Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Texas

So today is my last day in New Orleans. I’ve been here exactly five months, starting from New Years Eve. I had no idea I’d be here for this long. Initially I thought I’d be back in Maine by now, and at this point my arrival back there is estimated for November. We’ll see what happens… I still have to get to California.

The next stop for the moment, or visit I should say, will be in Mamou, Louisiana. A friend of mine in Maine who’s familiar with a lot of southern culture, recommended a place called Fred’s Lounge. He said I should see Tante Sue before she dies. After doing a bit of homework I learned that Fred’s is one of those small spots that’s larger than life in character and reputation. It’s like the Cajun music capital of the world, and, it’s only open early in the morning on Saturdays. (I actually postponed my departure from Wednesday to tonight just for that.)

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After Fred’s, my next visit will be Austin, Texas. I don’t plan to stay more than a week since I’ve already spent almost half a year in NOLA, and I’m anxious to get to El Paso to see my family, which is one of the main reasons for this road trip. I’m also starting to miss my friends and family in Maine. I’m in no hurry though, just excited; to see cousins, aunts, and uncles I haven’t seen in 20 years, to see my sister, nephews and nieces that I haven’t even met, and visit my dad and step mother, and revisit new friends I made at the beginning of the trip on the way back home.

Overall, my experience in New Orleans has been transformative and I will take a part of it with me everywhere I go. I will also try to continue visiting every year. I feel very blessed having made so many good memories to look back on, and living every present moment for all it’s worth, and having so much more to look forward to. I only wish I had more free time to write so I could share more of my experience. I hope you’ve been enjoying the journey so far and thank you for being a part of it.

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Making Friends In New Orleans

Folks, I’m sorry I haven’t had any posts for a while… I actually had one ready but never published it since I thought I needed to add more to it, but after rereading, I think it’s best to leave it the way it is, since a short post is usually better anyway. So, thank you for your patience. And, I PROMISE I won’t let more than 10 days go by without a post. All I can say is, there’s just so much going on and I’ve been very caught up in the vortex that is New Orleans. Without further ado, here it is, as it was written on the 12th of February:

I’ve been in New Orleans for about a month and a half now and it’s a very unique experience to say the least. I’ve met quite a variety of very interesting and good people who have all helped me feel at home, travelers and nonresidents alike.

 

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“Doc”

One of the first people I met was a guy named Trevor who does ghost tours and goes by the nickname “Doc.”  I ran into him when I went to Cafe Du Monde on my second night in town.  I was on a mission (per my Gramma’s recommendation) to have a cafe au lait and beignet. So, we sat together, and split the beignets while I drank my cafe au lait – “Doc” had a hot chocolate. He was wearing all black as part of his tour getup and amazingly managed not to spill any of the powdered sugar that they pile on. We talked for a bit and I learned that he’s been married to his high school girlfriend, but, just recently they agreed to try a separation. They had a house together and he literally had just moved into a new place with some roommates the day before we met. It was mostly her idea, but they’re both amicable. I felt for him. I then found out that his biggest passion is designing games, like card games, and he’s even had a successful kickstarter campaign for one of them. We talked about a lot of other things and just enjoyed each other’s company… he even picked up the bill! Pretty lucky for my second day in town. As always, nothing is better than meeting genuinely good people.

After being here a few more days, I ran into another guy who gave me some of my first local insights into the community. He arrived here right after Katrina to help rebuild, which was 10 years ago now. He talked specifically about how the fabric of the area is uIMG_9967ndergoing some changes… Basically I asked how long he’s been here and his response was, “Too long man… It’s time to get out…” Of course I asked why, and he summed it up by saying that since he’s been here he’s seen the area become “posh and retarded.” He went into more detail, and basically what he was saying was that the gentrification process has been steadily picking up momentum. I’ve heard that word quite a few times around here now. I also learned from him that many locals who were scattered from the storm never came back because much of the land was bought by wealthy developers and is now too expensive. I was bummed to hear all that, but also glad that I finally made it here before things change any more than they have.

 

WHY PEOPLE, NOT PLACES, ARE THE BEST THING ABOUT TRAVELING (PART 2)

From  Maine, I stopped in Boston to sleep, and then New York City (4th Nov. ’15, 7:30PM) was one of my first “real” stops.  I was only there for a few hours- enough time to walk my dog, get a slice of pie, and get a feel for the city. I didn’t meet anyone special in the short amount of time, but the few people I talked to were quite nice and we had a good conversation about my house truck.

