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Davis, California

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Column: Leave everything behind

“The two best days in a man’s life are the day he buys a bus and the day he sells his bus.” I learned this line from an old friend, a crafty conman who somehow, even after telling me this, convinced me to take care of his 1968 junker while he chased a yoga teacher to New York. Despite my better judgment, I agreed to help him, and the bus became a 40,000 pound relic of the destructive, unsustainable lifestyle I lived at the time. 

I was two years into my master’s program and much more into parties, live music and peddling bikes than school. My ego was larger than life. I remember booking 7,000-watt DJs with a smirk, and having hundreds of dollars on hand for Craigslist purchasing at all times. I have never been a drug user, but it was around me all the time in north Davis suburb-parties: front rooms with lasers, back rooms with all sorts of pills and powders. I was writing a thesis at the time and my midnight bike commutes, writing, beer and sleep merged into a monotonous cycle, only broken up by events and shows: endless work punctuated with more work. 

I came to resent everything about my life. Parties were simply nights where my expensive things were borrowed. Days were spent locking up too many bikes and remembering who had borrowed what. Weekends were spent covered with motor oil. My cluttered, emotional void of a life began to eat at me and when the opportunity came to travel to Guatemala to work as an engineer, I agreed to go. It took all my energy to churn out a draft of my thesis before my flight in July 2009. 

So I found myself in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. I had gone from 35 bicycles and a bus to one bike and riding lots of buses. Bus rides were endless and on a daily basis. I was surrounded by people who were carrying all that they owned: some traditional clothes, rope baskets and plastic bags and maybe a chicken/child in their lap. The fare that I paid for the bus or for a beer was an amount they earned in a day. I came to recognize that my parents worked their whole life to move out of global poverty and I was insulting them and myself by wasting my life partying.

Guatemalan engineering taught me one more thing. While visiting people who had nothing, living in cinder-block houses, they would tell me they were in love and that not any amount of stuff was what carried them through.

I immediately came back to a world that made no sense: littered with iPhones, sport utility vehicles and Pabst. I realized there was only one option: leave everything behind. My life went on Craigslist in 2010: kegs, guitars, speakerboxes, 20 or so bicycles and at least three computers. It all went, often for a fraction of its worth, and each time something left, I remembered that I lived just fine without it. That giant bus was returned to its owner. My life changed again in 2011 when I finished my thesis and found my current job. I had finally broken free and gotten my life on track in the middle of the recession. 

A month ago, I heard my old roommate enter my house as a weekday party was dying down. Whenever he’s back in town, he comes around to be a college kid for one more day. I hid in my room and heard the same old jokes and requests through my door. Just his very presence weighed on me more than the bus ever did: another situation determined to drag me where I can’t afford to be anymore. People are the worst kind of dead weight because they will keep coming back if you let them. 

Having moved on from high school and college twice, I know the people that I will continue to value and include in my life after the UC Davis experience are less than 10. Many of you are so close; graduation is almost around the corner. As you move out of your apartments and your dorms and get rid of the furniture you don’t need, remember to leave those people that hold you back as well.CHRISTOPHER SALAM is a minister and takes out the trash at the Davis Bicycle Collective. He can be reached at mrsalam@ucdavis.edu. If you are interested in DIY bicycle repair visit the DBC at its Bike Forth location, on L Street and fourth. Monday 1 to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 4 to 8 p.m. & Saturday 12 to 6 p.m. 


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