Book Four

I’m ready to make this public knowledge.

I’m going back to school!

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The process of deciding to look and eventually applying to this program dates back farther than most realize. Since you all are probably uninterested in reading my amazing admissions essay (you’re missing out), I will disclose lesser known and more personal details here.

Before going to Arizona State, I researched many other colleges and universities. I applied to several smaller schools, one of which was the Colorado School of Mines, a little but well respected engineering school. This was sort of a fantasy exercise, as I knew deep down the whole time I would attend ASU because I’d received a scholarship. Sometimes, its just nice to pretend to weigh your options anyway.

While studying at ASU, I really felt like I should go to graduate school. It’s just the next thing you do, right?  However, once I learned that employment is also a respectable option, I eagerly pursued that. A Master’s degree sounded nice, but realistically, I had stopped going to classes years ago and was ready to move on from student life.

You’re all well acquainted, or should be, with my life as a working woman. What you may not know is that I was constantly saying goodbye to friends who chose to leave the company, were transferred or let go. One particular friend left the company to go back to University of Cape Town for a Master’s in robotics. Do you remember that time I went on vacation to South Africa about a year and a half ago? The trip was life changing in many ways-  I met and interacted with amazing, diverse and intelligent people, took my first PADI course which turned me on to a new travelling hobby, soaked in so much culture and knowledge…. but the most instrumental thing was being inspired by my friend doing a Master’s there. I wanted to get to where he was- thoughtfully working towards something more and trying to change his sphere of opportunity. I left South Africa feeling motivated to make changes. I believe this is also what turned on my compulsion and at times obsession with traveling. When you travel, you see and experience things which trigger you to make decisions. 

This inspired me to research graduate programs and job boards. I looked at South Africa, United Kingdom, Norway, and other random places people suggested. I wanted to go back to the US; I wanted to keep living abroad. I just wanted to be anywhere but Qatar. I’m sure my family remember these times as I would call home, miserable and deliberating what to do with myself. Through this mental exercise, I discovered I don’t want to be an engineer in the conventional sense. I do want to stay in the energy sector. I searched universities in the USA. I stumbled upon a program at Colorado School of Mines which seemed interesting. The program involves studying 8 months in Colorado and 8 months at the French Institute of Petroleum outside of Paris. The degrees offered are “Petroleum Economics and Management” and “Mineral and Energy Economics”.  So- petroleum and energy related, but not engineering necessarily. I began working on my application and essay several months before the application even opened. In December 2014, I had submitted my application for Fall 2015. I put it out of my mind and went back to work.

In February 2015, I was laid off. In March 2015, I was accepted for the dual degree program. My parents and I deliberated the cost benefit of going to school or just moving to Houston and finding another job. This was again, a fantasy exercise, as I knew deep down the whole time I would go back for a Master’s degree. Sometimes, its just nice to pretend to weigh your options anyway.

And so, I move on to yet another phase of adulthood. I’m packing up my room again, this familiar task which seems to characterize the journey through my 20’s. I hope you all like cold weather.

Perhaps this is also the time to mention I will be transporting my belongings in a little U-Haul trailer hitched to my vehicle. I recruited/tricked a friend into making the drive with me and helping me get settled in Denver. I had a dream last night that I crashed the trailer because I was driving on the sidewalk because I was too scared to drive in the street.

Summer Time

A quick summary of the last month or so…

It was Ramadan. The days were long, much longer than in Qatar. I fasted with my family. I fasted alone. I missed the camaraderie of fasting in a Muslim country. I missed planning meals with my friends in Doha and making Ramadan a season to celebrate.

Instead, the celebratory season focused on an American holiday, one I’ve really been missing and was looking forward to. I celebrated my first July 4th stateside since repatriation. An eagle somehow ended up painted over my eye.

