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Without a Clue

February 5
by
Pat Ulacco
in
Culture/Travel
with
.

I’m a shy guy. Bottom line, if I see you and I know you I likely won’t go out of my way to get your attention or to even smile and nod as you pass me by.


With a twin brother and a few very, very, close relationships I have never had to make new relationships on my own. I’ve always been a follower in that sense. Perhaps it was a result of always having one of my best friends with me whether it was my twin brother, my long term ex girlfriend, the comfort of my own mind, or maybe it was even just due to the feeling of exclusion that so many of us introverts feel during middle school and high school, but I never felt the need to be open to people. I never needed more friends. That was the old me. That was the pessimistic adolescent who had a one dimensional comfort zone and wasn’t willing to give it up for anything.

Going to college forced me to just kind of get used to uncomfortable situations and while I became slightly independent it was still just getting into a routine and making it a habit for fourteen weeks at a time. The real change in my personality, what really helped me break out of my shell, was studying abroad in Australia. There are so many moments that I am sure I will write about at some point which contributed to this evolution. Even now, six months after my return, I have been noticing a quality in myself that I never had before. I am confident in myself, optimistic about life, and incredibly happy.

We never become who we are until we are molded by those who make an impact on our lives.

Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that can make that impact. For me, the event that unlocked the hinges of my caged in mind and allowed me to discover my true self was a night in Sydney with one of my best friends. We both arrived in Australia early. I went early just to have a week of free time before my studies began and my friend went early so that he could see a little bit of Australia before going to New Zealand for the semester. We met up for a couple of nights where we stayed in a hostel in the city.

The hostel felt like a scene in Fight Club with the yellow stained walls and tight halls. Our room was the size of a closet with bunk beds barely leaving any walking space. The showers were like the filthy high school showers, except these ones are shared with a bunch of international strangers. Who knows where all of those bodies have been? Yet there was a sense of freedom there that I had not felt before. Everyone was a traveler. Everyone had a story. And there I was, silently standing under the water of my own stall with no stories of great adventure, only the thrill of the ones that had not yet come.

My friend, Thomas, was in the stall next to me. He had no shell to break out of, no fear of what others thought or even any doubts about his capability to study abroad. He blasted Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” which was the first time that I allowed myself to stop worrying that everyone who entered the bathroom could hear it. We simply made our presence known, even if it was as the annoying blokes from America.

However, when I finished my shower and went to brush my teeth I realized that all of my anxiety was unnecessary as individuals from all over Europe and Australia were singing along to Thomas’ music. Not only was the atmosphere stress free and completely euphoric, but also everyone I passed smiled and said hello.

All of my greatest fears of my first time traveling without my family had been eliminated and I quickly found myself looking for something new to experience with curiosity and excitement rather than fear and doubt.

We decided our night would begin with some drinks in our room, but our ultimate goal was to meet new people. We didn’t have any expectations for who to meet, how many people to meet, or even how we would meet them; all we knew was that wherever the night took us, we wanted to meet someone.
When we were all set to get the night started, we left the hostel to go get a quick bite. Neither of us had purchased SIM cards, so we had no way of finding directions or anything, we just blindly left the only place in the city that we knew. We only walked a few blocks before we found an outlet with multiple options. Guzman y Gomez, basically the Australian version of Chipotle, is where we had our meal. It did not disappoint. On the way back we found a liquor store and purchased the cheapest thing we could find because alcohol in Australia is surprisingly expensive. We got a box of five liters of cheap wine for ten bucks and right then and there I knew that with my budget this would be my drink for the next six months.

Right before we got back to the hostel to start drinking, we caught a familiar scent, something we hadn’t had the luxury of smelling since leaving the states; marijuana. Thomas and I looked at each other and it was clear we were thinking the same thing—what better way to meet someone. So we followed our noses. All of the sudden we were walking against the crowd of people that filled the city sidewalks, weaving our way this way and that all the while making sure not to lose the scent. We were like dogs tracking down a long lost friend and finally, about two blocks from our hostel, we spotted a group of four young men sitting in an alleyway.

“Hey! Sorry to bother!” Thomas called out. “Any chance you guys know where we could find some greens?”

“No, sorry mate.” They all called back as they scrambled to cover their bag. Thomas and I were fixed on getting high at this point, and we weren’t ready to take no for an answer. We walked down the alley an approached the guys.

