The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations

The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations

by Paul Carr

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Bored, broke, and struggling to survive in one of the most expensive cities on earth, Paul Carr comes to the surprising realization that it would actually be cheaper to live in a luxury hotel in Manhattan than in his tiny one-bedroom London apartment. Inspired by that possibility, he sells his possessions, abandons his old life, and starts living entirely without commitments as a modern-day nomad.

Thanks to Paul's ability to talk his way into increasingly ridiculous situations, what begins as a one-year experiment soon becomes a permanent lifestyle—a life lived in luxury hotels and mountain-top villas. A life of fast cars, Hollywood actresses, and Icelandic rock stars. Of 6,000-mile booty calls, of partying with eight hundred female hairdressers dressed only in bedsheets, and of nearly dying at the hands of Spanish drug dealers. And, most bizarrely of all, a life that still costs less than his surviving on cold pizza in his old apartment.

Yet, as word of Paul's exploits starts to spread—first online, then through a national newspaper column and eventually a book deal—he finds himself forced constantly to up the stakes in order to keep things interesting. With his behavior spiraling to dangerous—and sometimes criminal—levels, he is forced to ask the question: is there such a thing as too much freedom?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781934708781
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 450 KB

About the Author

Paul Carr is a writer and journalist, specialising in media and popular culture. A former Guardian media columnist, he also edited various publications and founded numerous businesses with varying degrees of abysmal failure. After getting fired from every job he'd ever had - including at least two where he was his own boss - he realised it was easier to write about other people's success than to have any of his own. As the co-founder of two Internet companies he knows the world of Internet moguls both inside and out.

Visit Paul Carr's website at and follow him on Twitter at

Read an Excerpt

The Upgrade


The Disinformation Company Ltd.

Copyright © 2012 Paul Carr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-934708-78-1


Walk Softly and Carry the US Pacific Fleet

"Eight fucking pounds for a rum and Coke."

A little less than two years earlier and my life was not going exactly according to plan. It was a few days into 2008 and Robert and I were sitting in a dark corner of Jewel, a bar just off London's Piccadilly Circus. Robert was listening, somewhat patiently, as I railed against the cost of killing myself with booze in London.

I'd just turned twenty-eight. Following a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to start a dot-com business with my ex-girlfriend—so unsuccessful that I'd ended up writing a Schadenfreude-packed book called Bringing Nothing to the Party about how I'd lost them both forever—I had been forced back into freelance writing to pay the rent on my tiny London apartment.

Fortunately the latest installment of the advance from the book just about covered the cost of drinking myself into a coma every night of the week to numb the pain of failure. Just about.

"I wouldn't mind but it's not even good rum."

Jewel is that most vexing of things: an overpriced dive bar. A place where you go if you're a visitor in town and you think you're too good for the Cheers theme bar across the street. It's also something of a magnet for American girls, which was the sole reason I had insisted we move on there after spending most of the evening in a pub in Soho. My most recent ex-girlfriend was American (as was the previous one) and there was still something about the accent that made me fall instantly—and temporarily—in love whenever I heard it.

"Seriously, Robert, everything—absolutely everything—in my life is shit."

"If you say so. What happened to life being great now that you've decided what you really want?"

Robert might as well have put the words "great" and "really" in air quotes. Like all of my friends, he was bored of hearing me complain. Even though my book wouldn't be published for almost six months, he'd read a preview of the Epilogue in which I bragged about finally realizing that all I wanted to do was be a writer rather than some rich and famous entrepreneur.

He knew I'd been paid a decent amount of money to write a book about being a loser. He knew that, thanks to the book, my freelance earnings were up as commissioning editors asked me to write stories about genuine dot-com millionaires. And he knew that I was slowly but surely getting over my ex-girlfriend, even if I was doing it by picking up a succession of almost identical American girls in dives like Jewel.

"Yeah, it's great—objectively," I explained, draining my glass as the Eastern European waitress approached with another overpriced round. God, even I was tired of listening to myself.

"But I'm just bored. This time last year, all these ridiculous things were happening—I was writing a book, crazy American girls were setting up websites about my being shit in bed, I was being fired from yet another company, I was being thrown in jail!"

"But you were miserable."

