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When the pandemic first began two years ago, we all sought different coping mechanisms. Indoor gardening, adopting a pet from the local shelter, sourdough bread starters (I still haven’t managed to grow one of those), singing sea shanties over Zoom, and many, many more. For me, it was a bit different. 

I saw a Reddit post that recommended keeping a daily diary. That would keep you grounded and distracted, give you something to do, and might provide an interesting time capsule for your future self to reflect upon…

When I started my daily “Plague Diaries” blog posts, I didn’t have a particular plan or destination in mind. At some point, I promised myself I’d keep writing until I got fully vaccinated. I had no idea that would take over a year. Had I known ahead of time that the blog series would last 406 days, I might not have started it in the first place — but I’m glad I went through with that project.

Someday, somehow, some way, some other, future, wiser version of myself will be able to re-read all those daily posts, reflect on that crazy year of politics and pandemic, as well as my highly unstable job situation as I kept trying to not get fired, to last just long enough to become a permanent Canadian resident. 

Here and now, though… I wanted to share this experience and this tale with the world, but I found out the hard way that book agents aren’t very enthusiastic about 232,500-word manuscripts landing in their inbox. Heh. I did the next best thing: spent several days compiling and formatting all those posts, and then turned it into my longest Kindle e-book to date.

To celebrate its release, I’m giving it away for free: it’ll stay free on Kindle for the next five days, until the end of Sunday, March 13th. If you’re reading this in the future, then a) hello from the past! and b) if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can still read the book for free that way. And if you don’t have an actual Kindle device, fret not — you can install the Kindle app on your phone or computer. I’ve got you covered, eh: just go over yonder and click the big button.

If you like the book — or if you’d read those blog posts of mine in the past (you know who you are!), I would sincerely appreciate it if you download the book and leave a five-star review, even if it’s just two sentences long.

If you’d like to learn more, here is the official book description. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks in advance!

“Plague Diaries: a Covid Chronicle” begins with a Russian-American-Canadian workaholic trying to keep his artsy and immuno-compromise girlfriend safe from covid in rural Ontario in March 2020. Things get a whole lot weirder after that.

This book is a chronicle of one man’s quest to stay away from covid, to find vaccines, and — hopefully — maintain his sanity as the world falls apart. Part personal journal, part time capsule, each of the 406 days has a small personal update and a link to that day’s strangest news, be it political or covid-related. Mundanity and boredom are mixed with global horror as the virus spreads…

Relive the events of that turbulent year with this book: the stranded cruise ships, the sourdough starter mania, the summer riots, the week-long uncertainty as Trump caught covid, the longest election of our lifetime, the long-awaited vaccine news, the January coup attempt, the GameStop saga, and much, much more. Along the way, there are road trips, abandoned mine exploration, a quest to become a Canadian, a love affair with an Instapot, a pursuit of financial independence and early retirement, and lots more.

About three weeks from now, I’ll board a one-way flight to San Diego, spend a day shopping and sightseeing, then four days getting used to the desert at an AirBnB backyard, and then I’ll walk 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. The whole thing shouldn’t take more than four or five months.

The PCT has always been one of those things I’m tangentially aware of. Not something I could give up a speech about, but something I’d recognize in a conversation, and nod and smile along. This decision has been a weird end product of a lot of recent developments…

To start with, even with omicron presumably waning (though there’s that new sub-variant to keep an eye on), we might get a new challenger: to quote a brilliant movie, “safety not guaranteed.” It’s worth keeping in mind that none of the previous big variants – omicron, delta, the ones from Brazil and the UK, etc – were one another’s direct descendants. From what I understand (and please correct me if I’m wrong), they’re cousins, not a direct lineage.

On a more shallow front: even without new variants of concern, tourism will suck in 2022. With omicron still out and about, and with so many anti-vaxxers (or good, sane folks in other countries who want a shot but cannot get one), all the landmarks will still be there, but your experience will be subpar. The Coliseum, the Louvre, the Costa Rican rainforests – all of that will still be around, but with all the precautions and regulations (and possible shutdowns), you won’t get as much enjoyment and happiness as you would’ve before the pandemic.

A more mundane (and less capitalist-shark-y) reason is that Quebec is decidedly not fun these days. I gave it a good chance and the benefit of the doubt, but with more and more lockdowns, and all the real-world social meetups being shut down indefinitely, it’s kind of miserable. The final insult was when they cancelled the New Year’s Eve celebrations with a surprise curfew announcement even though they’d let all the Christmas celebrations proceed without a hitch. For all the talk of secularism, I guess they still didn’t want to offend Baby Jesus on his alleged birthday. Heh. (“Alleged” because there’s no way that was in December. Aside from a lazy CIA spook, what kind of shepherd would be out and about that time of year?)

The curfew ended after about a month, and restaurants re-opened a few weeks ago, but in this here third year of the worldwide plague, my patience with hypocritical governments runs extra-thin… And so, that leaves us with fun places outside Quebec, but the kind that have very few interactions with (justifiably) concerned people. That cuts out most of the tourism sector, and leaves us with wilderness.

First, I looked into the Trans Canada Trail in early January. It stretches for 15,000 miles from coast to coast, and it sounds pretty amazing. Unfortunately, if you do just a little digging, you’ll see that the whole thing is overrated: only 32% of the trail is in actual wilderness. The rest of it is on or near roads. Somehow, the allure of walking 10,000 miles on the side of the highway just doesn’t do it for me… Speaking purely as a lifelong cynic, and with zero data to back me up, I strongly suspect that all the different provinces and districts got “voluntold” to set up some sort of trail – any trail at all – to connect two separate points in their jurisdiction. And then, the human nature being what it is, most of them collectively half-assed the assignment. So, no hiking in Canada, then.

I still have my notes from staying up late that night, looking at other (and more legitimate) long-range hiking trails, and then I had it – the Triple Crown. The Appalachian, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest trails. A bit more googling showed that the PCT is probably the least difficult (though by no means easy) of the three. The timing was serendipitous, because the annual free permit giveaway happened just a week later. I snagged one for April 3rd: no particular significance, except that my complicated taxes would probably take until late March to process.

…I don’t miss my old job, but I do miss having an ocean of data to dive into, to learn, to master. This thru-hiking affair is a pretty good substitute. By now, my plain old .txt file probably has enough notes to rival some of the legitimate guidebooks, and all the days spent comparison-shopping and researching the optimal (weight/price) gear… Delicious. Positively delicious.

