Goodbye, Prius

She sits in the lot at CarMax, her dark gray exterior even darker against the overcast winter sky in Maryland.

I blink back tears, then head inside to sign her away.

“Well, this is really easy,” the sales clerk says to me across his desk in the fluorescent lit office. “Just sign here and here, and then we will pay off your loan and give you a check for the difference.”

My mom sits next to me. I turn to her, my brown eyes watery.

“D, this is what you want,” she says, rubbing my leg.

Yes … but …

I take the pen and sign.

Deal. Done.

We walk back out into the nippy air and she’s gone. Gone. Whisked away before I could even let my fingers linger over her smooth body one last time.

I grab for my keys, out of habit, and sign when I realize the key FOB for her is no longer in my possession.

Mom and I pile into her car and sit there for a second.

“You OK?” she asks.

It’s not like I’ve lost something huge. But, my car … she’s gone.

My Toyota Prius

The first day with my car, July 4, 2007.

“Yeah,” I breathe. “I guess … well … now it is final. I’m really an expat when I sell my car.”

Yes, my sweet little Prius that I have loved for five years … gone. Taken into the depths of CarMax, hopefully to reemerge loved by someone who loved her as much as I did, even though I never gave her a name. But, rest assured, the Prius was most definitely a “her.”

For five years, she was my partner in crime. My friend. I’d sit in her comfortable seat, drive along on a soundless ride, challenge myself to use battery power versus the engine. She’s been my faithful companion on two major road trips. But more importantly, she’s seen me on the best and worst days in my life.

As we drive away from the dealer on my last night in Maryland, memories of my car run through my head. Sitting and toying with the little bubble in the steering wheel when the car was parked and I would just sit on my phone, talking through my bluetooth. Singing at the top of my lungs to whatever song would cheer me up. Hauling my life from Las Vegas to Maryland. Driving down Las Vegas Blvd. with travelers packed into my car listening to Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights.” In fact, most songs I hear involve a memory of driving in that car.

Toyota Prius road trip

Road trippin’ in comfort!

I’m not a very materialistic person. I don’t get attached to things easily. But, Prius (OK, we’ll name her that), she was mine. She was the first thing I had ever invested in. The first thing, other than my cats, I was truly responsible for. In a way, she was my real passage into adulthood. Not moving to Vegas, not getting a job, but owning a car.

Drive Toyota Prius

More than 3,000 miles crossing America … thanks to my friend, Prius.

But, at the end of the day, she was expensive. Really, really expensive. And, living in Thailand with no expected return date to the States? Well, there’s is no reason to continue to pay off a loan when I don’t even get to enjoy driving her.

There are times now in Chiang Mai when I will see a Prius drive by, silent in its passing, and I will smile to myself and think of the memories I have of my girl. Then, I look around at where I am and know I made the right decision. Hopefully, little Prius is making someone else as happy as she made me.

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Goodbye, America

I’m quiet on the drive to Dulles from my house.

I’ve already cried saying goodbye to the pups, and now, staring out the window as the suns rays just begin to kiss the tops of the trees, I hold back tears.

I’m leaving America. I am leaving the life I know.

I don’t take my eyes off of my surroundings as we drive, but my mind wanders back through the past few months. Through my Las Vegas life, my road trip, coming home to spend time with my friends and family in Maryland, my last night in America … moments flash before me as I tuck the memories, the images, into the back of my mind to pull up when I feel my heart ache.

Packing for life as an expat

The original plan is to drop me off at Departures. But now, after an entire day spent sorting and packing and unpacking and sorting and then vacuum packing (and tears), I’ve managed to convince my parents to park the car and head into ticketing with me.

I’m just not ready to say goodbye.

We head to United’s international ticketing counter, hidden on the other side of the ticketing row and I check my 70-pound bag (yes, it’s heavy … I’ve packed everything I could ever want for a year into it), and then slowly, slowly, my mom, dad and I walk to the security check point.

I feel the sobs bubble in my chest, my vision gets blurred with tears.

Just come with me. Just move to Thailand with me.

And, then, I just let go. I don’t care who sees me. I cry. Hard. In the middle of Dulles. Early in the morning. My parents hug me, wrapping their arms around me and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing.

“We’re so proud of you,” they both whisper into my ears. “We love you so much. Go and cherish every moment you have.”

We pull away, exchange looks and laugh/sigh at our state: watery eyes, smiles on our faces.

Celebration and sad at the same time. Bittersweet.

And then, I head through security and begin my exit from America.

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‘Twas the night before Expat Life

A tuk tuk driver races down the street in Chiang Mai

“You’re moving to Thailand?”

