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French Fries and The Meaning of Life

People make money in a lot of different ways in Mexico. One way that you see quite often down by the beach is for parents to take out their youngest and cutest child and to have them walk up to tourists with a tray of small candies or gum and ask for five pesos in return for one of the treats. It’s a little like reverse trick or treating with commerce involved.

One night, I was sitting at an outdoor restaurant, eating what was possibly the worst veggie burger I’d ever had, when I was approached by the cutest little girl on the planet, who was carrying one of these small trays with assorted candies. She was probably no more than four years-old and she had eyes as big and as deep as the ocean. When she walked up with her tray and turned those blinkers on me, I was helpless. A puddle. I selected some Chiclet-like gum from her tray, then gave her five pesos and a hearty “gracias” for her offering. But after the transaction was over, she didn’t leave. Instead, she gave me a big smile and pointed at my french fries.

After a quick glance at her dad to make sure it was okay, I gave her a french fry and I had one myself. I made a big deal out of enjoying it…making “mmm…mmm” sounds and rubbing my belly like it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. She thought this was really funny and joined in. We sat there goofing off like this for three or four more fries and then her father let her know it was time to push on. Before she left, I handed her the bag containing the rest of my fries and she skipped off to join her father and to show him her treasure. As they were walking away, I saw her offer her dad a french fry (which he took and made a big deal out of enjoying just like I had) before they joined hands and disappeared down the street.

It was so sweet that it made my heart hurt. Not because I felt sorry for their financial situation, or because I wished I could have helped them more (that’s automatic). My heart was hurting now because I realized that, after all my years of beating the bushes for meaningful experiences from life, it turns out that there is little that is more meaningful to me than sharing a french fry with a four year old.

I mean, if you’re looking for the meaning of life, one doesn’t have to go much further than that. The innocence and playfulness of a kid, the love between a father and daughter, the making the best out of a difficult situation, the simple joy of tasting a french fry. It’s all there, if…and this is key…if you are awake to how deep the small moments like this can be. That’s the difference…and that’s why my heart was hurting now. I was mourning the loss of all the moments like this I probably missed because I was looking for something bigger. Something earth shattering.

We humans spend a lot of time chasing meaning like it’s some big, external, mysterious thing…but is it really? Is the secret of life, the universe, and everything some huge and unfathomable riddle that we never have a prayer of solving…or is it the joy of a little girl, the love of her father…and some potatoes, fat, and salt thrown in for good measure?

I’m siding with potatoes.

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Rich

I got up this morning when my alarm on my incredibly well engineered and reliable phone went off. I filled my electric kettle with clean water from the tap and poured myself a bowl of oatmeal that I cooked in my microwave. When the water was boiling in the kettle, I poured myself a cup of coffee which had been grown, picked, transported, roasted, and ground for me to enjoy. After breakfast, I sat down on my well made meditation cushion and wrapped a wool blanket around me to stay warm. When my meditation was over, I switched on the light, made my way to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and hot water came out. After my shower, I pulled on my clean clothes from the dryer, threw on my warm winter jacket and headed out the door. Once outside, I got into my reliable used car which started on the first try and drove to my usual, free parking spot. From there I had a brisk and beautiful two mile walk to work, during which the sun rose over the hills and I traded smiles with the all the regular commuters that I see every day. Twenty minutes later, I said hello to my friend Pete and gave him a dollar to help him out before heading to the corner store to buy my usual two bananas and to say hello to Rosie who works behind the counter. Once outside, I put my headphones in, dialed up the exact song I wanted to hear on Spotify and bounced down the street to my job, where I work with a bunch of nice kids and one of the best bosses I’ve ever had…and where it is my job to take care of beautiful, energetic, and hilarious birds all day.

By my count, that’s thirty-two things to be grateful for…in only the first three hours that I’m awake. How could I ever think that I was anything but rich?

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High Master

In 2008, I met my friend Chris who is an incredibly curious, motivated, and energetic being and whose thirst for fun and making art for art’s sake was a perfect match for me and my penchant for the same.
 