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I wore red white and blue and cowboy boots and stomped around like it was my birthday. I traded off wearing two hats- one American flag cap I had picked up from “The Local” in San Diego, and one camouflage hat from a truck stop chain in Oklahoma called “Kum N Go”.  July 4 th was simply magical, nay, religious. My friends and I went to see Third Eye Blind in Dallas. My face paint literally melted as I jumped up and down in the pit, singing along with Stephan Jenkins and hundreds of other fans.

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High energy and majestic, it was everything I’d dreamt about. I’d been dreaming about it.

The holy month continued, and I took myself down to Houston to see some family and Noel. (You may remember her from my days in Houma). She adopted Jerome when I moved to Qatar. He’s grown to more than double his size!

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While in Houston, my cousins and I participated in a charity event hosted by Amaanah Refugee Services. Rock The Block, as it’s called, is an event where we unload some trucks of groceries, sort, and bag them for families. We then take the bags to the complexes where the refugees live and distribute the bags of groceries. The unloading and bagging part of the day was fun, and only somewhat labor intensive. My cousins and I sang in our assembly lines and lead chants and claps. The food distribution portion of the day was not as whimsical, as we awkwardly knocked on doors and gave out food. Many of the families did not know why we were giving them food and didn’t speak much English. As such, the food distribution was basically just handing bags of food to people and running away. Reverse trick or treating?

Anyhow- the summer is coming to an end and many people are wondering, “What are you doing with yourself?”

Now My Days

I went to Thailand. I came back and immediately embarked on a road trip to Tallahassee with some of my favorite friends I made while working in Doha.

After roughly 6 weeks of travel, I am prepared to provide a synopsis.

Thailand was beautiful and fun and relaxing and full of activities, as advertised. Francis and I had a great time. As a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some of my favorite pictures from our time there.

Tiger Kingdom

This is me hanging out with some tigers and Tiger Kingdom in Phuket. It should be mentioned that to get to this Tiger Kingdom and subsequent destinations in Phuket, we boarded a taxi cab out of the ferry dock, and allowed him to take us around. He waited for us at every place and eventually took us to the airport. After getting over our fear of being robbed, the fear of driving in his car in the rain up hills, passing cars in the oncoming traffic lane really took hold. A simple picture- but what a crazy day.

Koh Phi PhiBeautiful Koh Phi Phi Island, where we spent the second week of our trip.

Maya BayFrancis and myself doing cartwheels at Maya Bay. We saw this small island by way of a “Sleep Aboard Tour”. We had a bonfire on this beach, ate curry out of a bucket, and slept on a boat. Some slept more than others. It was a great day of swimming, kayaking, jumping off boats and enjoying the peaceful and secluded beach.

View at DinnerTypical Koh Phi Phi view while walking down the main road for dinner.

Fire Show

This is what is known as a “fire show”. This photo was taken on the last day of our guided tour with Thaintro on Koh Phangan Island. Following this photo, Laila stays out all night until after 4am, then proceeds to attempt to catch a taxi at 6am, ride a ferry to the main land, take a bus across the main land, and ride another ferry to Koh Phi Phi. Laila considers this to be one of her dumber ideas and credits her survival to a loyal travel partner, Francis.

Elephants

Just kickin it with some elephants in Koh Phangan.

Bottle Beach

Heading to Bottle Beach in Koh Phangan.

Ferry

This is for some reason one of my favorite photos. Please note: BEAUTIFUL water and limestone formations in the background, taking a ferry ride, matching fruit shirts, mini water bottle I’m wearing around my neck, completely disheveled hair, ridiculous dive watch that I don’t know how to use and was a great conversation starter, and big grins all around.

Khao Sok National Park

This is Khao Sok National Park, where we stayed one night in floating bungalows. It was another beautiful day of swimming, kayaking, and washing my hair in a lake.

Cooking Class

Before arriving at Khao Sok National Park, we took an overnight train, where I developed an atrocious and offensive cough, and before that, we were here- in a cooking class. I’ve included this photo because Francis can not look at it without laughing herself to tears. This is not one of Laila’s smarter fashion choices. Whatever- no regrets.

