European Man Bag

Rainbow flag

My wife, the Captain is a great driver. She’s been driving a car for many years without an accident. Well, I don’t count busted mirrors, fender benders or door scratches. Those are quite common and happen to both of us… sometimes. Anyway, she’s an experienced, confident and very safe driver. However, keeping things organized in the car is definitely not her forte. There are always thousands of items laying on the floor, on the seats, anywhere and everywhere. Obviously she knows exactly where to find stuff, and yet to a by-standing observer the inside of her (now our) car appears as chaos. Even incidents like one that happened to her girlfriend last winter can’t seem to influence her at all. In January, we went sledding together with our close friends and their kids. While we were enjoying the fast melting snow some thugs used a curbstone to get to our friends car and steal a handbag that was left on the passenger seat. I believe there was also one other car that got robbed that day, for some reason ours was left untouched. Good fortune, I guess – even though the passenger seat happens to be also my wife’s favorite place for her usually large, bright colors, very feminine and visible bags.  She was very moved by such invasion on her fiends privacy and promised to be much more organized and careful about leaving stuff on display in the car. And she was. For about a week…

Today was the last day before departure. Our flight leaves Rochester tomorrow afternoon. Most of the day we were both frantically packing the remainder of our belongings. The house is empty now. Our four bedrooms worth of junk is squeezed in a 8′ by 11′ storage unit. How’s that possible? It wasn’t easy – the trick was to use as many as possible boxes of the same or at least similar shape. Put those larger and heavier ones on bottom and make you way to the ceiling using ever smaller and lighter boxes. At last stuck individual items in any visible holes that threaten the structure stability and you’ll conserve a lot of space! It took me several trips back and forth to transfer all our stuff. Those extra empty water bottles, coffee mugs,  lipsticks, mascara and other non-identified cosmetics items on the floor weren’t exactly helpful, but they didn’t disturb me either. What got my attention was the fact that one of the tires showed less then half of the required air pressure. It only had 15 PSI, which forced me to make an emergency stop at local gas station. When I watched closer, I found a piece of glass pressed into the tread and heard a quiet whistle of escaping air. I watched the pressure reading on the on-board computer display. In couple of hours I lost 5 PSI. There was still stuff at the house that needed to be moved to the storage in the morning. Since I don’t have a compressor, I decided it will be safer to transport whatever can be transported tonight and then leave the car at the local service garage. They can fix it first thing in the morning and we will be back in business before breakfast.

I parked the car at the service garage, wrote a two post-it’s long letter to the owner and was ready to drop the keys into the drop-off box, when I looked at the passenger seat. There it was… To my horror this one was large, bright yellow with a huge embroidered flower. It’s a very safe town, but I didn’t think that leaving my wife’s purse with all her credit cards and ID in the car overnight would be a smart idea. I had no choice, but to take it back home.

During a brisk, 15 minutes walk with a fashionable “European man bag” on my shoulder, I got couple of “Hello’s” from stranger men. The Sheriff also slowed down, but decided to let me have my evening stroll undisturbed. I guess, he wasn’t in mood to learn if I like men in uniform…

Focus is key!

Country Road at sunset

It’s easy to maintain focus. Especially on a motorcycle, going sixty miles an hour on an empty country road. June is seasonably hot in upstate New York this year. However, at eight o’clock in the morning, it’s still a bit chilly. The traffic is scarce and it’s easy to switch off. There are parts of brain trained to monitor situation on the road and operate the vehicle unconciously. The only sound is the engine roar and the wind twirling in your ears. Easy to disconnect, and yet still be in the present. Unlike in the car, you’re not only watching the scenery passing by your window. You are a part of it, you feel it with all your senses. The chill of the morning, the vibrations of the frame, the road inches below your feet, the blow (and bugs) in your face. And the smells – asphalt, spilled oils, fresh spread manure in the fields. You feel and register the world around you. You’re present and with no coffee mug, no radio or other distractions, your mind is also so much clearer. If you haven’t noticed already, I like riding my motorcycle. It’s almost a zen like experience. Most of the time…

The truth is, I have no choice. Over the weekend we’ve managed to sell quite a few of our possessions. My car, Ford Focus (no pun intended!) being one of them. I don’t care for the weather this summer, but in the next three weeks… Rain, rain, go away! Come again… after July 8th…!

Riding a motorcycle is easy. It doesn’t require skills or knowledge. It doesn’t require university degree or years of experience. That’s why riding motorcycle is fun. Real life is more complicated. The decisions you make are more complex, their consequences less immediate, but could be just as horrible. If you lose control of your bike at sixy miles an hour, the consequences will be immediate and painful. When you lose control of your life, you may not even realize it. You will probably enjoy the free fall for a while. But the end will eventually be just as bad.

Switching jobs, relocating, starting anew is all part of life. It may feel overwhelming at first, but in the end is like switching lanes on the road. A Sabbatical is a bit different. We take a turn on this country road and hope that we don’t lose control. I don’t know where the new road is going to take us to. And quite frankly, we don’t care. We want to enjoy new smells and be part of a different scenery.