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Megan, her nephews, and I, just before departure.

After New York I stopped in Oaklyn, New Jersey (5th Nov. ’15, 1:30AM).  I had friends to visit; Megan, who I met while she lived in Maine, and her brother Andy’s family, but, before I met with them, I ran into a couple driving a conversion van who also liked to travel.  I was parked at a Wal-Mart and they were drawn in by my house truck.  We talked, got along, and they invited me to their place for a bon fire the next night. I took the offer, and just like we would back home, we hung out, including their two kids & some of their friends, had some drinks, ordered pizza, and stayed up late listening to music and talking. The next day they all took me out for breakfast.  Later we played street soccer with the kids and some of the neighbor’s youngsters. When I got together with Megan and her family, we had a good time over some drinks and tunes, and I had my first “tomato pie” with them, which I loved. I’m forever thankful to all the people I spent time with in New Jersey.

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My friends in Maryland.

 

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Victoria, my 1st CS host, and Kwan, her Workaway guest from S. Korea.

From there I made it to Severn, Maryland (9th Nov. ’15, 8:00PM) where I had my first experience with couchsurfing.com.  All I can say is that if I have any other CS experiences that are even half as good as my first, I’ll consider myself lucky.  Victoria was everything a good host should be;  warm, welcoming, and fun to hang out with.  She had other guests from S. Korea that I had the pleasure to meet and get to know as well.  She also brought us all on an excursion to DC, which was a first for me.  We checked out the Art Gallery, Botanical Garden, and a handful of monuments including Lincoln.  We even got into a game of Cattan after getting home.  At first I thought I’d be staying a couple days, but I enjoyed the company so much that I ended up staying for a week.

 

IMG_20151117_162945 My next stop was Washington, DC (17th Nov. ’15, 4:00PM). When I arrived, the very first person I talked to was a military man named JB.  He was very talkative, and very friendly.  As usual, he was initially attracted to the truck. A few days earlier, I connected with a girl named Shatha, via couchsurfing.  Even though she wasn’t able to host, she offered to spend time with me while I was in DC.  Initially she saw my trip on CS and loved the whole idea. She ended up buying concert tickets for us, so the next night we went to see The Wood Brothers at the 9:30 Club.  Shatha is a wonderful, lovely woman, and we were immediately very comfortable together.  I went to shake her hand when we first met, but she insisted on a hug. After that, we had lunch, went for a walk by a lake, and spent the rest of the day together, ending off with some live music at a cafe. Long story short, we quickly became close and even had the chance to enjoy a brief but potent romance.

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At the Botanical Garden before the concert.

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Wood Brothers Concert

The next night I landed in Fairfax, Virginia (18th Nov. ’15, after midnight). The people I met there left the biggest impression on me so far.  Like my previous stop, I thought I’d stay for a few days, but it turned out to be just over a month.  I split my time between Fairfax and trips to DC to play trumpet and explore the attractions.  Once again, I met so many great people and became very close with many of them in a short time.  I got attached and felt right at home, but not home as in Maine, but as in, where I belong. The second week there I realized I could easily stay forever.  I already made a lot of friends, 3 of which I consider best friends, I fell in love, and there’s an artsy little café called Epicure that I even managed to become a regular at. It’s actually a spot Shatha took me to on the first day we got together.  I didn’t want to leave, and all my new friends felt the same.  The feeling and experience of connection was very strong for all of us.

 

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Playing on the mall in Charlottesville

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I made a jaunt to Charlottesvile, Virginia (20th Nov. ’15, 6:30PM) for the weekend to visit some friends with the intention of returning to Fairfax.  Naturally, I made friends everywhere.  When I was unpacking my truck the first night, I heard drums coming from a nearby house, so I investigated and ran into a group of guys warming up for an online show at concertwindow.com.  The next night I busked on the walking mall downtown, then went to a place called The Whiskey Jar where a nice jazz quartet was playing.  I met a handful of really cool people there.  One of them was the father of the sax player who was performing.  He even bought me a couple drinks.

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Sax player’s dad (Terry) 2nd from left.

