When I was twenty years old I decided to go to Mexico to meet my favorite writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Because communication had become too easy, I decided that only a letter under his door had a chance of actually getting read. But it wasn’t easy to find Marquez. Only on the night before my flight out, three months later, did I finally come close.
By May ‘08, the tail end of my trip, I had spoken to a friend of an aunt of the grandson of Marquez – something like that. I had the name of the street he lived on: Calle Fuego, street of fire! Perfect. Carless by this part of the trip, I proudly told my taxi driver – to Calle Fuego! – and then he asked for the house number. Good question.
The street cut through a neighborhood of mansions. I had no hope. And I had an apple cake I had baked that night, for reasons I cannot explain except to argue if you’re gonna be earnest, be earnest. I was bedeviled by flies and running up a big fare.
I heard the music from a Quinceañera party and decided to try my luck on foot. I explained to the security guard, in my epileptic Spanish, that someone at the party might know where Marquez lived. Soon I was surrounded by the teenage offspring of the Mexican elite who were, thank God, impressed enough that I was from NYC and they tried to help me.
Of course no one knew which house the old master lived in. But they stopped talking with the arrival of a short man, on the gloomy side of middle age and wearing all white. It was his daughter’s party and he was less enthusiastic about my mission.
“He’s an old man, you cannot bother him at this time.” Of course not, I told him, it’s too late for all that. I fly out tomorrow, three months after a horseshoe journey through half of Mexico, and all I wanted to do was slip this letter under the door (horseshoe, or la herradura, had been a recent word of the day).
“It’s impossible,” he said. And then I lost it.
I told him, I understand – and while he did not need to help me – it was not impossible. In fact, the entire idea of being on the same street, possibly just a few houses away, meant that it was very much in the realm of the possible. And if he wouldn’t get me closer, then perhaps he knew someone who could.
He smiled and excused himself. I was approached by a vague familiar large man – security – and asked to leave. By this point, I knew enough to avoid an invitation into a black SUV with tinted glass and bulletproof lining. But I didn’t have a lot of options. I got in, and the driver drove me to a house a few minutes away in silence.
He knocked. A thin, sleepy man came to the door – he was literally wearing a nightcap. They spoke and he disappeared to find and unroll a map, pointing a yellow finger at a rectangular plot.
Off we went, me to deliver a cake and a letter, the sentry back to his party and the record keeper back to sleep.
It was the perfect ending. I didn’t meet Marquez, but I found him, or his house at least. And I did it by driving from town to town asking, “Who would know someone who might know Gabriel Garcia Marquez?” That part was offline, human. That was the adventure.
But I also couchsurfed from my first night to my last, dozens of times. It recharged me, allowed me to budget months instead of weeks. In retrospect, it probably kept me safe from who knows what, every night that I wasn’t sleeping in my stationwagon. I facebooked, I emailed, I google translated. Years later, my main advice to budding journalists is still simply to couchsurf wherever you go. It’s like working on a boat or hopping on a train car – the romance comes a century later, but in its time it’s just a shortcut, a means to an end.
Today I’m planted in New York building Artery (www.Artery.is), my own startup for connecting the creative world. Meanwhile, half my friends are on tour or taking buses to poetry slams or opening their garages to artists.
I don’t believe the internet can connect the creative world. I believe people do that. But just like a stationwagon, or a telegraph, a website is just a means to an end. I went to Mexico to meet Marquez, but instead I half-learned Spanish and became a journalist. You may use Artery to find a musician on a porch or a poet from another land. You may not think you’re the creative type, and wind up hosting a salon in your home.
One should be able to travel the world – literally and figuratively – through the eyes of a million artists. Our idea was to build a less passive way to connect people through creative work. Don’t consume content, go see people. Instead of liking, try clapping. See what’s being painted in Mexico, and then see what your neighbors and friends are singing about. That’s why we built Artery.