Time Out: Taking A Short Break

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I just read a piece about blogging (click) entitled, “Why 99% of Blogs Will Fail in 2018.” Not very encouraging. If success is defined by earning money from one’s blog, then I’m not successful. If success is staying on schedule and publishing a blog each week, then I am highly successful. From the get go, I was aware of those in the blogosphere who write blogs in order to become famous or make a living out of it; this was never my intention. The decision to relocate to Portugal was one of the biggest decisions of my life and I know that others out there are struggling with whether or not to move overseas. I made a commitment to myself and others to document my move. In the process of sharing detailed logistics, I found myself dealing with personal feelings only peripherally to the move.

When you decide to leave your friends and family, part with 98% of your belongings, and be a part of a completely different culture, a lot of what you end up feeling are emotions you would have not anticipated. I’m not beating myself or complaining; for the most part, it was all good. Blogging provided a means and discipline for putting my thoughts and feelings in writing. I have kept a journal for many years, however, this is different in that you know that strangers and others close to you will be exposed to intimate thoughts you had not shared before. Loneliness and loss surfaced, along with parts of my life I had buried, and had not fully dealt with. Writing about these memories helped me to sort through the impact these experiences had on my life and how these experiences shaped my decision to live in Europe.

For example, the pain I felt as a child while witnessing physical and emotional abuse in my home, was a lonely and isolated pain. I could not share what I was seeing and feeling with others because these matters were shameful and personal; in truth I am still embarrassed by what I experienced. I kept most of it inside and made promises to myself about my life and my future. Today, I find myself fulfilling these childhood/young adult promises. I shield myself from hurt, I walk away from antagonistic conflict, I reel against physical abuse, and I isolate myself in order to protect myself from emotional pain. The ability to see and think about this in real-time has been helpful in my pursuit of emotional wellbeing. The writing has helped me immensely and I have been told that it has helped others.

Keeping it real and sometimes raw, has a downside. Alienating friends and family members who were a part of my past is a real danger. So far, I have received nothing but support. I have made a commitment to deal with personal conflict privately and I will hold to that commitment. It would be wrong for someone in my life to read about an unresolved conflict in one of my blogs — this should only apply to someone who is no longer with us; hence unresolved conflict. When you have not had an opportunity for closure, you subconsciously look for ways to resolve whatever is still hanging out there.

They say it’s all about the journey and with any luck, I have a long road ahead. I expect there is still much to learn. I working hard to embrace truth and a greater awareness of who I am and who I want to be. Thank you for coming along for the ride. Please continue to share your thoughts and personal experiences.

 

Last Blog Until Sometime in May

I am taking off for Lisbon today and the States tomorrow. Knowing that I will not be traveling to the U.S. very often, and because I may be getting a dog in January, I decided to make it a five-week trip home — the U.S. will always be home. I will be taking a Caribbean cruise with family for my 60th birthday and I will be visiting friends and family in different states. I’ll be traveling up the east coast, ending my trip in Boston. Until the next time . . .

 

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Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

Nearly One Year Abroad

 

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Asilah, Morocco for the New Year 

 

I thought I’d share the highs and lows of relocating overseas. I’ll be in the States for my 60th at the one year mark, so I thought I’d blog about it now.

 

A Brief Overview

I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine a few years ago, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love America and will never give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.

The Highs

I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.

The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.

I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.

The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, no humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.

Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.

The Little things that make a big difference:

  • Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
  • No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
  • The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally.
  • Very little crime. I feel very safe.
  • Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the system, but once I did, it was a right.
  • Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
  • I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
  • Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
  • Furniture is well-made here.

The Lows

Losing Giorgio to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.

I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated. It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love, my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not discovered yet; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.

I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.

Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal.

Did I Make the Right Choice?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable.

Access to Travel

Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.

 

Photos:  I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.

Sagres Guide

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What Lies Ahead?

The best is yet to come . . .

I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

“We don’t have to be defined by the things we did or didn’t do in our past. Some people allow themselves to be controlled by regret. Maybe it’s a regret, maybe it’s not. It’s merely something that happened. Get over it.”
― Pittacus Lore, I Am Number Four

Perspective

 

I like to think that I’m a big picture kinda guy, except that I’m not. I get pretty bogged down in minutia. Big picture would mean that I’d be considering how I fit into the scheme of things and how small I am compared to the universe. It’s time for me to start differently. Getting older and living overseas helps; however, I still think about what’s to come more than I should. I am constantly about living in the present, but the present just passed me by, in a big way. How about I try just living?

 

Who Am I?

You need to figure out who you are before you can consider how you fit in with the rest of the world.

It’s a big question, no? It would obviously take up a great deal of blog space to provide an answer and I’d end up boring you to death. Therefore, I’m going to attempt to answer this question in just a few short sentences. Hopefully some of what I have to say will resonate for you.

I am first a foremost a human being. The reason it is important to acknowledge this is simple:  human beings are flawed; accepting this is the key to accepting yourself. Next, my identity:   I am Christopher, a name given to me, that I have always liked. I am nearly 60 years old, caucasian, gay, and divorced (the order doesn’t matter). I am insecure, fairly healthy, happy, sad, and about 20 pounds overweight. I am sort of retired; however, I’m not sure I actually believe that. I am average looking (meaning I don’t believe that I am ugly), a bit taller than the average man, I still get pimples, I am bald, I am arthritic, I am quick to judge, I feel deeply and cry easily, I work hard on my friendships, I love most of my family, I have achieved some financial success, I am proud of my career, I am educated, I drink too much, and I can be lazy. Most of this stuff is easy for others to see and some of it may be a surprise — I like that the people around me don’t know everything about me. Yes, there is more to learn (for another time).

Let me stop now and conclude that in truth, I not fully aware of who I am. Lately, I have scratched the surface and thus far, I like most of what I see. Discovering who you are is a big part of life’s journey. That journey is far from over.

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I give myself a facial once every few weeks. I’m not sure it doesn’t anything for my skin, but it makes me feel better about myself; certainly I feel cleaner.

 

How Does Who I Am Fit Into the Rest of the World

It doesn’t hurt to be answering this question in my beautiful hotel room, with a magnificent view of Seville, Spain. Sometimes, in order to gain perspective, it helps to be out of your element.

