Ben and Matty stay awhile longer

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This Thursday quickly becomes the least favorite day of their entire trip for Ben and Matty. Packed, ready to leave, and nearly riding down the road onward to Oregon and California, Ben learns he’s not only out of money but seriously worse than out of money — and by more than anyone cares to mention. I listened for weeks as Matty heckled Ben to check his finances. All the way through Canada and during our week in Seattle Matty asked Ben to call his bank. But none of the encouragement took the form of action until the very last moment, until hours ahead of departure, until now.

We even spent time and money after dinner last night printing and laminating new stickers for their bikes. And piles of gear make the living room look like the day we arrived. Yet despite all these good intentions, Ben’s still desperately shy on money, well over budget, and has nothing inspiring to say about the fate of their journey. He’ll have to find work in Seattle or teach in Korea. Their trip may very well be delayed for the next six months, or in the worse case, a year. Shy of ten thousand miles and not even half way to Argentina, Ben’s out of money, out of answers, and certainly looks more sullen than ever I’ve seen. Matty, like the good mate he is, offers support and encouragement and hope that they’ll find a solution. First things are first, though, and he tells Ben to call his dad.

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The next few days are tense. I listen over Ben’s tumultuous calls home. Matty and I talk about our own finances and how our tendency to live richly may have pushed Ben outside of his budget. I feel slightly responsible. Yet I certainly start to question how anyone could travel the world without constantly checking the bank. My budget isn’t endless by any means, and though it may be big enough to warrant an occasional luxury, I keep meticulous records. An iPhone app logs my every transaction to the penny. Every week I log into my bank accounts and graph balances on a chart. If I spend more than my daily budget allows, I compensate with tempered spending in the days that follow.

The shock of the situation ripples through the apartment. Katie and Jakob offer immediate support, encouraging Ben to stay as long as he needs. Matty starts scrutinizing his own finances and chokes after adding two weeks worth of partying to the cost of his trip. He has spent more in two weeks than I budget for an entire month. In the days that follow, Ben makes contact with his family and hints at salvaging the trip. His dad was rightfully angry and disappointed at first but has since given Ben renewed hope.

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On Friday night, I return to Rplace with Matty, Jakob, and Katie in tow. We not only find the dancing atmosphere I so mistakenly sought on Monday night, we find all sorts of half naked, bulging bodies on display too. On the top floor, we catch the tail end of a drag show. Compared to the ladies in Alaska, these ladies look pro. They give you a run for you money, too, playing coy on stage and demanding tips be brought to them instead of running about the room begging for dollars.

Music pulses through the veins of everyone on floor. A DJ in the far corner mixes tracks and lights into a party of electric energy. Occupying a single square foot of floor space becomes not only difficult but impossible to do without rubbing against four other people. Feet above our heads on either side of the crowd, two dancers gyrate to the music, do one armed push-ups in mid air, and suspend themselves from hand stands to take tips between their teeth.

By Seattle ordinance, the club kicks us to the curb at two o’clock. Inside, they retool the bars to serve water and cola. In a few minutes, they’ll reopen as a teen dance club, serve no alcohol, and stay open way past my bed time. I’ve had my fill and ask that we make our way home.

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One of the realizations from Ben’s monetary dilemma that hits the hardest is their slipshod planning. Quite in the spirit of adventuring adventurers, they prepare a few weeks in advance but mostly make do with each day as it comes. Today is no different, and so Ben and I take our bikes on a ride around the greater Seattle area. It’s as if the spirit of riding will solve all of our problems, mend our mistakes, and send us on the road without a worry to think of. I know on Monday, riding will do this for me. I plan to leave Seattle on Monday and begin the remainder of my journey. Ben and Matty are still unsure about their future, and I think today’s ride with Ben is a nice escape from that uncertainty.

Whether pretending to believe the unbelievable or actually salvaging his adventure, Ben plans to make a route to Argentina. On our ride about the city we buy the necessary maps and return later that evening to plot a course through Mexico, and Guatemala, across Honduras and Nicaragua, through Costa Rica and into Panama. Ben plants a rainbow of sticky tabs down the entire southern coast of South America to mark the places he’d like to visit in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Whether their trip ends tonight or if the promise for another ride holds true, he sits down with Matty and together they put in writing a course from this very apartment in Seattle, Washington to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

Moreover, Ben scours the Internet for estimated fuel, food, and accommodation costs in every country. He breaks the trip out on paper and for the first time puts a mathematically derived dollar cost on their journey. If he can find the money to fill his void and fund the remainder of the trip, these boys will finally have the budget and plan to keep them on course and deliver them to the end safely — and frugally.

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My last weekend here is also the start of Seattle’s 15th annual Lesbian and Gay film festival. I’m going to see two shows tonight — one at the Egyptian and another just down the street at Northwest Film Forum. All I know is that one is in English and the other is a series of mixed English and foreign shorts.

Unfortunately, the theme tonight appears more lesbian than gay. And when I arrive to the first show, I find myself alone among a sea of vagina. The auditorium overflows with short hair butch vagina, long hair petite vagina, medium length old vagina, and rainbow colored young vagina. Though mine is the only penis in the room, no one else seems to mind. In the spirit of broadening my horizons on this venturesome tour of the world, I hunker down in my seat and cross my legs for good measure.

The first short film opens up to a beautiful story about two married Spanish women who find in each other hidden passion for vagina. In this collection, eight more equally entertaining short films send us into stitches or tears. In six to ten minute increments, we watch a story about first love among friends, a captivating tryst that crosses professional boundaries, and how gender identity affects an Indian-American family. Four more films play out a strange relationship with kimchi, a counseling session between quarreling lovers, the story of a young girl seeking the approval of God, and a very surprising birthday party. By the end of the reel, we’re hooting and hollering and applauding. What a show!

Only minutes separate the end of the Wild World of Women and the start of my next film. I race down the sidewalk playing body pong with other pedestrians and the heavily papered light poles that litter the streets with propaganda. Once inside the Egyptian, I find myself among more familiar genitalia and thank the festival planners for diversifying tonight’s lineup. In Is It Just Me, average Joe Blaine searches for love while his roommate represents everything that is sex. Blaine persuades his sexy roommate to take his place in a face-to-face meeting with a man he’s met online. Divided by what it means to love and be in love, their story takes a twisted turn. Lies break hearts, and Blaine’s left to mend the mess and wonder if he’s destined for solitude.

All of the shorts — and especially this long film — are rich with comedy and heartfelt performances by most of the actors. I’m thrilled my time in Seattle coincided with the festival. Films shown at festivals are usually short. Occasionally we’re fortunate to catch a long form film that might even make the mainstream theater circuit. But every single one — regardless of length — deserves a chance to be seen. They show the atrocities too few of us care to acknowledge. Most of all, they artfully share the same emotions we feel every day, regardless of our individualism. We are all people, and we all have a story.

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Monday morning, I say goodbye to Marie, Katie, Jakob, Ben, and Matty. My hosts have become dear friends and my traveling buddies have become family. Ben and Matty will stay in Seattle a bit longer to decide the future of their own trip. For me, I must continue my journey alone and see the world at my own pace. Somewhere in eastern Washington, a new group of people awaits my arrival. In Oregon, others can’t wait to see me. As much as I would love to stay, I feel the adventure and excitement of open road swelling in my veins.

The bike’s loaded, and there’s no turning back. I give hugs to my friends, wish them all well, and promise to stay in touch. The first two months of my adventure have been amazing, and I can’t wait to start the next.

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Brian

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