The first trip I ever took was completely free – unless you count the cost of a bag of candy. This is because, against all odds and in an early exemplification of the perilous willfulness that would mark me throughout life, I won my first trip ever by eating candy. But the story of how a stubborn 10-year-old went behind everyone’s back to achieve her youthful bucketlist goals does not begin with candy. It begins with Hanson.
Ten-year-old me was a huge fan of the then-popular boy band Hanson. Back then, kids, we had these things called “CDs” which were the primary way to consume music, and they were not cheap. This created a serious gap between the amount of time I wanted to spend listening to Hanson (all of it) and the amount of Hanson songs readily available to me (none of them.) As a cost-conscious solution, I listened to the radio obsessively and constantly, waiting for this golden trio’s voices to emerge. It was a simpler time.
I had a favorite radio station – you guessed, it was the one that played Hanson most often – and I went so far as to call in with fake names to request their songs. Even as a kid, I meant business! But I knew, deep down, there had to be more to life than listening to boy bands through FM frequencies: One day, I would see Hanson play live. If I met them after the show and Taylor Hanson fell in love with me, well, that would just be an added bonus.
One day, back when the World Trade Center still meant the Twin Towers, the radio announced a contest. Not just any contest: a trip for two to the music festival Rock in Rio, to see a bunch of unimportant bands and HANSON! In Rio de Janeiro! I was beyond excited: not only was I going to see my favorite band, I was going to travel abroad for the first time since I was an infant. To a ten-year-old whose idea of traveling thus far had been a yearly trip to a nearby beach, this was huge. I set out to work immediately.
The contest revolved around Icekiss, a brand of Brazilian candy with cheesy little love notes inside. Basically you sent 5 of those love notes in an envelope with all your information (again, a simpler time…) and thus entered the contest. Since you could send as many envelopes as you wanted, naturally I spent all my savings (the equivalent of us$5) on the things.
I obtained a 2kg bag of Icekiss. I enlisted the help of my brothers to unwrap the candies, extract the love notes, stuff the envelopes and re-wrap the sweets. I paid them in the only currency available to me: candy. Finally, the envelopes were sent off and I was well underway to fulfill my wildest dreams. I spent the next few days in a sugar-induced frenzy.
Now, to back up: I was 10 years old, hadn’t been outside the country since 1993, didn’t have a passport and never thought to tell my parents about the possibility of flying to a strange city. But not because I didn’t think I would win: I was simply that absorbed in my dreams of Brazil and Hanson. Probably also slightly unbalanced, thanks to all the candy. In fact, the only reason I even thought to tell my parents was to open the floor for debate as to which of them would take me to Rock in Rio, since the trip was only for two. By then, they’d had a solid decade to get accustomed to my… let’s call it “imaginative ways,” so they did not take the matter too seriously. Next time they heard about it was from a representative of Icekiss who called my father at work to inform him that I was one of the winners of the contest. I assume he was delighted, and not deeply confused or concerned.
The funny thing is, Hanson cancelled its appearance and was not at Rock in Rio that year. But I was. In 2001, I flew for the first time, went to one of the biggest music festivals in the world, and visited the amazing city that is Rio de Janeiro, all for free. I consider this to be the first time I checked an item off my bucketlist, through a killer mix of determination and luck. I became a lifelong lover of traveling, and a firm believer in one cheesy inspirational axiom: to win, you first have to try.
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