Posts Tagged With: Medellin

I Was IN the Fastest Seat in Sports

Me - Al -James

“Little Buddy” James, Me and Al Unser, Sr.

Sometimes my Multiple Sclerosis leaves me confined to bed more often than I like. One way I pass some time while stuck in bed is entering sweepstakes online. I see it as a ePrizeway to entertain myself; while I have no expectations of winning – I do HOPE to win.  Over the couple years I have been doing this, I have won an i-pad, gift cards from Best Buy, Southwest Airlines, and i-tunes; coffee mugs, t-shirts and etc., but nothing of significant value. All of that changed on August 8, 2013, when I got a phone call from Cathy at ePrize explaining I needed to check my e-mail to sign and return the forms to accept my Grand Prize trip in the http://www.shophonda.com “Fastest Seat In Sports” sweepstakes.

Fastest SeatThe grand prize trip to the IZOD IndyCar® Series Grand Prix of Baltimore included: a ride in the IZOD IndyCar® 2-seater driven by an Indy Champion, 2 credentials to the race, 3 days/2 nights accommodations, round trip airfare for 2, a prepaid debit card. That is what was listed as the prize on the site, but the official rules revealed the gift card was $250, and the package additionally included car service, a $500 IZOD gift card and a check to help pay the taxes. The Approximate Retail Value of the prize totaled $5,450! 

My excitement soon began to cloud. Because of my MS, I escape the extremes of the summer and winters in the US and visit Medellin, Colombia – The City of Eternal Spring. Since I was out of the country, I was thinking I would have to forfeit the prize. Since my buddy James lives in Washington D.C., I asked if he was my plus one and only one airplane ticket would be needed, could I fly from Medellin? The price of the ticket was within the budget and I was told that I could travel from Medellin. Furthermore extending the date of the return flight offered a lower fare and would allow me to visit my friend in D.C. longer.

The trip to D.C. began with leaving my apartment at 1:45 am for the 45 minute ride to the airport so I would arrive 3 hours early for my international flight. Copa Airlines did not have agents available for us to check-in until 2 hours before the flight and they began by explaining the 5:22 Copaam flight was canceled and I would be on the 7:00 am flight to Panama and would only have a 30 minute connect time (strike 1). Remember, I have Multiple Sclerosis and move slow? Well, my moving slow was no issue because when I arrived at gate 5 in Panama, we were told there was a gate change to gate 29 – on the other side of the airport (strike 2). Once I arrived at gate 29, I learned we had to go through security at the gate, as in they opened our bags and used the security wand on each passenger AT THE GATE (strike 3). Guess what? Our gate was changed AGAIN to gate 33 and here we had to go through security AGAIN AT THE GATE (strike 4)! How our flight was only delayed a little more than an hour is a mystery. This was a HORRIBLE first impression of Copa Air. For the canceled flight I was given a $100 flight voucher (forgiving 1 strike), but for the chaos in Panama – nothing (still leaving 3 strikes – they are out)! I doubt that voucher gets used because I doubt I will give Copa Airlines another chance. Thank goodness I arrived a day early so I had the opportunity to rest take it easy and have a simple dinner at my friend James’ house.

MarriotAugust 31, we drove over to Baltimore and checked in at the Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown/Inner Harbor where we were told, “Your room is already paid for and we just need a credit card forCredentials incidentals.” James and I dropped off our luggage and headed to pick up our credentials. The young lady that gave our race credentials informed us our credentials had an all important “PC” identifier that gave us access to the Paddock Club. Wanting a beer… we began our mission to find the Paddock Club. We began this search at the Paddock… that seemed logical! (lol) We flashed our “PC” badges and entered the “Andretti Club” since that DSC_0149was the only “club” we found at the Paddock and we were VIPS (lol). It turns out when we reached for a beer, we were told our badges were NOT for the Andretti Club and as we were “walked out”, the polite lady got on the radio and gave us directions to the area the Paddock Club was located – in the Camden Yards parking lot (home field of the Baltimore Orioles). We eventually found we had access to the official Indy Team VIP tent! (yay) After a couple beers we checked out some of the American Le Mans Series, searched for earplugs and went to dinner before calling an end to day one.

