2017 Reboot

Hands-on Training at Solar Energy International

The door finally opened. “Hey, you made it!” I heard coming from a big warm smile.

I broke. Tears came but words did not. I tried to speak, I tried again, literally nothing. I could only hug and my friend had no trouble receiving me. I cried. Gary actually cried.  

My feelings are always complicated and hard to find. But as soon as I stood there at the door of my friend’s house in Modesto, California, I felt some kind of happiness; the type of happiness that floats on relief, and the type of relief that follows a three-day cross country road trip fueled by uncertainty.


YOU Try Finding Modesto On A Map

In the old days, when your computer (or even your phone) started giving you trouble, the first thing you might try was a reboot. Power it down, let the cache clear, restart it “fresh.” This was what my life needed. My way of rebooting was to leave Austin, get my emotionally-charged self into a clearer head-space, and hope the material of my next chapter would somehow organically appear. 

I headed west.

One unique thing about me is that I have no living family. My family was small to begin with and over the years everyone but me has passed away. This personal circumstance is certainly not unprecedented, but rare in my experience. In fact, I have never met anyone else that was like me in this particular regard. 

My family today is my cherished network of friends. Filling the role of brother-from-another-mother is my longtime dear friend, Minh Nguyen. Minh first entered my life as a roommate back in the early 90’s. 

On a skype call to Modesto, California, where Minh and his wife Deyanira, have been living for years, I asked if I could come stay for a while to get my head cleared up. With predictable generous enthusiasm, Minh told me the price was right and to “Come on down!” That right price, by the way, was free. Exactly what I needed to take any financial pressure off living through my reboot.

Modesto is one of those cities that everyone has heard of but few could find on a map. It is located roughly in the center of the state, both in the north-south and east-west directions. If playing darts on a board shaped like California, Modesto would lie near the bullseye.

The two big questions I needed my reboot to answer were… where do I want to live and what do I want to do? The answers to both questions had roots in my trip around the world, which at this point in the story (Fall of 2017), was three full years in the past.

Where Oh Where…?

My experience living in Modesto was overall quite positive. In many respects Modesto exists in the Goldilocks zone of cities- not too big, not too small, not too expensive. Not too far from both the coastline or the mountains. Modesto and the smaller towns that surround it have a vibrant Ultimate Frisbee scene, too. Despite all of these plusses, the knowing in my bones said that Modesto was only a temporary stop on my journey, not the destination.   

The process of deciding where I wanted to live going forward wasn’t an easy one, but once the answer became clear, it seemed almost obvious. Here’s what I did know- I was going to leave Texas. It was my home for more than 50 years, but now the deep emotional and psychological ties I felt towards the state needed to be both challenged and interrupted. Traveling the world expanded my sense of “home,” but Texas is a big state with lots of gravitational pull. Folks not from the Lone Star State don’t get it. Texas really IS special. Texas pride becomes part of your DNA. And what other state has been made into a waffle maker? 

So, if not Texas, then where? I mentally placed myself in each state. Could I live in New Mexico? Could I live in North Carolina? Could I live in Vermont? Nothing was resonating until I considered Colorado. 

When I was around 14 years old, I went on an adventure trip with a group called Meyer’s Mountain Men. It was a summer camp thing, but we didn’t go to a camp. We loaded onto a custom-modified school bus in Houston where I grew up, and drove to Colorado. It was a fantastic and memorable experience that would forever ‘elevate’ Colorado in my psyche. One thing I remember liking in particular about Colorado is the way my hair looked in the lower humidity. (And we all know how important that is.)

Once mentally settled on Colorado, the next question was what city?  With no job and attempting a huge career-pivot, I went with the most pragmatic choice of Denver. 

Gang Influence

As I mentioned in a previous post, podcasts were a consistent go-to during my 2013-2014 travels. One podcast in particular planted an important seed in my brain. It was the Energy Gang podcast from Green Tech Media. I stumbled onto the podcast quite randomly. If I remember correctly, we were traveling by bus through Turkey to a place called Pamukkale (a.k.a. the “cotton castle”), when a news article about renewable energy came into my feed. Embedded within the article was a link to the podcast used as source material by the author. The discussion was wicked smart and over-my-head technically, but the hosts were also impressively personable and engaging. The big takeaways for me from that first Energy Gang podcast was, A) Solar and renewables are the future, and B) Wouldn’t it be great if I were to catch the renewables wave while it is still (relatively) early? New podcast episodes were released weekly and I became a regular listener.

Not every seed planted grows at a predictable rate. If conditions are not favorable, the seed will either rot in the ground or lie dormant until conditions improve. Once I was firmly in reboot mode, the roots and shoots of my interest in renewable energy began to spread in earnest. 

So, there I was in the over 50 club, a decades’ old degree in accounting, and no experience in solar. Where should I begin? One of my friends with connections to solar suggested I check out Solar Energy International (“SEI”), an organization that offers all kinds of solar training. My instinct told me I just needed something concrete related to solar on my resume for this career jump to be possible. 

Turns out my gut was correct. Two introductory online courses plus one week-long, hands-on training later and, as you will see in the next post, I would be teed up just high enough to land my first job in solar. 

Next up, I find my Rocky Mountain High….

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Gary is a Solar Technician and writer living in Boulder, CO, who loves to play Ultimate frisbee!!

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