Eastern Hemisphere, Travel

easing back into “normal” life

Moving In

The day after we arrived back in Denver, I rented a car from Enterprise, loaded up my meager belongings, and moved into my new temporary home. I’m staying with a friend in Lakewood, who has a big house and several housemates. One of the bedrooms in her place opened up about the time I was starting to wonder where I was going to live at the end of the Asia journey, so it worked out perfectly.

But “moving in” consisted of just unpacking the few possessions I’ve been carrying around for the past five months. That didn’t take long. Most of the really useful stuff was in our storage unit in Aurora. So I picked up Beth at the AirBNB where she was staying, and we went out there. I went through some of the boxes in storage as best I could without totally unpacking them, and stuffed the most useful things into the car – warmer clothes, extra underwear, more shirts, etc.

Meanwhile, Beth surveyed her stuff to size it up. She planned for some time to return to Kansas City, and had to decide between driving a U-Haul truck with all her stuff now, or just taking the bare essentials and coming back to Denver later for the rest. After that I took her back to the AirBNB and I went back to Lakewood.

The Car

That night I didn’t sleep well, so I did several hours of research online about cars. I knew I needed a car as part of being back in the US. My original plan was to buy a used car for the near term just to get by and then buy something nicer later. But I decided instead to just buy a new car.

Buying a car is so electronic these days. In the middle of the night, I filled out an online loan application with USAA, and their computer approved me for a bunch of money (way more than I wanted to spend on a car). They also have a car buying service, so I entered the info for what I wanted, and it told me about the dealers in the area who had either a perfect match or a near match. Then it sent messages to all of them that I was interested. The prices were pre-negotiated through the car buying service, so I knew exactly how much I was going to pay.

A little after 8:00am Saturday morning, I got a call from one of those dealerships and set up a time to go test drive the car. After some breakfast and much-needed coffee, I went in about 9:30. Four hours later, I drove my new car off the lot. It’s a dark blue 2016 Honda Civic EX-T.

If Honda wanted to compete with BMW’s entry level models, their 2016 Accord and Civic would be the competition. The Civic looks sharp and sporty. It has every comfort and safety feature I’ve ever heard of, and several that I hadn’t. The seats are very comfortable, way better than our last car, the 2010 Prius. And the handling is nicely responsive. Plus, it’s got a ridiculous amount of acceleration that I’ll probably never use except when passing. In fact, this “compact” car’s 4-cylinder engine with turbocharger generates almost as much horsepower as the big V-8 that my Dodge Dakota had. And it gets twice the mileage, 42 mpg highway. That’s not as good as the 45 to 50 that the Prius could get, but better than most cars on the road. Overall, it’s a good combination of comfort, practicality, and performance.
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Next up, I guess I need to start looking for a place of my own to live, preferably in central Denver. But that’s going to be a big task, and I’m not ready for it yet.

I need more time to ease back into American life.

Transitions

The night I bought the car, I had been invited to a birthday party at Casa Bonita. After seeing all kinds of weird stuff and cultural attractions in Asia, Casa Bonita seemed perfect.

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Of course the food isn’t great. Of course the entertainment is cheesy. But it’s very American. Perfect.

The next day, I finally dug deeper into the boxes of clothes I got from our storage unit. I found all kinds of joyous surprises. Lots of warm socks, just in time for the snowstorm that was blowing in, for example.

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The next day, Beth and I went to visit Bob and Diane, who were our downstairs neighbors at the apartment where we lived for a year and a half in Capitol Hill. They’re nice people.

Bob is in his 90s and is a pretty well respected artist with galleries of his works in a couple cities in the midwest. He was in the US Navy in World War II, and remembers sailing around in the south Pacific near many of the places we visited 70 years later. Beth showed them some of her photos from our trip, and Bob pointed out which ones had the most artistic merit. He encouraged her to choose the best 20 and put together a gallery exhibition of them. Diane is a retiree from the big business world who was more interested in what we saw than how Beth composed photos of it.

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It’s sad to think about, but I wonder if we’ll ever see them again.

Getting Used to America and Americans

The first few days after we got back to America were pretty strange. I’m sure I’ll get re-acclimated faster than I expect. But here are some things that struck me as strange after being in India for a month and then Thailand for a month.

  • There are so many white people here! Everywhere I turn, there’s more white people. I’d gotten pretty used to Beth and I being the only Caucasians most places we went. We’d see more when we went to tourist traps and the beach, of course, but in India especially we’d go for days without seeing another white person.
  • People drive on the right side of the road here! Walking around in Denver the first night we were back, I stopped at a crosswalk and looked both ways before crossing. But of course I looked right first, assuming that’s where oncoming traffic would be. No, traffic will be coming from the left here! In the past five months, I only spent two weeks in places where people drive on the right instead of the left.
  • Everyone speaks English here! I have to admit, toward the end I was getting pretty fatigued by living in Asia, even though it was just a short time. And the main reason was that all the interesting local people I met were difficult to talk to due to language. A lot of people in India and Thailand can speak English to some degree, but it got old having to use short words and simple sentence construction all the time. It’s almost like a miracle to just go around in Denver and every single person you run into – even immigrants – speaks English.
  • Milk and bread. Have you ever talked to a French person and had them tell you how croissants in America don’t really taste like “real” croissants? There’s some essential difference, like our American flour is different or the butter is different or something. Well, in Asia most people don’t drink very much milk. And the western bread products they make are off a bit in a way that’s hard to explain. And I imagine that my reaction to having Thai pastries is the same as a Frenchman’s reaction to having American croissants.
  • Snow. As I write this, we’re having a big snowstorm. The snow is piled up several inches outside, the roads are all snow packed, and I’m not even sure I could get my new low-to-the-ground car out of the driveway and subdivision to a road that’s been plowed. Five days ago I was in Bangkok wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt, with the air conditioning on. The snow is beautiful, but it’s just so weird.

Back to Work

I told my boss I’d be back at work on the Friday after we got back, leaving me one week to get some things in order, acclimatize, etc. That seems about right. I still have a few days of vacation left, but after that it’s back to the office for me. And I’m sure that’ll take some getting used to.

For much of the past month, my schedule has been totally my own. Some days I’d do maybe two or three hours of writing, and then a couple hours devoted to seeking out and eating food, an hour or two of lifestyle maintenance stuff like laundry, and then the rest was just reading or listening to audiobooks or whatever I felt like. My free time is going to be shrinking a lot, and fast. I hope I can cope. Wish me luck.