Good Morning, San Francisco

I headed west out of Denver about a week ago. Driving through the snow, I turned up the heat in my car, allowing it to warm the floor board and my feet. The warmth made me sleepy. The gray sky didn’t help. I pulled over on the side of I-80 to take a nap.

Several hours later, I am headed north towards Salt Lake City, Utah on Highway 6. It’s a small two lane highway. A truck pulling a trailer chugs along in front of me. I decide to pass him. As my car crosses the rubble strips in the center of the highway- I feel the car become heavy. Every warning light on the dashboard  illuminates and my speedometer reads 0MPH. I keep on rolling down the highway, taking note that my power steering abilities are no longer engaged. I’m two hours from my destination. I call my parents, who inform me of some mechanics to call and hotels to stay at in Price, Utah. I do as they say. While car trouble in essentially the middle of no where is never a good thing, I’m happy to be on the road and adapting to circumstances. Everyone in Price is friendly- I stay at a Best Western and eat Taco Bell before falling asleep. At 8am, the mechanic called me to make sure I didn’t need a ride to his shop. After some inspection- the verdict is my car battery exploded, leaving battery acid all over the engine and perhaps shorting out- which caused all the lights to come on. One car batter and a car wash later, I was back on the road.

I picked up my best friend from Salt Lake City airport. We’ve been friends since the 6th grade. I believe that friends don’t have to see each other or spend too much time together to remain close. However, it is so nice to get to spend longer periods of time with a friend after years of only catching up over dinner. We sing in the car, we stop at every random road trip whim. We danced in the salt flats in Utah, witnessed “Wendover Will” the world’s largest mechanical cowboy in Wendover, and ate at a Pizza Barn in Elko, Nevada. We giggled and made funny voices. I felt silly. We told each other stories and talked about life. I felt comfortable.

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We stayed the night in Carson City, Nevada before hitting the road again in the morning. The drive out of the mountains was incredible, particularly the stop around Lake Tahoe.

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This photo was taken with my Samsung S3. As we descended west out of the mountains, our ears popped and water bottles crinkled under pressure. We arrived in Palo Alto Friday afternoon to greet my sister who had flown in for the weekend and some dear friends from college who now live in the Bay area. One main goal on my road trip west was to see the “Redwood Forest”, as referenced in the song This Land is Your Land. Photos don’t do these trees justice, but I can now say that- I’ve seen them! Five of us embarked on a long walk through Muir Woods, just outside of San Francisco. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the wilderness. On our walk, I learned that the UN was founded in San Francisco. I stood inside a tree.

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20150328_155946It was everything I wanted- nature, beauty, adventure, friendship and family. A native of the Northern California area, Katy  made an excellent tour guide. After seeing the giant sequoia trees, we had some famous San Franciscan New England style clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from Boudin and went on to Ghirardelli Square to eat free chocolate.

Sunday, we went to a famous San Franciscan establishment, the Starlight Room at Sir Francis Drake hotel in downtown. There, I saw my first drag show in a brunch buffet format- Sunday’s a Drag. Laughs, shocks and awes were had by all. The fabulous host, Ms Donna Sashet made the event feel like good wholesome fun- honestly. Overall, an extremely fun and unique experience. The buffet included chicken and waffles, I mean…seriously! These ladies know how to throw a brunch!

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After brunch, we walked up and down the hilly streets all the way to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, stopping only for popcorn and to admire a famous Catholic Church at which Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe weren’t allowed to be married.

20150329_154349We devoured some crab in the evening and had a good night’s rest. The following day- We saw the Mrs. Doubtfire house and went on a “Duck Tour” of the city- Another recommendation if you enjoy fun.

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Today is my last day in the city. Having deposited my friend and my sister at the airport, I sit in a Starbucks contemplating what shenanigans to get up to on my own. Tonight I will have dinner with my dear friend and roommate from college.

Road trip rides again in the morning– SOUTH TO SAN DIEGO!

