By: Rachel Blaine
I take a bus to Budapest. Before I came to Hungary, the closest I’d
ever gotten to public transportation was the school bus that drove
the mile between my Manchester, Pennsylvania school and my
Manchester, Pennsylvania house. It takes about twenty minutes to
go from my host family’s home in Pálosvörösmart to Gyöngyös,
and another hour to go from Gyöngyös to Budapest. Every time I
make the journey, the ride feels more familiar, but also somehow
more stifling. The bus drivers are always white guys that grunt out
the price for my ticket after I stumble over my Hungarian (“Egy
jegyet Budapestre, kérem.” “Ezer négyszázhúsz forint”—1420
forints) and the other passengers stare when I drag my bag past their
seats; it’s a Tuesday, shouldn’t I be in class or something?
I sigh in relief when I find an empty row of seats right beside
the side door. By the time the bus groans into motion, I’m already
half asleep. Sleep is the only thing that makes the bus rides in any
way bearable.
The bus station in Budapest is right next to the metro. I put
money into the metro pass dispenser and buy a one-day pass. A
homeless man who lives in the entryway of the metro station
approaches me and asks for money. I tell him I don’t speak Hungarian,
sorry (“Nem magyarul beszélek, bocsi!”), and he switches to
English. I press my wallet against my torso, but something tells
me he already saw the 10,000 forint bill—about 40 US dollars—in
the money slot. I mutter another apology, this time in English, and
pray he doesn’t follow me as I go down to the platform.
I take the red line on the metro map from Puskás Ferenc
Stadion to Deák Ferenc Tér, the busiest metro intersection in
Budapest. There’s a Starbucks above it that’s always packed with
English-speakers. It’s funny how I only started drinking Starbucks
after I left the US. I order a mocha frappuccino and wait outside
for Chris, Julia, Adam, and Mim to show up. Even though it’s a
weekday, everyone I asked to meet up with responded with an
enthusiastic yes. It didn’t take us long to realize the Hungarian
education system didn’t know what to do with students who couldn’t
speak Hungarian, so we decided to make the most of our school
days by skipping them.
I’m way too early; my straw sucks the bottom of my cup
before anyone else arrives. I realize I have to pee, but I threw out
my receipt. Hungarian public restrooms cost about a dollar to use.
Restaurants usually have a code lock on their bathroom doors,
which they change intermittently. They print the code on their
receipts so that only paying customers flush their toilets and steal
their soap. Budapest has one of the largest homeless populations
I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most intense prejudices against
the homeless.
Adam is the next one to show up—I can see his hair blowing in
the wind from down the street. He orders the same drink I did with
a bagel, which we split. After that, people start showing up like
clockwork. Julia shows up almost exactly two minutes later, and
then Mim, the only non-American exchange student in our group.
She’s brought one of her Thai friends with her. Most of us are from
the East Coast; Julia is from Connecticut, and Chris and I live
within an hour of each other back home in Pennsylvania. Adam’s
from the states, too, but his home is on the coast of Washington,
and Mim’s from Thailand.
Chris is the last one to show up fifteen minutes later, sweaty and
winded. Despite being late, he’s the one hurrying us along to go
to lunch; there’s some taco place down the street that he’s been
desperate to try.
Chris directs us to a tram down the block from our lunch
rendezvous. I’ve never taken the city busses in Budapest. They run on
something like train tracks and the roofs are attached to wires that
remind me of telephone lines.
The bus we take is even more packed than the one I came to
Budapest on. There’s seven stops between Deák and our stop, Hősök
tere. Chris and I are the only ones in our group that manage to get
a seat, and it takes three stops until the others can get even that.
Once we’re seated, Chris fishes his bag of tobacco and some
rolling paper out of his backpack. Through the shuddering start-stop
of our trip, he manages to roll two fat, bumpy cigarettes by the
time we reach our stop.
Dürer Kert feels more like a house than a concert venue
despite the constant hum of sound checks and the graffitied walls
advertising upcoming concerts and lopsided dicks. The two small
venue arenas are on one side of the building, but the other half has
a game room, a dining room, and two sitting rooms, one of which
has wallpaper covered in books that makes it feel like a library.
Chris buys us a round of beers from the bar that separates the two
sides of the place and we find a circle of thrift shop furniture in the
library room. The concert starts in an hour. Mim downs her beer
and says she’s going out front for a smoke. Chris and I follow; she
has the best blueberry cigarettes.
It’s been raining on and off all day in cold, misty sheets that float
in the air and stick to my hair. I can barely feel the cigarette in my
hand even after I light it, and when I exhale I can watch my breath
mix with the smoke. We watch couples and groups of college kids
filter in and out as the bar gets busier and busier. When we come
back inside, our ears are numb, and we can barely navigate our
way through the crowd.
The maximum person count printed in the doorway of the
performance room is 239, and I’d say the concert we’re at attracted
about 150. The room is by no means packed—not even up front
in the mosh pit.
Chris is drunk by the time the concert starts. The opener for
the band we’re seeing is from our home state, and he drags me
through the pit to the front of the stage, so we can do some
top-secret Pennsylvania handshake with them. They blow us off, though,
and the concert starts before I can escape the pit.
No matter what country you’re in, the attendance
demographics of indie-punk concerts rarely change. It’s mostly skinny white
boys that are drunk by the second song in the opening set and
try to crowd surf over a group of people unprepared to bear their
weight. This is how I end up getting a shiner on my right eye and
tripping onto the floor.
One of the most important rules in a mosh pit is, no matter how
small, you stay on your feet by any means necessary. Getting
trampled is a very real possibility if you hit the floor. I remember this
rule the second my knees clash against the threadbare carpet, and
in an instance of pure adrenaline, the pain in my skull dissipates. I
still can’t see, but my mind is clear enough to force my feet to push
me up and get me away from the stage.
After I’ve iced the swelling down, Julia hands me her unfinished
beer and buys me another. I’m back in the pit by the time the main
band comes on stage.
We’re starving when we stumble out of the venue. The streets
are nearly empty, and the frigid air makes everything feel frozen
in time. “There’s a Burger King down the street,” Adam—the only
sober one of us all—says, an arm under Chris’s shoulder to keep
him upright.
Julia and I are the soberest ones besides Adam, and since he’s
a little preoccupied, we take it upon ourselves to order the food.
We talk the entire walk to the Burger King about whether it would
be better to get chicken nuggets or burgers. The drunken consen
sus from everyone else is that we should get both (and plenty of
French fries). We end up getting enough food to cover an entire
table, so the six of us squeeze into one booth at the back of the
restaurant and dive into our smorgasbord-style dinner, reaching
over one another for burgers and ketchup.
Sobriety is coming my way—I can feel it in the blisters on my
feet and the aches blossoming in my legs and, perhaps most
prominently, in the pulsing around my eye. As the last of the fries
disappear and heads begin to grow heavy, Adam asks me if there’s any
more upcoming concerts that I know about.
I yawn, and then smile. “I’m sure we can find something.”



rachael blaine is a first-year student with dual majors in Creative
Writing and Publishing/Editing and a minor in the Honors Program. She
studied abroad in Hungary during her junior year of high school and spent
most of that time going to concerts and petting stray cats.