This adventure will cost me a pretty penny, since I’ve had to upgrade just about every piece of hiking gear I had, aside from my compass, headlamp, and thermals. (Even my trusty old power bank is too bulky and heavy by modern standards.) On the other hand, seeing people’s reactions as I hoofed around in the snow with my weighed-down 40-lbs backpack (I’ve since downgraded it to 33 lbs) – that’s just priceless. It’s a bit too cold here to camp overnight (at least if you have the intention of waking up), so I’ve had to make do with practice sleepovers using my sleeping pad+bag and tent indoors, inside my bedroom. Practice makes perfect, eh? (Also, ice axes look badass. So very, very badass. Seriously, spend $100 and get yourself a badass anti-zombie weapon. You’ll be the envy of all your friends!)

On a less mercenary and more fun level, this will be awesome. I was an absolute nerd during college, so that whole opportunity was wasted on me. This feels like a second chance… (Followed by the AT and CDT trails later on, assuming I ace this one.) New lifelong friends, a cool trail name that will follow me everywhere, and a hard reset from all the fucked-up news and social media. (The war in Ukraine makes me glad I left Russia behind and never returned… Hang in there, Kyiv!)

And hey, I’ll finally get to see the stars – the Milky Way itself – without any light pollution. And hang out in my beloved desert. And then the Sierras, and Mount Whitney, and speedwalking through Oregon to escape the notorious swarms of mosquitoes. Heh.

This will be a fine chance to flex creative muscles, too – assuming there’s any energy left at all by the end of each day. My sole luxury item will be a small harmonica, and my brain will be soaking up all the new ideas and experiences as fuel for short stories I intend to write. (A 2022 resolution I’m actually following up on: currently shopping around my 4,500-word sci-fi story.) That should be fun.

I’ve already promised myself (out loud and with a straight face) that I won’t quit the trail unless there’s a severe medical emergency. The data is vague, but it looks like only 20%-40% of the starting PCT hikers ever make it to the Canadian border. I intend to be one of them.

There’ll be zero blogging here between April-August, but I’ve set up a little trail journal I’ll try to update with my field notes and pics. Here it is.

Just over three weeks to go, and it can’t come soon enough… This time next month, I’ll be crushing 15-mile days (start slow, then work up to 20-30), pooping in holes like a pro, and back in my favourite element, the southwestern desert. I’ll be a very different person when I return from that adventure: that future self will be as strange and alien to me as I – here, now – would be to him. Just three more weeks to go…

If you’re here because you googled me after reading the Wall Street Journal article on GameStop – welcome! This wasn’t my first time in WSJ, but it’s always fun when that happens.

The article is well written, and it provides a balanced and nuanced look at the WallStreetBets subreddit’s evolution (some would say devolution) since the big GameStop affair exactly a year ago. I gave several hours of interviews for the article, and while I’m glad to see my experience described fairly, a lot was left unsaid. This post aims to provide more context, not in the least part due to all the roasting I’m currently getting in the WSJ comment section by people who think I’m a gambler or question my professional credentials. (Somehow, I can’t seem to reply to them – as a new subscriber, my comments are stuck in the moderation queue limbo. Heh.)

For example, I didn’t retire early solely because of the small fortune I made on GME over the course of 45 hours. That certainly helped, but the bulk of my 193.7% return between May 2020-May2021 came from being greedy when others were fearful, Buffett-style. Stocks that had been most affected by covid (travel, retail, energy) were on sale, and no one else wanted to buy them. I still remember the raw fear of possible failure when I sold all my Amazon shares and transferred the money into my investing account to buy a few handpicked and carefully selected stocks. (That key moment’s drama was a bit diluted by the fact that I had to click at least four confirmation pop-ups.)

When I did that, I’d been with Amazon for 10.5 years, most of them as an analyst of various kinds: a quality analyst, a business analyst in charge of fulfillment strategies in most of Canada, Midwest, and Mexico, an investigator, and finally the financial analyst at one of Amazon’s biggest fulfillment centers in North America. Long journey, many lessons, lots of opportunities to hone my skills. I’d read every single thing ever written by Buffett, attended his annual shareholder meetings, listened to every Q&A… I jumped on that once-in-a-lifetime investing opportunity when it presented itself in 2020. I write this now from my cozy apartment in the beautiful Quebec City, eight months and nine days into my early retirement, because all my preparations, and my ultimate choice to dive in, paid off beyond my wildest expectations.

If not for GameStop, I probably would’ve spent another year or so in the rat race: my early retirement (at the ripe old age of 34) was an eventual inevitability, not a lucky fluke. But since this is the one-year GameStop anniversary…

In January 2021, I made a rare discovery: I found a blind spot in my own mind. I was taking a detailed look at the previous decade (as one does) and asked myself, “Self, why did you overlook the raging successes that were Tesla and bitcoin?” And it occurred to me that I’d spent all my time making fun of those and other phenomena, and never even deigned to look at them seriously. Both Tesla and bitcoin were weird-sounding underdogs, and yet they prevailed. I realized there was a flaw in my cognition: I’d jump to conclusions and never give things another chance. That’s a bad trait to have as a human; that’s a dangerous trait to have as an analyst.

And thus a resolution was born: I would suppress my instinct to make fun of crazy ideas, no matter how strange they would seem. I would look into them without bias or prejudice, see what they were all about, check the math, and then make fun of them. Easy as pie – seemed like a fine compromise. I had no idea where that would lead me…

I curate my social media to follow only comedians or scientists: that way, I avoid political and religious drama, and every time I check my Twitter feed, I either laugh or learn something new. Some of the brainiacs I followed routinely made fun of Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets community. (Referred to as “WSB” from here on.) Despite being an avid Reddit user myself, I never once went to WSB: my exposure to that community consisted solely of cherrypicked funny screenshots people would share online. Those memes made it seem like the entire community was filled with idiots and/or gamblers. (And to be fair, that does describe a lot of them.)

I remember Friday, January 22, 2021. I remember logging on Twitter at the end of a monotone workday. I remember some Twitter brainiac I followed making fun of WSB – as I recall, he simply wrote, “those WSB idiots think they can resurrect GameStop!” Months earlier, in 2020, GME was one of the stocks I’d looked at – and recoiled from in disgust. The stock price was around $4 a share back then, and it seemed on the verge of bankruptcy. (My life would’ve been a whole lot different if I’d sought out other opinions on that day… Oh well.) But not this time: armed with my shiny new resolution, I went into the belly of the beast, and started reading what WSB had to say.

I still remember looking at the afterhours action that Friday, when it was still not too late to buy some shares: GME had gone up 51% that day, from $43.03 on Thursday to $65.01 on Friday. It was remarkable – but I didn’t want to make a move without learning more. And so I sat, and read, and learned all weekend long.

