Tag: life

Stand-Up Comedy Deflowering

by: Jason Waddell

It started with cracking inappropriate jokes about roofies on a blind date while playing Cards Against Humanity.

“Hey, you should do stand-up sometime!”

Apparently the cafe I was sitting in played host to regular open mic comedy nights. Later in the week, two other friends independently and unknowingly echoed the suggestion that I make a foray into the world of stand-up comedy, and ten days later I found myself standing on stage.

It went well for a first venture! I didn’t suffer any serious nerves, or make any sequencing errors or skip any segments. I even managed a couple laughs along the way, so my baseline expectations were already exceeded. The host of the open mic night sat down with me after the show.

“So, tonight you told seven minutes of jokes about shaving your balls, and from here you should boil that down to a good three minutes and start working on other topics. Keep doing that, and eventually you’ll have 15 or so really solid minutes, and places will start inviting you out to perform.”

It was good advice, and as I re-watched the film I realized how right he was. There was too much exposition, too much long-windedness and unnecessary detail that doesn’t heighten the comedy. One could easily cut a few minutes without even dropping any of the punchlines.

Having gone through the process once, I see sets like those produced by Louis CK in a whole new light. The joke density of his sets is absurd, and that comes from months and months of boiling down something raw into something tight and distilled.

Perhaps what most surprised me was the sheer time commitment involved. I spent days laboring over a very mediocre seven minutes which, with further work, may become a respectable three minutes.

It can be a difficult process, as, although I have a fairly refined taste in the type of comedy I enjoy, the quality of what I can produce is nowhere near that caliber. It reminds me of this famous Ira Glass quote.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
-Ira Glass

I don’t know how long I’ll stick with it, but I do know that, when I woke up this morning, my brain was already churning out new ideas. Better ideas than I had last week.

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Notes from the Road: Antwerp

by: James Stevenson

After my trip to Bristol, I wanted to curl up in my bed and never leave it. I definitely didn’t want to get back on the road again. But nicolas cage damn it, I’d started some stupid “Notes from the Road” series thing, and there was no turning back. And anyway, I wasn’t fooling myself. I still had restless feet. Grabbing funemployment by the horns, I wanted to hitchhike again, but I didn’t know where. But lo, a wild invitation appeared!

jason invite

Wow! This guy from the internet was going to let me come hang out with him, and even better, we were going to play cube!

Two weeks passed, my cat woke me up at 6:30 in the morning, then my alarm went off at 7 and I jumped out of bed. I was excited, it felt like Christmas! I rammed a cup of coffee down my throat, shoved some juggling balls and douchey sunglasses into my backpack and strode boldly out the door, forgetting to bring my trades, my towel or clothes to sleep in. No matter! I knew I had my passport and wallet, everything else was just luxury.

I headed out on the train, watching the Shard and the Cheese Grater shrink in the distance. I didn’t have to mention the Cheesegrater, but I wanted to show off:


I’d just like to point out the top of the Gherkin there on the left, and then I’ll say no more. These pictures are supposed to be under wraps.

I abandoned the train in Sidcup, a town on the outskirts of the city, and trudged over towards the motorway. There’s a good spot here to hitch to Dover.

Bristol had taught me an important lesson about being outside: it’s really cold. This time I was prepared, wearing a wife-beater, a tshirt, two jumpers, a hat, a scarf, knee socks, leather gloves, and the most dilapidated shoes I’ve ever owned. The holes in the heels are so big you could smuggle immigrants in across borders in them. So naturally I was nice and toasty except for my hands. What the hell.

I held up my sign and smiled at the drivers blowing by me. As usual I got a lot of funny looks, and at least one guy slowed down to take a picture of me with his iPhone. That’s a new one. It didn’t take too long before someone flashed their lights at me and picked me up. I jumped in his car and we sped away.

“I work in a bank,” he told me. “So I’m responsible for all the world’s problems.”

I laughed and agreed. He was a interest swap salesman for Societe General. I showed a lot of interest in his work and he seemed to be really surprised. I don’t think he saw anything interesting in it at all.

After driving for five minutes he let me out at a motorway intersection. I was probably better off waiting in Sidcup, but at least I could look at the gloom of the sky, feel the rain waft apathetically against my face, admire the gray death of the road, sigh and laugh and say “ah, England” affectionately.

It didn’t take long until I was picked up by a car mechanic. He’d grown up in Zimbabwe, in the typical walled white-people compound, away from the blacks. He did not like the blacks.

“When I was growing up,” he said, “you know, if I came home with a Black girl, I’d be disowned. That was how I was raised. I try to be a bit more lenient on my own kids, but you know, that’s still what I think. You know, when I was raised we had discipline. These days, you know, you get your belt out on your kid and social services are gunna take ‘em away.”