It was one of those friendships that is more like a partnership. Not in the romantic sense, but that the relationship has an electricity to it that makes you think anything is possible and that the two of you may well be able to take over the world. He was my creative soul mate. Ideas just flowed between us, and neither of us let our egos get in the way of anything we were working on. It was a beautiful collaboration…and we did lots of projects together.
 
One day, Chris came to me with an idea for a rock opera called High Master that was about a time travelling viking (Chris) who was frozen in a glacier by the Dark Lord (Me!) while he made off to his mountain lair with High Master’s wife. Centuries later, High Master is discovered by a scientist (our drummer, Ken) who is unsuccessfully developing a time machine. The scientist thaws the glacier and High Master is reanimated. As it turns out, High Master holds the key to making the scientist’s time machine work, and that key is…HIGH OCTANE ROCK! Now with an operational time machine, High Master and the scientist head back across the centuries to find the Dark Lord and defeat him.
 
When Chris finished explaining the plot, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just said: “It’s totally ridiculous. When do we start?”
 
So, we spent the next four months writing songs and rehearsing in a stupidly cold and small studio space that we were subletting from a grumpy potter for $100 a month. It was cramped, smelly, and the breakers would flip if we tried to plug too many things in…but it was honestly one of the most fun things that I had ever done.
 
When we weren’t working on the music, we were working on props, scenery, and costumes. You can’t have a rock opera, even a low budget one, without some production values, right? So, we made tunics and swords and a goofy looking panel with lights on it that was supposed to represent the time machine. The whole thing began to look like a punked out, maker faire musical…which was just fine with us.
 
In addition to our own props, we decided we wanted to involve the audience as much as possible, so we went out and bought seventy-five foam swords at Dollar General and planned to hand them out to the crowd (what could go wrong?), so they could participate in the final battle between good and evil that ended the show. We also fabricated two giant twenty-sided dice (The Dice of Fate!) that the audience would roll at the very end to determine what would become of the Dark Lord.
 
At about 120 days into the project, we were ready for our opening night.
 
As luck would have it, we knew someone who regularly threw house parties and hosted punk bands from out of town. You know the drill: Kegs, obscenely loud music, angry neighbors, etc. Anyway, he said we could play on a double bill with one of our favorite, local girl punk bands called Pink Flag (Shout out, ladies!), and we were stoked.
 
When the night came and we showed up in our costumes to load in our gear, we were super nervous. I mean, we had developed this thing in a creative vacuum and hadn’t showed it to anyone. Plus, we were getting a lot of side eye from the hipsters and punks who were milling about on the lawn outside. This was either going to be the best night of our creative lives, or the most epic musical failure ever. Only time would tell.
 
While Chris got the sound sorted out, I skulked around with the foam swords and asked if people wanted to be in High Master’s Army of Light, or in The Dark Lord’s Hoarde. Luckily, the crowd more or less split itself evenly between good and evil and I gave them the instruction to begin the battle when they heard the song “Fight!”. Now the crowd seemed to be getting into the spirit of this thrift store performance art piece we were pedalling and people began to ask each other what army they had chosen and who they thought would win the final battle. This boded well for us.
 
And sure enough, by the time we hit the stage and played the first few chords of our title song, “High Master”, the crowd was totally with us. People were dancing, mini sword skirmishes were breaking out all over the room, and people immediately began screaming along with the chorus. Chris and I had the biggest shit eating grins on our faces that we could manage. We had made something good. We were rock stars.
 
The rest of the set went just as well. We ripped into the “Dark Lord’s Lament”, slapped and popped our way through our funky reggae martial arts jam, “Kung Future”, and polished off the rest of the set list with very few hitches. Then it was time for the final battle. As High Master raised his mighty sword and called his army of light together, we slammed into “Fight” and the audience went nuts. In retrospect, although no one was hurt, handing out swords to drunk twenty-somethings at a rock show was probably not our finest idea…but man, was it fun to watch. People were fake dying left and right, dramatic slow motion broadsword battles were everywhere, and most of the crowd ended up “dead” on the floor, victims of the final battle.
 
