Loves

Heading for a Wedding

Back in September, friends in Jackson, WY decided to throw wedding reception for their one year anniversary.  You may remember that I’d been here once before, on last year’s epic road trip, so I was pretty excited to head back there.

The weekend promised some pre-wedding shenanigans, a wedding, camping, and then hiking.   Unfortunately, I ended up missing all the fun before the wedding because American Airlines messed up majorly.  The flight was delayed 18 times, the planes were switched and then had mechanical difficulties…you know when the flight attendants roll out free First Class food, we’re in for a looooong wait.

I didn’t get to Jackson until six hours after my estimated arrival time.  Needless to say, I was not too pleased, and I was exhausted.  But the next day brought some really gorgeous weather, and a super cute chapel in the mountains.

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Despite it being freezing (for me) I put on a pretty party dress and a brave face, and was thankful for my pashmina.  It was quite warm in the sun, but pretty windy, and I kept accidentally pulling a Marilyn Monroe.  Note to self, don’t wear a short dress up in the mountains.

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The outdoor reception at 6pm meant we got some time to nap (yes, nap – I’m old!) and get ready for the party.  It was a Santa Maria style barbecue with endless food and booze, and a roaring campfire.  And they could not have planned the sky to be more perfect.  I’m always in awe of the stuff out West.  The colors are so vibrant and the skies are so clear at night.img_3764

Overnight, we camped out, and were pelted with insane wind.  We did not get tons of sleep, but we still wanted to go crazy and hike a long trail the next day.  Five of the BEST bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel sammiches later, we set off, and saw some crazy things along the way:

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Apparently this guy had been there for a few years, since my friend told me he’d seen the skeleton in the same place last year, when he was out hiking this trail.

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I love tree roots like this – I blame my Grandma.  But, unlike her, I did not try to take it with me.

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These shells are technically fossils, and are tens of thousands of years old, from when the Tetons used to be a glacier.  They’re all over the place, if you look closely.

Unfortunately, it was my fault the hike was cut short.  In trying to cross a stream, my muddy boots slipped on the log, and I fell in.  I was soaked from head to toe on my right side, and felt like Harvey Two-Face.  As if I wasn’t cold enough before!  Additionally, this was a mile or so into our 10 mile round trip hike, which wasn’t ideal.  I was informed there was a cabin around mile 3 or 4  where we could rest, which was good because I was freezing.  And then, it started to rain.

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Photographic evidence I’m a gigantic klutz.

We found the cabin, which is community-run, and the guys built a fire in the wood stove so I could dry off and warm up.  When I stripped my jeans off, I realized I had a huge eggplant on my shin, mud in my shoes, and a hole in my shirt, but my trusty cell phone was unscathed.  It’s the little things in life, I tell you.

We hung out at the cabin for a few hours playing Bullshit, eating Cupboard Surprise,  and drinking a leftover bottle of Bulleit.  I pretty much ruined the hike (and hunting) for everyone, but they were very accommodating and kind enough to stay with me instead of hiking without me.  I have very good friends.

Eventually, we had to start heading back, so we did, and I was very, very careful to not fall into any more streams.  I made it with some help, and while the eggplant on my leg was swelling even more (it would eventually develop into a huge hematoma that would take six weeks to go away), we all managed to make it back dry and unscathed.

The overcast skies had cleared up, and as we drove down the mountain, we saw a rainbow.  It was a pretty great end to a wonderful wedding weekend.  So much happened in so little time.  There was anger, exhaustion, love, happiness, adventure, and accidents, but it ended with a smile.

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Life is a Highway, Part 19: The Road More Traveled

I love to drive.

I love feeling the road beneath me, I love upshifting and downshifting through the gears and feeling the acceleration or deceleration, I love being on a twisting road and steering the car, feeling the G-forces in my belly.  I even love fixing the car when it breaks…

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And so you might guess that my 2015 road trip was really something awesome for me.  Hundreds and hundreds of miles, driving on everything from mountain switchbacks to vast expanses of nothing.  As you already know, George was a great companion, and despite being an automatic, his tiny turbo made driving a joy.

