An exposed nerve, part four: baggage check

Last time in this series found me completely repulsed by the presence of creepy crawlies here in my new hometown of Austin, Texas. However, since then a couple of things have developed as regards this matter.

One is that quite a few people have commented publicly and privately to me about their own experiences with insect issues specifically in new areas that they’d moved to. There’s been more engagement with The Long Shot audience on this than just about any other content i’ve ever created. Kind of a mixed bag really, since i’m more or less just rambling on about myself rather than any sort of organized work or journalism efforts.

The most impactful story came from an old high school friend of mine who, like several others, expressed to me that they think it took a lot of guts to make a big move like this on my own. Those sentiments have been nice ego boosts, for sure. He also related his own bug story, which culminated in cockroaches that “literally flooded out of the woodwork,” and resulted in completely filling multiple zipper storage bags with their collected dead bodies.

Others have noted that a preponderance of bugs is just the way it is in the South, with my cousin who lives in Tennessee laughingly noting that i got off light – his house has an ongoing issue with brown recluse spiders!

In light of stories like those, my problems were much more than manageable. In the intervening time, i’ve seen less and less of these unwanted guests. Maybe once or twice a day i’ll spot one who didn’t get my memo and needs a one-time reminder of my policy: i see you, you die.

Baggage1

But, i already went over my bug problem at length. The topic i want to go over today is tangentially related though, and that’s about baggage – both physical and intangible.

In a way, it is related to the bugs in that, as part of my efforts to alleviate the problem, i aimed to minimize the amount of my stuff that they could get into. Arriving here as i did with no furniture to my name, i had only a number of duffle bags of various sizes to hold my meager possessions. After unpacking the essentials, there remained some stuff still bagged up, placed on the floor of my walk-in closet – a risky proposition that i felt would undoubtedly become a dark home for the vile creatures.

What was left in these bags? During a particularly thorough cleaning session i decided to curate them in hopes of consolidating the contents.

  • Wireless headphones for online gaming
  • PSP i borrowed from a friend and forgot to return
  • Posters i got from Gen Con that are still rolled up awaiting frames
  • Poster by John G, also still rolled up
  • My Funko Pop figures, waiting for a place to be displayed
  • Important Paperwork (title to my car, W-2s, etc.
  • AP Stylebook and The Newspaper Designers Handbook
  • Blank checks (that i’ve had for years – who needs to write checks anymore?)
  • A very small “collection” of comic books
  • A copy of Lacuna Part 1 that i hope to someday actually play
  • 2TB external hard drive
  • Several notebooks
  • Mementos of my ex-girlfriend

Primarily, i had one large duffle bag, a holdover from Venice Beach where friends and i retreated to after evacuating Big Bear due to wildfires way back in 2003. Inside of it like a Russian nesting doll was a small bag, which held a small bag and so on. Lots of bags, lots of opportunities for enterprising insects to colonize.

Going through all of the items, it struck me that i was carrying around a lot of baggage within this baggage in the form of the last bulleted item on that list. Cards, letter, little notes, a notebook detailing the scoring for hundreds of Vs. System card games, photos, tokens from places we’d been – even a book of unredeemed “coupons” that i’d vowed to use in full throughout my lifetime (things like getting to choose which movie to see, a full hour massage, etc.).

Full disclosure: my ex and i haven’t been together since 2013. Yeah, i’m that sentimental. i had never been in a relationship that long – 9 years – and letting go of that has been a very long process for me that still continues to this day. It does not matter how many people advise me to forget it and move on, how many times i hear this, it’s one of those things you have to do on your own, in your own time and way.

In the early post-split days, i would often sift through these items and wonder how this had come to be that we were no longer together. Sometimes i would cry, sometimes even without looking through this stuff. How could someone say all of these wonderful things and then leave it behind them? Or aim to live happy, long lives together and abandon that? To say i often felt unloved, betrayed, devastated are understatements. It was sharply painful for a long, long time, retreating to a duller pain as i slowly grew beyond the situation, eventually arriving to an ache that strikes every so often.

It is what it is, and one of the things i’ve made a focused effort towards since arriving here in Austin is altering my perspective. One of my worst habits is a tendency to alternately dwell too much in the past, or worry too much about the future. These days i try very much to focus primarily on the present because, of course, the past cannot be changed and one can only plan so much for what lies ahead. Also, ignoring the present to look ahead too far seems to work against you anyway, because you might miss important things that have an effect on it like opportunities.

