CHAPTER #1 Love at First PROST

October 5, 2014 – October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 5

It was the last day of Oktoberfest in Munich. Taylor and I woke up around 7:30 a.m., squeezed into our dirndls, and raced over to the fair before it opened to get in line for a tent. A couple of guys we had met the night before at the Carousel Bar had told us to get to the festival as early as we could to secure one of the first spots. They also strictly warned us not to go to the Hofbräuhaus tent, because, although it was the most international tent, it was really “full of Italians who throw themselves all over every girl.” Being single Italian-American girls ourselves, we took this as a tip and not a warning. We were second in line at the Hofbräuhaus.

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As we stood there an hour before opening, we watched the crowd grow rapidly behind us and were grateful to have showed up so early. If we had arrived even fifteen minutes later, we would’ve been so far back in the queue that we’d have missed our chance to gain entry into the tent before it hit full capacity.

While we waited for admission to begin, we passed the time conversing with two tourists ahead of us – an American dad and his son who were traveling across Europe for the son’s eighteenth birthday. Attending this affair was a rite of passage that the Dad had planned in order to be with his boy when he tried his first beer. He wanted it to be a memorable, yet supervised, occasion. We looked forward to joining them for their first mugs and watching the teen’s face upon his first tasting.

However, the minute that the Hofbräuhaus staff started letting people in, all hell broke loose, and we lost track of the father-son duo in the stampede. The only situation to which I can even begin to compare this craziness is when Best Buy opens their doors in the wee hours on Black Friday, and everyone scurries in hoping to grab one of the limited number of deeply discounted PlayStations on the shelf; except in this scenario, all eyes and intentions were on benches. Everyone shoved their way inside the hall, set their sights on any unoccupied table, and then raced to reserve it. Being a newbie to this whole concept, I stopped in the doorway and took a long look at all the spots that were quickly disappearing. I knew that where we chose to sit would impact our entire experience and wanted to be as strategic as I could to avoid getting stuck next to a boring group all day.

As flocks of people sprinted around the perimeter of the tent plopping down in whatever seats they could find, there in the center of it all were empty standing tables. They looked calm, had a lot of space in between them, and would be a great spot to mix and mingle. Only one table was already taken… by six guys who wore lederhosen, sounded much like the Queen, and were attractive. I casually strolled towards a table diagonal from theirs, and called Taylor over from where she had planted herself to save us seats. There was no chance I was moving.

Since we were now at the only other occupied table in the middle, and me being the outgoing person that I am, I decided to start up conversation with these Brits the best way I knew how: by playing dumb traveler.

“Have you guys done this before? Do you know if we have a waitress, or do we need to go get drinks from somewhere else? Do they only serve beer?”

The only thing missing from my line of questioning was the twirling of my hair and batting of my eyelashes. Of course we had a waitress! They were running around the place with the tightest dirndls and biggest boobs I’d ever seen, holding about nine steins each! However, my feigned obliviousness worked wonders. Evidently, these boys had been at the Hofbräuhaus the day before, so they were ever so helpful in letting us know what to expect. Slowly but surely, as we inquired about the whole event, we moseyed on over to their table… with our purses.

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After receiving our round of steins, we clinked our glasses together to officially start off our day at the Hofbräuhaus with an obligatory Prost (cheers). The authentic, aged Oktoberfestbier was cold, smooth, and delicious. A few members of the group elected to order food, seeing as no one had eaten that morning with having to rush to arrive so early. However, I decided to play it cool, relying instead on the filling quality of the specially made brew.

“This is my breakfast,” I said, pointing to my stein.

It was a rookie mistake on my part as each beer had an alcohol content of almost 6%. As you may have already guessed, this poor decision will come back to haunt me later on in the story.

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As we guzzled our beers, we started to go around the table, each taking turns sharing what we did for work. When it was time for me to disclose my own, I told them about my job as a tour consultant for the past eight years selling educational tours to teachers to take their students abroad, and how getting to join one of these trips each year had allowed me to see a lot of the world free of charge. But, I also shared how travel had played a huge role in my life outside of my profession; it truly was my passion.

“I literally get restless if I stay put for too long. I just want to see as much of the world as possible while I can, so pretty much all of my vacation days and extra funds go towards jumping on cheap flight deals,” I explained, my arms flailing around, displaying my Italian-American tendencies to tell stories with my hands and revealing glimpses of the map drawing on my forearm.

“I like your tattoo,” said Karl, the one quiet Brit across the table, who had not really spoken until that moment.

“Thanks! It was my goal to fill my first passport before it expired, so when I did, I got the tattoo to commemorate it.” I flipped my forearm over to show him the whole layout.

“What does it say on your wrist?”

“Wanderlust. I designed it to be written in symbols that signify the places I’ve lived that have defined me. The purple letter A is shaped like a mountain to resemble where I live now, Colorado. The letters D and E are sketched like the sun to stand for the nightlife area where I went out a lot when I studied abroad in Madrid, Sol, which means sun in Spanish. And lust is written in blue cursive to look like waves and represent where I’m from, Massachusetts. The tallies below it stand for the countries I visited on that first passport.”

Karl started counting the notches on my wrist.

“Twenty-five?! Whoa, you’ve been to more countries than me and I’m a flight attendant.”

“You are? What airline do you work for?”

“EasyJet. I’m based out of Liverpool.”

“Really? They fly all over Europe! How have you not been to more countries than that?”

