Yinka Shonibare, Refugee Astronaut

“I’m teaching my last class at 8PM tonight,” he says. “You should drop by!”

I check my map. The venue is an hour away by train. The return journey, after the train stops running, will take close to two hours. The route includes stretches of walking through a couple of neighborhoods I’ve been warned against walking through.

I hesitate.

In the privacy of my mind, I’ve painted a portrait of myself as a sort of romantic traveler. A spontaneous, adventurous type who doesn’t care where he’s going or how he gets there. Someone who scoffs at traditional itineraries, who isn’t afraid to show up in a new city with no accommodation, no travel arrangements, and no plans.

A cherry picked record of my travels might present such a face, but many of my adventures are more a result of poor planning and mismanaged finances than an actual devil-may-care attitude to exploring the globe.

Most days, I’m Christopher Columbus discovering India on the wrong side of the world.

I’ve collected a story or three in the years since I started counting. I’ve rolled down a dark highway with my belongings piled into a liberated shopping cart, run out of cash and had my credit cards declined at a train station in the middle of the Los Angeles I-5. I’ve spent 28 hours in a transit lounge between flights, slept on my backpack in the corridors of my North Hollywood rental apartment, and bought a day’s worth of chicken teriyaki bowls for a homeless gentleman who borrowed 40 dollars for a business opportunity and never called me back.

But I’ve never spent a night on the streets, under a bench, or in a tree. I’ve never hopped on the back of a truck or a train as it slowed for a stoplight. I’ve never climbed a mountain because it was there, heck, I’ve never strayed from paved roads long enough to get close to one.

This one time, I leapt off a cliff into the ocean. One time.

I’ve never been camping outside of camp. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle down an unmarked dirt trail. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle anywhere, not even in an arcade. I’ve never meditated in a temple and had my shoes stolen. Never faced a wild animal, except once when a monkey stole my bread and didn’t even have the decency to eat it.

Here’s something else I’ve never done: I’ve never regretted a trip I’ve taken.

I’ve had my share of bad trips. There were trips that I took for the wrong reasons, trips that I went on with the wrong people, trips that ended up costing far too much money, or energy, trips that were undertaken with some hopeful but naive ideas about saving a relationship, but only succeeded in casting the same old arguments against the backdrop of a different city.

Some trips are still ongoing.

Two years ago, I moved over 9,000 miles away from the place I call home in my introductions to strangers. In the time since, I’ve been an observer to a new culture, a new way of speaking, navigated a new social landscape. I shelved much of my old identity, changed the way I dressed, the way I ate, the way I made friends. It wasn’t always smooth, but I built a new life for myself, one pop culture reference at a time.

Two weeks ago, I moved again.

Moving to a new city for school is completely different from moving to a new city with some faint hope of finding work.

Some days, you wake up without any sense of purpose. No one’s expecting you to be anywhere or do anything.

If I died in my room, alone, there would be no friends pounding on my door asking why I flaked on game night. No crew members blowing up my phone because I had to be backstage thirty minutes ago and we have a 30-second hole to fill in the set between your piece and Alex’s. No coworkers flooding my email with complaints about unfinished mockups and reminders that the deck for this weekend’s pitch competition isn’t going to build itself, god dammit.

Some days, it’s literally a decision between hopping on the bus towards adventure and possibly danger, or staying home and marinating in British TV.

“Ah that’s right, I guess it’s pretty far for you,” he says. “Well if you can’t make it, no worries.”

I stare at the blinking message notification. Half an hour ago, I was watching Jon Lovett’s commencement speech. I decide right then I don’t want to end up as an old gay judge full of regrets.

“I’ll see you there.”

And I’m glad I did. The risk I took reminded me why I never stopped traveling in the foolish, haphazard way that I do. It reminded me why I’ve never regretted taking a trip, or a chance.

Risks pay off. They don’t always pay off in the way that you hope, and sometimes they don’t pay off for months or years. Sometimes they don’t pay off in a way that you can imagine when your tears are melting through soot-streaked snow in New York City, two days before New Year’s Eve.

Some risks, statistically speaking, do not pay off. These include getting intimate in an unprotected way with a stranger who can unfasten your belt with one hand, and playing cards against a man who shares his first name with a city.

Some do, and that night I ended up making a whole new group of friends. Ones who welcomed me with inside jokes and inappropriate behavior and undeserved hospitality, the way my friends would have done back home. I caught the train home the next afternoon, long after the sun had risen.

But that’s another story.