When I was in my twenties, I would set off on long trips with not much more than a hundred dollars in my pocket. I had no credit card, and since debit cards and ATM’s hadn’t been invented yet, the cash in my billfold was all there was. Nothing really concerned me, as I floated along like Mr. Magoo, blindly avoiding mishaps without having the good sense to know how lucky I was. In all my years of hitchhiking and driving long distances across borders, nothing really bad ever happened. Sure, I stayed in some miserable hotels, but I picked them out because they were dirt cheap and I full of what I thought was “atmosphere.”
In 1972, I spent a month in Mexico on one-hundred and seventy-five dollars. I survived for five weeks in Europe in 1971 on three hundred dollars, and that included a few days in Paris. Back then, Europe was cheaper than the States. I stayed in hostels and bed and breakfasts, sometimes paying as little as three dollars a day for bed and board. One day I ate only candy bars and oranges, but usually hunger wasn’t even an issue. One night in Paris I slept in a parking garage.
As I look back somewhat astonished by my recklessness, I realize that the big difference between then and today lies in the fact that then my parents were still alive. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew that if things got too bad, I could always call them (though International calls were very expensive) and they would find a way bail me out. Or try to. It never came to that, but I guess that’s how I justified my lack of fiduciary caution.
Who will come to my rescue now? Here, in Southeast Asia, six foreigners were recently executed for drug smuggling. These were young people who had thought to make a quick buck by bringing drugs to Bali. I’m sure if I had been in their position and so tempted, I might have been just as stupid. Again, luck was with me in my twenties. Surely, I had no more common sense than they, and was every bit the smug hipster as these lads who recently faced an Indonesian firing squad.
I remember once being pulled off a Mexican bus by soldiers and carefully searched for drugs. I didn’t have them, they didn’t plant any, and they let me go. Just lucky, I guess, because I didn’t have any reluctance to use drugs if they were freely offered. I was just too cheap to buy my own.
As we age, all the things we had taken for granted are removed, one by one, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but they all leave. Looks, health, mental quickness, natural talents…they’ve only been on loan even though we thought they were our birthright. Fortunately, some of us we weren’t totally reckless in our salad years and still have something left over to help us coast to the finish line.
I keep thinking “This hanging around third world countries is fine as long as I’ve got no real problems and some money in the bank, but what happens if I become infirm or broke?” Then places like Switzerland and Norway don’t seem so boring. I wonder what it takes to immigrate there?
Decrepit hippies are probably not high on their lists of potential permanent residents, but there are ways to sneak through the filters they’ve imposed. Note to self: remember to stash enough cash to hire a Norwegian immigration attorney when the shit finally hits the fan.
Nobody really knows what the future holds for them or anyone else, but we sure like to pretend we do, for what feels like sanity and hope is often just desperation and wishful thinking creating a dream world. In 2007, I remember reading business journalism praising the selling of collateralized mortgage debt and subprime mortgages. The rise in home values was a good thing until the moment it wasn’t. Those financial wizards were geniuses until the moment they were fools.
Nobody knows what’s going on and nobody’s in charge. It’s all a crap shoot, so we might as well enjoy the game because there are no guarantees regarding who’s going to win or even whether the other players will play by the rules. Those retired American orthodontists who buy beachfront properties in a banana republic may be rudely awakened one day by soldiers pounding on the front door of their McMansions. The officials and agents who smiled accepting money to purchase a retirement Xanadu may suddenly look away as the newly suntanned retirees are being deported at gunpoint.