Moving to Mexico: Chapter 11

The Ping Pong Effect

245 Pounds…10 pounds to my first goal of 235.

Several years ago, we purchased a ping pong table for our son for Christmas. It was a folding table, so it would tuck in nicely in a corner of our back deck. We bought it from a sports store near our home and it came in a massive box. When I opened it in our garage where I planned to secretly assemble it, I was overwhelmed by the thousands of pieces and the instruction manual that resembled a textbook. Fortunately, I had a type-A friend visiting us from England that year who put it together and demanded I did not help.

“Just bring me a Stella Artois every twenty minutes,” He said sternly. The beer, along with a cigarette break every fourteen minutes kept him puffing along like an old-time steam engine, smoky but strong and reliable. Gotta love the English. California’s health uber alles laws had no effect on them.

The ping pong table was fun, and we played it as a family for a few years.  Naturally, our enthusiasm for the game waned over time and our son moved on to other things. The table sat on the back deck, covered up and underneath the overhang of our roof for years.

Every time I walked outside I saw that table sitting there and wondered what to do with it. When we decided to leave the USA and “lighten our load” by getting rid of things, the table sold quickly. I was glad another family would get to enjoy it and we got a couple hundred bucks in the deal. The buyers did not have a truck, so my son and I delivered it to the new owners with our SUV and trailer. On the drive home, I felt a bit confused. It was just a ping pong table, but I already missed it.

I remembered all the times my wife and I had played with our son, laughing when the ball would zing by one of us. Our son was in elementary school when we bought the table and his skills were beginner at best. I had to hold back to keep him interested, as you do when you’re a dad. I had played as a boy, so I taught him what I knew and over time he got better.

I used to smile as he played with his friends. The boys were growing, getting stronger and faster. The last couple of years he got very good and beat me regularly. At his seventeenth birthday party we played our last game and although he played very well, I still beat him; probably the last time I could beat him, so I was happy to retire champion. It was a hollow victory, as he wasn’t really into playing that day. His friends were over, and he wanted to hang out with them.

Sell the table then miss the table. My feelings were going back and forth, a ping pong effect. This whole move felt like that.

I have made lists of what we will take with us, what we will store and what we will get rid of many times.

“We can’t possibly get rid of this table.” My wife said.

“Honey, that is just a table. It’s pretty worn out.” I replied. “It’s nothing special.”

“You and I have eaten at this table for over twenty years. We have fed our son at this table since he was born,” She said, and I saw a bit of a tear forming. “It’s special to me. To us.”

“What is special is us,” I said. “These three people here. That is what is really valuable, not a bunch of stuff.” But then I remembered all of the birthdays and holidays. I laughed, remembering the time our son ate spaghetti the first time and got it all over himself. And I stiffened a bit when I remembered the day we came home from my mother’s celebration of life party back in 2012 and I sat down at that same table and wept with my wife.

We have had many such discussions over our things. Many times, I have been on my treadmill in our garage, looking around at my tools, my motorcycle and all of the little things I have gathered over the last two decades plus. Many times, I have looked at those things and imagined all of them gone. At times, it was a very liberating feeling to think of being free of so many attachments.

Then something began to change that is difficult to explain. The sense of freedom from things that liberated me was replaced with an overwhelming feeling of relief when I allowed myself to imagine not giving up our things. I began to accept my wife’s way of thinking the same way she had accepted mine. That’s why our marriage works. We love each other in a very fair manner. I had to admit it. She was right.

After another discussion about “things” with my wife I realized two things:

  1. Storing the amount of “can’t live without” stuff would be very expensive.
  2. It might be cheaper to just buy a small home in Texas to keep our things.

The price of a home in the Hill Country in Texas is much less than the Bay Area of California. Much less. I use Realtor.com to research homes for sale and it will come in handy for the point I’m making here.

The value of our home on Realtor.com is currently estimated at $1,148,000 but as an appraiser I can tell you that it will most likely sell for about $1,250,000. I know, “poor you.” Please. The SF Bay Area is a crazy place to live and a very tough place to succeed. We have commuted in the worst traffic in the state, lived through cut-throat business practices, soaring costs and taxes, lawsuits, vile clients and useless staff and somehow made it. We avoided addictions, obeyed the law, stayed married, raised our son and we have lived in the same house since 2001. We could have bought “the big house” like many of our friends did, but we played it smart and lived below our means, so we could save money. We did it right and by the grace of God, we should be able to benefit from our efforts.

Currently, one of my favorite TV shows is “Yellowstone.” The patriarch of the family gave a speech at a local cattlemen’s dinner where he closed with this short prayer:

“Lord God, give us rain and a little luck. We’ll do the rest.”

My wife and I had rain and a little luck, but believe me, we did the rest.

Realtor.com’s website does not list a lot of the amenities our home has because it only has access to what is known online. It is also using averages and median price matrices, does not taking into account the very unique lot size we have (75% of it is not listed on their site as our deal with the local water utility is not recognized on tax records, but we own the land) and ti fails to realize our end of cul de sac location. That is why a human appraiser is still the best way to determine value, but the market will ultimately drive sales prices and almost all the homes in our neighborhood sell in about sixteen days for over the asking price.

The current payment to buy our home would be almost $6,000 per month, plus over $9,000 per year in taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and possibly mortgage insurance. It will be a huge payment. Congratulations to the new owners and God bless them for being able and willing. For us, it’s good riddance to California home prices.

In Bandera, Texas, I can buy a nice home, similar to ours, in a safe community on a golf course for about $200,000, with a fully impounded payment of $1,275/month, or about what it will cost me to store our things. And if we buy a house, I can keep my cars!