I looked at the arguments and theses of Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty, aka DeepFuckingValue. I looked at what had caused the 83.1% week-over-week increase from $35.50 to $65.01. I saw (and double checked, and verified) the strange claims that 140% (yes, one-hundred-and-forty percent) of the float had been shorted. I saw the beautiful, brilliant, brave trap WSB had laid out by buying up as many call options as they could, then nudging the stock price just high enough to trigger them at the end of the week. As hedge funds scrambled to buy more shares to fill the exercised call options, the stock price went higher in the afterhours, triggering higher call strike prices, requiring them to buy more shares, and so on. All that with the stock that was remarkably over-shorted and didn’t have a lot of available shares.

Thus started the chain reaction that changed the world. Someday, someone will make a big fancy movie in the style of The Big Short, and explain this chain reaction concept in great detail and in simpler terms. Until then, just take my word for it – it was brilliant. In the year that followed, people’s notions of GameStop became associated exclusively with cult-like followers, with ridiculous memes and screenshots, with naïve simpletons losing their shirts. Most of that happened later, long after the key event. Most of the people who mock GameStop and sneer at it (I’m looking at you, WSJ comment section!) probably share the same mindset I had prior to 2021: they don’t even bother to look for themselves, to see how all of that began…

That weekend, I checked and double-checked and triple-checked the math, the insane “short % of float” figures, the number of outstanding shares and the timeline for hedge funds to deliver said shares… Everything pointed to the same indisputable conclusion: the math checked out. On Monday, January 25, 2021, I liquidated some holdings (for a net gain, of course) and started buying GME as it experienced a particularly volatile trading day. Part of my research involved looking at the daily charts and patterns: I identified a specific time slot when the selling (or shorting) activity was usually at its peak: between 11:45am-12:30pm EST. (Don’t try this at home, kids – that shipped sailed a year ago.)

That Monday, in between writing weekly business reports and dealing with routine work, I kept a close eye on the price… GME opened at $96, went as low as $61 and as high as $159, and finally closed at $76. My tactic worked: buying in lots, I acquired a substantial number of shares at the average cost of $77.90 per share: not as low as it could’ve been but far better than many others fared on that day. The following two days were a blur of anticipation and looking at the price as the squeeze continued, just as planned. The stock closed at $147.98 on Tuesday. In the afterhours, Elon Musk (who hates short-sellers with fiery passion) tweeted “Gamestonk!!” followed by a link to WSB. The afterhours price shot up to $250 as Musk’s fans poured in. I have mixed feelings about Musk, but damn, that was some brilliant trolling.

And then there was Wednesday… I remember seeing the GME stock over $300 in the premarket trading, then acting incredibly volatile right as the market opened. I remember being torn: what if it really does go all the way to the moon, the way Volkswagen once did after a brilliant short squeeze? Would I be leaving a fortune on the table? A different, more pragmatic part of myself said, “This is too good to be true – just take the money and run.” And I did: I placed a market sell order, it got filled at precisely $293, and I ended up making 276.1% in both my taxable and my Roth accounts in less than 48 hours.

The stock hit $380 that day, and $483 on Thursday, just before the rug got pulled. I still think the sheer momentum would’ve been unstoppable if not for foul play. Robinhood literally disabled the “Buy” button because that was the only way they would’ve remained solvent. Stop and think about that for a bit: a major trading platform had to do the unprecedented, and that was the only thing that stopped the ongoing short squeeze. Meanwhile, the Apex clearinghouse (and all the brokerages under it) limited or disabled access outright. My own broker, Ally (hitherto Tradeking, hitherto Zecco) disabled the login page for three days, and never satisfactorily explained why. Later on, I moved my accounts to Fidelity directly because of that.

The blockade maneuver worked for a bit, and the price dropped to $193. GME recovered and ended the week at $325, a 399.9% week-over-week increase. But the momentum was gone: the following week, the stock price began the long drop to $38.50. (That happened on February 19, 2001.)

If you didn’t experience the GameStop mania firsthand, merely reading about it will not suffice. Tens of millions of Americans – having done zero research, of course – tried jumping on that train. Some made money. Many didn’t. Someone out there bought at the very top ($483) and never regained their cash unless they did a lot of averaging down. My estranged American step-brother contacted me for the first time in 15 years to ask how to set up a Robinhood trading account. I advised him not to, and I still don’t know if he lost any money. (He never contacted me again. So it goes.)

If you look at GME’s one-year chart, you’ll see how ridiculously volatile it was in the year that followed. It jumped to $483 in late January, then dropped to $38.50 in February, rocketed up to $348.50 in March (a nice 805% return if you’d timed everything perfectly, which no one ever does), down to $132 in April, up to $345 in early June, etc. It was a real rollercoaster of a year.

GME’s one-year chart. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

I was never part of the “diamond hands ape HODL” legion: I fancy myself a strategist, and I always work on being a better tactician. I didn’t touch the stock again unless the chart showed clear support levels. Since the big spike and the plunge that followed a year ago, I’ve made 10 more swing trades: all successful, but never quite as profitable. I dabbled a bit with selling covered calls (a fine hobby when the implied volatility is so high) before selling my shares for a small profit during the final little price spike a few weeks ago. As I am writing this, at the end of a particularly choppy trading day, GME went as low as $86.29 before closing just a hair above $100.

I have no clue what the future will bring: perhaps GME will fall below $20, perhaps it will rally to $300 again. At this point, there are too many forces at work, and it’s among the most irrational stocks in the market: fun to observe, but from a very safe distance.

And as for me… A year ago, I made myself a promise: henceforth, forevermore, I would celebrate the anniversary of those three days (January 25, 26, and 27) with food, and drink, and revelry, and dance. Those 45 hours were a remarkable experience, and I’d celebrate their anniversary forever. Right now, Quebec is in the midst of a strict covid lockdown, with all the restaurants and clubs on indefinite hiatus, so there’ll be limited revelry and dancing. And yet, there’s still champagne, and cake, and the oddly cheap caviar at the local grocery store. (Very fishy, I know.)

The next three days will be a bit of a blur as I celebrate the first anniversary of the time a bunch of peasants armed with math broke Wall Street’s nose. It may have healed, but it will never be the same again. A year ago, we executed a brilliant plan, in pursuit of a beautiful dream, and we made history.

I’ll drink to that.

2021 in review

The word is white once more. It feels like I’m in a snow globe, sitting here cozy while so much snow is falling outside…

This has been an eventful year. I finally did something I’d been dreaming of for years – left Amazon after 11.5 years. (Oh, the stories I can tell… If your journo friends want a scoop, send them my way!) I also spent most of the year – 7.5 months, to be precise – enjoying my early retirement, lean-FIRE style. The 37-day, 7-city revenge vacation in June-July was admittedly an overkill, but I’d really needed it. And now, at last, the beautiful Quebec City, where I can live comfortably (and enjoy every season!) for less than $1K USD a month. Yay rent control!

