Travel

Back in the US

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After 10 years of living here, I’ve made multiple trips back to the US to see family and friends. People sometimes ask if I want to go back and live there. The more time I spend here in Panama, the more that answer is a definite no. I’ve said quite a bit about the differences I see between here and there after my various trips, and those thoughts haven’t changed much. It just seems like the differences become larger and the downsides to the US become stronger over time.

It’s cold. I’ve spent almost three decades in warm climates (Florida before Panama) and I’m less and less tolerant of cold. I spent the majority of my time in thermal underwear which helps enormously. It’s dry. Skin lotion and chap stick are necessary, things I almost never use in humid Panama. Even in Oklahoma where the temperature got as high as 80 on a couple days, it was still much drier than I’m used to. It’s expensive. Prices are rising everywhere, including here in Panama but my goodness, it’s always a shock to see how much more we spend in the US. The produce in the supermarket is neat and orderly and without blemishes of any kind, but you pay for that. Much of it comes from far away, and you pay for that too. We are too used to getting our produce from the food truck that got it from the farms up the mountain that morning. It may not be as pretty but it’s full of flavor and goodness.

But mainly, I’m just not as comfortable in the US. I’m so used to the greetings everywhere, these friendly people who wouldn’t hesitate to stop for a chat or offer some help even if we are total strangers. That a shooting might occur never enters our mind. People have their opinions and argue about politics and other ideas, but never with the disrespect and hatred you feel in the US. The problems with healthcare, housing, poverty, and violence just seem so overwhelming and so many people are suffering.

Anyway…. I am here, and thankful every day for the life we have here. Of course there is poverty here also and people grumble about various problems, but it’s not the same.

But, I did have a lot of good times on my trip! I arrived in Seattle before Easter and the granddaughters were on break from school the following week. Mom and Dad worked from home, and I played with the kids. The older one has learned to read, so she was in charge of reading recipes and directing the action in the kitchen. The highlight was mid week when the other grandma arrived, the day after her birthday. We had a cake with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream. We hadn’t seen each other in ages so it was great to have some time to talk and catch up.

Next was California. We stay in a hotel nearby because there isn’t a lot of extra space and this family is super busy. There were baseball games, dance classes, gymnastics classes, birthday parties, friends coming over, visiting other friends… there was always something going on and the kids had a thousand things to tell me and show me. And, on that Friday evening we went down to Oakland for the Muse concert. It was fantastic. They did all the songs we play and more, and there were tons of lights, flames, confetti, and special effects. I spent COVID learning to play Hysteria, and when they launched into that song with the bigger than huge bass sound it was awesome. One of the last songs was Kill or be Killed, which I especially love. If you want to get a taste of the over the top production check this out. YouTube can’t duplcate the huge sound but you can get the general idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=68&v=E9u-dGlYAyw&feature=youtu.be

The last stop was Oklahoma, where my mother was in the hospital. She’s 89, prone to falls, her legs were badly swollen, and she was having severe pain in one of her legs. It took three days to get an MRI done, they didn’t see anything broken, so they sent her home. Thankfully it was the weekend which bought her a little more time to investigate options, but ultimately insurance refused to pay for rehab or anything else, so she was sent home. (Do NOT get me started on the US health care system!) She told me yesterday that she’s weak, tired, and short of breath but she’s hanging in there.

Of course I don’t want her suffering and stuck in the hospital, but for me it was ok. She kept apologizing that she wasn’t in a position to do anything, but I only wanted to see my family and spend time with them so it was all good. I spent quite a lot of time as the hospital and with my two younger sisters. The oldest sister lives two hours away so she was only there on Thursday, her birthday. She’s also a nurse and we have many interests in common so we can talk forever. Oh, and there was a BBQ on Wednesday at my middle sister’s house, and my youngest sister came with her daughter and grandson. Also, one of my middle sister’s sons visited the hospital so I got to meet him! And, my oldest sister came with her youngest son, so I got to meet him too! Little by little, I’m meeting more of the family.

It’s good to go and see my people, but it’s always good to come home again. But the best laid plans… we sat on the tarmac in Tulsa for 2 hours waiting for bad weather in Houston to clear. By the time we got to Houston, our flight to Panama had left. They booked us on a later flight but of course by the time we got to Panama City our flight to David had left so we spent the night in a hotel. Thankfully our favorite hotel (Riande) had space for us, but our luggage had gone on to David. When we arrived in David Joel’s suitcase was the first off, but mine never arrived. The Copa staff was very good about tracking it down (somehow it hadn’t gotten on the plane with us in Tulsa). I got a number of emails and then a message the next day that it had arrived in David on the morning flight. But sheesh… I had been fighting a cold for quite a whle. We got up at 4am on Friday to make the Tulsa flight. We got up at 4:30 am on Saturday to make the David flight, and we had a gig on Sunday evening. We purposely loaded the set list with songs we know well, thank goodness, and it was a good evening.

But wait… there’s more! We set out for Boquete on Sunday afternoon and everything is fine until we were half way up the mountain. The car suddenly had less power, and then Joel noticed black smoke coming out of the tail pipe. But, we were still moving forward so we limped our way up the rest of the way and made it to the gig. Something was definitely wrong with the car though, and by the time we packed up it was Sunday night, 10pm, dark, and we did not want to get stuck by the side of the road so we came home in a tow truck. Monday I slept until noon and I can’t even remember when I did the rest of the day.

Tuesday, our neighbor came over. He (and his family) have had four Monteros and he does most of his own work on his many cars. He thought it was something wrong in the fuel injection system so he called another guy who specializes in this. We got up early on Wednesday so we’d have both eyes open for his 9am arrival, and he didn’t come until noon. ☹️ But he did come and confirm the diagnosis. We have towing with our insurance so I called them. They were super nice and arranged for a tow and called twice later to confirm that the tow truck had arrived and all was well. But, I had to talk with the neighbor, the guy he called, the insurance gal, the tow truck office, the tow truck driver, our mechanic, and the follow up calls all in Spanish so by the end of the day my brain was too fried to function!

I’ve seen people complain about customer service in Panama, and I wonder what they experience. We were treated SO well! There was excellent help finding my lost suitcase. The insurance and tow truck people were super nice. The driver texted me 4 pictures of the car at the shop so I’d know it arrived ok. My mechanic also texted me a picture of it when it arrived. There were two follow up calls to be sure our needs had been met. I was out with a friend yesterday and we stopped by the shop. We’ve gone to this mechanic for 10 years and trust him a lot so I was happy to hear he agreed with the diagnosis. He had taken the head off the motor, the specialist had gotten the injectors and pump to take to his shop for cleaning, and as soon as they are returned out mechanic will put everything back together. Thank goodness we aren’t playing this Sunday so we have some time!

When I started writing this I thought I didn’t have much to say. HA! But, I think I’m done for now. Hopefully soon we’ll have the car back, and we can figure out what we want to do about the washing machine that doesn’t want to spin (but thankfully still washes), and life will return to some sort of normal.

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