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  • Daniel Rangel

Journal Entry #3: The Master Plan

Updated: May 3


PART 1: TAKE OFF.

ENTRY #3. YEAR 2013


The old man finally took an interest in me. We small talked. He asked why I am going to Mexico. I said, vacation, with a hesitance that bogged the conversation and eventually killed it. I was unsure about telling him the long truth.

He returned to his newspaper, I to writing.


So why Mexico? For starters, I knew I wanted to be in another country. I wanted to get away, far from what I was used to. That down, considering that I had three hundred bucks to play with, I found it in me to at least be rational enough to choose a country where I could speak the language. I learned Spanish from my parents who were born in Mexico and a few years of Spanish in school. Then again, it’s hard not to know some Spanish when you’re from Los Angeles. Also, the idea of visiting my Mexican roots painted a romantic adventure. Born and raised in Los Angeles, I had best known Mexico through its immigrant culture. I wanted to know the real Mexico. Maybe like in the movies, the key to a better me lay in my past, in my roots.


But even then, Mexico was not my first choice. My first choice was Argentina: a place I have wanted to visit for a long time. I like to say that it’s the tango, good steak, and well-preserved colonial architecture that calls me. The truth is, my fascination with this country stems from an Argentinean high school crush I had. It just evolved from there. I became fascinated with my idea of the country. I imagined myself living in the city of Buenos Aires, in a cheap apartment, drinking mate and writing—even though I’ve never been a writer, but it seems appropriate. I daydreamed of strolling the city during the day, buying fruits at outdoor markets, and partying with beautiful girls at night, all who resembled my high school crush.

Unfortunately, after a quick online search that revealed the troubled political and economic state of Argentina, I hesitantly crossed it off the list. My plans already have enough difficulties. I don’t need more. A decent economy then became a prerequisite, figuring that I would need to make money to survive and create a successful something.


After a few more Google searches, I decided on Mexico City, Mexico. In the end, my decision was based solely on some photos and videos, and a Wikipedia excerpt that said Mexico City was one of the cities with the largest economies in Latin America. Mexico City also fits my requirement to go somewhere I have never been, where I don’t know anyone, and no one knows me. I want a clean slate, free of the critical eyes of those I know.


Now that I knew my destination, it was time to decide what I was going to take with me. My initial goal—the way I had written it two years ago, in a badly kept journal—was to land with no money. But back then the plan had only been to raise enough money to buy my ticket back. It was supposed to be like a one or two-week character-building bootcamp. But this wasn’t the case anymore. This time I was ready to cut all ties and create something more long term, more transformative. Thus, I figured some startup capital would be good. And so it was that I settled on $300. I now find this very questionable, but at the time it seemed like a good balance of difficulty and safety.


For my other possessions, I bought a thirty-liter backpack, not much bigger than the typical school backpack. Whatever fits in it would be what I would take. In the end that included a set of my best clothes, three books on creativity, one leather journal, one tablet, a toothbrush, and one hundred business cards. The business cards are simple and double-sided with “MY STORY” printed on one side and my name and my blog’s URL on the other.


Now, what to do with what didn’t fit in the backpack?


Common sense said to leave things set up, so if everything fails, I can go back, essentially a plan B. My concern with this was that I would end up running back at the first sign of trouble, without allowing myself to have the life-changing, transformative experience that I am looking for. I perversely want to find out what will happen to me if I take that cliché, “Step outside of your comfort zone,” to the extreme. How can a position of survival transform me? Who can I become? Can the struggle make me a better person? What can it teach me?


I had money over and above the $300 I needed for my plans, so I started by getting rid of that first. I thought the correct thing to do was to donate to some charity, a good cause, and that’s exactly what I did. I thought about it.


What I actually did was go on a spending spree. As part of this, I booked a room in a nice hotel in Las Vegas, the type I normally wouldn’t be able to afford.


I feel that part of me took this trip also as a last chance. Maybe after some time off, away from home, in the world of materialism, I would change my mind and decide not to leave. But Vegas only made me more aware of the bubble that encapsulated my life. In the company of millions looking to escape, I partied in Vegas, I got drunk, and yes, I smiled, I laughed, I yelled, and I danced. But in the end, I felt I was still scraping the surface of life. There was nothing rare in this experience, nothing different, nothing I hadn’t done before. It seemed like an uncreative way of enjoying life, a template, an overused recipe for fun taken from one of the oldest books on the shelf. I wanted more. I wanted to bash life with a sledgehammer and bathe in its inner workings, to feel and see it in all its dimensions.


One thing during my stay in Vegas is worth mentioning, though, mainly because, as inconsequential as this incident might seem, it gave my decision to leave that last little push. May its absurdity be a testament to my irrationality in making decisions, and to the power that seemingly insignificant events can hold. Change is not always propelled by romantic, awe-inspiring, mind-opening things.