"I know. But at least I wasn't bored. In less than two years I'll be thirty. That's the age when you're supposed to put away ridiculous things and start being responsible. But I'm twenty-eight—I've fallen into my rut two years early. Nothing ridiculous happens to me any more."

And with that—exactly as would happen in a movie, if there were a movie shit enough to be set in the Jewel bar—something ridiculous happened.


Had the man who had just walked in been dressed normally, the first thing Robert and I would have noticed was his size. He was fucking enormous. But he wasn't dressed normally; he was wearing full US Navy dress uniform complete with a chest full of medals and a white hat pinned under his arm. He swaggered—that's really the only word for it—up to the bar, laid down his hat and ordered a drink. Turns out if you want to get served straight away in a crowded London bar, you should arrive wearing full US Navy dress uniform.

"Jesus. Look at that cunt," I half slurred, pointing my rum and Coke towards the sailor. There was no doubt in my mind, of course, that he was a cunt. Only a cunt would walk into the Jewel bar wearing full naval dress uniform. Hell, only a cunt would walk into the Jewel bar. Robert and I were cunts, but at least we weren't dressed like sailors.

He was also clearly not a real sailor. American naval officers tend not to hang around in Piccadilly Circus dive bars on their own, especially not wearing medals and with gleaming white hats under their arm. No, I'd read about his type: pick-up artists who prowl bars dressed in attention-seeking costumes, picking up vulnerable divorcees or drunk girls from the provinces who would buy their "sailor-on-shore-leave" crap, despite the fact that they were 120 miles from the nearest US naval base.

I had to give this guy style points, though—most fraudsters just slip on a dog tag and Photoshop a fake ID—they don't bother renting the full costume, complete with medals. Kudos, fraudster. Kudos.

Ah well, at least it would be good for ten minutes of fun. I knocked back my drink and marched over to the bar. Robert, reluctantly, followed close behind—all the better to drag me away for my own safety once the fists inevitably started to fly. He'd spent enough time around me drunk to know how this would end. I just couldn't help myself.

"I'm Paul," I said, extending my hand to the costumed giant, "who are you?"

"I'm Mark," replied the man, taking my outstretched hand in a vice-grip and shaking it just once. His accent was unmistakably American and, oddly, he didn't seem fazed by the fact that he was shaking hands with an angry looking drunk stranger.

"Mark what?" I demanded, refusing to let go of his hand.

With his free hand he reached into a pocket and pulled out a business card. It looked like it had been produced on a vending machine. Minus one style point. "Mark Kenny." That proved it. Never trust a man with two first names.

"Oh please," I said.

"What's the problem, sir?" he asked, his face a picture of innocence. The slimy bastard.

"Oh come on." I said. "Look at you, dressed like that in the fucking Jewel bar. We both know you're not really ..." I squinted to read the job title on his card as the last rum took its grip. "The US Navy Commander for the Center for Submarine Counter-Terrorism. Ha! Does that job even exist?"

"I hope so, otherwise I've wasted a lot of training," he lied.

"He's good," I said, turning to Robert, "I'll give him that."

Robert was tapping away on his phone, presumably looking up the name "Mark Kenny" on Google—or Wikipedia, or something—to prove that the guy was lying. Without looking up from the screen, he asked the question that would clearly prove to be the undoing of this "Mark Kenny."

"What do you think about Rudy Giuliani?"

Bit of a left-field question to open with, I thought. To the best of my knowledge the former mayor of New York wasn't a naval man. And I couldn't see what this guy's opinion about American politics was going to prove either way. Still, I had every confidence that Robert knew what he was doing.

"He's a good man," replied "Mark." "I've spent a little time with him."

"Interesting," replied Robert, his eyes still fixed on his phone.

"Oh, come on, Robert, you're not really buying this shit? I mean—just look at this business card and what the hell are these medals supposed to be?"

I turned back to "Mark" and yanked at one of the half-dozen or so fancy-dress shop props pasted to his chest. It was pretty well fastened. Plus one style point.

"What did you say your job was?" Robert butted in again, making eye contact with "Mark" for the first time.

"I didn't," he replied, "but your friend has it on my card. I'm with the Center for Submarine CT Operations."