“Yeah it’s absurd,” I said, “I mean, as long as you’re not beating the shit out of yours kids, a little discipline is important.”

“There’s no hope for this country,” he lamented. “If they can’t fix the immigration nothing is going to improve. You know people just camp in Calais until they can get onto a ship. If they’re caught they just send them back, you know? And then they just do it again. If they make it to England they pay people off to get papers and get work.”

“And you know, the other thing is the social services. People are taking advantage of them. I saw something on TV about a woman living in a 7-bedroom house that she pays for with unemployment! She has six kids or something, and she won’t get a job! I tell ya, this country’s fucked.”

He let me out by a motorway entrance, where I held up my Dover sign once more.


About twenty minutes passed and he reappeared again, in another car.

“I’ll just take you a bit further, to the services. That’ll be better for ya!”

I thanked him heartily. What a dude!

It was a good sized service station, with lots of people going in and out. Of course, half the people were going the other way, back towards London. I even met several people that were coming from Belgium. I took up a spot outside the shop and started asking people if they could give me a lift.

Pretty soon an Irish man walked past me and said something completely unintelligible. Assuming he was turning me down, I replied “Ah, don’t worry, I’ll find someone.”

He turned around.

“Where you headed?”


“I’ll give you a lift to Dover, just give me a minute.”

A minute later he returned.

“I just went inside and I thought how terribly rude of me, to be drinking a coffee in front of you and not offer you one. Can I get you anything?”

I gladly accepted, and a few minutes later I was in his car, warming my hands on a latte. We shook hands and exchanged names, then off we zoomed towards the sea! He was a lovely chap, on his way to referee a rugby match in Dover. We shot the bull for an hour and it was very pleasant. I can’t for the life of me remember what we talked about or what his name was.

“(Insert correct name here), right?” I asked as we parted, making sure to remember his name.

“Aye, that’s right,” he said, and off he drove.

I pointed my feet towards the ferry landing and smiled at the sound of seagulls. I love reaching the sea, I love the sea air, I love the horizon. But it’s always the sound of seagulls that makes me happy. I grew up on the coast of New Jersey, so it takes me back a little.

It should be easy to get a ride onto the ship here, since it doesn’t cost people any more money to have extra passengers. You need to hang around the ticket office and talk to people as they go in. There wasn’t much traffic at the office, but plenty of people were driving straight to the ship, having already reserved. I stood by that road and held up a thumb, walking to the ticket office now and then to ask people for rides.

Two Asian kids from the London School of Economics turned up wearing ridiculous onesies. They were holding one sign saying “PARIS” and another saying “4 CHARITY”. I put my douche glasses on and we stood smiling at drivers as they blew past us. I’m fairly certain nobody knew we would be free to take.

An hour or two passed before anyone pulled over. He was sending a text and ignored us completely. I don’t even think he noticed us. The Asian girl ran over to him and asked if he would take us. Completely apathetic either way, he sent the girl inside to confirm that it didn’t cost him any money. She ran back in a couple minutes and we all piled into the car.

My attention was immediately caught by some RnB music video playing on the navigation screen in the dashboard. Our driver must have done some crazy wizard hacker shit so he could play this stuff while he drove.

“Cool,” I said, pointing at the screen.


We rolled through three passport checks with R. Kelly preaching romance and champagne at us, and somehow managed to hear “Happy People” three times in a row. Our driver, Jan, was a good looking black dude heading home to Amsterdam. He wore a Gucci coat with the biggest fur hood I have ever seen, G-Star jeans and an assortment of fly looking accessories. On the ship he sat by himself, brooding over some game on his phone while I hung out with the Asians.


Their names were Danny and Ying, they’d never hitch hiked before, and they didn’t have much idea about what they were going to do that night. They were doing jailbreak, meaning they had 36 hours to get as far from their university as possible without spending any money, so they couldn’t even pay for a place to stay. We asked Jan if he would take us all to Antwerp, and he didn’t mind at all.

The bathrooms on the ship had some really good life advice:


We got back in the car with Jan and started into the music videos again. I had big questions on my mind. Where the hell is Sean Paul from? Is he white? Does that count as singing? How does the channel tunnel work? How DO magnets work? If a libertarian falls in a forest and nobody hears, does CML rant about it?

Jan took us all the way to Antwerp and went on his way, leaving an aura of romance and money is his wake. He’d hardly a word the entire time. I texted Jason where I was and the LSE kids went off to find a hostel. As it turned out they hid in the basement and made it to Brussels the next day.