So much of what’s to come will have its roots in 2021 – on just about every front.

I ended up beating Mr Market once again: I had a lot of money moves in my main taxable account, so the calculations are difficult right now, but I estimate I made roughly 45% this year, while my Roth IRA (which is sealed till February 2046) went up by approximately 340%. Life is good, eh?

2022 will bring me far better fluency in French, my first-ever trip to Europe (family reunion in Greece next summer, hopefully), membership in a semi-secret society (go Masons!), a lot more writing success, maybe a book deal for my Amazon memoir, definitely one giant e-book (since no agent wants to take the risk on the 220,000-word “Plague Diaries” compendium), and lots more.

Lest I forget, some memories of 2021 for my future self, who will re-read this someday… The move to the tiny Spadina studio. Seven months without any fried food. Gamestop, and Blackberry, and the Workhorse fiasco. PR at last, in late March. Two giant road trips from Toronto to Ohio for the Pfizer shots in April. Yelling “I AM IMMUNE!!!” on my drive back. At long last, Amazon promotion to L5, followed by an insultingly small pay raise. Quitting at last: 5/14/21. Very nearly crying as I bit into my first (admittedly crappy) cheeseburger and drank (admittedly equally crappy) beer on the deck of the nearby restaurant when Toronto finally reopened on June 1. Hanging out with Spadina neighbours on the porch. Giving Anshul his first-ever taste of maple syrup. Exploring Toronto’s parks and the Centre Island. Selling my car at long last.

The revenge vacation. The indescribably cool Richmond/Vancouver city train. The whale-watching tour. The anthropology museum in Vancouver. The tourist trap town of Snohomish. Hiking the fake mountain in Portland. Growler’s Taproom. Being a seagull paparazzi in Huntington Beach. Old habits and older friends in Reno. The gun range and the rollercoaster in Vegas. The view from that Treasure Island room… Hanging out with the NY nephew and hitting up rooftop decks. The multifaceted coloured mirror in that children’s museum, a perfect metaphor for the alternate multiverse selves. Walking to Canada across the Niagara Falls bridge, all empty and deserted. The perfect pizza and the cider stein at the West of Brunswick bar. Walking all the way up and down Spadina… The 5-day exploratory train trip to Quebec City. The solo Uhaul move. The cluttered apartment. Getting a used 20-gallon aquarium out of videogame-less boredom. Starting the FIRE blog. Padmini and Josie and Audrey. Getting more shots, this time Moderna. The palladium challenge. Starting up the Medium attempt. The very short-lived Twitch career and making $200 on the re-released Diablo-2. Getting the PR card at long last. The end of the Expanse series and the all-nighter to read the entire 416-page thing in one sitting.

Who knows, maybe at some point (decades from now?) this will refresh my own memory. I might start writing these every year. Thanks for sticking around and following my blog, oh mysterious stranger, and I hope this year was mostly good for you too. Here is to a better future.

New project: LetsRetireYoung.com

I grew up reading personal finance blogs: there wasn’t much else to do for fun after graduating college during the 2008 bubble. I always wondered about that elite and mysterious tribe of bloggers, the influence they wielded, the lives they might have led. As tempting as it was, I never set up my own personal finance blog, if only because I didn’t want to be just another non-entity who was still stuck in the rat race, daydreaming out loud, sharing less-than-motivational updates along the lines of “just 51 more months till retirement!”

After I achieved my lean-FIRE early retirement in May 2021, life got a whole lot more fun and easier. Eventually, an online acquaintance teased me: “is it really a FIRE if you don’t have a FIRE blog?” (A bit like that joke about how to figure out if someone is a vegan – they’ll tell you within three minutes. Heh.) And so, the seed got planted…

I’ve launched my Let’s Retire Young blog just over two months ago, and it’s finally fleshed out enough (and not at risk of being abandoned like yet another infatuation) that I feel it can be shared with the world at large. It’s quite separate from this here blog because while a large part of that new blog is based on my own experiences, it’s mostly just money advice. Conversely, while this blog occasionally mentions money, it’s more of a personal memory repository. And, of course, “Let’s Retire Young” is far easier to memorize and pronounce than “Grigory Lukin.” (Which, if you’re curious, rhymes with “story” and “win” when pronounced correctly. Russian names are weird, I know.)

The new blog’s tagline is “Earn more, spend less, invest the rest” – and while I was pretty bad at the “earn more” part, it’s a valid part nonetheless. (Like this post I wrote about getting a tech job without learning how to code.) So far, I’m writing three posts per week: I meal-prep them every Friday (because, as we all know, Friday = “write day”), and there are already 24 of them out there. Once I make it to the big #25, I will have proven my commitment to the bit, and might be able to secure some sort of a semi-professional writing gig. (That’d be a pretty huge upgrade for this writing hobby of mine.)

Just for the fun of it, I’ve also set up a mirror version of my blog over on Medium: I may have missed that platform’s golden age, but it still gets me some readers, especially after I joined a publication for newbie writers – which, admittedly, accepts absolutely everyone, a bit like a tutorial level in a video game.

The blog itself is about early retirement, with a side of geographic arbitrage: I strongly believe that anyone’s financial situation can be changed for the better (if only a little), but that can require significant lifestyle changes, up to and including moving to another city or even country. My advice won’t suit everyone (it would be rather strange if it did), but for the right kind of person, my stories could provide a valuable blueprint. I escaped the rat race at age 34, without having rich parents or a huge inheritance or a high-paying job. (I never once made $100K USD in a year.) I found and exploited multiple glitches in the system, and managed to escape it in one piece, with my sanity mostly intact. Now I live on roughly $1,000 USD a month (rent is cheap here, eh), and loving it.

When I started that side project, I didn’t realize how interesting the monetization component would be: thus far, I’ve made $22 USD through AdSense on the main blog and $4 USD on Medium. Not exactly a huge income stream per se, but according to the r/blogging subreddit, search engines generally ignore you until you put out 25-30 posts. We’ll see how that plays out – but meanwhile, I’m enjoying this gamification process of all the different indicators that can be tracked and improved. Earnings rate, visitors, clicks, page loading time, etc…

Getting to the first 25 posts is the first major milestone. At the pace I’m going, I’ll cross the 100-post threshold sometime in June/July. (Unless, of course, that money-related reality TV show I applied for calls me back, in which case I’d probably be offline for a few months in early 2022. My life is pretty eccentric.) Once I get to that point… Perhaps I’ll be able to get a book deal, and get an actual, real book published from some of my best posts. Perhaps something else. Maybe I’ll switch to just one post a week, or end the whole project with just 100 posts so as not to dilute it with random generic gibberish. We’ll see.