After two fun filled weeks in Thailand, I spent a couple days in San Diego, mostly sleeping and recovering from a small fever. I came back to Dallas and as I mentioned, started road tripping. Two Norweigans and two Americans, we spent a day in Dallas. We spent a day driving down to Houma. I was finally reunited with Albert and Alice and all my old Schlumberger friends down there. I introduced my Doha and Houma friends and watched my worlds magically interface. We went to New Orleans. We saw some jazz music and were tourists on Bourbon Street.

On the road

We went to Tallahassee, I went to my friend’s High School reunion. I had fun. We went river tubing. Then… I felt chest pains which kept me up all night long. Assuming it was heartburn, I drank anti acid liquids, took Zantac, and ate a bucket of TUMS. As the pain worsened and moved to be concentrated in my back, I saw a doctor after four sleepless nights. I had an ultrasound, which revealed nothing. I was given pain killers and my mother, most alarmed, flew to Tallahassee. We drove to Pensacola and stayed with a cousin there. Though I was experiencing a health crisis, I popped my pain pills and had as much fun with family as I could. We went out to eat, to a farmers market,  and planted trees in my cousins marshy front yard. After 4 days of eating oatmeal- I started to feel better. During this time, mom and I had some road trip adventures in Florida and Louisiana.

Laura Plantation Home

We toured Laura Plantation and learned about Creole culture in Louisiana.

Swamp Tour

On a swamp tour, we learned all about the unique characteristics and building qualities of Cyprus trees, swamp ecology, and alligator hunting.

Caverns

There are caverns in Florida!

Eventual diagnosis was that I must have severe inflammation or esophagitis. Cautionary tale, dear readers, there IS such a thing as too much curry and too many road trip burgers and too many Chick Fil A breakfasts. In a row, they proved detrimental. Thankfully, my health complications were self induced and I am doing much better.

Now my days consist of laying in bed sending snapchats to my working friends with the caption “#unemployed”, cleaning out my closet, and secretly plotting my next move…

It’s 6 am

It is, as I feared,  that Francis is a superior traveller than I. After our nearly 24 hour plane journey and +14 hour time difference, we arrived in Bangkok around midnight local time last night.  Resisting the urge to immediately start ingesting curry and street foods, we went to sleep. After approximately 3.5 hours of slumber, I awoke at 4:30 am wide eyed and bushy tailed. I suppressed my morning spring and attempted to sleep longer. I laid restless until 5:30, and decided to sit in the reception area downstairs while Francis, seemingly unaffected by the jet lag, slept until a respectable hour. I envy her fatigue.

I sat in the reception less than a minute, and took myself for a small lap around the block. Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to report, that before 6 am in Bangkok, food carts are assembling in the streets and preparing fried chicken. I’m nervous to wander too far and alert Francis when she wakes, but I want everyone to know that it’s 6 am and I have already received a massage and am now eating red curry, soaking in some humidity, watching the street gradually become populated. 

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This Train Has No Breaks

Each of the following events deserves its own blog post; however, I’ve been so busy riding the fun train every day to take a moment and capture the events in writing. This is partly due to sheer neglect to my blog, but also because writing this blog has always been a part of my working life (I mean… it’s called ‘rigtales’), and I’m actively distancing myself from that period. Anyhow, let’s recap the last 20 days in all their glory.

May 1- My mother receives an award as a 2015 Piper Professor. Ten professors every year are named in the state of Texas. My sister, dad and my dad’s best friend from Egypt, and myself went to her reception at her college. She was radiant and brightly dressed. She gave an interactive and emotional acceptance speech, during which she, my sister and I all cried. Afterwards, we went to dinner. This is one of the many events I would have been missing if I was still working. It’s a privilege to be with my family.

