The Victory Lap, Real Life, and Other Thoughts.

Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

I've been putting off this last installment for a long time now. The fact is, after a month of being in the states, I still don't feel like I can truly get my arms around the journey that Kelly and I just under took. But here goes nothing...

We departed Bangkok for San Francisco on February 22nd. As it turns out, because of the date line crossing, February 22nd ended up being forty seven hours and 45 minutes long for us that day. Kind of weird, and not good for the old body clock. As we got into San Fran it was nice to hear everyone speaking our native tounge again. The lady at immigration was staggered to hear that we had hit twenty countries and was beaming as she welcomed us home. To be honest, I was expecting a cavity search. As I was waiting for our baggage to come out, I helped my self to a drink of water from the water fountain. It was a surprisingly nice treat and one of those millions of things that we take for granted every day. But I hadn't sipped from a water fountain in over a year. Kelly, duley inspired, announced that she was going to go flush some toilet paper. She was almost skipping as she disappeared into the ladies room.

As we took our first steps beyond the baggage claim area, we immeadiately found our friends Kevin and Anne who were there to greet us. Also there, however, were our friends Jeff and Amy who had flown down from Seattle to welcome us home. It was a really nice surprise and it felt good to actually have people there at the gate who cared about us and not just a taxi or hotel tout. We exchanged hugs and got into Kevin's phat ass Lexus with a camera that tells you what's behind you and a computer with a GPS on it. Coming from Vietnam, this seemed like we were riding on a spaceship. Over the next few days, we continued our vacation through the generousity of Kev and Anne. We hit wine country. We rode bikes around San Fran, which is arguably the prettiest city in America. After spending a year living out of our packs we were amazed by all of the creature comforts that we enjoyed while staying at Kevin and Anne's yuppie dream pad on Russian Hill. They know how to live well. Of course, they might say the same about us.

After a few days in San Fran, we flew out to Kansas City. I have relatives in Kansas City that I had not seen in a while. So we made this the second stop on our victory lap. While we were in the shuttle van heading to get our rental car, I was struck by the fact that four commericals in a row on the radio were about either suing somebody, or protecting your assets. I was sickened. Why is everyone so afraid? How about a little accountabilty for you actions? If you slip on a grape, and break your arm, maybe you'll be a bit more careful in the produce section next time. That cast is NOT your winning lotto ticket. As I mentioned this to Kelly, she said that she was having some issues with the abbrasivness of the radio personalities that we had heard on our drive to the airport that morning. I guess it's just one of those things that you just kind of accept, until you have been away for a while. We are constantly bombarded with messages of alarm. Protect yourself from germs, from car crashes, from debt, from hot coffee, and the dreaded "evil doers". Guess what America? The sky is not falling. Let's stop being afraid and pull our heads out of the sand. End of rant.

Driving into Kansas we noticed a marked increase in the number of SUV's from San Francisico. Most of these held just one person. This, again, struck us as kind of funny. In most of the countries we visited any one of those vehicles would have been carrying at least a dozen people. We were also amazed at the expansiveness of everything in the Kansas City area. After being in Vietnam were where everything is so close together, this seemed like an incredible waste of space. But there is a lot of space in Kansas.. so why not spread out a bit? We stayed with my cousin Bronson and his wife Christy. They live in an amazing house in the suburbs and have a family straight out a Norman Rockwell painting. They were very gracious hosts and we enjoyed getting to play with their little girls. I was really anxious to see my grand parents and we had the chance to spend a lot of time with them. My Grandpa had fallen over dead on Christmas Eve, but was brought back to life by some Johnny on the Spot EMT's. So this visit was like a gift. He's a tough old bastard and he is without question one of my heros. You would never know that he had flatlined a few weeks before hand. He was talking up a storm and was getting around quite well. My grandma was her usual talkitive self. It was a lot of fun to listen to them spin the yarn about just about anything and I had fun talking with my grandpa about politics as we tend to share the same views. We also got a chance to see all of my Aunts and Uncles, and most of my cousins along with their families. This visit to the heartland was a lot of fun and very comfortable. I'm always impressed when I head back to Kansas to see just how close all of my relative's families are. My family is scattered to the winds and we don't see each over nearly enough. But that's just how it is.

