Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Road Trip continues..

I’ll be testing my head tonight in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s been a very long day of driving. I did 650 miles or slightly over a thousand kilometers. I was up at 5:30 and out of the hotel by 6. I drove for 12 hours straight. I refueled thrice. My Audi is something 27 miles to a gallon. Not too bad for an old car.

My first stop was Baton Rouge, I then headed down to New Orleans. It’s next to the ocean and the roads are suspended over swamps, very cool engineering to see. The sunrise was beautiful to watch.

Next I headed East to Mobile, Alabama. To be honest there was nothing much to see through Alabama. The roads were not that great either. I crossed into Mississippi and it was a beautiful scenery driving along the coast line.

I didn’t go through any major town in Mississippi but I enjoyed my drive through the state.

I crossed into Florida in the afternoon and boy oh boy, isn’t this state expansive. I wish I could get to Miami but I wouldn’t be able to make it back to Houston in time.

I’ve driven all the way to the end of I-10 East. There is a lot of farming all through the state that I’ve seen. There is cattle being reared along the way.

I drove into a hotel this evening and got a room for $46. That’s one thing I’m loving about this country, I just drive and when I’m tired I just pull over into a hotel and voila I’m sorted.

Will look where I’ll be headed tomorrow but I want to be in Atlanta tomorrow evening or Saturday morning. Will see where I’ll be headed.

I’m beat but it’s totally worth it. Would have been better if we were two but it’s fine. I’ll be doing this more often.

Goodnight from sunny Florida. Will post some pictures when I get back to Houston Inshallah (God willing).

Road trip Eastbound..

I’m chilling in a hotel in Lafayette, Louisiana. I got here an hour ago. How did I get here?

I’m on a road trip headed to Atlanta. There was a furlough at work. Meaning there isn’t enough work for us to come in. We were given 5 days off. Unpaid of course. So I planned an out of town trip. My Congolese colleague had planned to go to the Belgian Consulate in Atlanta for an interview and we were to hire and a car and drive down. That fell through but I couldn’t sit around for 5 days. I haven’t gone through the process of hiring a car yet and didn’t feel like starting today. I decided to bring Jebet aka Audi A4 on this cross country trip and so far she’s doing good.

I came home in the morning, had a few hours of sleep, woke up expecting to hear my friend had already gotten a car and we were ready to hit the road..he gave me the bad news. He couldn’t make it. Complications with his visa application or something. I made my mind to drive out solo mode.

Checked out Jebet, packed and passed by the parts store to top up the oil level and 2pm found me on the road headed East. I didn’t have a destination in mind but knew I’d retire when darkness fell. Sunset found me on the middle of nowhere. I decided to drive to the nearest town, saw a cheap motel and checked in. $56 for the night isn’t too bad. I hit the road early morning to an unknown destination.

This is one of the reasons I moved here to the states. I can drive in any direction and I’ll end up somewhere. I love that about this country.

On to the next destination..where Jebet will take me. I’m blessed and I’m loving this journey into the unknown.

I’m typing this on the phone in my hotel room so if there are typos please understand..

Out..from Lafayette. Pronounced Lai fai eht..not the Kenyan way Lafayet. 😄

Money, money, money..

One thing I’ve noticed about America is that every little thing or convenience requires money. I recently changed my address. To start with the US Postal Service or Posta as we know it required an online change. My friend could not do it for me as we don’t share the same family name. Their website states..So I got online and changed it. They require you to pay for that. It’s $1 to change. So they’ll forward all the mail from the old address to the new one. I thought I was done.

Next was the drivers license aka ID. It has all your information on it. Address, restrictions if you have any, when the restrictions end, your height, sex, eye color. It is required to change the address by law. I thought it would be easy. I got online and got to the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS). Upon entering my file number I was promptly informed that I had to go to a physical office to have it changed. Why you may wonder. If you are not a citizen you have to physically present yourself in an office.

Since I work nights and there is a DPS office not too far from work. I went there immediately after work. Shock on me. At 7 there was a long queue already and it’s winter here. It was freezing. It reminded me of banking halls back home in Kenya. There were at least 30 people when I got there. Luckily I didn’t have to wait for too long. They open at 7.30am. I was done in 15 minutes. New finger prints, picture, signature, $11 and a snipped license. The reason is so as not to have more than one license when the new one arrives in the mail in 2 weeks. You have to pay to get a replacement license.

IMG_1091

In other news I’ve been applying for debt aka credit cards. I’ve broken a rule I had set for myself. I won’t get a credit card while I’m in America. It’s near impossible I tell you. The system makes it that way. Apparently it’s the fastest way to build your credit here. You are rated here by how much good debt you have. I know it sounds ridiculous but unfortunately that’s how it is. Things are more expensive because you don’t have any debt. It should be the opposite right? Welcome to America 101.

My bank said they don’t deal in secured credit cards at all so that was that. Next I went to a different bank and they told me the same thing. I need to have a minimum of $300 in my account in their bank for them to issue me some ‘debt’ :).

