Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eyes open to Opportunity

Call it Karma, call it whatever you want. Everything I know is that the notion of life itself having an intrinsic balance seems more realistic to me than ever. Today, while surfing the internet, I found out about a company called Airbandb, founded by fellow RISD graduates, Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczyk. Their premise is to have several people all over the world rent their spare rooms or real estate on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, just like in any hotel. The amazingly positive news on this company is that they are located in San Francisco and currently hiring people with worldwide mobility to open new markets. I plan on paying them a visit next week, while I take a Mercedes rear-end to René at Burlingame Motors, and help my friend Alex move to the area.

However, just as life gives, life takes away. Minutes after my wonderment at this company I get a call from my mechanic, David, who did not have good news to tell me: the part of the car's body to which the rear suspension elements attach was so corroded, so rusted out, there was no way of repairing it affordably to make this Mercedes a reliable diver. I was in such disbelief, in such amazement, I could not but run the 30-40 minutes of highway that it takes to get to his property in the countryside, just to check it by myself.

And there it was. Rust everywhere.

It took me good part of 20 minutes to try everything under the sun –fingers, sockets, breaker bars- to prove that, evidently, there was no way of taking apart the rear suspension in a way that it could be put back together to travel safely. There were holes around the mounting points where the fasteners attach the suspension to the body of the car, a big red light and ticking time bomb in the event of a large pothole or a speed bump –no good, no good.

So, Orwell, the once-called PanAmerican wagon, is now a –beautifully- running a parts car.

There are two factors that saved the day, the first one being the fact that I got that W123 Mercedes for so cheap –$1,200... and driven 800 miles-. There is no possible way not to get my money back. I have sold $110 worth of parts as we speak, so the recovery of my investment should not be an issue.

The second factor is Tyler having, well, a suitable replacement for very little money...

After some repairs to make it 100% reliable, I got this for a little over $3,500.
Yes, it is a 1994 FJ80 Toyota LandCruiser with low miles, low price, a salvage title and in ready-to-go condition.  It has a bullet-proof inline-six and it is fairly popular in Latin America, with plenty of cheap spares and labor if anything should break down. Not half as interesting, but much more comfortable than my bizantine Mercedes, with some additional cargo/sleep space, ground clearance and 4 wheel drive. Ready to take on an expedition lasting several months with a little more work –belts and seals-. Tyler let me drive it for a few days before taking it to auction and I was very impressed. It even has pinstripes and a sunroof!

This will be the rig that I will take to San Francisco and that I will slowly start to modify to make it into a somewhat liveable space. At 15-20MPG, I definitely have to save some money in lodging, but I rather pay for fuel than for speedily imported parts and complex mechanical repairs.

It just took a few hours for fate to change one of the biggest factors in this future PanAmerican journey –the vehicle, darn!-, but this decision, as big of a game-changer as it is, will be one I will not regret while on the road, especially in adverse conditions. And much against what I wanted to do with Orwell –scrap it at the end of the journey-, BY THE SHEER FORCE OF MY BALLS I shall drive this nameless warrior back to the US with a job offer under my arm and a grin on my face.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Big Decision

Last week has been no less than mentally turbulent: my two choices in life have been shrunk to staying in school or leaving the country –and me being me, leaving the US means a PanAmerican adventure, as I want to avoid Spain by all means necessary. So, with my mind equally split, I set on to make a rational, informed decision on where to channel my energies:

1. Timeframe: I gave myself until I talked to a University advisor –Sunday of last week, in theory- to make a decision, as my mind cannot function correctly with these worries and the exhausting tasks of animation and editing for Open Roads. This decision would also affect the workflow of the episodes of the series, and the amount of free time I could have to play with cars and fix things here and there. I did make the promise to Tyler that, if I decided to go down to the Americas, I would have all three episodes finished and ready to put up on YouTube by the time my "period of grace" ended.

2. Money: Probably the biggest factor in my decision. Factoring my living expenses with college tuition, an MBA at Wichita State University would cost me $1,940 a month for a period of twelve months. If I went to Butler College to obtain an Associate's Degree, this number would go down to $1,283; however, I am not thrilled about getting a two-year degree for the sake of buying myself time in the USA. My bare minimum for the PanAmerican expedition, without surprises or breakdowns, would be $9,100 for almost a year worth of travel, art-making and volunteering. The positive side of going down South is that I could open a crowdfunding project to finance the trip (Kickstarter) for an approximate value of $15,000 to finance the whole thing and –maybe, even- drive back.

3. Personal: What would sacrifice if I left? What would I sacrifice if I stay? There are plenty of wonderful friends, living on both coasts and anywhere in between. With the miraculous power of the Internet, I could stay in touch with anybody living hundreds or thousands of miles away. Skype would be my only mode of instant communication, so communication thus becomes a neutral factor. I do feel sorry for leaving Tyler for a few months, as our friendship as flourished into an amazing gearhead camaraderie –I might as well take him to Europe one day and offer him the same degree of hospitality and knowledge. Another factor would be personal growth: both these experiences have things to provide to my life path; however, the order does not matter.

