Judy Rae

48th Anniversary Story Contest – Honorable Mention, The Cherry on top of the Hawaiian toast by Janice Nigro

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Honorable Mention, “Leaping dolphins” by Dave Weldon. El Porto, April, 7, 2018. Canon 5D Mark IV.

The cherry on top of the Hawaiian toast by Janice Nigro

In February, I was conflicted about taking a trip to Germany for a friend’s birthday celebration. The question wasn’t whether I wanted to go; it was, did I deserve to go. Struggling a bit with running my own business in Hermosa Beach and feeling as if all I do is spend money, I didn’t think I should go.

But fate sent several signs that I was meant to go. I had just enough award miles to pay for a round trip ticket. The only cost for the flight was the airport fees and taxes. I stayed with a German family, and they were so gracious that I didn’t pay for much else other than the 1.5 kilos of Italian chocolate that I brought home for my own family.

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The weather was uncharacteristically cold in Europe. We arrived in Paris on time from LAX, but it was no surprise to be delayed for most of the day waiting for my connecting flight to Munich. You can find exquisite chocolate and macarons for sale in the airport so I had to reconsider my “bad luck” at having a flight delay.

Fate gave me another sign when I ended up in a small café in Munich where I had a conversation about living as an expat with a Colombian woman who had been living in Germany for 15 years.

When I asked how she navigated living in two different cultures, she said, “I feel like I am from two different worlds.”

It was no longer a casual conversation between two strangers.

“At home,” she continued, “I am considered to be boring, and here, a wild South American woman.”

I understood immediately, having lived in Norway for seven years. Coming from the USA, I soon discovered a more dynamic side to my shy self in a culture where the societal etiquette is to be extremely humble.

When I came home, I felt compelled to write about the experience. It fit perfectly into the theme of a monthly column published in the LA Times travel section that “explores the ways in which travel changes us.”

Only 700 words. I wanted to cheat, but I cut until the story was 695 words and submitted it. A week later, I received an email from the travel editor wishing to publish the article for the next scheduled column. 

I finally realized I was meant to go on that trip.

Getting published was the cherry on top of the Hawaiian toast.

It’s hard to believe it was that trip that got me my first paid travel article. It was a short trip to Europe, which couldn’t have been easier. I didn’t have to make hotel reservations, because I was staying with my friends who live right in the city center of Munich. I didn’t have to think about what to do because the plan was for a weekend party at a resort outside of Munich.

The best part of being there though, was just hanging around. And that is when it happened, such a seemingly minor incident within less than 24 hours of my arrival to Munich. It reminded me of why travel is so important to me.

I have written so many stories about elaborate trips. I take dive vacations that I write passionately about and have rare, beautiful photographs for. Stories about exotic places around the world where in each case, I have left a little piece of my heart. Yet, it was a trip that wasn’t even about me that landed me my first byline in a major media outlet.

I could have cried “I have jet lag” to my friend Jörg the first morning and slept in. I could have been not so interested in running around the city in below freezing temperatures on some very routine errands with him. I could have protested against the men’s only barbershop that sent me out again into the weather to the café. I could have said nothing to the woman sitting across from me.

It could have just as easily been the story that never happened.

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