I took a year off from college and with all the money I had—$1,000—bought a one-way ticket to Paris. My only goal was not to return before June. My challenge was that if my savings dropped to the cost of a return flight I’d have to choose between the ticket home and risking getting stuck there. I had the safety net of my parents bailing me out, but at the time that would have felt like a worse defeat.
Anyway, in those days before the internet, Americans went to a couple physical bulletin boards around the city where people posted jobs and living arrangements for English speakers. One ad, the one I ended up taking up, said about the location that it was “five minutes from the center of the city.”
That statement was accurate, at least regarding the subway trip time. The family lived in Neuilly, and the train from Neuilly to Chatelet was on the order of five minutes—longer, but the same order of magnitude.
But sometimes you have to get home late at night and the Paris subway doesn’t work all night. It stops around 12:30am. Sometimes you miss the last train. When you do you have to take the night bus, of which there are, or were, I don’t know if they’re the same now, eight that ran hourly radially in and out from the city center. You had to catch one to the city center, then catch yours, meaning a roughly one-to-two-hour ride home.
And why do you miss a last subway? If you’re a college kid, you probably missed it because you were having fun drinking with friends. In other words, the nights that were the most fun turn into the most boring.
Those night bus rides bled the life out of you. I couldn’t afford a taxi. You just felt bored and helpless.
On one of those bus rides I decided I never wanted to live “five minutes from” where I wanted. Roommates, high rents, small apartments, and other sacrifices I would accept. But I decided I always wanted to live where I wanted to.
And ever since, I have.
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