"Yeah, um, Paul ..." But I didn't let Robert finish his sentence. There was no need. This had gone far enough. It was one thing this charlatan lying to gullible women, but now he was lying to me. And I was very drunk.

"OK, seriously ... you expect us to believe you're in charge of submarine counterterrorism for the US Navy and yet rather than being—I don't know—on your ship ..."

"Boat ..."


"Boat," he repeated, "a submarine is a boat."

"Fine—rather than being on your fucking boat, you're in the Jewel bar in Piccadilly fucking Circus. Let me guess, al-Qaeda are planning to smuggle suicide swans into St. James's fucking Park to break the Queen's neck with their fucking wings."

"Um, Paul ..."

"Wait a minute, Robert. I mean, you're honestly saying that the US Navy gives out business cards like this and that its captains wander around foreign countries in dress uniform ..."

"Actually, I'm not a captain I'm ..."

"No, I know you're not a fucking captain, you're ..."


There was something about Robert's tone—perhaps the fact that he was shouting it right into my ear, with his hand pressing firmly down on my shoulder—that made me pause.


"He's right. He's not a fucking captain, he's a fucking rear admiral."

"Rear Admiral Mark Kenny," said Rear Admiral Mark Kenny, Commander of the Center for Submarine Counter-Terrorism Operations, former commanding officer of the USS Birmingham and close personal friend of Rudolph Giuliani, extending his hand again.

"You know, you could have just asked to see my passport."

He reached into another pocket and pulled out his diplomatic passport. Oh. Shit. Plus one thousand style points, Admiral. I sobered up immediately, and started to—kind of—whimper. "Um ... I'm really sorry about the medals, man." I assumed an American would like being called "man."

"Err ... you could probably have me killed, right?"

"Probably," he said, with a shrug.

"Or I could just throw you to the suicide swans."

Robert's hands were on both my shoulders now, steering me towards the door. "Shall we go, mate?" he asked, through his tears of laughter. Yeah. I think that's probably a good idea.



I woke up the next morning with a laugh. Had I really accused a rear admiral of being a conman last night? Yes and—Jesus Christ—I'd even tried to tear off one of his medals. He could have snapped my neck, and then just walked away, claiming diplomatic immunity. I've seen Lethal Weapon 2; I know what goes on.

But, still, what a rush, eh? The first ridiculous—ridiculously stupid—thing I'd done in months. It was just like old times. Perhaps things weren't so bad after all. I grabbed a slice of cold pizza from the night before, and scooped up the mail from my doormat.

A whole load of bills, of course—taxes, phone bill, broadband—but also a big brown envelope from my landlord. The lease on my apartment was up in February and this would, presumably, be the contract to renew for another year. Another year in overpriced, dirty London. Memories of ex-girlfriends on every corner, and cold pizza for breakfast. The idea hardly filled me with joy.

But, no, it wasn't a contract, it was a letter. Due to the looming "credit crunch" my landlord had decided that the "generous" £900 ($1800 at the time) monthly rent I was paying for my tiny one-bedroom in South London wasn't enough. I had a choice: either accept a 20 percent hike, effective immediately, or I'd have thirty days to find somewhere else to live. A piece of cold pineapple stuck in my throat. First the girl, then the business, and now my apartment—it was like watching a Slinky spring fall from grace. Thlink ... thlink ... thlink.

I threw the envelope onto the sofa and took the two steps across the room to my desk. There was no way I was going to be bullied into paying nearly £1100 a month rent for such a tiny place—and not least because I couldn't afford it. I was earning less than £2000 a month—before tax—from freelance gigs and, on top of my £900 rent, I was paying about £75 a month in local tax; £40 for phone, Internet and TV; £80 for a cleaner; almost £100 on a monthly Tube ticket just to get into the center of town—nearly £1200 a month before I even left the house.

Given the cost of living in London, paying £1100 in rent alone was out of the question, unless I wanted my next address to be a debtors' prison. I opened up my laptop and fired up Google. There really is nothing more useful than Google at times like this. No matter what major life decision you need to make, you can rely on it to deliver site after site of utterly irrelevant trivia to distract you from it.