As I begin to see myself as a very small part of the universe, it helps me to understand where and how I fit in. A tiny part of me is fully aware of the difference I make in other people’s lives. Would they survive without me? Absolutely. Would the world keep turning? Of course. I know in my heart that each of us, in a small way, can change the world. I also acknowledge that some of us have the ability to change it in a big way; I’m thinking:  Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Gandhi, and people like that; people we should be grateful for and grateful to.

In short, I fit like a pair of mismatched shoes; the feet go in, but something doesn’t look quite right. You know what? That’s okay.

 

Who Do I Want to Be?

Most of us start thinking about this question early in our lives; I know I did. Funny thing is we don’t always come to a conclusion. I find myself reflecting on this question quite often. There are times when I’m sailing along and I’m thinking, I am an educator and I’ll just keep educating. And then there are times when I think, I haven’t amounted to much. The latter is of course, irrational thinking. It’s a trap we all fall into — the ol’ I’m not good enough trap. On good days I know that this is ridiculous. Still, coming to terms with the presence of demons is important for growth. These days, I acknowledge the demons and then I decide to deal with them. It’s okay not to know the complete answer to this difficult question. It’s okay to search. The implicit meaning of searching is to seek an answer; an action and therefore, not stagnation.

Dictionary result for search

verb
  1. 1.
    try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.
    synonyms: huntlookexploreforage, fish about/around, look high and low, cast about/around/round, ferret (about/around), root about/around, rummage about/around; More

noun
  1. 1.
    an act of searching for someone or something.
    “the police carried out a thorough search of the premises”

 

Reality Check

It is important for me to acknowledge that at 60 years old, I will probably not achieve a few of my goals. I can sit around and pout and beat myself for this or I can set realistic goals. That is not to say that I should abandon everything I’ve wished for. When I take inventory of what I have achieved, it makes me feel better about what I have not. I don’t reduce my list of goals, I adjust it. Knowing your limits is essential. Reaching beyond your limits is healthy and may surprise you. It’s all about balance and your personal threshold.

I’ve heard it said that when people are dying and they are asked if they have any regrets, there are a few common answers:

  1. I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.
  2. I wish I had worked less.
  3. I wish I had worried less.

There are more, but these are the ones I am paying the most attention to. It’s important for me to learn from the mistakes others have made and learn from the lessons others have taught me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

An Organic Lifestyle

These days the word organic is overused and abused. I thought twice about using it today because it has been watered down of late. I am going to simply state that it is my goal to gain some perspective on my life by allowing it to unfold before me more organically/naturally. I’ve talked about this before, however, I think it’s worth repeating. When I have been able to move more fluidly through life without little planning, I have been pleasantly surprised. Amazing things happen when you open yourself up to possibilities. It seems so simple when I type the words. The truth is that for some, it is extremely difficult. I have been known to actually plan what time of the day I will plan — that’s right, I will make an entry on my calendar at the 9:15 a.m. slot, that states, “make a to do list for the next week.” It’s going a bit too far I’d say.

Perspective can be gained by allowing oneself to think freely and move through the day without directing every action. In other other words, allowing yourself to just be.

 

A Strange, but honest side note:  I just returned from Seville, Spain. Seville is a little over two hours from my home in Faro. When I decided to move to Portugal, I had no idea I was so close to Seville. I had been there about 15 years ago and I had a not-so-great experience; I won’t go into the details here. I had the occasion to return to Seville a few months ago and I fell in love with the city. It is rich in culture, authentic, rich in history, there are many modern restaurants worthy of trying, it is clean, friendly, fairly easy to navigate, and not at all pricey. Spain is a progressive country that embraces all people. Being gay in Spain is not at all an issue and that is not true of every city.

The reason I started this note by writing that this entry would be strange, is this:  I don’t want to blog about where I eat when I’m there (although I have made mention of a place in a previous blog), where I stay, the places I visit, etc. I do post on Instagram if you’re interested. I want Seville to be a quick getaway for me. It’s sort of my second home. I want to just enjoy all that it has to offer and I have decided to be selfish and keep most of it to myself. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in going. I would be happy to share privately with those who are truly interested. I make no apologies for this.

 

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I met this wide-eyed little boy on a bus to Loulé last Friday. It occurred to me that all he wanted was to make a connection. Had I not been open to interaction with another human being, I would have missed out on the innocence of this beautiful child.

 

 

Owning Your Own Business Versus Working for Someone Else

 

 

Having worked for several companies/universities and then owning my own small business, I have had some time to reflect on my career and the choices I made.  Although I would not call myself a career expert, I have learned some valuable lessons along the way. There are times in life when we have the luxury of choice and there are times when we do things out of necessity. Planning is key so that you have more control over your direction and the outcome.

 

While You’re in College

I recall being in a panic during my second semester in college because I had decided to major in Sociology after an amazing Intro class. What will I do with a sociology degree was all-consuming. Keep in mind the internet did not exist back then. I spoke to people, canvassed my professors, and searched my soul, but after months of panic, nothing resonated for me. Then one day while working on campus my, I saw a poster on a bulletin board and the title was:  100 Careers with a Sociology degree; I was elated to say the least. I thought about stealing the poster but my conscience  got the better of me. I jotted down a number of career titles that seemed possible. I then set out to learn more about each of them.

At this point in my life, working for myself would never have been an option; I was lazy and unmotivated and way too insecure. My thinking was conventional and my dreams lacked possibilities. I mostly thought that I’d be lucky to finish college. I also wondered if anyone would ever hire me. Most of my college friends were far worse off in that they were even lazier. My parents were blue-collar and the word “career” had little meaning for them. Times have changed . . .I think.

Young people today seem to be much more aware of their options; I would even venture to say that many are fearless. People no longer think in terms of one job/one career. Moving from one job to the next is more the norm than the exception. I dare say that many young people today have their parents to fall back on. There are stats pointing to many living at home with their parents well into their late 20s and early 30s.