The week leading up to Friday, May 8–  This event needs some context.  Both my grandparents on my mother’s side are M.D Ph.D. doctors. They moved to the Dallas area so my grandmother could conduct research at the Southwestern Medical Center and work at the hospital/school. (Details are fuzzy, I just know legend has it she was the greatest doctor in all of the land). My grandfather was an Ears/Nose/Throat doctor and later the chief pathologist at the hospital in Henderson, TX.  Now…. My sister is in medical school concurrently with doing research and getting her doctorate also at Southwestern Medical Center. She has finally reached a milestone in her program where she will be presenting her Ph.D defense on May 8. Her research is in lung cancer treatment and something else about growing cell cultures in the lab. (I’m no doctor).This is no joke and no one understands why she would go through all that school and pain and suffering…. well, someone understands.

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While my grandmother is no longer living, my grandfather, albeit mobility issues, has a vested and specific interest in my sister’s schooling. Most of our conversations are about my sister’s research, health and friends. He always concludes the conversations with praises and prayers for her. Without leaving any room for interpretation here: my sister is indisputably my grandfather’s favorite. This man leaves his bedroom to go to his kitchen on a weekly basis and has not been to a wedding or important family members life event in about a decade. Yet, for weeks leading up to May 8th, my grandfather has been adamant in voicing his intentions to witness her PhD defense. And so, I drove to East Texas on the preceding Wednesday to find my grandpa ready and excited to sit in the car with me for over two hours in the first part of the journey. For two hours, he questioned my directions and insulted my engineering abilities, saying, “You may be a Civil Engineer, but you don’t know where the highways go” or “Girl! Where are you going!!”, and my favorite, “Call your mom and ask her how to get there!!”. It was a little frustrating to diffuse his anxiety and keep driving. My grandpa stayed with us for a few days and he attended my sister’s PhD defense. He stayed out all day and even went out to dinner with the whole family in the evening. Again, I found myself grinning and shaking my head thinking, “I can’t believe I almost missed this.”

May 14th– A few weeks ago, I got a new car. I’m now rolling in a VW Tiguan! As such, we called upon, once more, our trusty friend Craigslist to sell the Rav4. As the inquiries poured in, the car was eventually sold to a young Afghani family who recently moved to the USA and are getting on their feet with finding jobs and raising their two young girls in another new place. The US is their third country to live in since leaving Afghanistan. What was supposed to be a quick and dirty car sale turned into the meeting of two immigrant families. We exchanged contact information and on this day, we’re finally going to go have some fun exploring Dallas! I took the woman and her two girls to the Dallas Zoo. I was totally impressed by these little darlings who were the only 3 and 5 year olds in the zoo without a stroller. They looked at animals, played in the kids fountain, and took pictures with all the animal statues. After the zoo, we met my sister at Spaghetti Warehouse in Downtown Dallas. The woman said to me, “This is the first time in this country I am sitting down at a restaurant.” We made plans to have other outings and I showed her different summer camps and programs for her kids this year.

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May 15th– My cousin Orpheus, his sons Zorro and Legume (you may remember O and Z from this post.), and wife came to town for his sister in law’s Master’s commencement. I met them at the Dallas World Aquarium. We had a day. We had a great day.

May 16th- The Bird Mart. Again, some readers may remember a few years ago the post about Sand Reclamation . My father’s life time hobby is breeding little birds. Lately, he is liquidating all his stock and supplies and bowing out of the bird business. A few times a year, there is a “Bird Show”, which is like a trade show for bird breeders and bird supplies. My dad and I packed up my Tiguan with some cages and birds, and drove 90 miles southwest to this spring’s, Bird Mart. Before the show opened to the public, my father had sold half his birds to other breeders, who apparently wait for him to arrive. My dad casually leaned over to me and said, “I have the best birds”. It seemed true. My dad’s alter ego lives in the bird breeding business. He is like a different person. Mid way through our day, he leaned over again and said, “I have never seen an attractive woman in the bird business. It’s all old women and gay men.”……”and me”.

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The evening of May 16th, I went to see a friend sing in her band at a pub in Dallas. Seeing my childhood neighbor up on the stage singing and working the crowd made my heart so happy. Again, I thought to myself about all the things you simply don’t get to see when you move away from home.