In the meantime, though, head on over to LetsRetireYoung.com and check it out for yourself, eh. Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, share your favourite posts on social media, and tell your friends. I know that personal finance blogs are a dime a dozen these days (things have changed a lot since 2008), but hey – it’s better to have blogged and lost than never to have blogged at all, am I right?

Cheers, y’all.

Bonjour, Quebec!

This post is about three months overdue, but I have it on good authority that time is relative. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So much has happened… The move from Toronto to Quebec City was an exercise in organized chaos: I managed to pack all my stuff (including all the small detritus of life that takes up an alarming amount of cubic space) into plastic crates, moved them into the small Uhaul truck I rented, and drove it all the way to QC with an overnight stop at a rest area. (My original estimate of completing the 8-hour move-and-drive by 6pm was wildly optimistic.) Then it was all about unpacking and moving my stuff to that shiny, beautiful second-floor apartment that is my home. Returning the Uhaul. Walking back to the apartment, ogling all the French signs and sights. I hope those first memories will never fade away.

At some point, I’ll probably forget and normalize the memory of my first month here, before I got my furniture (mostly Ikea, and a couple of used furniture stores), but it was pure chaos: sleeping on my mattress on the floor before I finally got one of the last beds available at the local Ikea. (With another Uhaul rental – those things are like cheat codes for everyday life!), then navigating through all the furniture boxes in my living room, then slooowly assembling it all over the course of three days or so. Did you know that there actual online support groups for people who try to assemble Ikea’s Malm dressers? Ask me how I know…

There were casualties: I wasn’t careful with my gaming PC (just yeeted it in the back of the truck instead of securing it on the passenger seat like the precious baby that it is), and something inside got misaligned. The nearest computer repair store fixed it, got it working again, and then held it hostage for four days because the technician didn’t write down how much to charge me. Fun times… Didn’t help that they closed early on Saturday despite telling me earlier that day to stop by at 4. I fought that particular spike of rage by finding a great deal on a used 20-gallon aquarium and acquiring three little guppies to go with it. (And a fancy thermometer. And a big wooden decoration. And a couple of little plants. And an air pump shaped like a volcano. It’s pretty fun, eh.) I’m still figuring out the exact water chemistry, and will probably have to splurge on a tap water filter to make sure they get dechlorinated water when I change it. It’s an ongoing but fun project – and when it comes to the expense/cuteness/stinkiness ratio, fish are far better pets than birds or mammals. (There are also reptiles, of course, but they’re not as cute in my utterly subjective opinion.)

Quebec City itself is beautiful… Just google its pictures and see for yourself: that’s not just one small touristy block, that’s a good chunk of the city, and there’s more beauty in other parts of it, too. All the parks have lots of trails and pathways for pedestrians, bicycles, skateboards, etc. It turns out Duolingo had lied to me, and the Quebec-French is quite different from French-French. The few times I tried saying “enchante” (pleased to meet you) to new acquaintances, the response was mostly “WTF does that mean?” Heh. It’s getting better, though: while I still can’t follow other people’s conversations at parties (just smile and nod!), I can mostly figure out what I’m reading by recognizing the key words.

It turns out the local government pays a $200/week stipend to encourage newcomers (other Canadians, or immigrants like myself, or refugees) to learn Quebec-French and Quebecois culture. It’s an intensive program – five days a week, up to six hours a day, for twelve weeks – but it sounds like an amazing deal. There’s a distinct lack of good apps that teach Quebecois French, and I will have to become fluent anyway… Might as well. Just need to send off some documents on Monday, and then they’ll slot me into the next available class, whenever that might be. Quebec’s government isn’t perfect, but this “bribe to learn” program they’ve set up to preserve and promote their culture and their language is downright brilliant. Kudos, at least on that front.

My PR (permanent resident) card is finally here, after spending seven weeks bouncing between Toronto and Quebec. (My neighbour in Toronto means well, but for some reason he didn’t write his return address on the envelope when he sent it to me.) It’s incredibly shiny and going to make my everyday life a whole lot easier. I celebrated with a meal at my favourite local diner, La Cuisine. Check it out if you ever visit Quebec City: friendly staff, great decor, delicious food, low prices. What more can one ask?

…you know how some movies have that cliché where the main character travels to a strange foreign land and just happens to bump into a local guide that speaks fluent English, has a ton of badass qualities, and is an overall improbably awesome and helpful human being? Turns out that actually happens! My new Quebecois girlfriend is a certified badass that does krav maga, knows how to ride any non-motor thingy that has wheels (roller skates, longboard, etc), loves simple and healthy living, etc. What’s even better is that she’s also open to the idea of becoming a professional nomad, doing her graphic design work on her laptop while vegging out in some cheap tropical country. My life is highly improbable, I know, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

It’s been six months and twelve days since I left Amazon for good. (Unless, of course, they decide to pay me back the 47 shares that they owe me; then I might – might – consider entertaining the preliminary notion of possibly going back.) The time flew by, and I feel so much more relaxed and healthier… This whole “early retirement” thing is great, really. Five stars, would try again, highly recommended. I could stay in the rat race another five or 10 years, become a multimillionaire, get more shiny toys, but I’d never get those years back. You can double your net worth – you can’t double your life expectancy.

To give you some idea of how sweet this life is, the only things on my calendar are:

  1. the final expanse book coming out in 3 days;
  2. liquidating all my stocks in late December because I’m quite convinced there’ll be a major correction by April. (Student loan payments will start up again. People will owe taxes on their huge 2021 gains. None of that is good news. Keep in mind that the dot-com bubble burst in March, when the 1999 taxes were due…)
  3. a cool date at the opera with gf in January;
  4. an equally cool long weekend getaway with gf and her friends at a rented cottage somewhere in rural Quebec in February;
  5. possibly a family reunion in March-April-ish?

In September 2022, I will have lived in Quebec for 12 months, which will make me eligible to join the local Freemason chamber. They’re an odd group, but I like what I’ve learned about them so far. When the world begins to fall apart (sort of like in Vancouver, which is currently inaccessible by road thanks to the flooding and mudslides), it’ll be vital to have a gigantic support network on your side. Prepping and stashing food and guns and medicine is only the first step. The second step is getting to know your neighbours (are they medics? cooks? people with no particular skills but with great vibes?). The third step is acquiring an army: a giant social network you can rely on, no matter where in the world you are. I considered other options, like Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc, and decided against them – and Freemasons actually seems like a fun and non-judgmental bunch, and a great way to learn new stuff, and make new local friends, and liven up ye olde social calendar. Too bad they have a strict anti-nomad policy in Quebec, thus the 12-month waiting period first.