Next I tried online for a Discover card, it was decline too. It’s hard being a newcomer in this country. Finally I went another bank and guess what.they found me to be creditworthy and approved me for a credit card with a tidy amount of $300. So I have to use the card and pay off on time to start building credit. Quite the journey I tell you. If you are planning on coming here from abroad, be prepared for the hassle that comes with building the coveted credit history. Everything you do will require a credit check to be conducted and mine always comes back negative for anything. No credit is bad for business. You pay hefty deposits left, right and center.

It’s a starting point and I’ve never used a credit card in my life. I’m usually good with my trusted debit but that lifelong habit will have to change. I have to get into a bit of debt to survive here. It’s been a learning process.

Last but not least Immigration needs to know where you are at all times if you are not a citizen. You can get into serious trouble including but not limited to deportation I believe is you don’t inform USCIS of your change of address within 10 days of moving. It’s online, simple and saves you a tonne of trouble down the line. So it’s a pain when you move. I’ll remember that.

Gas is still very cheap here. For $1.69 a gallon I’m filling up Jebet with $28 (16.4 Gallons). I guess I’ve been lucky that I came when gas prices were going down and not when they were $4 a gallon.

Car Insurance Situation

So the Insurance company had written a couple of times and I kinda ignored the contents. They had requested me to furnish them with details about the state where my driving license was issued and my previous insurer. Let me go back a couple of months back. I applied for my insurance online and got a quote of $47 for liability cover or 3rd party cover as we call it back in Kenya. They asked if I had previous driving experience and of course I had…but..but it was experience abroad.

You basically have an insurance cover for every six months then renew the cover.

Something about this country. They mainly recognize US experience. Experience abroad takes some documentation to prove. I get a mail this week informing me that my monthly premiums have gone up to $74. To say I was shocked is an understatement. So I call them in panic and they basically give me two options. Provide them with my driving records from Kenya showing I’ve not been involved in an accident or start paying the $74 effective next month. Driving records from Kenya? Like really? I doubt we have those to start with. I googled them and the only response I got was from the Kenya Revenue Authority stating where you can get a log book from (title).

I resigned myself to paying the $74 for the next 3 months until my six months expires.

I get to work and mention it to my colleagues. They immediately mention that I don’t have to remain with the same insurance company for the remaining months. I can move anytime I wish and it’s okay.

The following day I drove around and walked into a different Insurance company. Guess what I got a quote for $54. I left, called my old company and cancelled my cover. They will refund me $30 for the remaining days, they’ll debit it as soon..what? Just like that? Only in America I tell you. I called the new company and gave them the go ahead to get me a new cover. Drove back to their offices and picked up my temporary documents to carry with me in the car.

So now I’ll be paying $54 for my insurance. Will wait to see how that goes.

This system is not easy to negotiate but I’m doing it step by step.

My permanent plates arrived shortly after I’d picked my temporary ones. I had to drive across town the following day to pick them and return the temporary ones. I fixed them immediately but could not use the freeway as my EZTAG (computer chip that deducts money every time I pass through tolls) was registered with the old temporary plates..See how complicated it is just about the plates. It came with a registration sticker valid for a year that I had to stick on the windshield..maaaan. The title or log book will be sent through mail in the next two months. There is already a problem. The address is different as I recently moved. I hope US Postal Service will deliver the title to my new address.

I contacted the highway toll people to change my plates so I don’t get fined on the highway next time I drive through them.

It hasn’t been easy following up on those plates and the title but my gut feeling was right about the dealer. I thought he was legit. He finally came through for me. I was increasingly getting frustrated about it.

One down, many more to go as I settle down here. It’s quite a journey I tell you.

Cold in Houston

It’s officially winter in H town. Temperatures have been hovering just above 0 degree celsius. It hasn’t snowed yet and it might not at all but it has gone below zero a couple of times.-4C is the coldest it’s been. Add wind chill and some times they have this ‘feels like’ thing and it becomes -10C or more. Neighboring cities like Austin and San Antonio had ice warnings this last weekend. Texas gets cold, don’t be fooled.

Woe unto you if your car doesn’t have heating. You are in for tough times. In comparison with the rest of America we are fine..too warm even some might say but for me having landed recently it’s freezing conditions.

My heat in Jebet as I call the Audi was fixed just in time, before the chill checked in. I went shopping for warm clothes too. They’ve cost me quite a tidy amount by the way. I have gloves with me at all times.

It’s been raining a lot too..all the time I might add and all day long. No more cycling for a while.

We moved last week from the apartment to a home. The process of moving sucks. Add the chilly conditions and it’s not fun at all. Luckily for America you just walk in to U-Haul(moving truck specialists),give your credit card details and they hand you keys to a moving truck. Depending on the stuff you are moving you can get a small,medium or big truck. You can also get a small trailer and tow your vehicle too if you are moving and don’t have or want to drive 2 vehicles. You pay a daily rate in addition to miles driven and fuel to the level you picked the truck in..easy peezy I tell you.

I now have to commute longer to and from work. No worries, I’ve adjusted my timings now.

