Why I Love Travel So Much – A Tail Of One Island And A Bunch Of Strangers

“The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime.” – Pink Floyd

Some memories are so indelibly burned into your brain that you will likely never forget them.  I would be hard pressed to tell you the name of more than three of my high school teachers, but I can recall with great detail the events of my 34th birthday.

I had just spent the night before checking off one of my favorite bucket list items (drink a Guinness in a pub in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day), and started the day off by riding a bus and then a ferry to get to the island of Inishmór.  The island has about 800 inhabitants, one grocery store, one bank (only open one day each week), and several pubs.

I met a guy who played for the USC football program and his girlfriend on the ferry over.  Along with several other people, we caught a local guided tour as it was quite reasonably priced since there weren’t a lot of visitors to the island.  We went to an old fort where we had time to hike to the top for some incredible views.

Upon returning to the bottom of the hill, I decided to get some lunch and was treated to one of my favorite meals during my visit toIreland.  I could not resist the Guinness soaked beef stew served in a bowl full of mashed potatoes that was done like the gravy volcanoes we all made as a kid.

Then we saw other parts of the beautiful island and the guide dropped off most of the group before taking me to the B&B where I was sleeping that night.  I changed and headed off for dinner at a restaurant by the pier.

I was sitting alone at the restaurant and heard a group of people laughing nearby.  I went over, introduced myself, explained that it was my birthday, and asked if I could join them.  They agreed and we started talking.  Turns out, they knew the photographer friend I had stayed with in Galway.  They were there to put on a play at the local community center and invited me to come watch them.  I had nothing planned so I agreed.

As I was leaving the restaurant, I saw two girls from the US and I invited them to join me.  One of the girls, Bethany, worked with the theater and thought it would be fun.  We had no idea what the night had in store for us.

We showed up and realized that the play was broken up into four acts with only two actresses and each act portrayed a woman at a different stage in life: one a frantic mother, one a young girl at her school talent show, another on her wedding day, and finally a widower who falls for a younger blind man.  I won’t detail all four acts for you, but the one of the young girl will forever remain one of my favorite moments in theater.

The girl was going to perform a number from the musical “Cats” and put on a black tail over her school uniform.  She is shocked when her rival does the same number before and she has to figure out a new act on the spot.  As she goes through her bag, she pulls out a DVD and turns it around to show that it is “Shaft”.  She decides to do a dance to the theme song.  As the song starts, Bethany and I both remarked that she forgot to take the tail off.  But it was no mistake, she left it there on purpose.

Not to be overly crass, but as the song got going and the dance began…well, the cat tail began to swing and it hung just far enough below the plaid skirt to look like something that fit with the theme of “Shaft” (and if you can’t figure it out from there, just email me).  Needless to say, Bethany and I were laughing so hart that we almost fell out of the metal folding chairs.  Not everyone in the crowd seemed to get the prop joke, but we didn’t care as we kept on laughing.

In fact, we laughed about it all the way to the pub.  The troupe told us they would be on later after packing up and grabbing a drink with the people who sponsored their trip.  We arrived at the pub and ran into a couple of girls staying at their hostel.  One was from the US and the other was from Germany.

We started with some Guinness, which I loved then but was soon to adore thanks to my visit to the brewery a few days later.  A guy was playing cover tunes on the guitar with a sound effects box to help with the rest.

After a couple of pints, a local who had apparently been going hard for a while decided to come over and hit on one of the girls.  Over the course of the next 30 minutes, he would make trips over to hit on the different girls at the table before finally asking me why I couldn’t share since I had several girls at my table.  I told him they weren’t mine to share and then we moved to a table further away.

Soon after arriving at the table, I was treated to yet another amazing memory.  The guy with the guitar and sound effects box announced that he was going to play us some Billy Joel.  I looked over at my new friends and asked with both hope and fear in my voice, “He’s NOT going to play ‘Piano Man’, is he?”  We looked at each other and decided there was no way he’d do it.

A few seconds later we were happily proven wrong.  Glasses of Guinness were instantly raised into the air and began to sway back and forth as “It’s 9 o’clock on a Saturday…” poured forth over the strums of the guitar.  We even got the girl fromGermanyto join us on the chorus once she realized that she didn’t really have to sing.

Later on in the evening, the troupe arrived and the party shifted into a new gear.  More Guinness and some shots were consumed before the pub finally kicked us out so they could close for the night.  We walked along under a beautiful starry sky and reached the place they were staying.  After saying our goodbyes, one of them told me to wait because they had one more thing.  At 3:00 in the morning, they broke into a loud rendition of “Happy Birthday” to end the night.  We said another round of farewells and I walked on to the place I was staying having experienced a birthday supremely beyond anything I could have planned for myself.

And ladies and gentlemen, that sort of amazing serendipity is why I love to travel.  You have no idea of the places you might end up and the people you might meet until you get out on the road with an open mind.

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