At some point, most likely May 2023, I’ll be eligible to apply for my Canadian citizenship, and once I get that, I’ll finally start my life as a snowbird, thus completing my weird, weird metamorphosis. Until then, though, I’ll spend a couple of winters here in Quebec. It’s pretty ironic that the goal of my early-retirement journey was to live someplace cheap and tropical, yet I’ll have to live through the coldest winters of my life (since leaving Siberia in 2003, anyhow) as the last rite of passage. Heh.

And now, after a walk through the snow and a bit of exercise, I’m off to do some more gaming (gf is in Montreal this weekend) – Sunless Skies is both amazing and cheap – while listening to the excellent Ologies podcast (amazing pop science in 90-minute-long increments!), followed by a homecooked meal with a glass of red wine, and maybe another Werner Herzog movie. (It is my new quest to watch everything he’s ever written and/or directed. Two movies down, dozens to go!)

Life is good.

Farewell, Toronto

Twelve hours from now, I’ll be in the process of loading a Uhaul truck, getting ready to drive away from Toronto toward the improbably beautiful Quebec City. Aside from Seattle (where I spent 3.5 years), this is the longest I’ve stayed in one place since 2009: 2.5 years in this strange, strange city. I will not miss it.

Toronto tries too hard to be like New York City. It definitely succeeded in attracting all the money, driving up the housing and rental prices, building a little subway and transit train system, and setting up one helluva zoo, but as for the rest… Perhaps it’s just the pandemic. Perhaps in some other, baseline timeline where that didn’t happen, the city would’ve been tolerable. As it is, all the annual summer festivals got cancelled for the second year in a row – and they won’t have enough money to come back in 2022. The subway system is a bit impressive, but it shuts down at 11pm more often than not. (Which makes Toronto “the city that never stays up” rather than “the city that never sleeps.” Heh.) God-awful drivers are enabled even further by the cops that don’t give a damn about enforcing any rules. (One time, I saw a cop – with his sirens off – blatantly run a red light. Leading by example, eh?) Last week, a woman almost hit me while taking a right turn smack into a bunch of right-of-way pedestrians. When I gave her ye olde stink eye, she yelled, “I didn’t hit you, did I?!” Fun times.

This city is the ground zero of the new Canadian housing bubble – or maybe it’s Vancouver, or both. The mechanism won’t be the same as when I lived in Nevada (these foreign buyers can definitely afford their mortgages), but eventually it will implode – and when it does, things will get for the Canadian economy. Let’s just say that when a) your Lyft driver starts giving you real estate advice, and b) local news shows have recurring segments on increasing your property’s value, and c) the local authorities don’t give a damn about their constituents renting out fire-trap basement apartments (one exit and a tiny window) for $1,300… Well, that’ll make one very bad cocktail. For what it’s worth, the Centre Island is beautiful, and so is Lake Ontario, and so is all the beautiful Art Deco architecture in the financial district. That’s not enough to make up for the negatives, though.

There is, of course, the emotional baggage. Toronto was the city where Amazon did their damnedest to make life difficult over the course of two years and two months. It’s also where my old flame killed herself… She came to me in a dream on the two-year anniversary. We had a long conversation I can’t recall. I’m not sure if that’s a giant red flag from my subconscious, or proof of the noosphere of some sort, or perhaps all of the above. Regardless, there’s a little too much baggage here to stay.

I still talk to xgf: she said a lot of her Toronto friends are leaving too – all at once, and almost all of a sudden. I think I get it: after about 18 months of this pandemic and the assorted lockdowns (which lasted longer here than anywhere else in North America), people got a lot of time to think. Think about what they want to do with their lives, what they’re missing out on, what their true priorities might be. It’s somewhat comforting to think that there are others like me, that I’m part of the grand Millennial covid migration.

I’m fairly certain I’ve written other “goodbye” posts for Vegas/Fort Worth/Tampa/Seattle on this blog before, but I can’t be bothered to look for them. I do recall that I left each of those cities with a sense of relief. Is there something in my personality that makes me squeeze every bit of value from a city before I abandon it and run off someplace else? Or maybe it’s objectively true that each city had, say, a better dating scene or some such. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve spent the last week slowly packing up all my stuff: when I made the long drive from Seattle to Toronto in March 2019, I’d managed to fit everything in my little 2013 Kia Rio. I’ve got slightly more stuff now, though I’m pretty sure if I tossed out all the giant pretty rocks, the bookshelf, and the mattress, I could still make it work. Maybe. As it is, tomorrow morning I’ll pick up the smallest Uhaul truck, load it up solo and in record time, and then hit the road. (Renting a Uhaul at the very end of the month is pricey, but still, I’ll save a fortune on the rent differential…) My Quebec City apartment complex (an 8-hour drive from Toronto) won’t meet me outside the business hours, so my brilliant plan consists of loading the truck, driving it for seven-ish hours to a rest stop just outside Quebec City, stopping there for the night (yay Kindle! yay snacks!), waking up hella early the following day, picking up the keys at 8am, and then unloading the truck, returning it, finally taking the much-needed shower, and going into a minor hibernation. Still less complex than my luggage logistics in Las Vegas, eh.

So here I am… Almost everything is packed up. All that’s needed now is to take out the trash, place the free stuff on the lawn for urban scavengers (the free stuff includes a juicer, a full-size shovel, and six cans of beans, among other items), and do some cursory cleaning as I pack up all the rest. I’ve just celebrated my last night in this city with a small $10 bottle of Prosecco, tiny store-bought and pre-packaged slices of toasted garlic bread, and six slices of that triangular Laughing Cow cheese. (Hey, I never claimed to be classy.) Aside from a short trip back in March to take care of some formalities for Project 2039 (more on that someday later), this will be it.

…it’s tempting, ever so tempting to just pour some gas on the sum total of all my material goods, throw a match, and just start over with a sleeping bag and a cellphone. Almost done packing, though. Just two days of discomfort, and I’ll be in my permanent home base. The only way out is up, right?

Still traveling, eh

Well, that was fun. I am, indeed, still alive and well, though the multitasking Russian Lyft driver in Huntington Beach almost killed me when he decided to take a left turn into the oncoming traffic. Ahh, California…

It’s a strange and wild idea, but I might have temporarily overdosed on the whole travel thing. Thirty-seven days and seven cities, with new people, experiences, places, or just plain old airports, every single day. Even though I’ve been back for 23 days, it feels like my brain is still processing all those inputs. Every so often, I get a random flash of something I did or something I saw during my gigantic revenge vacation, and all the pleasant memories flood back: all the old friends I hung out with, the bars I hopped, the museums I saw, the old haunts revisited once more. (Rest in peace, Harrah’s casino.)

