My last day at work was a little bittersweet. I had been employed at GNR Machining Works for nine years, the longest single job I had ever had in my life. The machine shop was owned by a family who really cared about their employees. I started working there with very little experience, and they were patient and kind as I learned how to program their CNC milling machines and work with various metals to fabricate parts for specialized machinery produced for the oil and gas industry.
I gained confidence and the job sometimes offered intriguing challenges, though it could also be mind-numbingly boring at times. Eventually, I became the quality manager for the shop.
That day, I worked until early afternoon, as I had booked a flight to New Orleans for my last week in the States. I had never been there as an adult, and since I was now homeless and jobless, I didn’t see the point in staying in Chicago and freezing my ass off in winter. Andrea, the office manager treated me to a take-out lunch from one of my favorite local restaurants. Birria, which is roast goat served on fresh tortillas using recipes from Jalisco, Mexico, had become a beloved part of my dining experience in the city.
When the time came for me to walk out the door for the last time, I went around the shop shaking hands and saying my goodbyes to my coworkers. My bosses all wished me well, though they had often wondered why I was moving to “China”. Attempts to explain to them the difference between Thailand and China had fallen on deaf ears. But for all of their willful ignorance about the world outside of the US, they were good people, and I knew I would miss them.
I had packed my smaller backpack for the week in New Orleans and taken it with me on the bus to work early that morning, so after a quick wash up in the men’s room sink, I walked to the nearby Orange Line CTS station at Pulaski Avenue and rode it one stop to its terminus at Midway International Airport.
I had an absolutely wonderful time in New Orleans meeting other cool travelers at my chosen hostel and through some Couchsurfing meetups, including a Christmas party, which may have been my very first. Many of those I met had been to Thailand before on their travels and gave me some good advice and recommendations.
One of them (and I cannot remember the young man’s name) was a street fortune teller, someone whom I would have avoided like the plague when I was a practicing member of the Jehovah’s Witness religion.
I noticed him staring, so I asked him why he was looking at me so intently. He gazed straight into my eyes and told me, “you have a great destiny and will do something to change the world.”
This unnerved me a little bit, as I had previously been loath to even read a horoscope in the newspaper. But it also gave me a warm, positive feeling about the possibilities that lay ahead for me. And part of me was just happy that he didn’t predict that I was going to die in a plane crash over the Pacific Ocean on my way to Bangkok.
I was due to fly out of Chicago’s O’hare International Airport on December 30, so my return to the Windy City was scheduled for the 29th. I stayed overnight at the house of another dear friend before waking early the next morning to get a stack of new $100 bills from the bank and to sell my car, the remaining item on my list before I left.
However the buyer backed out and I was stuck with a vehicle I had no time left to get rid of. It wasn’t worth much anymore, as it was 20 years old and had recently suffered a blown head gasket. Fortunately, Constance offered to handle it for me so I didn’t just have to leave it abandoned on a street collecting tickets.
I ordered a Lyft ride to the airport, and as we drove through familiar neighborhoods on my way to the expressway, I stared out the window and tried to hold back the tears that the driver probably wouldn’t understand.
At the airport, I was forced to hurriedly repack my bags on the floor in front of the check-in counter because my large suitcase was five pounds (2.2kg) overweight. I had also intended to donate my scarf, gloves, and leather bomber jacket to someone, but in the overwhelming chaos of going through security, I forgot.
I boarded my window seat, buckled in, and after takeoff, I caught one last glimpse of my beloved city where three years before I had started a new life for myself. I was now on my way across the globe to do it again.