It’s been since February when I knew my future would take me to Thailand and I would become an expat. For nearly five months, my life has been in this stop-wait-move pattern.

Stop. Wait. Move. Stop. Wait. Move.

It gets tiresome after awhile. And severely emotionally draining.

Five months is a long time to know your future is right there, staring at you, banging down the door … and yet there is nothing to do but wait, wait, wait.

In March when I quit my job, I knew Thailand was coming down the pipeline. I just didn’t know when. Then, in April, everything was solidified. I had an offer at Save the Elephant Foundation. For those of you who are new readers, last autumn I spent a week at Elephant Nature Park and fell in love with the organization. In an instant, I knew I wanted my life to take me back to Thailand and back to the elephants.

Then, it was going to get my visa in April. Booking my flight for July 11.

It seemed like another lifetime until that flight.

Then, life became a whirlwind. A poorly-timed (yet awesome) trip to Sweden, followed by a move, followed by a drive across America, followed by two weeks to prepare for my new life.

Never did I pause. Never did I stop to think about … well … anything.

“Aren’t you scared?”

I have no idea how many people asked me that. Whenever I announced my plans, people would stop. They would stretch their eyes wide with a look of disbelief on their faces.

Scared? I am living my dream.

I never gave it much thought beyond knowing I was doing what I wanted to do. I was following my own set of rules.

My response would always be something to the extent of “No. I am not scared. I am excited. I am ready. I want to leave Las Vegas. I want to chase that dream I had back in September and actually use my talents to do something good. Something helpful. Something that will educate people about elephant tourism in Southeast Asia.”

“You’re so brave.”

Throughout all of my travels, that one statement has always echoed in my ears. From my friends. From people who don’t know me.

Brave?

It is really about being brave?

I’ve never thought of myself as brave. I try to steer clear of adventures. The bravest thing I have done is get naked in Sweden and that … well … it’s definitely not the same as jumping from a plane.

I tend to think bravery isn’t really what flows through my blood, but more of a passion. A desire to follow my heart. To live life the way I want. I am not settling for what the American culture tells me to have. Instead, I am going after what I believe in.

 The full moon rises in Maryland

And yet …

Tonight …

After the bags were packed, after my last dinner with my family … that bravery thing kept repeating in my mind.

I’m not brave. I’m not brave.

And then, I stop. I think. Is this being brave? Packing up a life, putting it in storage, saying “see you soon” to everyone I know and love and hopping on a long-haul flight to the opposite side of the world?

I wonder.

Tonight, my brother called me to say he loved me and to wish me luck. As we spoke, suddenly, I was overcome. Tears welled up in my eyes.

There is just so much emotion I haven’t even touched the past few months of my life. So much feeling I packed away because I just couldn’t … couldn’t think about anything but the future.

Be brave, D.

Even a few weeks ago, when I was learning more about my position, I emailed a friend of mine in a slight panic. Know what he told me? “Go. Be brave.”

It’s such a weighted word.

And yet, as I sit in my bed, on my last night living in America, it hits me.

Maybe I am?

I don’t know.

All I do know is I am giving it my all. I am giving myself the best chance I know to live my life with no regrets. To live for the now, and not for the happily ever after.

Am I scared?

I don’t think so.

Right now, there is so much adrenaline. So much happy. So much awe at the chance of possibility I don’t think I am scared.

Am I sad?

YES.

Without a doubt.

I forgot how nice it is to be with family when I lived in Las Vegas because I was so caught up in my life. To be home, to be with the people I love … to spend time with my parents … it makes it so hard to say goodbye.

The plane waits for passengers at Dulles

This is the end of this chapter of my life. From here on out, it is all new. Beautiful. Awesome.

Now, as I type this, I will be on a plane in less than six hours. Embarking on yet another journey.

Fear has never crossed my mind. I have full faith everything will work out exactly as it should.

And yet, I want to cry. To bawl my eyes out. To grab my parents, my brother, my niece, my friends, and make them all come on this journey with me.

But, that’s the thing about life: it’s mine.

I am moving to Thailand.

A year ago, if you asked me where I would be, I would have shrugged my shoulders.

Funny how life changes.

Funny how we adapt.

Here’s to the next chapter. I hope you enjoy the ride.

30 Life Crisis Americas Asia Blog Expat Life Maryland Nevada Thailand

Why I will never be a T-Mobile customer again: a photo essay

There are few companies I don’t like: United, PEPCO, Chik-Fil-A and T-Mobile.

Why?

United = horrid customer service and stupid fees that change

PEPCO = heads up their collective big-money arses

Chik-fil-A = narrow-minded PR nightmare

T-Mobile = crappy phones, crappy fees and the most epic of all fails ever — no service.