No more cable TV. I got an aerial and with a 50 mile radius and voila I have over 70 free high definition channels on my telly. I guess this is the digital migration that everyone in my country Kenya is fighting against..it’s awesome man.

Frustration of the week. I exhausted my data bundle of 1GB 4G LTE from at&t. They sent me a text that they would automatically top up my account with 500MB of data for $20. Yaani I have no choice in this matter. Do that,use Wi-Fi or turn off data my best billing month when I get my 1GB of data. And guess what they give you an option of upgrading to another plan for..you guessed it.more money. So now am on a 65$(3GB of 4G LTR) plan up from 43$..the 43$ plus taxes and other miscellaneous charges comes to 51$..I don’t know how much I’ll pay for the new plan..Telco’s rip you off here. Anyway I can’t live without internet so will just have to pay.

In other news I can type a blog post from the HTC..good stuffs as my girlfriend would say.

Got a phone holder that sticks to the windshield and I can now use the Google maps GPS to cruise to uncharted territories..hehe 😜..

Jebet still has temporary plates. The title change is taking ages man.. they expire today so have to drive across town to pick new ones.

So far life is good..I am blessed.

Working on something..if it goes through I might write about it here. Keeping fingers crossed.

Building Credit

I’ve been operation on T-Mobile since I got here under my friend’s account. Family plan they call it.

My HTC 510 arrived from Amazon ($160) after a few false starts with the same Amazon. I got a phone that I didn’t like and promptly shipped it back and they refunded me my money. Only in America I tell you.

htc-desire-510-sketchfab-grey

HTC Desire 510 Unlocked

I got a ‘fake leather’ cover from Amazon. They advertised it as a leather pouch. My “Americaness” kicked in and I wrote back to the seller bitterly complaining that they had shipped the wrong product. They promptly replied that I could “return to sender” and get my money back minus shipping fees. I wrote back and informed them I’d taken photos of the “leather” pouch and would use them accordingly when rating their services. They refunded all my money plus shipping fees for deliberately misrepresenting their product..anyway that is besides the point.

Today I talked to my friend and he suggested I check out other mobile phone providers and decide. T-Mobile had $50 single plans giving me unlimited talk and sms and 1GB of complimentary 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) (don’t ask me what it means 🙂 data. They downgrade to 3G after you exhaust the 1GB. I needed to talk to my host to ‘release’ me from his account and then call a number and they would advise accordingly.

Next I went to AT&T, those guys are like hawkers back home in Kenya. They don’t give you time to breathe. The moment I walked into their shop there were at least 3 sales representatives asking me what I needed. I asked the necessary questions, produced my work ID which gave me a 25% discount. 1GB of 4G LTE, unlimited talk and text, free unlimited texts worldwide, free calls to ‘Canadian cities near the US border’ for $45 and I was sold.

I don’t watch too many videos or stream music online so 1GB of 4G LTE is enough for me. I’m fine with 3G after that until I get my next G of 4G LTE.

Next was the process of migrating. I needed to provide my host’s account number from T-Mobile, His name, my previous number if I wished to use the same number. Picture ID, in this case a Texas driver’s license and my social security number. They ran a background credit check and voila..it was non-existent..I haven’t had any credit since I got here. So I had to put a refundable down payment of $500. I will get it back in 6 months if I pay my monthly bills. Add my 25% discount and I saved roughly $12..$33..add tax and it came to about $40 a month. I’ll have a bill with my name and I’ll build credit slowly. Not too bad everything considered.

I’m grateful to my host for taking me under his T-Mobile wing until I could stand on my own..Blessings.

Lesson learn’t. It costs money to get credit. It takes time to build credit. Will see how it goes as I get settled into this system. I haven’t decided yet but I just might apply for a secured credit card to build credit with.

New Year in a foreign country

Happy new year.

I made it to 2015. I was at a party with many other Kenyans in Missouri City, Texas. A chilly night with a bonfire to boot having juicy roast goat ribs and having a good time. It’s what I’d wished for. Better than expected. I initially thought I’d be working on holidays but luckily that has not been the case. It’s just unpaid days. I don’t mind that at all.

The only difference in America is that you must have a designated driver to take you home after having a merry time. The law is the law. No drink driving or you’ll be met by the full force of the law. There was alcohol but you could tell that everyone was thinking of how they’d get home.

Everyone brings a dish. Your food of choice and the host makes some more. There were Kenyan delicacies. Traditional greens made with milk, mashed potatoes with beans and corn or maize as we call it, Chapatis (what do you call the doughwy wheat flat bread? 🙂 ), Kachumbari (Salsa).

I was the designated driver so 2 Heinnekens is all I could partake of.

Kenyan parents would have a heart attack seeing kids shooting hoops outside at midnight on New years but the kids here are so used to it that it’s not a big deal. They are just warmly dressed. No loud music unless you have enough distance between yourself and the nearest neighbor or else cops will be called for noise pollution.

Made it home at 4 in the morning smelling of smoke from the bonfire. Reminds me of rural Kenya.

Will see what the new year brings. For now I have 2 days to rest before resuming work.

I’m blessed to have the family away from family here in Houston.