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This Moment Is Mine

The clock reads 4:22 AM and I feel dizzy as I get out of bed to silence the alarm. I gather my clothes from the dryer where they have been sitting all night and pick out a couple items to stuff into my packed bag. It’s now 5:00 AM and time to get on the road. The grass excretes water onto the edge of my jeans with each step I take. It’s wet, it’s early, and I’m cold. Mom waves goodbye and I take off into the darkness. I fill up my gas tank for $20 in the next town.

It feels like the first time I’m driving in the dark. It feels like the first time I’m driving in the rain. My car and I stay in the right lane driving under the speed limit. I fumble adjusting the windshield wiper, as if it’s my first time. The rain comes down harder towards me. In the dark, it looks like white streaks, splashing on the windshield. A giddy cry escapes my mouth. I’m all alone, in the dark, on the highway, marveling at the rain- like an alien seeing earth’s weather for the first time. It’s magical and the moment is all mine.

The clouds take a rest from rain. The landscape is dimly lit and filtered by gray clouds. I’m slowing down to drive through small towns between the miles of flat green pastures. I see a donut shop off the side of the road and pull myself over for a treat. “That’s 75 cents” says the man handing me a bag with one glazed donut. I give him a dollar and get back on the road. The donut is fluffy.

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My dad made me 6 MP3 discs to listen to on my drive. I’m singing along to the second variety mix as I cruise alongside train tracks. Hundreds of cattle graze to my right and left. Some force in my stomach pushes up onto my chest and my eyes water in response. I’m a tourist at home, ogling at cattle like its my first time. I even pull over to take their picture.

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This moment is mine. I sing along to Alabama’s Song of the South and stretch out my right arm to pretend I’m flying. Its silly and its personal, but I cried at the sight of cattle. How do you know you’ve been gone too long? That’s how….

The scenery gets more beautiful as I head north west through Amarillo. I make a road trip stop at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum. For $6, I learn about the breeding history, lung capacity, color possibilities and ranching of American Quarter Horses.

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I drive for another hour and stop for lunch in a little town in New Mexico- Clayton. A sign reading “Food and Drinks” lures me to park on the main street and pop inside. It is a historic quaint hotel dining room. I eat one chile relleno before getting back on the road.

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The clouds begin to part, revealing cracks of blue skies. It’s the most beautiful color I’ve ever seen. I pass by a series of towns with large feed mills.

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I pull over to snap some pictures and keep driving through New Mexico. I gasp at the sight of mountains and the picturesque sky. I gasp.

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I continue into Colorado and only stop once for gas and once at a scenic lookout spot marked off the highway in the mountains. The air is thin and crisp. I step out of my car and snap a couple more pictures.

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After more than 12 hours of emotional scenery and driving, I arrived in Denver, where Lynn is now living and working. You may remember Lynn from my early posts in Houma in 2012. I’m with my mentor and dear friend. We will ride bikes and explore Denver. Currently, we’re sitting in a coffee shop that’s playing Third Eye Blind over the speakers. I savor my breakfast burrito. This moment is mine.

Culture Shock

As I gradually announced to my friends and family that I’d be returning to the US, several colleagues warned me of the “reverse culture shock” I should anticipate. For the first day or so, I experienced no such thing. Everything was as I remembered- the people were friendly, my bed was comfortable, and my closet was full of boxes.

However, as promised, the reverse culture shock happened. It is real, folks. You can be alien to your home. Allow me to highlight the symptoms of reverse culture shock, in order that I’m experiencing them.

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1- Drinking water from the kitchen faucet.   After nearly two years of drinking ONLY bottled water or water coming from a water cooler, I turned my nose up at the thought of filling up a cup from the kitchen faucet. In Doha, restaurants do not serve tap water, but rather pour it from glass bottles with the same presentation and care as a bottle of fine wine. In America- water is free and we’ll even drink it from the kitchen faucet. I cautiously filled an orange plastic cup from the kitchen faucet at my sister’s. I hesitated before drinking it. I had no idea I’d become so accustomed to how I drank water.

