There’s a vibrant energy that Nicole Mercado emits. It was the last week of April and she had just returned to her hometown Vallejo after a series of European travels, while I had just taken a bus ride from Santa Monica to San Francisco. We thought it was fate that we planned to be at the Bay Area on the same week.
“I have to go to San Francisco to get more pages for my passport,” she said. “I have only a few blank pages left.”
“Wow, I’d like to have that dilemma, cuz!” I replied. We’re not actually related by blood, but like most tight-knit Filipino communities, we refer to our parents’ friends as aunties and uncles, and their children as our cousins. My family was in the US in the late ’80s in hopes of migrating there, but Papa changed his mind and we went back to the Philippines. Through the years, we kept in touch with our extended family in Vallejo, and I always looked forward to spending time with my cousins whenever I visited the US.
“Where are you heading next week?” I asked. “Japan,” she said as she took off her tribal print cardigan and pulled her wavy black hair into a bun. Nicole has been working as a master hairstylist and makeup artist for years at Soon Beauty Lab in New York City. But that’s not the only glowing description in her resume.
She was a straight-A student from grade school to high school. She also paints and dances, among other creative pursuits that run in her family. Her younger sister Ally is in college and is keen on various forms of art and multimedia. Nicole also works with her boyfriend Yoram Savion of Yak Films, and their job entails traveling around the world to meet and film the best street dancers. Their YouTube site has 155,015 subscribers and counting.
Because she is always on the go, Nicole makes sure her short visits to her home in Vallejo and her apartment in Brooklyn count. When in New York, she attends to her clients at Soon Beauty Lab, while her days in Vallejo are all about family, friends, and personal chores that need to be done before she packs her luggage yet again.
There’s a special room in her house in Vallejo, which is a place of solace when she’s taking a break from her jet-setting lifestyle. The sun room is naturally sunlit, and there’s an array of colorful orchids and plants that mesh well with the backdrop of the outdoor garden.
There’s no need to check the weather report; all you need is to gaze outside to see if you need an umbrella or if it’s the perfect day to wear a sundress. Her mom Elma enjoys tending to the orchids and entertaining guests in the green room, while her dad Charlie gets his cardio fix on the stepper. There’s also an air hockey table and comfy off-white couches.
During my stay, I would watch Nicole hang out with her friends and cousins in that room, while her dad browses through his playlist of classic tunes from the ’60s to 2014 (it goes from The Beatles to Frozen’s “Let It Go”) at the adjacent living room.
I took a peak at the green room for one last time before I left for New York, where I stayed at Nicole and Yoram’s artsy Brooklyn apartment as they headed to their next destination—Fukouka, Japan.
I was starting to show the effects of jetlag—dark eye bags, weight gain, a cold, and perennial sleepiness, but Nicole was as bright and energetic as the day she arrived from Europe. In fact, she was busy moving furniture hours before her flight to Japan that day.
“I don’t know how you do it,” I told her. Then I remembered when we were both New York newbies in 2007 and we talked about our dreams of trekking the globe. Realizing that we’re now both more mature and earning a higher paycheck by pursuing our lifelong passions, I felt a new surge of energy, enough to make me go from Vallejo to New York without any sleep.
“Text me as soon as you get there and let me know if you need anything,” Nicole said cheerily as she handed me the color-coded keys to her apartment. A new adventure began for my cousin and me, except that we’re at opposite time zones.