Sunday, January 27, 2013

Turning 23. 14,500 miles in a van and Europe. Beat that.

Retiro Park, Madrid.
Turning 23 wasn't the most memorable day in my life, but the year that followed will not be forgotten.

In Feb. of 2006, I was a recent graduate of Southern Nazarene University with an Elementary Education degree. Due to a new side job working on the Stats crew (led by the PR staff) of the Oklahoma City/New Orleans Hornets (which in the past couple days announced their new name and logo next season, The New Orleans Pelicans), I was having so many dreams and thoughts of actually trying to do something in PR, but with a degree in Education, I knew that I had some tough decisions ahead of me.

I had taken on some substitute teaching jobs at Kenneth Cooper Middle School (where I had my student teaching) and kept on umpiring at PCO, and kept on planning a summer road trip that in our minds was unstoppable. Our original agenda was to take off at the end of May (after my older brother, Mike's, wedding) drive all around the country and stay with anyone we met or sleep in the car. It was the perfect beginning to any 20-something's dream of "getting away."

This idea would be refined several times over the course of spring and by the time May rolled around, we were still onboard. After so many nay-sers and tips from others, we wrote out our "plan" that amounted to a whole lot of improv. We would only have two dates throughout the summer we had to schedule around: a flight back to OKC for Ford to attend the wedding of Blake and Holly Jarolim, and a July 23 flight for me back to OKC to vote in the Congressional election where my Dad had just made it public that he was running for the seat.
Back of van for the road trip

The road trip, which consisted of 14,500 miles (for perspective, OKC to NYC is 1,450 miles we would drive 10 times that) would never have happened without the blessing from my mom, allowing us to use her minivan. We took all the seats out of the back and just kept the front two seats. The back, we replaced with a futon that fit perfectly and placed a down-comforter on top of it with a fitted sheet...road trip like kings. On one side of the van we would place our bags (which contained little more than 3-4 tshirts and some socks/underwear. The other side of the van was cleared out for a passenger to recline in the back during the long drives, equipped with pillows and blankets and a mini 10" battery-powered fan we got at Walmart that fit perfectly setup between the two front seats and aimed into the back.

Rooftop in downtown Chicago for 4th of July
Throughout this trip I journaled everyday, on paper...Myspace and Xanga were at their height for blogging purposes but finding random Internet driving across the country was I wrote down everything and a couple years ago I began transcribing them into full blogs, I didn't end up digitizing them past Day 9, but if you want to read more detail about this trip, start with Day 1:

The overall Cliff Notes version: 68 days, 14,500 miles. Not $1 spent on lodging (except 3 days in Vegas - I'm mean, come on, you have to stay in the hotels there). The other 65 days, we would stay with friends, relatives, complete strangers and even 11 scary nights in the van, parked in driveways/streets/parking lots. We got in about 7 bodies of water, including the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, we visited 5 Canadian cities, the Keys in Florida, Tijuana Mexico, we were on MTV's TRL, stood with girl scouts in the background of Good Morning America, had border patrol issues a couple times, Couchsurfed in 3 different cities (Bozeman, Vancouver, and San Diego), attended the Spoletto Festival in Charleston and saw baseball games at Fenway, Yankee Stadium, PacBell in San Francisco and snorkeled in Key Largo. It was pretty intense and I really hope to transcribe the rest of it, but the first 10 blogs of that trip are a pretty good read.
We were on TRL

On this trip, when we were in D.C. (2nd week in June), I made up my mind that I did not want to start a teaching profession in OKC in August. I knew that if I began teaching in August that I would eventually feel trapped and not fullfil my new desires to go into PR. When I finally made that decision I was much more relieved and knew that I needed to begin planning for what I would do when I returned in the beginning of August. Go back to school for a PR degree? Try to get a PR internship? Anything else? Yes, there was something else. More photos of the trip: here.

Remember in yesterday's blog when I mentioned I had some friends graduate and head off to Madrid to teach English? Turns out that they were going to stay another year...I also found out that two of my other friends were going to join them this time around...turns out, that sounded perfect to me...