May 17th–  My best friend and I went to Scarborough Fair with her little niece. There’s no way to capture the magic of this day…. but here are some quotes from little 4 year old Norbet:

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“I have always wanted to come here and see what it was like” — On the drive to the fair, describing the other side of the highway

“I can’t believe we’re looking at real live rocks!”

*GASP* “It’s a real castle!!!” – upon entering the parking lot

*whispering* “I’m so excited” – sitting in the audience waiting for a birds of prey show

She was simply enchanted by the characters, who would talk to her and play as we walked through the park. One woman sang and gave her a little ribbon bracelet. For the remainder of the day, Norbet would say, “I want to go see the pretty lady. She sang so beautifully”. At one point in the day, we walked past the games. Renaissance festivals always have a Tomato Toss game, where you are given some tomato halves and attempt to hit a man behind a wooden board with holes cut out for his head and hands. The target man then insults and heckles the thrower and passers-by. Norbet just wanted to throw tomatos. They let her get very close to the wooden target board. As the man in the target saw her, he yelled at us, “Really? What do you want me to say to her?? She has butterflies on her shirt….. You make me want to settle down and have a family!!!”

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We all got our faces painted. As I drove home singing in my car, I again thought, I’ve really been missing days like this.

May 20th– Is tomorrow. I will be travelling with my favorite engineer and badass friend, Francis. (Also mentioned in this post from 2011). We are going to Thailand for 2 weeks. My backpack is ready and I’m excited to keep this fun train rolling.

No breaks.

Transferable Skills

A few weeks after coming home, I realized that life here has also progressed. Some things are the same, many are different. The songs on the radio are different. There are now “express” highways in addition to the normal highways. For example, you can take the exact same road in two options: express which is has a toll, or normally. My friends are doing great and have exciting changes in their lives as well. My sister just finished writing a 179 page PhD thesis about her lung cancer research, which is probably more pages than I have managed to write in the last four years of blogging.

I’m older. My parents are older, and most notably, my grandfather is older as well. I realized I have to make spending time with him a priority. So, after my month long ‘victory lap’ around the Western US, I went down to East Texas for a few days, a routine I hope to maintain weekly through the time I am here. It was awkward when he was confused or didn’t understand what I was saying. It was painful to watch him shaking and cringing as he slept for 16 or more hours a day. But I stayed at home, sitting beside him as much as I could. I found that as a result, I also slept close to 16 hours a day. I became a little lazy, not leaving the house even to do run necessary errands. I just sat with my grandpa, watching NBA playoff games and trying to engage him in conversation as much as I could.

Ironically, the few days spent inside the house, not seeing the sunlight, reminded me of being offshore. I didn’t get the itch or urge to leave, just sat and let the time pass. In the oddest of ways, maybe the most valuable skill I picked up while working as an engineer offshore was how to JUST SIT. As I sat for days and weeks waiting to get to work offshore, a mental tactic to quell the anticipation was to often think to myself I was NEVER going to work, but just sitting for the sake of sitting. Now as my grandpa heaves in his sleep and the single most exciting part of the day is sharing an ice cream with him. I find I’m comfortable sitting just to sit. I’m sitting just to spend time with a great man.

Plugs and Sparks

I understand now why it is called the “Golden Coast”. My car maneuvered the cliffs along highway 1, playing a leap-frog style pattern with the other cars stopping to take pictures at turn out patches scattered along the road.

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Thirteen hours after leaving Palo Alto, I arrived in San Diego, where I met my dear friend from college, and a fellow displaced former Whataberger employee enjoying his fun-employment vacation in Pacific Beach.  I hiked, I ran, I played. I ate burritos and I let the sun have its way with me. I did some whale watching and saw no whales. I went to the zoo. In recent years, I don’t enjoy zoos so much- they really seem a bit archaic and frankly, depressing. As the San Diego Zoo has such a great reputation, I figured why not check it out.

