About a year and a half later, I was ready to move to Sweden again. I had moved to Fort Lauderdale after two months of lying on my parents’ couch in a depressed state, after my first failed attempt, and I had found a job teaching high school English. As the end of the school year approached, I felt the need to move on.
I had obtained my Swedish passport and assurances from the Swedish government that I was legally able to work in Sweden, so I had decided that I would make a second attempt at moving there after the school year ended. Instead of packing my bags and moving directly to Sweden, however, I decided that I wanted to wait tables in Cape Cod for the summer first. Summertime in Sweden is not a good time to be looking for a job, and Cape Cod hires summer help every year. It was a solid plan.
So, I packed up my Honda Civic hatchback and set off for Hyannis, Massachusettes. I stopped in Gainesville to see my parents. I stopped in Baltimore to see my grandparents. I stopped in Salisbury, Maryland to see my great aunt. I took the Cape May ferry to New Jersey, and I stopped in Cherry Hill to see a friend from South Florida. It was a great trip up the Eastern Seabord, and I must’ve spent two weeks getting to Cape Cod.
By the time I got there, the jobs were all gone.
All of the hiring for the summer had been done in May and early June, and by late June there was not a job to be found. I searched for two weeks, driving up and down the entire peninsula all the way to Provincetown looking for work in restaurants, country clubs, and bars, but everyone said the same thing: they had already hired their summer help. I should have been there two weeks earlier.
Finally, by some stroke of luck, I found a job at a breakfast restaurant called The Pancakeman. It had a big picture of a man carrying pancakes (like Big Boys, if you remember that) on the front and was well-situated in a busy intersection. Although serving pancakes was not exactly what I had had in mind when traveling north, I was ready to take anything at that point. The restaurant was busy and popular, so the tips should be good. I had to be at work on Friday morning at 7 a.m.
To celebrate my good fortune, I went out to an Irish Pub on Thursday night with a friend of my sister’s and some other people I had met. We drank pints of Guinness and shots of Jagermeister. I don’t remember much of that evening, but I do remember the stark, cold fear that engulfed me when I woke up and saw my alarm clock ringing at 9:00 a.m. on Friday. It had been ringing for over two hours, and I had slept right through it! I knew I was doomed.
I went to The Pancakeman anyway, and the first thing the manager said to me when he saw me was: “Where have you been?” I told him I overslept. He just shook his head and said: “Come back on Monday.”
But I knew it was over. There was no way to recover from a start like that. They would find a reason to fire me. And there were no other jobs. I felt desperate and ashamed.
In the ten minutes that it took me to drive from The Pancakeman to the house where I had rented a room, I made a decision. I would return to Fort Lauderdale immediately. I had enjoyed my vacation, but Cape Cod obviously was not going to work out the way I had hoped. It was time to throw in the towel and go home.
So, as soon as I arrived at the house, I packed all of my stuff in my little car, gave $200 to the lady renting the room to cover the next couple of weeks’ rent, and set off for Fort Lauderdale by noon.
I drove 31 hours straight from Hyannis, Massachusettes to my friend’s house in Sunrise, Florida with a 4-hour sleep-stop in a rest area. By Monday morning, I had landed a job at one of Fort Lauderdale’s nicest restaurants, and my friend had promised to get me a summer-school teaching position for the second half of the summer. Now, that’s serendipity!
Right. So, this was supposed to be about my move to Sweden. Let’s get back to that.
Well, after that failure of a trip to Cape Cod and all of the fun I was having back in South Florida that summer, I completely forgot about moving to Sweden. I was teaching during the day and waiting tables at night, and living with my friends in Sunrise. Life couldn’t have been much better.
But as August arrived, I started thinking about what I was going to do next. I could find another teaching job in South Florida. Or, maybe I should go to Sweden, as I had previously planned. Yes, that’s it! I should move to Sweden. Just because Cape Cod was a failure didn’t mean that I had to give up on the rest of my plan. I decided on a Tuesday that I would move to Sweden the following Tuesday. And I bought a plane ticket.