I would work out what needed to be done to get my passport ready by mid August, and bought a one-way plane ticket to Madrid. I was being completely reasonable in my head and completely ridiculous to 99% of the other people I knew.

When I returned from the greatest road trip of all time, I started to pack to leave for Spain.
Out our apartment balcony in Madrid

Full disclosure: I didn't necessarily have a work permit to be employed in Spain. I heard that since we were Americans (spoke English) that there were plenty of English Academies and families willing to pay for part-time work: paid in cash. People often ask me, "Which Study Abroad program did you work for?" and my response usually catches them off-guard...."I didn't work for any program. I just bought a plane ticket and moved. I sent my resume to 21 different English Academies for part-time work and I got responses for interview setups from 19 of them." On my 4th interview, I found the hours/pay that I was looking for...I worked from 1pm to 5pm on Monday-Thursday...yup. 16 hours a week and a 3-day weekend every week. Hello Heaven.

I would get paid 15€ per/hour, 60€ per day x 4 days a week = 240€ per week...approx. 920€ per month ($1300).

Me, Tonio (co-owner), Jason, Tyler at "Paco's"
My bills (with a total budget of 920€): 250€ apt rent per month (my room was a cozy 6' x 8'), 35€ Subway/Metro/Bus pass...and that's about it. The remaining 635€ each month was set aside for eating/going out every day and night...the Spanish culture is amazingly open/friendly and very cheap. We frequented a place we called "Pacos" about 5-6 times a week for drinks/tapas and of course for Paella on Sunday afternoons. A whole night's worth of Drinks/Tapas ran a bill of about 10-12€. That's about as good as it gets.

We would spend time at the Museo del Prado (classical), the Reina Sofia Museum (modern, Picasso, Dali, etc.) and many warm nights in Retiro Park to hear the djemba drum lines. We would watch sunsets at the Templo Debod and walk/shop down Gran Via. The Spanish lifestyle consists of a very healthy Mediterranean diet and LOTS of walking...I somehow ended up losing weight and becoming in much better shape, despite pretty much eating and drinking whatever the Spanish "bars/restaurants" offered that day.

Castle in Toldeo
Our 3-day weekends were filled with traveling around Spain, going to Toledo, Segovia, Granada, Sevilla and Barcelona and even spent a week in Greece, going to Athens, Korinthos and a day island hopping. It was perfect for the young adventurous traveler. If you ever hear of anyone in college/post college thinking of spending time abroad...encourage them.

I got to come home for Christmas (thank you Grandma) which was perfect for me after 3 months in a country to which I didn't speak the language...yet I was learning quite a bit. On my return back to Madrid (Dec. 30), the plane I was on began its decent to the Madrid Barajas Airport yet was unable to land on time. The pilot came on the speaker and said that there had been an explosion at the airport and as everyone bagan looking out the windows, the smoke was becoming easy to see. Basque Nationalist and Separatest organization ETA claimed responsibility for the bombing/attack. To read more about the incident:

In Athens
Being that close to "Ground Zero" in a foreign country was a surreal feeling. Reports of terrorism around the world are reported nightly in America with very little emotion from Americans. This one brought quite a bit of emotion for me, this was not just any foreign land, it was my home.

It was about this point that I began seeing Spain as much more than a long vacation, as it had surely felt up until this point. As the 5 of us Americans living together in a small apartment in the quiet inner city Vallehermoso neighborhood, we bagan to really embrace the people around us and began to have friends outside of our little group. This embracement was typical of Spaniards, and it was that embracement that kept me going back year after year. I would head back to Spain for at least a visit in 2008, 2009 and 2011, to see old friends and to see one of my (then) roommates, Tyler, who still lives there (you might remember him as Waldo at my wedding)...he came back for it.

I took plenty of photos throughout my stay in Spain and even some video. I took this video of my daily walk from my apartment to the Metro to get to work For some reason, it has nearly 5,000 views on YouTube. Enjoy.

To end my 23rd year, my friend (and later groomsman Jason) and I took a trip down to Sevilla for my next birthday. More on that and my 24th year tomorrow.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.Russian Tourism