In August of 2001, i stood in my parents’ front lobby watching Wilby’s sister repack his poor excuse for a suitcase, mere minutes before we had to be on the road to Pearson International to catch our Delta ‘buddy’ flights to Budapest. According to her, rolling your clothes was the most economical way of packing, creating extra room for him to stash his initial Rogaine treatments. Might as well be a complete rebirth. It was the end of an era in London, ON, with former jobs, abandoned apartments, failed relationships and a string of anal beads all being left behind in our wake. It was like Bill Murray at the beginning of Stripes.
Wilby, Killer, JB and i let out for Hungary in mid-August, heading off to reset 4 lives that had been fucked up in one way or another. My buddy Rich, having lived there for several years already, had hooked us up with a sweet 4ish bedroom flat, wired to go with phone, interweb, furniture and bedding. Waterbedding. Our landlord turned out to be Hungary’s waterbed king, and also a pot dealer, swinger, US importer/exporter and bassist that had once sat in with Link Wray. This apartment was to be our new sanctuary of work, play, more work, more play and occasional rest; our fucking Xanadu. We had decided to start an online IT news/research company, and figured Central Europe was as good a place as any – we knew peeps: we had hookups. It wasn’t.
What followed over the next year was a semi-comedic yet increasingly disturbing collection of events, including, but not limited to, a phone service monopoly, a rapidly disintegrating business plan, 9/11, instamatic girlfriends, eccentric South African pothead rugby players, doctors, lots of doctors, the saddest Christmas ever, waterbed sex trials, excessive alcohol, marijuana, nitrous & Viagra use, bathhouse follies, bountiful girls of the EU, the ex-pat revolution, inane European party rules, Russian mob thugs, well Hungarians, exorbitant ‘Bootylicious’ spins, depleted bank accounts, excruciating hair loss, incessant Napster downloading, clubbing until daybreak, the Tea Thieves, the taxi incident, Slovakian mountain excursions, hairy-bush nuns, trips to get the grey books in Vienna, vast amounts of French onion soup, fractured friendships, relationships, coffee mugs and business deals, all constrained by the weight of the 1-year expiry date on our return flights.
It was like the good, the bad, the ugly and the good. We ran into problems that we never anticipated, not really taking into account that the country was just over 10 years this side of communism at the time. We typically greeted each problem with a Dreher in hand, a joint in mouth and Lebowski screening on the laptop. Dr. Gonzo seemed to be in close proximity. We weren’t total fuckups. We did work our asses off when we had to, delivering a pretty solid product to a very sparse client base. In between reports we did what all other red-blooded Canadian males would have done in our situation; we gave’er. Hard. I don’t want to use the overstated ‘bull in china shop’ reference, but when we went out it was a fuckin’ scene, man. Our boy Wilby was at times lacking in the subtlety department, which led to numerous scenes, dustups, hijinks and revelries. We made fast friends with many and pissed off a few others for good measure. Great friends, good times, but bad business. We were running out of startup funds, fast.
As the business splintered apart, so did our once-glorious 4ish bedroom flat, along with a couple of the relationships that had led us up to that point. Some scattered into the countryside, taking shelter in the beds and kitchens of their lady friends, while others simply moved a district or so down the korrut to a friendly open door. Wilby hunkered down in our desolate flat until the bitter end, like a less-insane Col. Kurtz with more daylight. As return ticket dates loomed larger, individual decisions had to be made whether to fight or take flight. It was a draw. Wilby and i decided to cut our losses and take the last train to Canucksville. Killer and JB both ended up staying and finding jobs, women and adventures that would keep them in Europe for the next decade. Hell, JB’s even still over there somewhere.
Looking back on things today, i can honestly say i wouldn’t change any of it for all the djembes in Africa. It was a once in a lifetime experience; a period in time when international upheaval suddenly became commonplace. Lives were being lived, wars were being fought, and transients were passing in and out of the ex-pat army at an alarming rate. We missed the high water mark, that’s for sure, but we definitely preceded the death rattle. I currently maintain friendships and connections with many peeps from the BP days, including the lads that it all started with. I have already returned back once for a vacation and would love to do so again in the near future. I still haven’t found what i’m looking for, or perhaps i have several times and just don’t know it. What i do know is that the long, strange trip’s still going, and that one seminal year a decade ago has influenced and inspired me to keep on keepin’ on ever since.