DSC_0153Race day began with meeting Donny, the sweepstakes host. This is when I learned that not only would I ride in an IndyCar… I would be riding in the STARTING CAR with 4 time Indianapolis 500 Champ Al Unser Sr. as my driver! Off I went to the IZOD Indycar® 2 seater trailer to get suited up in a FIRE SUIT. This is when I met Al Unser Sr. in person and he could not have been more down to earth and friendly. I kept using Mr. Al when he looked at me and said, “Just call me AL” and I DSC_0175wondered in my mind if he would call me Betty. (watch this if you do not get that joke: http://youtu.be/uq-gYOrU8bA ) Before following Al  across the IndyCar Stage where we were announced as lead car for the race, I was standing with a lot of the drivers just chit chatting. Marco Andretti, Scott Dixion were 2 drivers DSC_0182I recognized and Marco stole my seat next to Al!  (lol) Then we were off to the Pits. DSC_0201This was my first race to attend and not only was I there… I was in the Pits being interviewed by tv cameras, with a Champion! It was as close as I have come to feeling like a celebrity!

DSC_0190Now the time was here – I was climbing into an IndyCar! There was a microphone and earbuds in the helmet so I could hear the NBC Sports broadcast and was told they would interview me during my lap. Let me also tell you, there are a lot of straps that were connected to hold me in that car! (lol) I could hear the noise of the car and the sportscasters in my ears, I was overwhelmed as we took off. The first lap was a modest speed and I was thinking, “Oh, this is cute, to roll around the track in an IndyCar!” After the first lap, Al punched it and I felt Newton’s Law of motion take effect as my head flung back! I became a human Summitbobblehead! At this moment, I heard the NBC sportscaster ask me how was the ride? All I could say at that moment was, “I’m a little frightened right now!” (lol) That was my witty retort! I had planned to say, “It is like riding with my Mother before we took the keys from her and trust me… that is a compliment for a race car driver.”  But no, all I said was I was frightened!  (lol) I really was StartNOT frightened, I was EXCITED and adrenaline had replaced the blood in my head and had taken control of my brain.  Then I saw we were pulling into the Pitstop, just that quick … the ride was over. 

James and I had been given grandstand passes and we sat to watch the race. The experience in the grandstand was anticlimactic. I wanted to stand up and tell everyone, “That was me that was in the lead car!” But I did restrain myself. All weekend I had been telling people I was a sweepstakes winner, I was riding in the lead car for the race and now I could say THAT WAS ME! (lol) One drunk guy in the Paddock seemed TOO excited to meet me, but most humored me – especially James, he is very patient with me! I have to say, it was a GREAT experience and I was very happy my “Little Buddy” James was there with me. If my friend Camilo had a US tourist visa, it would have been him with me. Camilo is a true race fan, James was like me… we knew little and just went with the flow. I do hate Camilo missed out and guess what I heard last night, Camilo got his tourist visa and he told me, “Next sweeps win… I travel as your plus one!” But James is THAT friend who knows how to put up with me in this kind of situation! (lol). James stood patiently by my side through the whole experience and I am sure he still enjoyed it. James gets a jewel in his crown for being such a great support! 

At checkout I learned that the hotel had charged my card for the full stay when all I should have paid was the 2 days of parking. They corrected this, but it did tie up my Marriot HotelsMarriott Frontfunds for more than 3 days since it was a holiday weekend. Even after making this mistake and with the inconvenience it caused… we did not even get a discount on the parking. I am a former Marriott Rewards Platinum member and the fact they did not even acknowledge the inconvenience their error caused was a huge disappointment and now Marriott may join Copa as businesses to avoid when I travel again. 

