Wiesbaden in July and the park across my hotel — the one near the Hauptbahnoff — is filled with topless sunbathers drowsing. Languid, unabashed, content.
I’m walking to the city center to meet a friend, a former student, for dinner and a beer. I pass by another park, this one with a pond, geese and swans, and enormous oak trees that appear ancient, wizened even.
People know how to enjoy their open spaces here. An old couple sat on a bench. They’re dressed for church, only it’s a Tuesday. They’re a movie poster of sentimenatlity, of melancholy. A little boy runs into a gaggle of geese, dispersing them into a noisy mass of honking complaints. Only they converge again and this time the boy produces a chunk of crusty bread and has to be rescued by his mother as the geese attempt to overrun him.
I meet my friend at a place in the stadtmitte called Scotch ‘n Soda. It’s popular with expats and the military folks stationed at the nearby Kasernes. We grab a table outside, and quickly order local beers.
It’s been years since I’d seen him. He’s one of those rare continually affable people you only read about. That, combined with his all American boy handsomeness, made him quite popular with his fellow students.
He tells me that he’s married now and living a little further north of Wiesbaden. He and his wife are having a baby. She has German family. When he speaks of her he smiles involuntarilly, his eyes light up — even more so when he mentions the baby.
I know that feeling, I think. Knew that feeling.
We order food. Me, stroganoff, him a burger or something. He’s looking for work, and I offer up some ineffectual suggestions.
We’re interrupted by the table next to us — a boisterous gang of Americans are drinking their dinner from great liter-sized mugs. They’re from Alabama. They’re here to work on Blackhawk helicopters for the U.S. Army. One of them, a tall, thick redhead, laughs and I instantly forget how alone in life I feel in that moment.
Just to know that there are people like that in the world, where their presentness, their laugh could chase shadows away.
My friend catches my attention. He wants to talk more about his job prospects, his wife, and his baby to come and I listen as best I can. He’s the kind of guy that deserves good things in his life.
I glance at the redhead and give her names in my head. I hear her laugh, her Alabama drawl and I wonder if one of the burly guys at her table is her boyfriend or husband.
My friend and I finish dinner and drink scotches after. The redhead is gone and the table next to us is silent until and older couple — maybe even the couple from the bench — sit there and quietly discuss their orders in German. I wonder if I, too, was the kind of guy that deserves good things lin life.
Patrick says he just got out of prison after a 31-month stint for kidnapping. He orders a fruity cider from Viv, while his girlfriend, Ramona, asks for a “cocktail.”
Viv needs more information, so Ramona asks for a concoction of milky liqueurs that, as I hear, included Baileys, Kahlua, and maybe Coke.
Patrick’s full of nervous energy. He wants to talk, but he also wants to drink. I think, mostly, he wants to be alone with Ramona, which is why he’s at the hotel in the first place. Ramona seems smitten with him. She’s happy he’s out. They can’t keep their hands off of each other. I think Ramona dressed up for the occasion. Did her hair and makeup, like this meant a lot to her. Patrick says he didn’t kidnap anyone.
This is all a mistake. He says he’s a “traveller.” Ramona the same. I’m not quite sure what that is. I’m a traveller, I think. Where are they traveling from? To? “Nah mate, we’re Travellers.” Capital “T.” They’re part of a community of itinerant peoples with a rich culture that seldom inhabit permanent dwellings. You don’t call them “gypsies,” or variations thereof, and you most certainly don’t use the pejorative term popularized in Snatch.
You can tell that Patrick might be as hard “as coffin nails.” I’m a big dude, but Patrick is fearless. I’m a bit anxious around him. As soon as I’ve met him, though, he and Ramona are out, to their room, enjoying the kind of reunion only those were separated from an almost three year prison sentence can enjoy.
My eyes are heavy on the 11:34 to Peterborough, and I’m crammed between my suitcase and a teen-aged Brit and I feel sorry for him. I need a shower, a nap, some reassurance. I’ve just officially packed up and moved to England and everyone I love and everything I know is an ocean away.
I’ve planned this since last November. I had been working a short-term gig and needed something to come next. I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to the U.K. for a few years, and felt reasonably confident that I could could get this thing going over there — this work thing. I had connections, and thought I was a shoe-in.
I mentioned it in an off-hand way to my ex — we have kids together and I wasn’t going to leave the country without them. She is in a relationship with the VP of her London Office, and I thought that she’d like the idea. I was right. She was over the bloody moon. She texted me the next day to tell me that she had a fat offer waiting for her in that same London Office. Yeah, I know. This went from theory to reality within days. Shit got real. I endeavored to “cool her jets” by reminding her that it was just an idea, but she wasn’t having it. “I need you to commit to the U.K.” she said, and I dutifully, inexplicably agreed. I always cave. I’m not going to fucking talk about it.
I put all of my efforts into finding something. I knew where to look and who to talk to. I made it my job to find a job. In my head I feared a prolonged and nasty custody battle with my ex, who at this point made it clear that she was moving to the U.K. I couldn’t stomach the conflict, and in all honesty I have always wanted to raise my kids overseas anyway, but now the clock was ticking. She had a job, had started shopping for houses with her boyfriend, and I was still scrambling.
I won’t recount the conversations I had with the recruiters I knew, and the utter frustration at the lack of progress. It sucked, and I felt like some shit went awry. When things happened, they happened quick, and unexpectedly. I got a call from a dude in Germany who represented a company in the U.K. and wanted me to talk to his client. I got on the phone, and after about four rudimentary questions I had a job offer. The first thing I did was to call the ex and let her know. It was a go.
I’ve flown into Gatwick on my exploratory trips since January. It’s not the closest airport to where I’ll live and work, but after doing it once, I was comfortable with the plane to train routine. It meant a lengthy train ride from the airport to Kings Cross, where I hop on the Great Northern rail to Peterborough to grab my rental car. It’s a beautiful journey, especially the further north you go. After getting my rental, and bouncing off curbs and medians to get to the shabby brick hotel that will be my home until my house is ready, I was more than ready to sleep. Before I did, I googled the area I was in. I wanted to see where I could hike, explore, and find some peace until my kids would join me.
My search turned up Monk’s Wood, Archer’s Wood, and the Odd Quarter. The first two were easy enough to figure out. They’re medieval and British, and make perfect sense. The last? Well I don’t know. It is in fact a piece of property adjoining the not-quite-Bates-Hotel I am currently staying at, and there is no explanation for the name. Moreover, it’s private property, so there’s no option of finding out for myself.
But how perfect is this. The Odd Quarter. The name invites all kinds of images and definitions and I don’t think I want to settle on one. I feel like I’m well-suited for such a destination, or perhaps, I’ve never really existed outside of it. It fits for now and I love the mystery. I hope this will be one mystery of many that I share with my kids who love odd things. Let’s find all of the odd things.