El Paso And The Family

 

El Paso; the city in the far corner of west Texas, and, my last stop in the lone star state. It sits directly on the border with Juarez, Mexico. My dad was born there along with 11 (could be 12) other siblings. Most of them and their families still live there, so it definitely was a major destination for the road trip. Did I mention it’s really, really hot?

So I arrived in the evening at my Grandma’s old house where everyone grew up and I was prepared with a couple six packs I picked up just before getting into the neighborhood. Just two of my cousins live there now, David and Isaac. Needless to say, I was really happy to finally be able to hang out with family members that I hadn’t seen in about 15 years. And out of all my relatives there, I’ve been closest to Dave and Isaac since we’re all about the same age.

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Parked at the old house

The next day I went with a few family members, including Dave and Isaac, to a place called Hideaway Lake which is basically a couple man made U shaped ponds that get stocked with cat fish. West Texas is very short on natural bodies of water, and Hideaway Lake is basically one of the closest places to go. We had a fire, did a bit of fishing ( I was only a spectator), had some food, and camped out for the night. I brought my house of course, which really fit the scene.

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For most of the visit, I tried to stay cool and kicked back during the day while my cousins were at work, and once they were home we’d hang out and have a couple beers. Sometimes other friends, family, or neighbors would join us for a while.

 

 

 

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I went downtown one afternoon to set up and do poetry and it went fairly well. I had a small wave of about 4 poems. I had to pack up early though due to really heavy gusts that started suddenly. Sand, dust, and trash was blowing hard everywhere, grit getting in your eyes and mouth… There was no sense in staying.

 

At one point, one of my cousins hosted a big cookout at his house and invited all the family living in the area. There were a lot who didn’t make it, but about a third showed up, which was still quite a few, and we all had a good time just hanging out with tunes and drinks and good food, laughing and sharing stories.

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Just the cousins, aunts, and uncles

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Everyone

I pretty much did what I planned to do, which was mostly just chill out and spend time with family. My cousins and I also went on a few small adventures during my stay, sometimes with a couple other friends or family members. We managed to find a pretty good hookah bar, had some food and beer at a place called the Hoppy Monk, checked out the DJ and the scene at Monarch (a popular and swanky bar for the younger generations), checked out a graffiti park, and made it over to the scenic drive that overlooks all of El Paso and part of Juarez.

 

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On a couple occasions, we cooked up a nice breakfast, and for one of those days, I fixed up mimosas, which Dave and Isaac never had before. The other time it was bloody Marys. There was another cookout on father’s day, and there was a birthday at a pizza place, so all together I had a good fill of family time mixed with good food, like my Tia Bertha’s bacon wrapped jalepeno poppers. And with the exception of the pizza place, there was always oldies playing at the cookouts, just like when I was little.

I stayed for a total of two weeks and it would have been really easy to stay longer, but it was time to make tracks for New Mexico and see my sister and her kids. Every moment of my trip has been filled with anticipation, and leaving Texas was no different; it was just another step closer to the Pacific, another step into the unknown, into something new, a step further from home yet at the same time, a step bringing me closer to where I started.

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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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

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.