walmart parking lot

11 May 2015. Somewhere outside of Portland, ME

I awoke at 06:30 in the morning. It wasn’t the most restful sleep I’d ever had, but that’s somewhat expected when you are sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in a Ford Fiesta.

I had done a standup show in Montpelier, VT the night before and had driven through state of New Hampshire on my way to Maine, and decided to stay the night in my rental car. I certainly could have gotten a hotel room, but I was curious about what the “car in a parking lot” experience was like. That and it did save me a bit of money.

I had done a little bit of research online before attempting the non-luxurious slumber, at least enough to learn that Walmarts were among the most popular car-sleeping destinations. They’re typically a safe spot to set up car camp as they’re regularly patrolled and have a policy that allows for overnight stays.

Despite my research, I had made a couple of rookie mistakes, the biggest being that I had forgotten to confirm that the Walmart was of the 24 hour variety. This one wasn’t.

I had been surprisingly productive before going to bed. Thanks to the mobile hotspot on my T-Mobile plan, I was able to send emails and catch up on a few things that I’d missed during the day because of all of the driving.

Around midnight, I looked up for my work just in time to see some employees locking the front doors to customers. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet and needed to use the bathroom, so I had to start the car and find a nearby gas station.

Once arriving at the gas station I decided to skip the “brushing my teeth part” for the night as it somehow felt dirtier to open my mouth in the bathroom than just letting the night go by without a rinse.

I finished up and headed back to the Walmart parking lot, trying to find a spot that was reasonably away from other vehicles, not too directly under a light, but also not so far away that it was easily accessed by creatures of the night.

I had woken up a few times in the night to turn the car on briefly to get the air going a little bit, crack the window some, change positions, use my hoodie as a blanket, throw it off as a blanket, try it as a pillow, try other things as a pillow, etc. But in between those moments I actually got some rest. Again, not the most restful of sleeps but it did seem to suffice.

In the morning, as the sun shined through the windows, I awoke. I got out of my car/hotel room and made my way into the now open Walmart so I could brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, and grab a box a Pop Tarts for breakfast.

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norwegian harbor

19 April 2015. Stavanger, Norway

I swallowed the last of my homemade ice cream and set the spoon down.

I was seated at the kitchen table of a near-stranger’s home, with two near-strangers as tablemates.

To my left was Amanda, a Vietnamese woman who had recently moved to Norway for a job. To my right was Tina, a Norwegian woman, whose home we were currently in, and who had prepared not just the homemade ice cream we had just consumed, but also the fish dish I ate prior to that.

I was there in the Norwegian home because the night prior, I was performing at the touMAZEing Comedy Festival. After one of my sets, the two had come up tell me that they enjoyed my jokes.

We talked and I discovered the two were close friends from work and had come to the festival because they thought it would be fun for an entire group from work, but rest of them had already left.

They decided to stick around and saw me perform in the Random Room, a stage setup for “random comedy.” I had decided that “random” meant I shouldn’t perform anything pre-planned, so I did an improvised set using a suggestion from the audience and the text messages of one of the audience members.

It went well, mostly thanks to years of improv training and having played a similar style game of “Texts from Last Night” while in ComedySportz.

While talking after the show, I brought up being from Ohio. Surprisingly they had heart of it; unsurprisingly they had never been. I told them that if they ever went, they should go to Graeter’s ice cream because it’s some of the best ice cream in the world and one of the best things you can ever put in your mouth.

Tina, the Norwegian and more talkative of the two, mentioned that she herself made homemade ice cream. I was impressed as that was was something I didn’t really think you could do, or at least something people did.

She said that she was a very good cook and she and Amanda often got together; Amanda would host while Tina would cook.

I said, “That’s crazy because while you may be very good cooks, I’m actually a very good eater.”

I said it jokingly to make small talk, but Tina took it as a possible invite. She replied, “Amanda and I were actually thinking about getting together tomorrow to cook. You’re more than welcome to join us if you want.”

I had decided recently that I was gonna try to say yes more, especially during these travels. Having talked with a fellow comedian who had a number of ridiculously fun stories, he had mentioned that they all came about because he was willing to say yes. So I thought, “why not?”

Sure, it might be a little bit strange, to go over to a complete stranger’s house in a foreign country… but they seemed nice enough and homemade ice cream was up for grabs.

Now, having finished that ice cream, I was happy that I said yes.

