“Why so serious?”
A raspy, distinctly American voice called out to me as I paced up and down Dalimilova Street. “Why the serious face?”
I explained to this outgoing stranger that I was going to work my shift at a hostel, but it was locked, they weren’t answering the phone, and there wasn’t an occupant or staff member in sight.
“BS, I know these guys” he exclaimed in his raspy American accent. “They’re probably down in the basement snorting lines.”
I always got a slightly lax, badass-but-charismatic vibe from this hostel and its management and this just confirmed it. He pounded on the door to no avail.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Let’s go get a drink”, he said as he summoned me down the slippery hill to a bar where he was scheduled to DJ later that night. It was 4PM, and I got the idea that this guy, this outgoing stranger, simply goes wherever the wind takes him and lives his life completely and utterly in the moment.
His name is Cameron. He’s originally from Vermont, but he’s been living here in Prague for over 10 years, and is on his way back to the United States since his passport has been expired for the past 2 years. His stubbly, rugged face, drug-induced confidence, and aged stoner demeanor indicated to me that he was probably somewhere in his early to mid 30s. His drug-induced laughter sounded like a loud, monotonous garbage disposal. He sported long hair in a ponytail with a skunk-like, prominent wisp of gray hair tied back in the front.
Something about him reminded me of the So-Cal drug influenced music of the 90s. As if he’s living the lifestyle that I imagined the likes of Bradley Knowle of Sublime or the late 1980s Red Hot Chili Peppers living.
We went to a small corner bar and ordered some drinks. “They love me here, I know a guy who works here” he told me. We sat down and talked to the bartenders. His Czech was much better than mine, but it’s still at a level that it’s a bit of a novelty.
You can tell that the Czech bartenders get a kick out of his enthusiastic, slightly limited use of the language. The one bartender, the taller blonde one, especially got a kick out of it. She consistently grinned, sporting a mouth of rotting, black teeth, or lack thereof.
We went downstairs to a dark, dingy, reddish tinted room, and he showed me the room where he was slated to DJ that night. It’s a little wobbly and unstable. He shook it and decided “people must have been [expletive] too hard on this booth. That must be why it’s so damn shaky!”
He’s one of those extremely outgoing guys: charismatic in an atypical way. Not in the standard way that exudes confidence, well-timed humor and the ability to attract people. The charisma he displayed is more like the overt outgoingness of someone who is constantly tripping in a non-annoying, interesting, and socially acceptable way. Just picture the personality of the cast of Jackass after snorting a few lines.
We talked about how his passport expired, how he’s currently living in an abandoned theater, making his home in a sound proof movie dubbing booth, where apparently, he “can fuck as loud as he wants” due to the soundproof walls. Previously, he lived with his Dad who moved here to work on renovating old statues here with his friend.
“My Dad was a total slob, I would never take girls back home when I lived there! I don’t want them to see my slob of a Dad’s place!” Sounds like the words of a man making himself at home in a dubbing booth. Can’t say I’ve ever heard that one before.
After chatting for a bit, he seemed like an interesting guy, but one of those guys who your gut instinct just doesn’t agree with on all kinds of levels.
A loose cannon; a guy on a euphoric trip; a guy you don’t want to open up to because, well, what’s the point. He may understand, but he may just erupt in a stoned fit of laughter. Finally, after downing some Staropramens (keep in mind, I was supposed to be at work), he asked me a question. “Do you want to see something interesting? I just came from a Psych-Trance after party, and you should totally come back to it with me.”
“What’s side trance?” I asked. Wow, I’m so clueless, lame, and American.
Being the life experience junkie and wannabe freelancer that I am, I politely obliged. I saw a good experience. I saw an interesting potential story. However, in the back of my head, I hoped he’d forget about it, space out in a drug-induced haze and go home, but he was on point.
I checked the hostel. Still locked. “You’re coming with me.” I felt as uneasy as I did intrigued. We walked, we talked, and you could just tell that he’s the kind of guy who wasn’t built for America.
He’s the kind of guy who is perfect for scraping by and living a vagabond lifestyle in a city like underground Prague; professionally lax, liberal, and tolerant; A city where counter cultures and sub cultures don’t necessarily thrive but function in their own brand of spontaneous complacency.
There is a sub culture of charismatic, blunt, “badass” but experienced expats like him who just love this city. Their façade gives the impression of an undeniable confidence, self-awareness and a charming, well-spoken brand of real world, “street smart” intelligence. But you can tell they have real issues and, quite frankly, have dealt with real stuff.
They’re not especially well off. They’re wanderers from unconventional hippie upbringings that fell in love with Prague and enjoy this laid-back lifestyle, openness, and at times copious drug use. They claim America isn’t for them. Maybe it’s an effort for them to sound “edgy” or maybe it’s really true. But regardless, these people always keep me intrigued and entertained while evoking a certain suspicion and doubtful feeling in my gut.