We flew into Chicago for the next stop on our victory lap. We promptly got our "EL" cards and headed back into the city. I'm a huge fan of public transportation and the El is just about as good as it gets in the states for public trans. That being said, compared to the train systems we've seen everywhere from Santiago, Chile to Bangkok, Thailand, the El is a piece of shit. It's dirty, slow, and rickety. It doesn't have a place for you hold on to if you are standing in the asiles. Why is it that these countries where people make a few hundred bucks a month have great trains and subways and ours is a hunk of shit? Something to ponder. Anyway, were not prepared for the winter blast that was waiting for us in our home. Of course, logically we knew that winters in Chicago are cold. The thing is, we had forgotten what cold is. I mean real cold. This was not a pleasant reminder. As we trudged down the ice covered streets with our packs and bags full of goodies from Vietnam we cursed ourselves for being stupid enough to come home in February. We were only planning on staying in the city for a few days. Just long enough to get an apartment, some cell phones and see our friends. My buddy Neill was kind enough to let me crash on his couch, while Kel stayed at her best friend, Liz's place. It was weird saying good bye to Kelly as she left to go over to Liz's. We had been together just about every waking moment for over a year and I was kind of used to having her around. But, I was also ready for a little Nate time with the boys. That night we celebrated a friends birthday with MANY drinks and some thick steaks. I was out of drinking shape for sure, and the next morning I decided that I was okay with that. Kelly came back to get me the next morning so that we could begin our search for a place to live. We were both a couple of chatter boxes and it was fun having new things to talk about with each other. I guess there is something to be said for that whole absence making the heart grow fonder thing, even if it's only for a few hours. But to be honest, I would have to say that togetherness also has that effect on the heart. This trip has made Kelly and I a much better team and I appreciate her more now than I could have imagined eighteen months ago. Anyway, we spent a very long and cold day walking around looking at apartments. It was long and discouraging work. The process was compounded by the fact that we have a dog, and that neither one of us was currently employed. Not exactly a landlords wet dream. Our spirts were bueyed by the fact that while exiting yet another sub par apartment, the Govenor of Illinois, Rod Blagoiovich came jogging by us on the street. We took that as a good omen. That night we went to a Mexican Restaurant where a few of our friends had reserved the back room for a sort of welcome home party for us. It was amazing to feel the love as twenty or so people came to see us. Many of them brought babies whom we got to meet for the first time. It was clear from the beginning that the dynamic has changed in our fair city, but that's the way life goes. All of our friends looked great and it was overwhelming to see all of them at once. Most everyone remarked about how skinny I'd become. I did lose a lot of weight, but I guess I didn't realize just how different I look now. We ended the night at a bar down the street and we all signed off at about 1:30 in the morning on a school night. I was glad not to be working that next day.

After a few days, and finally some success in finding a place to live, it was time to head south to see Kelly's folks in Bloomington, IL. We left from Union Station on the Amtrack which of course was late and got into Bloomington way behind schedule. We met my father in law, Kim, on the platform. He wasn't pissed about having to wait in the slightest, as they have opened a new bar across the street and he was trying it out. We got back to their house and after saying hellow to everyone, started going through all of the stuff that we had left with them. After living out of a backpack for a year or so, all of these extra clothes seemed awfully superfluous. We also had a great time opening all of the packages that we had sent home from various places around the globe. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we still liked everything that we had bought. That night we spent watching The March Madness Basketball tournement on TV. Kelly's family cracks me up with how much they like basketball. It's a marked difference from the house that I grew up in. I think it's pretty cool actually. Also cracking me up was Kelly's sister Jessi. When Kel and I first started dating, Jessi was a little girl of about nine years old. Well, she has decided to grow up. Now at sixteen she's hardly the awkward teenager that we said good bye to a year prior. It's ridiculous how much people can change in just a year. She's a great kid..and she had fun driving us around in her new car, while blaring the worst music I've ever heard. What ever happend to unapologetic rock and roll? Why is all of the music on the radio shit? Think about that and get back to me.... We had a nice visit over the next few days and we managed to get our resumes together and start the process of looking for work. It didn't take long for my phone to ring and it was a former coworker calling to see if I wanted to work for him. So... that didn't take too long. I don't even live in Chicago yet, and I've got a job lined up. Finding work was a small worry of ours and it turns out that it was a needless one. Score one for the good guys. Kel and I had grand plans of taking the Grey Hound to Cincinnati to see my parents. As it turns out, it is REALLY expensive. To make up for it though, it's really dirty and slow. So, Jessi was kind enough to let us borrow her car for a week or so. I thought this was very generous of her.