In no particular order…

I found a town that was filled with nothing but touristy souvenir stores, one of which attempted to print out every single motivational Instagram slogan on pillows and hanging signs. That proud town of Snohomish, WA also featured a huge antique store that was definitely bigger on the inside than it had appeared on the outside. I may have gone overboard and bought six antique cameras that I then lugged in my backpack all over the continent for the following month. Heh. I confirmed that cider doesn’t exist outside of the Pacific Northwest: Nevada’s casinos didn’t have any in stock (on tap or in bottles), and a cornered bartender finally told me that’s because the entire beer supply chain is severely disrupted. Oof. Just… oof.

Reno’s casinos got mostly consolidated after Eldorado took over just about everything. One of their few remaining competitors, Sands, was so understaffed that they had to shut down all their table games at 1am. (If that’s not horrifying, I don’t know what is.) The week in Nevada, split between Reno and Vegas, was a strange blast from the past, an opportunity to over-indulge (I mean, way over-indulge) in all my vices. How strange to think that I’m still very much the same person who left the state in 2013. The Strip was as full as ever, though the roaming showgirl duos replaced the water peddlers and the “massage” card distributors. I did the most cliché tourist thing imaginable and paid $100 to go to a gun range that offers multiple types of firearms. (You know, like in the “Big Short” movie.) I can definitely see why people get so addicted to their shotguns and semi-auto rifles: addictive, and powerful, and dangerous.

Portland was filled with beautiful wacky-haired tattooed people. That city, unlike any other I’ve ever been to, may as well be the setting of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. (Sorry, Toronto, but you’re just not hip enough.) In some other world, I might have visited Portland and fallen in love with it and maybe even moved – but meh.

I spent several nights wondering through Vancouver’s tourist-trap district, following random noises, but never did manage to find any live music. All the karaoke bars listed on Google Maps were shut down. I did go on a whale-watching trip, though: deep inside, I’ll always be a broke 19-year-old college student, and that was more expensive than I was comfortable with, but damn, that was worth every penny. Seeing those giant beautiful creatures in real life, just 100 or so yards away, was majestic. Not unlike the time I rode an elephant at a Tampa Renaissance fair: the experience turns the animal from something you’re theoretically familiar with (like anteaters, or ostriches, or Wisconsin) and turns it into something far more real and tangible.

I stayed in a Vegas hotel (Treasure Island, to be precise) for two nights after cashing in some of my M-Life app reward points, and now I can sort of understand why people pay the top dollar to stay at those resorts – as opposed to, say, finding dirt-cheap AirBnB accommodations. Next time, whenever that may be, I just might stay at one of the low-key casinos in the Fremont district. I’m quite impressed that my elaborate plan of checking out of the hotel, dropping off my giant heavy backpack at a 24/7 bail bonds agency, checking into a seedy AirBnB (the check-in instructions explicitly asked not to bleed or jizz on the carpet because the cleaning fee wasn’t high enough to cover that), partying it up the whole next day, and packing up my backpack 36 hours later, at 1am, actually worked. There were a lot of moving pieces there, and while that worked out perfectly, I definitely won’t do that again. Great proof of concept, but for the price of all the running around, I may as well have bought that third hotel night with my own cash. The 4am flight to New York went splendidly, though I ended up sleeping 14 hours the following night. Good times, good times.

The evening train from Seattle to Portland remains an amazing experience that everyone should try.

Some of the groupies from the Seattle-based finance email list that I frequent ended up dining and wining me (cidering me?) in exchange for my sage advice. It was so weird to give out money wisdom to a guy who makes almost my entire net worth in just one year. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up inspiring an annual pilgrimage of my fans into Canada, the way Buffett’s fans visit him in Omaha.

New York was as beautiful as ever: I ended up munching on more bagels than I can recall, as well as enjoying some amazing pizza. I also might have run out of museums to visit.

On my final day, I lived a futurist’s dream: traveling by bus (New York City to Buffalo), car (a Lyft to the border station), my own two feet (crossing the eerily empty bridge in Niagara Falls), train to Toronto, and finally a subway ride back home.

And then… I spent five days scouting Quebec City and checking out several rental apartments. I’m moving in a week: a small U-Haul truck filled with a few plastic crates, an eight-hour drive (far better than the 10-hour train ride!), et voila – I’ll become a Quebecois! It’s the only Canadian province with rent control, which would explain how I managed to find a 1-bedroom apartment with plenty of windows, with all the utilities and high-speed internet included, for only $523 USD. (Aka $660 CAD.) That is not a typo – that really is that good of a deal. Of course, it helps that the city is beautiful, everyone speaks a fun new language that I’ll be learning, and that there’s live music on every corner. The jury is still out on their karaoke and cider scene, of course.

All in all, this will be 10 weeks of intermittent travel. I cannot wait to leave this A/C-less studio refuge with its $1,000 penalties for setting off smoke detectors (aka, you know, cooking) and finally settling down someplace new. Someplace permanent.

That should be fun, eh.

Going, going…

It’s 10:30pm, and in about seven hours I’ll embark on my revenge vacation. Thirty-seven days, seven cities, and hopefully enough memories to put a dent into the sum total of missed experiences over these past 15 months. The trip will start in Vancouver, followed by Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles (well, Huntington Beach, to be precise), Reno, Vegas, and New York. At the very end, I’ll take a ceremonial walk across the border from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. (When I was booking the trip in May, the border situation was very uncertain. It’s still a bit murky.)

Some of my best-laid plans have already gone sideways. Three AirBnB hosts in a row cancelled my reservations as soon as I booked them, followed by a mad scramble to re-book. Amtrak has confessed that they did not in fact know if the border would reopen when they sold me a suspiciously cheap ticket to a crossborder bus. (Guess who’s got two thumbs, paid $300 extra for a last-minute Vancouver/Seattle flight, and will never ride with Amtrak again? This guy!) Air Canada unilaterally changed my Toronto/Vancouver flight to an earlier time, which means I’ll have to head out before 6am instead of sleeping in a little. (I won’t lie, I’m tempted to just head to the airport right now and spend the night there to make sure I don’t accidentally sleep through.)

So, yeah, life. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ On top of that, for the first time in my life I bought international traveler insurance. Judging by their dual classification of “just abroad” and “the US of A,” they probably charged me extra due to all the fun gun shenanigans the US is so infamous for. Oh well. Given the sheer randomness of all the public shootings in that fallen state (still no January 6 commission, almost six months later), I guess I’ll just have to hit the ground every time I hear a bang. Maybe slather some ketchup on myself for good measure – you know, to boost those odds. (If I do, in fact, get shot while I’m in the States… Come on, this was funny, though.)