Now, I had to sell my car and prepare to leave. I had more or less been living out of my suitcase anyway, so there wasn’t much to prepare for the trip, but I had to get rid of my car. Back then, we didn’t have Craig’s List, so I did what one always did in that situation in the 1980s – I took out a classified ad in the Sun Sentinel. I think the ad started running on Thursday.
By Sunday, I had not had a single call. I started to get worried because I had no idea what I was going to do with the car if no one bought it. (We didn’t have Auto Nation back then either.) But on Sunday evening, someone finally called.
I think they were Brazilian or Argentinian or something, and I convinced them that I needed to show them the car immediately. I brought my sister who was visiting from Gainesville with me, and I convinced them that I was desperate and I would reduce the price to help them make up their minds quickly. I had listed the car for $1800 but was hoping to get $1500 for it. Under the circumstances, however, I said I would take $1200 for it (the same amount that I had paid for it two years earlier). They reluctantly agreed but said that they would need to get the money the next day (Monday).
So, the next day I went to see them again after they got home from work. They had lived up to their end of the bargain and gotten the money, but when I went to sign the title over to them, we found that we needed a notary public. Where can one find a notary at 8 p.m.?
We couldn’t. So, we met in the morning to do the title transfer. The Notary at my bank was moving slowly and there were a few people ahead of us, but we finally got the deal done. They gave me the $1200. I signed the car over to them. And my sister drove me to the airport. There wasn’t much time to lose.
(She later claimed that I had invited her to come see me in South Florida from Gainesville, just so she could drive me to the airport, but I actually could have taken a cab!)
So, I boarded the plane to Sweden with $1200 in my back pocket and a crazy story to tell when I got there.
But, then again, who was I going to tell my story to? I had not told anyone I was coming. None of my childhood friends had any clue that I was even thinking about coming. None of my acquaintances. No one. I just boarded the plane with my suitcase and my carry-on and hoped for the best.
On the trip over, I decided that I would go call on some friends that I had met the last time I was there. I didn’t want to impose on my old friends because they would feel obligated to put me up, whether they wanted to or not. But these new friends would tell me to go to hell, if they really didn’t want to see me. I tried calling them when I got the the airport, but no one answered. I think I left a message.
I took the airbus into Stockholm from the airport, and then I took the subway to their apartment. But with the jet lag and all of the excitement of the days leading up to the trip, I completely passed out on the subway. Someone woke me up when we got the the end station. “Hey, you have to get off!” I looked up groggily. The subway had stopped and everyone was getting off. What?!?
I couldn’t believe it. I had missed my stop by several stations. In fact, I was supposed to change lines in Skarpnack, but missed that, as well, and now I was at the end station at Bagarmossen. At least no one had stolen my luggage. I grabbed my bags and started walking towards the exit.
It was about noon on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t extremely crowded, but since it was the end station everyone sort of bunched up at the exit. As I’m walking with my bags, wondering what to do now, I saw someone who looked like one of my childhood friends from when I had lived in Sweden as a kid. It was! It was Peter O!
“Na men hej Janne! Hur star det till? Det var ju fortraffligt!”
This was a guy who had been part of my close-knit group of friends in Svedmyra where we had lived from time to time when I was a kid. He and his twin brother had lived next to my best friend. Very few people in the world knew me as well as they did. I couldn’t believe I found him in Bagarmossen of all places. This is not where we used to live. I had no business being there. But apparently he did.
He had taken the afternooon off from work in order to do laundry. Anyone who has lived in Sweden will know the strict rules that must be obeyed when using the laundry machines in an apartment complex. People sign up for their laundry times weeks in advance, and if you miss your time, you might have dirty laundry for an extra week or two. It’s serious business! (Or at least it was at that time.) He wouldn’t normally be going home at noon on a Wednesday, but for the laundry. It was his time of the month!
He ended up putting me up for a couple nights, and then we found somewhere else for me to live by the weekend. I ended up living with some other childhood friends back near where we had grown up. It’s just one of those things where you say: it was meant to be. Serendipity.