Now moving might not be the most interesting thing to write about, but maybe there are a few things that can be added to your own check list when you decide to make that next big move yourself. My mom paid for me to fly back to Florida to help her load her stuff on a truck and drive it back here to (Sedona) Arizona. Mom assured me repeatedly that the packing was “almost done” and that we would only have to load the truck and drive.
And then I got there. I will give mom credit for having a lot of stuff packed. There were boxes and boxes already packed, piled high, inventoried, numbered, and color coded. The color coding has to do with the fact that she’s moving into a little studio-sized place and moving from a full-sized house. Squeezing something like 2500 square feet of living into about 600 or 700 square feet means storage unit. This is only supposed to be temporary. In another three months or so my brother and I will get the call to move her again :).
I looked around mom’s place to get an idea of how much storage was going to be needed; my brother was working on getting her free storage space in a relative’s garage. It wasn’t going to fit. And that meant that it wasn’t going to fit in the truck that she reserved either – 16 feet. There was no guarantee that the next size up would be available. We got lucky when we showed up to the Budget rental place, they had a 24 foot truck that had just come in. Mom upgraded to the 24 foot truck.
This was Monday morning. The plan was to load all day Monday and leave first thing Tuesday morning arriving in Tallahassee sometime Tuesday evening. Like I said, that was the plan. Instead it worked more like this:
- Mom wasn’t really ready.
- Pictures were still on the wall.
- The china cabinet was still full
- Mom was packing her paperweight collection and taking photos of the danged things
- Storage racks – those adjustable wire shelves on wheels – that mom wanted to take needed to be disassembled
- There was no food in the fridge, but all the pots and pans were still in the cupboard
I could go on, but in short mom was not ready. And she had no idea how not ready she was. She had 15 years of living in this house to “undo”.
My brother who lives in Miami came by to help load the truck. I got him to help me with big stuff that I couldn’t do by myself and then mom got him to pack up the stuff in the kitchen. The whole time he was muttering to himself about how all the stuff should have been packed already; kinda late to complain about. I told him that we needed to just deal with what is, not what should be. He managed to suck it up and help me with the few pieces of furniture that were going.
There were things that could have stayed. Except that mom would say, “that has to go”. She could have left the three cases of paper, she did leave her terra cota pots that she was intent on taking – we have those here. There were other things, but you get the idea: if it can be sold and/or easily replaced then consider it expendable.
Monday night, around 11, when we should have been finished and only needed to get some sleep, mom looked at me and asked, “do you think we have a couple more hours or is it more like three or four.”
A look around the place told me all I needed to know, “at least three or four, mom.”
“Then I need to get some sleep. I can’t go for longer than a couple of hours. If it’s three or four we’ll start again in the morning.” And so, with three or four hours of packing and loading to do we went to bed.
I got up around 6 AM. Four hours meant leaving at 10 AM, not too bad. We packed and loaded, and packed and loaded, and packed and loaded. 11 AM. Noon. Still a couple of hours to go. 2 PM slips by, then 4 PM. Mom double checks her hotel reservations – they will be held till 5 AM. “We better not be getting there that late,” I say. Mom laughs a little.
At 6 PM a neighbor arrives home from work, looks at the truck and says, “looks like you need two trucks.”
Mom is worn out and grouchy at me, but manages to be pleasant with the neighbors. “Oh no,” she says, “if it doesn’t fit, it stays.” I let it go. By now mom has given up on taking her white glazed plant pots and her little kitchen table. The floor lamps she’s still attached to.
About 8:30 PM mom decides that she’s done packing and loading – after I unceremoniously tuck the floor lamps into whatever holes are still left. Everything is packed, including the cab of the truck with things under the seat. I have enough room to drive, but that’s it. She tells me to roll down the door, we’re going. I had been wondering if mom was still emotionally attached and not quite ready to move. I had even wondered aloud that she might not be ready to leave the town that she called home for 35 years. She assured me more than once that she was.