In light of all of that, i separated the things i wanted to keep that had a real use in the present from those that i was carrying because they either had value in the past or potential for the future.

In one pile was everything on the list save the last item. In a second pile was the bags – possibly future cockroach homes – and the mementos of the love that i’d lost. For a time, i hemmed and hawed over the two piles. Then i realized two things. The first is that, i’d experienced everything represented by those mementos. They weren’t artifacts from another lifetime, they were a part of my life. The second is that they had no real power other than as a physical representation of a period in my life. The meaning they held is already a part of who i am, and shouldering the tangible weight of these things as i travel through life would not change the past, the future or who i am in the present.

So, with what i always imagined would be a heavy heart, but which turned out to be a lightened spirit, i placed all of those items into the smallest bag, which i put into another bag and so on until the largest held nothing items which no longer served any purpose. That is not to say i no longer put any emotional value on what was inside, only that their value was already ingrained into what makes me, me.

And into the dumpster it went.

That was about two weeks ago. Since then, and i can’t say there is any empirical evidence of correlation, but there has been a significantly noticeable reduction in the appearance of skittering bugs in my apartment, and there’s been a shift in my relationship with my ex. We have continued to remain friends all these years, a friendship that i place a lot of value in, and since unburdening myself of the physical and emotional baggage i feel like i’ve moved forward and grown a bit independently simply as myself.

*****

Like the other posts in this series, i’m curious to learn about what similar experiences readers have had when it comes to past relationships. i’m aware that my progress post-split has been extremely slow going, but at the end of the day i am happy to arrive at any mental or emotional states in my own way.

Lest i have painted a darker picture than i’ve intended for regular readers, my time here in Austin so far has gotten better and brighter each day. The feeling of being an exposed nerve has greatly diminished as i’ve settled into some routines, explored the city, started work and delved fully into my natural geekiness. The other topics i plan to cover to finish out this series will shed some light on that.

In parting, i’ll leave you with the well-known portion of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam A.H.H. that rings as true for me as it has for countless others since it was set into words in 1849 and before that as simply a matter of human nature.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

 

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An exposed nerve, part three: living in the “capital of cockroaches”

In the last installment of this series, i made it to Austin unscathed, signed the paperwork for my humble studio apartment in what i believe is called the North Austin neighborhood, and did a little settling in.

Then my anxiety started rising considerably due to self-doubt, questioning if i’d made the right decision and my personal favorite, worrying about money. None of these things are new territory for me, but it was certainly intensified by being in a new place by myself, quite a long distance from my comfort zone in Cleveland.

Nevertheless, the familiarity of falling into these thinking traps makes them somewhat manageable. Again, i told myself the worst thing that could happen is i’d have to shuffle on back to Ohio, to the safety net of friends and family, and start things over…again.

But then i was set upon by the skittering of creepy crawlies once the sun went down, and a whole new level of panic was reached. i mean, i was positively freaking out. It’s not like i’ve never seen bugs in any apartment or house i’ve lived in. They’re just a part of life.

But roaches? In numbers? No.

The big ol’ cockroach i’d slain in the motel the previous night was one thing. First of all it was a crummy motel i was staying one night in. And second, from what i understand those big ones typically enter singly from the outside.

In my new Austin apartment however, there are what i’ve since learned are brown-banded cockroaches, and it is far from comfortable to see one, two, five or more on the walls around your dinky inflatable airbed, imagining them crawling over you while you sleep. Do they bite? Will they investigate my ears, nose, mouth? Would my cat be safe?

i was absolutely disgusted and panicked by this unforeseen turn of events.

On a side note, i would learn later through Internet research that, at least at one time, Austin had a reputation as the “capital of cockroaches.” But the Texas Monthly article that discussed the matter is from June 1976 i noticed, so there was hope that the situation had changed. Unfortunately, the ignominious title was supported elsewhere by the “fun fact” that Texas is the cockroach capital of the U.S. – home to 32 different species.

Terrific!

Based on my phone log, panic-stricken calls and texts were made first to my mom, my two closest friends, my dad, my brother and my ex. They each began with me explaining that i just did not feel right about being here and that the following morning i was very much considering turning right back around and driving home.

All of them were generally supportive, of course, and agreed it was gross and that something needed to be done about it on the landlord’s end. My mom and friends were sympathetic to my strong desire at that moment to cut out right away. In between calls i’d actually put most of my stuff back into my car, if only to avoid these awful insectoids from finding new homes in my meager possessions.

