At the Cliffs of Moher, the rain had moved on towards Cork, and had been replaced with intense gusts of wind. Along the coastline were small placards strung with twine from post to post. Each read some variation of “Caution: Any further than this and you will fly off this cliff!”
Up and down the coast, the sign was ignored. People would stop to read it, flip it over their heads and continue on despite the steep grassy decline, a 500’ drop, and the rocks and waves below.
Months before, I had competed for the same trip with a different group through a university program. It was a project to pitch green proposals – I had done research, reached out to community organizers, identified grants, and provided written and visual documents and plans related to bee colonization, vegetable gardens, overhauling the watering systems, updating for smart light usage, wind and solar energy, and fixing a particularly swampy part of campus with a wetlands landscaping project. But I “tied” with a well-connected kid who somehow was granted (this was against the rules – clearly still bitter) a giant campus panel review where he asked basic questions and got basic answers. And somehow…sharing first place meant that he went to Ireland and I got an iPod. “You know that annoying kid (yes, he was annoying, I’m not just bitter) kid who won the Ireland trip? He nearly got blown off the Cliffs of Moher! He completely ignored the signs, climbed over them and just about toppled off the cliff! Somebody had to grab him by the pants and he nearly got sent home!” a friend recalled gleefully.
As I stood by the twine line, watching the waves crash against the rock and the gulls lose their footing, saved by the grace of wings, I imagined this scene. Well, look- I’ll clarify- I didn’t so much imagine him toppling over the edge (as if suddenly I would win the Ireland trip by default), no. I imagined him being hoisted back over the edge by his pants. A painful, embarrassing display: The Smartest, Most Likely To Succeed man on campus being pulled up by his (under)pants (the embellishing makes it better) to be told off by school officials. “We thought you were better than this! We should have sent Liz to Ireland!” I was brought out of this reverie by a large burst of wind that propelled me forward several feet.
In Killarney, our stop-over for the night, we attempted a pub crawl. And I say attempt because most of us didn’t get too far. Most of us ended back at our hotel, totally hammered. It seemed that Chicago’s O’Hare was more full of Irish people for St. Patrick’s Day than was Ireland and the remaining Irish had responded to their flood of Americans by playing our apparent favorite tune at any given opportunity. Sweet Home Alabama was belted out with an Irish brogue to the bays and karaoke musings of college-age American crowds at every pub we popped in to. The beer and cider was flowing, there was no food to be found, and therefore, everyone was wholly satisfied. As I sat chatting with my new found friends, a local couple argued about whether to dance.
“You’re only saying yes because I’ve asked you.”
“Sure, isn’t that what you want, Charlene?”
“No! I want you to know that I want to and you ask me!”
“Jaysus, are we dancin’ or what?”
As I made my way back to the Holiday Inn, I heard a pattering of feet come up beside me. Kyle was a few years younger and had chatted me up earlier. He told me he was a third year art student but couldn’t name a single studio class he had taken. No drawing, no design, no art history. He was utterly full of shit but for the moment, mildly amusing.
“Do you know where you’re going?” he asked, panting.
“Not really but you know…sometimes that’s nice. Getting lost. I seem to find better places that way. I kind of enjoy it.” We walked through a dim underpass as a heavy mist began to fall.
“So, uh…do you, uh…you wanna get lost now?”
I paused for a second to just look at him. Before I could respond, I heard Hannah calling out to me. “Hey, you headed back? I’ll walk with you!” she shouted. Kyle mumbled something about getting back to the bar and disappeared.
“I was walking back and saw you,” she said, “He’s so weird. Kept trying to dance on some of the girls all night. We kept having to make human walls. I heard one of the guys told him off for getting handsy.” We walked down wide avenues with little more than dim street lights and the shaded moon to guide us past hedgerows and barely leafed trees.
I was sharing my room with Jean- we were to be pared up for the next three days. She was friendly but tightly wound and very odd. We had no hot water and the toilet didn’t flush without the addition of several cups of water. When I got back to the room, an entire trashcan had been emptied into it, seemingly to mask bodily contents. Shards of glass were in the sink, more trash in the bathtub, and, curiously, used sanitary pads stuck to the wall.
I headed down to the lobby where our guide was posted for the evening with a beer and a whiskey. “I need a new room and a new roommate,” I said. He took a large gulp of whiskey and gave me a vacant stare.