Getting to my folks house was something that I had been looking forward to all year. We just saw them at Christmas, so it wasn't like we had too much to talk about... but they have been watching our dog, Margo, all year. We were really looking forward to reuniting with her. I love my dog. Anyway, we enter the code into the garage door and open the door to the house. There to greet us was a giant blob of fat, covered in black and white fur. Margo had gotten Carney Wilson fat. We dropped her off at an athletic 45lbs and picked her up a year later at a staggering 62lbs. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a 37% increase in weight. We were floored, but happy to see her nonetheless. She seemed happy to see us and had a vague air of recognition to her. I'm not convinced that she remembered us fully though. Kelly's eyes were tearing up out of happiness for seeing our girl and our of pity for how she looked. As it turns out, my folks were mistakenly feeding her from her water dish which is about twice the size of her food bowl. So she was getting way more food than what she needed. You'll be pleased to know that she is slimming down nicely. We spent a few days with my folks catching up and eating home cooked meals. You would be surprised to find out how much one can enjoy cooking when one eats out all the time. My mom taught us how to make pastry and we made some really good meat pies one night. Pastry is no joke man... it's hard to make and easy to screw up. Lessons are going to be a necessity if we are going to start a pie shop. I was really impressed with my parents new found devotion to fitness. Since we had been gone they have put in a home gym in their basement and have been using it. They are looking good and I'm really proud of them.

After a few days in Cincinnati, we loaded up into our car that my folks had been storing for us. We were on our way to see Kelly's brother Cody and his family in Virgina. Unfortunately, the car didn't start. It had been a long time since it had been driven and the battery had died. Eventually we got it started by jumping it and we cruised a few miles to a gas station to where it died again. Fortunately, a nice man was there in a flash with an offer to jump us. He did and we were back on the road in no time. After numerous wrong turns and some construction, we finally arrived in Richmond, VA about twelve hours later. It should have taken us about eight. It was a long and trying day, but at least we were there. We pulled in to Cody's cul-de-sac and discovered that not only had we arrived, but so had they. Their new house was immacuate. It's set in this perfect neighborhood and is exactly the kind of place that one would pick for raising kids. We went inside and said hello to our new niece Mallory, our 18 month old nephew Landon, and their supermom, Julie. It's funny how you can go away for a while and come back and new people have happened. We spent hours catching up and laughing. It was a nice end to an otherwise really long and trying day. The rest of the week we spent hanging out, playing with the kids, reading books, checking out the area. Kelly and I really like Richmond. In fact, we discovered it a few years ago and told Cody and Julie about it. We must have made a convincing arguement, as they live there now. I can see us moving there at some point for sure. It's a great place. Big enough to have lots going on, yet small enough to not get lost in the crowd. One day we went to Jamestown. I found it funny coming from Europe and Asia that we make a big deal out of something only a few hundred years old. We also went to colonial Williamsburg. Again, it was nice, but I don't think someone from England or France would be all that impressed. Regardless, the parks were really well preserved and it makes for an interesting afternoon. We ended up staying in Richmond for the better part of a week. In doing so, I have a new found respect for the stay at home mom. Julie was busy from sun up to sun down with the kids. Not once did I see her resting. Not once did I see a bon bon being consumed. This stay at home mom business is for real. Much harder than being in an office. After six days in sunny Virginia, it was time to head back west.

