Many thanks to my husband Frank for taking the time to share with us how his love for Mexico began, the challenges of having been a career firefighter in Southern California, and how his dream of making the world better–one roof at a time–is coming to fruition via Sol Luz Power.
By Frank O’Grady
I have been asked by my wife Katie to write a bit about my goals, my dreams, my aspirations and not just my willingness, but my desire to live well outside of the bounds of what is considered normal life in our country of origin—Los Estados Unidos.
How I came to be a retired firefighter in Mexico has its backstory and to tell it effectively, I need to return to the very beginning of this dream of mine.
It all began well before I met Katie, sometime in the early 90’s, when I started taking day trips to Rosarito Beach and Ensenada in Baja California, venturing off onto any little side road I could find within a few hours of the border.
I needed a belt for my work uniform and having never been further than Tijuana, I decided I would head down to Rosarito and have a look around.
20 minutes after crossing the border, I pulled into north Rosarito Beach and slowly drove the length of town–which at that time, took me all of about 10 minutes!
Rosarito was very quiet and I spent a lot of time chatting with locals and eating at different taco stands to practice my Spanish and to sample as many fish and carne asada tacos piled with fresh salsa, cilantro, onions, guacamole and a squeeze of lime as I could.
I wandered the beach, smelled the air, kept my eyes wide open to all of the color and contrasts and just enjoyed conversing with whomever I met. Ready to find the belt, I headed on foot towards the north end of town where I had seen a leather shop.
Love at First Sight
You just never know what is behind a door in this country which is quite metaphorical for life here.
This was my first introduction to shopping in Mexico and as I stepped through the door, I realized it would be like no other shopping experience I’d had before! It wasn’t just one shop—it led to an entire market I would have never known was there from the outside!
There were dozens of stands with vendors selling everything from clothing to tools, food, alcohol, flowers and shoes. I was amazed! It was, truly, a very Mexican experience.
Near the front of the market a man had all sorts of belts on display–deer skin, horse skin, cow skin, sheep skin, snake skin, ostrich and who knows what other types. It was getting later in the afternoon and I was quite thirsty so I chatted briefly with the proprietor about his belt selection. He showed me the differences in softness and texture, the different types of dying and engraving.
It was a show and a personal shopping experience like I’d never had in my life! I didn’t know what to buy so I told him I was going to go have a beer and come back and decide which one to buy.
He said he too was thirsty and he just happened to have a six pack of Tecate beer in his little fridge. Go figure! He handed me a bottle and grabbed one for himself. Marvel of marvels, the bottom of the bottle was formed perfectly to twist the cap off of another bottle!
We sat and chatted about belts, life, kids, women, sports, lifestyles north and south of the border, differences in culture, the sky, the sea…it didn’t really matter–we just talked and meandered our way through those six beers.
It was time for me to get across the border before it was too late, so I went ahead and purchased a few belts (for probably too much), but I think both of us were quite happy with the exchange. He made a bit more than if I had really bargained, we drank beer and, best of all, we conducted business in a way where the purchase of my new belts was practically an afterthought to what was truly important in life.
I walked out of that store, found a few more fish tacos and conversations on the way back to getting my truck, and I was profoundly struck with the realization that I had found a new love in my life. That very day, I fell deeply in love with Mexico and I knew without equivocation that I could happily spend my life living there, amongst her people…becoming one of her people.
I do believe in love at first sight and twice in my life I have been fortunate enough to be struck, but that’s another story.
From Firefighter to Solar Designer
I will jump forward a couple of decades and tell you about my foray into the world of solar energy.
Near the end of my career as a professional Firefighter for the Lakeside Fire Protection District in East San Diego County, I was rapidly losing my capacity to deflect human misery without absorbing it. The forced overtime hours and subsequent time away from my family was detrimental to all of us.
To say that I missed many important days in my family’s life would be an understatement. With as finite as time is, I set my sights on being able to retire as soon as I was eligible.
I believe in unions. Workers are the backbone of our world. Mine had the foresight while the economy was freighting along to negotiate and pay for the best retirement that CalPERS offered its safety employees, 3%@50. Sure, I could have worked another 7 years and increased my pension by 32%, but I also could have damaged my body worse than it already was, or, died on the job. My back could no longer ignore the physics of my work and my head was filled to the rim with tragedy.
