Twenty Years Since…

Most if not all of my friends and family looked at me like I was a salamander on a salad when I told them that I wanted to move out to the East Coast after college. I had never been east of the Mississippi. The farthest from the El Paso region that I had gone was Mexico City, and I had no one waiting for me out east. But, in the tradition of my father and his father before him, I was going to venture out into the world… I was going to take a leap of faith.

It’s late in the afternoon of July 4th. My dad and I have packed all of my belongings into my Suzuki Samurai and his Geo Tracker, two tiny cars with great fuel mileage. We plotted our route on an old road atlas that dad bought from Walmart a few years back when he set out to work in the oil refineries in the South. It was a big old book full of notes and marks where that had annotated his stops and his expenses. He closed it and tossed it to me and told me to lead the day. I said good-bye to my grandmother, and we were on our way.

As we drove north out of El Paso on Route 54 toward Alamogordo, I looked back on the city and saw the Independence Day fireworks going up at different points. The sun had set and the coming night would be long as we had decided to drive through the night and stop at a rest stop near Tucumcari, New Mexico. We would sleep there and then start driving east to Amarillo, Texas, and then on toward Oklahoma City on I-40.

A month earlier, I had flown into Baltimore from El Paso and was picked up by “Dade,” a head hunter from a firm helping the little hospital in Pennsylvania find a medical technologist. I had loaded my resumé to Monster.com and had a few phone interviews before Dade’s company (The Bridge Group) found me and asked me to fly up for an interview.

I didn’t exactly have money to fly to Baltimore, but my oldest cousin — someone who has been on my side literally all my life — gave me some cash and told me to get out of El Paso for my own good. I arrived in Baltimore, and Dade drove me east to Frederick, then north to Thurmont, then up between the “mountains” to Waynesboro. We talked about the job and the area where the hospital was located. All the while, I was impressed at how green everything was, very different from the Chihuahua desert where I grew up.

As dad and I rolled out of Oklahoma and into Missouri on I-44, we had stopped to eat at a diner on the side of the road and had a good chat. We talked about the new job that awaited me and my plans for the future. He asked me about the girl in El Paso who I had said good-bye to over the phone while we continued to pack things up. I explained to him how we were just friends, how I wanted more — obviously — but she never seemed to make up her mind on what she wanted. When he asked me about any more schooling, I told him that the college degree was enough for me and that all I wanted to do now was make money. We stayed at a motel in Joplin that night, July 5th.

The lab manager at Waynesboro picked me up at the hotel where Dade dropped me off and took me on a tour of the little town. He told me all about the Civil War history that happened there. Being so close to Gettysburg, a lot had happened in that area. We then went to the hospital and had a chat about the job. Little did I know that a couple of anecdotes Ray told me and engaged me on were actually tests to see how much I knew. By the end of the interview, he offered me the job.

From Joplin, we made our way to St. Louis. We stopped once in a while to use the bathroom, eat, chat. It was a nice drive with no bad weather. With luck, we’d be in Waynesboro by the 9th, giving me a few days to find an apartment and settle in before having to work. That was the thing that annoyed dad the most: my lack of planning on where to stay. But I had a few extra hundred dollars from Joe. If push came to shove, we’d stay at a hotel a few days.

As I left Baltimore to go back to El Paso, I had in my hands a folder full of information about the new job. To me, the wage of $18 an hour seemed like a ton of money. It was certainly more than the minimum wage I was earning at the mall in El Paso. But I also had worries that things were going to change. I was going to leave a lot of people behind, people I cared about. But something — perhaps the spirit of adventure — was calling me to leave and go write my own story. And so, I got to El Paso and wrapped everything up that needed to be finalized and made plans with dad to drive up to Pennsylvania. I said goodbye to friends old and new. I said goodbye to relatives good and bad.

From St. Louis, we decided to go east to Louisville and then Lexington, Kentucky. I remember looking out the window of my car and seeing that the grass was different. I wondered if it was the “blue grass” that they always mentioned about the South, or if it was just my eyes playing a trick on me. By July 7th, we were in West Virginia, so we decided to press on toward Waynesboro. We arrived there that day and slept in our cars in a park on the late morning before getting a hotel room for the night.

As we drove around town to get a feel for it, we saw a Mexican restaurant, so we went in for some food. The story of that restaurant, and the waitress who became a nurse, is best left for another day. But I will tell you that the food there was not that authentic… The buñuelos were not buñuelos.

Dad stayed for a couple of weeks before he headed down to Georgia for work. In that time, I settled in and started the job at the hospital lab. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Months then turned into years. Those years brought with them many adventures. There were tons of good times and tons of bad times. All the while, I continued to learn and grown and learn from my mistakes and those of others.

The original version of this blog started in 2004, when I was still there, and I can see a very young and very naive me in all of those blog posts. In some of them, I’m angry that things don’t work the way I thought they should. In others, I’m happy. Just like any other life, this one has been full of challenges in rewards in the last 20 years, and I look forward to what the next 20 years will have to offer.

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