As the song ended, the smoke cleared, and the Dark Lord had been imprisoned, Chris led the crowd in a chant. “Roll the dice of fate! Roll the dice of fate!” As this was going on, I handed the massive (too big for a house party) dice to the crowd. They began to throw them like beachballs at an outdoor venue and ended up breaking a ceiling fan and a lamp, but nobody stopped. The crowd was like a cult now. Everyone was chanting “Roll the dice of fate! Roll the dice of fate!” at increasingly higher volumes until, finally, they were rolled and the fate of the Dark Lord was determined to be eternity inside the glacier in which he had imprisoned High Master. The crowd cheered (even the Dark Hoarde) as I was taken into “custody”and we launched into a reprise of “High Master”, which we never got to finish because the crowd hoisted Chris on their shoulders and carried him, victorious, to the front lawn.
 
We spent the rest of the night reveling in back slapping congratulations from the crowd and a sense that we had made something that was just pure fun. What started out as an idiotic plot and some ridiculous songs ended up actually working and making people happy in the process. It probably wasn’t art. It certainly wasn’t polished theatre. But for the kids in that house, it was damned sure entertainment.
 
And, for us…it was downright magical.
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Pre-Flight

I wrote this as sort of a pre-flight checklist that I read before I meditate. For as long as I have been thinking about this stuff, I still find it extremely beneficial to leave myself a trail of breadcrumbs that I can follow when I forget my way back home. This list helps me remember the intentions that I want to set before I step out into the world every day and reminds me that I get to decide how my day is going to go. Maybe you’ll find it useful too.

  1. Problems don’t exist. There are only events and how you choose to feel about them. Seeing them as problems is a choice. Seeing them as non-problems is a choice. Make the choice that keeps you open and happy.
  1. Trying to get external reality to line up with your internal ideas about how things should go and how people should act is madness. Reality doesn’t care about you and your feelings about it. When something is bothering you, acknowledge it, feel the feelings, and then let go. Don’t let these irritations become blockages in your energy. When you feel your chest getting tight and your heart begin to close, relax and stay open. The irritation will pass through you and move on.
  1. Don’t give your attention to things over which you have no control (see #2). When you do this, you miss what is happening in the moment. Life is passing you by while you stew over all the things you can’t change. Stay focused on what life is presenting you with in the now.
  1. Be nobody. Remember that your personality is just a collection of stories. Everything you love, hate, agree, or disagree with is the ego trying to convince you that you are your thoughts and your beliefs. Let go of clinging to this idea of self. What you are is so much larger and more powerful than what the ego would have you believe. Drop the act and anything is possible.
  1. Want nothing. Focus on your needs, not on wants. The less you own, the less you want, the less you crave…the freer you will be. Travel light and be grateful you have a choice in the matter. Many don’t.
  1. Harm no being. Because we are all connected…violence against the “other” is violence against yourself. Physical, verbal, and emotional violence has never solved a single problem and never will. Begin with love and stick with it.
  1. Be mindful of what you let through the doors of your senses. We are showered with thousands of messages a day that are designed to make us feel a certain way. Limit your exposure to these messages and, when you are exposed, meet them with critical thinking and suspicion.
  1. Trust life. Things are unfolding just as they should. Don’t make fear based decisions that take you further away from happiness just because your ego thinks you should be stronger, faster, smarter, skinnier, or better than you are right now. The grass is never greener and that voice in your head is fake news.
  1. Stop complaining (thank you, Cianna) . It just reinforces your negative tape loops and it’s a sneaky form of escapism. Turn to face your pain instead and deal with it.
  1. There are dozens of opportunities for empathy and kindness that are presented to you every day. Not just when you’re feeling good, but in the midst of turmoil and anger as well. Whatever the circumstance, try to see the other person’s suffering and turn toward love.
  1. Everything comes back to clinging or aversion. Remember that. Don’t try to push away the things that you find unpleasant and don’t try to hold on to the things that you love. What you resist, persists and what you try to grasp will be lost. This is the nature of impermanence. The middle way is just to let things be as they are. No action is necessary on your part. Let the pendulum of your emotions come to rest and be still. Everything will be taken care of.
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One Level Deeper

As I was driving home yesterday, I saw our new neighbor out for a walk with his infant grandson. I rolled down my window and called out: “Hey Al! It’s Paul. How are you and Isaiah doing this afternoon?”. “Oh, we’re doing fine. Just fine. The sun is out, making me feel alive, although Isaiah doesn’t like it when it gets in his face too much.” said Al. “I heard that, man. Me and Isaiah are on the same page.” I said. We kept on for another minute or so and then I wished him well and urged him to enjoy the beautiful day.

