Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Candygram for Morgan!

My daughter Morgan had been working toward her Master’s degree in Education since the spring of 2013 and took her final class in May 2014. She was nearly finished and about to be rewarded for all that hard work and effort and time she put into her studies. It was an amazing accomplishment from this wife and mother of two who also held a full-time (or more!) job as a high-school English teacher. Where did she find the time?
In April 2014 she set up an Event on Facebook, letting everyone know she was having a gigantic blowout party to celebrate her achievement to come. I replied that I’d be there in spirit and hoped she and her family and friends would have a ball.
In the meantime, I contacted Robin, one of her friends and neighbors, whom I had met on my last visit to my daughter’s family back in 2011. I let her know I was thinking about surprising Morgan at her party, but I needed some basic logistics help.
Of course, I had to be sure Morgan would be in town, not only for her party, but for the week afterwards, as I planned to stay for only ten days or so. Without going into details, Robin and I worked it all out; she convinced Morgan to stay in town the week of July 6-13 for some girl-type activities. A few more areas to be settled and I was ready. Robin assured me Morgan and family would be home on July 4th, my planned arrival date. Robin also volunteered to pick me up at the airport and, since Morgan was entertaining other family members in her home, Robin generously offered to let me stay with her and her husband until the weekend was over, after which I could (hopefully!) stay with Morgan and her family. My surprise was coming together nice.
And so it was that, at the ungodly hour of 4:30 in the morning on July 4, 2014, I was picked up by the airport minibus and taken to Budapest’s airport for the looong flight ahead. I’d be transiting at Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, then on to Seattle International and finally on Alaska Airlines to Ontario. I stocked up on Melatonin and was ready for my trip.
The flights were long, but relatively easy. Of course, my arrival and departure gates in Paris and Seattle were at the opposite ends of each airport, necessitating some rather long and hurried walks between the two gates. I arrived at Ontario airport right on time and there was Robin waiting outside the baggage claim area. Things were coming together nicely.
Until I started to unpack my bag in Robin’s motor home and noticed the lock was missing. Uh-oh! Baggage thieves? I had never had that happen before, and was surprised it should happen in the USA. I opened my bag to find my clothes in disarray, packages opened and even a bottle of medication opened and not fully closed again, causing a leak. Oh happy day! A printed form fell out of the suitcase. I picked it up to find it was a Notice of Baggage Inspection from the friendly folks at TSA. The notice read, in part: “The TSA is required by law to inspect all checked baggage.....If the TSA security officer was unable to open your bag for inspection because it was locked, the officer may (!) have been forced (!) to break the locks on your bag…TSA is not liable for damage to your locks resulting from this necessary security precaution.” And people wonder why I left the USA.
I really don’t want to live or travel in a society that has such little value for personal privacy as America’s. And before all the bleating begins from the worst inhabitants of today’s Obamanation, please note that my personal choice is: “I’ll accept the risks.” No amount of so-called ‘security’ is worth a single such invasion of privacy. Thank you, but I’ll remain in Europe.
Anyway, after I finished gnashing my teeth and unclenched my fists – and unpacked and refolded my clothes – I grabbed a quick shower, changed into shorts (it was 90 degrees F in the foothills) and prepared to surprise my daughter.
Everyone was gathered at Morgan’s house, which backed onto Robin’s property, so we rode around the block and got ourselves ready. I was holding a large box in front of me, decorated with Happy 4th of July paper. The box completely hid my upper body and head, so no one knew who was behind the box. I stood near the front door and waited for Robin to get Morgan to come out and see her surprise. Robin’s husband Joe was standing next to me and when Morgan came out to see what was up, he told me she was right in front of me.
I heard Morgan say, “Wow, looks like a really big surprise.” At which time I came out with, “HEY! I heard there’s a party around here!” Joe said Morgan looked like she almost, but not quite, recognized my voice. I dropped the box and said, “You know you can’t have a great party without me!”
It’s been very rare that I have rendered my daughter speechless; I think the last time was at her surprise 16th birthday party. Morgan had her hands in front of her mouth and her eyes were as wide as I’ve ever seen them, as if she couldn’t really believe who she saw standing there. She blinked a few times and said, querulously and with more than a little bit of shocked surprise, “Dad?” Then we got to hug a lot.
My surprise was complete. I greeted Tony and Samantha and Nicholas, accepted a cold beer and started to catch up with Morgan and family after my three-year absence. After several cold beers and lots of catching up, it was late at night and I’d been up for around 28 hours straight. I wandered back to Robin’s place and crashed in the motor home.