My dad, with whom i haven’t had much of a relationship with in the last…30 years?…was also sensitive to the situation. He told me about the early years of his marriage to my mom (they’ve been divorced since i was in kindergarten) when they lived in Virginia where he was stationed with the Navy. They, too, had a roach problem in the little apartment they were able to afford, and he joked that they used to set an extra place at the dinner table for them. He suggested i try to stick it out for at least a week and see how i felt after that. He also advised me to talk with my brother, who he said was a pretty smart guy (which i’m certain my brother would agree with). Before i’d left for Texas, we went out for dinner and had a really good time. i am happy since then, we’ve been talking a lot more and building some kind of relationship – better late than never right?

My brother lives in Florida, where he moved about 8 years ago. Over the intervening years, he’s mentioned a couple of times that he’d considered moving back to Ohio because he hadn’t made many friends down there or basically put down much in the way of roots. He most recently came to visit in January, after my grandma had died. Coming to Cleveland from Florida in the dead of winter was quite a shock for him, and he was appalled by the bitter cold and rundown appearance of the eastside suburbs we’d grown up in. Once back in Florida, he said he’d realized that the Sunshine State was his home now, and he felt more comfortable there than in Ohio. His visit was a net positive for his life down there. He took it as a sign to try and get out more and connect with people more, and is now even considering becoming a first-time homeowner down there. (i guess it’s more “over there” from where i am now in Texas.)

Anyway, he told me about how he was nervous and scared when he first got to Florida, too. Coming from him, a tough guy if there ever was one, that was somewhat of a relief to hear if only because it made the problem feel more relatable. When he moved there, he was wife his wife (they’ve since divorced) and he said i had some big balls to make this move all on my own to begin with. In his place, there are plenty of bugs too, including things like millipedes that he’s woken up to them crawling across his face or in his beard. He described various uncomfortable places and situations he’s been in, that it’s just a part of life and seconded what my dad said about sticking it out at least for a little while to see if things get better. After all, i would just be going back to a situation i wasn’t happy with in Ohio either, where it is also very cold – the weather being one of the major deciding factors in potential places to relocate to in the first place.

Perhaps the most poignant thing he said though, was to put it this way: if someone from Austin moved to Eastlake, Ohio and got an apartment on Vine Street – what would they be thinking on their first night? Apologies if you’re unfamiliar with those points of reference but, that made a lot of sense to put it that way.

There was still one more conversation i’d been hoping to have, and that was with my ex. We have remained in friendly contact over the last three years since parting ways in our relationship, even though a lot of people have advised me of the foolishness of that. Regardless, i still value her perspective and was hoping to hear from her. But i wasn’t holding out too much hope though, because frankly i hear back less and less from her. i guess that’s just moving forward, and i’m admittedly behind in that regard but it is what it is.

She did call me back though, and in her forthright way basically said it would be a mistake to turn around and leave so quickly, or at all. She is quite familiar with my anxieties and longtime desire to establish myself in someplace other than where i grew up, and like my brother, told me she was scared when she moved away to go and start a fresh chapter of life in California, where she stays with her sister, sister’s partner, mom and a menagerie of various animals. She also said that if i was ever in dire financial straits she would be happy to help, but if i’m honest i hope to avoid that circumstance – with anyone. i really would like to get by on my own, and if things get tight i’ll do my best to deal with it.

So, eventually, i got to sleep. Essentially, i was just so exhausted that i could no longer stay awake and my tired body did not have a chance to lay there thinking about the potential of bugs any more that night. It had been a very long three day stretch with a lot of driving, staying in crappy motels, stressing out about money and insects and second-guessing myself, feeling homesick.

The next morning, i marched directly down to the management office and let them know about the roach problem and that they had to do something about it right away. They explained that pest control comes every Monday to inspect empty apartments, and they’d have him check mine out when they came. They were surprised to hear about it, because not only had the previous tenant never mentioned anything about bugs, but the place had been treated as a routine matter the Monday of that very week.