Endless number of resources on the internet:

Pros and Cons list (click)

Reasons to Run Your Own Business (click)

 

Out-of-the-Gate

I read and hear stories about young entrepreneurs starting their own business either while still in college or right out of college. I imagine some of these kids do it without even thinking too much about it. The world has changed and technology of course has everything to do with it. The absence of bricks and mortar make start-up costs far more affordable for tech entrepreneurs with a good idea. There is a lot to consider when starting your own business; I will share some of my own experiences later in this blog.

 

Your First Position

In my day, your first position was incredibly important. Where you worked and for how long mattered a great deal. Staying in one place for a few years was very important for resume building and to show stability. I’m not sure this is true anymore. I think it is more the norm to try new things and then move on to the next new thing. There was a time when individuals might work for the same company for 30 or 40 years; this is hardly the case these days. One big problem that I can see when considering changing jobs often, are the raises and promotions one might receive by proving oneself valuable to a company.

One of today’s considerations is that many of today’s businesses appear to have a revolving door policy:  once an employee begins to become too expensive, companies often let them go and hire another employee at a lesser salary. This issue makes stability more difficult and mobility more prevalent. When you’re starting a family or caring for aging parents, moving from one city to another may be difficult — as I stated earlier, so much to consider.

I am a list-maker and I find it helpful to jot down all of the variables. What are your wishes, hopes, and dreams? What in your life is non-negotiable? Where do you want to live? What are your salary requirements? Is longevity important to you? Do you have a five-year plan? Can you put money into savings and/or a retirement plan (never too early to consider building retirement savings).

 

Owning Your Own Business

I had no choice but to start my own business. I was a high earner in New York and when I left to start a new life in Maine, I had a difficult time getting my foot in the door. I managed to convince a couple of big companies to interview me; however, as time went on, it became clear that I would probably not acquire the position I hoped for. I had a number of things working against me:

  • I became too expensive for most companies
  • Employers were afraid of offering me a job at a lesser salary, fearing that I would not stay long (they told me so). Career advisors told me to omit high level positions from my resume; something I just could not or would not do.
  • When you’re over fifty you become high risk for companies offering insurance benefits. Older hires can raise premiums significantly.
  • Many of the HR individuals doing the interviewing were in their 30s and 40s and could not relate to an older candidate.
  • Ageism is alive and well in the United States.

I experienced one road block after another until I finally gave in and decided to start a consulting business. I thought that my expertise in hospitality could be an asset in a city that had a reputation for great food in a magnificent seaside setting (frankly the reason I relocated to Portland, Maine). Starting a business these days is not easy. After developing a business plan, developing a website was my next greatest challenge:  cost, content, credibility, target markets, and time, were all major considerations. I had some savings put aside for survival in my new city and decided to put some resources toward my new venture. I was fortunate to find a graphics design students who was developing websites part-time. She was smart, talented, and her youthful outlook was exactly what I needed to offset my “older” perspective.

I never kidded myself about my age and what I knew and didn’t know. I bartered with my first few clients. I needed endorsements and a client list in order to garner any credibility in the crowded field of consultants. Initially, several businesses were very kind to me and open to giving me a chance. I learned some valuable lessons along the way:

  • Don’t expect to make any money your first year (your expenses will outweigh your income).
  • Keep track of every expense — tax deductions will become extremely important
  •  Be generous with your time and budget. I offered the first hour of consulting free and that turned out to be the cornerstone of my early success.
  • Find other ways to supplement your income while you’re building your business. At one point I had three part-time jobs. All three were ways of meeting new people, attracting potential clients, and providing a distraction from the hardship of a start-up.
  • Be careful not to burn out. I rewarded myself with some travel and nice dinners after each new client was signed on.
  • Make sure your fees are competitive and fair. Offer clients an out and stand by your accomplishments. Don’t give away the farm; what you are offering is valuable.
  • Your network is larger than you might imagine. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Consider how much you help others and the joy that it brings you. Others will want to do the same for you.

 

Our Changing World

I voluntarily left a position when I was 54 years old thinking that with my education and experience, I was highly marketable; was I ever wrong. The world changed in the blink of an eye and I was so busy living life, I didn’t see what was happening in front of my face. We all grow up in a certain time and place where norms guide us. Change has always been a constant; however, today change is more rapid than it has historically ever been. Keeping up with change is an almost impossible challenge, but try you must or you will be left wondering why you didn’t. Never assume you know enough. Never assume that everyone around you has integrity. Be hyper aware without being cynical. Do your homework, ask a lot of questions, and keep up with technology.

Sometimes I have so much going on in my head and so much information coming at me, it feels like my brain is about to explode. I have learned how to store information on my laptop so that I don’t have to keep it in my head. Freeing up space in your mind will make it easier to allow new thoughts and knowledge to flow in. Meditation was a big part of my work life. I would close the door and free my mind of all distractions. This 10 to 20 minute almost daily practice would help me to gain perspective. Above all else be grateful that you get to choose. And never forget to thank those around you who have helped you succeed. Often we say thank you when it is too late. No matter how smart you or how resourceful you might be, you more than likely have cheerleaders:  spiritual, emotional, and caring support and guidance that helps you navigate this changing world. Be gracious and grateful and good things will continue to come your way.

 

Follow Your Heart and the Money Will Come

Life is all about choices. When choosing working for someone else or having your own business, remember that decisions are often not etched in stone. Trying out an idea or pursuing a dream, doesn’t mean that you will be in it for life. Our fear of the unknown can be so strong it stifles us. Money complicates matters further. You know all the questions you ask yourself:  Will I make enough to live on? Can I afford to send my children to college? Will I have enough for retirement. The questions can be overwhelming.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

Where Your Career Takes You

People often think that owning your own business means that you no longer have to answer to “the man.” In truth, no matter what you do to earn money, you will always have to answer to someone. Restaurant owners answer to their customers/clients, as do plumbers, CPAs, lawyers, real estate brokers and so on.When you become successful and no longer have to be hyper concerned about earnings, you might be able to pick and choose your clients. I know very few business owners who can truthfully claim this position. Most business owners are beholden to their clients and in some ways, this can be even more stressful that working for someone else. When you’re an employee, because you do not own the business, you are usually not ultimately responsible for the business. You can always be held accountable; however, legally, the business owner(s) is responsible. You can be terminated, but it would be rare for an employee to be financially libel (there are of course exceptions). Most business owners carry insurance which should or could cover you up to a certain limit. It’s a good thing to look into before starting a position.

