I’m often asked why I would ever want to take a trip like this one. One where I will be at the mercy of the people. A trip beset with hazards not often seen in the suburban jungles of Seattle. A trip that promises to be great and terrible. I say why not take a trip like this. A trip where you can see something new everyday. A trip where I can do something I love all day. A trip where I can take my time or challenge myself. But most of all a life with no desk. A primary goal in my life is to fill it with things that never get old. Things like amazing sunsets while lounging on the beach, incredible landscapes only appreciated on a slow moving vehicle like a bicycle, and the thrill of the wind in my face as I careen down hills and mountain passes. It is my dream that this trip will fulfill that part of me.
While in Monteverde Costa Rica in January of 2006, I had been talking to a friend and a particular quote came up: “To believe something and not to live it is dishonest.” – Mahatma Ghandhi. Now there are times in life when you hear things and don’t even think about them and other times where you have a deep sense of agreement and understanding with the statements. I do not have a indiscriminate view Ghandhi; or any other figures in history. It was the words, not who said it, that made me start scheming. Fixed on another subject as well as travel; the boredom of work and the exhaustion of it all. The pointlessness of a life chained to a desk. The awful drudgery of doing the same thing for the next 30 years. I have been working long hours in the tech industry for 10 years. I had just finished a project at work where I was working 85-106hrs/week for three months. It’s times like these that change your perspective drastically enough that spontaneous illuminations occur. Was this really to be the my life until retirement? Is this really what I want to do? I have always thought that having only one career in a lifetime would be a waste. What would it be like to look back on my life while in my later years and have never had any epic adventure; to never left the bindings of the desk and the pager; to have done only what was prescribed by normality and have never followed my dreams. The Costa Rican landscapes, people, climate, economy, gave me an example of what a large portion of the trip would be like. Suddenly it all seemed so demystified. This was possible, and this too was something I believed in.
This isn’t the first time I’ve attemped escape from the megacorp lifestyle. In the spring of 2004 I took a leave of absence from my job, remodeled my house, sold it, and moved to Oahu in late April. I had gotten a job working as a glassblower in a studio in Kapolei. I traveled out to meet the owner and check out the shop in February and found everything to be in order. I had visions of surfing, diving, and cycling the island; all while being able to blow glass whenever I wanted. Glassblowing had been a passion of mine for 5 years. The embracing orange glow of hot glass, the way glass can surprise you when you think all is lost, and the development of technical expertise is what I loved.
Over the next two months I took a leave of absence from my job and finished remodeling first house. My timing was perfect; right at the height of the Seattle housing bubble. The house sold in a week and I was Hawaii-bound.
Unfortunately I was not able to blow glass in Hawaii. When I arrived I found the shop was in disarray, all the assistants had quit the previous week, and the owner, Thomas, had been served with an eviction notice which required him to be out a week prior to my arrival. I was informed that we would need to move the shop to a new location after engineering and pouring a concrete pad where the equipment would rest. This was all a little disheartening to me at the time but I was upbeat. I was away from the shackles of IT, I was in Hawaii, and I was going to make the best of it. For the next couple days I organized the inventory, put glass in boxes and kept an accounting of everything to prepare for the move. It was truly mundane work; not how I had envisioned my first few days. Thomas spent his time writing a document to respond to the eviction notice which he continually told me, as if to convince himself, would only take 20 minutes. He would stay up all night in his office trying to finish this 20 minutes of work … for 2 days. My right eyebrow slowly raised inquisitively over these days.
On the third day I was informed that someone was coming by the shop to collect some items that had been borrowed some time ago. I was instructed that I should keep him from looking in the back room and was to keep that door closed at all times while visitors were in the shop. The oddity of this request peaked my curiosity. The aforementioned individual eventually came by the shop, picked up his furnace, and left uneventfully.
I was staying in a room in the studio which was little more than a couple of walls with a door. There were huge cracks in the corners of the structure that let sorties of mosquitoes enter as they pleased and exit once they were done gorging on my tender white Seattle skin. This “room” had been offered to me as a cheap place to live. The amenities included: A mattress on the floor, a canvas drop cloth which served as both my sheet; duvee; and mosquitoe deflector, a rickety desk and computer with internet access, and a distinct lack of bathroom in the building. This was not the worst place I’ve ever slept but certainly doesn’t rank high on my list. However staying in the shop did afford me some time to myself and allowed me to investigate things a little more closely.
That night I took a look at the back room. Thomas had mentioned to me that the contents of the room was largely ingredients for making glass color. There were various tubs of chemicals, small drums of liquids, and a large variety of oxides. A quick glance around the room and a particular container caught my eye. Methyl Ethyl Ketone, a solvent use for various cleaning applications, was a prominent item. I had never heard of this substance or many of the others there so I memorized the name of it and went upstairs to see what Google had to say. The search turned up all sort of applications, nothing all that interesting. I returned to the back room, opened tubs, and snooped around. Now this is not something I would normally do. I certainly never had done something like this before and did feel uncomfortable about it while I proceeded. It was my suspicion that somehow made this necessary; and I’m glad it had. I eventually uncovered bottles of Chloroform and Ether, bags of Amalgam, tablets of NaOH2, Acetone, Antifreeze, and of course the oxides commonly used in glass as a colorant. Each time I found something new I returned and added it to my search criteria upstairs. Each time I found the results more and more troubling. With each addition the results began to narrow to a set of pages all on the same topic: How to make Methamphetamine. It was as if all the air had been sucked out of my lungs. I could not believe what I had found. What was I to do? When you follow a dream sometimes get so caught up in the dream itself that reality takes a backseat. Unfortunately the car collided and reality, not wearing a seatbelt, slammed into me. The decision was of course obvious. I’m no prude but I could not work in a drug lab of this nature if nothing else for safety sake.
The next morning I confronted Thomas and told him I knew what the backroom was used for. He initial denied my statements as false but after a minute of me rattling off the list of solvents like a auctioneer and explaining what you are to do with them; he caved. Needless to say I quickly extracted myself from the situation.
This experience highlighted that things are almost never as they seem. The romance is often lost on reality but still takes center stage in your memories. When I’m left with only my memories and no longer able to create more I hope I will be glad for the flavor of my life introduced by my adventures. Even though my move to Hawaii was a total failure in terms of the goals I set out to achieve it was still one of the best experiences of my life. It pushed me out of a job I despised, taught me I wasn’t as tied down as I thought, and taught me I really didn’t need much to survive.
I intuit that many people that have never considered following their dreams because they feel tied down to their life. They are scared to do so and don’t quite comprehend how someone could do such a thing. They are also scared of failure more than they are excited by the prospect of success. I remember these feelings myself when I started preparing for my Hawaii move. Now I understand that most of these feelings are conjured; they are not real. All you have to do is make a plan and stick to it. If you fail, you may find that there is success in the failure and that the end result didn’t really matter anyway. It was the journey that made all the difference.
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