Ontario tentatively started to reopen 10 days or so ago. It felt like a bizarrely perverse experience, eating a fairly bland (and oversalted) burger with fries and beer while other people did the same all around me, unmasked though distanced. I’ve gone out a few more times (you know, for science) and the sensation is still there, though it’s getting better. Even for someone with my wanderlust, this is one helluva long trip – the longest I’ve ever traveled, actually. I figure this sort of shock therapy is just what I need: people, museums, busy sidewalks, new sights and old friends every day… Every trip and every experience changes us, if only just a little. I know I’ll be a very different person when I return (hopefully without any new scars!) – I’m curious to learn just what those changes will be.

I’m going to hit up almost all of my old haunts, though I never lived in Portland or Los Angeles – and I’m skipping Dallas and Tampa because, you know, the plague. Southern states are the least likely to be vaccinated at this point in time. Nevada, being a very purple sort of state, is as low as Texas, with only 40% being fully vaccinated… Guess I’ll just have to dodge everyone who coughs, eh?

In a way, this will be a trip back in time, visiting all the old places I’ve lived in, all the friends and classmates I haven’t seen in years – and seeing my US family for the first time in over two years. (Or even as long as four years for some.) Just to preserve these memories, I’m taking my DSLR with its obnoxiously large zoom lens – next time I visit the US, the trip will be much less ambitious, so gotta make those memories count.

And meanwhile, I’m stuffing my shiny new 40-liter Osprey backpack with everything I can think of. (Can’t forget my laptop! Heh.) The backpack cost me a pretty penny, but I can see what all the noise is about: I keep finding more and more features and hidden compartments. That right there is as close as one can get to a Bag of Holding in real life.

And so… A few hours of sleep. A quick shower and breakfast. (I’ve tactically set aside a Tim Hortons cinnamon bun to reward myself for getting up before sunrise.) A trip to the airport before the city begins to wake up. A westward and cross-continental flight in defiance of all those pesky time zones. (In a way, it’ll take only an hour and 46 minutes. Heh.) The one revenge vacation to end them all…

Wish me luck, eh?

Pedestrian once more

It’s been 39 days since I left my job, and I’ve finally sold my car. It was an inevitability: at some point, you either get rid of your car or it gets destroyed in a wreck. Or it outlives you, I suppose, but that’s a bit too grim.

After leaving my job, there was no longer any reason to drive. Living in southern Toronto, in the densely populated Annex neighbourhood, everything is within walking distance. I had to actually drive to the grocery store half a mile away just to make sure the battery didn’t die from atrophy. One of peculiar things about Canada is that they’re not very flexible on car insurance: you must purchase the full liability coverage, and as an immigrant, there’s the added surcharge. In the end, my car insurance ended up being $230 CAD a month, and that’s after all the discounts I’ve managed to stack up. Add the monthly parking fee on top of that, and it’s close to $400 a month, which is a lot to pay for a glorified paperweight.

Thinking strategically, there’s only one time I’ll absolutely need a car in the next year or so, and that’ll be for my upcoming move to Quebec. (I have my heart set on Quebec City…) Even then, I’d need to get a Uhaul to move all my stuff, so once again, a car would be a liability. (Not to mention paying extra for the registration in Quebec, etc.)

I’ve had that little Kia Rio since 2013, but it was time to say goodbye. After 61,777 miles, after more roadtrips than I care to recall, we parted ways. Of course, things didn’t quite go smoothly: an overly enthusiastic car wash guy slathered absolutely everything in shampoo, flooded the car’s electronics, disabled the fuel gauge, a couple of small buttons, and half the wiper functions – and ultimately cost me about $450 in repairs and discounts. Ho hum. In the end, the car I’d bought for $24,000 USD in Vegas ended up getting sold for $3,750 CAD in Toronto: that’s an 87.4% drop in value. The purchase price is a bit high because I was an idiot and fell for every single sales trick. Yes, they actually managed to sell me anti-rain windshield treatment in the middle of the desert. (Hey, I never claimed to be wise.) Still, that investment gave me some much-needed peace of mind, since my previous three cars had been lemons that were liable to break down at least every other month. When you’re a warehouse grunt, and when missing a workday not only costs a day’s wages but potentially jeopardizes your job security… In that context, a monthly payment of ~$360 is a whole lot cheaper than spending the same amount of money on repairs. Ahh, youth.

It’s strange, adjusting to the new carless mindset. Earlier today, as I finalized the transaction with an enthusiastic guy (who also happened to be a double immigrant like myself), there was a choice of taking a 40-minute Lyft or a 1-hour-40-minute bus trip home. One of those options was literally 10 times more expensive than the other. I think you know which one I picked. Some panicky part of my brain keeps pointing out all the car-accessible places I can’t easily go to (like the town where they shot Schitt’s Creek) but even then, arranging a ride would be a whole lot easier and cheaper than maintaining a car I don’t really use. My life is simpler now, which is exactly what I’d been working toward. In many ways, I’m drifting back to the pre-Amazon version of myself, right out of college. Replacing cider with coke, reverting from being a driver to being a pedestrian.

There is a symmetry to this: the only reason I ever got a car in the first place (and learned to drive over the course of one weekend) was because of my Amazon job. That warehouse was the only place hiring in Reno during the mean, lean winter of 2009, and it was 35 miles away. There was no transit, and eventually I ran out of carpool buddies. I needed that job, so a $1,200 lemon car was the only way to go. Now that my 11.5-year journey with the company is over, so is my need for a car. It all folds in on itself, eh?

The only objective downside is that I won’t be able to get away at top speed if there’s ever a legitimate but improbably rare emergency, such as a global pandemic or a radioactive leak at the local nuclear power plant – but come on, those things only happen once a century or so. (If the Pickering Nuclear Plant goes kaboom right after I post this… Come on, it was funny, though.) Without my car, xgf and I never would’ve been able to run off on our 72-day-long AirBnB odyssey. Still, even the prospect of a mildly apocalyptic romantic adventure isn’t enough to maintain that dead weight.

This will take some getting used to… Even as my mobility is reduced, my life is so much simpler now. What I gave up in my freedom of movement, I’ve offset by making my bank account happier and my life a bit less stressful. No longer shall I have to be that jerk neighbour who drives to the grocery store a few blocks away – and if that’s not a clear-cut benefit, I don’t know what is. I hope my car leads a long and happy life before heading off to the big Kia parking lot in the sky, eh.