteristic of the ever-chipper and gregarious Italian. “Aaron, what has happened to my towel? Have you been using my towel?”

Taken aback by his aggressive tone, I responded in a like manner, “What are you talking about, bro?”

“If you mean our hand towels in my restroom… then of course I have.”

Clearly frustrated by my response, Andrea barked back in Spanish (his Spanish is better than mine, another fact that would probably make my abuelito laugh and point in my direction), “you should not use other people’s towels Aaron.”

“Listen buddy, you and Fra have been using my restroom for weeks and I haven’t said a word. And now you want to claim our community towels too?”

“No. You do not understand. Those are our towels. From Italia. They are for the culo. You have been using our ass towels.” The anger in his voice had subsided into a menacing laugh.

“What?” I asked, feeling a bit light headed.

Apparently, a bidet is no mere luxury for Italians. Nearly every home in Italy has a washroom fully equipped with toilet and bidet. Next to each bidet you’ll find a rack with small “hand” towels. DO NOT use these towels. Like, ever. Don’t even look at ’em.

For Francesco and Andrea, pooping in my restroom was not about leg room. Utilizing a toilet without a bidet would be outright barbaric for them, and leaving their ‘booty towels’ on the rack near the bidet was nothing out of the ordinary, something they never even thought to warn their ignorant roommate from the USA about.

Awesome.

After regaining my composure all I could do was laugh and tell Andrea how Francesco’s booty had a much sweeter fragrance than his. Like fresh lavender and honey.

You can laugh, just don’t tell my old man.

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A Party in the Clouds

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Happy birthday Momma!

I’m not sure if they throw birthday parties in heaven, but if they do… I’m sure yours will be going all night long.

Knowing you, you’ll have the whole place dancing and eating your enchiladas tonight.

Mmmm. I’d probably shoot someone for a plate of your enchiladas Ma. Not like murder… just a clean shot in the foot or something.

50 years old.

Wow.

What happened to us? Treinta y cincuenta, ya somos viejitos.

I don’t feel thirty Ma. How does fifty feel? My friend Florence gave me a lovely photograph of Frida Kahlo on my birthday and I put it on my wall. She hangs proudly, donning her traditional Mexican garb, and I think of you every time my eye catches hers.

I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long, it’s been a busy year. I made it to Mexico and visited La Virgen just like I promised.

Guess what? I’m back in Barcelona, I told you how much I loved it in my last letter, remember? For some reason, I can feel your presence much more here. Maybe it’s the moon. She seems to shine extra bright in this city by the sea. Or maybe it’s the café con leche. Sometimes I get up early and walk the narrow allies of the Barri Gótic on my way to the gym, the sweet smell drifts from the cafés and I think of you.

Can you believe Rigo is getting married? Did you get your invitation yet? Mine took over a week to get to Spain, so I’d imagine yours taking at least two. Do you remember when we all met Patricia at Julie’s 50th? She told me the sweet things you said about me that night, it made me cry. I think she was made for my little brother, she cooks him sopa and makes it to mass every Sunday.

I’ve been learning so much in school Ma, my grad program is quite challenging. My colleagues are from all over the world and so brilliant. There’s even a Mexicano in my class… Ricardo. You would like him. He says my Spanish sucks, I need to keep practicing.

I could not have picked a better time to study abroad. The solidarity and passion I encounter in my classrooms give me hope during these turbulent times. There is hope in the youth. It seems as though I’ve learned as much from my peers as I have from my professors. We are all very close. I wanted them to experience a Thanksgiving like we used to have, so I pre-ordered a 20 pound turkey at La Boqueria and we had a beautiful dinner. Before we ate, I lit a candle and asked everyone to share what they were grateful for, just like you used to.

They loved it.