We got nearly everything in the truck. It wasn’t pretty. 24 feet and the last third was loaded as the boxes got packed. If you’re taking notes, this isn’t the way to load a truck. Everything must be packed first. And now, 12 hours late, I fire up the truck. Next to me on the seat is mom’s cat in her collapsible carrier.
The cat. I have cats and I like them. This cat? This cat is different. Mom hasn’t had much company. The cat is a loner and hates strangers. I spent two days dodging – or trying to dodge – swipes of her claws. Those wounds will eventually heal :). And now, on this 2500 mile journey (or 3000 depending upon which maps you use and how you round), it’s just me and the cat. Mom is driving her car separately due to a “feeling”. That and the carrier won’t fit in the car.
Tuesday 8:30 PM:
I roll away from mom’s house. I stop at the corner throw, the truck into park, put on my hazards and run back to the house – my jacket is still laying over a rocking chair that my youngest brother is going to claim. 8:45 PM: I get dinner at McDonald’s and get on the highway. The plan is to head up I-95 for a while then I-75, Alligator Alley. Florida’s highest speed limit is 70 MPH and so is the truck’s. I set the cruise control and the miles slip by. It’s almost a 500 mile leg, I’ve been up since 6 AM and in the dark, there’s nothing to look at. Actually, looking back it would have been almost 500 miles if we took the “right” route. It turned out to be around 550 miles due to the road actually taken.
The segment is uneventful. I don’t encounter any toothy alligators or toothless human residents. The cat decides I must not be so bad and I tentatively stick my hand inside her carrier to pet her. I have to take a break. 30 minutes of sleep will actually do wonders. The truck begins to get low on fuel and I stop on a one gas station road. $100 of diesel, a cup of coffee and a large pack of Big Red gum later, I’m back on the road. The bored clerk can go back to sitting in front of the store. I chew some gum – it helps to keep me awake. Later I have to take another break. Mom calls around 4 AM to tell me that she checked in our rooms and got a 1 PM checkout time.
7:19 AM. That’s what time it is according to the desk clerk in Tallahasse. Local time? Did we cross the time zone? No, not yet. Dammit. I’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours. The two 30 minute naps are the only thing keeping me going. The desk clerk blinks at us when we tell him that we are “checking in” not out as he thinks we should be. We also need our room keys, since even though we were, “in house” since 4 am we weren’t really there. There must not have been a note left for him. We finally did convince him that we weren’t already there and got ourselves checked in for five hours – 1 PM was the latest they would give us for check out. At 8am I crash until about noon. We stayed at La Quinta1 Hotels during our trip. The one in Tallahassee is an older building with posts around the outside that remind me of old southern porches as do many of the homes that one can actually see off the roadway. And they use the old keys that look like plastic punch cards -something I didn’t know still existed.
Since day one really lapsed into day two, I’m having a tough time remembering what day it is. Mom and I have breakfast at The Cracker Barrel. It’s nearly 2PM and everyone else there is having lunch. It takes a little while to get moving but we have a long stretch ahead today, Tallahassee to Crowley. It’s really later than I thought it was but I did manage to watch the sun setting over the water in Pensacola. It felt as if I were chasing the sun as it hurried out of sight below the tree line. I lost the race though. It was dusk before I hit the West end of the bridge.
I’m almost out of Florida. The agricultural check point requires all trucks to pull over. The sign even indicates rental trucks. I looked over and saw the two patrol cars, sitting at the ready and figured that a high speed chase in a Budget rental truck was not something that I needed on my record. I pull into the indicated lane, roll down my window as I ease up to the booth. Northern Florida is as southern as it gets sometimes and the sing-song voice floats up to me, “wheya you headed? Whas in the backa thu truuuck?”
I had been practicing the line in my head, “household goods.”
“No, I’m moving my mom.”
“Oh, youra mom? How bout choo pull upa theya and let me take a look inside?”
My stomach tightens. We didn’t bring any plants or anything like that with us, they wouldn’t fit. “You want me to open the back?”
“Please?” Everything sounds like a question.