 

IMG_20151205_011726IMG_20151204_215224I returned to Fairfax, but had quite an urge to stay in Charlottesville. For the rest of my time in “NOVA” as they call it (Northern Virginia), I met a really good guy named Franco at the Epicure open mic, who originally came from Ecuador because of dangerous things happening back home.  He initially came over to compliment me after I played “Pure Imagination” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on trumpet.  He thought and liked that I put a lot of passion into how I played.  We had strong chemistry as musicians and as people. I was also fortunate to meet one of his best friends named Erfan (pronounced like: “air-fawn”), who was an equally genuine guy.  When we all first met, we hung out on the rooftop of Erfan’s place with another mutual friend from Epicure named John (very musically gifted), drinking beer, playing guitar, singing, sharing stories, and talking about life.  IMG_20151209_234516During my stay, Franco, Erfan, and I, had a couple other good nights at Ishtar Café, a local hookah bar.  On my last night in town, Franco and I performed a song at Epicure (only practiced the same day).  Most of the people I met and resonated with, I met at the café, or, through people I met there.

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Franco (left) Erfan (right)

I would have stayed longer if I didn’t have plans to get to my Gramma’s house in Florida in time for Christmas; it’s not something I would postpone, so Dec. 17th. I headed south after dropping Franco off from the open mic. Drove until about 4AM, stopped to sleep, and was back on the road by 10am the next day. I made it to Vero Beach, FL Saturday, Dec. 19th by 3AM. I’ll be here with my Gramma and her “boyfriend” Geno.  My Uncle and two cousins will be joining us for Christmas as well.

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Looking back on the past month, and my trip so far, there’s no regrets. I’m grateful things have gone the way they have.  It would have been nice to spend time in the Carolinas & Georgia, but I can go back.  I’d do things the same way if I had the option to do it over.  I’m happy I spent more time with less people, versus less time with more people.  I got to know everyone, we formed bonds, and made good memories. It wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t take my time.  On top of that, they’ve all helped me grow and learn about myself, and I believe the same is true for them. Money can’t buy that, and it’s not something you find every day.  So for me, when it comes to traveling, it’s not the places, it’s the people. Friendship is one of the best things we can ever be blessed with.

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Sandhill Cranes in the backyard

Building the Tiniest Tiny House

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I think one of the most interesting things to people about my road trip is the tiny house I’m traveling in.  But, it’s so darn small, I think it’s more accurate to call it a micro house (which is a term initially coined by a DC Park Ranger  named Jason, who I met at the Washington Monument). Anyway, go ahead, sit back, and get comfortable because I’m going to tell you all about it.

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Building a cabin on my truck was the first idea I had, but I pondered others before settling on it; especially after some friends slightly discouraged the idea as being realistic.  I considered getting an RV, a van, and at one point I was almost 100% on getting a motorcycle with a custom built “cargo” sidecar to haul my cat, dog, and supplies. Crazy, I know.

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I skipped the van because they’re ugly, bad on gas, and I just didn’t want to live in a van.  I skipped the RV because not only would I have had to buy one, but they’re expensive and labor intensive to maintain, are worse on gas than a van, plus, they don’t fit into normal parking spaces.  I passed on the motorcycle since logistically it would have been difficult and of course, miserable in bad weather.  Since I already had a truck, a supply of wood, an idea, and just so happen to be a decent carpenter, I figured the best thing was to go with my first idea.  I took the path of least resistance.

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I started building October 1st.  I had no blueprints other than what I visualized in my head, and one very rough sketch I made for the basic structure.  I began by removing the bed from the truck frame, then built a “foundation.”  From there, I built things just like a normal house, with 2×4 studs & nails.

IMG_20150921_145807So, the walls went up… and after lots of measurements here, lots of cuts there, and some head scratching, you could see things were starting to take shape and really look like something.  At least 80% of the house is made from recycled material that I had on hand.  I spent maybe $400 on new supplies, like duct tape, spray foam, clapboards, and reinforced suspension to compensate for extra weight.

