Flashback Friday: The backpacker & boss edition

A lot can happen in 15 years. You fall in love; you break-up. You lose weight; you gain it. You go away; you come home. More globally and seriously, planes fly into buildings, a black president is elected in the U.S. and the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. A little thing called Google debuts. Then the iPod, followed by the iPhone and the iPad. Michael Jackson dies. But daughters are born. Facebook is born. Lives are changed.

So when you see someone you haven’t seen in over a decade, that you only really spent a handful of days with back in 2000—before important, historical, life-altering events like the above mattered much at all to backpackers whose only worries were whether to take the top bunk or the bottom—you sort of don’t know where to start. And so, you have a lot of stops and starts. There’s a lot of conversation jumping and talking over and under and through each other just to get it all in. There’s a big, huge, holy-crap-this-is-crazy hug outside a tube station in north London.

This happened last Friday when I reunited with a “bloke named Henry”—my dorky words from the handwritten journal I kept in Australia all those years ago. We met on the Oz Experience—a big, gaudy green backpacker bus—in June of 2000. He was traveling with some “mates” and I was solo adventuring for the first time in my adult life.

It was the trip that’d change everything for me. The trip that made me a hopeless wanderer. I suspect perhaps him, too.

I don’t recall how we got to talking. I seem to recall a snake and a kangaroo being involved, as cliché as that sounds considering we were in Australia. But soon enough, over a few weeks in June while traveling on the eastern coast of Oz on a hop-on, hop-off bus full of dreamers, we were hopping-off and on together, jumping into rivers, sailing the Whitsunday Islands, splitting headphones to listen to the Chili Peppers and drinking many, many VB’s.

When we parted ways, we exchanged email addresses—Hotmail and Yahoo, I think—and by exchange, I mean, actually wrote them down on a piece of paper. These were the days before the Notes app on the iPhone. Before you became Facebook friends with someone you’d only just asked for directions. If we wanted to reach anyone while traveling, we used a pay phone or settled into an internet cafe for an hourly rate. The odds of any of us seeing each other again, let alone getting to know each other’s every move via social media platforms like Twitter, were unfathomable.

We’d have our memories, though. And I’d also have the photos I took with an actual film camera, which I only was able to develop upon arriving home.

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“A bloke named Henry” to my right on the bunk. His two travel mates Matt and…That Guy Whose Name Escapes Me.

I’d go on to return to Oz and Southeast Asia some six months later, while Henry started “uni” where he met his girlfriend with which he now has a stunningly beautiful daughter named Lucy. Another is on the way. There wasn’t much contact between us for many years, until one of us—I’m going to take the credit for this!—typed the other’s name into Facebook and voila! There’s “the bloke named Henry.” Turns out, this bloke is now a very esteemed travel writer himself, who writes for the likes of WSJ, the New York Times, Washington Post and Vice. His pieces are thoughtful and provocative and important. Somehow, we’ve both managed to turn our dream to “travel for a living” into a reality.

After meeting outside the Islington tube station on a blistery cold London day, we settled into a quiet, dinky pub for a pint and a glass of wine. Two hours passed without much noticed as we exchanged travel stories, shared editor contacts and just rambled on and on about our adventures in writing and traveling about. Funnily enough, for two people who consider atmosphere and a sense of place important, I think I speak for us both when I say we could’ve been anywhere and it wouldn’t have mattered. It was so damn surreal to be sitting across from this person I met when the world was different; when we ourselves were different; when times were simpler and we were invincible.

Sadly, we didn’t take a reunion photo. But we did still use a pen and paper to trade some notes and addresses. Contrary to the last time we did that, I have no doubt we’ll continue to remain in touch.

The big green bus

The big green bus

And then, just four days later, I had an equally wild reunion, only this one was unplanned.

There I was, back in Paris, sitting at a table full of journalists in the marché des enfants rouges, the city’s oldest indoor market, when across the way I caught sight of a guy who looked just like my first boss from Gear magazine, the job I got, coincidentally, after returning from the aforementioned Australia trip…

Only, oh wait… IT WAS MY OLD BOSS: Tim Wood, managing editor extraordinaire, otherwise known as one of the nicest guys on the planet. I got up first—rather dramatically, as I was sitting in the middle of a 6-person table on the inside bench—astounded that he was here in Paris, attending the same press event I was! Since Gear folded 13 years ago, we went our separate ways, but did become Facebook friends and occasionally “liked” each other’s photos and whatnot, keeping track of each other as people do in this weird, webby world we live in. But oh how fun it was to see him in person—and in Paris!—and learn he’s also doing travel journalism. I was excited and proud to share with him all I’ve done in my career, seeing as he was the editor who gave me a shot as an unpaid intern all those years ago, and then turned that unpaid internship into my first paying job at a magazine.

We caught up briefly in the car back to the hotel, which we’re both writing about for our respective outlets, and then had the chance to chat more later on at the hotel reception. When a friend who I was supposed to see Le Petit Prince with tonight canceled, I asked Tim to join me. It being his first time in Paris, he was super stoked to come along to see this operatic version of the famed Antoine de Saint-Exupéry classic. After the show, we applauded the performance—and ourselves for not falling asleep—and made our way to the metro where I left him to find Champ de Mars to see la Tour Eiffel. (I wasn’t wearing appropriate footwear to join him and am still a sniffly-coughing mess.)

What a great reunion, though. And this one I captured!

Tim and me at Châtelet for Petit Prince.

Tim and me at Châtelet for Petit Prince.

Whaddaya think?