Al and I only met a few days ago while I was out walking dogs and he was out with Isaiah. He’s one of dozens of new people I’ve met in the last eight months or so, since I began challenging myself to go a little deeper with every person I encounter. Being a natural introvert, it’s not always easy to summon the energy for human interaction, but, on the other hand, part of me really wants to engage with more people in my everyday life and get to know their stories. So, in the last few months, I have been practicing going “one level deeper” with everyone I come in contact with. Nothing earth shattering. Just being mindful of my urge to disengage when it comes up, and then staying in the interaction and digging a little deeper. It usually only takes a minute or less and the results have been heartening. Here are some things I’ve done:

  • If I give a homeless person some money, I also ask their name and then text it to myself so I’ll remember it when I see them next. Shabazz, Betty, Eugene, and Pete greet me every day on my way to and from work and I really enjoy knowing more about their lives. If I have time, I sit with them for awhile and I learn a lot.
  • Through the same self-texting method, I’ve managed to remember all the names of the kids who work at the cafe that I frequent and I ask them small questions about their lives when they aren’t too busy. They all greet me by name now and our relationships are 100% friendlier than the boring, transactional ones we used to have.
  • My friend Lamar is a security guard at a jewelry store that I walk by every day. We met because one day I said: “You know, I walk by every day and I don’t even know your name. I’m Paul.”  Turns out, we grew up about ten blocks from each other in East Oakland and we have a lot more in common than you would think. Now we talk several times a week and we encourage each other to follow our dreams. We even texted each other well wishes on Thanksgiving.
  • Then, sometimes, I sit and read at my local cafe for an hour or so after work. If there are no other tables available (it gets quite busy), I encourage people to share mine. I’ve met a holocaust survivor, a painting professor, a physicist, a numerology expert, and dozens more interesting people this way. I have found that if people are willing to share a table, they are willing to have a little chat and I am always amazed at how incredible these folks are and how fascinating it is to learn about them.

A few months after I started this little project, my results made me realize how much I had been self-isolating over the years, how little energy I put forth in order to expand my sphere of people and experiences, and how happy it made me to be doing the opposite, now. I liked this new way of doing things. A lot. Because I realized that it was softening me. It was making me more receptive, more empathic, and more loving, really. It reminded me that, despite all evidence to the contrary, people are pretty great…and I needed that reminder…even more than I knew.

In the end, I think most folks I engage with feel just as isolated as I used to. But meeting someone who seems interested in them and wants to hear their story is like medicine for both of us. They get to tell a stranger a story he’s never heard before, and I get to learn whatever it is they have to teach me. It’s not just a conversation. It’s a gift giving ceremony. It’s an even trade where we both come out feeling a little bit better about humanity through temporarily sharing our attention with each other…and that’s worth something.

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Cutters

Cutters
 
There’s always an internal conversation that happens when I’m deciding whether or not to talk to a stranger. The ego never wants to do it because it’s risky. The other person might think I’m weird, or creepy, or just awkward (heaven forbid!), and the ego hates feeling awkward. The rest of me wants to jump in because I end up meeting cool and interesting people this way and I like cool and interesting people. Sometimes the ego wins and sometimes my bigger self wins. Then, on some occasions, I get so excited that my ego has no time to put on the brakes before words are tumbling out of my mouth and I’ve engaged a total stranger in enthusiastic conversation.
 