Astro and White HouseThe next few days I rested in D.C. at James’ house because a weekend like I just had would tire most anyone, but with my MS, I was glad I had a few Astrodays to rest before traveling back to Medellin. I did go into D.C. one day to get doughnuts at my favorite place, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken… an indulgence I always try when in D.C.  I took my White Housedoughnuts and BIG coffee from Au Bon Pain and sat in front of the White House and reflected how surreal my life is at times.

All that was left was getting back to Medellin. I dreaded my flight back on PanamaCopa Airlines, but made the best of it, but nothing special redeemed them and still doubt I fly with them again. With a 6 hour layover in Panama, I took a taxi into Panama City had something to eat and a quick look, but for me the highlight was – I got a new country’s stamp in my passport. 

I have been home more than a week and just now mustered the energy to write about this astonishing experience. I fight my MS that robs me of so much, but even as I slept 12 to 16 hour nights since returning because the trip drained me so, THANKS to James for joining me and being such a great friend, I am so lucky to have a friend like him! I am so thankful to http://www.shophonda.com for granting me this ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME experience! Cathy at ePrize, Jean at Travel By Design and Donny the sweeps host also deserve a BIG THANKS for all their help making this such a great trip and an experience that simple folk like me seldom get to enjoy! My last thank you is to Al Unser, Sr. for simply being such a cool man! In spite of Copa Airlines and Marriott… the trip was a BLAST!

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Optimistically Pessimistic or Just a Realist?

For many, they would see that a person is either an optimist or a pessimist but in true fashion, I even complicate these descriptions when I self diagnose.  I see myself as optimistically pessimistic!  What is my rationale?  I enter sweepstakes and buy lotto thinking I have as much a chance to win as anyone else – Optimist.  But I know deep down I my chances to win are very slim – Pessimist.  But the more choice word I guess should be – Realist.  Living with Multiple Sclerosis also feeds this concept. I know I have good days – optimist, I also know that the price of realizing the good days is experiencing the bad ones – pessimist, but I know I have to make the best of THIS day – realist.

Because of my M.S. and spending so much time fatigued and stuck in the bed, I began entering online sweepstakes.  I have won a few nice items: an Apple iPad, a $300 Best Buy Gift card, a $100 Overstock.com Gift card, several iTunes gift cards and a dozen or so smaller prizes.  But as you see, I  have not won a big cash prize, a car, TV, or trip; but I continue entering the sweeps.  I enter the sweeps just to have something to do and on bad days I sometimes do not even enter one.  I win something sometimes – optimist, I do not win enough for the amount I of time I spend entering sweeps – pessimist, I have SOMETHING to do to pass some time – realist.  

My M.S. is like this also, when I have a good day, I tend to do too much and overexert myself.  The good day, I get to have SOME fun – optimist, the bad days I may be in great pain and stuck in bed – pessimist, when I AM stuck in bed I can remember the good days – realist.  A common saying in the M.S. community is, “I have M.S. but M.S. doesn’t have me” – optimistic.  Reality, there are days that my M.S. does have me – pessimistic.  Few people know truly how my M.S. complicates my life.  I try only to let people see the optimistic side, the healthy side of my life I do get to enjoy.  Since I do tend to project the image as someone healthy, I miss out on truly helping others understand the impact M.S. has on my life.

Staying in Medellin, Colombia as much as I do not only helps with my M.S., it also helps me mentally!  Medellin is known as “The City of Eternal Spring”.  The milder climate does help in that I do have fewer relapses and often when I do have a relapse, it may not be as severe.  This is a big plus!  The biggest benefit is that I am able to live independently!  Living totally on my disability income in the U.S. is impossible for me, but here in Medellin, I can afford to have my own apartment and feed myself.  There is little money left for other things, but the advantage of feeling independent out-weighs the disadvantages.  The downside of this independent life means I also have to sacrifice seeing my family because the M.S. limits my traveling and the money for flying is also VERY limiting.