2. Driving. This one is sensitive for me to address. As one of my best friends put it to me while driving around this weekend, “What happened to you? You used to be such a confident driver!!?”  Driving in America is terrifying! The highways are huge and everyone drives fast. There are different rules for city driving, but in general, everyone is moving so quickly. I’ve run over curbs in neighborhoods while making a right turn. I made an 8-point turn the other day. Driving is hard! Last week, my sister and I drove out to East Texas to visit my grandpa. We sang to the radio and I enjoyed the green scenery as the miles went by. Suddenly, a full grown deer carcass appeared in front of me. A tan mass of dead animal surly looked as though I could not run over it smoothly with my Rav 4.In a split second, I swerved violently to the right to avoid hitting it. The car skid off to the right, and I proceeded to swerve back and forth- right to left, as the tires burned the road leaving skid marks and the anti-lock break system pulsed. After nearly three oscillations across the highway, the car came off road and spun to be perpendicular to the road. This placed the front two tires into a small ditch. The woman who had been driving the car in front of us and *successfully dodged the deer pulled over to the road to see if we were okay. Within a few seconds, a wide brimmed state trooper hat emerged from another vehicle. They were concerned because of how my car had landed. My front two tires had become…..

3. Stuck in the mud. For several weeks now, Texas has gotten a lot of rain and even snow. As a result, all the grassy areas are muddy. My Rav 4 had become stuck in the mud, and my sister and I called my uncle to help pull us out. My car is now covered in mud. I forgot about rain. I forgot about mud.

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4. Food is not on demand. Over the weekend, I spent a few nights at my sisters. At roughly 2 am, I became rather hungry. Desiring snacks, I asked her if we could order tacos to the house. We couldn’t. In Doha, if you’re lazy, food will come to you. In Dallas, just go to sleep and eat tacos tomorrow. For the record, I DID eat tacos the next day.

Spare the Details

I’ll spare you the emotional post about traversing the globe and arriving back home. Let’s get right to business. My parents are feeding their Eclectus parrot, BJ, perfectly good human snacks.

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….and here’s his fortune.

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Looks like BJ and I have some ideas to discuss.

Full Boxes Empty Offices

Flights booked, shipping arranged, and visa cancelled. I’m free. I’m staring at customs paperwork for my shipment and thumbing through my passport pages. It’s seen my tears at the airport. It’s felt my tight grip signalling caution while getting onto subway trains and into taxi cabs. It’s been warmed some  winter nights as I smothered it with my pillow while we slept. It’s heard foreign languages and looked at me confused. I never thought so much of my identity was wrapped up in being American, but that resonates among the lesson books of experience written from my two years spent in Qatar. I always imagined leaving Qatar- and certainly leaving Schlumberger- I would be working to get back to my former self, a happier version I was in college or before the grind of rig life began to fragment my spirit. However, I’m sitting in my room, basking in the sunlight that comes through this window every morning. I’m looking past the suitcases and boxes in my room and staring into the empty office building across the street. I’ve stared at these vacant floors for years. I’m thinking I won’t be working towards “finding myself again” or trying to undo the years like they never happened. They happened, and I learned.

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Be kind to each other. Kindness goes farther than street smarts or book smarts or brute force. You never know who really needs it. Often times, smiling or saying thank you is the kindest gesture someone will receive that day- so simple, and so instrumental. Be kind to each other.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. Express yourself and most importantly, express gratitude for those around you. I’m used to being the most expressive person in a room….or a 50 mile radius. When I’m excited, everyone knows. When I’m upset, everyone knows. People who care always respond. Help yourself by being expressive. Help others by caring for their expression.

Defend yourself. I refuse to play by rules that don’t make sense. This got me into trouble sometimes in Qatar, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friends can be like family. I spent countless nights singing and dancing around with friends, totally unguarded, like a child. We often slept over in each other’s beds, falling asleep watching TV series and eating. There was a night spent jumping on the bed. We supported each other, confided in each other, and advised each other. When your family isn’t there- your friends can be like family. For me, my friends were also my colleagues- talk about blurred lines.

However, no one is truly family like your family is family. I had the brilliant opportunity to get to know my actual family better, with an Aunt just across the border in the Kingdom of Bahrain. I would sneak away from work for 24 hours or so, have dinner, play with my nieces and nephew, and sit with my Aunt. This is a part of my family I’d only briefly interacted with, and always surrounded by dozens of other family members. These days, though few in number, were simply invaluable.

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