Big Lesson:  If you go into business in order to escape working for someone else, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

 

Pointers Along the Way

  • Stay true to yourself
  • Weigh the pros and cons (make lists)
  • Talk to people who have taken different paths
  • Keep an open mind
  • Consider your partner
  • When do you want to start or family?
  • Consider the lives of your children
  • Have short-term and long-term goals
  • Save and start a retirement plan early on
  • Remember to enjoy yourself
  • Be prepared for curve balls
  • When you own your own business, you could easily end up working very long hours. It’s a good idea to plan your work day and try to stay on a schedule.
  • Go on vacation; take time off

 

Last Words

One of my favorite questions is:

If you could do it over again, what would you change?

When I look at the decisions and choices I have made, I realize that although I did not love every job I have had, all of my life experiences seem to have led me to where I am today. Often we have no idea where a decision will take us; will it be the “right” job? Will I make a lot of money? Will it lead to a promotion? Will I like the people I work with? You can do a great deal of research and talk to many people about a company or business, but you cannot ever predict the future. So many things can happen along the way to determine an outcome. This is why it is often best to go with what you feel in your gut. If you have a support group around you and you work hard, you can weather just about any storm. Character building is just as important as career building.

One thing I might have changed was my appetite for risk taking. I’ve realized that times in my life when I threw caution to the wind, I had some positive results. I learned more about myself, I was prideful about the outcome, and I was often pleasantly surprised with the results. I was able to retire when I was 58 years old because I did a lot of planning. For me, leisure time, travel, exploration and enjoying every minute I have on this planet, have been my top priorities. Keeping your eye on the prize is essential for reaching your goals. Be flexible, be realistic, be daring, and be happy and as the experts say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

A number of you own your own business or may have thoughts about the topic. It would be great to hear your perspective.

 

The Canary Islands

Natural Beauty and Tranquility

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Looking toward El Teide (the highest peak in Spain) on the island of Tenerife

 

There are many places all over the world that offer the traveller unparalleled beauty; however, from where I’m sitting, the Canary Islands have many destinations beat for the following reasons:

  1. Gorgeous natural beauty off the coast of Africa (part of Spain)
  2. Many natural parks, hiking trails, and hidden treasures
  3. Many micro-climates
  4. Volcanic beauty
  5. Easy to get to from anywhere in Europe
  6. Extremely affordable
  7. Very friendly
  8. Easy to travel from one island to the other
  9. Great roads for driving
  10. Excellent cuisine

Admittedly, I was fortunate to be visiting a friend who has lived in Tenerife for a few months. Alex is a world traveler and he has excellent taste. He designed my four-day trip to the Canary Islands based on answers to my questions about what I wanted to see and do. I have known Alex for many years; he knows what I like and do not like.

I will not be laying out my trip in order of chronology; instead I will write about what I enjoyed the most, first, then go from there. I will not be writing about every restaurant; however, I will highlight a few that were memorable. I will note all three hotels and I will share several travel tips.

Alex generously sent me the latest edition of Lonely Planet (we both love this guide), so that I could read about the islands prior to traveling.

Tenerife

El Teide is a magical place.

 

 

 

Weeks prior to my visit, Alex and I discussed where we would go and what we would do on my trip. He told me later that the one thing I was certain about was taking the cable car up to the summit of El Teide. This is the highest mountain in Spain, 3718 meters or 12,198.16 feet. I para-jumped out of an airplane a few years ago and I wasn’t as high up off the ground as I was on El Teide.

All of the roads leading up the mountains of the Canary Islands are narrow and not for the faint-of-heart. The views were breathtaking and worth the scare, but I’m not sure everyone would agree. I was fortunate to be with a good driver who was willing to stop whenever I needed a break or wanted to take a photo.

We stayed at Parador Nacional. This Parador was located right inside the Parque Nacional del Teide (see below). I was very happy about the fireplace and the indoor pool, but in truth, the place needed a bit of TLC. Many bikers and hikers use it as a place to stop for a bite or a resting spot. The desk person told us that we needed to make a reservation for the cable car that would take us to the summit. I went to the reception desk at a specified time and the desk person said that they only had a few spots left for a cable car going to the top in 30 minutes. We hustled and made it with time to spare (the Parador was only a few minutes away). It’s chilly at the summit all year round, so dress warmly. The peak is often covered with snow this time of year, but not this time.

Note:  twenty years ago I would have insisted that we hike to the summit of El Teide; however, on this trip, I was happy to enjoy the warmth and safety of a cable car.

Paradors are state-owned and there are 94 of them throughout Spain (six in the Canary Islands). I’ve stayed at six or seven Paradors on other trips to Spain. They can be pricey and accommodations vary from castles that are centuries old to buildings that are newer and nothing special to look at. Alex told me that there are three types of Paradors:  1) Paradors that are in a historic setting, Paradors that are themselves historic, and Paradors that are in nature; More on Paradors (click).

 

 

Parque Natcional del Teide covers 189.9 square km. and you don’t want to miss it. Drive, hike, walk; it’s beauty and splendor will astound you.

We made a one hour stop in Vilaflor, a small, pretty little town, on the way down the mountain. It was our halfway point to the ferry and worth a stop.

We took a side trip to La Laguna for a walk about and to have lunch. La Laguna is on the Unesco list of world Heritage sites. It is beautiful, young, sophisticated and I wish I had had more time there. We had lunch at Restaurante Guaydil (click for website) and it was by far my favorite meal of the trip. The cuisine was contemporary and the restaurant was packed with happy locals.

 

La Gomera

La Gomera was my favorite island of the three we visited and I hope to return there someday. We took the car on the ferry (we took the car on all three ferry trips) and after a pleasant 50 minute ride, we drove on a beautiful, windy road to one of La Gomera’s breathtaking valleys. Hermigua, our destination, was a 30 minute drive on a very scenic route.