In the meantime, i headed out and got not only a bunch of roach traps to put all over the apartment, but also a bag of food grade Diatomaceous earth, a powdery substance that is supposed to help against crawling bugs like roaches. All along the baseboards throughout the apartment, i spread the stuff and hoped for the best. i also make it a point to eliminate any bugs i see at any time, having since become accustomed to the distinctive *pop* of their chitinous bodies when squished inside a tissue.

i vacuum twice a day, Swiffer daily, Clorox wipe surfaces, put all my food in containers, never leave dishes out and empty the trash fastidiously. i got that foam crack-sealer stuff and used that in a couple of places, too.

The Friday after i moved in (a week and one day later) they had a more advanced pest control person come and treat the place again.

It’s now the Monday after that treatment, and i do continue to see them at night, but in less numbers overall. It’s my understanding that for a little while after treatment, they can become more active.

Hopefully, this problem will go away completely soon. If it persists, i’ll just keep the office informed and maybe they’ll have to treat it again. At least they are not dismissive about the issue, and doing what they can to correct it. i’m not happy about it, but i am happy to be here in Austin and i like the new job i started last week. So, i’m making the best of things.

*****

Are you totally grossed out? Ever dealt with bug infestations in your home or apartment? This is a first for me, and although i am dealing with it and it is getting better, it’s still icky and of course i never want to see another bug inside my home! When my lease is up in March 2017, i hope to be much more familiar with Austin and in a better position to find a different place to live. Until then, i’ll keep adjusting and finding the positives about my life here, and don’t get me wrong – there are many!

My apologies for the lack of photos, videos and stuff on this post. i’m pressed for time today and wanted to get this posted, and also did not want to share gross images of bugs and creep people out (including myself!).

This exposed nerve series will be wrapping up pretty soon, with just a few more things to address. Next time, i’ll share my experiences getting rid of baggage both physical and emotional, then tell you about gaining my footing my footing here on several fronts and finally how the new job here is going.

As always, thanks to everyone for reading my longform posts all the way to the end, leaving comments and likes, sharing and letting me know when you find things relatable.

 

An exposed nerve, part two: panic! at the disco, sans disco

The first part of this series, taking a long shot of myself as regards relocating from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin, Texas, got me almost all the way through the 1,388-mile road trip.

This part finds me arriving in town and then proceeding to begin a total meltdown.

i went to sleep happy and awoke the same way. Not another crapshoot motel stay! A relatively short three hour drive! At the end of it, the swanky studio apartment discovered and arranged for through grand master-level Google-fu, accessible only after signing a couple of forms and it would be all mine!

GoogleFu

It was during this leg of the journey, the last one, that i began taking note of all the cars whizzing past me on the highway. Every one of them was much nicer than mine. Not a hard feat, mind you – i’ve never been one to invest in a solid automobile, instead prescribing to the philosophy that they’re just a means to get around. Also, i’m cheap, already in debt thanks to school and years of irresponsibility, and of a mind that i’d rather buy used, drive until beyond reasonable repair and repeat. i mention this only to help illustrate that, amongst other emotional instabilities, self-consciousness over my social status is one of them.

Nevertheless, i made it without incident and headed inside the apartment management office, Cosby’s carrier in tow, to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. We did a walkthrough and the place looked nearly identical to the photos and 3-D tour i’d looked at online about a million times. Disappointingly though, it does not have faux hardwood floors throughout – there is carpeting in the half-wall cordoned off bedroom area. That was a bummer.

After unloading all my stuff (a few duffle bags, armfuls of clothes on hangers and a bicycle), i set about putting unpacking. During this process i noticed, as is inevitable in these situations, that online photo galleries and even first looks often mask all the little defects and faults in a space like cracks around the windowsills, shoddy caulk jobs in the bathroom, jangly water faucets and the like. Also, the stove did not work.

In other words, not the perfect pristine palace my hopeful imagination informed me the place would be. Took a quick walk over to the office to tell them about the stove, but they were out for 30 minutes.

Still, i had my lists: “How i’d like to decorate,” “What i want my living space to look like,” and so on. Before getting too deep into interior decorating though, there were plenty of practical items to pick up like a shower curtain, cleaning supplies, some groceries and who knows, maybe get crazy and get a chair to sit on.

Off to Target! Ah, Target, the bastion of consumers everywhere. Fun fact: the poverty line is the line beneath which you shop at Walmart instead of Target. i’m kidding of course. Why would i shop at Walmart when i’ve got a Target Redcard?!