I waited in the dark for my host. It was around 9pm now, the sun was long gone and a dreary mist was drifting from the sky. Here I was, about to meet this man from the internet, this gracious stranger who was not really a stranger at all. What would he be like? Which of us was the greater nerd? Would we just talk about magic for two days? Would he like me? Would he like the tokens I made him? Nicolas Cage I hope he likes the tokens I made him.

“James!” I heard from behind me. I turned, and there he stood in the gray, a majestic figure. His shining steed stood by, stayed under his touch. “You made it,” he said. “I’ve got you a city bike pass so we can rent bikes to get around.”

“Wow your voice is a lot deeper than I imagined,” I said.

“Ah, I guess you haven’t listened to the chatcast then.”

“Oh no, I haven’t!” I was genuinely shocked at myself. How could I not have listened to the chatcast? How rude of me!

“Let’s go to my house, we can talk more there. It’s best not to talk while cycling. Oh by the way, I, uh, don’t really obey the traffic laws. I hope that’s ok with you.”

“Awesome, me neither,” I grinned. I’m the one that ran a red light in front of a cop the other day. He had pulled me over and explained the function and usage of handlebars, while I pretended to be surprised and interested.

Jason and I zoomed off into the night towards two excellent days of fun. We played just the right amount of magic, ate lots of delicious food, met lots of cool people, and bullshitted about all kinds of stuff. We hit up lots of cool cafes in Antwerp, tried lots of beer and discussed the many women in Jason’s life. I even had the pleasure of seeing Jason’s wife as I emerged one morning, though she wouldn’t make eye contact with me and stormed out pretty quickly.

Jason has two amazing dogs, Brody and Lillaboo. On my last night we slept with them in the bed, and I had the most sublime moment. Lillaboo, a tiny, adorable puggle, was under the covers next to my feet, and I could feel her tongue lapping against my ankle for several minutes. I could just picture her stupid face staring intently into the dark as she licked my foot over and over. The moment was beautiful and absurd, and I had to strain not to burst out laughing and wake Jason.


Jason’s alarm woke us up the next morning with the loudest, most upbeat, most annoying alarm song I’ve ever heard. His reactions were lightning fast, and shut that thing off as quick as he could. We ate a sad final meal and walked out towards the motorway. When we reached the place where our paths diverged we stopped.

“James,” he said, “it’s been real.”

It had been real. It’s a shame you live so far away, Jason, we should hang.

We shook hands and tried to hold back our tears. As I boarded the ship, though, I couldn’t contain my sadness and the tears began to flow. As I stood drifting away on the deck I watched as Jason waved his handkerchief, glowing in the glory of the sunrise. I turned and buried my face in the shoulder of the towering black man next to me at the railing. Would I ever see this man again? This gracious stranger from the internet?

“Come back some time,” he said.

“I hope I do. You’ve got a place to stay in London too, if you ever want.”

I turned and walked away down the street. It was a straight road to the motorway entrance, so naturally I got lost for a whole hour before I found it. When I got there I held up a sign for the E17 and I kid you not, it took less than two minutes before I got picked up.

The road home was easy. My first lift was with an architect heading to Gent. We had a good chat. How I manage to talk to strangers at 8 in the morning always surprises me. In my home all I can say at 8am is “wuuuurg coffee.” My driver said he picks up hitchhikers all the time, since he drives around a lot for his job. He took me to a gas station and let me out. I went inside and had one of the worst cups of coffee I’ve ever had. In the bathroom someone had written “bufallo bufallo kwek kwek kwek”.

I got another quick lift towards Dunkirk. My driver didn’t speak much English so it was a pretty quiet ride. I managed to find out that he was a train driver, and I explained somewhat that I was a worthless middle class mathematics graduate with no job. He let me out in a small gas station near the French border.

There was one other person in the station, a business man with German plates. I approached him and asked, in my best German, if he could give me a lift towards Dunkirk or Calais. As it turned out, he was driving to Glasgow, and agreed to take me through the Eurotunnel and drop me somewhere near London.

We hit the road and started talking awkwardly in English. He seemed to be having trouble switching over to English mode, which I found odd for a guy headed to a meeting in Glasgow. Then again the poor man was heading to Glasgow, famous for having an impenetrable accent (amongst other things, I assume).

It didn’t take long before we switched to German, and once we did this we started getting along brilliantly. He was adamant that I should practise my German, and I wholeheartedly agreed. I remember sitting in the terminal for the Eurotunnel while he asked me questions about London, just to get me speaking. We talked about all kinds of things; art, business, travel, and my favourite topic: food. My driver turned out to be a modular architecture salesman heading to a meeting. He was a good guy and we had a really nice ride.