We stayed at a boutique hotel, Rural Ibo Alfaro, moderately priced and very comfortable. The views from our room were spectacular (see photos below).

In the evening, we took a walk down to the valley to a very nice restaurant, Tasca Telémaco. We had tequila at the bar and then sat down for Almogrote (click for recipes), a cheese paste Alex is very fond of. We also had a delicious seafood Paella; I believe Alex only agreed to share the Paella because I wanted it. He feels very strongly about eating Paella in other parts of Spain where it is prepared properly. He gave me a hard time about putting chorizo in my paella — clearly I am a sinner.

We finally had a chance to hike on this island. There are many trails throughout La Gomera. We chose a trail deep in the forest — reminded me of the Amazon rain forest; very green and very damp. The trail took you to a small church, Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes. It was about 20 minutes from our hotel, near El Contadero. We walked for about 1 kilometer and came upon the church and stream. Alex told me that I was on holy ground. Very peaceful and serene indeed.

 

 

 

 

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is where my plane landed. I took an easy flight from Lisbon on TAP (Air Portugal). TAP is a bit more expensive than some of the other airlines, but the airplanes are generally newer and service is excellent.

Alex picked me up at the airport and drove me to our first Parador.  Parador de Cruz de Tejeda is where we had our best views. Our balcony was high atop the mountains and made the price of the hotel worthwhile. We had a nice breakfast (not cheap) and a very relaxing stay. I would definitely have eaten dinner somewhere else. The Parador had a spa, but it was 25 Euros just to use the jacuzzi (which looked amazing BTW) and the hours were not convenient. I would have splurged in the morning, but the spa did not open until 1:00 p.m. and we were long gone by then. Unlike Americans, Europeans tend to care more about their own staff and spa and gym hours are not always ideal.

Restaurante & Brewery Taxeda — This Tejeda brewery offered delicious tapas and micro brewed beer. We tried the Scottish brew and were not crazy about it; I thought it was way too hoppy. I love trying micro brewed beer and I wish I hadn’t switched to wine so quickly.

 

 

 

We were only in Tejeda for 16 hours, therefore, I can’t say very much about it. The views were spectacular and if you enjoy a curvy climb, you will love the views as you approach Tejeda. We didn’t have the time to hike on this island; however, the trails looked amazing and I’m certain they would not disappoint.

Note:  If you enjoy a good cocktail, I do not recommend staying in a Parador. The bartenders have no idea how to mix a drink — I’d say they are generalists who know the bare minimum about bar service.

 

This Type of Travel

One of the things that struck me on this trip was something Alex said to me several times (to be fair, I don’t always listen). Alex said that tourists visit the Canary Islands and never leave their all-inclusive hotels/resorts. The first thought I had was how unfortunate for them. The truth is that some people are happy to remain in their limited surroundings and just eat, drink, and enjoy the sun. It wouldn’t be fair to criticize these travelers. If that’s the way people choose to vacation, they should be permitted to do so without ridicule. I guess that is why all-inclusive properties do so well.

That’s not the way I prefer to travel. I want to eat what and where I choose to eat. I want to see as much as I can so that I know what to take a closer look at when I return. And if I don’t return, that’s okay too. Alex and I laughed about doing three islands in three days. That meant many hours on the road and three island hopping ferry rides. We originally had a whole week to explore; however, due to  my unfortunate calendar errors, our days together were nearly cut in half. It forced us to narrow down our choices and choose what was most important for this short trip. I admit it was a world-wind tour, but I wouldn’t change a thing. When you’re making memories, it’s best to go with it. We were both flexible enough to make some changes if time or circumstances allowed for it; adaptability and flexibility are key.

Be prepared for:

  • varying climates
  • a good deal of time on the road
  • making reservations for just about everything
  • some spots on the islands are very tranquil (on purpose)
  • this time of year is the peak season in the Canary Islands — the weather is mild (except for at high altitudes)
  • be aware of in-season travel and crowds in certain places
  • if and when driving, you’ll be waiting for and passing many cyclists
  • the motorcyclist will make you crazy (unless you are one)

All of the islands offer these great maps that show roads, historic sites, and hiking trails; use them, they are very helpful.

 

 

 

Scary Story:

As you know, when you travel abroad you need your passport for just about everything.  We were in the car line for the ferry and Alex wanted me to use the 30 minutes we had to explore Los Christianos, the marine area next to the ferry terminal. He thought I’d enjoy that more than sitting in a hot car. I can make a short story long, so I’m going to cut to the chase.

I needed my passport to board the ferry and I got through the line quickly. I saw Alex on the top deck and made my way to greet him. We enjoyed a very pleasant crossing and 50 minutes later we were in the car and on our way to Hermigua on the island of La Gomera. About 20 minutes into our 30 minute journey up the mountain, Alex received a telephone call on his car Bluetooth. The person said, “Christopher,” and then some other dialogue in Spanish. Alex made some arrangements in Spanish and then thanked the person several times. I was dying to know what was going on. I had dropped my passport on the ferry and someone turned it in. Alex made arrangements for us to pick it up prior to boarding the ferry the following day. Needless to say, I was and still am very grateful. I wonder what I would have been like when the desk person at our hotel asked for my passport and it wasn’t in my pocket. Alex noted that it would not have been pretty. I know I have an angel on my shoulder because had it not been found the remainder of my vacation would have been a downer. Instead I had a few cocktails to celebrate my good fortune and slept like a baby that night. If Alex had not purchased our tickets in advance, they would not have had his cell number. If Alex’s cell was turned off, we wouldn’t have been able to take the call at that moment. If cell service was spotty on the mountain, the ferry staff may not have gotten through. If I had thrown my passport away when I threw away the rest of my trash, I would never have seen it again. The “what ifs” can make you crazy.

The moral of this story:  1) Always put your passport in a safe space, and 2) Be grateful for your good fortune.

Side note:  Los Christianos is a strange sort of grungy tourist spot. The sand on the beach is brought there from somewhere else, the food spots are sub-par, and you get this “nobody wants to spend money” vibe. I wouldn’t waste my time here. There are so many other beautiful places to visit in Tenerife.

