By Tom Blake
My life partner Greta and I are living for a month in a 500-year-old building in Graz, Austria. The apartment where we are staying is owned by the Schachners, a couple who met at the DMV in Fresno. Christian is Austrian. His wife, Jai, is an American citizen who was born on the Laos/Thailand border. While not my typical “after 50” tale, I wanted to share their story that shows how love can overcome distance.
In 2008, Jai was living in Fresno. Her purse had been stolen so she was at the DMV to get a replacement driver’s license. Christian, who purchases antique American cars and sells them in Austria, was in Fresno registering an old Cadillac. He and Jai were in line next to each other. They had just enough time to tell each other a little about their backgrounds.
He asked for her phone number and they started dating. Soon, however, he had to return to Austria. The odds of this 6,100-mile long-distance relationship working were against them.
They corresponded. Christian returned to Fresno a few times for more cars and to see Jai. He wanted her to visit Austria. Since arriving in the United States as a young child, she had never been out of the country. She didn’t even own a passport.
Due to paperwork issues, getting a passport took her months. Christian didn’t know for sure, but he thought she might be dragging her feet and probably didn’t really want to visit Austria. One day he emailed, “I really would love for you to visit.” She shocked him by replying, “Send me a ticket.”
She spent three weeks visiting Christian in Graz. In March 2012, they married in Las Vegas. He wore traditional Austrian Lederhosen for the wedding.
Jai and her daughter, Maddie, packed their things and moved to Graz. Jai said, “At first, it was hard, I didn’t speak German. But now, I love living in Graz.” Maddie now has a baby brother named James.
How did Greta and I meet them and why are we living in their home? There is a website called homeexchange.com. On that website, people can trade their home/apartment/ranch—where ever they live—for an agreed upon period of time with people who own living accommodations as well. People from different countries often exchange homes.
In December 2014, Christian, Jai, Maddie and James stayed in Greta’s San Clemente home for the holidays. And now, we are staying at their home in Graz. While we are here, they are living at Christian’s father’s farm outside of town. I took this photo of them while visiting the farm.
We have been in Graz, the second largest city in Austria, for a week and love it. The city’s central tram station is 100 yards away. The main train station is less than a half mile away. There is no need to rent a car or drive anywhere. There are a variety of restaurants within walking distance.
I will be blogging our trip at www.travelafter55.com. I hope you will follow us and email your comments.
Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and San Clemente resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at www.findingloveafter50.com. To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org