Grocery store suitcase

The Latin alphabet won’t be too useful traveling in Asia, but a Latin phrase I learned from Coz in high school is at least helping me pack.

I went to the grocery store and came home with a new suitcase. It was on sale next to a big Jägermeister display at the checkout.

I have other suitcases, but they are too cumbersome or falling apart. They also don’t pack themselves. The new one appears to have this design defect, as well. Too bad.

Preparation has always taken a back seat to the grander agenda when I travel. This time, in pen at the top of the list, is one simple goal: finding Coz.

Coz – Mr. Costello on the first day of class, until you got into the habit of using his nickname – was an English teacher at my high school, one that everybody liked.

Since graduating 15 years ago, I’d try and swing by the school to say hi every now and then when I was home. The last visit was 12 months ago. I was catching up with another teacher when I asked about Coz.

“He retired. He and his wife moved to Asia.”

I recalled Coz telling us once that he and his wife had backpacked around Asia when they were younger. Another trip during life’s back nine seemed fitting. Once a Dharma bum, always a Dharma bum.

But it meant the only way to drop in on Coz was if I tracked him down in Asia and did it there. I made up my mind on the spot to do just that.

One year and one trip to the grocery store later, I’m staring at my empty suitcase remembering my first day in Coz’s classroom. It was tenth grade, and he had written two words on the whiteboard.

Tabula rasa,” he said. “It’s Latin, and it means ‘a blank slate.’”

He was referring to our upcoming year in class together: great reads of A Farewell to Arms and To Kill A Mockingbird stand out in my mind.

I am in need of Cliffs Notes on how to pack.

What would be in Coz’s suitcase? Books, no doubt, and a pen and paper. A sporty guy – long-time basketball and track coach, in fact – he’d throw in the running shoes. Sun screen, bug spray, toothbrush… grocery store luggage is filling up; space saved by a Kindle for reading, space lost by a laptop for writing.

A sock here, running shorts there – it packs itself after all. Not bad for the grocery store bargain bin.

‘Empty map,’ is another way to translate tabula rasa, and that’s exactly what’s in front of me now: the vast continent of Asia, page one of ‘Finding Coz.’


  1. Heather

    Is this Coz from KHS in M’teo?

    1. straymile


      1. Heather

        Amazing – so glad you found him! Myanmar has been on my list for a while- will have to look him up when I get there. Was having dinner with a friend who climbed Everest for charity and we got talking about how Coz introducing me to Krakauer’s books set some bizarre desire alight in me to go do scary things even when the people doing those things in the books died…. And I miss us pounding on our desks demanding “story, story, story”. He is tip top that guy.

      2. straymile

        Whenever I get apprehensive about some adventure I usually think “well there are crazier things I could be doing” (such as Everest). Coz can pound his fist on the desk in the name of story because his life is a living, breathing page-turner!

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