Recently I managed to meet up with a friend from college. We live on different continents now, so we only get to hang out once every ten years or so. But as luck would have it, we were both in Seoul for a few overlapping hours last month.
Back in our hazy Berkeley days, we were fellow hairy-legged hippies living in the Student Co-op. One unforgettable Spring Break, we took a trip to Baja California with another friend and my younger sister. Not one of those stupid booze-y, MTV type college Spring Break trips. This was my first real adventure trip. We drove to San Diego, walked over the border, and hopped an overnight-and-then-some bus to Mulege. From there we hitched out to Bahia de la Concepcion and camped far out along a lonely peninsula. Like good Berkeley kids, we ran around naked till our asses were burnt bright red. We hiked and swam and cooked on efficient little campfires. On the return trip north, we saved bus fare by hitching halfway up the peninsula. Some guy in a van picked us up and rode us up to Vincent Guerrero. It was an epic trip, the sort of life-changer that left a permanent impression about what a vacation is supposed to be. Afterwards, my sister even broke up with her shitty boyfriend. (People in our hometown blamed me. I’d like to take full credit, but my sister did that all on her own.)
At the time, because I dwell in inconsistencies, I was dating a frat boy. I don’t remember if he had an opinion about me taking off to Mexico without him. I don’t think he was invited. But I do distinctly remember the conversation we had after I returned. I told him that I’d spent every bit of my money on my awesome week in Baja: a whole $125. He’d stayed home that week, doing whatever, and he was pretty excited about a purchase he made that week. He’d bought a Mont Blanc. For $125. (If you don’t know, a Mont Blanc is a fucking pen. A status symbol pen for a certain kind of person.)
“Don’t you think that’s a waste of money?” I said. “You paid the same amount of money for a pen as I paid for a week in Baja.”
“Yeah, but your trip is over. I still have the pen.”
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. He was absolutely right. He had a thing and all I had was a memory. An experience. I also knew that I would always pick the trip to Baja over the pen. Because last month, when I met my friend in Seoul, we wistfully recalled those awful sunburns, and how we’d gone to a small airstrip hoping to hitch a flight on a private plane. It’s still one of the high points of my youth, that cheap as dirt trip to Baja with my sister and two girls I barely knew.
I sincerely doubt that old boyfriend of mine recalls his pen with the same joyful nostalgia. I sort of remember him losing the stupid thing a month later. (And no, I didn’t hide it. Even though that would be a good joke.)
None of us get to have it all. At some point you have to choose: do you want the things or do you want the experiences? The trip or the pen? I will happily buy thrift store clothes and pawnshop electronics so that I can keep running around the world. I’m fairly certain that I will never look back at my life and wish I’d spent more money on pens. Especially not when pens are something you can literally find on the side of the road.
Disregard this advice if pens are your thing. Then maybe you want the pens.