I really nerded out on the Eurotunnel. That thing is cool.

We reached the outskirts of London and found a train station. We shook hands warmly. “Maybe one day I’ll give you a lift in Belgium again,” he smiled.

I laughed and walked away, smiling to myself. It had been a really fun few days. As I sat on the train watching the buildings rise around me and the CCTV cameras emerge, I hoped I’d be able to write about it without sounding like a pretentious git. The Shard loomed out of the fog, then my beloved Cheese Grater too. I saw some woman fall over while holding a baby and some old guy stoop to help her up. I saw countless tourists looking at random shit, and people going every which way.

The train pulled in at some station from Monopoly and that’s the last remarkable thing from the trip. I didn’t really know what to do so I went home and went back on riptidelab. Sigh. Time to get a job.

Subcultural Anthropology – Partying with Eurovision Fans

by: Jason Waddell

“Never turn down an event with free food.”

My college money-saving mantra led to dinners with a group called “Jews for Jesus”, an underground tour with a university group that called themselves the “KGB”, and the vice-presidency of the Carnegie Mellon Astronomy Club (colloquially referred to as “Pizza Club”).

As a gainfully employed adult, the mantra has evolved into the nourishment-neutral “never pass up unique experiences.”

Last Sunday, despite some fairly strong base instincts to curl up in bed with a Murakami paperback, I biked across town to my friend Dave’s hipster-themed surprise birthday party.


There I met Dave’s gay friend Paul.

“The last time I went dancing, I got asked if I was gay. Twice. I took it as a compliment.”

This comment piqued Paul’s interest, and conversation moved to Paul’s passion: the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite being a cultural sensation in Europe, Eurovision-fever somehow hasn’t penetrated the North American market. For those unaware, Eurovision can be described as a campy, over-the-top American Idol on LSD.


The party turned to dancing as classic Eurovision anthems played on the iPad. I educated Paul on trashy American dance maneuvers like the two-person fishing line and the funky chicken, and shared my secret three-step procedure for looking like the world’s biggest creep on the dance floor.


Paul tells me that he’s involved in Eurovision fan club, and next week club members are gathering from around the world for a week-long meetup in Leuven, Belgium. He extended me an invitation to their Saturday evening festivities.

Days later I would receive a late-night message from Paul. Apparently my dance moves had given him some insecurities.


Saturday arrives and I drive to Leuven for the second time in as many weeks. I join the group at the end of their meal, and am welcomed with open arms. But there’s no mistaking that I’m a bit of a black sheep.

“So you’re a Eurovision fan?”
“Well, I actually didn’t even know it existed until last week.”
“Oh, but you’re a good friend of Paul’s then?”
“I met him last week too.”

Still, the group is very friendly and inquisitive, and they warm up to me as I do dramatic readings from some atrociously written self-published book about a Eurovision love story.

“A 500 page story about two men falling in love during Eurovision week and not a single sex scene”, bemoans the man to my right.
“Well, it is written by a woman. Maybe she just isn’t familiar with the, uh, mechanics?”

We move to a museum’s cafe that has been rented out for our private dance party.


The demographics of the party are unlike any I’ve ever attended: 30 gay men, 3 straight women, and me. It’s the first time I’ve felt that being a straight male made me in any way unique.

The first couple hours at the cafe are spent chatting, and everybody is refreshingly open with me. One of my complaints about Belgians, and perhaps Europeans more generally, is that most people are very emotionally guarded, and consequently I find it very difficult to connect. But the vibe is different here. Complete strangers talk with me about very personal topics, like how long they knew they were gay before coming out, and the experience of dating (or in one case, being engaged to) women while knowingly in the closet.

Dancing finally picks up and I hit the floor. I’m decidedly at a disadvantage, as I don’t know any of the music. Others around me mimic choreographed moves from the Eurovision competitions, and I’m left to improvise. It’s nice to dance without any romantic or sexual pretext though. I’m not there to attract anyone’s attention, but I’m noticed nonetheless.

“You dance very gay.”
“Thank you!”

I sit out one of the numbers, and the only woman in my age group comes to chat. She arrived late to the party, and isn’t a part of the fan club either, but lives in town and happens to be a Eurovision enthusiast. From the way that she talks to me, I can tell she assumes I’m gay.

“I think you’re very sexy out there!”

As we talk she digs into her bra to retrieve a drink voucher, then adjusts her exceptionally low-cut top in front of me. For the first time in my life I employ the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Later in the evening she’s apparently heard something through the grapevine, and asks “wait, so you’re straight?”.

The jig is up.

There’s a noticeable shift in the dynamic. She’s still friendly, but I don’t think she’s going to be calling me sexy again any time soon. I mention this to one of the men later on.

