When did you visit Japan? Someone at the table asked Mike during our late dinner after bouldering in Central Park last Friday.
It’s funny, Mike said, I ended up in Tokyo one time in college because I went for a walk.
And everyone at the table laughed. Oh, so you just walked to Japan, someone joked.
Then he told the story, which was exactly like he said: In spring 2002, Mike left his college apartment in lower Manhattan to go out for a walk, and a day later was in Japan, with nothing but his passport, wallet and the jacket he wore when he walked out his door back in New York. He got a room at an inn for two nights and set out to explore the city, not knowing a word of Japanese.
“So you didn’t buy a toothbrush or anything at JFK?” I asked.
Nope, Mike said. I got there, bought a cheap little backpack and a Frommer’s guidebook to Japan. “It was all onsite procurement.”
He stayed for 10 days, during which time his roommates and friends, having not heard from him — he had some trouble finding a place to send them an e-mail telling them where he was — put up “Missing” signs around the neighborhood.
“There was actually an axe murderer in New York at the time,” Mike said. Oh.
Mike didn’t just walk out to JFK and randomly get on a flight to Japan — he had been curious about visiting, and periodically checking on flight prices. He finished his thesis at Parsons a few days early, just before spring break, and he went for a walk. During which he found his way to LaGuardia, picked up an airport courtesy telephone, made a call and found a round-trip ticket to Tokyo for $800. At that price, he matter-of-factly says, “I guess I had to do it.” He bought the ticket over the courtesy phone at LaGuardia, then jumped on a series of trains and buses to JFK airport, making the flight with a few minutes to spare.
I don’t know what Mike’s story is about — impetuousness of youth, what you really need when you travel (sometimes nothing), or knowing what you want and going for it. I know it makes me self-conscious about the weight of my checked bag, or even the fact that I checked a bag on my last few flights.
There’s this movie called Make It Count that blew up on YouTube back in April, getting 6.5 million-some views. Filmmaker Casey Neistat begins the film with the following text on the screen:
Nike asked me to
make a movie about
what it means to
Instead of making their movie
I spent the entire budget
traveling around the world with
my friend Max.
We’d keep going until the
money ran out.
It took 10 days.
The following four minutes of footage are overlaid with quotes such as “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all,” “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years,” and comments from the narrators about being late for flights and forgetting to eat, painting a picture of a frantic round-the-world trip. Which is, of course, paid for by Nike one way or the other, whether or not they were in on the idea from the start or not. After Mike told us his Japan story, I immediately thought of the Make It Count film, which tries to illustrate via YouTube the idea of what Mike did back when he was in college.
We are very quick to call lots of things “adventure” these days, like every time we get on a plane, walk on dirt or touch rocks is an adventure, and we rush to put it on Twitter and Facebook immediately after, or even during if we can. You could fill a book with discussion about what we like better: Doing it or telling everyone we’re doing it. I like the idea of a guy paying for a last-minute ticket on an airport phone eight years ago, not at all because he thought everyone might be watching him on social media, just going halfway around the world because he wanted to and he had the chance, no labels/narcissism/posturing, just curiosity and some balls.
It might have been nice if he had emailed his roommates to let them know where he was, though, especially since they were worried about that axe murderer and all.