This trip went much more smoothly than the one coming east. We stopped in Charlottesville to check out UVA. It was without question the best looking campus I've ever seen. Not just the red brick buildings, and the hills, and the budding hardwoods. But the people were downright beautiful. They must make you staple a headshot along with your stellar SAT scores when applying UVA. I didn't even see one hippy. This was odd to me as I went to Ohio University. Which was our next stop on this freedom train. I called my brother Ethan who is a senior at OU and asked if he would mind if we stopped by and spent the night in Athens. Athens, Ohio is a magical place. It would probably be lost on a lot of people. But if you have spent four years of your formative years there, you would understand what I mean. I haven't met a single OU alumni who doesn't habor this deep seeded love for that town and the university that lives there. We had a nice time hitting my old college bar haunts and even spent some time in "Mayberry Corner" at The Pub. The next morning we got some coffee at Perk's, a coffee house that I helped to start 12 years ago, then headed out of town. I was profoundly sad seeing Athens in my rearview mirror because I don't know that I'll ever have a reason to go back there now that Ethan is graduating.

Authors note: this entry has taken me over six weeks to actually complete. So I'm going to stop boring you with the details of our victory lap.

Kelly and I got an apartment and moved in with the help of some clown that I hired off of craigslist. Once all of our furniture was in, we realised that we both have too much stuff, and at the same time, don't have much. Our big apartment is nearly devoid of furniture, yet all of these clothes that are stuffing our closets and drawers seem pretty superfluous after living out of a backpack.

I got a job as a contract recruiter working for a big bank in Chicago. As I walked through the door into an office building with beige walls, beige carpet, and a dirty yellow dropped ceiling I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. The dream is truly over. As I sat down in my beige cube and stared at my off white computer monitor, a lump in my throat started to form. Oh god. Is this what I have to go back to? I struggled through eight hours that first day. I took the el back home and sat in a lawn chair in my living room. (two months later we still don't have any real furniture) Kelly found me in a semi catatonic state when she came in from running some errands. After a year of being constantly interested, I'm finding that being bored is something that I'm just not comfortable with. It's criminal really. Our lives are short, we don't know when we are going to go. With all that goes on around us, why should we ever be bored? Because, we have to eat, and earn money. That's why.. but I still don't have to like it. As I write this entry months after this first day of work, I'm still not excited about it. It being work, of course. I've even got my old job back. Working for the same company I was working for before we left, doing the same thing, in almost the exact same cube. The work is the same, but I'm different. This trip has changed me profoundly. Things that used to seem impossible now don't seem so unattainable. I'm more critical of society and my government, yet I'm less critical of my fellow humans. I'm appreciating "time" more than ever. After a year that I could really call mine, spending my time doing things that I don't want to do, seems kind of silly and disrespectful to myself. Does that make sense? Maybe not.. but we only get one shot at life. So, as I sit here in my cube, pretending to be engaged, I figure that I should at least do something useful while I'm waiting for my phone to ring. I can't help but shame myself somewhat for going all the way around the world and ending up in the exact same spot. Litterally. And so, after a year of wandering, soul searching, and now reflection, I'm finding myself just as lost in some respects, but much more aware in others. I think the best part about a trip of this magnitude is that you have time to think. To truly think without interuption about things that you choose to think about is a luxury that I had never appreicated, because I don't think I've ever had such a chance before. There was always work, or school, or some sort of pop culture nonsense clouding my mind and obstructing free thought. Traveling and getting lost allows you think, and that is what I'll miss the most about this trip.

I don't know how to wrap up these journals. So I guess I'll just say thank you. I've been touched, honored, and flattered by all of the people who have taken the time to read these stories of mine. I've enjoyed sharing this part of my life with you and I find it quite touching that you all have taken the time out of your busy lives to read about us. If we've inspired any of you to take a stroll outside of your comfort zone, than all of these hours spent in smokey internet cafes have been worth it. The world is a beautiful and magical place. Go see it.

The End.
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