When I was 19, I was enrolled in university—majoring in Psychology—and working at Borders Books, Music, and Café and as a Barista at a Starbucks that I had helped open along I-10. I was nearly three semesters into my higher education and I was feeling stagnant or uncertain about whether this education was right for me—looking back I was too young, really to be feeling stagnant regarding my education and the direction that I was headed; more than anything, it has become clear to me that I should have left the state to go to attend university and what I was really feeling was a need to explore environments that were unfamiliar to me.
Nevertheless, I dropped out of school and quit my jobs and packed what I could into a 99’ green Honda Civic and started driving west down I-10. In New Mexico I started north and arbitrarily stayed a couple of nights in the state and explored the area a little. I can’t recall where I stayed the first night but the second night I stayed in Roswell, New Mexico. I didn’t think it was anything special and continued northwest. I caught the southwest corner of Colorado, driving through Cortez, CO and into Utah and in Monticello, Utah I started north again.
I stayed two nights in Moab, Utah and considered staying longer although it didn’t feel like how I wanted it to feel—whatever that really means. I continued north and stopped for a night in Salt Lake City, Utah; I wasn’t eager for the city life or, at least that kind of city living, and I continued north on I-15.
In Pocatello, Idaho I stopped at an Econo Lodge and ended up staying at the motel for a week before finding more permanent living arrangements. My apartment was actually really cool: it was built in the early 1900’s as a ritzy hotel along the train route through Pocatello. It’s a large red brick building with maroon carpeting and maroon wallpaper with golden ornate floral design, there were golden radiators on each floor, and the rooms themselves had a number of fascinating historical high-end features. I always considered myself lucky to be living there.
I found work at ConAgra Lamb Weston, a Potato Processing Plant in American Falls, Idaho. I worked the graveyard shift: 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and the only time off that I had was when the plant closed for our Easter weekend. The two days before the plant closed, they shut down operations and we spent the days cleaning; the way they had us go about this was to climb into a thermal suit made to withhold extremely high temperatures and with a hose we went room to room spraying everything: floor, walls, ceiling, equipment everything with extremely hot water until anything living was dead and then everyone left for the weekend with a holiday ham.
That weekend I drove up to Idaho Falls, Idaho and walked through the museum exhibit Blood & Ink, the origins of writing, which I think, to this day, is one of the best exhibits I’ve seen, and I’ve been through museums in New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.; I still think about it. I stopped at a coffeehouse called The Villa and had a turkey croissant sandwich and a Chai, and while sitting there I scribbled my experience down on a napkin.
The last day of the Easter weekend I went back to IF and stopped by The Villa again and I was recognized by one of the owners who had kept my scribblings and asked me to publish it in the local magazine, the Idaho Falls Magazine. I took it to the publisher and was asked to develop a writing relationship with the magazine.
Shortly after, I left my job at the processing plant and accepted a job as a supervisor at the Hastings Entertainment in Idaho Falls and wrote featured stories for the Idaho Falls Magazine.
I was 2o years old when all of this was happening for me.
I started learning one of the greatest lessons of my life: adaptability. Being able to change your environment completely. Leaving something that is comfortable and familiar for a place that is neither where you have none to rely on except yourself and recognizing that although just about every place you visit or live in is essentially the same, mostly because of your own interests, there are subtle differences in culture, belief systems, ideals, language, and the way that people think.
It’s easy to assume that because everyone you know within your immediate surroundings might think or believe a certain way that everyone everywhere does and that’s not even remotely the case, and that belief is a dramatic disadvantage in your life. So much of that experience is still with me and nothing that I have done since would have been possible if I didn’t rip myself out of my comfort zone and drop myself into a place so utterly foreign to me.
Granted, it wasn’t India or Venezuela but it doesn’t have to be, you just have to be willing to open your mind enough to grow.