“As a gay man, you can kiss a girl on the neck and cup her breasts, and it’s fine because there’s no sexual pressure. I’ve touched more breasts since coming out than when I was straight. A gay man can finger a girl and she’ll think you’re just being flirty.”

That last bit may have been for effect.

Every time I go to take a breather someone inevitably drags me back to the dance floor. Paul initiates a fishing line and I flop my way across the floor to thunderous applause.

A visibly drunk guy named Bart approaches me.

“Can I talk to you under the table?”
under the table
“On a scale of 0 to 100, how gay are you?”
“Pretty close to zero.”
“So you never fooled around with boys when you were growing up?”
“No, I’ve never looked at a man and felt attraction towards him.”
“Oh don’t worry honey, I’m not trying to hit on you. There’s like, two other guys at the party I’d try to fuck before you.”

Later in the evening Bart returns.

“Hey Jason, can you help me make Stijn jealous?”

I can do nothing of the sort.

I return to the dance floor. An older Swedish guy fashions my hair into a faux hawk to match his own. As the party nears a close, I dance myself to exhaustion. The penultimate song of the evening is the consensus pick for gayest song ever produced.

The party ends at four in the morning, and I’m far too tired to drive back to Antwerp. Paul offers to let me crash at a flat he and some of the other club members have rented out, and I gladly accept. Paul thanks me for coming out. He says he has a very segmented social life, and most of his friends aren’t willing to cross the threshold to see what the Eurovision side of his life is like. Even if they try, nobody has dived in the way I did. I thank him for inviting me. It was a really fun night.

[OkCupid] Beyond Crockpotting: Tips and Tricks

The cat’s out of the bag. Earlier this week I shared my time-tested technique: the crock pot opener.


Ever since then my inbox has been flooded with requests from admiring bros and ladybros looking for a leg up on the competition in the OkCupid meat market. I hear your cries. You’re saying, “Jason, I don’t want just another copypasta. Take me under your wing. How can I be single like you?”

Just follow these seven easy tips.

Attack Typos with Reckless Abandon

So you’ve found an attractive profile and open with your best anus-related anecdote.


The response is promising, but we have a situation on our hands.


This is a test. Her typo is a hulking elephant in the room. Do you let it slide as an innocuous mistake? No, this is your chance to assert your dominance. You’re not some txt-typing plebeian, you’re a suburb-educated hunk who’s read through dozens of Sparknotes book summaries and scored a 590 on the SAT Language test. Drop some knowledge on this broad!


Bagged and tagged. Take out another line of credit, it’s time to shop for engagement rings.

Ignore Borewhores

After days of tumbleweeds, it finally happens. Your inbox lights up pink!



I should say something to this girl right?

You rack your brain. Her profile looks like it won a “bland cliché” contest, but she has a pulse and you’re running low on Purell moisturizer. You think for another ten minutes. “Uh… what kind of comedy do you like?”

You feel creatively and conversationally bankrupt. And in my case, you’re wishing this were all just hypothetical.


Complain about Borewhores

Sure, you’re not responding to them anymore, but you can still get mileage out of those boring messages. Ladies ignore boring messages all the time and now, so do you! Play that empathy card son! Clinton-up and tell them you feel their pain.


Boom, instant sexting. And she started it! Take this opportunity to tell her about your sex burrito fetish. Send her pics of your sleeping bag and bucket of hot sauce. You’re in!

The Friends-With-Benefits Gambit

I know, sometimes you get tricked. The girl uses the Myspace angle on her personality and looks temporarily appealing. Sooner or later her boring personality comes bubbling to the surface mid-conversation.


I grew tired of these questions by the second day of college orientation, and it’s particularly inexcusable on OkCupid where you can just look to my profile for likely answers.


So what do you do?

Proposition her! Tell her you’re just looking for casual sex. It’s a win-win really. In the biz we call it “value”.


You weren’t going to keep talking to her anyways, so go for broke and gamble for some no-strings-attached hanky panky.

It’s a win for her too! She’s not getting faded on by a hottie anymore, she’s getting skeeved out by some shallow creepster. It’s not her, it’s you!

Worst case, you get chlamydia.

Don’t Upgrage to Dinner

Finally, you’ve found a promising victim. She’s a ridiculously curvaceous German blonde and she’s buying what you’re selling. You offer to take her out to drinks next week.


She’s an aggressive one. She could use a break from studying, and wants to meet. This week, not next week. For dinner, not drinks. Feisty!

She suggests an expensive restaurant in her town and the date is set. You meet her at the restaurant and the conversation flows wonderfully. The check comes and she sticks you with the whole bill. But dinner was her idea!