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seattle to turin

21 March 2015. Turin, Italy.
Read Seattle to Turin in 5 Minutes Part 1

It was one month and a day since I had met Paolo in that cafe in Seattle. I was now sitting in the front row of a packed theater with 500 enthusiastic Italians. The final round of an improv competition pitting two teams against each other was about to start, and I was one of two Guests of Honor for the night.

I reflected on the past 24+ hours.

Just the day before I had arrived at the Turin Train Station from Milan. A young, skinny Italian guy named Giulio had picked me up from the train station. He was an energetic guy with a great command of the English language (he had lived a few years in London) and was eager to practice his English with a native-speaker.

A Late Night Italian Stroll

He took me first to the place I’d be staying, the apartment of Paolo who I had met in NYC for a total of 5 minutes. We had exchanged Facebook messages and Paolo had arranged for me to stay at his place, even though he had to be out of town for the weekend for work in Paris. A man I had met for 5 minutes just one month ago was now letting me stay at his place an ocean and continent away from where we had met, and he wasn’t even going to be there.

Giulio took me on a tour of Turin, we stopped for an apertivo, and talked about a number of topics, none more enthusiastically than the NBA. Giulio was a big fan of basketball but didn’t have too many people who were knowledgable in the subject to riff with about it. We agreed that it was OK that I liked LeBron because I’m from Ohio, but that the San Antonio Spurs play the best team ball.

The next morning, the morning of the improv show, Mauro had picked me up around lunchtime and taken me to a delicious brunch place that doubled as a bicycle repair shop (yes, you read that correctly).

Mauro was a shorter Italian guy with dark hair and a personality that I definitely vibed with. He was the co-owner of the improv theater with Paolo and was the one helping me with the workshop I was leading that afternoon (not only had Paolo given me a place to stay, he had organized a workshop with some of his school’s students).

Mauro was there to act as my host and, I would find out later, my translator. After we finished our incredible meals (I had Eggplant Pancakes, which I felt a fitting synergy to what I had eaten when I had met Paolo), Mauro took me to workshop space. There were 12 eager Italians awaiting, only half of which spoke fluent English.

I led them through a character workshop, giving instructions in English which Mauro would translate into Italian. They would then complete the exercise or scene, Mauro would translate high level what they were saying into English, and I would give them notes, which Mauro would translate into Italian.

I felt a slightly misplaced feeling of importance having a translator for my workshop but allowed myself to feel cool about it for the afternoon. A small part of me wondered if he wasn’t just saying “This silly American said you should all do this, so let’s entertain it for a little bit. Weirdo.”

A short dinner and drive later, I was at the improv show that evening, as a Guest of Honor. Reflection completed.

The host walked on stage and the crowd erupted in applause. For the next few minutes I had very little idea of what was happening as the host was talking in Italian. From his gestures, the audiences reactions, and general paralanguage, I got the jist of what is happening. The woman next me, also a Guest of Honor, stood up to give a wave as the audience erupted again. She was clearly someone famous (at least compared to me).

The host then looked at me and said, “And welcome Drew Tarvin, a special guest all the way from NYC.”

For a brief second I thought I had magically learned Italian before realizing he had just switched to English. I stood up awkwardly and gave a wave to the crowd.

He continued, “I hear you don’t know any Italian. This is the only English part of the show, have fun.”

And I did.

Match Di Improvvisazione Teatrale

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train bunk bed

17 March 2015. Italy -> France

I propped myself up against the train wall, crammed inside the aisle of the now moving train. My legs were straddling both of my bags as I tried to make as much room as possible for yet another passenger to pass through.

I was standing outside what was supposed to be my room for the overnight ride, but I couldn’t get in as a large, 6’4″, 300 pound man was blocking the doorway as other people were getting settled inside.

Based on the smell of the cabin, I wasn’t sure wanted to enter anyway. It had that rosy smell of a gym locker room combined with the B.O. that has been marinating for weeks, all of it trying to escape the tiny, cramped space.

This was my first experience with an overnight train. I was headed to Dijon, France (yes, home of the mustard) where I was leading an all-day humor workshop the next day.

My normal rule when traveling is to get in the day before so I don’t have to deal with various hassles, but I had assumed that since I was getting a bed in the overnight train, that would count as the hotel. I was quickly realizing I had assumed wrong.

I’d never experienced an overnight train before, so I didn’t know what to expect. When I was booking the ticket I saw  multiple options, the cheapest of which was a six person room and you could select either mixed or female only.