Afterwards they all made me pose for pictures as I carved the bird. I was pretty nervous as this was my first time preparing a turkey. When I went to cut into the breast I almost lost my breath… there was no meat! I felt a thousand eyes watching as I desperately made a mess of the poor turkey, knifing and slicing to no avail. A bead of sweat rolled down my temple as I switched sides, hoping she was a bit lop-sided… nothing! I heard one of my classmates whisper to her friend, “Ese pavo no tiene carne.” My Canadian friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could help. I handed over the knife in shame. My attempt to share a beautiful American tradition had gone down in flames. First Trump, now this. Oh ya! I didn’t tell you about Trump. You wouldn’t believe me if I did Ma.

Dejected, I watched as Hervé took my place at the head of the table. But he couldn’t find any meat either! I was so relieved. Suddenly, I knew what the problem was. I rushed over, pushed Hervé to the side and grabbed the turkey by one of the drumsticks with my barehand. Hervé caught on and helped me lift the treacherous fowl, when we flipped the turkey over our friends let out a gasp. I had cooked her upside down! I took that knife back and sliced my heart away. You would have laughed so hard. It turned out to be a fruitful mistake though, the meat was so juicy and tender. You would have been proud. Maybe next year I’ll try your stuffing. Liz is the only one who can make it like you did.

Anyways, I should wrap this up… you have a party to get ready for. I just want to let you know how much you are loved down here. Not a day passes without someone speaking your name and sharing your story. I feel so fortunate and proud to be your son, everyday. Every single day. I try and live up to those mountainous standards you held me to, to be the man you thought I could be, mostly I fall short. But I’ll keep trying Ma.

Happy birthday.

Love you more,

Aaron

P.S. I almost forgot! I wrote story about you and your lover boy Steve Garvey. It got published on Mother’s Day and thousands of people read and shared it. Dad was pretty proud. You got so many Likes on Facebook, we all know you loved the Likes. Okay bye, have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball IS Life

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I am a Dodger fan.

It’s no secret.

Anyone that has a pulse within a 5000 mile radius knows that I bleed Dodger Blue.

All emotional investment in this season’s outcome was washed away when my boys were eliminated last week. But as I sat and watched game seven of the World Series, I couldn’t help but lose my shit. I couldn’t stop myself from jumping and hollering as momentum swung from team to team, like some cruel, sadistic pendulum.

The tortured faces of Cubs fans flashed across my screen and their suffering oozed through the pixels. Grown men wearing inside-out caps with hands on their faces, watched the game unfold through trembling fingers, the weight of 108 winless years bearing down on their drooping shoulders. Bill Murray looked catatonic one moment, on the verge of cardiac arrest the next. From Lost in Translation to Caddyshack with every pitch.

39,466 days of hope and suffering relived in a five hour ballgame…culminating in one beautiful moment of shared jubilation. There will be no sleep on the Northside of Chicago tonight.

What a game. What a ride.

Two days after the Dodgers were eliminated from the postseason my dad called to talk about the game. (He knew I needed some time to process. Thanks Pops).

“Did you cry when they lost?” he asked. A strange question from my father who usually shies away from sentimentality.

“Uh… kind of.” I replied neutrally, unsure where he was headed.

“Well your brother did. He took it hard. He went into the kitchen and wept like a baby. What’s up with that?” I laughed as my heart swelled with pride.

Baseball is a marathon and an investment. Each season blossoms in spring and stretches deep into the year as the air turns cold and leaves begin to fall.  Every team suffers injuries and enjoys winning streaks. Beloved players are traded and unknown rookies emerge into the limelight. Dedicated fans sit back and experience it all, each loss… each victory… every pitch. Together.

For the past three seasons, my brother, roommate and I have done exactly that. We would rush home from work to eat dinner and watch the ballgames together. We cursed players when they underperformed and danced during walk-off victories and Kershaw no-hitters. We took naps and ate burritos, too many burritos. The whole while Vin Scully’s voice echoed through our apartment, the beloved narrator of our shared experiences. We carpooled to Chavez Ravine, sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to the organ of Nancy Bea and stuffed our faces with grilled Dodger Dogs. How spoiled we truly were. You may scoff, but it was the best time of my life.

