In my fourth year of college at the Ateneo de Manila, I joined a delegation of Philippine students traveling to Boston for the AIESEC International Congress. AIESEC was then – and probably still is today – the world’s largest international youth organization, composed of university students majoring in economics, business, and sciences.
It may have simply been a lack of planning on my part, but I journeyed alone from Manila to the East Coast via San Francisco without making any prior arrangements upon landing at Boston’s Logan Airport. The Philippine delegation had arrived several days earlier, but I’d delayed my departure to finish my mid-terms. It was my first visit to the East Coast and I assumed I would find some way to my destination, unaware that the conference site was halfway to Vermont. Neither had I planned on what to do post-conference. I simply departed home with a month-long absence permit from school, a modest sum, some telephone numbers, and vague accommodations offers from friends and relatives in different cities. In hindsight, it seemed a very reckless decision for a young girl in a foreign country.
But everything worked out. At Logan Airport, I was wandering the arrivals terminal less than five minutes when I spotted some people in AIESEC t-shirts. I hurriedly introduced myself and corralled a ride to the conference site about two hours away, in a van blaring rock and roll radio with these students and about five other strangers.
Fortunately, my entire stay worked out with similar coincidences. After the conference, I hitched a ride back to Boston with other Filipinos, staying a few days with them at a Boston University student’s apartment. Then I rang up my father’s old West Point classmate, who was now living in a ritzy penthouse apartment with a huge terrace in the center of the city. He and his wife took me to dinner, after which they handed me the spare keys to their home.
“We’re flying to the Bahamas tomorrow for winter holidays,” they told me. “But you’re welcome to stay in our flat for as long as you wish. Please feel at home.”
I still remember the giddiness I felt upon entering the palatial penthouse, relishing both the realization that it was mine for a week and the independence it accorded. After the strict regimen of schoolwork, it was liberating to be free of schedules and to simply do as one wished. Not that I was irresponsible though. The most reckless thing I did was to sit in the terrace and enjoy three TV dinners in a row with an amazing view of the city as entertainment.
One night, still in Boston, just as my AIESEC friends and I were finishing up dinner in a Chinese restaurant at 10:30 PM, someone had the idea to hit the New Hampshire ski slopes very early the following day. Everyone was enthusiastic but me -- and the fact that I could barely ski was just one of my considerations.
“I can’t,” I groaned. “I’ve got to be in New York tomorrow night for a party.” My Manhattan-based cousins were hosting a get-together in an Upper East Side bar and I had planned to train to New York the following afternoon.
“Come with us,” they all cajoled. And then our host at Boston University added, “We’ll leave early tomorrow morning and spend the day skiing in New Hampshire; tomorrow night I’ll drive you to New York. I guarantee you’ll be there in time for your party.”
I certainly couldn’t refuse such an offer. The next day, things happened exactly as planned. We set off on our ski adventure at 4 AM – a few hours after parting – and were on the New Hampshire slopes by 9 AM. And by 10 PM, just as the Manhattan party was starting, we were driving down Park Avenue in his Range Rover, rock music blaring; and soon we found ourselves right in front of the bar. We'd barely stopped for a few minutes and already one of my cousins had spotted me and was heading out the door with the party's de rigeur welcome drink: glasses of Long Island Iced Tea.
“Why don’t you join us?” I asked my gallant escort from Boston. He’d just completed a marathon driving session from Boston to New Hampshire, then Boston again, and then to New York – and now he was planning to drive back to Boston. The least I could do was buy him a nice meal. Besides, everyone at the party wanted to meet the endurance driver.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I really just intended to drive you over as I promised.”
With a smile and a casual wave, he drove off, back to Boston, leaving me to the welcoming shrieks of my cousins and friends.
Postscript: I never saw my new friend again although I just realized he's one of our Travelife Magazine Facebook friends! Hope he reads about himself on this blog...
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