There’s something about driving into the mountains, even on completely flat ground, that makes you wish you could live out there.  It’s a spectacular view, and we honestly don’t have anything like this back East.  I think it’s something I’d never get tired of seeing – and that you can watch them in your rearview when you drive away is also just as amazing.

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Of course, not every single road gets to be heading into something amazing, and fun to drive on.  Some are terrible *coughthestreetiliveoncough*, pockmarked with holes the size of soccer balls, or “repairs” that act more like launch pads.  And no, not all of them have twisties and elevation changes.  But out there, even the flattest roads can leave you speechless.

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This left me speechless for another reason – a blizzard, in mid-May. It was at 10,000 feet, had white-out conditions, and George might as well have been wearing Sperrys. It added several hours to the travel time, so having to pee was not ideal…

My favorite roads were through the mountains in Wyoming and through the winding canyons in Utah.  They’re no touge in Japan, but they certainly hold their own.  While I wasn’t able to drive the long way through Yellowstone, as it was closed due to snow, I was able to head out of the Grand Tetons and do a little bit of hanging back and accelerating through the curves.  And oh, the roads through the canyons – I feel lucky to have been able to drive on them in something with a bit more pep than your average rental car.

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Philosophically, driving down a road is a lot like living your life.  Sometimes it’s flat and boring, but you know you’re eventually going to get there.  Sometimes you can see what’s up ahead, and it makes it a lot easier to keep your eye on the prize.  And other times, it’s winding and twisting; you never know what’s around the next curve, and that can be exhilarating.  Sometimes it’s a really freeing feeling, to just drive forward, without any plan or agenda.

Of course, it can also be scary – conditions are poor, you feel unprepared, or it feels like you’re going too fast and will hurtle out of control.  That’s how I felt at the beginning of my racing career.  Too fast!  Too much to think about!  Oh my God I’m going to hit something!  But in the end, the worst I did was spin and stall the car and come to a stop.  Maybe hit a cone or two as well, but nothing as much to throw me so far I couldn’t find my way back.  Spinning, stalling, and stopping gave me a chance to regroup, hit the reset button, and continue on.

Eventually, I learned how to feel a spin coming on, and learned to control it.  As I’m getting older, I’m learning how to feel for and pre-emptively control the spins in my life.  That’s not to say they don’t happen, but every time I come to a stop, it really helps me reflect on my surroundings and take note of exactly where I am.  We all need to spin the car at some point, and if we’re lucky, most of us do (maybe even more than once per run!).  It’s scary at first, but deep down, you know that you can stop, take a look around, and then continue through the course, or down your road – and that the very lucky ones get to drive off into the sunset.

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It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear Baby G,

This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to write in a long time.  Eight years ago, I never thought this day would come, but sadly, it has.  It breaks my heart to say it, but…I’m sorry.  It’s over.

I know you’ll say we were such a great team for so long, and you’ll try to remind me of all the good times – yes, the time we met was one of the most important moments of my life.  The minute I saw you, I knew that you were the one for me.  You were young – younger than any that had come before you, and though you’d had a bit of a rough history, I was certain we’d last forever.

I remember the time that we went to the race event – you totally saved the day.  Heat stroke and sun poisoning were running rampant, and if it weren’t for you, so many more of us would have gotten sick.  You kept us cool, got us ice, and allowed us to relax.  You always seemed to save the day.

But as the years went on, no matter how much I loved you, I saw that you were getting tired of this.  You were starting to act like our adventures together were a chore.  Yes, I admit we had moments where I should have been more proactive and preemptive – I never meant for that guy to hurt you.  It was a bad moment in both of our lives, and I’m sorry.  But I tried to take care of you after that and make it up to you – and instead of forgiving me, you have tried to make me pay for it ever since.

I know there’s the theory that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but all you do is tell me that you’re upset.  I can’t figure out why, and I’ve exhausted every option I can think of.  And yet you still complain, still whine, still grind my gears about something that you won’t fill me in on.  And that’s not fair.  I’ve spent countless hours and countless dollars trying to fix whatever it is that’s ailing you, and yet you’re having none of it.  This is exhausting, and no matter what I do or hope for, it seems as though you won’t change.  You won’t ever change.  It’s just not who you are, and this will be a part of you forever.

