The morning sun crept over me and I cracked my eyes. All I saw was green. Not the green of nature, but an ugly lime green. I rubbed my eyes and tried again with the same result. Huh. Now I’m no morning person so it takes a while to get the cylinders running. To my left slept my then boyfriend Shawn, so not all of the world had gone sideways over night. Then it hit me. The insanity of the night before came crashing over me.
We were backpacking across Europe and had just spent several amazing weeks in Tuscany, Italy. However, the G8 convention was coming to Italy and the Italians were, shall we say, less than pleased with George W. So unhappy, in fact, that they were predicting riots. We had the brilliant idea of getting out of Pisa to the main hub in Geneva which would then take us to Spain before the shit hit the proverbial fan. A very wise choice, but it was a matter of poor execution. We had hustled our little tooshies to catch the first train out of Pisa. We got to Geneva only to discover that they had closed all the train stations in an attempt to contain the coming trouble. Problem was, that not only kept people out, but kept us in.
To add to our troubles we were in Italy. Yeah, I know, I mentioned that, but the people in Italy had this nasty little habit of speaking Italian. Neither one of us could effectively communicate with any of the officials in the train station. When you don’t share a common language you are forced to rely on extreme charades. It involves a lot of pointing. The person we spoke to pointed us onto a bus that was full of other people our age all with backpacks of their own. We believed that these travelers were also stranded and the bus was taking us to a train station that was open. You know what they say about assumptions, right? Yup, they will lead you directly into the war zone you were attempting to avoid.
Instead of a train station, the bus dropped us all off in the middle of town. We were caught in the flow of our fellow travelers and when the dust cleared we stood in the middle of a huge tent city full of protesters. Surrounding this tent city were hundreds of men in varied uniforms carrying some of the biggest automatic weapons I’d ever seen. My first thought, “I promised Mom I would avoid war zones! I’m so dead!” I could also see jeeps and those big military trucks holding god knows what in the back under that canvas cover. Then my mind broke as I saw a tank crawl by.
Shawn and I looked around, looked at each other, and had a moment of perfect understanding. We turned in unison in a direction that seemed to be away from this mess and started walking. We moved in silence trying to make ourselves as small and nonthreatening as humanly possible. After many cranky scowls from the men with the big guns we wound our way out of the chaos, but where do we go now? All the train stations were closed so we had no way out of town. We didn’t dare board another bus, who knows where the next one would take us. All of the hostels and hotels were full because of the convention. There is absolutely nothing in the travel books that tell you where to go when the county you are in has erupted into chaos. So we did what any logical people would do in our situation. We started to argue. Neither one of us had the foggiest idea of what to do, but we both had opinions on it. Eventually we opted to just keep walking away from all crowds and noise and see if we could find a place to stay for the night.
I have no idea how far we walked that night, but we eventually found ourselves at one of the small train stations and our charades with the man there had informed us that a train would be leaving in the morning. Our relief was palpable, our savior was right here, we just had to wait until morning to meet it. We wandered the grounds around the station and came upon an open construction container full of bags of cement. It was enclosed, hidden, and safe, for certain values of safe. We dropped our heavy packs, pulled out our sleeping bags, ate some peanut butter and crackers and tried to sleep.
This explained why I was surrounded by lime green plastic. I nudged the door open to find it quiet and empty outside our makeshift home. We had somehow escaped unscathed and a train would be here shortly to take us to the next chapter of our adventure. We later learned that there was a fatal altercation on the very streets we had walked. Hopefully we were all done with the men with big guns for the remainder of the trip.
I bet you are a bit lost. Perhaps I should rewind a bit. Hi, my name is Kristen, pleased to meet you. I’m your average six foot, auburn haired, blue eyed female. I grew up in middle class suburbia in Reno, Nevada. I was a Tom Boy out of the gate, following my older brother, Mike, into little league as the first girl in the league, basketball, again the only girl, and swimming, there might have been a girl or two there. Mike and I are separated by five years. We had this “anything you can do, I can do better,” thing going as we grew up together. I even got into skating, to his great annoyance. It was a rather tempestuous relationship. I tried soccer for a season, but was forced to play with the girls and they drove me nuts. They whined about positions, cried over minor scrapes, and nattered all the time. It was not my idea of a “sport” so I quit that, but all the rest I continued for many years. I hit 5’10” at twelve and enjoyed a very successful basketball career all the way to, well…high school. I had big plans of playing my way through college, but my knees had other ideas.
I was devastated, but life is funny. Worried about me, my Mom called one of my brother’s friends who lifted regularly. He said he wasn’t available but his sister was. I wandered into that gym lost and walked out with my best friend to this day, Marilyn. We trained hard together, pushing past goal after goal together, but most importantly we had fun both inside and outside the gym. Marilyn is a petite. beautiful blond with unending energy. She had a way of making the most mundane activities a blast. She wasn’t just a bouncy blond either, at the time she was working in the lab at UNR doing research for her Masters in biochemistry. The girl was crazy smart and incredibly driven, but I gotta tell you, her giggle was absolutely infectious. She turned my sullen teenage years into adventures of laughter and curiosity. Life was volley of the sort of activities that only the young would conceive of, much less actually do. Eight years my senior, she made me young again.
One of those adventures brought us to down town Reno for Celtic New Year. Right down the main street with casinos on either side we found amazing food, beautiful music, and a whole new group of friends. We didn’t know that at the time, we were just gawking at the people in the funny outfits when we approached by this ruggedly handsome, charismatic man wearing a great kilt. There really is something about a man in a kilt, it short circuits something in the female brain. His name was Peter and he quickly charmed us into coming closer to where we were mesmerized by this lithe, stunning girl with waist length blond hair sparring ferociously with a beautiful redhead. This was not your parents weapons demonstration. Peter informed us that the blond was Krys and the redhead was Jenn. The fact was that in a matter of moments were driving in a whole new direction.