My European friends gasp when I tell them how many games are played each year. 162 games? 6 months? That sounds horribly boring. And they’re right. Baseball is fucking boring. And so is life, regardless of what your friend’s Instagram account leads you to believe.

OMG Susie I want your life! You’re always going on adventures! 

I love reading the comment section. People only post highlight reels. No, Susie isn’t always going on adventures. She was probably sitting in traffic or pooping when she posted that picture under the Eiffel Tower. Modern attention spans, or lack thereof, don’t appreciate the intimate, slow unfolding beauty of baseball. They don’t value long innings or double-headers. They just want Paris and slam dunks, touchdowns and hard tackles. Not me… I love pooping.

Baseball, unlike anything other sport, has the beautiful capacity to mimic life. The boring innings and thrilling highlights, an intricate and interdependent patchwork of the sweet and mundane. And victory wouldn’t taste so sweet without the investment of time, life’s most precious commodity, that true fans make each season. So when we lose, it hurts. The end of a season marks the closing of a chapter of our lives. We simultaneously mourn and celebrate the passing of our shared experiences.

Baseball, like life, isn’t so much about the end result. It’s about the in-betweens. The ups and downs. The ride. For 108 years Cubs fans have stamped their tickets. This is the narrative that has taken over your social media feed. Cubbies Nation takes pride in their investment, as they should. But don’t be fooled, the World Series is not the fruit of their toil. The prize lies in their struggle. A century of time spent hoping and cheering together.

And when the celebrations end and the confetti is swept, we will do it all over again. Baseball doesn’t end, it marches on.

Baseball is pain. Baseball is beautiful. Baseball IS life.

 

Viva Los Dodgers: Chronicles of a Dodgers Fan Living in Spain

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As my plane lifted off, destined for Barcelona, I looked down at the lights of Los Angeles and was overcome with emotion. But my grief was not for my family or dear friends. Sorry guys… I love you, but you’ll be there when I get back.

My mournings were of a bluer variety.

My eyes scanned the maze of urban lights down below, in search of hallowed ground. That diamond jewel that lies in the hills of Chavez Ravine, blue heaven on earth, Dodger Stadium. As the plane ascended into the starry night, a whiff of grilled Dodger Dogs rose 10,000 feet and bid me farewell.

Alas, I had made my decision. I was leaving to study in Spain in the middle of a pennant race, even worse, in the last weeks of Vin Scully’s broadcasting career. The team I loved so dearly, would never be the same. For who are the Dodgers without their beloved maestro? What is baseball in Los Angeles without the Voice of Summer?

Unfortunately, the Dodger faithful will have to answer those questions next season. Like Vinny said, “Don’t be sad because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Right?

I guess.

So here I am, at 3 am in Barcelona, smiling as my Boys in Blue fight against the Nationals in the playoffs. I take siestas at 10 pm and set alarms to wake at 3 to watch the games, shouting into pillows and high-fiving myself when we win.

This nine hour time difference might be the death of me, but I’ll be damned if I miss a game.

This is our year,

I want to hear you from here.

Wave those blue towels and cheer with all of your might,

let’s win it for Vinny and send him off right!

GO BLUE!!

#WinForVin

Drowning with a Smile

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September 30th marked my one year “Quit-Your-Day-Job” anniversary.

A necessary deviation from a well-traveled path. An elevated perspective offered a snapshot of my life further up that road, and I didn’t like what I saw, so I jumped the fuck off the trail.

The decision has afforded me a plethora of life’s most precious commodity.

Time.

I have had time to explore.

Time to explore foreign lands and cultures, and perhaps more importantly, the expanses of my own mind. Time to read and learn and reflect and when the Muses have allowed… create. Time to laugh and breathe and love slowly.

A year of testing waters.

Dipping toes in tepid lakes to find the one worthy of a plunge.

I am not sure I have found her quite yet, but I have certainly discovered that I love to swim.