Added Bonus for my adventures:

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I took this photograph in Tenerife while dining on Maria’s (Alex’s mom) delicious Galician chicken stew. I now have a framed photograph for my apartment.

Traveling as an American Expat

My New Backyard (Europe and Africa)

 

 

Happy New Year! It’s nice to be back after a couple of weeks of celebrating and traveling.

If you prefer a travel blogger who provides the easiest way to get there and all the places to go, stay and eat; that’s not me. I’ll give you a glimpse of what I experienced and then some thoughts on culture, value, ease, etc. I may occasionally plug an exceptional restaurant and/or hotel. I want this to be fun and it won’t be if I have to chronicle my trips from start to finish.

I titled this piece “Traveling as an American Expat” because I noticed that each time I have left Portugal it has been very easy to exit and even easier to re-enter. I’m not stating that every American has the same experience that I have, but I have admittedly been pleasantly surprised. I have left Portugal a dozen times and I have only had to show my resident visa once and that was in Edinburgh and it took all of three seconds. I look around at border patrol/customs and I notice others do not have it as easy; this is especially true for middle easterners and that makes me sad. I won’t go into political implications and biases, but suffice it to say that I am ashamed of how many in this world are treated because of their residence or religion.

Allow me to come clean about a few things before I begin:

  1. I am extremely fussy. I like things a certain way and I’m rarely if ever completely satisfied; ask my friends.
  2. I often learn as I go. Because I sometimes make impulsive or rash decisions, I usually make a mistake and then try not to repeat it.
  3. I don’t take pictures of everything and I don’t go on social media every time I have an experience. I’m trying to be more present and that means less time on my cell phone.
  4. I don’t rely on TripAdvisor or sites where people share their opinions. I find that the average person’s standards are not up to snuff. I’m feeling somewhat hypocritical because I have been known to share my dining critiques on social media. Some people will write nice things because they can never say anything bad. Some people will always be nasty because they have no idea how else to be. Some people will write about food:  quality, taste, value, and so on and they know nothing about food.
  5. I truly love traveling off-season. The deals are hard to beat and there are so few tourists, you get a true sense of what it’s like for the locals. You may discover that some places are closed off-season or hours might be curtailed; a minor inconvenience I am willing to put up with. Be sure to research the weather if that is a factor for you. I prefer to travel to places where temperatures are mild in winter.

 

Asilah, Morocco

 

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I took this photograph from the living room  our Airbnb in Asilah

 

I took a day trip to Tangier over 15 years ago. I have always felt that since I had a guide and I only spent eight hours there, that it wasn’t fair to say much about Morocco. The last time I took a ferry from Tarifa, Spain and to be honest, it was more about stepping foot on the African continent. I wanted to travel to Morocco the same way this time; however, the ferry schedule off-season is sporadic and getting to and from Tarifa would have been no easy task. Instead, I took a comfortable and very affordable (34 Euros roundtrip) bus to Seville, Spain and then a flight on RyanAir (120 Euro round trip with checked bag). RyanAir is a no frills airline. Check-in is sometimes chaotic; however, the staff is efficient and travel is a bargain. I had a new airplane on my return flight which was very comfortable. Honestly, the flight is 30 minutes and the best part of that is that if you have to pee, you can hold it in. When you arrive in Tangier, you breeze through passport control because there are no other people at the airport. I don’t believe there are more than 10 flights going in and out of that airport in a 24 hour period; it’s almost eerie it’s so void of people.

My friend Patrick rented a car to get to Asilah and there were no other people at Avis so we got our car in five minutes. Again, we left the airport without seeing very many other people. Take note that if you decide to drive on Moroccan highways (toll roads) you need Dirham because they don’t accept anything else except Moroccan money at the toll booths. The roads are new and easy to drive on; except for the very strong winds that Patrick was forced to navigate.

When we arrived in Asilah we followed our GPS to the house, but it took us to a huge public outdoor bazaar. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of Moroccans participating in an outdoor festival. When were a little lost looking for our Airbnb. The crowds were walking in the streets and the people did not really seem to notice our car, nor did they care to move for us. It was a strange experience. We had to crawl through the crowds of people. We eventually got hold of our host who told us that we could not park outside of the house which was located inside a walled city — the Medina (not the famous one). The Medina was filled with shops and homes and very narrow streets. We had to park in a paid lot in the middle of the festival and walk to our house. It was only meters away from the parking lot, but prior to setting out to find our place, we had no idea how far we’d have to lug our bags.

 

We found our house, which was not quite like the photos, but isn’t that usually the case. Still, it was a beautiful house with ocean and Medina views. We would all have been happier if it wasn’t so cold in the house. It took us 24 hours to figure out how to make it warm and we only had 48 hours. The best thing about the house was Fatima. Fatima and her husband are caretakers for the house and they truly did take good care of us. We had a terrific breakfast and they made us a fire. Fatima quietly disappeared and made-up my bed during breakfast. I’m nearly 60 years old and I’m not sure anyone has made-up my bed since I was five years old — that was a real treat.

The house was in the Medina (not the one in Saudi Arabia), a walled city in Asilah, (click for more from Lonely Planet).

We had a full day to explore the Medina and the surrounding area. Fortunately, we are all walkers and so we walked. The Medina had narrow streets and pathways and lots of artisan shops (see my big purchase below).

We decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a restaurant in Asilah and we stumbled upon:

Port IV (click) Restaurant

This is probably Asilah’s best place to eat right now and we enjoyed it immensely. The service was good and almost all of us were happy with our choices (no photos, sorry). Having a full bar was a bonus and the owner made me a very authentic gin martini. I was one happy fella. Although I was unable to stay up till midnight, I did enjoy being with friends and being in Morocco; it’s a night I won’t soon forget.

 

Tangiers (Tanger for the locals)

 

 

As I mentioned earlier, I visited Tangier years ago. I had only seen a small part of the city and from what I have heard, it has changed quite a bit. I stayed at the Movenpick Hotel and Casino for two reasons:  First I got a great off-season rate for this four star property and second, I was in the mood for some blackjack. Both paid off. My room was spacious and beautifully appointed (some really nice bathroom products as well) and the casino was pleasant and on the second day, I celebrated a small winning streak. I had a nice meal at Miami Restaurant which was nearby. Their French pastries were especially lovely. Most Moroccans speak French and there were French pastries at every turn (you see smatterings of French culture). There was a great deal to enjoy and celebrate. I went home a winner in every sense of the word.

