Back in the Land of Too Much: Round Pegs in Square Holes
We returned to the US with a mission: Obtain approval from the Portuguese government for a long-term visa. In addition to amassing the documents and jumping through the bureaucratic hoops we looked forward to visiting with friends and fam. However, our return to “The Homeland” seemed to be a slow downhill slide from simplicity to unanticipated complications.
Now don’t get us wrong; we are true-blue, passport-carrying Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a contented mix of sunny, southern California and mountainous, western Montana (the hot and the cold, the yin and the yang) who willing relocated in 2002 to North Padre Island in South Texas. Having experienced the phenomenon of reverse culture shock previously we prepared ourselves again for the symptoms and looked forward to our return with great expectations and anticipation. That was until things began to go decidedly south.
It began just before we left Portugal for a return to the States, three days before our departure, with a scramble for alternative accommodations after we received news that the place we were going to stay was no longer available due to a family emergency. Summer in Corpus Christi is high season and, as beachgoers pour into the city to visit the seashore and island, availability goes down as prices go up. We reached out to our former property manager/realtor who scoured her listings and found us an efficiency apartment – overpriced but within our budget and on the island for our stay.
Our second indication of the deep do-do which awaited us was found at the car rental counter of the airport in our adopted city. We had reserved a rental car for a couple of days with the idea that we’d find a cheaper rental offsite later. It was during this transaction that we discovered if you did not own an automobile, which was of necessity insured, you could not cover a rental with your car insurance. Well duh! So, (and here’s the rub) if the car was X dollars per day to rent the insurance was a whopping 2X dollars per day. Somehow $111.95 per day was a bit steep for a sub-compact auto which barely held us and our luggage. We tried another car rental agency the next day with a representative who oozed charm (but no ethics) and tried to finagle the insurance issue. Luckily for us, our insurance agent called him on the slight-of-hand, the distinction between renting and leasing a car. If we’d had an accident it could have been ugly. And so we accepted that a rental car was not an option.
Plan B, suggested by our insurance agent – with rhyming first and last names, a wide and very white smile, brightly colored talons, who called us “Sugar” and blessed our day – was to lease a car. We grasped the lifeline and decided upon a $1300/month car from the only short-term lease agency in town. We’d gotten our insurance down to a manageable rate but the 2000 a month mileage cap, which we’d been assured was something we could negotiate, was chiseled from granite. A short time later, wiser and poorer, we finally shed ourselves of the lease vehicle and settled on Plan C: We bought a car. The deed was accomplished in less than three hours with the assistance from a friend who was also manager of one of a multi-sited, new/used dealership; we were the grudging but proud owners of a 2014 Toyota. From dedicated minimalists to All-American automobile owners … again! We were going in reverse!!
But now, back to our temporary abode at the “resort.” (Caution! Whining involved!) We’d always thought resort sounded a bit posh but found the name to be only a hopeful aspiration. Since our apartment was on the third floor we’d asked, and been assured that there was an elevator which we (kind of ) assumed worked reliably. We did our grocery shopping during our stay with the idea in the back of our minds that one of us might have to lug that 10 pound watermelon up three flights of stairs. We hung bags of Damp Rid around as festive decorations to combat the atmosphere of cold clamminess resulting from a temperamental air conditioner. And, after a couple of years traveling in Central and South America where our lips touched only bottled water, we came home to a boil water order. However, we were still begrudgingly pleased to have a place in which to spread out, cook a few meals and call home as we visited with friends and family and worked on gathering the necessary documents for the long-term visas for Portugal. Never mind that we had to buy our own Wi-Fi hotspot for the apartment rather than trek to the common area, sans air conditioning, sweltering and seemingly dedicated to the idea of defining “humid.” All in all our home-sweet-home was a place to flop and infinitely preferable to a motel on the sleazy side of the city.
And so it was that we chipped away at the tasks of daily living, with the attendant aggravations of all of the above mentioned, and worked on jumping through hoops and the issues of starting the process towards obtaining residency visas in Portugal. And slowly the tide turned. We were fortunate to have been given an opportunity to housesit for very dear friends for three weeks and we gratefully escaped the 3rd floor apartment. We flew to Washington D.C. to present our long-term visa request to the Consulate’s Section of the Portuguese Embassy and visit family. We spent a lot of time at the beach and catching up with friends. We made arrangements to store our car with other family members near Atlanta, a boon over storing it in a secured lot with no attention in south Texas. And we whiled away the remainder of our waiting period by taking off on what we called “Our Epic Road Trip” which encompassed crisscrossing the country a couple of times.
In the end the salient points were driven home amid the strangeness and the familiarity. America is the land where what you need is available and what you want is within tantalizing reach. It’s the land of too much, the land where things are expected to work. In return, each must play their role. Deviating from the act of acquiring is not an admired trait – it is met with incredulity, intransigence and roadblocks. Without a home, a car, a cell phone, internet connection, insurance, ad finitum, ad nauseum you are at the mercy of the marketeers. We felt but a smidgen of this disfavor and it was uncomfortably frustrating. We were, in a real sense, strangers in a strange land.
By Richard and Anita