Vote Charlie!

Breaking hearts and broken Internet

Posted at age 26.
Edited .

Last night was my last night in Romania. I expected my host would want to spend the night together as we did all week, but as we lay in bed minutes before going to sleep, I was told I seemed cold and uncaring.

He had already closed his eyes, but I was still using my phone, taking some screenshots of the route from Athens airport to my next host’s place, and also looking up where to get a SIM card in the airport. This information would be pretty important for me in the morning, and thus it didn’t occur to me my Romanian host would be annoyed at my taking a few minutes to save it. I later found out there was probably more to it than that.

Once I was also ready for sleep, I tried to give him a hug, but he refused it. He closed himself off in a ball with his back to me, so I told him I’d go sleep in the other room. And that’s what I did. I was somewhat surprised he didn’t come after me, and slightly more surprised I woke up still alone at some point in the night.

It wasn’t the first segment of my trip that ended on a sour note, but at least this time I was pretty sure it wasn’t my fault.

Then in the morning, I woke up several times before 7:45, when my alarm would ring on my phone, which was still in the bedroom. I was checking the time on my Fitbit wristband. 4:00, 5:30, 7:30. I couldn’t risk sleeping any more, for I might then miss my 10:30 flight. I showered, and then I started packing, quietly, while he continued sleeping. Once ready, I woke him up and asked him to summon a taxi with his phone app. I expected he would want to talk or just be together a few moments first. Instead, this is where the next phase of trouble started.

After several attempts resulting in, “No car available,” he checked the street outside and noted the traffic was backed up as far as we could see in either direction. It wasn’t looking promising, so he called the taxi center, but they also told him there was nothing. I downloaded the app on my phone to try as well. After about 20 minutes, he got one. It was supposed to arrive in a few minutes.

He then grabbed his keys and went to unlock the door for me. (Romanian doors must be unlocked with a key from the inside as well; you can’t just open them.) As he was trying to insert the key, I just reached past him and pulled the door open, accidentally banging his arm into the door. I had unlocked it before, when I was considering whether to leave without waking him up or not. This action seemed to have been the last straw with him. Even given the way the night unfolded, I was fairly shocked when, as soon as I walked out, he just shut the door. No hug. No saying goodbye.

Stressed and late, I walked downstairs and waited for the taxi that was supposed to be there, but it took at least 10 more minutes. By this point I was texting my host, asking him if he canceled the taxi. He knew this would likely result in me missing my flight, and he was clearly upset with me, so I half expected the worst. After a while he said, “The taxi is here.” I saw no taxis. I asked, “You are lying?” He said, “I see a taxi. 9665. you will see now.”

When the driver asked me my name, I thought he asked where I was going, so I said “Henri Coandă,” the name of the airport. He asked again, and I understood this time and said “Charlie.” I guess he wanted confirmation I was the correct passenger. So then we sat, barely moving for five minutes.

The driver asked me if we could take a different route, though I’m not sure why that wasn’t already within his power. I consented, and then off we went down an alley and through some little neighborhoods. It certainly wasn’t a direct approach, but at least we were moving a bit. At times he drove in the wrong lane to get ahead of a bunch of cars. He didn’t seem to know the streets exactly, but rather just headed down random ones and hoped they were not dead ends. We had to turn around several times.

At one intersection we tried to squeeze in front of a bus to turn right, but the car in front prevented this, and everyone slowed to a hault again. I thought the driver was yelling at the bus driver, and maybe he was, and then the bus door opened, and the two carried on a conversation for five minutes. Another nearby driver exited his vehicle to join in, and someone else yelled into the mix from his window. From this I gathered there was an accident, and traffic was particularly bad in this area. The taxi driver apparently got advice to turn left instead, and once the cars moved a bit, the bus allowed us to pass through and turn.

After some more of that, we started moving a bit faster. I thought we were out of the woods, so to speak, but then we had to stop at a train crossing. After 10 minutes, no train had yet passed. Most of the drivers around us turned off their engines. I asked, “Train coming?” The driver said, “It crawls,” or something like that. Eventually the locomotive approached, hauling a few dozen liquid tanks. And once it passed, we were moving again!

