(Fair Warning! This is gonna’ be a long one!)
Now, before anyone feels the need to challenge me based on the title of this post, hold on! I am not filled with anti-U.S. sentiment and have no desire to renounce my U.S. citizenship today (although, I do find the stench of the current political situation in the U.S. unbearably nauseating). I’m simply very, very happy to be back home here in Ecuador; back home in my house, sleeping in my bed, next to my wife with our two Chihuahuas burrowed in-between us. Home!
I was in the States for about 10 days. Traveling alone, there was an incredibly tight schedule to maintain. Most of the trip was no fun at all. I had been mandated to appear at the behest of the Veteran’s Administration in order to subject myself to several days of medical tests at the enormous Haley Veteran’s Hospital complex in Tampa. There was the standard poking, prodding, lab work, assessments and a number of additional high-tech invasions of my body, all dutifully recorded and entered into their system as well as a number of consultations with several doctors and specialists; a very thorough process, for sure but absolutely NO FUN AT ALL!!
While in Florida, I also needed to visit with my accountant, grab some things from a friend’s house that had been stored there, correct some problems with our banking process, do some shopping as directed by the Pocket Babe (even our housekeeper Fatima had a request) and finally, I would be visiting my son and his family for a few nights in Orlando before making the 2-day return trek to our home on Ecuador’s coast (It should be no surprise that visiting my son and his family was the best part of my trip).
Ten days! That’s too damned long to be away from my regular life! I’m sure it would have been much different if Diane and I had been together in the Caribbean or the South Pacific lounging around some beach sucking down tall, fruity rum drinks, BUT, that was not the case. I had a schedule that was broken down into 15 minute increments every day and a very tight travel budget. This was to be no pleasure trip!
The Pocket Babe stayed behind to tend to our two Chihuahuas; our newest just on the tail-end of the housebreaking process. Had she come with me, most of her time would have been spent waiting for me at the hospital, anyway.
As a disabled veteran, I am required to be seen by my team of docs on a regular basis. Not only is the care I receive exceptionally great (something for which I am truly grateful), but the required reports and results of these visits need to be entered into the giant V.A. system to maintain the happy. So, every 6-10 months, I make the trek back to Tampa and spend several days subjecting myself to the required medical inquisition.
The Haley Veteran’s Hospital is a regional Poly-Trauma unit. It’s the best of the best and serves the needs of all veteran’s to include those critically and horrifically wounded in combat. Just about the time I would begin to feel a bit sorry for myself, I’d encounter some young warrior in a wheel chair or on crutches, a face scarred by shrapnel and horribly burned; high tech prosthetics visible where flesh and bone once were…struggling to reassemble his life after being blown up. In an instant, I would snap back to reality and realize that I was doing just fine!
In my last post, I mentioned the couch surfing concept. Couch Surfing…sharing your home with fellow travelers and offering your hospitality at no charge to your guests. www.couchsurfing.org
As the recent government shutdown had delayed the processing and disbursement of some significant refunds due me, my travel budget was painfully skinny!! I really needed my money and the politicians were holding it hostage! That is another topic! Hooking up with a couch surfing participant willing to allow me to spend a few nights in their home would be a HUGE help!
With much apprehension, I began to search the thousands of couch surfing members in the Tampa area. Could I really do this? Just show up on someone’s doorstep and move in for a few days, sharing their home? Do people really do this? As I began to read the numerous profiles of folks willing to open their homes to others, I found myself beginning to understand the underlying culture of this experience. Many of these folks were experienced world travelers, not only opening their homes to fellow travelers but staying with other hosts across the globe as they, themselves, travelled. Photos of the members appeared along with their biographies. There were also reviews written by the guests, just as if it was a hotel.
As I expected, the vast majority of these folks were much younger than I, perhaps in their 20s and 30s; adventurous and free spirited…but not all. As I read, I began to realize that the “match” of guest and host would be very important for both participants to have a positive experience.
There was one middle-aged gay couple who sounded wonderful. There were other mature folks, singles and married couples. Some offered a couch and others offered spare rooms with private baths. Nearly all offered to show folks around their town. I selected 6 mature candidates whose biographies sounded like they might be a good “match”. I sent each an email with a link to my website and a short biography. I explained the purpose of my trip to the area and told them my entire hectic schedule. There would be no need for a sightseeing tour. Of the 6 candidates, there were 3 single women, 1 single male, one married couple and one gay couple. All of them were 50+ years of age. Within a few hours, my first response appeared. It was from the gay couple. They would LOVE to host me however they were already hosting guests during the time I needed a place. Maybe another time?
The next was a cautious response from one of the single women. She asked a number of questions to which I responded. She said she spent considerable time on my website, “checking me out”. Good for her!! That is exactly what I hoped would happen. She even sent an inquiry from the site to be sure it would connect with me. She left her phone number. I asked Diane to join me on the call. Within a few minutes, we all felt comfortable and she extended the invitation to stay with her for the duration of my stay. I also received acceptance notes from 2 others which I declined.
I explained to my host that I would be flying into Miami, arriving late at night. I would rent a car and drive through the night from Miami to Zephyrhills, Florida and would arrive early the next morning. I did exactly that. After a tentative knock, I was greeted by my host who proclaimed that I looked exactly like my photos; A test I had just passed. I was invited in and shown my room and bath. My host lived in a very nice, manicured 50+ community of which there are thousands in Florida. We talked briefly while she fixed my breakfast. Yes!!! This woman wanted to cook for me and cook she did every day that I remained in her home. She was a great cook!!
My host quickly “friended” Diane on Facebook and they exchanged several messages. She was a bright, hard-working woman with 3 grown children which she had raised mostly on her own. She had achieved professional success and was thrilled that she was able to assist me as a person and as a veteran. She said she joined “Couch Surfing” so that she’d be able to find places to stay in Europe, never imagining that anyone would actually want to stay in Zephyrhills, Florida. My request stunned her.
When it was time for me to leave the comfort of my host’s home and travel to Orlando to visit my son, we hugged as old friends. We had connected and we will remain in contact, I’m sure. My host knows that if she ever decides to come to Ecuador, she has a place to stay here!
The docs are never happy with test results; at least not in my case. I move from day to day appreciating each moment for the gift that it is. They want me to move closer to top quality medical care…just in case. They are docs. Of course they do.
It’s really, really good to be home!