Where is the most public place you’ve puked?
With this year’s especially infectious flu season, I’ve found that sharing war stories of vomit (and some might say valor) can be especially inspirational. Physically and verbally, illness is purged from the system. From hurling and humiliation, we find humor in our humanity. Or, at the very least, a momentary distraction from the bodily forces that make us feel like we’re dying.
Revulsion, then relief.
* * *
For a decade, my answer to that question was on Toronto public transit during my senior year of undergrad, sometime during winter, either late 2007 or early 2008. I only remember it was winter because my black knee-high microsuede boots—freshly crusted in salt stains from unsuccessful snow removal attempts—then became freshly showered with regurgitated soju mixed with whatever else I probably didn’t eat enough of.
I was on the 512 westbound streetcar with Dan, the only one in my TV production classes who lived in my neighborhood at the west end of Toronto. We were just a few stops away from ours—the end of the line—and we knew from prior experience that they shut down vehicles after vomiting incidents (the Red Rocket is the TTC’s official nickname; the Vomit Comet is its unofficial after hours moniker). To evade getting kicked off so close to home, Dan cleverly slapped his lap with his gloved hands to emulate the sounds of my soju-soaked ex-dinner hitting my sad boots—What puke? That’s just a sick drumbeat! The driver was not convinced; we had to vacate the streetcar and Dan hailed a cab for the last few blocks that there was no way I could walk—or rather, slip and slide across—past ice banks and slush puddles to get home.
That far along the route, we were the only passengers inconvenienced by my spewing, so it wasn’t super public. Only the streetcar conductor there to throw shade, along with sawdust he’d have to sprinkle over my mess to sop it up.
* * *
Whenever the opportunity arose to share sagas of spewing and commiserate with some pukey pals, instead of recounting my streetcar closure, I would borrow from my BFF Liz.
She was my first visitor when I first moved to Los Angeles. With her flight from Toronto landing late Wednesday night, I was eager to scoop her up at LAX and zoom across town to drop off my car and stumble over to Barragan’s in time to enjoy the rest of $2.49 Margarita Night ending at midnight. Forty minutes to spare on the Cinderella countdown as we got to the Mexican restaurant: No time to sit in the large vinyl booths—we rocked up to the bar and each downed four plastic cups of margs then walked home with my roommates whom we ran into at Barragan’s.
I was the only non-stoner of this group, and so the only one that did not do a gravity bong rip from the transformed two-liter soda bottle once they got to the kitchen. George, a man in his late 30s, visibly blacked out in front of us for a moment after his turn, before tumbling backward against the counter in slo-mo. “What happened?” he wondered.
“You’re fucked up,” any of us might’ve answered.
I forgot to take into account that Liz was still operating on Toronto time so I kept hug-attacking her on the couch once she crawled under a throw blanket and tried to pass out. Yay! Liz is here! I get to hang out with Liz!
Trooper that she is (and maybe she was still intoxicated when she made the groggy suggestion in the morning), she wanted to check out the Getty Center museum the next day, despite a rather interrupted slumber. I hadn’t been interested in fighting the westbound traffic to visit it on my own, but what kind of host and best friend would I be if I didn’t oblige?
Thank God I left random junk in Cory, my Corolla. Despite the straightaway across the 10 westbound, Liz’s guts took a turn. Of all things she could have grabbed, she puked in a two-ply Trader Joe’s bag. The paper ones that they used to give for free before charging 10 cents each. She puked on 20 cents of recycled paper that did its best to contain her former stomach contents. We made it to the museum without major leakage and promptly disposed of the impromptu vomit bags in the parking lot garbage can. Nothing suspicious here, Getty! Just throwing out some car trash after a long drive.
But that’s not all, no: The unexpected photography exhibit of genocide that we came across rather early in our westside adventure incited another physical response. Liz’s complexion turned as pale as the monochrome photos of emaciated bodies and mass graves. When a freshly upchucked Liz emerged from the pristine marble bathroom, she decided she’d gotten enough of an idea of the Getty and was ready to go home.
And again: The death camp pictures must’ve been imprinted in her brain, or she had a déjà vu once we got back on the 10 in the opposite direction, cuz she had to resort to the near-empty bag of Lay’s Cheddar & Sour Cream potato chips crumpled in the backseat of Cory.
I can’t tell you what smelled worse between the chip crumbs or the last of her barf, but I can tell you that they didn’t help each other smell any better.
Good Canadian that she was, she apologized the whole time.
“At least you didn’t close down a TTC streetcar in the dead of winter.” I was too impressed and entertained that she yakked three times and managed not to get any on Cory or me to be upset. With the intoxicants exorcised from her system, we exercised moderation for the rest of her vacation so she could return to Toronto refreshed (the unofficial LA cleanse).