Like this morning…
 
While waiting in line at my FLC (friendly local cafe), half-awake and scrolling through emails, I felt a presence behind me. I instinctively turned to glance at who had arrived and I saw a twenty-something, hipster-ish girl, standing there wearing a bike helmet and a t-shirt that said “CUTTERS” on it.
 
“Breaking Away?” I said.
 
As soon as the words had left my mouth, her face lit up like a Christmas tree. It was like I had just given her a check for a million dollars delivered by a puppy riding a unicorn. Like the clouds had parted and the sky was raining free tickets to burning man. Like I had invited her to a combination Wes Anderson marathon/Craft Beer festival where Bill Murray was bartending. Suffice to say, she was excited.
 
“Oh. My. God.” she said.
 
For those of you who don’t know, Breaking Away is a movie from 1979 that features a group of friends from working class backgrounds who are called “cutters” because their fathers are all stone cutters who work in the town quarry in Bloomington, Indiana. There’s also bicycle racing. I’ll let you read the IMDB entry for the rest.
 
“That was my father’s favorite movie.” she said, “This was his t-shirt. I’ve never met anyone who got the reference and I’ve been wearing this shirt for years.”
 
“Well, it’s one of my favorite movies too. Your father had good taste…and I love that shirt!”
 
And there we stood, for the next five minutes or so, quoting lines from the movie and talking about our favorite characters while the rest of the crowd was getting their lattes. It was a really nice intergenerational moment. I don’t get a ton of opportunities to connect with people in their twenties, especially around 70s pop culture references, and it was so fun to geek out with her over this obscure little piece of cinema that we both adored.
 
As I got my coffee and shoved off toward work, we said goodbye and I thought about how grateful I was for interactions like this. How happy I was that I had opened my mouth and found a bridge between us in the process. I mean, we are seven billion separate people on a remote rock, hurtling through space, but this morning, two of us came closer to each other. Two “thems” became an “us” over something that we loved, and a temporary friendship was forged. You can say that’s unremarkable or miraculous, I guess. I’m choosing to call it the latter.
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Learning to Fly

 

I don’t like heights. That’s one of my stories. I also don’t like flying. Another story. That’s why it was curious to find myself following a man down the beach after giving him 600 pesos to take me parasailing one afternoon, in Mexico.

I had started the day thinking that I would like to do at least one touristy thing while I was on vacation and, after eliminating things based on cost or time frame, I had, to my complete surprise, settled on parasailing. This is not something I had considered, or ever thought I would consider doing, because, you know…stories. But here I was, following along behind my guide, trudging through the hot sand, making my way to meet my airborne destiny.

Deciding to do things like this is a funny process for me. First, my heart says: “Hey, how about parasailing today?” and the ego is like: “Yeah, that sounds cool. We’re gonna be so cool! We can tell all our friends! Parasailing is rad and we want to be rad so let’s do it!” And so, the price of admission is paid and the gears are set in motion. But then, when the parachute appears as we duck round a corner and emerge from under a flock of beach umbrellas, the ego does an about face…

“Dude. That looks like a faulty parachute if I ever saw one. We are def gonna die if you strap us into that thing. And what about that rope? You do know that they don’t make very good ropes down here, right? Like, I think I heard there’s a 90% failure rate in Mexican ropes. Also, how do we know that guy filled up his boat with gas? Answer: we don’t! When he runs out of gas at the farthest point from shore and we crash land in the middle of a shark colony, you’re going to wish you would have listened to me.” And on and on…

This kind of monologue presents itself constantly in life, of course. And, sadly, we base a lot of decisions on what this little idiot in our head has to say. But I was ready for him this time. I just let him prattle on about careless employees and faulty equipment and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, showing the fearful voice some love and reassurance every step of the way. “We’re doing this.” I said. “You can choose to enjoy it or you can choose to fight it and wish you were somewhere else. I suggest the former.”

And on the conversation went, until I was strapped into what is, more or less, the nylon webbing version of a lawn chair and hooked to the billowing parachute, emblazoned with a Corona Light logo, behind me. The man on my right gave me the instruction to pull hard on the left handle when I heard him blow the whistle and I would float back to the beach where they could catch me at the end of the ride. “Other than that,” he said “just have fun.” Then, without asking me if I was ready. The man to my left blew a whistle and I was thrown into the air as the boat took off and my feet left the ground.