The San Diego Zoo, ladies and gentlemen, is totally worth all the hype it gets. While the entry fee seems a bit steep, its worth EVERY PENNY. Debbin, my fellow funemployed warrior, and I meandered into the zoo on a Monday around 10 am. As dictated to us by Debbin’s San Diego host: Step 1- ride the zoo bus tour, sit on the top level, right side. Step 2- Take the lift to the top of the zoo and work your way down the hill. I believe no simpler advice has yielded such rewarding results. I was equally in awe of the zoo animals as I was the zoo’s infrastructure. There are concession areas at every turn, stocked with pretzels with cheese and churros. The bathrooms are plentiful and hardly ever with a wait. The Zoo’s intricate road system often leaves people standing in the center of the park holding their maps upside down, confused and sad. There are zoo volunteers and employees appropriately dispersed throughout the park to placate the masses of confused and eager zoo goers. There’s outdoor escalators and moving sidewalks which take you through animal exhibits. Seriously, I can not stress this enough, the San Diego Zoo is amazing. During my day, I finally realized my life dream. My pie in the sky fantasy career apex is to work for a large company, plan the annual investor conference as an overnight zoo retreat at the San Diego Zoo. Presentations will be held in the zoo’s two movie theatres.

I left San Diego for Phoenix. Similar to the flat plains and grazing cattle scenery in North Texas, the Arizona desert strikes a chord with me. I get into town where I know all the roads. I drive around Arizona State’s campus for nostalgia purposes, and take myself to the Chipoltle near campus. I remember when this place opened and gave away free burritos. I’m finding the people I’ve kept in touch with the least are the ones I now have most in common with. We talk for hours and hours. We share stories and perspectives fluidly as the time seems to stand still. Occasionally we break to reminisce old stories, laughing until we cry.

There’s a particular feeling I’m learning- it emerges in a flicker and disappears. It appears in the following structure of conversation.  1.You take turns talking about some intense experiences you’ve been through and how it’s changed how you think about or approach life. You sit and listen for several minutes uninterrupted. You talk several minutes uninterrupted.  2.You tell a more lighthearted or funny experience, you listen to their funny story and laugh hysterically, as if you were there.  3.The hilarity reminds you of a time you were together, someone mentions “remember that time….” and you both contribute your specific memories to the event or time period. You laugh until you cry, and you look up at your friend, through teary eyes you dab or wipe away.

The end of the sequence is an exhale, where you’re just looking at each other. Sometimes there’s a slight head shake. That’s the moment the feeling sparks- complete respect and admiration for this person who is truly your friend. Its a delicate understanding, just listening and unassuming to all each other’s experiences, talking freely and laughing as if the years don’t matter.

Gushing Confession

I just wanted to see what it would be like. I drove myself across the Bay Bridge to roam around near by UC Berkeley’s campus. This has been my dream school for some time. I drove around the campus with my windows down. I found a micro-brew nearby that’s open all day and sat at the bar for a burger, hoping to spy on some students. One sat adjacent to me at the bar, reading intently on his laptop screen. Ah-ha! I thought to myself, A student in his natural habitat! After opening conversation with this young man, I discovered he was a student at San Francisco State, but a local of the Berkeley area.

After my lunch, I went hiking at Tilden Regional Park, behind UC Berkeley campus. [I got pulled over for running a stop sign, and was let off with a friendly warning and a trail suggestion.] I imagined what it would be like to live and study here and frequent this park. The hills covered any suggestion that I may be in a metropolitan area. As I looked right and left off the trail, all I could see were trees and grassy areas inhabiting the rolling hills. With my earplugs in, I waved my arms around and skipped side to side, basking in the solitude of this park. I made it to the top and looked out over the bay. Up there, one can see the buildings in downtown San Francisco at the end of the Bay Bridge, The Golden Gate Bridge shining through fog and mist, and the San Rafael Bridge, all connecting masses of green land, together they frame the Bay. It’s simply beautiful- and I think about myself. Yes, standing atop this hill and soaking in all this scenery, I think about myself. I pretend the years never happened and I was a UC Berkeley student, having seen this sight dozens of times.

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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!

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.