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The two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans.

Languages of Morocco – Wikipedia

 

 

Note:  I walked into the center of the city and if I’m going to be honest, although the city was clean and no one warned me to be careful, I did not feel safe. Beggars follow you and they do not take no for an answer; it can be off-putting and disturbing.

 

Seville, Spain

 

 

I am in love. Seville is a beautiful, culturally rich, culinary mecca, just three hours door-to-door from my place in Faro. I only just returned home, but I have already booked a hotel for the end of February. I now know that Seville will be my home away from home. I am delighted to have rediscovered this breathtaking city.

You will enjoy these two pieces written by my food writer friend Joanna Pruess. She wrote about Seville for Specialty Food Magazine. Joanna primed me for my Seville adventure with her delicious point of view and fabulous recipes:

Tasty Bites of Seville (click for article)

Savoring Seville (click title)

The Seville bus station, train station, and airport are all linked by a four Euro bus that has many stops throughout the city and runs every 20 minutes or so. The bus and train stations are centrally located and easy enough to get to. These days Uber rides are very inexpensive and although I love to walk, you can’t beat a five Euro Uber ride across town. The drivers usually speak English and they are (for the most part) good drivers.

I stayed at very nice Airbnb for 65 Euros a night. It was a two bedroom apartment in a great area — 20 minutes by foot to just about everywhere.

Note:  I have mixed feelings about Airbnb (see one of my earlier blogs). Some hosts are gracious and generous and truly want you to have a great stay. Others, seem to only care about making a buck. Be sure to read reviews and check for amenities. After awhile, you become better at discerning the true intentions of the hosts. They also have a review policy I totally disagree with:  both parties have to complete a review in order for the review to be posted. If you write a warranted poor review and the host does not review you as a guest, the review will not be posted by Airbnb — it seems like a way to ensure only good reviews get posted. I’m not sure how Airbnb gets away with this.

The weather in Seville was great for walking around the city and spending time outdoors. I don’t believe it snows in Seville and when the sky is blue, it is an intense blue.

Shopping

I had one objective as I explored Seville. Paella is one of my favorite dishes to cook and I was determined to bring two ingredients back to Portugal:  Bomba (click) rice and saffron. I’ve tried many different kinds of cooking rice and Bomba is by far the best for paella (https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/rice-recipes/chicken-chorizo-paella/ Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Also  . . . Spanish saffron which is less pricey in Spain. I paid 14 Euros for about an ounce of saffron — it’s fresh and beautiful and I can’t wait to cook with it. I use it when cooking rice with meat dishes as well. I also purchased hand sliced jamon (Spanish cured ham) and some homemade nougat. Purchasing food in other countries is one of the best things about travel and there are many items that you should only purchase in the country where it originated or was made. Note:  if its fresh food and you’re flying, be sure to have it vacuum sealed.

There are many shopping areas throughout the city; small boutique shops are my favorite. I was also impressed with the number of small art galleries. The artwork I looked at was quite beautiful and not outrageously expensive. A plug for El Cortes Inglese, a big chain store where I can spend hours just milling about. It’s like the Harrod’s of Spain. I’m praying one comes to Faro or the Algarve soon; hey we have an IKEA and Zara, so . . . what are you Spaniards waiting for

 

Don’t miss out on Contenedor if you visit Seville. It’s fresh, delicious, quaint, and well priced. Make a reservation (click for website).

I have already booked a hotel for a few days at the end of February and beginning of March. I did not book an Airbnb because I do not plan on cooking and I’d prefer amenities like a gym and indoor pool when I’m doing a quick culinary exploration trip. Yes, I’m spoiled, but after 40 years of busting my ass, I deserve it. I will write more about Seville after that trip.

My big purchase in Morocco:

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I purchased this hand-woven Moroccan runner in Assilah. The merchant said, “I don’t haggle,” but I got the rug for about 80 Euro less than ask. He didn’t know what he was in for when I walked into his shop. I have all the information about where the rug was made and how it was made.

 

Running From Demons — Part II

 

 

 

 

Greg was feeling confused, let down, lonely and lost; all new for him. He  reminded himself that he had confided in someone. One person who would never come looking for him and never tell anyone. His ex-wife Sarah hated him, but she would protect Greg to his death. Twelve years of marriage had tied them together forever. He considered calling her to tell her he was about to become someone else. A part of him wanted her to know so that no matter what, there would be one person alive who knew the truth. Greg also knew that he’d be putting Sarah in danger by sharing his whereabouts. He had always admired her strength and tenacity; despite his better judgment, he’d give her a call tomorrow. For now, he had to get back to his room.

He meandered through the streets of Lisbon, ducking in and out of crowded cafés. He needed to return to his hotel room before 5:00 p.m. or he wouldn’t get the money to Slim in time. He realized he’d never know the names of these characters who were helping him. Greg had no choice then to give the guy what he asked for.

He counted out the $10,000 and wrapped the bills in a plastic grocery bag. Slim had asked for Euros, but he figured he’d take dollars; everyone wanted U.S. dollars. The exchange rate had never even occurred to him. He quickly wiped down the room with some disinfectant wipes he found at a store on his way back to the hotel. He hoped that he’d only have to spend one night in this filthy room. Greg locked the door and checked the knob twice.

He looked around the outside of the hotel to be sure he had not been followed and headed for the pawn shop. Pawn guy and Slim were watching the game when he entered the shop. He smiled and handed Slim the money. Slim did not smile back; he grabbed the bag and headed to the back room. Ten minutes later he returned looking extremely unhappy.

“I told you Euros. What am I going to do with your fucking dollars? You have any idea what the exchange rate is these days? This is 25 percent less than what I told you.”

The last thing I needed was to piss this guy off, but it occurred to me that it was time to play hardball.

“Take it or leave it. You’re not the only guy in Portugal with access to passports. I’m paying you more than enough. Give me back my money if it’s not good enough.”