Saturday, July 5, was Party Day at the Pelletteras. I woke fairly early and did what I could to help set things up. It was a standard hot and sunny day in the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains, and kids were already in the pool. The main party began around 4 PM and included: an appearance by The Taco Guy and his associates, who made fresh tacos on-site; lots of food and drink (I stuck with cocktails all day and night, eschewing beer for the day); a live band starting around 9 PM, resulting in couples dancing, line dancing, singing along and general hanging around the back wall/bandstand;
an after-hours DJ (who was actually the math teacher at Morgan’s high school). It must have been around one AM or so when I hit the wall, as I don’t even remember getting to bed.
There were at least 75 people at the party, maybe even 100. I met a lot of Morgan’s neighbors and friends and even some of Tony’s large family I hadn’t met in the past. One neighbor was actually of Lithuanian heritage, and we discussed my recent trip there to search for ancestors. Small world.
The remainder of my visit was more good food, relaxation, lots of time in the pool and getting re-acquainted with the grandkids. I moved my stuff over to Morgan’s Sunday afternoon. Not wanting to cook anymore, the family (about 30 members - just the ‘immediate family’) hied over to the Spaghetti Factory for dinner. I was good and stayed on my new regimen with a shrimp salad.
Lazy days. I helped straighten the house on Monday, watched the kids at their swimming lessons at the local college pool, and even saw a Little League game Monday night. The Alta Loma team got trounced, but it was still a fun night out under the stars. After another day in the sun, Tuesday’s dinner was at Slater’s 50/50 Hamburger Heaven; my choice was the Flamin’ Hot burger, which it was; once again I was good and passed on the bun.
Wednesday was shopping day for me. Morgan and the kids and I went to a nearby mall where I found most of the items I wanted, so I was a happy camper. More lying around the pool and then it was time for ---- Game Night! It seems the neighborhood group of parents try to get together a couple of times a month to socialize, have a cocktail or two and play games. This night it was the Cards Against Humanity game, which I won’t try to explain, but suffice it to say it was a blast, especially after a pitcher or two of jungle juice made the rounds. Dinner was another great pot luck feast, which included arroncini made by Robin’s husband Joe; haven’t had that since Sicily. Lots of laughter and fun and general camaraderie. Morgan and Tony are fortunate to live in a neighborhood with so many couples around their age who have kids around my grandkids’ age; great support system for both parents and kids, like a large family. I can only imagine what the holidays are like.
My last three days included more lying around the pool to top up my already amazing suntan, and two fantastic dinners: Chinese and Sushi. The Chinese was at a small mom and pop restaurant in the area, and had me spinning the lazy susan continuously to get at the wonderful dishes: orange chicken, shredded pork with Szechuan sauce, egg foo yung, and many more. I was quiet for an hour or so, stuffing my face with all that tasty goodness which we don’t have in Budapest.
And the sushi bar was another treat, as we all sat at the bar and ordered our favorites. Morgan has raised her kids right, as nine-year-old Nicholas loves raw octopus. I never even ate a salad until I was 23 years old.
During the day we took in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, another sequel with good special effects and costumes, but generally just another sequel. Back at the house, on a lazy afternoon I heard some strange sounds from the fenced-in grassy area next to the pool and I peeked over the fence to find Tony’s large male tortoise busily fertilizing the eggs of one of the three females on the premises. Mr. Tortoise was actively grunting while he worked; I never even knew turtles made any sounds, much less a continuous grunt-grunt-grunt while in the throes of ecstasy. You learn something new every day. Later in the day I got to try out Tony's classic GTO: four-speed, V8 and cop-red paint job. Like being back in high school.
And that was pretty much the extent of my ten days in Southern California. It was great to see Morgan and Tony and the grandkids again and, although I would have liked to spend more time with them, I think my stay was just about right. I didn’t want to overstay what seemed to be an otherwise fantastic visit, so I headed out too early Sunday morning July 13th from Ontario airport to Salt Lake City, then to Paris (where I had a nine-hour layover!) and finally home to Budapest at 10:30 Monday night. A loooong trip, at the end of which I quickly unpacked (the TSA hadn’t cut my lock off this time) and crashed for ten hours of much-needed sleep.
So – impressions of the few places I managed to visit while in America? After reading all those Doomsday predictions on the Internet, I really didn’t know what to expect, and I must admit I was somewhat surprised at the normalcy of everything. Other than four-dollar-per-gallon gas and increased food prices, it all seemed pretty calm and serene, at least on the outside. I can only hope things were as good on the inside.
As I had also observed during my last visit in 2011, there are still a great many large, overweight people basking in the ever-present sunshine and cool breezes in the places I visited and the airports through which I transited. The supermarkets and stores still stock an abundance of everything; I’ve gotten used to the smaller stores in Budapest and was somewhat overwhelmed at the huge American stores with acres of food and stuff you can’t live without.
On the whole, however, I wouldn’t trade my happy life in Budapest for anything else. I’d like to see my family more often, and watch the kids as they grow up, so maybe another visit there – or maybe they can all come over here – and we’ll see what the future holds. For now, I think everyone agreed it was a successful surprise visit. I hope we can do it more often.