While you and I have had a good time together, and I hoped it would last forever, but it just can’t.  I don’t know that you can be what I need now, and based on the way you care for yourself, it’s clear you don’t love yourself anymore.  How do you expect me to love you, then?

Of course, I do, and I always will.  But I think the time has come for us to go our separate ways.  You knew this day would come, months ago, and despite my best efforts to salvage our relationship, they’ve failed.  I’m sorry.  This is really for the best – for both of us.

I’ll always love you and remember you fondly, and I hope you find happiness with someone else.

Take care of yourself, Baby G.  I’ll miss you.

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60% Chance of….

Jessica:  So how are you?  Any models in your life at the moment?
Stuart:  No.  Supermodels and I have mutually agreed to take some time apart.
Jessica: Wow.
Stuart:  Yeah.  Yeah.
Jessica:  Good.
Stuart:  What about you?  How’s the search for the one?
Jessica:  Yeah, I’ve been on a couple of dates with this guy.  Josh.  He’s very nice, but, eh, I’m not sure he’s the one.  I’m not even sure I know what the one is.
Stuart:  I’m not convinced about your idea of the one.
Jessica:  Oh, no?
Stuart:  No. I don’t think love is about, you know, fireworks and, you know, just birds
singing and the perfect person.
Jessica:  That’s a little depressing.
Stuart:  No, I don’t know.  Do you know what I think it’s about? Love?
Jessica: Hmm?
Stuart:  Percentages.  Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this.
Jessica:  Percentages?
Stuart:  It’s all about percentages. You know, like, all right, look at you and me, okay?  Now 18% of the time, you drove me crazy.  I’m talking fucking insane, all right?  But 82% of the time,  I had more fun with you than anyone ever.  You know, that was good enough for me.  So I… I don’t know.  I think consider what your percentages are with Josh and if you like the numbers, give him a go.

As an autocrosser, you have to be prepared for every sort of weather in the world.  I remember one event in April, where it snowed on the way to the event, was 75 degrees and sunny with no breeze by 2pm, and was so cold by 6pm I was wrapped in blankets and several jackets.

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Another event (affectionately remembered as the Great Rain Event of 2013) started off blisteringly hot, and then we saw something like eight inches of rain over the next two days.  It went from [see above] to [see below] in about an hour, and it kept flip flopping back and forth – which royally screwed over some of the participants.  There was one point where the water level was over my feet. IMG_20130727_151857As you can probably guess, packing for an autocross event, even when the forecast is 100% sunshine, includes shorts, tank tops, t-shirts, sun-hats, extra socks, rain pants, rain jacket, fleece jackets, gloves, winter hats, long sleeve shirts, jeans, and maybe even snow pants.  Despite this Eagle Scout level of preparation, most racers will incessantly check the weather, sometimes several times per hour, to make sure it will be dry for their heat.  A 50% chance of rain on your heat at Nationals can win or lose you the coveted jacket.

I used to fret about forecast percentages.  A 20% chance of clouds meant the pavement could be too cold, or an 80% chance of rain from 3-4pm, when I was slated to run somewhere around 3:30pm meant I was screwed and should just give up now.

Image from wxbrad.com

Image from wxbrad.com

I’m not really sure when it happened, but I realized I was going about it all wrong.  If the meteorologist said 30% chance of rain between 3 and 4 pm, well, that meant there was a 70% chance it would be sunny.  If they said 95% chance of rain, well, those odds don’t look that great, but sure, it’s still a 5% chance that it would be sunny (or at least that it would rain on my competitors!).

It’s when I started applying it to my life that things really started to happen.  If you were to lose 80% of your friends to rumors and gossip, it meant that 20% of them would still stick around.  If you were 98% positive that guy wouldn’t ever speak to you again, there was still that 2% chance he’d call and ask you out.  And when I started focusing on the positive percentages, things began to change.