4. Professional: Quite evidently, an MBA would give me more chances to be competitive in today's job market. However, what do I want to do in life? I like travel, I like meeting people, I like the freedom of self-reliance, I like anything that involves a project –improvement, cutomization-, and I LOVE automobiles, these vessels for adventure. My fate and my preferences seem to be heading towards reality TV or international trade. I am thankful that my career paths are laid so clearly at this point of my life. I have great hopes in my NYC project, of it becoming a multinational corporation capable of granting me a Green Card in two or three years –life can only get sweeter from here on!-. So, the decision is to either go out in the world with a valuable diploma and some work experience under my belt, or a unique way of seeing the world with a fabulous story to tell afterwards. Safety dictates one, the Heart dictates the other.

It was the money factor that led me to visit the Business department at Wichita State University (WSU). In less than two hours, I had a very optimistic view of the program, where learning and real world experience seems to be taken seriously. As a side note, I saw the first Pizza Hut ever built. When I asked about financial aid, I was told that in the Graduate Program most students paid off their pockets, but I was invited to visit the Financial Aid office. I did, and much not to my surprise, I was told that my status as a foreigner did not qualify me to obtain any financial aid at all.

The WSU information package I was given today. Ca-ching!

The feeling of hearing that sounded like a heavy steel door slamming in my head. It was somewhat disheartening, but I know I will be able to get to afford an MBA program at some point, maybe in Wichita, maybe in Harvard, or maybe abroad. So, what I am left with, is the dream of a lifetime a little bit ahead of time: ladies and gentlemen, I am going PanAmerican.

The following posts –hopefully more than in the last months– will narrate the preparation process, my management of time before my training "period of grace" expires on August 20th, the build-up of Orwell the 300TD as an expedition rig, the careful planning of the route I will take and some funding strategies –please help me on this one–. I might have to panhandle a little bit, so bear with me and I promise you this will be the most exciting real-time travelogue you will ever read. Once again, it's time to grow some massive balls of fire.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Crossroads: PanAmerican or School?

At the beginning of this week I had a talk with my business partner, Tyler, about my future in the US. I have finally earned enough money to pay for a lawyer consultation, so we can have all options laid before us and see what path to follow. That got my mind started on the dreams of the PanAmerican highway again... I now have Orwell, the perfect vehicle, and just enough money saved up after the sale of all my cars before my visa expires. So, with this traveler twitch, coated in exciting uncertainty, I schedules a consultation with a good, reputable immigration lawyer in town: Carlos Nolla-Corretger. I also went to the local bookstore and ordered a map of the entire American continent to (maybe) plan...

Will I use this map in the next few months, or will it be a year-long project? Answer's still in the air.
The answer Carlos gave us was a simple option: to either go back to school on a student visa or to leave the country and come back later. It's a huge decision to make in such small time frame, as there are so many factors that affect the decision and affect everyone around me. Here is a list of pros and cons on each of these two –very delicate- choices in my life:

Pros/Cons of the PanAmerican journey: I am just at the perfect time in my life to do it, with my health and finances in good standing. I am uncertain about what the future will have for me if I stay in school for another year, if I will be able to earn at a greater pace than I spend while at school. I would feel, though, that I am leaving Tyler down and the project unfinished. I may, however, be able to edit the last episode while on one of the stops on the road, and return to the US in a tourist visa for three months. I have most of my mechanical skills down and take care of most problems with my toolset. On the flip side, I am absolutely uncertain on what will happen at the end of the journey, whether I will have a job in the US or Spain; however, this trip would give me enough experience to be able to apply for position that involve a lot of travel –hopefully with a TV station-. I am driving into the true unknown, leaving most of my possessions behind, with Spain –ahem, my death- as the only place to return –with little or no money- unless I have a safe job opportunity lined up after I am done.

Pros/Cons of going back to school: pursuing a Master in Business Administration will certainly bump up my resumé, buy me an extra two or three years in the US, and give me some financial and managerial skills that I am lacking. It should be relatively cheap, under $8,000 a year, to do it in a school here in Kansas, and my living expenses would be minimal. However, I do not know if I can earn a clean $8,000 over that period of time without compromising my savings. This time would definitely give me the time to prepare properly: planning the route with calm, learning how to weld, improve on my mechanical skills and my drawing. I will certainly be able to produce, shoot and edit all six episodes for the first season of Open Roads. My biggest fear is, as I said, end up with less money than I started with if I cannot earn enough while at school, which would force me to accept a job offer that would tie me for a good while to a place, and postpone the PanAmerican journey by a few years. I could also use this time to network extensively and gain some reputation.

So, here I am, wondering if I should bit the bullet and go down to Argentina right now, with the help of KickStarter dot com, or if I should be cautious and study some more to get me better prospects and more time to work with Tyler on the web series. Oh, Lordie...

Any advice would be most appreciated; I reach to you, out there in the mysterious dark tubes of the internet, to all of you who have followed my travels and see my life change. What should I do?