It Was Time for A New Life While I Still Had Life and Vitality
After my retirement in 2012 and once in Mexico, I would be running on the beach in the humid air, smelling the ocean, absorbing all the greenery and just decompressing in our new hometown of San Pancho, Nayarit and I would tally all the deaths I was personally involved with over the course of my career–easily over 1500. After a period of time that level of involvement in life and death takes a toll.
I began to look at options to get myself into a new line of work that would augment our pension and stimulate me mentally. It was also about doing something right for the world and to be an example to my children. My sights were set internationally.
Having installed a small stand-alone photovoltaic system at our place in Baja, I was intrigued by the prospect of assembling systems that could generate electricity out of the sun. I found the whole application fascinating and I still do.
At the age of 47, three years before I was eligible to retire, I started taking Electrical Theory classes at San Diego City College.
I studied at work between calls and drills to progress well at school and pave a path for the future. My co-workers often wondered why I didn’t promote more than I had and why I concentrated on something completely unrelated to the fire service.
A New World
We knew we would leave Southern California once I retired from firefighting. We were tired of the busyness of life in SoCal. It seemed as if one had to work non-stop to afford a life focused on consumerism and accumulation and a political climate of division and hate.
When I walk through a door it needs to be to a new world. I needed something completely free of the fire service–free of the stories, free of the capitulation to external labor pressures, free of the politics of it all…free of all of the tragedy and death.
When I walked away, I did it not just willingly, but wholeheartedly and eagerly–relieved and without any regret.
We Wanted a Better Life for Ourselves and Our Children
In San Pancho, I surfed and practiced capoeira, wrote and exercised and lived life while we adjusted to a reality where we were not work dependent. We grew and learned and gained knowledge about our new country and we found we wanted to set new goals and direct our paths differently.
I kept my dreams alive, dreaming that I would get into the business of photovoltaic design and installation and that I would not only make money but also have the opportunity to travel with my family and use grant money to install solar systems on rural schoolhouses or community centers that had no access to electricity.
I kept following the trade and keeping my ear to the ground, having faith that it would all work out.
From San Pancho to San Miguel de Allende
At a certain point, with our kids growing and needing different educational opportunities, we decided to move to the heart of Mexico. We felt, as new residents, that we had a responsibility to learn more about our adopted country and where else can you learn more but in the revolutionary seat?
This was another step off of a cliff in faith. We had never even been to San Miguel de Allende but we rented a vacation rental for a month, loaded up all our stuff and hit the pavement looking for a long-term house, a new school for our kids and a new life.
I applied for a scholarship to Solar Energy International, and while I really did not have much hope due to my retirement status, age and income, the only thing I knew for sure was that if I did not apply, I would never know.
I talked about my career as a firefighter, my time as a union officer, how I believed in serving other people while doing right in the world; opportunities for solar in Latin America and providing electricity where it is needed most, and being an example to my children while involving my family in projects throughout Latin America.
Apparently they found my application compelling because they contacted me and stated that they wanted to offer me not just one scholarship but two! I am still am honored and amazed!
After I finished my second online class, I traveled to Paonia, Colorado to take hands-on installation courses. This really rounded me out as a professional designer and installer and created important relationships within the industry for me. I founded my own business, SolPower Mexico, and am indeed proud to say that I have kept my commitment to improving the world, one roof at a time.
I am A dreamer, I Dream Big
…of a life with adventure, independence, beauty, color, love and flavor.
And I dream of this life for the people I love, too.
It is a rich life here in Mexico. It is not a fairy tale nor is it all roses. We have been lumped up a few times down here but we got lumped up pretty bad in the USA a few times as well.
Life takes its shots wherever you are.
To come here and live, to establish yourself in a new country far away from the border…well, you have to dream and you have to be willing to step off the edge of the cliff with faith in your soul.
My hope for our children is that they always remember:
*Dreams are important
*Having a highly malleable vision for your life is important
*Sticking with and supporting the dreams of your loved ones is important
*Living life with courage and faith is important
*If you let a dream die, make sure you replace it with another dream
Reinvention in Mexico
Living, parenting and reinventing in Mexico has been an active, daily choice, and a journey of 10 years that soon will see our children graduating high school and beginning their University lives. What lays ahead is an evolving path that we are faithful will continue to reveal itself while simultaneously staying present and grateful to our here and now. Life, one big adventure, isn’t it?
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