Monday, August 31, 2015

Culture Shock

Whenever I tell people that I moved to Small Town, Tennessee from Chicago, they say, "Well! That must be a big change for you! Do you like it here?"

That's not an easy question to answer. On the one hand, it is nice to walk around without random guys yelling lewd things at me or trying to grope me, like they did on the streets of Chicago. Here in Small Town one day, some guys driving a pickup truck pulled up next to me when I was waiting to cross the street and yelled, "God bless you!" And I thought, WTF?

Here are some things I've observed about Small Town so far:

The drivers in this town might as well refer to themselves as "Tailgating is my middle name."

Only the devil's children go out after nine P.M. (which is why everything closes by then, except the bars) or drive faster than 25 mph in the left lane.

Several people in this town want to shake hands with Donald Trump (I try not to scream in terror or run in the opposite direction when they tell me this).

"Hon," "honey," "ma'am," and "y'all" are Southerners' favorite words (because everyone has a Southern accent).

Many of the girls at the school where I teach wear pearls and skirts to class, and several of the boys drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag license plates.

Several of the students have gun collections and enjoy hunting or fishing.

Apparently even the younger people in this town think they'll live longer if they walk (and drive) as slowly as possible.

I've started swearing a lot more (with the windows rolled up in my car so no one can hear me) ever since I moved here.

The only way to cook meat is to fry it or barbecue it.

Many people have wide front porches with rocking chairs and porch swings, which makes it easier for them to sit outside and wave to newcomers like me while gossiping about them.

Spitting in public isn't rude. It's just common sense.

People in this town also apparently have the motto, "Why give a straightforward answer to a question, when I can take ten minutes to answer it?"

In Chicago, people are all, "Don't look at me don't look at me don't look at me BACK OFF!" But here in Small Town, I can't go anywhere without people staring at me and making comments under their breath, because it's pretty clear that I'm not from here.

This place is pretty much the opposite of Chicago. I can't help wondering when or if this place will ever feel like home, especially since I still miss Chicago terribly.

What about you? Have you ever felt like an outsider in a place that you visited or lived in, or have you ever experienced culture shock?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I Got Scammed

I have now officially moved to Small Town, Tennessee. Of course, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. The stress of this move has turned even more of my hair white, to the point that I fear I'm going to end up looking like an older, female version of Albert Einstein.

Since I had less than a month to move to Small Town, I had to hire a moving company in a hurry. I called almost every interstate moving company in Chicago. Several of them refused to do my move, since they said it was too small. Others said they weren't willing to do an interstate move to a small town. A few were willing to do it, for the paltry sum of $2,300-$4,000.

The cheapest one I could find turned out to be the Worst. Movers. Ever. Later, when I Googled "moving scams," I read about red flags that people should watch out for. Of course, this company had all the red flags.

For one, the sales rep claimed that they could give me a low price because they didn't do an estimate in person. Even though I gave him an itemized inventory, the movers ended up charging me hundreds of dollars more on moving day, because they claimed that my belongings took up more space than expected in their truck.

The sales rep also claimed that it would only take one or two weeks for them to deliver my things. Later, I found out that it could take up to three weeks. Fortunately, the delivery driver called me a week after I moved to Small Town, telling me that he would come by the next morning.

He didn't. He didn't come by the day after that, either. Neither he nor the dispatcher returned my calls (I called them thirty times EACH and left more than a dozen messages). I finally did reach the dispatcher at one point, who yelled at me and said that he didn't know where the driver was. The driver only returned my call after I threatened to call the police and file charges against him for theft.

I started to worry that I would never get my belongings back. Most of them weren't expensive, like my fifteen-year-old TV that still had a VCR. But I couldn't help worrying about the items that had sentimental value, like the small stuffed animal I've kept since I was fourteen, because it was the first gift I ever received from a boy I liked. There were also my high school yearbooks, which had signatures from my friends and classmates. I also fretted about the loss of all my books, especially the ones that were autographed by authors like Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, Studs Terkel, B.J. Novak, and Jen Lancaster.

Most of all, I FREAKED OUT about the possibility of losing more than twenty-five years' worth of journals, everything from the ones that had entries written in crayon to the more recent ones that included handwritten copies of my manuscripts (some of which I hadn't copied into my computer yet). Losing my writing was as frightening to me as a musician losing his or her instruments and songs or the Kardashians losing their audience (or their mirrors).