Friends usually see me as complicated and difficult.  They do not realize what I have to do in order to “feel” like meeting for a dinner or beer – it takes careful planning for me!  I once wrote how I feel like Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age movies (https://thomasajohnston.com/2011/03/05/trapped-in-an-ice-age/).  I feel most of my friends simply tolerate me, but like Sid’s herd, my friends do down deep care about me.  I use the expression “Colombian time” in Medellin because Colombians just do not seem too concerned about schedules, appointments and timing.  This complicates my being part of a herd in Colombia because even when I explain how I NEED to keep schedules because of my health issues, the relaxed attitude of Colombians is more important to them than my schedule.  I rest, I medicate based on being somewhere at a certain time and then they see me as inflexible when they say we have changed the plans or times and just think I have the ability to adapt that easily.  Like Sid… I am sometimes abandoned.

Then again, I find it easy to thin my herd or “clean out the friend closet” sometimes!  Some people make it easy!  As I am sure I make it easy for some to reclassify me as a former friend.  I have become a self imposed hermit and actually find I enjoy being alone.  Limiting my time with friends helps me keep friends!  lol  I am very happy for the few friends I do have in my herd – Optimist.  I do wish making new friends was not so difficult for me – Pessimist.  This desire drives me to improve myself and educate even friends of how M.S. keeps me Optimistically Pessimistic or just a realist?

Categories: Colombia, Life, Medellin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Weather Factor & Multiple Sclerosis

Sometimes I am even able to act like a tourist! 😉

I am not able to speak for everyone with Multiple Sclerosis, but in my case, weather is a major contributor to relapses with my MS.  Not that cold is better than hot or hot better than cold or even the fluctuations of the drastic changes in temperature on Spring and Autumn days in the South.  There are days we run the air-conditioner in the day and heat is on at night.  These extremes and fluctuations where brutal to my MS symptoms.  

Now I am living in Medellin, Colombia, South America.  Many ask why an American would leave the U.S. to live in Colombia?  The simple answer – weather!  The nickname for Medellin is The City of Eternal Spring.  For someone with MS like me… the climate is ideal.  With fewer days of really hot or really cold and the fluctuations of a mild Spring day back home (1.5 hours North of New Orleans), I notice fewer relapses while in Medellin.  By no means does it mean they go away, but the severity of relapses is reduced as well as the frequency.  Regardless of climate, fatigue remains my chief adversary!  Even here I fool myself into believing I am able to do more than I actually am capable of.

With a new place to live comes the obvious challenges like finding a place to live, learning a new neighborhood and making new friends.  Moving to a new country adds even more challenges like language and immigration issues.  Fortunately for me, Colombia actually has a special visa to encourage people to retire in Colombia – a pensionado visa.  This visa is granted to anyone with a pension (Social Security is considered a pension).  Any Colombian Consulate or Embassy in the U.S. can give you the step by step process for getting this visa.  The downsides are: it is a government agency so understand going into it that foreign governments are as bureaucratic as ANY government and the visa needs to be renewed annually. This process is always subject to change especially and now more so because the Colombian Free Trade Agreement is being implemented with the United States of America (which MAY even simplify thing more – cross my fingers).  I cannot (will not) discuss the political issues associated with the Free Trade Agreement until I learn and know more about it.

Making new friends in Colombia is EASY – they are a welcoming people!  But for me, there is the added obstacle to educate friends about how my MS affects me.  One main reason is because Multiple Sclerosis is much less common in South America in general versus North America.  Just as the climate seems to reduce my relapses and symptoms, it also reduces seems to reduce how the local population is affected.  The photo shows, the further south one goes, the fewer MS diagnoses.  Since there are fewer people diagnosed with MS, it is even more important to try to educate my friends how this illness affects me.  My experience has been overwhelmingly supportive!   Just like in the U.S.A., there are many misconceptions, but once I explain, most are understanding AND supportive.