They bring to mind the dirty, intriguing, and always entertaining streets of Zizkov, while most expats bring to mind the bustling, eclectic, expanding streets of Vinohrady.
“I hope you’re ok with the fact that these people will be, like, doing drugs here tonight” he warned me. I was well aware of this. I was feeling a bit out of my element. I knew this wouldn’t be for me, but I had to see it.
A few blocks later and we were there.
A ponytail sporting Czech guy in jorts named Jan let us in the door. We went upstairs and entered a room filled with pounding bass, an overpowering scent of marijuana, expensive DJ equipment, and a group of slightly sweaty, disheveled Czechs who were totally lost in their own element; still in a haze from the previous night and enjoying the vibe that just wouldn’t seem to fade away into the snowy Prague evening.
The psychedelic trance blasted, one Czech guy spaced out and played his conga drums in rhythm with the songs. We passed around dates (the fruit), vegan food, and joints. It was around 5:30 PM. I was supposed to be at work.
One girl quietly sat in the corner, slightly bugging out to herself, diligently writing things down and watching videos of Cirque du Soleil contortionists. An hour or so later, she was contorting herself in all sorts of odd, back- breaking positions: Only in Prague.
At one point, the guy who invited me and I left to meet his Czech friend who had his DJ equipment. While talking to her on the phone on the sidewalk, he was in the way of an old Czech man. The disgruntled old Czech man gently nudged him, who then responded with “YOU WANNA PUSH ME LIKE THAT AGAIN?? HUH???” as he followed the oblivious old man into the Potraviny market.
I shook my head. What did I get myself into? Eh, whatever, I’ll just go with it. Ride the wave. I’m in Prague.
I love hearing the drug crowd’s perceptions of music. What they value and what they take from music seems to be much different from what I’m used to in my Western lifestyle music appreciation.
They’re not into heavy, face-melting riffs, relatable lyrics, or catchy hooks and choruses as much as they’re into a beat that they can simply lose themselves in. That’s trance. A consistently timed beat in the background that repeats in a serene, spacey manner while the rest of the effects enter into the song just to compliment this ubiquitous, steady beat.
“My problem with drum and bass and dubstep” one of the well spoken, articulate Czechs explained to me, “is the fact that it changes and drops so much. There is no beat that I can just, you know, lose myself in! I just want to feel the music! I don’t want it to keep changing.” So he showed me one of the only drum and bass song he’s been able to lose himself in and vibe out to recently: A song called “Tundra” by Squarepusher. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G01DKEig14
I listened to mind-numbing, eclectic music, talked about Czech things (old people riding the trams, the communist undertones of the older generations, hobbies, music, etc), ate some decent vegan food, and was completely amused, intrigued, yet overwhelmingly dumbfounded by this scenario and the timing in which it occurred.
Nothing too “shady” happened. They were nice people giving into their vices, losing themselves, and having a good time. I even got the feeling that they were excited to challenge themselves and speak some English. “It’s like switching on a part of our brain that we don’t normally use. It’s like the movies!” one of the vegans in attendance told me.
I couldn’t tell if they were “weekend warriors” or not and frankly I didn’t care. I didn’t need to relate to these people on an inherent, goal based level. I just wanted to have some interesting conversations in a new environment, and with that I succeeded.
As I sipped on red wine and coke, a drink recommended this guy, his eyes caught mine and he shook my hand. “You having a good time man?” he asked. “I just love expats, and I’m glad I could show you the REAL Prague!”
The “Real Prague.” Huh. Definitely a stark contrast to the fun, diverse, and exciting Prague life I’ve grown to appreciate here. With our typical good times, there is alcohol, traveling, sightseeing, inside jokes, good conversation, and a healthy dose of spontaneity, but the undertones often seem to revolve around our ultimate goals and dreams: Extensive traveling, grad school, research, becoming professors, becoming professionals, weighing options, broadening our cultural horizons, experiencing the world, etc.
We frequent places like Nebe, Cross Club, Chapeau Rouge, Krakora, and other fun binge drinking/dancing dens frequented by expats, travelers, and locals alike. We lose ourselves in the music, we lose ourselves in our plans, but we don’t lose ourselves the way this crowd does.
They don’t seem the slightest bit lost in or concerned with their own potential, talents, or shortcomings. This was the epitome of living in the moment.
With most people I encounter, I wonder about their real lives. What they do for a living, what they ultimately want to do, where they want to go, etc. But in hanging out with this crowd, only one quote comes to mind: “Music is the ultimate drug, man.”
I guess on that Saturday evening, or better yet, afternoon, I was introduced to the “Real Prague” mentality. Repetitive beats over catchy hooks and riffs, human interaction and “feeling the vibe” over dreaming, planning and speculating, and above all else, a pervasive sense of what I would call “spontaneous complacency.”
Welcome to the Real Prague…