Slim studies Greg for a solid minute. Pawn guy never takes his eyes off of the game. Slim motions Greg into the back room. Greg reluctantly follows, thinking perhaps he’d gone too far. Slim gets uncomfortably close to Greg’s face and whispers,

“Considering where you’re going, I guess I can settle for less.”

“What do you mean, where I’m going?”

“The best I can do is Morocco.”

It was like he’d been punched in the stomach and kicked in the head. He had to choose his words carefully or this wouldn’t end well. It was Casablanca or he’d be back at square one.

“Is it ready now?”

At this point Slim is incredulous. “Are you fucking crazy man? Tomorrow morning if you’re lucky.”

Greg turned around so he couldn’t see his rage and disappointment. He pulled it together and walked toward the door. He turned and spoke and his words were sharp.

“I’ll be back at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. If my passport isn’t waiting for me, there will be hell to pay. My connections in the States are not as forgiving as I am.”

Greg was so pissed off he’d forgotten to lose himself in the dinner crowd filling the streets. He stopped off at one of those international calling stores to telephone Sarah. The shop was packed with women in Hijabs, reminding him that he’d soon be in Morocco.

Sarah didn’t pick up on the first try. Not recognizing the number, she probably ignored the call. He hoped she’d realize it was him and answer the phone. He tried her again and this time she picked up.

“Who is this?”

“Sarah, it’s Greg, I’m in Portugal.”

“What the hell Greg, I told you to leave me alone. I’m gonna hang up.”

“No, no Sarah, please just give me two minutes. I’m not asking for anything.”

“Ninety seconds and I’m cutting you off.”

He’d be the worst husband and didn’t deserve ninety seconds. When they met, Sarah was naive and sweet and he’d made into a bitter woman. Greg didn’t cheat on Sarah. He didn’t physically abuse her. He didn’t stop her from buying things; he didn’t tell her she was worthless. What he did was inexcusable; He spent every penny Sarah had saved since she had her first job. There was always that business that was going to make them rich. Greg would focus on that next scheme and forget the rest of the world existed. It was a reckless way to live and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop himself. She watched him destroy his own life and take her down with him. Greg’s parents, friends and anyone he did business with tried to stop him, but he didn’t see it — he only saw green and more green until all the green ran out and than all he thought about was a way to get more. Sarah was the only one who stuck by him, until she’d had enough.

He knew that someday Sarah would be a force to be reckoned with, but today, she was done. He tried to soften her up a bit.

“You know how much you mean to me Sarah?”

“Greg, you asshole, you told me you were not going to ask for anything.”

“Alright, I only have a few seconds left so let me say something I need you to remember. As of tomorrow morning, I will no longer be Greg Torino. I’ll be leaving Portugal and hiding out for a while. I’m not going to tell you where I’m going because it’s better for you not to know. I don’t know how long it will be before we speak again so I wanted to tell you that I know I was a shitty husband. I never meant to hurt you, but I know that I hurt you badly and for that I am sorry. I hope to someday make it up to you Sarah. You’re a good woman and I never deserved you.”

“Greg, you didn’t have to say any of that, but for the first time in your fucking wasted life, you’re right, you were a shitty husband. I would wish you luck, but that would be a stretch.”

“Goodbye Sarah, I love you,” and he hangs up the phone.

He realizes a woman is banging on the phone booth door and trying to get his attention. He can only see her eyes and her fist pounding the glass. He turns away to wipe away tears. Greg cannot recall the last time he wept. He leaves the booth and walks toward his new life.

When he wakes the next morning after a fitful sleep, he recalls his conversation with Sarah. He feels good about apologizing; she deserved some closure and he was finally man enough to give it to her. He felt a little stronger and more resolute. He’d make a life for himself and perhaps someday he’d find a way to forgive himself as well. For now, he had to see if his passport was ready to be picked up.

Knowing that was his last night in that stuffy room made him smile for the first time in days. He locked the door and headed to see Slim. As he was leaving the hotel he notices someone watching him from across the street. He remains still for a moment to see if the man continues to look over at him. When he casually glances back that way, the man is lost in the crowd of street traffic. He wishes he’d left the hotel earlier; he’s made too many mistakes. He shrugs, chalks it up to paranoia and walks toward the pawn shop.

Greg immediately notices that Slim is not there. Pawn guy comes out of the back room and approaches Greg.

“He’ll be right back — you wait here.”

Greg doesn’t like it, however once again he’s at the mercy of these bottom feeders. He sits and considers his past. He has always been a near-do-well, but he wasn’t a crook.  He’d never stolen from anyone or cheated anyone. He had taken a lot from those he loved, but he always asked for it. He had cheated himself out of a decent life. He could have had so much more than what he ended up with.

It’s twenty minutes before Slim walks in with the passport. He barely looks at Greg and offers no apology. Greg asks him if he has the passport. Slim takes it out of his jacket pocket and hands it over.

“I’d leave the country soon if I were you.”

I’m confused about the sense of urgency. I thought I would spend some time traveling around Portugal and Spain before going to Morocco. After all, I had years of hiding in front of me.

“It’s not safe here for you,” Slim adds.

Greg grabs the passport and opens it to see who he is. He checks out the photo first; that’s fine. He thinks to himself, this looks pretty real. He’s not sure he likes the name Joseph Campos.

Slim says, “You have Spanish relatives; it’s a good name — suits you.”

At this point Greg just wants to get out of the shop and away from these lowlifes. He thanks Slim and gives a thumbs up to Pawn guy.

He decides to leave the hotel with the money he has left and head for Morocco where he can blend in with the locals. He’ll book at flight to Casablanca or Marrakesh at the airport, pay with cash and start fresh. He realizes he’s smiling again, having been resourceful enough to accomplish his first big task. Greg finds himself almost giddy with excitement. He feels lighter and hopeful.

When he gets back to his hotel, his smile disappears. He finds his door ajar and there is no one in sight. He enters the room and everything is turned upside down. He goes right to the dresser which is on its side. His stash is gone. This is exactly what he feared might happen. Greg’s only thought is now what and he falls to his knees.

To be continued next week