Before heading out i shot a quick email to the HR contact at my new job to let her know i’d arrived in one piece and was enthusiastic about starting work in a few days. It was late in the afternoon, and it was a pleasant surprise to get a quick reply from her welcoming me to Austin and recommending a couple of places to check out. Her quick, friendly and personable communication throughout the whole process is one of the things that most impressed me and made me feel good about this endeavor.

It’s worth noting that, back in Cleveland, it was around 20 degrees and snowing while i set about my move-in day errands in sunny 70-degree weather, my Northeast Ohio winter-thickened blood escalating what back home would be a perfect day to borderline uncomfortable. Not that i’m complaining – i’ll take feeling warm over bone-shivering cold any day.

Back at my modest studio apartment with non-list worthy decor (although i did find a teal, fabric-covered padded chair for $12 – a much better option the the WWE-style folding chair i might otherwise have wound up with), i felt pretty good overall. Pizza was in the oven, Newcastle was chilling in the freezer and i wasn’t sitting on the floor in a completely empty apartment.

This general satisfaction was not to last.

For a bit, i was preoccupied putting my bicycle back together in riding shape. A minor setback of some piece of the front brake line snapping off was a drag not only because i had no idea how to fix it, but also because it meant i’d have to finagle the bike back into my car, this time without taking the front wheel off, in order to get it to a bike shop for a repair. It would not have been difficult to fit without the tire, but then i’d have the same problem back at home trying to put the brakes back together.

The downward spiral began in earnest while partaking in what to me is the quintessential move-in day dinner (the aforementioned pizza and Newcastle). i was doing some figuring for the umpteenth time on my budget, what all my bills were and what my income would be.

My chest tightened up like Bigby’s Crushing Hand had been malevolently cast on me and i rolled a 1 on my save.

bigby

Bigby’s Crushing Hand is a D&D spell. Imagine me in place of that umber hulk there.

What if i can’t make ends meet? What if i fall behind on my bills? What if i get deeper in debt? Fail miserably at this endeavor? Wind up with nothing? Was this a big mistake? Maybe this whole job offer was bogus, some sort of cruel prank – and i’d just signed a year lease. Did i jump the gun? Take the first offer that came along too readily? These and many, many other insecurities, worries and concern gripped me with icy desperation.

Before leaving Cleveland, i’d told myself and others plenty of times that the worst that could happen is things wouldn’t work out and i’d end up back there. Certainly not new territory for me – i’ve done that quite a few times already.

i took a few deep breaths. Still, panic had it’s tendrils around me.

i cradled Cosby for security, hoping his easy purr would settle my rapidly-fraying nerves. i felt more anxiety – here i was dragging this poor kitty into a potentially tough situation.

i began to pace around the apartment – not a big undertaking at 396-square-feet – and that’s when i noticed them. Just one at first, skittering along the carpet. And the windowsill.

The wall.

The doorframe.

The bathroom counter.

This place has a bug problem.

panic

*****

On the edge of your seat yet? i know i sure was, uncomfortable to relax even a little when there are creepy crawlies both seen and, terrifyingly due to unknown numbers unseen, all about.

Yep, i had a full-on panic attack the likes of which i have never experienced. Doesn’t that sound like a fun reason to come back for the next part of this series?

What sorts of things instill anxiety and panic in you? Or do you have nerves of steel?

i certainly do not, and just about everyone i’m close to was about to find out just how much, which begs the question – why didn’t i ever get into acting? Because apparently i mask what’s going on inside pretty well.

An exposed nerve, part one: past is prologue

i was going to start a short series of posts off by stating that this is going to be an unusual endeavor for me, but a look back through past things i’ve written here revealed that it’s instead something i simply haven’t done in quite a while.

Oddly enough, going back to my very first post at The Long Shot reminded me that one of the core pillars of starting this blog initially was to provide myself a broad canvas to take long looks at different things, including myself. The opening words of that first foray if i’m honest make more sense to me right now than they did four years ago. (wow that was four years ago already?!)

Long Shot:  typically shows the entire object or human figure and is usually intended to place it in some relation to its surroundings.

human figure

At the time, i had just started back going to college at age 35 with hopes that the piece of paper i’d scoffed at when i quit my college career in the early aughts would one day carry me forward to better things – and better places. Since then, i’ve written on a wide variety of topics both here and (triumphantly!) as a professional writer (i was paid for it) through my first post-graduation job with a Northeast Ohio publication.

In light of that, what i hope to explore in a series of posts is more precisely what i had in mind during that first post: i hope that it shows me as a whole person and where i fit into my surroundings.

