Sense and Sensibility

I love Mexico City more with each passing day. This afternoon I had an errand to run that happened to take me to my favorite neighborhood, Coyoacán. It was a glorious, sunny day and, with my errand done and my stomach growling, I popped into a small bistro for a bite to eat. A common lunchtime option is “el Menú del Día,” which essentially includes an appetizer, soup, entrée, dessert, and water for a fixed price. A gringo with simple tastes, I opted for the “Chicken Menu” and was pleasantly surprised when I was served bruschetta, lentil soup, chicken croquettes with rice, carrots, and cucumbers in yogurt sauce, steamed zucchini, flavored water, and a very interesting postre of figs adorned with chopped nuts and dipped in chocolate sauce. Not bad for 100 pesos (about USD $8.50).

After lunch, I felt especially sated, and took a leisurely stroll back to the metro, noticing for the first time several charming restaurants and coffee shops that I had probably walked past a dozen times before. The other day I observed, in my own neighborhood, a shrub that was trimmed in the shape of an osito (bear cub). Why had I never noticed this before? I am starting, finally, to notice the little things, things I was oblivious to. I am starting, at long last, to actually understand Spanish when spoken to me. Not always – not even half the time – but often enough that when I ask the speaker to repeat what he or she just said, it is muy claro the second time. Living here has agreed with me so much that my senses have, I think, become refined with time.  

Loose Ends

Confession time, Loyal Reader. Moving out of the country is a chore for anyone. For me, it was nothing less than an all-out pain in the ass. Today I finally – I think – got closure on some loose ends left untied when I left California – and the U.S. – three months ago. This may even have had something to do with my elated mood whilst strolling through Coyoacán today.

Moving sucks. Often you have to leave stuff behind, or realize it is time to part with belongings that, while nostalgic, merely take up space or have no place in your new life. There is the gamble of figuring out how best to move your belongings, and the inevitable realization that at least one thing of value will be broken or damaged in the move. Then there is the process of changing your address with the 12 gazillion accounts you have. You will never remember all of them, and you’ll be shocked to discover how many open accounts you actually have.

Moving of the country is even worse. With so many i’s to dot and t’s to cross, it is almost assured that something will get missed. Find a storage facility for what you won’t be bringing with you yet you can’t bear to part with. Guess that it’s big enough to hold everything. Buy boxes or collect them from the local supermarket. Sell or rent out your car. Make advance arrangements with your utilities companies for an end-of-service date, and pay any closing balances in advance. Notify your bank and credit card companies of the country to which you will be moving, lest they block your account after that first suspicious overseas transaction. Expect to open a bank account in your new country or else prepare to pay ATM surcharges every time you withdraw money. Change your address. Yes, with all 12 gazillion accounts. Fly to your new country in advance to find a place to live, or else prepare to live in a hotel/hostel for at least two weeks upon arrival. Expect pushback from local property owners as you – an untrustworthy foreigner – attempt to rent from them with no established credit in their home country. And that’s just getting started.

I like to think I handled my international move with aplomb. I had roughly six weeks to pull everything together, and I had an advantage going in of already knowing my future home city. I found a storage unit that was exactly the right size (perhaps two square feet of empty space remained after I filled it floor to ceiling!). I found a trustworthy person to rent my car for a few months. I made sure to renew my car insurance and vehicle tags before moving, and I likewise made sure to cancel my cable service and rental insurance, as my storage facility requires me to carry insurance through them. I filled two suitcases with my best clothes and left for LAX and Mexico City with nothing but those suitcases, my laptop, my guitar, and optimism for the best.

That said, there were still loose ends. The frustrating thing is, none of them were really my fault.