You move on to drinks at a nearby bar, and she keeps her wallet tucked away. She ducks your kiss at the end of the night.

Maybe she was just hungry. Those curves don’t feed themselves.

Picking Up Dropped Balls: The Five Week Rule

So you hit it off with a with a cute local, but there’s one problem. She’s in Paris on business and won’t be in town for another week and a half. She’ll drop you a line when she gets back. Two weeks pass and she’s nowhere to be seen.

How long do you wait? If you message too quickly, you’re that clinger who won’t leave her alone. Wait too long and it smacks of desperation. Were you just digging up all your old message chains?

Leave the uncertainty behind! Wait 35 days and strike when she’s most vulnerable.


Missing Beard Compensation

You can’t grow a beard. Well, you can, but for some reason the hair doesn’t connect from your sideburns to your chin. It goes to your moustache.


Genetics may have failed you, but it’s nothing you can’t make up for with a little accessorizing.

2013-10-20 16.55.37“Nobody cared who I was before I put on the ears.”

2013-10-20 16.56.22

2013-10-20 16.55.46

The cat ears are more than an accessory, they’re a lifestyle choice. And like any alternative lifestyle, it comes with its share of difficult choices.



Related Posts:
OkCupid: Blind Dates and Delays
The OkCupid Experience: Dating Abroad After Divorce

Notes from the Road: Bristol and Back

By: James Stevenson

I’m hesitant to call this “Notes from the Road”, as the title implies that this is a regular column and there will more notes to come. More is my intention. I’m sure I’ll drag myself back to the road sometime soon, but this trip was so awful in the end that it’s put me off this hitchhiking bullshit a bit.

In fact, I think I was pretty hesitant to do this trip anyway. My alarm woke me up at 6:30 on Friday, and I immediately fell back asleep and dreamt that I had decided not to go to Bristol at all. It was so convincing that when I woke up again an hour later I really had no desire to drag myself out of bed and make a move. DJ Shadow was playing his All Basses Covered tour at Motion in Bristol that night, and I’d already shelled out £25 for a ticket. I’d decided to buy the ticket so that I would force myself to hitchhike there.

I got to the road at 9 AM. I was in West London where cars are joining the M4 motorway, a straight run to Bristol. I stood there for about an hour, holding my sign and sticking my thumb out. Nobody picked me up. Some honked or gave a thumbs up. One couple looked really confused and pointed off to the right, as if to say “Bristol’s that way, man.” I get a lot of random gestures when I hitchhike, and I would say 60% of them have been impossible for me to decipher. One time I did get flipped off in Switzerland. I mooned that guy.


I was hungry and tired, and around 10AM I started to feel like crap. I sniffed out a greasy spoon and paid next to nothing for some breakfast. The only other guy in the place was a hobo. It was an odd contrast. He with his amazing beard, a pram full of swag and loot, and a slow, purposeful way of moving that suggested his senses were completely dulled to the outside world. Me with my painted fingernails (silver), £70 headphones and Imperial College Mathematics Society jumper, eating my full English breakfast like “ah, the colloquial English fare. What a pleasure to be so down to earth.”

I nommed my breakfast and hit the road again, feeling better. At noon I finally got a lift from a Kenyan guy. He works in the embassy in London, in defense. He used to be in the military, and had seen some fighting at the Somalian border, suppressing something or other. For a military man, he was very peaceful. He told me he tries to do one good thing for someone every day.

On the radio some BBC presenter was talking about poverty in England. My driver said it was interesting to watch England as an outsider.

“If you look at the history,” he said. “It’s really going downhill. In 10, 20 years it’s going to be really bad.”

The radio backed him up, complaining about soup kitchens. According to the DJ, having soup kitchens encourages people to be poor, which calls for more money to soup kitchens. One feeds off the other. Well of course one feeds off the other, I thought that was the point.

“There are so many problems in the world. And all of them come from greed. If we took all the money in the world and redistributed it evenly, everyone would live happily.” I hear this sort of thing a lot from drivers, but I’ve never been convinced.

“And look, all these people in cars, and how long did you stand there?”

“Three hours,” I said. “It was so cold, man.”

“Three hours! And what does it cost me? I have someone in my car, I have conversation, it’s human contact!”

“Yeah man, exactly!”

I feel like such a hippy when we talk like this.

Eventually he started talking about Islam.

“I’m a Muslim,” he said. “But all these guys killing in the name of Islam are wrong. Islam is a peaceful religion. And suicide is wrong in our religion, too. You won’t go to heaven if you kill yourself. It’s like, if I told you that if you go to Bristol today you will become a billionaire, without having to do anything, but I’m still going to Swindon, then why am I not also a billionaire? You understand? If someone tells you that by blowing yourself up you’re going to go to heaven and have 70 virgins or whatever, then why has that guy not yet blown himself up? It doesn’t make any sense.”