When the movers finally arrived several days late, some of my belongings were missing. A chunk of my table had been broken off. My drying rack for my laundry was broken as well, and so was one of my bookcases. The other bookcase had been taken apart, and the movers refused to put it back together (even though they were supposed to, according to my contract). All of my boxes were wet and damaged. The movers left fairly quickly, maybe because I kept waving a screwdriver around and shrieking about the cops.

I tried to call the company, but they either told me to file a claim online (though I doubt I'll ever get any money back) or hung up on me repeatedly (which they had done before). I plan to file a claim, as well as a federal complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. I will also post negative reviews of the company all over the Internet, including the Better Business Bureau (which gave this company an F-rating). I've learned my lesson, and the next time I move, I'll do my research. 

But at least I have my writing back. That's something.

What about you? If you faced the prospect of losing all of your belongings, what would you miss most?

Monday, August 3, 2015

No Money, Mo Problems

Last week I visited Small Town, Tennessee to find an apartment and meet my new bosses. Based on what I've observed of Small Town so far, the people there really like fried food, country music, and Jesus. Their favorite word is "ma'am," as in "Yes, ma'am," "No, ma'am," and "Would you like that fried, ma'am?"

Based on the people I talked to, Southerners are polite and friendly, and not only take five minutes to answer every single question but also think it's necessary to tell you their entire life story, even if all you said was, "Is there a Starbucks nearby?"

In Chicago, there's a Starbucks on practically every corner. But the people in Small Town apparently don't like coffee as much as fried food, which makes me wonder where they get all their energy. Maybe it's from listening to all that country music.

I was able to rent an apartment that's more than twice the size of my studio in Chicago for more than a hundred dollars less. But nevertheless, I am going to be thousands of dollars in debt due to this move to Tennessee. And this was AFTER I finally paid off all my credit card debt. (Not to mention I already owe thousands of dollars in student loans.)

I have to pay for movers to transport my furniture, and all the moving companies I called apparently have this motto: We overcharge because WE CAN. I could have had the Salvation Army pick up my unwanted furniture, like my fifteen-year-old lumpy mattress and box spring, for free if I had called them a month in advance. But since I only found out I got this job two weeks ago, I now have to spend hundreds of dollars on 1-800-Got-Junk to recycle/get rid of my furniture.

I am required to attend orientation for new employees. The Human Resources department told me they didn't have specific dates set up yet when I called them a week and a half ago. Of course, after I signed my lease, I learned that the orientation would be held three days before my move-in date. So now I have to spend hundreds of dollars on a rental car and a hotel room (I can't change my move-in date), since my parents aren't coming to Tennessee until a few days later. If I don't attend orientation, I won't be able to access any of my benefits (like health insurance) until October.

My parents are loaning me money for the down payment on a car (which is why they're coming to Tennessee for a few days to "help" me move. They're more likely to "help" me have a panic attack, seeing as how when I visited them during Christmas break, I ground my teeth so hard that one of them broke). I will repay them, and I will also be responsible for monthly car payments, car insurance, and gas.

I've also had to spend money on boxes, masking tape, and bubble wrap, and I have to set aside money to tip the movers. (Question: Do I tip the movers when they come to my apartment in Chicago, or after they deliver it in Tennessee? Or do I tip them both times?)

Since I'm getting rid of my old mattress and my broken desk, I have to buy new ones, which will also cost hundreds of dollars. I might not be able to buy those right away, which means I'll be sleeping on the couch for a while and using my desk in my office at school (and I use the word "office" loosely, since it's currently being used as a storeroom and I was informed that they would "probably get around" to cleaning it out by the time school starts).

Since I am a visiting, untenured faculty member, I get absolutely no financial assistance for my moving expenses from my new school. They also think that moving to a new state is "easy-peasy," which is why they want my syllabi for the classes I'll be teaching ASAP.

I know that I should be grateful that I have a job. I am, especially since it was so hard to find one. But I can't help resenting the fact that I've already had to spend a large percentage of my annual salary for this move, and I haven't even gotten paid yet. I thought I could finally quit my website job, but I'll have to work extra hours instead, and excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

What about you? Have you ever had financial problems or difficulties with the moving process? How did you deal with them?