When I was eighteen, I used to work in this upscale hair salon as an apprentice earning hours toward my hair stylist license. That means I kept the towels washed and folded, swept the floor and handed whatever to anyone who asked. The salon was located in the financial district, in the concourse under the towering skyscrapers that make up Toronto's skyline and catered to a clientele of wealthy lawyers, accountants and stock brokers. The majority of the stylists were men, and true to the stereotype, none of them were heterosexual.
I had never met anyone who was gay previous to working in the salon. Before it occurred to me that this was of any issue, their disarming and open demeanor embraced me and my naive nature in friendship. When I was invited to a friend's prom, I knew exactly where to go for advice. My stylist friends hushed my inner tomboy and coached me through the rigamarole of finding a suitable dress to wear to the occasion. They brutally critiqued my options and helped me pick out a beautiful gown. Finding shoes was the real challenge. Being six feet tall, the skis I was blessed with for feet didn't fit into the standard stock carried by any shoe store. One of the stylists offered me his low heeled slingbacks that he wore when he dressed in drag, along with the matching clutch. They fussed over my hair and make-up until I was 'just - gaw - jus - daw - ling', and proudly sent me off to the ball... um... prom.
At any time, one of the stylists was away on a holiday with their spouse. On their return, they would share pictures and tales of their travels to (what sounded to me like) exotic lands. At eighteen, anywhere was exotic. I had never been out of Canada, except for the trip to Florida as a toddler that I didn't remember. They talked of dance clubs in Mexico. Beaches in Brazil. Cafes in Paris. These places seemed so interesting and so very unattainable. I wanted to travel. It just wasn't financially possible.
One day, I overheard one of the stylists talk about a trip he wanted to take. He planned to take six months to a year to travel around the world. He said he had heard about a Round The World ticket, an inexpensive sort of airline pass that included the cost of all flights as long as there was one continuous direction of travel.
I went home and started calling travel agents. Was it true? Yes, it was! Such a ticket does actually exist. I started compiling destinations I wanted to visit and started asking for quotes. I made appointments at several well known travel agencies, all of which had staff that listened to my dream trip, punched a couple numbers into a calculator, then looked at me and said:
Well, it was a nice dream... even if it was brief.
For the next two years, I would inquire periodically at different travel agencies, hoping, I suppose, for some more of that fairy godmother prom magic. Sometimes the price went up exponentially, sometimes it dropped a couple hundred dollars. It was always impossibly out of reach, and added to the list of things I would do if I ever won the lottery.
|...or rained money on ONLY my front lawn.|
One by one, my stylist friends announced their diagnosis of AIDS, news that evaporated the magic that is life. When I said good-bye to the friend who put the idea of travel into my head, I needed a change. I spent the summer making a phenomenal amount of money working in a factory. On the route to work, I noticed a small and independently run travel agency. I only noticed it because it looked so blatantly out of place, with it's multicolored back-lit sign, and windows adorned with sun and sand posters among offices marked by lackluster lettering over dark tinted glass doors. One early summer day, I decided to go in. I asked the only person inside if he had ever heard of a RTW ticket, expecting that his answer would be either, "Nope" or "$18,000". Surprisingly, he said something else.
"Do you know how a Round The World ticket works?"
I know you can only go one way. Is there more?
He pulled a thin file out from a bookshelf stuffed with loose papers tucked between a dozen or so wide binders. Then he explained that there is no such thing as one airline that flies everywhere in the world. A large airline will partner up with smaller ones, which lets the bigger airline offer flights to destinations to much larger area than it could service on its own. A RTW ticket is essentially two airlines on opposite sides of the world that pair up so that the traveler can go full circle (and still in only in one direction). He looked at my list of destinations and pulled out a flow chart for Canadian Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
|Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons|
From Toronto, traveling west, I could fly to L.A., San Fransisco or Seattle. Depending on which city I chose, I could fly to another choice of destinations. And so on, and so on, until I arrived back in Toronto again. The ticket is open, meaning that I can change the dates of travel without penalty. The only catch is I must be home before the proverbial midnight, which in this case is 6 months after my first flight. Then he told me the price.
I danced all the way home. I endured being perforated with immunizations for unknown tropical diseases and completed a seemingly endless collection of entry visas for my very first ever passport. Now would be a bad time to discover I was afraid to fly.
My journey began on December 8th, 1991. The retrospective journey that follows are a mix of journal entries and memories of that journey. Sit back and enjoy the adventure.