“Sorry, we just arrived in Sydney, we have money, any chance we could smoke with you guys?” Thomas was clearly the more experienced social being as I just sort of observed. The four strangers looked at each other and exchanged words in German before welcoming us to take a seat with them. Thomas and I decided to sit on opposite ends in order to really make sure there was no division of culture of cliques. We ended up sitting with them for about twenty minutes just smoking and getting to know one and other. Turns out these guys were around the same age as us, German students traveling during their gap year. And as luck would have it, we found them on their last night in Australia, and since they couldn’t fly with the marijuana they ended up giving us all they had left along with some tobacco and rolling papers.

Our first encounter couldn’t have gone any better, and suddenly our night was about to become an adventure we never saw coming.

We said farewell and safe travels to our newfound international friends and, in a pleasant daze, floated back to the hostel with senseless pride in our step. Back in our two man closet of a room, I began pouring the wine while Thomas prepared a couple spliffs fro the night. We decided to start the night with a movie, of course to drink to it, and settled on “Without a Paddle.” We looked up rules for the drinking game, but quickly realized that the bunch of goons in the movie reminded us all too much of our buddies back home. Very quickly, it became a game of us drinking any time the characters did or said anything that one of our old friends would have done or said. We drank a lot.

The wine was bitter, like expired carbonated orange juice, or something like that if you can imagine it. Before we knew it the five liters were gone and the hostel’s wifi managed to keep us from finishing the movie. We had a nice buzz going now, and any anxiety I had was erased by the comfort of my stoned mind and the warmth of my semi drunk self.

We looked up directions to Hyde Park in Sydney before leaving the hostel. Once we stepped out again we knew we wouldn’t have any way of finding directions unless we asked for help. The city was crowded on every sidewalk, but the air was warm and we welcomed the cluelessness that met us on the city streets. We didn’t even know which side of the sidewalk to walk on. Our first intoxicated journey was a successful one, for we found the park pretty quickly. The park seemed like a whole new world, all the commotion of the city was left at the steps and a serenity I had never experienced in a city before welcomed me as if I was a dwarf fortunate enough to find himself welcome in Lothlórien among the elves.

The trees were all thick at the base and spread high and wide with endless branches that formed godly umbrellas over us, yet the protection they provided also cast a shadow upon us that even the lights along the path could not eliminate. Bats hung from the branches, not just any bats; they looked like foxes with wings. And rats scurried from barrel to barrel scavenging anything mankind had left for them before the sunset. The homeless had mattresses set up in the corners of the park and covered themselves in whatever they could find be it leaves newspaper or torn up blankets. As we sat on a bench and prepared to spark the first spliff, we found a pack of saltines next to us. Next thing we know, a creature we had not ever seen before was slowly approaching. It looked like a lemur, and we honestly thought that’s what it was. Yet we were confused because we were not sure that lemurs could be found in Australia. On top of that, we had no cell service to look it up, so we simply appreciated how cute it was and welcomed it to our little clique.

We broke up some of the saltines and created a trail for our little buddy to come join us. He was hesitant at first, but soon he was sitting right next to me with a full cracker in his hands nibbling away as we smoked. At first we just looked at him and enjoyed his company until we decided he had to be one of the boys. So we gave him a little pat on the back and as if to avoid being hunted he bolted away. Moments later, however, the little critter was back. We pet him again and he allowed us to. We built a trust that seemed foreign to him. We made a friend.

When all the saltines were gone and the spliff was out we said our goodbyes and were on our way. When we said we wanted to meet someone that night we didn’t realize that it didn’t have to be human. Our world was opening up and we found an acceptance for all forms of life and an appreciation for the trust we built with this unknown creature from down under.

As we walked through the park we agreed that the next spliff was to be shared with a stranger. It didn’t take us long to find who we wanted to share it with, the only other people in the park at that time of night that were awake was a group of two girls and a guy sitting in the grass talking.

We approached them slowly, but without any caution because our minds had us in a place where fear and doubt were nonexistent and the hatred that so many of us experience in life today was a myth to our imagination. Thomas led the way once again and did the usual “hey there, hate to bother, my names Thomas, this is Pat,” I waved awkwardly with a smile of intoxicated uncertainty. “We just arrived from the United States, would it be alright if we sat with you for a bit? We have a spliff if any of you smoke.” He finished. The three exchanged glances, not of uncertainty, but of amused curiosity, and they allowed us to join them as they shifted to create room for us to sit. We introduced ourselves and became acquainted before the first moment of silence arrived. It was at this moment when I finally stepped up to keep the conversation alive.