Somewhere in my head I guess I had illusions of what that might be like. I assumed that, like most of the trains I had taken in Italy so far, this wouldn’t be completely full. I had thought maybe there’d only be four people out of a six person room or that it’d be a larger room or that there’d be some traveling co-ed’s who were taking time off after graduating college to explore the world and I could converse with them about European travel.

None of those things were true.

My room had been booked to full capacity, 6 tiny beds for 6 grown men (yes, I’m counting myself as a grown man in this scenario).

The room wasn’t very big at all. It had single-sized (if you can call them that) beds stacked three to a side: one at the very bottom of the floor, one in the middle, and one up top just two feet from the ceiling.

There was an aisle down the middle about the same size as a single bed and then another three on the other side.

Where you’re supposed to put your luggage I did not know.

My room already had four of the occupants inside, one of whom was in the bed I was supposed to be in. Myself and two others were standing outside of the closet-sized room, including the behemoth standing in the doorway.

The smell of body odor was larger than the room itself so I knew I had to do something.

As the train started to pick up speed, the conductor came through and was checking tickets. I very politely asked in English if there were any upgrades available and he pointed towards the front of train and said to go to the cafeteria car to check.

I immediately grabbed my two bags and headed down the tight train hallways, making my way, car after car, until I finally reached the cafeteria.

There, a different conductor saw me, smiled, and said, “Looking for an upgrade?”

I guess he could tell by the look on my face, for he knew exactly what was going through my mind.

“I’m feeling a little claustrophobic,” I lied. “I was wondering if you had any room in a place that was a little bigger.”

“Give me a moment, I’ll get the lead train conductor.”

The conductor came in and I asked him about an upgrade.

“Oui, you can upgrade to a three person room in First Class, that’s 30 euro; a two person room in First Class, that’s 50 euro; or a one person room in First Class, that’s 70 euro.” He said in a French accent. “The three person room, I can tell you only has one other guy right now, so you can get only two people in one room for the price of a three person room.”

That definitely sounded better than the sardine can I had just left.

I said “I’ll do the the three person room” and handed him my credit card, which fortunately, had a chip in it.

Europeans, and much of the rest of the world it seems, have moved to much more secure credit cards with a chip-and-pin system, rather than the swipe and sign method in the US.

Luckily I had upgraded my card before I had left the states. Unluckily, I had already learned, my card was a hybrid of the two: a chip-and-sign card. That meant it had a chip, but no pin number to go with it. And on certain machines, it wouldn’t work at all.

When I heard a beep that clearly was associated with failure and not success, my fears were confirmed: his portable credit card reader was one of those machines.

I scrounged through my wallet for what Euro I had left: exactly 29 euro. My face dropped. I thought back to the six bedded room of stench that was technically mine and nearly cried.

“I’m sorry I only have 29 Euro.”

The man who I first saw in the Cafeteria car must have seen the terror in my face as he quickly said “That’s all right” and chipped in a Euro himself for me to cover the full 30.

I thanked him profusely for his assistance as the lead conductor gave me the upgrade. He told me to follow him and I walked with him toward the front of the train.

As soon as we entered the next car you could tell things were different. The aisle was wider. It was well-lit. Things were bright.

I thought of the movie Snowpiercer, a movie about the apocalyptic world that took place on a single train that traveled around. In it, there were two classes: the working class that was in the back that lived under deplorable conditions and ate bars of food made out of bugs; and the First Class that luxuriated, partied, and did whatever it is they wanted. It felt like I was moving to the First Class.

He took me to the room, knocked on the door, and a man opened the door. He was speaking on the phone in some language I couldn’t understand or place. The conductor said, “You have a roommate” and left.

I apologized to the guy, saying I’m sure he expected to get the room to himself, but there I was to ruin it. He didn’t seemed to fully understand and just went back to talking on his phone.

I climbed up top to my bed and quickly feel asleep to the rather neutral smells of the First Class.

 

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looking out on venice

15 March 2015. Venice, Italy

I looked out on the buildings of Venice. I was at the top of Campanile Di San Marco, a tower in the southern part of the town.

In front of me lay the criss-crossed blueprint of the buildings of Venice, with their winding streets and very un-American-sized alleyways.  To my left was the Plaza square, full of groups of people laughing and joking around, eating gelato. Behind me was the open water where water taxis and gondolas loaded and unloaded their passengers for more Venetian site-seeing. Off to my right was a jumble of canals and buildings of Venice.