During my cross-country road trip, I had the privilege of learning first hand just how terrible T-Mobile is.

At first, when I had no service, I credited it to the fact that I was driving, oh, through the middle of nowhere Nebraska

TMobile Sucks 2

En route from Nebraska to Illinois.

. Then, when I had no service in the cities, I started to get annoyed.

What’s worse? When I did have service, it wasn’t with T-Mobile so the data I was using was no longer unlimited. When I got a text message en route to Chicago that I had exceeded my data limit for the month, I nearly lost my marbles.

“You claim to have the largest 4G network in the world,” I said as calmly as I could to the customer service agent on the other end of the line. “How is it that throughout my entire road trip I have had little to no service and having to use another network’s internet? I’m driving across the country. What is the point of having a cell phone if you can’t use it?”

So, they did one thing right: they upped my data. Even the agent understood my need for being able to access the Web. “You can’t have no internet when you are driving across America.”

Right.

TMobile Sucks 1

When we were out and about on our dive bar tour in Nebraska

TMobile Sucks 2

Driving home from our night out in Omaha. Awesome.

Tmobile sucks 3

Driving from Nebraska to Illinois … no service, no internet.

Tmobile sucks 4

Thank you, T-Mobile. How am I supposed to have a GPS if I don’t have my internet service I PAY FOR EVERY MONTH?

Tmobile sucks 5

Downtown Chicago and no phone service??

Tmobile sucks 6

Loading and loading and loading and then an internet connection error. In Maryland. Notice I was on AT&T.

Tmobile sucks 7

At a friend’s house in Maryland. And, once again, no service.

Tmobile sucks 8

No internet connection. Maryland. At least I have fleeting bars to make a call.

Tmobile sucks 8

And more. The one good thing? In Thailand, I have DTAC and have not had services issues once. Even in the jungle.

The icing on the cake??

Wonderful T-Mobile slaps me with a $200 cancellation fee when I tell them I am leaving the country for an extended period of time.

My advice? Opt for another carrier, another phone, another anything … or take the risk and see how it goes. I promise you this: if you live in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia or Maryland, you’re SOL for the most part.

Have you had similar issues with T-Mobile or another service?

 

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The failure of PEPCO

It’s the perfect summer night to be lulled to sleep by nature.

Outside my window, I can hear light rain drops plunk gently off plump green leaves. Frogs whirring their mating calls.

Except, it’s not a perfect summer night.

It’s the worst night the DC Metro area has had in … as long as anyone can remember.

Mixed with that calm and peace of the summer orchestra is the ear-splitting buzz of a chainsaw, the hum of generators. The fresh smell of rain is replaced by gasoline that hangs thick in the humid June night.

Only a few hours earlier, my parents had warned me we were getting a major storm from Chicago. A derecho (basically a tidal wave of wind and storms that are rare).

A radar look at the derecho storm that hit Maryland

Then, as the sun set and the crickets took over, the wind picked up. Rushing across the landscape at 90 mph, the powerful wind carved a path of destruction. Transformers blew. Thick, old trees were uprooted. Trampolines (yes, trampolines) were tossed into the middle of the street. Like a tornado, but without the quickness.

And, the night sky glowed almost a continuous pale blue from electricity cutting into it.

I was inside for most of it, looking out the window as the lightning splashed across the sky. From my safe confines, I didn’t hear the wind whip outside. I didn’t hear the cracking of branches and the bangs when they hit the ground.

As I drove home after the storm, a graveyard of trees littered the streets. Barely noticeable until on them, oncoming cars would flash their lights in warning.

When I pulled into my neighborhood, I couldn’t even get to my house because a huge portion of tree was splayed across the road.

This storm … it’s serious.

The aftermath of the storm damage in Maryland

The spot my car would have been parked …

Trees broken from the derecho storm damage in Maryland

An old tree, that was one full and towering, is splintered from the extreme wind gusts.

More storm damage from the derecho in Maryland

Nearly an entire tree rests on the ground after the storm.

PEPCO, our power supplier, only manages to supply power back to half of our neighborhood. Within 48 hours after the storm. Us? We aren’t nearly as lucky.

For six days, there is no power. My parents suffer more than I do. I hightail it to friends houses to stay cool and panic about the projects I have to do and the lack of power. There’s little cell service. Internet is down. Cable is down. It’s hot. It’s humid. People are cranky and mean.

The line at McDonald's after the derecho

The only place open for food in a 10-mile radius? McDonald’s. This line took about 45 minutes.