On this occasion, the major life decision I needed to be distracted from was which cheaper, scummier part of London I should move to at the end of the month—and Google didn't disappoint. "London is too expensive." I typed the words into the search box and hit the submit button. I wasn't really expecting an answer to the problem; I just wanted to vent my frustration.

On the first pages of results there was a site showing the real cost of living in every major city in the world. From that I was able to see—in stark bar-chart form—that, after Moscow and Tokyo, London was the third most expensive place to live on planet earth; 30 percent more costly, on average, than New York City. Alarming stuff, but, given that I'd paid £8 for a rum and Coke the previous night, hardly surprising.


More cost of living trivia, this time from a site that was trying to encourage me to buy an apartment in Europe. Did I know that moving to Frankfurt or Madrid would save me a staggering 80 percent in rent and 40 percent in general cost of living? No, I did not, Google, thanks very much for rubbing that in.

Anyway, Madrid might be fine for a weekend break—or at most a few weeks over the summer—but I wouldn't want to live there. I only speak about two words of Spanish, for a start; also I have no beef with bulls.

But then again, maybe a vacation wouldn't be such a bad idea. I didn't have to make the housing decision straight away, after all. If the cost of living was really so much less elsewhere, I could afford to put my furniture in storage and take a month out. Visit another city, check into a hotel for a month and decide on my options.

Perhaps not Madrid, but maybe New York—I had lots of friends there, and I knew from experience that at this time of year I could negotiate a decent room in Manhattan for $100 a night if I stayed more than a week. At the current exchange rate—almost exactly two dollars to the pound—that was £50 a night. £1400 for the whole of February. The amount was a nice coincidence, actually. £1400 was exactly the same as I'd be paying in total if I agreed on the rent hike in London, when taxes, phone, cable TV and all that stuff were factored in. Stuff that I wouldn't have to worry about in a hotel.

And, of course, by being out of London for a month, my cost of living would be hugely reduced—so I might actually have a better quality of life, for less money. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good plan. But why stop at a month? Under the US Visa Waiver Program—which allows Brits to enter the US without applying for a formal visa—I could stay in America for up to ninety days.

Maybe I could see a bit of the country—outside Manhattan, hotels would probably be even cheaper. And after that—well, what was the rush to find a new place? There were bound to be hotels in Europe, or even in parts of the UK, where I could stay for less than $100 a night. Really I could travel for as long as I liked: one of the perks of being a freelance writer is that I can pretty much work from anywhere there's a desk and a decent Wi-Fi connection.

It was at that exact point, as I took another bite of cold pizza, that somewhere deep inside my brain a synapse fired. Tzzziz.

A whole minute passed, although it seemed longer. I just sat, staring at my laptop, paralyzed by the idea. It seemed so obvious, but at the same time so ... what was the word ...? Ridiculous.

A ridiculous adventure.

That settled it.


I've always loved hotels. I love drinking in their bars, I love eating in their restaurants and above all I love staying in their rooms. Which is lucky as, for much of my childhood, that's how I lived.

My parents have been hoteliers for their entire career—some eighty years, combined. The day after I was born, they carried me, in a little basket, back to their suite at the King Malcolm Hotel in Dunfermline, Scotland, where my dad was the manager.


Excerpted from The Upgrade by PAUL CARR. Copyright © 2012 Paul Carr. Excerpted by permission of The Disinformation Company Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 100 - Walk Softly and Carry the US Pacific Fleet,
Chapter 200 - Naked Brunch,
Chapter 300 - Beer and Togas in Las Vegas,
Chapter 400 - What the Hell Was I Doing, Drinking in LA?,
Chapter 500 - The Freaking Rolling Stones or Something,
Chapter 600 - French Toast in a Bowl,
Chapter 700 - Diss me, Kate,
Chapter 800 - I Left My Heart, Liver in San Francisco,
Chapter 900 - Oh Deary Me,
Chapter 1000 - Like I've Never Been Away,
Chapter 1100 - A Finely Oiled Machine,
Chapter 1200 - Change I Could Believe In,
Chapter 1300 - Trending Downwards,
Chapter 1400 - Butt Lands,
Chapter 1500 - A Second Chance,
Chapter 1600 - Once You're Lucky,
Chapter 1700 - Twice You're Screwed,
Chapter 1800 - Going Public,

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