* * *
Liz’s trilogy of pukes was at the forefront of my mind, keeping me company during my own travel spews when I was recently in Mexico City.
I had spent the day under the sun on the Xochimilco Canals with my friend Jenn, checking out the floating markets and graduation celebrations: rowboaters hawking elotes and cervezas along the river; technicolor gondolas hitched together—five wide by three deep—to accommodate dozens and dozens of teenagers shaking their booties to bassy beats; a few lucky tourists that managed to delight in the quaintness of the creepy dolls that resided on la Isla de las Muñecas by the riverside.
For dinner we stopped in Jetson’s Potato & Beer, a Jetson’s theme stuffed potato joint not far from our Airbnb in Roma-Condesa (not to be confused with Papa Guapa, a knock-off restaurant just a few blocks away). The sun must’ve zapped my energy to eat, or maybe the choco-banana malteada I finished before the arrival of my meal rendered me unable to take more than a couple bites of the Chorizteroide potato I mainly ordered because it had chimichurri in it. Luckily our Airbnb had a full fridge, perfect for storing leftovers. If only I remembered to use it.
I have a habit of leaving food out for a while if I plan on eating it soon instead of putting it in the fridge immediately and then having to microwave it, an act that would change the composition of the meal. (Who likes potatoes that are both dried out and damp? No one.) Never have problems doing this with pizza or noodles after a few hours. Probably definitely not a great idea to do with chorizo argentino con salsa chimichurri y queso fundido atop a likely heavily buttered potato forgotten on the counter overnight.
I only took one forkful before walking out the door the next day, thinking, Well if I’m going to be hiking today then I should have something in my stomach. That one congealed bite appropriately discouraged me from eating anymore of it, and instead we had Lobo, our Uber-driver-turned-tour-guide, take us to Starbucks. Whenever I don’t have an appetite, a green tea frappuccino is pleasantly chilling enough for me to consume so I at least have sugary energy to burn. I was able to finish a grande-sized frapp before reaching Teotihuacan.
We arrived early enough to beat most of the major crowds just as the art market stalls lining the path to the ruins were getting set up for the day. I was in no state to decipher whether the growl I heard was an actual jungle cat or one of the dozens of vendors selling bird-calling and jaguar-growling pipes at the foot of the pyramid.
I’ve hiked to the San Antonio ski hut thrice and summitted to the top of Mt Baldy twice. These steps are nothing. A mantra I repeated as my sweaty grip on the ropey handrail pulled me up the Piramide del Sol, into the rising sun. Closer to the Gods, I prayed for my nausea to be gone.
It probably wasn’t a half hour of Lobo’s jokes about ritual sacrifices before we reached the top, compared to the threeish hours it takes to get to Mt. Baldy’s 10,064 ft. summit from the trailhead. Once Jenn, Lobo, and I took a seat away from the walkway and stared off at something Lobo was educating us about, I knew I was going to barf. It was only a matter of time. I thought about the restrooms at the entrance of the park that we stopped at before making the climb. That was the goal. I told Jenn and Lobo that I needed to get down to the bathroom, and Lobo offered to escort me since Jenn didn’t need him for her pyramid selfies.
As we turned the corner just before the walkway down, I spotted the world’s tiniest garbage can. My stomach: Home free! My aim: Oh no! My mouth’s aim could not handle the richter convulses of the rest of my body, however, as I projectile-spewed the matcha green bile into and around—but mainly around—the trash can and on my boots (a different pair). Again and again and again. And maybe even again. In front of easily at least thirty others who were stuck at the top of the temple waiting for their turn to get down the narrow steps.
Lobo handed me a napkin to wipe the remaining green sludge rimming my mouth and splattered on my leggings and boots. Although my puke aim was not as good as Liz’s, I channeled her apologetic spirit for my descent down the pyramid. Sorry, Gods, for sacrificing my dinner on your temple. I promise I won’t eat questionable food again if you let me survive this day. We still had cathedrals and a convent on our itinerary, the religiosity of which would make my Catholic mom proud; getting a photo of me in a convent was the best souvenir I could give her. With the demons out of my belly, I just needed a little nap in a shady spot by the Teotihuacan gift shop to restore some energy for more touristing.
When I got home, I texted Liz a photo I took from the base of temple. “I think I may have an even more epic vacation puke spot: the top of the Teotihuacan pyramid in front of hella crowds today.”
Nikki San Pedro loves words almost as much as she loves ice cream and travel. She was born in Manila, raised in Toronto, semestered abroad in Sydney, and has been adulting in Los Angeles since 2009. At Antioch University, she explores US immigration and health care while completing her MFA in Creative Writing for Social Justice. She is a featured poet for the Angels Flight • literary west Poetry Salon.