The top of the tower, just like in the streets and the gondolas, were couples. Romantic, happy couples. Many of them had selfie sticks that they presumably bought from one of the thousands of selfie stick sellers that were down in the plaza square. They were holding hands, hugging, side-hugging, doing eskimo kisses, or full on regular kisses; pretty much the standard PDA you see littered on your Facebook walls from when couples travel.

While I watched one couple take about a hundred selfie shots from slightly different angles, I had two thoughts.

The first was “Maybe I should get a selfie stick.”

The second was, “Maybe I should get a girlfriend.”

Both would have been nice in that moment, someone to share the view with and something to take a picture of us sharing that view.

One of the things I had started to realized in my short trip to Venice was that there are locations in the world that are probably better visited with a significant other.

I’ve never really been one to long for a relationship. I’ve certainly enjoyed the ones that I’ve had, but I’m also an introvert, so traveling and being alone typically isn’t a problem. I get to meet interesting people when I feel social enough to talk and get plenty of alone time when I don’t.

But in Venice, things felt different.

Maybe it was because I wasn’t there for work. I had a break in between a couple of events in Switzerland and had decided to visit Italy because I’d never been. Venice was a short train ride away from Milan, so I thought what the heck.

There, I had that feeling of missing someone, or perhaps, something.

I’d had it before, that “missing” feeling, including right when I was starting this nomadic journey and leaving certain people behind.

And I had missed people I had dated before, that due to location, goals, or just people changing, never worked out. I had also missed just being in a relationship, missing the idea of having someone there, that you know, that knows you very well, and that you can take a selfie with while using a selfie stick knowing they’re not going to judge you.

Venice was definitely one of those places where it was better to be as a couple. Every where I went, there were relationships growing: couples walking hand in hand down the small streets, taking in the sights, standing at the apex of Ponte di Rialto. The luddites with selfie sticks asking strangers to take pictures of them snuggling or kissing in the romantic atmosphere.

It really sank in.

But rather than dwell on it, I went down the tower, past loving couples, into a shop that specialized in American food, and got a milkshake. All seemed okay.

Campanile Di San Marco in Venice, Italy

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hit the road drew

08 March 2015

The last few people were leaving the upstairs bar at The Three Monkeys in NYC. My “was-maybe-going-to-be-a-surprise-but-was-easier-to-just-tell-me” Going Away Party had wrapped up and my friends had headed home.

Mike, an incredibly talented improviser, funny stand-up comedian, and all around great guy had organized the event as a celebration of me leaving (which I’ll still take as a good thing). In all of my rushing around I hadn’t really had time to organize anything, so it was nice to have an official gathering to honor my nomadic choice.

A number of CSz players showed, along with a few students I had taught in our program and some of my non-improv friends as well. Jill and Lynn Marie, co-owners of CSz NYC who had become great friends and mentors of mine since I had joined the group in 2008 also made it out despite both having 2 vivacious children at their homes.

It was low-key and perfect. A few people brought me cards and/or gifts, a completely unexpected surprise. Most were small in nature as they knew I couldn’t really carry much with me, all except the greatest gift I received, the brainchild of Mike:

hit the road drew

When I had announced my decision to leave NYC, I had sent a message to the CSz NYC players. In what I can only consider the greatest tribute possible, players had responded to my pun-riddled emails with Drew-based puns of their own. A truly touching response.

Mike had taken these responses and printed them on a large board, along with the ComedySportz logo I had helped usher in via the Branding Committee, and the signatures of the people who were in attendance that evening.

It was an incredible gift despite the fact that I couldn’t physically take it with me (Mike is still holding on to it for me), but it will be one of the first things I put up when I decide to finally settle into a home again, wherever that may be.

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boston library

When traveling for business, it’s incredibly easy to just focus on the work and not take advantage of whatever city you’re in. I’ve been on countless AHEHA trips (AHEHA = airport-hotel-event-hotel-airport) as well as a few AEA day trips (airport-event-airport).

I completely understand why this happens, but as someone who is now intentionally living nomadically, I don’t want that to define my experience. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Paris, France or Topeka, Kansas if I never leave the work desk to take in the sights and sounds of my location.