Medellin may not be the best solution for ALL people with MS and I cannot even advocate

Maybe a benefit of a healthier lifestyle will be weight loss! 😀

ANY one else would find it as beneficial as I do, but it could be an option for some.  Medellin is now ranked the #1 city in Colombia (link below) “According to this year’s study, Medellin made massive improvements in several areas including environmental initiatives, where it jumped three places to rank fifth. In human capital rankings, which consider health, education and employment opportunities, Medellin came in second place, moving up one spot. “We will strengthen(…) the goal of furthering the education and training of our human talent to achieve equity and remove inequalities,” assured Medellin’s Mayor Anibal Gaviria.”  I always mention Colombia’s tourism campaign slogan Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay and my slogan for Colombia would be: Colombia: it is not what you think… it is so much MORE (maybe I should trademark that? lol)!

*I am not a medical expert of any kind and this article only reflects my personal opinions and experiences!

http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/25140-medellin-ranked-colombias-best-city.html

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Viva Colombia

I am often asked why I like Colombia, South America so much.  My response is, “Colombia and I share something – we are both misunderstood and quite often misrepresented!”  I am quite happy when people realize that in spite of my progressive politics, unique views about religion, and gay activism – I am still quite a nice guy.  The same is true of Colombia – in spite of the exaggerations of Colombian life portrayed in Hollywood movies, Colombia is quite a nice country!  Seeing beyond stereotypes opens the mind to so many new possibilities!  Also please notice… the country Colombia is spelled with an “o” not an “u” (Columbia).

Like me, Colombia is much more progressive than many realize – sorry, I mean Colombia is more progressive… anyone that reads my blog already knows I am Progressive!    Colombia’s government is a Republic with Democratic elections and three branches of government including Executive, Legislative and Judicial (that should sound familiar to Americans).  The FARC have basically been neutered and the days of drug cartels controlling the country are now mythology.  The drug lords, guerrillas, and kidnappings are great for the movies, but not a part of the typical Colombians daily life.  

I have lived in both of Colombia’s largest cities, Bogota and Medellin.  My opinion is that Bogota is more of a

Medellin, Colombia, South America

metropolitan lifestyle similar to living in New York or San Francisco and Medellin a little more like living in Los Angeles with San Diego weather.  Bogota has the larger population with just over 8 million to Medellin’s 3.75 million.  Medellin’s climate is more ideal with a very pleasant 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 27 Celsius)  year round, compared to the cooler climate of Bogota ranging from 50-75 Fahrenheit (10 – 24 Celsius).  I have great friends in both cities but I feel the weather in Medellin is more conducive for Multiple Sclerosis, so now Medellin is home!

Colombia’s tourism campaign is: “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay”.  This proved to be very true for me!  With an American Passport, 60 day tourist visits and there are other options for longer stays.  I wanted to stay longer and found the way for me to get a resident visa called a pensionado visa ( basically a retiree’s visa to encourage people to retire in Colombia) .  I do have to renew my visa annually, but that is ok with me.  Colombia could be an option for many more, especially for the benefits of the climate for people with illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis.  I invite people outside Colombia to come experience the reality of this beautiful country with beautiful, warm, welcoming people and forget what television and movies portray about Colombia!  This is a country you should experience for yourself!

*** I will be posting weekly (maybe more) about life in Colombia – follow this blog and let’s share the experiences of this wonderful culture!

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It Is Cold In His Shadow

Glen Thomas Johnston

September 21, 1932 – March 22, 2011

I have learned that life in the shadow of my father after his death is even more difficult than when he was living.  Most people have idealized their father to the point of being an unrealistic character.  In my case it was real!  My Dad was a character but it the best way – everyone loved him.  I have NEVER heard anyone say ANYTHING bad about my father, where as I do not have to leave the house to find people that will speak ill of me.  My father was not perfect, and even people that did not agree with him still  respected him.  The year since his death, I have learned it will be impossible for me to have a fraction of the respect from family, friends, and community that he had – this frustrates me.