A wine tasting during the power outage at Safeway

A day after the storm, powered by backup generators, Safeway taps into our boredom and a distributor comes in to do a wine sampling.

My neighborhood is one of the last to have power restored.

When it comes on, I feel relieved. Stressed at the amount of work I have to do before I leave America … in five days. But happy to have my house back and time with my family. Home.

Americas Blog Maryland

Coming home

Pulling in to my neighborhood, I can feel my chest tighten.

The trees. When did they get so big? The homes. When did they get so old?

The woods in a Maryland backyard

“Welcome to my house,” I say to Erica as I turn the car off.

Home. We. Are. Home.

I open the bright red door, the same bright red door we’ve had since my childhood and am greeted by my parent’s two dogs.

Then, Mom comes out and wraps her arms around me.

I can feel myself loosen. The  excitement to come back to Maryland, the sad over the end of the road trip, the anticipation of my closeness to being an expat … they all flood through my veins.

I whisper in my mom’s ear that I love her. That it is good to be home.

Tired hits. We drove for more than eight hours today, from Louisville to Maryland with a stop for lunch in Frostburg to see my brother, an artist specializing in metal work.

Coming home, that tired just takes over and I quickly crawl into my bed as Erica gets herself situated in her room.

“Can you come and sit with me?” I ask my mom.

“Really? You’re going to sleep.”

But she knows this game well. Whenever I need to talk, to soak up my mom, I always ask her to come and crawl into bed with me. Even at 32, just having her next to me makes me feel at ease.

That’s when it hits me.

The magnitude of what I’ve just done.

Flashbacks roll through my mind:

I’m sitting at Putter’s across from my apartment in Las Vegas, drinking beer and shots with Dave on my last night in the city that has been my home for the better part of seven years.

I’m tucking my cats into their carrying cases, tears rolling down my face as they meow their protests. As I drive them to their new home, I sob. And, when I get to the house, it’s even worse.

I’m standing in my empty apartment, imaging where everything was. Seeing myself in my room. Playing fetch with the cats. Sipping wine on my balcony. Those memories seem so unfair as I stand there. The ghosts of the life I lived.

I lay with my mom and let tears roll down my face as I let the moments from the past month of my life sweep through my mind.

“It’s OK, D,” she says as I sit there, silently crying. “You’ve just done something major. And you are going to do something else major. You are allowed to feel like this. It isn’t easy.”

I know she’s right.

For now, I have two weeks to soak up my family and my friends in Maryland. And then, it’s on to Thailand.

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One year later

365 days. Wow.

A lot can happen in 365 days.

People can lose their job. Can find another job. Can fall in love. Can have a child. Can lose someone they love. Can see the world.

365 days ago, I embarked on a life-changing journey that would take me through Europe and parts of Africa, that would introduce me to new worlds. To new people. To a new way of thinking.

365 days ago I would have never imagined being where I am today. I would never have fathomed the experiences I would find myself a part of.

Yes. It was one year ago, today, when I left America. When I took my career-break. When I began my Adventure. It started in London.

Now, after one year of truly living, I can still vividly recall the moments leading up to leaving America. The moments on the airplane. The thrill of seeing the Atlantic sparkling in the sunrise. The anticipation of grabbing my backpack at Heathrow, getting on the Tube and the DLR and ending up at Sean’s place in Poplar.

I will never forget getting lost in Poplar. Wandering the streets around that part of London for hours, searching for a tiny sidestreet. Walking into bakeries and asking people where I was going. And the excitement I felt when I finally came across Sean’s place and found the little key tucked under a bench in her front yard. I will always remember meeting Tim and being quickly whisked from her house to the city, grabbing beers and then going back to her house and catching up on a lifetime that had happened since we had met in Croatia only months earlier.

It’s days like today, when I find myself sitting, reminiscing about the life I lived in those seven months abroad that make it impossible to do anything but hold tight to those memories. To those instances of life when you realize you are truly doing something so spectacular, so monumental …

Now, one year later, I have many moments, mostly when I am sad, where my mind transports me back to my trip … to a time when the world was my oyster (it still is, just in a very different way). I will be going to sleep at night, and an image of my journey will pop into my head and it fills me with such hope, such inspiration, such happiness.

Am I where I thought I would be a year ago today? Nope. Not even close. I am somewhere different … living a life that took me an adventure to realize I wanted. Is it permanent? No. Nothing is.

There are many moments when I find myself longing for the culture of Spain … for the crystal waters of Croatia … for the amazing friends I have met along the way. And the beauty of the past year is that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I can capture that again … perhaps in the next 365 days. Or longer. I just know it is there, smiling on my shoulder, rooting for me …

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