The appropriateness of this series stems from the fact that, i am at this very moment just three days into an enormous step forward in life for me: relocating from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin, Texas after being recruited for a position with a growing media company located here. Vastly different surroundings!

In itself that is one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me. The job was not something i applied for; i was contacted by the company recruiter and, after some negotiating, decided to take the chance and go for it. Austin was on my short list of places i’d like to live, and even though it isn’t a ton of money, it is better than i was making with a much greater growth potential. Perhaps it was a hasty decision to jump at the first thing that came along, but i was feeling malcontent to some extent, which had a heavy influence on my thoughts regarding the matter.

After finding a place to live pretty close to the job, and calling ad nauseam to confirm everything (“you’re certain the place will be ready to move in by March 5?”), getting the car fixed up a bit, sharing dinners and coffee talks with family and friends and making check marks on plentiful to-do lists (yes, there was a checklist for the various checklists) the morning had come to hit the pavement.

Brimming with enthusiasm, i’ll admit now that when the 1,388 mile one-way road trip began, there was naturally a part of me that was reluctant to go. But the lion’s share of me did and still does hope to challenge an adage i read about decades ago as a child: that typically, a person will be born, grow up, settle down and die within a 20-mile radius. i don’t recall exactly where i read that, but the notion imprinted itself on my young psyche with something akin to dread.

long shot road

That very same circumstance was raised just last week by an uncle, offered as an item meant to encourage critical thinking regarding this move to Austin for the job. His perspective in particular addressed lower-income workers, a category i fall into with chagrin. To his point, for those not yet – or perhaps never – to reach higher echelons of income, remaining near your base provides opportunities for support, help and plain security through proximity to family and so on. Taken in that context, i understood the concept more than my younger mind did. On the other hand, sometimes the point of putting yourself into challenging situations is to test your own mettle and do your best to not only persevere but to thrive. That last bit would become more clear by orders of magnitude after arriving at my destination (more on that in another post).

One other beguiling point he made though was to put this question forth: would i take this job and move all that way, if i had a wife and children? That one made me laugh in all honesty because, no, i wouldn’t. But the very fact that i have none of those things is precisely why i feel more able to take this avenue.

At this point, i would like to take a quick break for an ad hoc survey, you can answer in your own head. Especially for any first-timers to The Long Shot: are you picking up on one of the meanings behind the name of the blog? Brevity is not my thing. At the risk of scaring you off right now, i feel like i’m just getting started at this point. Not to worry though! There is some sort of plan for this series, and in just a little bit you’ll find yourself coming to a nice circle kicker, a teaser for the next part and maybe even a call to action.

cleveland-skyline

The road to Austin was kind to me, and it certainly could have began cruelly, being winter in Northeast Ohio and all. No snow was falling, and indeed it wasn’t even very cold, even at 5 a.m. Cleveland rush hour traffic had not yet started when the Terminal Tower was quickly disappearing in my rearview mirror. By the time the sun came up, i was passing by Brunswick and heading into more open highway country. And my traveling companion, the feline familiar Cosby, had only meowed forlornly for about 45 minutes into the ride. The 9-year-old tuxedo has been at my side since i first scooped him from the kitty bin at the pet store when he was a mere 6-weeks-old, and his cat carrier sports a selection of luggage stickers from not only Northeast Ohio (Eastlake x2, Willoughby x2, Lakewood x2, Willowick) but also Pittsburgh, and as of this writing, Austin.

It wasn’t too long before I cruised past Ashland, site of my freshman year of college way back in the glorious ’90s.

Passing by, i thought about the skater punk i was at the time, inspired by a great high school teacher to choose an English major. His name was Mr. Tomba, but we all called him Papa Smurf. Turn his skin blue, slap a red Phrygian cap on him and dude was a spitting image. Ashland really won me over because of their rating for having the best college cafeteria in the country, and it was well-deserved. i fell in love for the first time while there, with a real-life pixie. i also got drunk for the first time, at a party where i then passed out on a bench on the porch, then yakked like a first time drunk will do, at the perfect moment when a girl i liked was walking right past me.

i also befriended the theretofore terrifying ex-marine guy who lived on our floor named Hap. We bonded over mutual taste in American alternative metal band Helmet, started hanging out in his room passing doobies while watching A&E Biography late at night and shared a similar admiration for coffee, stopping daily at Grumpy’s on our way to Death & Dying class together.