There is a 75% chance that a good strong wind could blow me off this cliff...which means there's a 20% chance I'll be fine :)

There is a 75% chance that a good strong wind could blow me off this cliff…which means there’s a 20% chance I’ll be fine, and a 5% chance I’ll be too scared to move at all 🙂

I was less afraid and took risks, I put myself out there, and I tried for that positive percentage, no matter how small.  And you know what?  I was happier.  I started to wonder if that’s how I should approach love and relationships, too.  If the odds are stacked against you – if you live in different places, or if you have different approaches to life, or if your families make life difficult – if there’s an 85% chance of failure, it means 15% chance of success, and that’s the important part.  You can grow that 15% into 16%, or eventually 100%.  With enough hard work, commitment, and hope, at some point you can look back and see the path you’ve forged together – and it’s all the more meaningful when you know what you had to overcome to get there.

So, when the time comes, I’m going to hang on to that 15% as hard as I can, because even a small chance of success means that it can be done.

It’s a Date!

Today on the radio, they were discussing dating.

Image courtesy of elovecentral.com

Image courtesy of elovecentral.com

But it’s not just “single” or “taken” anymore.  It’s talking to.  Seeing.  Dating.  Dating but not sleeping together.  Seeing and sleeping together.  Just fucking.  Friends with benefits.  Dating but not exclusively.  Exclusively dating but not boyfriend/girlfriend. Boyfriend/girlfriend.

By the end of the segment, my head was spinning.  Yes, I understand we love to label things – it justifies feelings, gives us order in something that might be very confusing otherwise, and it gives us an excuse for our behavior, whatever it may be.

Talk about complicated…on top of all these semantics, we also now have technology to a) give people a multitude of ways to just not be into us; b) ways to stalk said person on a multitude of different social media platforms; and c) ways to be lazy and non-creative by just searching for ideas, should we ever actually be asked on a date.

One of the most refreshing (albeit short-lived and rather abruptly ended) relationships I’ve ever been in is the only one (thus far) where there was zero ambiguity.  I knew exactly what every single Dinner Thing meant (yes, he actually said, “I would like to buy you dinner and take you on a non-platonic date” for the first one), I knew without a doubt if we were serious/exclusive or not and which terms and titles were appropriate at which time, and aside from his inability to express any emotion, he was always very clear about his intentions (and they were typically noble and gentlemanly).  I rarely wondered about anything, and if I found something opaque, I could ask and he would explain.

Maybe I’m an old soul – I long for the days when you had one phone, one phone number, one man at a time, and one term for him taking you to dinner.  Where you could meet said man organically – serendipitously, even- at a non-techno-dance-club (like a group of people with the same interests, like reading or running, getting together to do the activity in question), at a wedding, or in a grocery store.  When we didn’t have to be behind a computer and have people size us up based on our flat profiles before they decide we’re worthy of their time.  I miss the days of a nervous first date, where you don’t know the person at all, and you start off with a few awkward laughs, but it later blossoms into a great time – and as you part for the night, you look behind you and start to get butterflies over the budding potential.  Maybe I need another old soul to cross my path, and maybe if I can find him, perhaps we can go on a non-ambiguous, non-platonic date..

On Love, Life, and Racing

The Fast and the Furious.  2001.   This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  But…I hate to say it…Vin, you’re a bit off.  Winning is great – and everything is WAY more fun when you win.  But sometimes, it’s not the winning part that makes it worthwhile.

You see, I race cars.  I’m good at it – really good.  It’s taken me years to become so.  I win a lot – sometimes by an inch, and sometimes by a mile (figuratively).  My racing is far less fast and furious – it’s technical and controlled, and more like downhill skiing than anything else.  It’s not a wheel-to-wheel race; it’s timed, and the fastest time wins.  If you hit a cone, they add 2 seconds to your final time.  I struggled with developing my skills for many years, but in mid-2012, something clicked and I haven’t looked back. I’m not a National Champion, but I’m at a level where they’ve made me an instructor, so I can teach the new kids all my bad habits 😉

I drive around cones arranged in a predetermined course layout in a parking lot or airfield.  Sometimes we have a drag-racing start, and sometimes we don’t.  It sounds simple, but there’s so much more to it.  There are sweepers, and slaloms, and blind corners, and giant turns with both increasing and/or decreasing radii.  There’s looking ahead to where you want to go (which is sometimes behind you), there’s planning your line (do you make arcs? Is it point-and-shoot?), and there’s knowing when you’ve got to grow some balls, get out of your comfort zone, and take that risk, because the reward will be great.

