Joey Schuman: My own mecca

Monday, February 18, 2019 - 5:08pm

When I was much younger, I thought my family’s annual “The Sound of Music” Christmas tradition was very dumb. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, so when ABC Family rolled out its holiday programming, we’d record the 1965 classic on our DVR, watch about an hour of the film each night over the course of a few days, and bask in the joy of every damn word of “My Favorite Things.” By the time I headed to the University of Michigan, every fiber of that movie had become ingrained into my existence, for better or for worse.

Fast forward to this past spring: I had spent three program-structured days in Vienna, Austria, and I now had a full day to explore. I had recently been made aware of the eminent accessibility of “The Sound of Music” tour in Salzburg. It sounded like a lock, but finding company for the cross-country trek would prove difficult. I asked my roommate if he had any interest in going.

“I need to get a haircut,” said Derek. “And there’s also an all-you-can-eat sushi place across the street.”

I thought the movie buffs we’d befriended would take the bait. Not so much.

“Uh… no,” said Will.

Eli too.

“Sorry dude.”

There’d be no hesitation on my end. I booked my train and tour tickets, party of one, while at an evening wine and cheese tasting. Auf wiedersehen, future FOMO-havers.

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Upon arriving in Salzburg, I felt… out of place. Everyone was extremely good-looking, and they were all wearing pastel-colored dress shirts, a stark contrast from my t-shirt and jogger sweatpant getup. Alas: After a quick beef chili bowl, I was ready to see the hills come alive.

At the tour bus meeting point I was greeted by a really cheerful tour guide named Eva, who was from Uruguay and really, really, really, loved “The Sound of Music.” I took a seat by the window — a strategic decision — and prayed I’d win the random new friend lottery. Soon after, another solo traveler, a 50-ish-year-old South Korean man named Roy, took the seat next to me. He explained that he’d found a ton of success in global software investment, and even though he used a bunch of terms that flew way over my head, I gathered generally that he was celebrating his life victory with a solo trip around the world. He exuded unadulterated joy.

Joy — that’s what brought everyone to Salzburg. “The Sound of Music” should be everything I hate in a movie — it’s next-level sappy and cliché — but it’s about good guys beating bad guys, family, love and figuring out what brings you joy. And it includes the waterworks factory that is “Edelweiss.” There’s no telling how the movie brings together a solo American college student and the wine-friendly, tattoo-sleeved young Australian surferbros who sat in the back of the bus and drained out Eva’s informational snippets with a deafening “Oye aim sixtain GOWING awn saiventaind,” all while making me secondhand drunk. It just does.

That kind of uncapturable magic is why describing the tour itself is impossible and maybe even unimportant. It was incredible, of course, seeing with my own two eyes the Mirabell Gardens and Hellbrunn Palace, the very images that at a young age fortified a soul-defining indoctrination. But the sightseeing, on its own, doesn’t capture “The Sound of Music”’s essence, nor should it have to. The people were enough.

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Still, what I’ll remember most from the excursion is the train ride back to Vienna. I’d say it was the most perfect three hours of my entire life — and it was — but even that wouldn’t do the experience justice. It was transcendent. The sunset gleamed off those Austrian foothills with rays that were so majestic that I began to question if Julie Andrews had telepathically transmitted some sort of happiness serum into my freshly Berlin-ed, emo-charred insides. I could only attempt to alleviate my otherworldly emotion with periodic tosses of Haribo candies into my mouth, but I had a smile on my face so gosh darn big that the gummy bears just kind of popped back out onto my seat as if I was some kind of broken automated puppet. To the spooked German toddlers that were seated across the aisle: If you’re reading this, I apologize. I am sane and stable, and I even write about health and wellness for my university newspaper. In America!

Here I am, back in America. There’s a lot more stress and zero Austrian foothills. Now I often find myself wondering if Favorite Things are meant to be enjoyed in rare — if not fleeting — glimpses. It’s a question I might need many years worth of maturity to properly answer. For the time being, however, I do know this: For one day, in those winding hills of Mondsee, among the drunk Aussies and Roy the South Korean investment magnate, I had found my own little slice of heaven.