Remote Year, Month 6: Valencia Goes Jam-on Thanksgiving
My favorite memory of living in Valencia (Balenthia), Spain for Month 6 of Remote Year starts with me ignoring a concert at a club.
I went upstairs, stood in the corner, and texted my friends about Michigan football. We were seven days away from №1 Michigan vs. №2 Ohio State, maize-and-blue vs. scarlet-and-grey, good vs. evil, eternal bliss vs. stabbing my eyeballs with icicles.
Our group text blew up, and my friends in the VIP room and the surrounding Spaniards high on MDMA might as well have been invisible.
It was weird waking up for “The Game,” and seeing zero Valencians rocking their maize and blue, or even that evil scarlet and grey.
Did Valencians not know that this contest between two groups of “students” majoring in brain disintegration was more important than the births of their children?
I’m slightly less crazy than I sound.
Every year since college (but one), I’ve watched Michigan football’s biggest game with my college friends. We’ve road-tripped or flown to make sure we imbibed to the point of bliss or death in the same room.
Last year, we went to Ann Arbor and lost in a historic choke-job. I learned the meaning of life.
Spoiler: It’s experiences with friends. Even shitty ones. Especially shitty ones.
Yes, it was “just” a football game. “Just” a football game, like it’s “just” a movie, a book, a TV show, a trip, a concert, a holiday dinner.
“Just” the things that are means to the only ends that give us meaning —creation, connection, community, understanding, love. Shared emotion.
It’s not about the beer; it’s about the night at the bar.
So, yes, I like sports. Fuck off.
But, alas, I felt alone. My new family, Remote Year Darién, didn’t get it.
They hadn’t bled with me for four years, drunkenly crying over the meaningless meaning, the pointless thing that was the only thing that mattered. (What else could I do, study?)
I invited people because warm bodies and faces I could yell at might help.
We lost in historic fashion, on a bad call. It felt like my dog had been stabbed.
Four years earlier, I elbowed a hole in my wall when the Jets lost a regular season game.
Three years earlier, I drank so much Red Bull and whiskey (it was the only thing in my hotel room), that I couldn’t keep my eyes open on the flight home.
Until I woke up with puke rising in my stomach, and I had no time to stop it, or even get a barf bag, and the flight attendant was worried I was dying. Her voice somehow paused the puke. I held it in.
Until it happened again, as we descended from our 3-hour flight, and the frat bro next to me summoned water and crackers, and that saved me again, just barely.
But they wouldn’t let me off the plane without a wheelchair, and I’ll remember that wheel-of-shame as my life’s saddest moment. I was alone.
I hyperventilated at the gate for an hour, trying to re-energize for the 45 minute drive home, alone.
Eventually, I collapsed on my bed and remembered that Michigan’s loss had cost me $3,000 in potential gambling winnings.
I punched the shit out of my poor pillow. Fuck that pillow.
Yeah, I like sports. Fuck off.
My second-favorite thing to do in Valencia was Thanksgiving dinner, where you’ll hear a lanky, lovely American dude use a severed turkey neck as a puppet to spit his sultry poultry rap.
“Turkey Tom has something to say.
A special time of year, whether you’re with your family or on Remote Year … look I’m just a turkey, who thought he had it made, living in Spain until this evil holiday.”
Cuz Turkey Tom dead now. And we’re eating his juicy breasts.
Our Remote Year group organized Thanksgiving in Spain.
Afternoon football (playing), followed by evening football (live-streamed), followed by two turkeys and stuffing and meatballs and mac and cheese … and Indian curry and Spanish ham and Spanish wine and Spanish beer. My friend Andrew wrote and performed the Turkey rap in English.
Wait, that’s not a Valencian tradition?
Everybody has to ask: Where does Valencia rank, and what should I do there?
I don’t know! Those questions gets harder every month.
It’s pretty and quiet. Walkable. Parks. I ate a paella the size of a car tire.
I liked going to Mercat Central, alone, so I could buy jamón serrano or ibérico, and wander the streets and gaze at street art while I stuffed that silky pig down my disgusting throat as stylish Valencians gawked in horror.
It melts in your mouth like ice cream.
My friend wanted to go to the Cathedral the last day, so I went. I had nothing to do before dinner.
So I took a picture and got a lot of likes. The cathedral was fine. It was a cathedral.
Every month we go to a new city. Every month, I do fewer touristy things. I’m probably in the single digits on Trip Advisor Top 10s achieved.
And yet every month gets more enjoyable.
About a dozen people showed up to pretend to care about Michigan football. They brought food and alcohol. I had scoured the city to find my favorite Czech liquor, which we had all shared in Month 1 in Prague, Becherovka.
Then something magical happened. People kind of cared. They cheered, ooh-ed, aww-ed. One suggested we take a shot for every Michigan score. Everybody played along. And intensified their go blues, which turned into slurring gooobbbbbb lose!
Then, yes, we lost by one on a bullshit call. The second-worst loss in my painful sports history of thousands of games.
I was sad for an hour. Then I forgot and drank with friends.
The next morning, I had forgotten my (metaphorical) dog had been stabbed.
For me, this wasn’t a year of travel. It was a year of community … with people who have the mindset to think a year of travel isn’t crazy.
The travel is great. I love it. But it’s the side dish. I’d do it anyway.
I expected a good community. I expected lifelong friends, similar mindsets, all that. But I didn’t necessarily expect a family — people that got me, supporting me in the shit they didn’t care about.
And that family gets stronger every month. Because the experiences compound. So every month is an upgrade, regardless of the city.
This post is late. We’re almost done; the family is splitting up. I still love travel. Japan, Australia and New Zealand are at the top of my list. Ireland. Sub-Saharan Africa. A billion more places.
But extended travel isn’t the same without a family.
I’m not sure what’s next. But I know that Michigan-Ohio State is on that same weekend, next November, and I’ll want to be with one of my families— whether it be Mom and Dad and sis; Michigan Bros; or Remote Year Darién.
Even if they’re traveling in Hell — or worse, Columbus, Ohio.