The Voyage Begins

For the past 27 months I woke up every weekday (and some weekends) knowing that I had to shower, eat breakfast, slip into a dress shirt and slacks, and be at work by 9am. Today feels different. Today is my last day as an employee of a Big 4 accounting firm. At least for now.

The elevator reaches the 10th floor; the very same floor I received my first full time job offer. I read the countless affirmations pasted on the walls: experience, opportunities, unique, flexibility, happy. I’m finally living these words, I think to myself. I sit at a desk beside a glass wall overlooking this gorgeous Atlanta morning. I’ll miss this city, I think to myself.

Today is mostly formalities. I print out my 3 page Exit Checklist, and make sure I’ve completed all necessary procedures. I’m hit with a splash of emotion as I glance at my work instant messenger, containing the names of all my coworkers and work friends. A wave of gratitude encompasses me and I send a few kind words of wisdom to those I’ve grown close to over the years. They thank me and wish me safe travels. I check the digital clock at the bottom of my computer screen. It reads 10:15. Almost time for my exit interview. I head up to the 12th floor.

After a refreshingly open conversation with my interviewer, I exit her office and ascend to the 14th floor with my computer. In a very matter-of-fact way, the man workings the operations services desk snatches my computer, asks me to sign some paper I’m too excited to read, and bodes me farewell. This anti-climactic moment does little to deter the excitement bubbling up in me. Without a work computer for the first time in nearly 2.5 years, I feel lighter; literally and figuratively. I try to hide my grin as I speed walk to the elevator and then sprint across the lobby to the glorious day outside. I scan the parking lot for Riley. There she is – appearing scared, yet excited.

8 hours and some world famous BBQ later we turn onto an old pot-hole infested street full of vintage, tall houses with large porches. We’ve arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana. We park in the street beside a picturesque white house with pink window shutters. Unsurprising beads hang from porch posts and telephone lines. As we ascend the aging porch steps, a skinny boy with long red hair jogs over to us.

“Misha?” he asks.

“Yup,” I reply. “And you’re David?”

“Yes sir.”

David is our Couch Surfing host, with whom we will be staying the next two nights. We pulled in just as he was returning from a night of studying economics. He unlocks the door to his dwelling and we enter a classic shotgun-style house. Dating back to the early 19th century, the shotgun house is built as a narrow rectangle, with one door at the front of the house and one door at the back of the house, and all the rooms in between connected by a continuous hallway. Our room is the one closest to the door. A full sized air mattress, 2 sleeping bags and 2 pillows await us. David’s room is connected to ours, followed by a study area, a kitchen and a bathroom. Not every day do I walk through 4 rooms just to brush my teeth.

David invites us onto his porch, where we set up 3 chairs and a hammock. We pop open a bottle of red wine and merrily sip away, while listening to some unusual sounding birds screeching above us. I stargaze for the first time in months. Midway through the bottle David’s friend, Pedro, arrives. An exchange student from Honduras, he and David are co-founders of the Loyola University Economics club. The 4 of us spend a wonderful evening discussing everything from communist-Russia to college girlfriend troubles. As the temperature dips into the 40’s we walk inside where David prepares us some fancy shmancy hot chocolate. We sip on it and our eyelids grow heavy. David, a self-proclaimed night owl, has a party to go to. We check the time – it’s midnight (well, back home it is. In N’awleans, it’s a young 11pm). We tell David we’re going to take it easy tonight and go to sleep early.

Riley and I wake up to a perfect morning. We tie our shoe laces and head off on a 5 mile run along the St. Charles trolley line towards the French Quarter. The closer we near to the Quarter, the rowdier and more eccentric the crowd becomes. After witnessing a fight between a convenience store employee and a drunk homeless man, and passing by a van advertising “Weed Candies” (which I did not know was legal in Louisiana) we arrive on Canal Street. Resembling The Strip in Las Vegas, Canal Street is beautifully lined with vast hotels, symmetrical palm trees, a casino, and endless activity. We cross the street and walk along the deceivingly quiet Bourbon Street. A family dressed in Victorian-era clothing prances around, while a man balances himself on an invisible chair for tips.

An afternoon in New Orleans is not complete without Po’boys, which is exactly what Riley and I eat for lunch. Dessert consists of Cafe Du Monde and their world famous coffee and French beignets. As the afternoon draws to a close, we hop on the St. Charles trolley, which takes us back to David’s house.

After relaxing and changing into more presentable attire, Riley and I treat our accommodating host to a true creole dinner at a local restaurant. We then hop back on the trolley towards Bourbon Street. With the sun having set many hours ago, the atmosphere on the Street has drastically changed. Spray painted school busses speed past us, blasting music. Its tenants shake their rears out the windows. We walk the length of Bourbon Street, stopping only to purchase the famous Hand Grenade beverage and to stare at intriguing passersby. We listen to some impressive piano music at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest bar in America, before setting off to nearby Frenchmen Street. Considered, a more vintage New-Orleans experience, Frenchmen Street is bustling with live music. Men play jazz on street corners while onlookers dance. A trio of women play folk music on a set of dirty steps. A sextet of young boys play classic covers inside a local bar.

Riley and I stumble upon a recommended hot dog joint where we gluttonously down an obnoxiously large brat. An enjoyable amount of beers, a strip club and a rave later we’re back on the trolley heading to our host’s home.

We wake up Sunday morning to a third consecutive day of marvelous weather. We pack the car, snap a selfie with our host, and take off for our next destination.

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The Day Before

I sit in my room, packing the last of my belongings. It’s Thursday and the clock reads 12:13 p.m.; approximately 24 hours before Misha and I hit the road. The process of folding clothes into a suitcase is mundane, and evokes little emotion. Later that afternoon, I sit down with two girls for my final tutoring session. Having worked with these young ladies for the past few months, we’ve grown quite close. About 10 minutes into the lesson, one of the girls begins to cry. At first I am confused, until I realize she is sad due to my impending departure. Her sorrow transcends into my sorrow and I soon feel a wave of emotions come over me. I’m barely able to hold it together as I try to comfort her.

This moment marks the onset of a surplus of emotions, consisting of anxiety, sadness and excitement. Words do not manifest to describe this collection of emotion, but deep down I’m certain that I made the right decision to take on this challenge with Misha.

After loading the car with my final bag I sit with my parents for dinner. Despite all attempts to focus on the delicious Thai food in front of me and the comedy act radiating from the TV, my thoughts are elsewhere. As dinner nears an end it hits me that this is the last time I’ll see my parents in quite some time. After never having lived more than two hours away from my mom and dad, I am about to set sail on a journey which will take me over two thousand miles away from them. After suppressing my emotions for months, I finally let the tears flow down my face. Seeing me cry is too much, and my mom begins tearing up as well. This wonderful chapter of my life has come to end. And now begins a new one. Thankfully, I receive ample phone calls and text messages from my friends to distract me enough to fall asleep.

I wake up from a surprisingly great night’s sleep. At 11am I hop into my vehicle and head south to Downtown Atlanta. By noon I’m parked across the street from Misha’s work office. I notice a male figure wearing a striped white and blue button down shirt and grey pants exit the building. It’s Misha. Our journey is about to begin.