Right now it feels like entering the curve still going sixty miles an hour. We hope as hell, we don’t hit the pavement…

As some of my French friends would say: “Focus is key”.

Exit Interview

exit sign

I don’t have much time to update this blog. We have less then 4 weeks left to departure and the house isn’t rented, we have all our vehicles, two TVs, some electronics, some furniture and tons of smaller stuff filling our garage. The minivan isn’t ready for the trip yet, we have no insurance, the utilities haven’t been cancelled, mail hasn’t been redirected.   The Sabbatical fund is growing slower than planned, mainly due to lower then expected annual bonus and some previously unaccounted for expenses. To make things worse, last night Agnieszka scratched our stainless steel appliances while trying to make them look stunning, which adds one more item to our already miles long to-do list. I’m starting to freak out…

During the exit interview this morning, the reality starts to sink in for good. In few weeks there will be no safe harbor anymore. The paychecks will be no more, no medical insurance, no health benefits. The HR manager starts to ask about things that are wrong with the business, with the organization, and all I can think of is how crazy we are to pull this stunt off! Of course there’s nothing wrong with the business, granted it’s has it’s problems, but they all fade away in comparison to our current headaches. It’s an emotional roller-coaster, and I’m looking forward for this last four weeks to be over. How much time did I spent preparing this exit strategy…? What exit strategy…? We’ve decided to throw everything we’ve been working for out the window and watch it crash on the pavement.

When we get to my Parents house, I’ll sleep for a week and blame it on jet lag. For now, we can’t get good night sleep at all. What is it she’s asking…? Can’t concentrate, it’s quite boring. What do I think needs to be changed…? Hmm, well… Let me think… Oh, who am I trying to fool, I don’t really care what’s going to change after I’m gone. I’ve seen an announcement this morning. There’s going to be new organization and new management team… And I’m leaving? Am I not going to witness the new and improved Alstom…? Nope, I’ve seen it already countless times. There will be new, more efficient ways-of-working (wow!)… I’m more interested in ways of removing scratches from stainless steel appliances. The momentum is gone. I think it wasn’t there in the first place. Do I have any questions? Yes, do you want to buy a couch…?

The interview is over, and if it was on my to-do list I would scratch it off. Yesterday, it was the dentists checkup, today it’s the interview. Hope that tomorrow, we’ll find renters for our house. That would be a truly good day!

By the way, anyone interested in any of our possessions? Maybe you know people who are looking for a four bedroom house in good neighborhood, a car, a motorcycle, beds, a couch, blu-ray player, video camera, speakers, amplifier, game console, large TV and stand, office desk, kitchen stuff, or any other items…? I’m sure we still have it…

Announcing Sabbatical

Up until recently our trip didn’t have an official start date. Yes, we knew it will start probably some time in July or August, but we didn’t have a fix date. That has changed yesterday, when Agnieszka committed my hard earned 200,000 frequent traveler miles and USD $2,400.- (taxes and other fees) in exchange for a round trip to Katowice. Well, not exactly a round trip. We will departure from Rochester on Tuesday, July 12 th 2011 and return to Toronto on August 29 th 2011.

It means that our North American sabbatical year will start in Europe. We’ll spend that time with our friends and Family, show our kids where we grew up, travel around Europe. We’ll probably visit the Czech Republic, Germany and Norway, but those will be rather short trips. I’d like to use the time in Chorzów to better plan the details of our trip, get necessary insurance, immunization shots, etc.

We’d like to rent the house out mid July, right after our departure. Therefore we need to sell all the junk we’ve accumulated over the past nine years, put our valuables in storage, sell one car and motorcycle, pack our van and park it on our neighbors driveway for the summer.

Last Saturday at Alex’s third birthday party, we announced our plans to our friends. Most of them were surprised, some seemed shocked, but all congratulated our decision. I think we all agree that life’s too short to waste it in a cubicle cell, working long hours and weekends for a paycheck, with no satisfaction. Anyway, that’s not what this post is about…

Once back to upstate New York, we plan to pick up our car and drive down to Allegany State Park for the Labor Day weekend and a farewell party for our Rochester friends. Where will we go next? Well, that’s still to be decided. We know that the ultimate goal is Mexico and Central America, all the way down to Darien’s Gap. Rough budget shows that we might be able to support ourselves for 15 to 18 months on the road, maybe a little longer.

On that trip there will be a few points that we “must see” and a few things that we “ must do”, but overall it will be about going slow and enjoying the surroundings. Among the places that we absolutely have to visit is the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks in the US, Morelia and Yukatan in Mexico, the Panama Canal and a few other places. We all want to learn Spanish, Agnieszka wants to complete Yoga instructor course in Guatemala, I want to learn the ropes of DSLR photography and write, write, write. I hope Agnieszka and Nadia will help me with that task and that we’ll be posting here often.