Seven years ago this weekend, I was staying in a hostel in Sorrento, next to the Amalfi Coast. I had gotten up at the crack of dawn, rounded up the students that I was sharing a room with, met the lead tour guide (I barely knew what I was doing) and marched everyone down to the dock to catch the ferry to Capri. We jumped from the ferry to a tour boat and took off into the sea. I hung off the side of the bow as we swung around the island and the lead guide grabbed the mic and started naming off the different grottoes as we passed. Later I climbed the same steps and stepped into that bright blue water again for the first time in years, for a second time that I thought may never happen. I think I walked up to Capri town that day, and then I was given a plastic cup full of heaven: half fresh blood orange juice, half fresh lemon slush. There will never be any drink better.
I led the students to the little busses to the top of the island, got served too much free calamari and lemon pasta with the rest of the guides that knew more about the situation than I did. I skipped through the line of the chairlift and felt like royalty as I was cradled up to the top of this beautiful world, and I finally felt like I had found my happy place, that I had won the jackpot. That I had really and truly outsmarted the world because I was technically working right now and who wouldn’t want this?!
Then that night, as we walked back into the hotel, a student stopped us at the door and threatened to punch the lead guide in the face.
There were plenty of good reasons. As I was getting free meals and rides up to heaven, she had been sold a package that was much less shiny once she arrived. While we slept in newly renovated bunks, she was down the street in another hotel that was supposed to be “better” because it was a hotel, not a hostel. But then we’d invite those people over to the much better hostel for dinner, and the minute that girl saw what others were getting (with only the smallest difference in price) she flew into a rage. Also, I agreed. I just didn’t know it yet. Fast forward a few months or so and I’m in one of those terrible hotels, sitting on the top bunk a metal bunk bed that made the one I had in college look like a luxury, with three college-aged boys for roommates, that were also currently my students on a paid trip. I wanted to punch someone too.
It only got worse the next day – when I found out that yes, we promote a day in Positano, but that means we get busses to near Positano, but then the only way to get to the beach is to walk for about a half hour and descend about 650 feet.
I honestly don’t know how that guide didn’t get punched in the face after that one. I do remember anger as I tried to memorize the pathways and steps down through the town for the first time. Later, that walk would be my gauge to see if I could win over the fifty or more kids that were looking at me for guidance. If I could get them to appreciate this ridiculousness – then I could successfully get through the rest of the weekend. On that weekend, my go-to to stop the tantrums was a logical one: “Just look at that water!” I’d say throwing out my hands to almost directly below me because of the steepness of the cliffs. It was May 25th but that day it felt like it was an August day in hell. I tried to pass off the water as a reward, plus the fact that I could reassure them they wouldn’t have to do the walk (hike) back up at the end of the day. Instead, we’d lead them to the other side of the town, and line them all up on the side of the road, backs pressed to the steep rock walls, making sure to avoid the speeding cars, and wait. The busses would be called, then they’d bomb around the corner, pull over like we were the pit crew in a Nascar race, and pile us on before they got a ticket for stopping illegally.
This weekend years ago was the one I fell in love with my life here, but also realized what a lie it was. So big of a lie that people wanted to punch other people in the face.
Seven years later, I still miss those weekends on Amalfi – especially when they were warm and I got an actual tan, but truthfully when I remembered this weekend, the only thing that popped into my head was that girl that was so frustrated she wanted to hit something – all while being in one of the most beautiful places in the world – all because of “marketing”, all because someone else wanted to make money off of her experience, and tell her she was getting one thing, when it was certainly something else.
I hope that for my thirtieth year and all the rest of them, that I don’t have to bullshit anyone anymore. That no one would ever want to punch me in the face because of promises or expectations I’ve made but didn’t keep or live up to – especially ones that I have made because of someone I work for. This is the year of no bullshit. Of playing it straight – of not doing things to benefit me if they aren’t also benefiting others. So far this just means no one will hire me 🙂
But there’s still more than half a year to go.