The acceleration to altitude was breathtaking. Once the wind catches the chute you really go up quite quickly and, all of a sudden, you are a couple hundred feet in the air, taking in a pelican’s eye view of the beautiful coastline. It was such an incredible sensation that it took me a minute to realize how quiet I had become, mentally and physically. Just the sound of the wind and the feeling of the breeze on my bare feet. There was no fear. My heart, if anything, was beating as slow as it ever does, and a feeling of deep peace came over me as I floated around the bay, tethered to that old outboard.

It was then I remembered that this is what pushing past fear feels like. Once the ego realizes it no longer had any control over the situation, it just relaxes. There is nothing left to fight against. We are doing the thing…and the thing is amazing!

It was also pretty short. Before I knew it we were circling back to the beach and I could hear the sound of the familiar whistle as I tugged hard on the left handle to bring me back to land. About a minute later, I floated gently into the waiting arms of two burly assistants, was unhooked from my sky chair, and then returned to the wild.

As I threw on my flip flops and said goodbye to my hosts, I started thinking about how many times the fearful voice had won in my life. How many things had I turned away from, closed my heart to, or just resigned myself to never doing because the voice had reasons? How many missed opportunities? How many scuttled dreams?

But, as a tinge of regret started to sneak into my thinking, I realized that it didn’t matter. There is only now. The conversation I am having in this moment is all that exists. I am different than I was in the past when I had open ears for the voice and was under the impression that the voice was somehow the real me. But that’s not who I am now. I’m wise enough to know that the voice is just the voice and that, while I need to acknowledge its existence, I don’t need to follow its instructions.

I had won today…and I flew! That’s all that mattered. And all the way home, I felt like I was still flying.

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Hugging Hamid

In Vallarta, you sit in the street. Everybody does, because A. It’s hot (most people don’t have air conditioning), and B. That’s where everything happens. From pre-dawn until well after midnight, people drag their plastic chairs out onto the tiny strip of sidewalk in front of their apartments and get on with the business of living. Needless to say, I love this tradition and every morning I would drag a chair outside to have my coffee, listen to the river and watch the world wake up.

This is how I came to meet Hamid.

One morning, I was outside just feeling the breeze and meditating, when I heard a voice say: “Excuse me, do you know if there are any cheap apartments for rent in this neighborhood?” When I opened my eyes, there was a man standing in front of me with a copy of Vallarta’s classified ad newspaper (the local’s craigslist). I said that I didn’t, as I was just a tourist but that my friends might and I asked him what he was looking for.

He said his name was Hamid and he was wanting to move down from Vancouver because it was getting too “difficult” to live there. “Cold?” I said. “Yes” he said, “and I am originally from Iran although I have lived in Vancouver for over thirty years. It’s hard to look Iranian there, and getting harder.”

I didn’t press him for any more information on that point and he didn’t offer any. Instead, we talked about how nice Mexico was and how we both loved all the Bougainvillea that grows everywhere and how amazing frigate birds are and how we were both vegans and had simultaneously developed a real affection for Papaya.

We must’ve talked for about ten minutes, and then something totally unexpected happened. I could tell that our conversation was naturally coming to an end and so, without thinking, I got up from my chair and instead of shaking his hand, I gave him a hug. Not like a long, sympathetic thing. Just a quick, “this was nice. I’m glad we’re here at the same time” kind of deal. I have no idea why I did that. I wouldn’t, normally, but it just felt like the right thing to do and he must’ve felt the same way because there was no weirdness or resistance to it.

I’m not sure if there was any lasting significance in our meeting for Hamid, but it made an impression on me. It was further evidence that being a space for what is needed in the moment is one of the best things I can aim for. The automatic nature of the hug didn’t enter into any kind of thought process. There were no pros and cons that were weighed. It came from an intuitive flow state that is present when I’m open to what’s happening in front of me and not putting any conditions on my experience.