My cable company screwed up on their end and scheduled shut down of services for November 17th instead of November 7th. Nevermind the fact that they confirmed my closing balance of $0.00 when I dropped off the equipment with them on November 6th. As I was moving out of the country and no longer in need of the overpriced SoCal cable TV monopoly that is Time Warner Cable, I never gave them my new address. Fast-forward two months and I learned that I had a “new” erroneous balance of $55 for ten days of service between November 7th and 17th. Time Warner couldn’t reach me at my old address, so those bastards sent a collection agent after me! At $3/minute it cost more money on the phone arguing with Time Warner Cable than it would have cost to just write them a check for $55. They finally realized their error, confirmed that I have a zero balance, and confirmed that I would no longer get calls or letters from any collection agents. (Apparently, they sent at least two separate agencies after me, all for a whopping $55. I wonder, for such a small pittance, what would the agency’s commission be had I actually settled with them?) Two days later I got another call from a collection agent, which cost me another five minutes on the phone. That five minutes calculated out at $15 USD, roughly 30% the cost of my original bill. I only took the call because I wished to protect my credit rating. ¡Idiotas!

I renewed my vehicle tags in October, filling out the appropriate forms and paying the appropriate fees so that the tags will go to the address of the person who has been renting my car. Way to stay on top of things, right? The tags never arrived, and she received a citation from the City of Los Angeles. Two more expensive, lengthy phone calls with the DMV were required to get this sorted out. At least I didn’t have to pay a fee to have them reissued, since the DMV conceded that they made a mistake. But now my renter has to decide if it’s worth fighting the citation. I wouldn’t blame her if she decided not to fight it…but then that’s less money for me, as I would expect her to deduct it from her next rent check. ¡Idiotas!

A couple years ago, I found a computer repair shop in LA that I really liked and trusted. About a week before moving to LA, I brought in my dusty laptop for a thorough cleaning and a few upgrades, including a bigger hard drive. (Or RAM. Or ROM. I never know which is which.) Right on schedule, they doubled the hard drive size. I tested it out and everything worked great. A week later, I turned on the computer (now in Mexico) and it crashed repeatedly. Eventually it ceased booting up altogether. A few emails and (expensive) phone calls later and it was agreed that the new hard drive they installed must have had some bad sectors. I suggested – and they agreed – to put the older, smaller hard drive back in my laptop for the time being, and to ship them – whenever I found myself back in the U.S. as it was no emergency – the “new” (and yet damaged) hard drive. First day back in the states, I overnighted it to them, hoping that – as they alluded to me on the phone – they might be able to fix it and FedEx it back to me while I was still in the states (they’re located in LA, I was in Eastern Tennessee). This, suffice to say, didn’t happen. They agreed that the drive had some bad sectors, but didn’t send it to me until I had already returned to Mexico. When they finally did send it, it was to my parents’ house in Eastern Tennessee, even though I specifically told them I would be back in Mexico by then. ¡Idiotas!

Although I am truly grateful for everything that I have, and although I’ve adjusted nicely to living in Mexico City, my girlfriend will confirm that I have days when I act as if everyone is conspiring against me. Each of these three aforementioned clusterfucks are not big deals in and of themselves, but how can it be that I was so diligent at moving logistics and yet not one, not two, but three costly fuck-ups in a row have come my way?! I haven’t done the math yet – mostly because I don’t want to – but I’m sure these “loose ends” cost me upwards of $200, mostly in international phone charges. That figure is chump change for some but a lot of money for yours truly, in light of what all else this move cost me financially. I have friends who would sue Time Warner Cable, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, or Bubba’s Computer Repair Center. That isn’t my style – nor is it a prudent investment of my time – but it’s goddamned frustrating regardless.

I don’t regret moving – at all – and I’m glad I’ve finally managed to put these problems behind me. My mood is brightened, my senses are heightened, and a weight has been lifted. If you are ever in a position to move abroad and the opportunity seems right, I say do it! But know that before you get to your new destination – and possibly for a little while thereafter – you could really have your work cut out for you.


Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food and culture all while weathering the challenges of life in a city with over 20 million people. Life's unpredictable journey has since brought him to Tennessee, where he is close to family and to the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, top ten lists, and travel in general.

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