When Dusty and I started planning our joint entry into travel-working, one of our biggest goals was go south for the winter. Just as winter would ramp up in Colorado, we would head south with the snowbirds – only younger. As I write this post, I’m sitting here on Election Day 2018 in Racine, Wisconsin. Are we close to Arizona?
My two-day drive from Colorado was pretty good. Nebraska was uneventful, which I expected. I’d have to say my favorite part of the drive was the more quaint two-lane highway 11 into Wisconsin. There were a lot of things that reminded me of rural Kansas, small-town charm, but what I loved the most was the rolling, sweeping hills, green grass, trees, and the best barns ever. The family farms out here seem full of pride in the historical barns that are well-kept and centerpieces of the landscape. Everything was so Norman Rockwell-esque.
Wisconsin isn’t all that bad actually…yet anyway. It’s only early November. We’re here until January 26. What I imagined was a sleepy little town covered in snow and drowning in thick northern accents. Racine is definitely not a sleepy little town, but it will probably be covered in snow soon. As a matter of fact, snow is in the forecast this week. I was dead on about the thick northern accent though. It’s so thick for some people that I actually have to look at them to see if they’re making fun of themselves or if it’s real. …It’s real. I have to remind myself of that when I feel the smile creep onto my facing thinking about Dusty’s goofy impression of this accent. I even heard myself slip into a little bit of it the other day. I’d rather be doing an assignment in, say, London, and taking on their accent!
So why Wisconsin? Well, sort of at the last minute, I decided to do some travel nursing. Even after I went into management, I kept working in the ER on weekends, but finally threw in the ER towel last November 2017. When I started inquiring about travel nursing, all the companies said I needed to have experience in the ER within 12 months in order to take my first assignment. At the time I expressed interest in travel nursing, I was at about the 10-month point of that 12-month deadline, so I didn’t have the luxury of time to be picky about which assignment I took to get my foot in the door of the travel nursing world.
Initially, there were options in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona that looked freaking awesome! But as I learned about travel nursing, it’s not as simple as just picking a place to go. Travel nurse companies compete for hospitals’ business so hospitals are flooded with travel nurse resumes. From this thick stack of resumes, hospitals call enough nurses to fill their needs, so some resumes never even get viewed. If I didn’t take the Racine assignment, it’s likely I would have missed my window of opportunity to get into travel nursing.
So Zeppelin and I packed up and headed out for the road trip to the winter wonderland of Wisconsin. Dusty stayed back to finish up some things, winterize Floyd (the fifth wheel) since we’re clearly not going to live in that thing for the winter up north, and settle down a bit after months of being on the road.
Back in October during a Healing Touch retreat weekend, I met a woman from Wisconsin. She offered me two pieces of information: 1) Locals say “wi-scOnsin,” not “Wis-Consin” and 2) Wisconsiners are heavy drinkers. Indeed, when locals say the name of the state, I can barely hear a “wi” at all; the focus is definitely on the northern “o.” And there is no doubt people are heavy drinkers! Wowza! When the lady at Healing Touch told about the drinking, I responded the same way Dusty did: “Of course they drink. There’s nothing else to do there.” What my new friend from the retreat said, though, was that there’s a deeply rooted generational inability to cope up in this region. Rather than people dealing with problems in healthy ways, they’ve been taught through generations to just drink their problems away while more problems perpetuate. I think she was right!
Dusty is not terribly happy about spending the winter in Wisconsin. I err more on the side of indifferent, but I’m not happy about him not being happy. Now, we only have 12 weeks left though! I’m sure we’ll both be more happy once he makes it up here. He’s unhappy about being here without even being here! It really does suck for him to be in Wisconsin while trying to run his business that relies on temperate weather. If we were in the south, he could still do trainings, but his hands are more tied up here. I get his frustration, but winter is kind of his downtime too, so we’ll find a way to make things work. We always do.
Dusty is actually still in Colorado tying up some loose ends and will drive up here with Sadie (our older dog) sometime this week, hopefully in time to be here with me on our anniversary. I’m sure we’ll be scoping out casinos and other local events very soon. Racine isn’t all that intriguing, but it’s only 50 miles north of Chicago and about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. Maybe I’ll sneak Dusty into the Harley-Davidson museum! I also have a friend who lives in Fond du Lac, about 90 minutes away. I think there will be plenty of stuff for us to do but just not quite the kinds of things we had in mind. Instead of rocking tans and enjoying plenty of outdoor activities, we just might be pale, fat alcoholics by mid-January.
My travel company set me up in a cute little house. The neighborhood seems mostly blue-collar and politically red. I live a block away from a middle school so there’s lots of action happening on my street. I told Dusty that when I drive around I feel like I’m in the movie “Good Will Hunting” because of the feel of the area. Lake Michigan is just a couple miles away from here and is a beautiful site to see.
My neighbor two doors up is an educated, multi-lingual, articulate stay-at-home mother. Her family immigrated from Brazil, but she also has roots in Italy. Because of her rich history, she is fluent in English, Portuguese, and Italian. Her husband is a Native Indian and works as a civil engineer. They have a dog named Brewster (synchronicity) who begs to come play with Zeppelin. When she lets him out to run down here, he stands on his back legs with his front paws on the porch door waiting for Zeppelin to come out and play after she rings the doorbell. They zoom up and down the stretch of about four houses’ front yards, wrestle with each other, and wear each other out.
This year I’ll probably miss Thanksgiving and Christmas in Kansas, but I’ll be able to spend more extended periods of time there once this contract is done. Then I can also be more selective about my assignments, so I’m choosing to view this assignment more as doing my time as a newbie. It’s an initiation of sorts.
For now, Zeppelin and I are hanging out at dog parks on my days off. My days on shift are in a 36-bed ER that sees a bustling 170-200 patients a day. It’s a level 3 trauma center that locals say is “D-rated” on some hospital rating website. This year it underwent a corporate takeover as a solution to closing the hospital altogether so, needless to say, they’re undergoing lots of changes with lots of resistance to change. Hence, the need for lots of travelers up this direction. What I’m already liking about travel nursing is that I don’t have to be any one place for very long. That leaves very little time for me to get invested in hospital politics and other issues that I tend to get mixed up in.
What I’m loving even more about my first travel assignment is doing the simple act of getting out of my comfort zone and learning about different cultures right here in my own country. Colorado, for the most part, is really white! I am loving being in a more diverse area and learning people’s stories about why they’re here in Racine. Being here has really made me wonder what makes anyone decide to be anywhere because we enjoy the freedom to go anywhere we want inside the U.S. What’s the draw for any one place for people? Listening to their stories alone compels me to travel more and practice self-transcendence in the form of simple recognition that there’s much more this life than me, where I’m from, how things were done where I’m from, and how I was raised. Everyone’s got their own versions of these things. The versions are very different, yet many people believe their version is “right.” That’s the beginning if divisiveness. Traveling inherently breaks down some of those arbitrary belief systems and fosters more acceptance of diversity. I’m grateful to have manifested a life, along with my adventurous husband, that allows for rich experiences that immerse me more in humanity rather than reading headlines and speculating about things. I highly recommend!