I laughed and agreed.

“And jihad, people always talk about jihad. Jihad, it means ‘a struggle’. You can have a peaceful jihad too.”

He wasn’t driving all the way to Bristol, so he dropped me at a gas station with 40 miles left to go. I bought a cup of coffee and a pastry, doodled for a minute, and then started asking people if they were going to Bristol. It only took a few minutes before I got a yes.

“You know what? I will take you to Bristol,” the dude said. “But if we break down, we’re screwed mate. I’ve already broken down twice today.”


He was a young looking guy, I would guess in his 30s.

“You’re from Imperial College,” he said, pointing at my jumper. “You must be good at maths. Ok you’ve got 3 seconds, what’s 52 times .36?”

“Ummm,” I said.

“Ok, ten seconds,” he said after three seconds. After ten seconds I knew it was something to do with 156, 312 and some powers of ten, but no final answer had come out of my mouth and my forehead was still scrunched up in the thinking position. “Ok, I’m going to go inside and pay. When I come out you tell me.”

“Sure thing,” I said.

He went inside and I worked it out. Then my sister called.

“Hey bro! Where are ya?”

“At a gas station about to get a lift to Bristol. The guy asked me what 52 times .36 is.”

“Haha nice! Ok cool, have fun!”

“Will do, toodles!”

The guy came back out and said “You got it?”

“Ah yeah, I did, but my sister called and now I forgot it,” I said. “Something to do with 18.72 or something.”

“6,” he corrected me.

“Yeah 76, of course,” I agreed. I dunno if he knew he was wrong.

“You’re lucky my wife isn’t here,” he said as we started driving away. “She hates it when I pick up hitch hikers. We were in Morocco and I was picking them up.”

“Yeah man, but that’s ok. You know, when I first started hitch hiking I’d get really angry at all the people just blowing by me,” I started.

“Yeah, fucking cunts.”

“But you know, some people don’t want to pick people up, and that’s fine.”

“Yeah I guess. Hey what’s your name?”

“I’m James,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Good to meet you, I’m Steph.”

Everything in Steph’s life had gone wrong. He used to be a trader “in the city”, making big money in the pit.

“Some years you take in 500 thousand, some years you lose 200 thousand. That’s how it goes. I’m burnt out now, though, man. I’m 41, I lost my company, lost my money. I’m living on 20 grand a year, you know? That’s nothing! They had to cut out half my liver, my cars broken down twice. I think my car broke down so I could pick you up today and complain about it all. I’m just sitting here cursing life, and you gotta listen to me, sorry man.”

He’d also cracked a disc in his spine when he was a teenager.

“I had to stand erect all the time. I couldn’t sit down. I had to shit erect, you know, and couldn’t wipe.”

This guy had had a hell of a life.


“When I was in the city I always did my best and worked as hard as I could. It turns out everything is about who you know, though, and nobody ever told me that.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I was always told ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’“

“Yeah, you see? Nobody ever told me that. That’s why I hate these cunts in the city that get lucky or whatever. I worked fucking hard, and I was good, and look at me now.” He called everyone cunts.

“Oh, and another thing man, is the Jews,” he said. “Before I go on, you’re not Jewish, man, are you?”

“No dude, whatever, go on.”

“Yeah man, it’s the French Jews. They control everything, man. They got all the money, seriously. All the big banks are run by the French Jews. And you know what’s interesting? Before the Second World War, they were persecuting Germans out in Austria. No First World… was it First? Nah, Second World War. They were killing Germans, and the Germans were asking them to stop. That’s why they started the war, it was self defense. They were attacked first. But you know the propaganda and news and whatever, you never hear this, right?”

“Yeah dude that’s crazy. Interesting.”

Around then we started coming into Bristol. He went through the town center and let me out. We said our goodbyes and I parted. The stuff about the Jews was pretty strange, but I like the guy. I like everyone.

It was something like 2 or 3PM and the gig wasn’t until 11. I had a date with a pizza, got lost, took a piss by a river, found my way again, and walked into the venue like 7 hours early.

“Hey can I help set up or something?” I asked.

“Uh yeah sure, you work here?”

“No no, I’m just here for the gig, I’ve just got a ticket. I’m like 7 hours early, though.”

“Hah! No, man, sorry. You know if you get hurt or something it’s a problem, right.”

“Yeah, I figured, but I thought I’d ask.”

“Where you from, kid?” said the guy as he went up some stairs and out of sight.

