In the dark of the night, the gunshots from the driver’s window of the car that had been passing us off and on were streaks of yellow flame. In the back of Roberto’s silver Jetta were all that remained of my life: three full Samsonite suitcases and my golf clubs. Welcome to Guatemala!
The going away party on my houseboat in Sausalito had been three days earlier and I’d given away everything: the cannons, swords and pirate pistols to my son-in-law, the book and music collections to others on the dock and my artwork to various friends.
I was walking away from a career that I’d started twenty eight years before, one that had its share of ups and downs, as the real estate market and the economy bounced off each other: in the spring of 2008 the omens weren’t favorable for a real estate appraiser, no matter how experienced, how fast and or how well connected you were. The house of cards had been refinanced too any times and the foreclosure joker was face up on the table.
The year had started off on a bad note: my ninety year old mother didn’t answer her phone in Missouri for several days, so I had called the local police department to do a ‘˜welfare check’ on her: they didn’t have good news when they called back: she was in a hospital sixty miles away and not expected to live. I was on the next plane out of San Francisco and in the small rural town of Mt. Grove, pop 1500, the next day. The hospital scene: is this my mother, gray and shriveled? I had to ask the question I never wanted to: what do you want to do for your funeral?
She gradually improved and I stayed awhile, getting her house cleaned out. Five flights to Missouri and four months later, she was ready to go home, with daily care. What remained of my appraisal business was blowing in the wind, and as chilly as the fog off the San Francisco Bay.
On the last flight to SF, I took a much needed short detour to Guatemala, where a friend from Sausalito was remodeling a home in Antigua. I’d never been to Guatemala. I’d flown over the country many times, on the way to Costa Rica or Nicaragua, where I’d been thinking of retiring to, someday, somehow, and some when.
Once settled and unpacked, we went out to dinner. Two hours later I was in love with Antigua: I’d found the place I’d spent ten years looking for but what now? I was nearly 64, my two daughters were grown, my mother was being well taken care of but my future as an appraiser was bleak. I was tired of the stress and the constant strain of wondering if the clients check would bounce or not. What am I going to do if I pull the plug on what had been a lucrative business and retire? Social Security? $1340 a month, beginning in June and this is May..a minor pension from a bank that I worked for long ago paid $143.25. After years of grossing a thousand dollars a day? I did the math and I could live in Antigua. Rent a house for $500 a month, utilities a $100 a month and that leaves me $800 or so for food, laundry and the occasional haircut at 50 quetzals per or six bucks.
I knew I needed another source of income and something to occupy my mind: going from an 80 MPH lifestyle to walking the cobblestone streets and marveling at the three volcanoes that ring Antigua would only last so long. There was a travel writing class in San Francisco a month later and I had a court appearance to make($$$). Why not? Three days later, maybe I can do this. Three months later, my first published article and I’ve done it. The money isn’t great but the stories are: I’ve seen things and met people I never imagined. Every day is an adventure and it only gets better. I regret nothing. I’m forty pounds lighter and I smile every day. These are the happiest days of my life.