So here I am, back in Barcelona, doing the doggy-paddle as my professors try to drown me with Nietzsche and Aristotle.

And I couldn’t be happier.

 

 

Summer at the Beach

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July in Huntington Beach-

Two sun kissed girls, perhaps four and five years old, run from a public bathroom toward the inviting sea in their swim suits. Their bundles of clothes underarm, hastily stuffed in floppy sun hats. The younger stops dead in her tracks, examines her heap of clothes and exclaims,

“Oh no! I dropped my underwears.”

Without looking back, she begins running again, a smile stretched across her face and yells,

“Aghh, I don’t need them anyway!”

I laugh to myself and continue up the path.

Further up the trail, a young father, slows his gate as he approaches a pair of white underwear lying atop the sand.

He hesitates.

I smile and say, “I’m pretty sure those belong to your daughter.” He laughs, shakes his head and stuffs the panties in his beach bag.

 

 

*Like the photo? Go double tap my friend Zilly’s photography @laurenzillyphoto 

She is so talented!

Freestyle Friday: Beautiful Chaos

And then, suddenly, an unexpected wind sweeps in and engulfs me in her fury.

She howls and blows and rages.

Beautiful chaos.

When she finally ceases, nothing is the same. The lens in which I viewed the world has been shattered, lost forever in the madness of the storm. I grieve for my ignorance while rejoicing in new found liberation. I am lost and uncertain. Naked and hungry.

Ravaged by the storm.

 

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A Blue Mother’s Day

I am so honored to say that this post was featured on one of the top Dodgers Fan sites on the web for Mother’s Day. I have had the pleasure of reading comments and similar stories from fans around the world over the last twenty four hours. Thousands of people are reading about my Ma and I can’t stop smiling about it. You can see my story on Dodgers Nation here.

 

Since the 2006 season, Major League Baseball players have worn pink when taking the field on Mother’s Day. In a dedicated fight against breast cancer, bearded men don pink wristbands, wear pink cleats and even wield pink bats on the second Sunday of May. With Mother’s Day on the horizon and Dodger baseball well underway, it seems like an appropriate time to share a story about baseball, cancer and my Momma.

JT

Anyone ever forced to bear the news of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the “C” word. Father Time slows his steady march to a crawl when the word is uttered. Confusion ensues, ears ring.

“Cancer…

mother….

chemotherapy…

stage four.”

As the brain begins to process the gravity of the unfamiliar words at hand, they hit like an anvil to the chest

Fortunately, for our family, a strong support system of relatives and friends rallied around my mother when news of her stomach cancer diagnosis reached the edges of our social circle. As she fought for her life, undergoing chemotherapy treatments and operational procedures, my siblings and I felt love and support pour in from all directions. Friends and acquaintances held charity events, cooked dinners and even washed cars in an effort to chip in.

All the while my mother’s condition worsened. The cancer cells in her stomach were metastasizing at an uncontrollable rate, making it difficult for her to pass food regularly. Weekly chemotherapy treatments began taking their toll on her frail body. She lost weight, she lost her hair and at times… worst of all… her eternal sense of optimism. I could hear the sound of defeat in her voice.

Then one day I got a call from my mom and the excitement in her tone reached through the phone and slapped an instant smile on my face.

“Oh my God, son. Oh.. my… God! Guess who I just off the phone with?” My mother exclaimed with the exuberance of a fourteen year old girl.

“No idea Ma.” I replied through grinning teeth.

“Steve frickin’ Garvey!”

“Whaaaaat? No way!” I shouted in confusion, secretly hoping she hadn’t imagined speaking with her childhood crush in a chemo-induced hallucination. Chemo brain is no joke, but my mother hadn’t imagined a thing. As she battled cancer, a distant friend heard of my mother’s diagnosis and reached out to Mr. Garvey.