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Inside, there’s a bed and bench with storage beneath.  There’s shelving for clothes, hooks for hanging things, and even a spot for the litter box. There’s one skylight, two windows at the back, and a window in each of the “French” doors. Each side has a screened bay window. There’s one other sliding window at the front that connects the cab to the house, which the animals can use to come and go, and if necessary, I can fit through too.  The windows all have curtains and I have an oriental carpet for the floor.  No detail was ignored; it was designed with comfort in mind and to really look and feel like a real home. The rear half of the roof even pops up to allow standing room. Outside, there’s a small “backyard” with astroturf which is covered by an eave, and the step up to the back door is made from two old skateboards.  The whole thing is insulated and totally water tight. It also fits in any normal parking space and most parking garages, which was a very important and intended aspect of the design from the very beginning.

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My Mom helped a little bit with painting, applying polyurethane to the exterior, and, occasionally holding one end of a board while I nailed the other. She wanted to do more, but I’m such a perfectionist I wouldn’t let her do anything else!  Otherwise, I did all the work entirely by myself.  Even though there’s still a few details to touch up, it was road ready by November 1st.  So, it took me one month, which included quite a few 12 hour days, and a few rain days where nothing got done.  At first, I did NOT think it would take me so long, but I think I finished it in pretty good time.  I tried hard not to rush, yet at the same time I did have a deadline to meet, so there were many tasks where I had to decide whether to be meticulous and go slow, or, just get it done fast.

 

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I’ve now been living out of it for just over a month, and I love it.  It’s definitely been a huge magnet for attention, even before I left Maine. Most people’s faces light up instantly if they catch a glimpse of me driving by, and I see a lot of people snapping pictures when I’m going down the road. Kids are of course, among the most excited to see it, especially up close.  I definitely don’t blame anyone.  If it was someone else who had it and not me, I’d be equally curious and interested to see it and ask about it. So, that’s the story, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the virtual tour. And as always, thank you for reading!

 

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Me, my Dog, my Cat, a Tiny House, and my First Cross Country Road Trip

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Greetings,

I hope you find yourself doing well.  My name is Joseph Chavez.  I usually go by “Joe” for short, and a few friends sometimes call me “Chavez,” “Joseppi,” or just, “Seppi”.  I’m originally from Maine, and I recently embarked on a cross country road trip which is something I’ve never done before, and it’s the main reason for creating this blog. The reason for my road trip is to visit my Dad in California as well as his side of the family, most of who live in El Paso, Texas.  It’s been about 15 years since I last visited them.  There are many other bonuses to the journey, such as having the opportunity to explore my country, meet people, and enjoy warm weather for the winter.

Much like my trip has been so far, the blog will be an evolving, especially in it’s infancy. As things move along and gain momentum, it will all become more flui.
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What else should you know? Well… as the title says, my dog (Luke) and my cat (Suzy) are trusty companions on the adventure, and before I left Maine, I spent my last month building the tiniest of tiny houses onto the back of my pickup truck. It has a bed, a bench, some shelving, and that’s it. No shower, sink, or stove; but with the help of friends, family, couchsurfing.com, and friendly acquaintances along the way, those things are easy to come by.

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The only other thing I think I should say is that before I left Maine, I had an apartment with a roommate and pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck doing the same old thing… not really going anywhere.  For the longest time I had this feeling deep down that I wanted to just leave to see new and different things and people. But, as we all do, I had excuses like, “I have a job” and “can’t get time off,” or, “I don’t have enough money,” on top of just putting the idea itself off and not seeing it as a possibility in my immediate future. It always seemed like it was a long way away from happening. I knew I didn’t want to be in an apartment anymore, and I didn’t want to be in Maine for the coming winter, and, eventually I realized that such an adventure was actually within my grasp provided I did the work and preparation. I guess the biggest factor was making a resolute decision. It also helps that I’m young, relatively, (I’m 30) don’t have any kids, wife, mortgage, or school to worry about. Everything else seemed to come together after that. I saved what money I could, built a tiny house, loaded it with supplies, and like an urban space capsule, I had a successful launch on the 3rd of November, 2015.
I’m a little fresh with the whole blogging thing, and there’s a lot to think about… Obviously I’ll figure it out as I go. I just hope that people enjoy reading about my journey and/or can get something out of what I write. I’ll do my best to consistently incorporate all of the following:
• Authenticity
• Originality
• Lots of pictures

I know this post might be longer than most “experts” would recommend, but, this is my first one ever, not to mention, the very first one for this blog, so, I just wanted to make sure I gave a thorough opening as to the who, what, why, and how. Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll come back to see how things are progressing.