I was in one of those spectacular nightclubs Vegas is known for. The stereotypical ones, with ear-popping music, confetti, lights, fog, and all that stuff. The classic scene of what a good time is supposed to be like.


I was at the bar competing with hundreds of other alcohol-starved people for the bar tender’s attention. A few minutes into my fight, a girl walks up to me. With her shoulder touching mine, she starts talking to me.


She had beautiful jet-black hair, pale skin, and a sharp nose. Her breasts were one bounce away from popping a button. I was excited. The conversation continued and I’m thinking, “…maybe I shouldn’t go on my trip after all. I’ll stay for her, for sure!” In the midst of me fantasizing about my future with Marissa, the bartender calls on me. As I’m ordering, I feel Marissa caress my neck, then comes her sweet voice, “Aren’t you going to buy me a drink?”


I’ve had bad experiences buying girls drinks, so I didn’t like the sound of that. But I was quickly disarmed when I looked at her. She put her palm on my cheek and gave me a look that had me feeling all good again.


Marissa is obviously into me, I assured myself. Of course I’ll buy her a drink. After all, she’s saving me from what could be a terrible time in Mexico.


I have no idea what she ordered, but based on the price, she could have just as well said, “Bartender, give me the most expensive drink you got, cuz’ I am not paying, on the rocks, please!” But that didn’t matter. It seemed like a small price to pay for love.


With a wholesome smile on her beautiful face, she raised her drink toward me, said “cheers,” and walked away. I trailed behind her, figuring we were going to have a seat and chat about our future together. Maybe she’s from Los Angeles too. Maybe she’s the one.


My trail behind her abruptly ended, one foot still in the air. I hit an invisible wall. I lost my breath. My heart shot out as I saw the love of my night wrap herself around another man. He takes her in, gripping her ass tight, one hand on each cheek, almost lifting her up. They both have big happy smiles, bordering on laughter. Arms around each other, she brings the glass I just bought her around his shoulder, she takes a sip and begins mouth-feeding it to him.

It was a fuckin’ horror scene. I wanted to vomit. It hurt, a lot. She had taken me on an ego-pleasing trip to the heavens only to make the drop to the pits of hell more painful. It burned.


Fuck this shit, I thought, I am going to Mexico, to live a simple and romantic life of tequila and tacos.


In the end, part of me was madder at myself than at this girl who had played the heck out of me. I was mad that I was that guy, that I was me.


As I sat alone that night in the lobby bar of the hotel, I thought about how I had just spent the past few days as a king, splurging money, as the rich person I had wanted to be. And here I am, alone at the bar, miserable. The joke of some girl. It brought this reassurance; money doesn’t solve everything. And I am not missing out on much by stepping away from my pursuit of money. In the end, I'll still be me.


I am not as strong as I wish I were. I am not the person I wish I were. Of course, I’ve never spoken of this to anyone, because despite being a highly insecure person, I have one of the biggest egos in the world. It is with much hesitation that I now dare to say my ego is the rug I’ve been hiding all my problems and insecurities under. It’s a pretty big fucking rug now.

The solution seemed to be in the challenge of my trip, in the struggle. It is my romantic equivalent of going to war and coming back a stronger, better person.


My last night in Vegas I went online and booked a first-class ticket to Mexico City for the next week. I found myself smiling at the irony. I would be flying first-class and landing broke.


I now had a week to get rid of what I had spent a lifetime building, and when I realized the ease with which it all happened, I was disturbed. The apartment on the Westside that I worked so hard to afford found a replacement tenant in a day. Within hours my belongings were fitted into boxes, coldly loaded onto a truck, and sent off to Goodwill. The Mercedes that I made sacrifices to attain and keep went back to the dealer in exchange for the grand total of negative $3,000, a debt I refused to pay because who needs good credit, I am out bitches!


And just like that, what I had dedicated my whole life to building was gone, with despicable speed and ease.


I didn’t want to share this story with the old man though. If he thought I was a spoiled millennial brat before, flying first class, he’d now just think I am an idiot.


ABOUT: This is a memoir, structured as a journal, meant to read like a novel. It’s a free book with new entries published regularly. It’s is the story of how I traveled the American continent, from Mexico to Argentina, starting with two-dollars and a string and a button. Subscribe to be notified of new entries.


This free publication is a small token of my appreciation to the thousands of people I met in the streets who made my journey possible. I might not be the best person to write this story, but here it is. It’s yours. Thank you. From the USA to Argentina, Thank you!

FREE BOOK.

A TRAVELER’S JOURNAL:

CROSSING LATIN AMERICA ON A STRING & BUTTON.

PUBLISHED WEEKLY, CHAPTER BY CHAPTER.

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