Anyone that knows my family knows that Dodger Blue blood courses through our veins. For a bunch of Los Angeles transplants living in the desert of Arizona, the Dodgers were more of an identity than a baseball team, a symbol of our past lives in Southern California, surrounded by family and citrus trees. Whenever Vin Scully’s voice hit our ears, we could taste the Dodger Dogs of yesteryear.

And no player was held in higher regard than Steve Garvey. When my Momma coached my t-ball team, she made sure I wore number six in honor of her childhood crush. She loved to tell the story about waiting for Mr. Garvey in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium after a game when she was twelve years old. Garvey pulled up in a red convertible, rolled down his window, and signed an autograph for her. She almost fainted.  After my mom passed away, I found a manila envelope filled with Steve Garvey newspaper clippings and hand sketched drawings she had collected and drawn as a young girl.

She never had an Instagram, but Garvey would have definitely been her Man Crush Monday.

Ana

The few minutes that Mr. Garvey took to reach out to my mother would have been enough. His thoughtful act brought joy and light in a time of darkness. But number six didn’t stop there.

In a last ditch effort to remove the cancer cells from her stomach, my mother traveled to the City of Hope in Duarte for surgery. If time slowed to a crawl when we first learned of my mother’s diagnosis, it stood completely still as my family sat in that second floor waiting room. The longest day of our lives. When the surgeon finally appeared, the news was grim. Six months to live. How does one react to such words?

Devastation.

As my mother healed in the hospital after the procedure, our families’ moral sunk to unprecedented depths.

A few days after the surgery, a box arrived in her hospital room. Gifts from Mr. Garvey. My mother reached inside and pulled out a white jersey with elegant blue letters flowing across the chest. Underneath, the number six flashed in a radiant red, bringing a gasp from the mouths of family members gathered around the bed. The words, “To Ana, a Sweetheart… Fight On!” were written in blue permanent marker just above Steve Garvey’s signature.

And fight she did, until the end. But first… she smiled.

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A few months after the failed surgery a friend sent word that Mr. Garvey was making a public appearance in the City of Industry. Determined to thank him for what he did for my family, I made the drive to the event and joined a long line of Dodger fans, eager to meet their favorite first baseman. As I neared the end of the line, I sensed a hint of nervousness enter my body. Will he remember us? Maybe sending gifts to sick fans is an everyday thing for baseball legends.

My apprehensions were quickly assuaged. As soon as I mentioned “Ana,” my mother’s name, Mr. Garvey’s eyes lit up.

“Oh Ana! How is she doing? What a sweetheart. I’ve been meaning to call and check up on her. You know what? Let’s call her now.”

My eyes drifted to the long line of waiting fans as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed my mother’s number. I silently prayed she would pick up, my ma was notorious for never answering her phone.

Nope.

Mr. Garvey laughed and left her a voicemail. We spent a few minutes chatting and even posed for some pictures. Mr. Garvey noticed my cousin and uncle waiting behind velvet ropes and invited them over so he could sign their baseballs. What a guy. If dudes could have Man Crushes, he would have definitely been mine. Okay that sounded weird, but seriously, Garvey is the MAN.

My mom finally called me a few hours after we left the event.

“Ma! You totally missed Steve Garvey’s phone call!” I scolded her.

“Honey, I have to play hard to get and be challenging. I will call him back in a day or two and he can ask me on a proper date, the rest will be history.”

She totally big timed a big leaguer. I laughed so hard I got a cramp in my neck.

My mother lost her fight to cancer three months later, but she went down swinging, and thanks to Steve Garvey, she went back to the dugout with a smile on her face. A week after she passed I got a call from number six. And of course, forever my Momma’s son, I missed his call.

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The Hostel World

 

When my brother travels, he travels in style.

Dapper Dan stays in five star hotels and orders room service.

He buys VIP tables at exclusive night clubs and always drinks from the top shelf.

I’m more of a Circus Circus and sneak through the backdoor kind of guy.

So when I told him my plan to work and live in hostels during my travels, his lack of enthusiasm was expected.

