How did I get here? pt. 1

In the spring of 1990, the world was a fearsome, awesome place to me. I was months away from graduating from the University of Wyoming with a degree in Elementary Education and a double minor in Reading and Middle School. I had, of course, been submitting resumes all over my home state of Wyoming, and I had hopes of landing a position and never moving from the state. Well, as the weeks rolled on, and no one in my graduating class seemed to be having much luck, it became apparent that teaching jobs in Wyoming were going to be hard to come by.

It seems that although Wyoming is the least populated state in the union (yes, including Alaska) that the people that call it home often become enamored with it and rarely, by choice, leave. This is true with the ones that had teaching positions there in 1990 at least. I don’t remember the numbers, but we seniors were given a list of the number of reported vacancies for the coming fall, and those numbers weren’t promising.

With this information, it seemed prudent to me to begin looking outside the borders of my home. There was a nationwide job fair being held just a few hundred miles from my university, so I brushed up my sparse resumé, printed off a slew (on a 24 pin dot matrix printer, wow) and braved the wilds of the unknown.

The fair was huge and had recruiters from all over the United States. It took place in a large ballroom and each recruiter had a small table with a banner hung above it proclaiming whom they represented. It was to be a two day fair, where on the first day you dropped off your resume and filled in an application. On day two, you were to return to the tables you were interested in, and they would have posted the people they wanted to interview.

There were representatives from both coasts and as close to the northern and southern border as you could wish. On the first day, I dutifully went by the tables of Idaho, Utah, Montana and even (the dreaded rival) Colorado (just too many dang people). I also stopped by the table from Orange County, CA as I had a good friend living there at the time and thought that might be fun.

As I was walking past a table placed in an out of the way corner, the little recruiter came out from around the table and stopped me and asked the question I’ll never forget, “Have you ever considered working in Texas?” My fateful response was, “I’ll work anywhere that offers me a contract.” His immediate reaction was to hand me one. I was a might shocked. He told me to look it over and come back the next day.

Well, I thought about it more than a bit that night. The school district he was representing was located in the Rio Grande Valley, 10 miles from the Rio Grande River and Mexico. Included in the literature were statistics of the area. More than 93% hispanic. Yearly average temperature in the mid-80’s. Starting pay of 21,000.

Well, the first didn’t bother me at all. My small town was far from culturally diverse, but we always had a large summer migrant population that worked the sugar beat fields of our town and I had known many people from Mexico and Southern Texas that I liked. I can still affirm that race makes little difference to me. There are good and not so good folks of all colors and creeds. It’s who you are, not what your born that makes a difference.

The second figure bothered me a bit. I liked seasons. I liked winter. I hated heat. I’d never known humidity. But how bad could it be, really? Besides, with weather like that, maybe they would let me wear shorts to work. You never know, it could happen.

The third figure hooked me. Remember, this was 1990. The average starting teacher salary for the United States was 18,000. AND, I was moving to a Valley. I’d always wanted to live in a valley!

The next day I went back to the table of the man from Texas. He asked if I had any questions. I believe I replied, “No” (remember, I was a 22 year old college kid that had never lived outside Wyoming).

Through the rest of that summer, I tried to get my life ready for the move. I bought a new used car (a very smart/necessary purchase being that it was an 8 year old Trans Am, lol), called the Chamber of Commerce to get a listing of available domiciles, and began winnowing down a life’s worth of possessions. The list was surprisingly short at: books (first and foremost), component stereo system I had been working on for years, and my clothes.

Well, as August approached, I rented a place sight unseen. It was a 14′ wide mobile home, furnished for $350 a month. I had electricity and phone connections set up to take place before I arrived and everything seemed to be in place.

About one third of the way through August, I loaded up my T/A and headed south. I traveled down I-25 until it turns into I-10 in El Paso and then I followed I-10 east until I hit a small town called Junction (yes, its there, you can check) and then took a state highway down to Laredo. In Laredo, they were doing roadwork, and before I knew it I had ended up over the bridge into Mexico. Well I knew that wasn’t right, so I turned around, dropped my T/A in a ditch, almost didn’t get it out, then had it overheat on the bridge waiting to get back into the States. Once back, I let it cool down, added more coolant (South Texas in August is a very hot place) and headed east once again. You can call it the Zapata Highway, you can call it State Highway 83, you can call it the Highway to Hell (I’ve heard all three), but whatever you call it, it will lead you into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Along the way I kept wondering when I would enter a valley. Nineteen years later, I’m still wondering. You see, the valley of which they speak is in actuality a broad river basin. There is NO appreciable rise to the countryside. I live 70 miles (113 km) from the beach, and I live at 16′ (4.9 m)elevation. Not much rise.

Upon arriving at my new home, I realized I was the only one under the age of 55 living there. It seems I had moved into a Winter Texan (you can say Snow Bird if you prefer) park. It was quite funny. The speed limit in the park was 10 miles an hour. I would be driving my little red sports car through the park with the t-tops off, well under the speed limit, and some retiree would pass me in a golf cart and yell “Slow down!!” Don’t get me wrong. Half the people that lived in the park with me treated me like their favorite long lost grandson. The other half, well, not so much.

Having arrived two days ahead of the first day of new teacher orientation, I went to the Central Office Administration building to ask which campus I had been assigned to. After learning it was one of the older elementary school’s in town, I proceeded to the Principal’s office to inquire about my new position.

Upon meeting the principal, he ushered me into his office and asked me what my minor was in. I told him Reading, and he looked me directly in the face, and replied, “Men don’t teach reading, you’ll be teaching math, science and social studies”. I guess that was the first time I asked, “Did I make the right decision?”

If you want to find out, check back in a few days when I post the conclusion to “How did I get here?”

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