Next week I will begin therapy (AGAIN)!  Even before his death I had issues.  The more I am living at home and in this community, the more I see things I had felt were big accomplishments in my life have been undermined by some.  I miss Dad because he was proud of me and he let me know it.  Our family did not make a big deal about birthdays, they were usually a simple family meal but never a real party.  Now when I graduated from Ole Miss (University of Mississippi), he and Mom threw me a party!  I was the youngest child, but the first to graduate from college.  When I bought my Toyota 4-Runner, he would not have been happier for me if it were a Land Rover.  When I went to work for Sony, most people would, by his account, think I was hired as the President/CEO instead of lowly marketing guy.  When I bought my BMW convertible while living in Las Vegas, I hoped he would be impressed.  Even though he liked the car, what impressed him was the deal I got on it.  His disappointment was that I had bought a BMW that was 2 years old instead of the brand new Toyota Tacoma I had originally planned to buy.  When I moved to Colombia, an Ambassador’s welcome would have been too little in his eyes.  I was the first in the family to have a Passport and to get a stamp in it.  Now all of my family has Passports and stamps – other than Mom and I hope to change that soon.

The last few years have been very tough for me.  I finally had to surrender to my Multiple Sclerosis by taking disability.  This meant I had to say goodbye to Sony, goodbye to my BMW convertible, goodbye to my Las Vegas life and even pretty much all of my independence.  He had been diagnosed with Dementia. I had just moved from Bogota to Medellin, Colombia, when I got a phone call,

“If you want to see your Dad alive again you better get home as fast as you can.” my Mom said.  My sister’s were in Brazil.  We all rushed home as soon as we could.  

I walk in the hospital room where he was setting up, smiling as if nothing had happened and he said, “What are you doing here?  I thought you were in another country.”  

I replied jokingly, “I came home because I thought you were dying!”  

He said with a smile, “Not today!”

What I learned later was that the night I was flying home, he walked out of the hospital and security found him in his pajamas trying to get into his car.  Mom asked him where  was he trying to go.  He said, “To get Tommy.” (Tommy was my childhood nickname).  Even supposedly dying, he was thinking he needed to come get me.

My Dad not only loved me, he respected me.  He knew how much I struggled to get through college.  He occasionally would help me out with some money, but he knew how I worked to support myself and pay for my education.  I told him years later that I did not want him to leave me anything in his will because of all the help he gave me in college.  But even what I consider to be a grand gesture has been reduced to, “Thomas don’t want anything because his Dad paid for him to party at Ole Miss all those years.”  He is not here to set the record straight and stand up for me and say Thomas deserves respect because his finishing college was quite an accomplishment.  Even though he would have loved for me to have lived closer, he encouraged my dreams that required I live away.

I have given up any hope that people will have the same respect for me that my father had.  My own family can’t even muster simple respect for me and it hurts me, makes me angry, and helps fuel my desire to live away from here.  It is easier to leave and just start somewhere fresh.  People I worked with and customers at Sony had a great deal of respect for me (other that a bitch – I’ll just use her first name – Renee).  Friends that are from all over the world encourage me with my writing – even though it makes me no money, it makes me happy – and my family knows little or nothing of my writing.  My life of wanting and trying to have my family respect me fatigues me more than my MS.  I have severed my relationship with one of my nieces because of her blatant  DISrespect.

A year ago I had to say good bye to my father – and the to the respect he so easily gave me.  I miss my father!  He was ALWAYS in my corner.  Now I just find I am fighting with myself – and I am losing!  He and I did not agree on politics or religion, but he still respect me even though I aggravated him with discussion of these topics.   Maybe the therapist will help me get on a more positive path even with myself.  As RuPaul says, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”  Maybe I have to learn to love myself in spite of how family and friend view me.  I will always be in his shadow and it disappoints me that I will never be half the man he was – even through my own eyes.

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