“What are those animals all over the park?” I asked as Thomas and I both broke into laughter.

“Yeah, yeah what are those? Are they like lemurs or something?” Thomas added. Our three new friends all just laughed at our ignorance as we continued with our tale.

“Yeah, definitely lemurs, but I didn’t think there were lemurs outside of Madagascar.” I said.

“No!” The blonde girl finally yelled out. “You aren’t talking about a possum are you?”

“No, no way, that thing wasn’t a possum.” Thomas defended. “We know possums, that was not a possum.”

“Yeah no, I wouldn’t play with a possum. We were petting that thing and chilling with it!” I added.

They proceeded to make fun of us for a few minutes stating how gross and annoying the possums in Sydney are. Thomas and I decided to laugh it off and felt no shame due to the fact that these possums were far cuter than any possum back home.

We went on to talk for about an hour with local Australian’s before they got up and left looking for somewhere to eat. When we said goodbye, it was pleasant and quick. Within that hour, I heard about bogan’s for the first time and about slang terms often used in Australia. We traded facts about life on opposite sides of the world; they made fun of us for potentially having Trump as our next president and proceeded to poke fun at their own politics as well. Everything about the conversation was so easy and relaxed, free of judgment. We shared our spliff and they shared their joint, and as they walked away from Thomas and I we didn’t even care that they had forgotten to return our only lighter.

We knew we would likely never see them again. We knew we wouldn’t remember their names in the morning. Still, we knew we would always fondly remember the time we spent with them.

We began to wander in the city once more and decided we wanted to find a Subway. I had been in Sydney a few days longer than Thomas and I knew there was one at Sydney Harbor, but that walk would have been about forty minutes from where we were.

“Oh wow, guess I’m not gonna see the Opera House.” Thomas laughed as he was reminded of the most popular tourist attraction in Australia besides all the beaches. “Gives me a reason to come back.” He remained optimistic.

At that point, I also remembered seeing one at Darling Harbor, which was much closer, and I thought I could remember how to get us there. We walked for about twenty minutes before we decided to stop and try to ask someone, but it was getting later and Sydney seems to get quiet pretty early on weeknights.
It took us a few minutes longer than expected to find someone in a major city, but we finally found a man walking by himself and asked him for directions to Darling Harbor. He pointed us in the right direction and as we were thanking him Thomas decided to ask if he had an extra cigarette. The man was kind enough to give us one, but as we began to walk away we both realized we no longer had a lighter. I turned around and quickly apologized for stopping the man again before asking if he had an extra. Without any hesitation the man gave us the only one he had and said he had plenty at home. We thanked him again and continued on our quest for Subway.

About twenty minutes later we began to worry that the man had given us wrong directions or that we were just clueless as to how to follow them. We discussed turning around or even trying to find somewhere else to eat, but we were set on Subway, and we were excited to be back by the water before making the journey back to the crowded hostel. We were walking down one of the main streets and I noticed an elevated train track that I had seen before, but it wasn’t Darling Harbor. I began to chuckle lightly, but decided not to tell Thomas what it was about. We walked under the tracks and about twenty steps later the Opera House appeared towering over us with a heavenly glow in the night sky. Thomas’ became wide eyed as he realized what he was seeing.

“Guess you get to see the Opera House after all.” I said. We both broke into heavy laughter. Subway was closed, our feet were sore and our minds numb, but we accidentally found the Sydney Opera House on a night that quickly became one the most incredible nights of my life. Not only did I get to share it with a life long friend on the other side of the world from where we come, but also got to find a part of myself that I never knew was there. I discovered a part of humanity that society so often hides from the public.


We did not know a single person other than each other that night, but we were hardly ever alone. After Thomas left for New Zealand and I met up with my program for orientation, I had no doubt that I would be able to continue creating memories similar to that night. I was excited to meet as many people as I could and to enjoy every second of my time there. Thomas never realized how much he helped me break out of my shell that night, but I owe a lot of the friendships I made in Australia to him.

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