But, like any Jim Collins editorial worth it’s salt, i digress.

Despite driving for 10 or so hours, most of it through rain and construction-narrowed lanes surrounded on all sides by massive freight trucks that dwarfed by jam-packed Chevy Aveo hatchback, i made it to my first chosen stop for the night: Jackson, Tennessee. i don’t know how many winds a person can get, but i was on my third or fourth by then. Nevertheless, i was half tempted to press on farther. i did not do so, though, because my thinking since setting out was rigid: i had a plan and i was sticking to it. By the time i unloaded the car, grabbed a bite to eat and cleaned up, i think i watched about one minute of Seinfeld before i was out.

Day Two on the road was much the same, except the rain got traded for warm sunshine, there were no familiar landmarks and towards the end i was alternately worried about either peeing myself or nodding off at the wheel. Seriously – there are very few rest areas in Texas. Between the border and Dallas, i passed just a single one that was, of course, about a mile past where i pulled off to use Burger King’s facilities when i couldn’t wait any longer.

i will say, though, that a sensation washed over me just as i crossed the state line into the Lone Star State. it just felt different. Possibly due to road delirium, or because i knew i was in the state of my destination.

Texas is BIG, that is no lie. The sky stretches out bigger, the speed limits are higher, the number of horses and cows you see are astounding. If you gathered all the horses and cows i’ve ever seen previously in my life, it would be less than the number i saw while zooming down the highway.

Dallas is impressive! The city rises up into that broad sky, and approaching it means crossing Lake Ray Hubbard, a massive fresh water reservoir. i was ignorant of its existence and blown away by its beauty. i can’t tell you what i expected Dallas to look like, but bordered by an enormous body of water was not part of the image.

Dallas Skyline at Sunrise

“Dallas Skyline at Sunrise” – Gleaming like a sparkling gem, the early morning sun envelops the Dallas skyline in incandescent warmth with colors of aureolin, saffron, lavender, wisteria, and marigold. In the foreground, a flooded Trinity River winds past the city, revealing a rarely photographed moment of the beautiful Dallas skyline. (Photo/Stephen A. Masker)

My stay that night was in a much more sketchy motel than the night before. Gang tats, broken motel room windows and that feeling you get when you’re not in the right part of town were part and parcel to an uncomfortable evening. The appearance of a cockroach the size of a Bic lighter scurrying up the wall did little to ease my discomfort, although an excellently-aimed sneaker ended the threat it posed.

Some good news did brighten my spirits though, when i made another call to the apartment complex awaiting me in Austin. i called to check on the status and maybe adjust my motel reservation in Austin; the place was to be ready at the absolute latest by Saturday, possibly Friday. But lo and behold, it was ready for move-in Thursday! All i had to do was show up, sign some papers and get the keys.

i went to sleep happy, not just for myself and the concern over repeated motel stays with everything i owned in the world packed into my car, but also for Cosby, who even though he’d been a real trooper, would doubtless be relieved to stay put in one place for more than a few hours – outside the cat carrier he’d been cooped up in the last two days on the road.

So it was that i would reach my destination, a place that would confront me with very different surroundings and challenge me both externally and internally – much more than i had even anticipated.

In the next part of this series, i’m gonna do my best to show the entire human figure that now resides in Austin. As anyone i’m particularly close to could now tell you, it’s not a rainbow-farting unicorn that arrived here. i’m not exactly sure why i’m sharing these stories. Perhaps you’ll find some lesson or wisdom here, or maybe been in a similar situation and discover some relatability. i’m not going to lie: i’m hoping for those same outcomes for myself.

In another way, there’s a different kind of truthfulness that emerges by putting yourself out there rather than keeping a private log. As a writer, i’m only as good as what i share with the universe, and i feel like holding something back for fear of reactions goes against the whole point of it.

So, for what it’s worth, you can have a nice Long Shot of me. Maybe understand more of who’s behind this screen, while at the same time giving me a better view of the same.

After all, another definition of long shot is “a venture or guess that has only the slightest chance of succeeding or being accurate” and believe me, you’ll read plenty about my feelings on that in the next part.

*****

Have you ever made any big life changes that had a fundamental impact on you? Move to a new city alone? Take a risk that had unexpected results? Wondered if you were doing the right thing, or reached new levels of self-understanding that blew your mind?

Let me know about them in the comments below. i don’t have to be the only one rambling on about themselves around here.