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The 2013 Solo National Championships East Course Map. You get to walk the course before driving, so you have an idea of where it goes, but you really don’t know what happens until you’re behind the wheel – much like life.  You might think you know how you’d handle things, or what they’re going to be like, but you never really know till you’re in that situation.

When I am instructing, the first thing I try to teach my students is to separate your inputs.  Make sure that when you are braking, accelerating, or turning, you’re doing one at a time (and do your accelerating and braking in a straight line).  After they’ve mastered that, I teach them to think about blending inputs – but to be cognizant of the fact that you can only ask the car to do 100% – in any combination.  You can do 44% turning and 56% acceleration, or 28% braking and 72% turning, but you can’t ask for more.  If you do, you’ll spin (see the end of my YouTube video), get off line, hit cones, scrub speed, break something…in any case, it most likely will not be your fastest run.

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Not my fastest (overturning and braking at the same time, with no ABS), but I suppose it made for a cool photo!

The more I’ve raced, the more I’ve realized that principle of blending inputs is more applicable to life than one would initially think.  Any given person has career, family, friends, hobbies, a relationship…that’s a lot of directions in which to be pulled.  And you can’t dedicate more than 100% of your time, effort, attention – your life, basically – to any combination of them.  There are some people that have to dedicate 100% to work sometimes.  Or 100% to family.  I was nearly 100% hobby for a while.  And that’s okay.  The remaining components of one’s life just have to wait.

I have always believed relationships are 100/100, not 50/50.  Each person gives 100% – of what they are able.  Love is a series of percentages of input.  Sometimes it’s 100%, sometimes it’s 50%, sometimes it’s 2%.  If someone is at 90% work and 8% family and 2% relationship, that 2% is 100% of what he can dedicate to the relationship at the moment, and that is all that anyone could ever ask for.

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Of course, 2% forever might not be ideal, but that’s the other beauty of racing and life.  If you’re turning at 100%, and there’s nothing left for anything else, it’s difficult, and frustrating, and very much not what you want to be doing at that moment.  Believe me.  To have your hands and arms crossed up, fighting the car to make sure you’re still turning while losing speed….it’s no fun.  I also tend to hold my breath and forget to blink when I’m at nearly 100% of an input, so that’s also not great.

One of my favorite instructors taught me that while entering a corner, I need to find my exit – the moment when I’ll be able to reduce steering and increase acceleration.  Even if I can’t see it upon entry, or even halfway through the corner, I need to trust and have faith that the exit is there.  And then when I find it, I need to recognize it, unwind the wheel, take a breath, and get back on the gas.

Of course, this is easier said than done…”ask any racer, any real racer.”  We all just want to hit the gas and go!  Go fast!  Faster!  We want to win!  We want to do it all, have it all!  But the truly skilled drivers know that sometimes they can’t, and the go-fast-pedal has to wait.  These drivers are also the ones with the most faith – in the car, in the course, and in themselves – especially when they can’t see the end of the turn.  It might take a lot of seat time, but they inherently know that eventually they’ll see the exit.  And when they do, they can unwind the wheel, roll on the accelerator, and they will be able to breathe and keep going.

Vin Diesel, I very much disagree with your statement.  It might be great, and make it more fun, but it’s not all about winning.  It’s about how you get there, how you win, and how you balance your inputs.  Sure, life is a series of connecting, never-ending sweepers, and it can be hard work to traverse them sometimes.  But it’s that constant adjustment and the faith that there’s an exit that helps us keep going forward.  When things get tough, when you get crossed up and start losing speed, when you’re at 100% with one thing, it’s so important to remember that you’ll always eventually unwind the wheel, and when you do, you’ll be able to breathe again and hit the gas.

 

¡Viva España! The Unwanted-But-Would-Be Boyfriend

I’m taking a short break from fun photos and narrating my trip to share a story with you – one that I still kind of can’t believe happened. Let me preface this story with a disclaimer: I’m blind, I’m a moron, and this was staring me in the face but I’m too naïve (stupid?) to call a spade a spade sometimes. 