An Early Learning

And yet… my very first trip was nearly this. Sure Cincinnati doesn’t have the same offerings as a place like Seattle, WA, and yes I grew up there (and lived there for 1.5 years after graduating from university (and have been back to the city 20+ times since leaving in 2008)). But I didn’t take advantage of the greatest thing about Cincinnati (just above Graeters): my friends and family in town.

(Note: I did see the most important people in Cincinnati (my mom and brother), but I didn’t see any of my countless close friends.)

It’s easy to say “but I was preparing for being homeless!” But the work will always be there; the opportunity to experience the city I’m in won’t be.

Travel Rule: One Stop Minimum

To avoid this waste of travel benefits in the future, I’ll be implementing a “one stop minimum.” No matter how short (or long) I’m staying in a new place, I want to stop at a minimum of one place that’s part of the culture of that area (either in walking around, enjoying a local meal, or seeing people).

One stop isn’t difficult, it might take only 10 minutes to do (roughly 0.7% of a day) and at least gets me out of the AHEHA rhythm. It’s up to me to manage my schedule well enough that I can see the people I want to see and visit the places I want to go.

(And no I’m not just all of saying this because I’m sad I didn’t get Black Raspberry Chip. It’s a good rule to have regardless of ice cream consumption.)

graeters black raspberry ice cream

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looking out the window

I stood looking at my nearly empty apartment. The date was 01 March 2015.

The only thing remaining in the place I called home for four years were the last few things I’d be taking with me to Ohio and a bit of garbage. Outside, the snow was starting to fall. At first a light flurry and then harder, like an over-eager waiter grinding far too much salt on a city of french fries.

(Where you go that is fancy enough to have grounded sea salt that also serves french fries I do not know, but that’s what it was like.)

The snow would continue to fall, racking up inches of accumulation, making my planned drive to Cincinnati that day a risky proposition. I’d have to start my journey the next day.

Take 2

I stood looking at my nearly empty apartment. The date was 02 March 2015.

The only thing remaining in the place I called home for four years was a bit of garbage my super had agreed to put out for me on trash day. The last few things I was taking to Ohio were already in the rental van. Outside, there was no snow falling.

As I looked out on the dusty, wooden floor that I walked on for the past few years, Salsa music played from the restaurant underneath me as the workers prepared the grills for the day. That music, starting every morning at 8am while I, a definite non-morning person tried to sleep, was one of the prompts for wanting to leave the apartment.

An ambulance with sirens on full blast screamed by outside. The traffic was another noise contributor that had started to bother me in my apparent “get off my lawn” old age.

I started thinking about my upcoming adventure as a nomad. My first trip wasn’t all that exciting–back to Ohio to make some final preparations for my new nomadic lifestyle, then back here to NYC for a day or two before flying to Switzerland for my first “real travel.”

The Reality of the Situation

It started to sink in. As of that day, I was homeless.

Yes it was all a bit dramatic. I still had the most important stuff I wanted to keep, I had friends and family who were willing to let me crash with them, and I wasn’t unemployed. Though I am self-employed and sometimes I think the only difference between unemployment and self-employment is the illusion that us entrepreneurs are doing it on purpose.

But I no longer had a place that was “mine” (or even rented at astronomical prices so I could pretend it was “mine” so long as my check cleared each month).

And yet, I didn’t feel nervous. I felt confident about the decision. I had a little anxiety about what was to come, but the good thing about being a speaker / comedian is that any experience can become a story.

If it’s a phenomenal experience full of adventures and excitement, it’s a great story I can tell that hopefully people can learn from (myself included).

If it’s an awful experience full of calamities and dread, it’s a funny story I can tell that hopefully people can learn from (myself included).

One Last Look

I stood looking at my nearly empty apartment one last time.

I saw the place where I’ve lived for the last four years, the place that witnessed me leave my job at P&G and start Humor That Works full time.

I thought about the great times I had in the apartment. It had hosted a number of events, including my annual I’m Still a Kid Party that would celebrate my birthday, numerous ComedySportz NYC Townhalls, and more than a few viewing parties (even though we had no cable and relied on an Over-the-Air antenna and *ahem* things we “found” online).

I imagined myself in the final seconds of a movie, where the main character is looking at their place one last time and then dramatically turns off the lights and the credits roll (only to come back in a sequel later on).

I reached out to turn off the lights and … the lights behind me went on so I was doubly lit instead of in the dark. I never could remember which light switch turned on which lights.

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