 As we continued talking about our past travel endeavors, we discovered that we possessed the same affinity for avid foreign exploration. A unique connection had sparked up between us from that alone. Karl came over to my side of the table and, without even realizing it, we slowly separated ourselves away from the group while chatting about everything from our favorite Beatles songs, to our distinct accents, to the purpose of life (yes, shit got deep). There was one constant in our discussion, and that was that we literally connected on everything. I had never felt so in tune with anyone like that before, and neither had he. Before I got too excited about this prospective make-out partner, I had one burning question to ask him.

“Are you gay?”

“No! Why would you ask that?” he replied defensively.

“Well, you are a flight attendant and a lot of them in the U.S. are gay.” Really, I just want to know if my mouth can be on yours later.

“Well, that’s not the case in England…”

I immediately felt terrible for asking. I hoped to recover from my poor judgment by addressing right then and there my ulterior motive for even bringing it up.

“So, are you going to kiss me, or am I going to have to do it?” I asked.

Just like that, with a one-line prompt, Karl leaned in and placed his lips on mine.

“Finally! I’ve been waiting for you to make a move,” I said, laughing, and clearly feeling the effects of the 6%. “Why do you think I asked that question?!”

He smirked. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Our conversation ended with us holding hands, rejoining our table of friends, and announcing: “In case you didn’t know, we’re soulmates.” I’m pretty sure our friends thought we were just wasted, but as it turns out, it was one of the most honest things I’ve ever said while drinking. (Or sober, for that matter.)

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Then, things got a little blurry, at least for me. Hours passed, the beer was flowing, songs were being sung, people were waving their drinks in the air, and crazy tourists were climbing atop tables to chug their entire steins… which they did, in record times. It was the best party ever!

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Drinking all that beer, Karl and I both had to use the restroom and agreed to wait for each other. I remember going in the ladies’ room and realizing I didn’t feel so hot. Even though I took forever, from waiting in the inevitably long line to trying to make myself feel better in the stall, Karl was still there waiting for me at the bathroom entrance when I came out. However, I took one look at him, felt like I was overheating, and immediately covered my mouth. This is that part, you know, about breakfast…

Karl quickly pushed me out the side exit doors where there was no one else around except two so-called bouncers, smoking cigarettes on their break. In that outdoor corridor, I just let it happen (as if I had a choice), vomiting all over my dress and on Karl’s shoe. I can’t even begin to tell you how mortified I was at that moment – and still am just at the memory! At the time, all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and die. So, I did just that… or at least tried to. I slid down against the wall and took a seat on the ground as Karl tried his best to make me feel less humiliated, while also taking care of me.

About fifteen minutes later, just as we both thought that I may have a second wind and be able to resume the celebration, I proceeded to throw up once again, this time mostly in my lap. That was it. There was just no coming back from that one. Karl went back inside to fetch my purse and fish Taylor from the crowd to help me get home. When Taylor came through the double doors and saw the mess I was, and, well, the mess I was sitting in, she quickly grabbed my hand and led me away from the scene and from Karl. As we staggered off, I took one last glance back to say goodbye to the boy I thought I’d never see again.

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Around 3:00 p.m., Taylor and I got back to our rental apartment, immediately shoved our dirndls in the wash (mine obviously more soiled than hers!), and crashed. I did intermittently get up to have some cuddle time with the toilet, but other than those short breaks, we were both completely out. At about 10:00 p.m., although I was still sick and partially intoxicated, I woke up sober enough to realize in horror what I had not done.

“Oh shit! I didn’t get his number!”

Although defeated, I was instantly determined to search for Karl on every social media site to somehow contact him. Luckily though, Taylor had had my back the whole time.

“Oh, I got his number for you.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, I got it before we left. I texted him when we got back to let him know we were home safe, like he asked.” She grinned, as if she had just been being polite.

“Oh my God! I love you so much right now! What is it?”

 She read the number aloud, thinking I was just saving it in my contacts on my phone to message Karl later, but I absolutely could not wait another minute; I immediately texted him. I wrote about how I’d had the best time, how mortified I was because I never throw up (which, again, will come into play later on, making me into such a liar), but how I hoped he would forgive me and stay in touch, and then, nervously pressed send. I was so excited to receive back an instant response. From that point on, we were inseparable – or certainly at least technologically-speaking. Over the course of the next few days as I traveled through Belgium with Taylor, Karl and I laughed, flirted, got to know each other, and fell for each other, all through text.

Thursday, October 9

It wasn’t until I got to Berlin for the work portion of the trip that I summoned up the courage to connect with Karl in a more personal way.

“I’m going to try something,” I typed to him. I waited for his response before doing anything.

“Ok,” he replied, not knowing what to expect.

I took a deep breath and clicked on the green video icon on my iPhone, FaceTime. It rang a few times before Karl clicked accept to the call, allowing his big smile to light up my screen. This was the first time we had seen one another since I had left Oktoberfest that day we met.

 That one move changed everything from there on out. We started opting to see each other via FaceTime, rather than texting, whenever we both were available. I spent every possible free moment I had in Germany on my phone, reading texts from him, writing replies, or ringing him up to video chat. We got to know each other faster in a week’s time than I had ever gotten to know anyone before him. Karl even suggested I meet up with him for a week or two while he would be traveling throughout Southeast Asia two months later. As much as I wanted to believe that these pending plans would actually come to fruition in the future, I couldn’t help but face the fact that we lived so far apart, we were probably just holding on to some false hope that whatever was happening between us could actually continue.

Monday, October 13

I left for the Berlin airport with a heavy heart, not wanting to leave his side of the world. I boarded the aircraft, put in my headphones, chose a sad love song to listen to, and silently released the pent-up tears.

 

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