Then the driver said, “I stop gas, one minute,” I said, “OK.” We got to a gas station, and he asked me, “You have small bills?” I told him I did, but he didn’t take any, so I’m not sure why he asked. We eventually got to the airport, and the meter read 31 leu. I gave him about 40 or 45, he apologized for the delay, thanked me, and that was that.

Once in the airport, I identified the Aegean check in area for flight 961 and was pleased to find no one in line, though it seemed somewhat eerie. I asked the agent if I could print a boarding pass there, despite it saying “bag drop,” and she said yes.



Then I walked to security, immediately next to this set of counters. Of the four or five lanes, only one was in use, and only four people preceded me. It seemed like my flight was the only one running that day. After security, immigration was similarly brief, and then I walked to the gate, arriving at 9:50, the designated boarding time. Phew!

I tried to understand more about what went wrong with my host. He pointed out he helped me by letting my stay, and in so doing had to lie to people (about us both being straight, and me being on a school exchange trip), so that he could live comfortably there. While I hate lying, I understood his situation and appreciated his effort, and told him this. But it seemed it was still my dedication that was in question. It didn’t matter how many meals or train tickets I bought him, or even that I gave him money for the rent that he couldn’t pay.

I’m not sure exactly what he expected of me, but it seems from one of his messages my biggest mistake was asking him if I could stay in the first place: “I want to give you an advice. Do not go in every country, to stay at guys and make sex with them and then they will fall in love. Because we are all people. We have feelings. Stay in a hotel.”

While I was digesting this, I was getting messages from another friend accusing me of carrying on a one sided relationship. This friend lives in Japan, and I like him very much, but never indicated I wanted anything more than friendship. He gets annoyed that I don’t text often enough, though I usually respond promptly. This is a problem I have with most friends, not just intimate ones. I’m still struggling to “catch up” on my own personal goals, such as journaling and photography, that I find it hard to take time to catch up with everyone. And I’m still struggling how to set expectations in the first place.

I think the problem is I have low expectations for people to maintain relationships with me. I expect that once I am someone’s friend, I’ll stay their friend, and they can reach out to me any time for chat or help and I can do the same. I don’t get offended when I haven’t heard from someone in a while. I try not to keep any scorecards, strive to not hold grudges, and generally just try to be at peace. Of course it’s not easy, and I know people have feelings, often out of their control; I do too. But I’m not sure what the solution is. It seems I need to stop coming into people’s lives if I truly want to avoid hurting anyone.

After 20 minutes, boarding began. Once on the plane, I found the first few rows were quite spacious and separated with a curtain. They were clearly the “premium” seats, though not the ridiculous reclining ones in business class on long haul flights. But anyway, I had changed my seat the night before from 18A to 2F, incurring no cost. Maybe this was some sort of system error, or perhaps it was a fluke due to how I booked my extreme economy seats through an agency. But I didn’t complain, and was pleased nobody sat in the seat next to me, either. Though I don’t mind cramped seating when it saves me money, it was nice to have all the leg room available for the entire hourlong flight… and the plane itself was nice and new, and they even served a meal despite the short time. Good thing I anticipated hunger and scarfed down two pastries right before they served us.



Then we landed, boarded the bus, exited the bus, and filed through the doors toward immigration. I was first to arrive, and eying the many long rows and also the security, I nervously ducked under a bunch of the ropes to save time and walking, while sort of looking at the agents, seeking a visual affirmation, or at least making it clear I was open to being told not to “skip ahead.”

My mind blanked when the agent asked me from where I came, so she said, “boarding card.” This gave me time to conjure Bucharest from memory. I had previously removed my Japanese “disembarkation card for reentrant,” clearing an entire vertical half page in my passport. I hoped she would see I was short on space and stamp horizontally, potentially allowing for four EU stamps in the space, but she took the liberty of stamping horizontally.