Sounds pretty cool bro,” he replied, trying to match my excitement with a hint of obligation in his voice. No one wants to be a joy killer. Plus, he’s my little brother, he’s been conditioned to go along with my stupid ideas since birth.

I recently left the great city of Barcelona where I spent six weeks living in a cramped and claustrophobic dorm-style room with seven other staff members. The smell: a lovely essence of dirty feet, butt crack and Axe body spray. It was like living in my seventh grade gym locker. But the strong bonds I formed with my flatmates made the smell much more tolerable. It also helped that I was the only snorer in the group.

Sorry guys.

I’ve received a few emails from readers asking my opinion on hostels so I’ve put together a little list for your reading pleasure. Stinky feet aside, I assure you… there are plenty of benefits to staying in hostels during your travels.

Wait, what are you talking about?

That’s a fair question. Prior to my Europe trip last year, I only had a vague, and mostly inaccurate conceptualization about hostels and was less than optimistic when my friend suggested we utilize them during our trip. Then she told me the price…

Hostels are lodging establishments that offer low-cost accommodations to travelers (generally young travelers) who stay in shared rooms and often share amenities.

No, You Won’t Get Murdered

Okay I can’t guarantee that. But I am shocked by the number of people that have looked at me in horror when discussing my travels and said something like, “Oh my God! I would never stay there. Haven’t you seen the movie Hostel?”

Seriously, at least five people have said that to me. Yes, there is a crazy Dutchman with tranquilizers and a drill waiting for you at every hostel in Europe. Look out.

Camaraderie

Don’t let my social media accounts fool you, it’s not all camel rides and rainbows. Traveling can be a lonely endeavor. One step off the plane and you’re thousands of miles from your friends and family in a new city where you don’t know a soul, don’t speak the language, don’t have a Wi-Fi connection and all you want is a fucking carne asada burrito.

Staying in a hostel provides an immediate network of like-minded travelers and a helpful source of information about local happenings and attractions. If you’re looking for some company at that museum you’ve been dying to visit, chances are there’s someone at the hostel who’s interested in joining. You’ll soon find yourself making deep connections with people from all over the world in a matter of days.

My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!
My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!

Save Money

Need I say more?

Traveling isn’t cheap and aside from plane tickets, nothing hits your wallet like accommodations. A bed at my hostel in the heart of Barcelona, depending on the night of the week, can cost as little as 7 Euro. Hotels and Airbnb’s start at nearly ten times that amount. Skip the fancy room and go out and explore that new city you find yourself in.

Cook it Yourself

I am definitely a street food advocate but you can only eat so many tacos and kababs. Eating healthy on the road can be damn near impossible. While visiting Rome, I lost two things very dear to me: my favorite pair of socks and my six pack.

Every hostel I’ve visited has some sort cooking area for it’s guests and not a single one of those kitchens has a decent non-stick pan. However, utilizing the hostel kitchen can save you some cash and provide unique insight into the local culture and economy. A quick visit to the neighborhood grocery store will leave you with a general idea on the area’s cost of living and how the locals eat. For example, one step into a Mercadona and you will understand just how much Spaniards love their pork. Want some cheap eggs? Head over to Lisbon where you can get a dozen for less than a Euro. Needless to say, I ate a lot of eggs in Portugal.

Find a Balance

I’ve come to realize that Americans travel a bit differently than most. Our work obsessed culture awards minimal vacation time, forcing us to take crammed, sprint-style vacations, visiting as many locations as possible in week or if we’re fortunate, two week intervals.

My extended experience abroad is rare for an American and I am truly grateful for the luxury of time that I have been given. That being said, four months of hostel living will leave the most patient of men begging for a respite of privacy. When small talk and friendly encounters with guests begin feeling like forced conversations that annoy the hell out of you, it might be time to give Airbnb a look. Just be sure to time your luxurious stays appropriately. A private apartment for a week in Paris could wind up costing you a month’s rent back home. I recommend splurging in more affordable cities and getting the most out of your hard earned money.