The ping pong effect continues to play in our lives. After discussing this idea with my wife, her eyes lit up.

“So, it makes more sense to buy a house in Texas instead of storing our things?” She asked.

“Financially, yes,” I answered. “But this idea goes against our desire to just enjoy living in Mexico for a while before we go on the hunt for a home in Texas.”

“Two Christmas’ in one day.” She remembered.

“The practical side of me doesn’t mind,” I said. “And moving our things just once would be easier on us.”

“And our things would be tough to move to Mexico.” She said nodding.

We have been doing a lot of research about the process involved in moving belongings from California to Mexico and we’re pretty sour on the idea. First, it’s very difficult to find a reliable company to do the move. I have reached out to several companies referred to me and they don’t even call me back. Assuming we could find someone reliable, the cost is still prohibitive and from what I have read, a lot of your belongings are sure to be damaged in transit, especially electronics. We have a Samsung 75” UHD TV that cost a fortune. Not only would it be too large for our 1,500 square foot home in Mexico, I cringe thinking of how I would feel opening the shipping box in Tulum only to discover the TV had been destroyed. Lastly, our things don’t match the décor of our modern home in Mexico. Shipping our stuff to Mexico is just not a good idea.

This back and forth decision-making is probably normal. And if it isn’t, I don’t really care. It’s our reality and we’re dealing with this situation day by day. Regardless of how many websites you study and stories you read, your situation will always be different.

I have been in contact with two expats who live near our home in Tulum and asked them if they could refer a moving company. Their reply was simple:  we can’t because when we moved here all we brought with us was a few suitcases. They have no kids and their plan was to totally reduce what they owned and travel lightly. Another expat couple I am in contact with put their belongings in a storage facility for a year or so while they made sure their move to Mexico was permanent. It was and recently they flew back to Dallas to sell and donate the things they have in storage. They do not own a home in Mexico, have no kids or pets and tend to move around a lot. They are young and that works for them. Similarly, neither couple has children to pass things on to, so the “light load” style works for them. We have a son who attaches memories to simple things like a table or chair, a painting or a book. Our situation is different.

We have been good little materialistic consumers and have accumulated a lot of stuff over the last 24 years. Your welcome Mr. Economy and Mr. Tax Man. Fortunately, we have grown out of that. Even if we whittle down our belongings, we are still left with a lot of things, many of which we do not wish to part with at this time. I still use my tools. I still enjoy the art, books, and collectibles we have. My wife was given a lot of costume jewelry from her grandmother that is worth little, but she cherishes. Her grandmother is now deceased. All Betty has are the memories of playing dress-up with that jewelry and her grandma. I will not ask her to just give that up.Consumer Resource Guide

The more we talked about storing and getting rid of our things, the more I saw “that look” in my wife’s eyes. She was being so strong, but deep down it hurt her. She wanted to keep the old wooden table we have eaten on as a family for decades. It is special to her. And I have discovered that it is special to me, too. Just because I was raised by parents who acted like gypsies, moving constantly and keeping almost zero family heirlooms, does not mean I have to do the same. I’m the first person in my entire family to graduate college. I was the last of seven grandchildren to have a child. I have done things differently my entire life. That is not going to change. This will be yet another bend in our family journey. I’m fine with that.

I was jogging on my treadmill again this morning, watching the news and listening to Sirius radio as I have for years. Looking around at my tools, my car, my motorcycle and all the stuff I have carefully stored over the last couple of decades I smiled. It felt good knowing that I was not saying goodbye to these things just yet. Betty was right. These “things” have become a part of me. I use them. They have value and purpose. They belong to me and I have decided that I want to keep them. Ping and pong strike again.

It appears that I may actually achieve my dream of owning a home in Texas. My grandmother was raised in Texas and has a lot of extended family there. I served at Ft. Hood when I was in the US Army and moved down to Austin for a while after I was discharged. Since 1985, I have had a true love for the Lone Star State that has never waned. I have always wanted to live there, but my family and connections were in California, so I stayed. But my desire to live in Texas never left me. I have a lot of problems with the USA right now. Many of us do. But I have grown to hate California.  Are my issues with the USA, or California? California, or just the Bay Area?

“You’re getting out?” The Uber driver asked us as he drove us home from dinner last week.
“Ten months and then it’s adios to Cali,” I replied.
“Damn, I’m jealous,” He said. “I can’t take this place anymore.”
“We hear that a lot,” Betty said. “Thousands of people are leaving California.”
“I’m done with this place,” He said. “When my kids graduate, I’m probably headed to North Carolina or West Virginia.”
“How old are your kids?” Betty asked.
“My oldest is graduating in a year. My youngest is in 8th grade,” He said. “I have a few years to go. You guys are way ahead of me.”
“You’ll get there,” I said.
“I just hope the real estate market holds so I can sell my house,” He said.
“We all do,” I replied. “We all do.”

I sat back in the seat and looked out the window at Mt. Diablo through the bumper to bumper traffic. I would not miss this.

Thirty-three years later, I’m finally planning my return to Texas. It took a move to Mexico to make it happen. Life is a strange thing.

“Life is a strange thing. Why this longing for life?  It is a game which no man wins. To live is to toil hard and to suffer sore, till old age creeps heavily upon us and we throw down our hands on the cold ashes of dead fires. It is hard to live. In pain the babe sucks in his first breath, in pain the old man grasps his last, and all his days are full of trouble and sorrow; yet he goes down to the open arms of death, stumbling, falling, with head turned backward, fighting to the last. And death is kind. It is only life and the things of life that hurt. Yet we love life and we hate death. It is very strange.”

-Jack London

Give us rain and a little luck.

Yee-Haw, Amigos.

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