I left our meeting with a reignited desire to live like that all the time. Not to hold space for people, but to “be” space. Holding space has always sounded to me like you are taking a break from the important business of being you to do something for someone else, and that’s very good, but “being” a space where everything necessary is provided and nothing unnecessary is added and intuition drives what happens is where I want to be.

Thanks for the reminder, Hamid.

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Guantanamera

When you get in a cab in Mexico, the driver often speaks little English. This was the case with my ride to the airport on Saturday. Usually, when this happens, I just sit in silence and try to enjoy the ride, rather than annoying the driver by subjecting him to my Spanish.

As we were heading through the hotel zone, sitting in heavy traffic, my driver was punching through the radio buttons, trying to find a station that wasn’t blaring Christmas commercials, when he landed on a familiar beat.

We both started a little head bob, then he looked over and enthusiastically asked: “You like Fugees?!”. “Si”, I said. “y Celia Cruz.” That made him smile and he turned up the radio just in time for us to both throw our heads back and sing…

¡Guantanamera! guajira, guantanamera

Guantanameeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeera!!

guajira, guantanameeeeeeeeraaaaaaa.

And then we just laughed for what seemed like five minutes. It was a beautiful, serendipitous, out of tune, thing. Sometimes I forget about this other language we all share and how much better it can be than talking. This was a nice reminder. I smiled all the way to my gate.

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A Dental Tourist in Mexico – Part One – Planning

The truth is, I’ve needed some major dental work done for a long time. My teeth have slowly been deteriorating for years due to a lack of reasonable dental insurance and some poor habits when I was younger. Consequently, I have felt a good deal of shame surrounding my teeth and the way they look. My self-confidence has certainly been lower due to this situation, and I really feel like I have held myself back in social situations due to my embarrassment about my smile. It’s no fun to be constantly self-conscious about something as noticeable as the condition of your teeth and your self-image can really take a hit when you don’t feel like you look your best. Maybe you can relate.

So, a few months ago, after years of considering it, I started researching what it would take to get all of the work I needed done in a foreign country where the dentistry was modern and the prices were reasonable…unlike the states where getting the amount of work I needed done is equivalent to getting a mortgage on a Florida condo.

After extensive research (I’m a planner), I picked Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for four main reasons.

One: It’s not a border town, so crime is pretty low there and as long as you’re not walking around drunk after midnight in a sketchy area, there is very little chance that you’ll run into any trouble. In general, the people in Vallarta are very nice to tourists and are proud of how welcoming their town is. Several full-time expats I’ve talked to have backed this theory and gone on to remark about how easy and safe it is to live in Vallarta, even if you aren’t a native. If I was going to be even remotely incapacitated, physically, I wanted to make sure I was in an environment that I felt very comfortable in and Vallarta seemed like the best bet.

Two: I had vacationed there before, so I knew the general layout of the town and was familiar with where I could shop and which part of the city I wanted to stay in. This added greatly to my confidence in having this much work done abroad. It really helps to know how things operate in Mexico and what you can expect from a town before you do something major like having surgery in a country where you don’t speak the language.

Three: I knew some locals there, so I felt confident in going alone. I contacted them beforehand and they agreed to be my local emergency contacts in case something went sideways, medically speaking. They are all natives and all have impeccable english/spanish skills so I knew I could count on them to translate for me in an emergency situation. The language barrier isn’t a big deal when you’re haggling over a pair of sunglasses on the Malecon, but I did not want to be playing charades with a doctor if I felt like I was in real trouble. Having them as my back up team really put my mind at ease.

Four: The dentist I ended up choosing had incredible reviews. Not only were her skills praised in every review, but her honesty, integrity, and kindness were as well. This was important to me because, well, it’s no fun having dental work done and even less so if you feel that you aren’t being treated compassionately by the person doing the procedure. Dr. Melisa lived up to every word I had read.

All-in-all, Puerto Vallarta looked to be a good choice for me. All of my preparation and my familiarity with the town made for a smooth and easy “pre-op” experience once I touched down, and the signs were good that I had made the right decision to get my work done there.

 

Read Part 2 – The Procedure

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