“Uh, well I grew up in New Jersey and..” I started to say

“Well, don’t worry about it man, it’s not your fault!”

I let out a laugh and walked back to town.

I spent 5 hours in a swaggin cafe. The coffee was good, the lady working there was very pretty (though at least twice my age), there was a barber shop in the back, and the cafe was full of cool stuff. I stayed there for hours and not single other customer came in.

On the shelf next to me was “Our Island Story”, by H. E. Marshall. It was a narrative history of England for kids, written in 1905. I learned that a very long time ago, Neptune was looking for an island to give to his favorite son, Albion. Many people came from different islands to ask that Albion come to theirs, but none of the islands were good enough for him. But then a little mermaid come before Neptune and spoke:

“O Father Neptune,” she said, “let Albion come to my island. It is a beautiful little island. It lies like a gem in the bluest of waters. There the trees and the grass are green, the cliffs are white and the sands are golden. There the sun shines and the birds sing. It is a land of beauty. Mountains and valleys, broad lakes and swift-flowing rivers, all are there. Let Albion come to my island.”

It turned out she was talking about England. Man, salespeople.

I read on: “Now the people of the little island possess lands all over the world. These lands form the empire of Greater Britain.” I chuckled to myself.

In the same sitting I read Terry Pratchett’s idea: “I think we got our Empire because of the weather. Anything was better than staying home in the rain. I’m pretty certain people looked out of the window and rushed off to discover India and Africa.” – Daphne, Nation.

The day was cold and overcast, the Kenyan had spoke about the decline on England, Steph had lost all his money, the amazing café had no customers, I wasn’t allowed to help at the gig because of health and safety laws, and I was fleeing London to party with a lot of drunk people. The gloom of England was everywhere.

The show finally rolled around, and I had a blast. At the beginning I was the only guy up at the front, holding onto the railing and dancing like mad. There was like a two meter radius from me to the crowd, I don’t know why. I checked to make sure I smelled ok and that no one had cut a massive hole out of my pants or something.


Then at some point I turned around again and the whole room was completely filled, and it was crowded, and everyone was dancing around me. Coldcut were laying down a lesson in dub, reggae, breaks and bass, and it was sweet.

Some girl came up to me and said something.

“What?” I shouted.

“What?” she shouted.

“Exactly!” I shouted

“What?” she shouted.

I can’t be bothered with girls in clubs, I was just there to dance. I regret that a bit, cuz she was pretty, and all the other girls that approached me that night were not. Even the one making out with another girl next to me. Several times.

Shadow came at 1:30AM and was pretty banging. He played all kinds of trap and juke and sweet weird music that everybody enjoyed. It was so cutting edge that nobody could really work out how to dance to it, but we all went wild anyway. About halfway through his set my nipples started burning like crazy. I kept dancing, Rick Ross woke up in a new Bugatti, and at the end of the set Giorgio Moroder donated his organs to give the sound so much body.

Shadow finished up at about 2:30AM, and I went outside to hold up my sign for London. There was pretty much no chance that would work. What kind of moron would drive to Bristol just for a bassy club night, not drink, and then drive home at 3 in the morning? What kind of moron would hitchhike there 7 hours early, not sort out a place to stay and then try to hitchhike back in the middle of the night? Me, apparently, and I also thought it was a good idea to keep buying snow cones until I couldn’t afford any more.

I lost all my remaining money in an arm wrestle, hung out with a girl until she ditched me in a crowd, and then headed to the train station with a random guy who asked me if I’d go with him. He said the club was closing at 4, even though the girl had told me it would be open till 10. I followed him anyway, and we shared a very difficult 40 minutes of conversation. He was a lower class Brit who’d lived his whole life in the area around Bristol. He gardened for a living, but didn’t even seem to have anything to say about gardening. He didn’t have very much to say at all. I did my one good deed for that day and bought him a train ticket, then fled.

I found myself at the road again at 5AM. I found the spot that hitchwiki.org suggested and stood holding my sign to the cars in the road, waiting for one to beep at me and pull into the gas station next to me. It was so cold and windy that I had to go into the gas station every twenty or thirty minutes just warm my body up. When I was outside I was jogging in place to try to warm up. I passed three hours in the fashion, and slowly began to feel very, very weary.

Coaches with big signs saying “040 London” were passing by me, and at 8AM I decided to give up. I was cold and tired, my nipples were still burning and I had a pain in my back. With great relief, I hobbled over to the coach station, paid my £20 fine for giving up, got on a bus, and closed my eyes. I was cold to my bones the rest of that day, and decided to spend the week wrapped up in blankets working on my website.

And that was that.

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