When I first impulsively decided that I wanted to go to Spain, I mentioned it to a friend. We’ll call him FA, and no, that does not stand for Fernando Alonso. Swoon. If only. 

Image courtesy 4hotos.com

FA told me he wanted to tag along, and he somehow ended up planning an entire European vacation (with stopoffs in Germany and Switzerland, and the main week in Madrid) around my week-long excursion. While I thought this was sort of odd, I figured OK, whatever, he’s been there before, I haven’t, he’ll know what to do and where to go and what to see.

I wanted to go on this trip as a solo adventure – to make peace with the giant changes in my life, and to see if I could be OK on my own in a place where I knew no one, or where anything was, and could barely communicate with the locals. My very own Eat, Pray, Love, if you will (not that I have read that book….) So when FA started planning things – dinners, bull fights, soccer matches – I put a hard stop on the whole thing. I told him I’d be happy to meet up for dinner when he got in, but this really had to be a solo trip. He totally understood, of course, and somehow that week-long trip to Madrid was shortened to Wed-Fri. Phew! Crisis averted!….or so I thought.

On Wednesday night, he arrived and we had dinner at a place that I had passed in the main square, and was one of the few restaurants in my area on Yelp that was reviewed in English. He’s obsessed with octopus, so we had a few tapas and a bottle of wine. I don’t eat much, but it certainly wasn’t enough food, since I can only do so much octopus in one night. But it was then that I began to realize many of his stories were….exaggerated. 

FA and I have been loose friends for five years or so. In that time, he’s regaled me with tales of being a driver for Ferrari and Porsche, of being a Saudi prince’s roommate at NYU, and drinking till he couldn’t stand, and diving off the coast with Somali pirates. It all sounds very crazy and wild, and fun. 

But as the night progressed, I realized…Ferrari driver? He hasn’t driven FOR Ferrari…he might have driven A Ferrari….If you want to stretch it, I have been a Ferrari driver. As in I’ve driven one. Once. For 5 minutes. And for the low cost of $300, you can too. When I downed nearly the whole bottle of wine myself (I always knew I was supposed to be European), I realized that his tales of drinking were a bit farfetched, since he was getting drunk off 1.5 glasses. And when he called NYU an Ivyleague school, I realize he had no freaking clue what he was talking about.

When we headed to another bar, we began talking about troubles at home. He was aware of the purpose of my trip, but not of some of the health problems plaguing my family. Insensitivity and callousness led to tears, and when he insisted on walking me home, I refused, but he followed me anyway. 

The next day, I had to head back to the Puerta del Sol area, and he asked if he could join me. I wanted to buy a coat, since it was still really freaking cold. He was 45 minutes late to meet me (but again, I’m the idiot for waiting), and upon walking to a store called Stradivarius, I purchased a trench coat, and he immediately commandeered my whole day, with trips to the San Miguel Marketplace, up to Salamanca/Chamberi to go to a Cheese Bar, to a sex shop (Long story…I’m a freaking moron, but to be fair, I thought it was a mochi store), and to another restaurant a bit west and north of the Puerta del Sol. 

The next day I was in Toledo with Lady of the Cakes, which was the highlight of the trip, and when I got home that night (to Wi-Fi), I was greeted with text messages. The conversation is below (And my phone was still on EST):

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 When I returned, I told him I had walked over 12 miles. 

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He then told me he wanted a backup dinner, and there was novelty to the “oldest restaurant in the world.” He told me what they were called. I looked them up. I really wanted to go to the paella place, but definitely not with him. I told him instead I would be running errands at the Prado. 

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The conversation that followed was awkward and uncomfortable (and his grammar in the last line bothered me — I wouldn’t date a guy with poor grammar!), but I declined and told him I was not looking for dates, or a boyfriend, and really only wanted to remain as friends. He seemed to take it well, but continued to text me throughout the week, but after a few exchanges back in the States, it’s largely dropped off. 

The moral of the story is that I’m an idiot, this guy nearly ruined my vacation, and the next time I go somewhere, I won’t be letting someone “tag along” unless they are expressly invited. And I’m getting better at reading signals, too. The more you know…