I took 3 semesters off from university, and went to Scotland to perform a research study.
You've got to understand, I wasn't a traditional university student. I tended to miss core classes because I was working for the instructors... and didn't I catch some shit for it. "I didn't see you in my class today, Paul. I thought you didn't come in." "No, I was in the back doing all the prep for tomorrow's labs. I was listening, though." I published some long-winded work on various marine biology and fisheries work, but this was my big one- the study, I thought, that I would work on all the way through to a Ph.D.
I was always an A-/B+ student. I just wasn't engaged, fully- too many irons in too many fires, and never enough money, despite fishing, pumping gas and working in my department's labs. I went to college to do what I already knew I wanted to do, anyhow. I wasn't there to 'find myself.' I know where I am, most of the time.My father pushed me to be well rounded, so I never needed some dink in a tweed coat to push me to read the classics.
Anyhow, I got funded to do a huge project- a potential doctoral thesis, and managed to get gen-ed credit for about 90% of the non-core classes required for a BS degree by my alma mater. Seriously, I never set foot in a non-STEM class lecture hall after the first half of my sophomore year. If my mother occasionally noted that my clothes either smelled like herring or beef stew, I never had the heart to tell her that it was splashback from fetal calf blood that got boiled off in the autoclaves.
So I'm in Scotland, and my study requires me to visit most major and minor ports in Scotland, including little fishing villages on the hundred or so islands on Scotland's West Coast.
So, towards the end, it's Midwinter, and I've got plans. I'm in John O'Groats, a small town on the northern tip of the mainland, and my data collection is done there, and I'm going to the city of Inverness to meet with some drinking buddies I had met in Aberdeen during a lost weekend.
I take the world's oldest and least comfortable bus from John O'Groats to Thurso, then a train to Wick before taking another bus to Inverness. It's Scotland in February, so it's about 35 degrees and raining, and of course for some reason I have to get rained on every time I change modes of transportation.
So I arrive at the hostel where I'm meeting my friends the next morning. It's late, the place is packed with Germans who didn't use deodorant, and smelled like a dumpster full of burning diapers, so I did what came naturally. I headed for the pub.
Scotland is where I changed from being a shy, introverted oversized boy to a more gregarious oversized man, and I credit that to my extensive pub experience. I always enjoy a good pub, and never end up drinking alone. All things I picked up in the UK.
I chatted with a few people while alternating between whiskey and several of the many excellent domestic Scottish beers. I end up getting into a conversation about the OJ trial with a pretty Turkish girl who was also being hit on by a local. The local was mildly put off by being brushed off by the girl, which I can understand, and I didn't think much about it.
Well, we all know that you don't buy beer so much as rent it, and I headed for the men's room to take a leak. Mid pee, someone grabs my head and smashes it into the hardware at the top of the urinal. I'm near to blind from the impact, and staggering around, I grab the person who did it, knock him over in the little space we're occupying, and promptly put my workboot right on the back of his neck. while swaying around and trying to understand what's going on.
Unfortunately, it was the disgruntled guy who was looking for some dark meat at the bar, but things are going to be allright. I've got my boot on his neck, and I'm grinding his face into the unspeakable film on the dirty floor under the urinal. I've got a small cut under my hairline above my forehead, so I've got a small streamer of blood running down into my beard.
I have the time to ask the guy what the hell's happening. He says something along the lines of the fact that he doesn't like Americans, and I should go back where I came from... and unfortunately, at this point, his 3 friends walk through the door.
This isn't a large bathroom, and it's got those metal privacy walls between urinals. There's not a lot of room, and what follows is what I think was about 2 minutes of me blocking some punches, and stopping some with my face, kidneys and nose.
Never have I been so happy to see a policeman as I was that day. The cop comes in. I've got another guy down (lucky shot to his nose, and a bad break), and the first guy is still down because I pushed off pretty hard on the foot that was on his neck. I'm reduced to defending myself from the other two, as one of them got me square in the nose, breaking it, and I'm seeing nothing at all.
So the cop comes, asks what's going on, and I got the first word in. I figure 4 on 1, they're getting cuffed.
I get cuffed, they get sent out out to the bar.
Well, I'm not too happy about this. In the teeny little compact car they give to the cops, I ask why I'm being arrested for getting the shit kicked out of me after being jumped while pissing.
"Do you need to go to hospital?"
"How bad is my nose?"
"It's swollen, but straight. Not bad."
"No, I'm OK. What's going to happen now?"
"Where are you staying?"
"The hostel up the street."
The guy explains that I can either be arrested for causing a disturbance, or I can go to the hostel, get my things, and he'll give me a ride so I can leave town right now.
I choose the ride. I'm not a tough guy. I don't like trouble, and I'm already beat to shit.
The guy gives me 2 minutes to get my stuff and get back to his car. I make it with about a minute to spare. I'm not too happy to be taking a bus or train out of town at 11pm, but whatever.
No bus. No train. The guy literally takes me to a sign on the side of the road, and kicks me out of the car. It's Friday, it's 35 degrees out, it's raining, it's approaching midnight, and I'm told in no uncertain terms that if I walk back into Inverness, I'm going to get arrested. Oh, and I don't have shit for money, so there's no way I could ever pay bail, anyhow.
So I end up walking 30 something miles. I had long hair back then, and in Scotland in the 90's, long hair usually meant that you were a junkie, so obviously, hitchhiking didn't work.
|That's me in the blue. Seriously, I wouldn't give me a ride, either.|
I slept on the far side of a stone wall that night, but at least the rain washed the blood off me. There wasn't a single store open that Saturday in the rural road I was walking down, but the rain stopped, sort of. I stopped after about 20 miles and slept again. I arrived at the next place I was staying on Loch Ness, on Sunday, completely soaked, disheveled, with a fever. And the frigging place was closed until 4pm, so I paced up and down a little beach on the loch while I waited. And, being lightheaded from the fever, I stumbled on the gravel beach, and fell in the fucking loch into water about a foot deep, so my entire left half got soaked again.
When the hostel opened, I went to the bar, had 3 glasses of scotch, and then I showered and changed my clothes. I returned to my rented room at the sheep farm a day after, and enjoyed a fine cold and bronchitis for a few days before heading out again to what ended up being the best leg of my travels. I never did go to Inverness again.