I walked through customs and sought a phone store and restroom. I had read online there was a Germanos store, but inside the departures area. I asked the information desk, and they pointed me to the post office. There were two cashiers, each helping one person. I asked about a SIM card, and was told I must wait for the other cashier. Once the old man dug out and counted his bills and coins, and folded away the stamps he purchased, I asked again about a SIM card. She spoke to me rather deliberately, but in English, as if she had rehearsed the lines a few times. She said the SIM card is in collaboration with Vodafon, and it was free, and then I had to pay 10 euros or 20 euros for credit. With this, I get Internet charged at 1 euro per day. She said it was unlimited data, and did not specify the speed. I was to wait one hour, scratch a card for a PIN, which I was to enter after dialing 1252. Cash only.

I then went to the restroom and headed for the train. Since the ticket counter only had a few people in line, I just waited there instead of trying to figure out the machine. I showed the map of where I was going and asked if I needed two tickets, or if the ticket allowed transfer. She understood and said I could transfer, and charged me 8 euros for the seemingly one size fits all ticket. There was only one train, so I boarded and waited.

By 13:00, we were 10 minutes from my transfer stop, and it was 45 minutes since I bought the SIM card, so I tried loading the credit. Thankfully there was an English option, and it was pretty straightforward, though I wasn’t sure if the data was automatic or if I was supposed to activate the promotion like I had to in the Philippines, Croatia, and other countries. There didn’t seem to be any other options, so I just hung up and restarted my phone a few times. And it worked!

Once we reached Monastiraki station, I exited and sought the M1 line, which I found, but boarded in the wrong direction. After a stop, I was able to get to the other side of the platform without paying again, and three stops later, I arrived at Victoria station. Then I headed to the address of my new host, who by now had texted me: “Somehow u managed u scared me… asking about a lots of deal while I was offering my hospitality… So can’t do it… please Manage otherwise.”

Somehow indeed! I don’t know what sparked this, but can only imagine it was the last unanswered query of mine, where I asked if he could please send me a photo of his door so I would recognize it when I arrived. At least I had data service on my phone, and the weather was beautiful.

I sat down on a shaded step and began searching for another option. I messaged a few people, and downloaded the Airbnb app for Android. I found a couple of options nearby, and messaged the owners. One of them told me the place did not have Wi-Fi, but I could go to the hotel down the street and sit in the lobby. He said he also owned the hotel, so it would be fine. This didn’t sound like an ideal way to accomplish my work week, so I corresponded some more with the second option. He initially told me he was currently cleaning the unit and had no clean linens, so I couldn’t rent it till tomorrow. I told him I didn’t care if the linens were dirty. He then told me the place also did not have Wi-Fi, but he would provide a USB modem. I said OK, and he accepted my $182 for the week and provided the address.

It was of course not actually at the location specified when I rented, but a 20 minute walk further from downtown. Once I arrived, he told me we’d meet later for the linens and the Internet device. He also said I would need to go to Germanos nearby and pay for credit, but it should be cheap. Then he admitted he didn’t want to come all the way back to the apartment, and asked if we could meet somewhere that would take an hour of both of our time to pull off. He was very kind, but it seemed to me the best plan would be for me to simply buy a towel and sheet nearby, and use the neighbor’s unsecured Wi-Fi till he could get me the device. He reluctantly accepted this proposal, and departed.

After a while, it became clear the “free Wi-Fi” would not suffice for my work. It was extremely slow and kept stopping. After a few hours, the access point disappeared entirely, so I think it belongs to some business that closes everything down at night. I texted my host about the situation, and he then confided he was going to be out of town tomorrow, and could bring the Internet device Thursday. Jeesh.

I went out to find food and linens, so I could at least take a shower. I managed to find a funny little store with stacks of towels and sheets, similar to an old used bookstore with unwieldy towers of books, but with linens. The woman didn’t speak much English, but I managed to buy a lime green sheet and pillowcase for 10 euros and a turquoise towel for 8 euros. Then I looked for food, but didn’t find anything that looked easy to order by pointing. I’m sure I could have gotten by with English, but I was feeling a bit tired, so I bought some pickles and a pastry at a grocery store and headed home.

Aside from Greece being a country where you don’t put toilet paper in the toilet, and the shower being a sit down type where you have to hold the showerhead by hand, and the Internet situation, this studio is rather nice, and the balcony should be great to relax on. I also don’t think the tap water agrees with my stomach, so for now, I’m just going to sit on the toilet, eat my pickles and surf the Internet on my phone.