I pull forward and to the left. I leave the engine running, it’s a diesel, they last longer when you do that but I think it might have made the Agriculture officer a little nervous. He stands with his hands folded across his chest. I unlock the door, slide the handle over and the door doesn’t budge. I manage to get it moving and it comes up about three feet satisfying the curiousity of Florida’s agriculture department or possibly just placing the fear of gravity into him and I’m told, “thank you very muuuch?”.
The door has its own ideas though and won’t go down. I’m standing on the 3″ ledge in front of the roll up door trying to get the door moving again. I finally have to force it up. The appliance hand truck slid down from the very top where I had pushed it and was now jammed between the door and the rest of the load. After a brief struggle with the door, I manage to get it high enough to replace the hand truck. With that I got a final, “thank you very muuuch?” and was on my way.
Most of the rest of the evening in uneventful. I plow through the tunnel in Mobile and across bridge after bridge through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The night air begins to get foggy. Not the smoky tedrils that whisp off the roadways in Northern Arizona, but the giant billowy clouds that engulf the ground like an upturned cotton ball tin. The highway speed fluctuates with the visibility. I turn on my hazards only to turn them off again minutes later. At one point I decide to get off the highway to fuel up and grab a quick bite to eat. I only decided on the meal when I saw the traffic on the other side of the road. It was backed up quite a ways. I learned later that it was due to a car running full speed into the ass end of a tractor trailer that was on the shoulder of the off ramp.
At some point mom calls me to tell me that she’s at the hotel and to give me last mile details. Sure enough, the sign that I’m looking for is invisible until I’m almost directly under it. I know that it’s coming because the fog is glowing, but have only seconds to read it even at low speed. The La Quinta is behind the Waffle House. Look for (the glow of) the sign. Where? I can’t see a damned thing. I turn up the road… oops wrong way I think. I turn a few more times and then notice the yellow glow. There’s the Waffle House. I head that direction. Oh, there’s the La Quinta. And there’s a good place to park this truck.
The La Quinta is a newer one. The rooms are at least 30% larger than the last one we stayed in. It compares well to the Fiesta Inn Resort in “plushness” yet still offered what all the “lower end” hotels do, continental breakfast.
In the morning as we are getting moving, I grab some coffee. Mom and I walk to the front desk so mom can ask for the rest of her reservation information (we packed all her confirmations and travel plans along with her desk stuff). The young lady at the desk is more than happy to call La Quinta central reservations for us. She probably deserves special mention because she was as helpful as she could be writing all the reservation numbers down for mom2. She spoke with that melodic Lousianna accent that takes southern and gently brushes it with French. She identified herself on the phone as “April Leshjay” although her nametag showed Leger. And when told that someone had a pet monkey in the parking lot she exclaimed, “Oh! I want to see the muunkey!” The assistant manager, a well groomed black man who could have played college football and professed to love Lousianna remarked, “all the munkeys around here you don’t see enough?”
Mom and I finished packing up and went next door to the Waffle House for breakfast. I tend to forget that there are areas of the country where you can have your meal and share someone else’s cigarette smoke – Crowley seems to be one of those places. The smoke isn’t so bad that it runs us off though and we eat and chat. After giving some smart remark to something mom said, she looks at me, reaches across the table. Patting the four day old growth on my face she says, “I’m so glad we’re getting to spend this time together.” And she’s sincere about it.
We drive over to the gas station to fuel up and I fill up on coffee too. As I’m standing there, looking around I realize that I’m getting a little fatigued. Between the lifting, rolling and carrying of boxes and then sitting still while driving for hours my legs have jellied a bit. I’ve been slightly unsteady climbing out of the truck after the long stretches. Jeff Foxworthy calls it, “baby giraffe”, that feeling of not being able to walk after sex. And that’s what this is like but without the sex and so not nearly as gratifying. And I’m still standing in the convenience store, coffee in one hand, a puzzled look on my face. Mom says something loudly enough that the clerk asks me what I need help with. “I can’t find the tops for the coffee cups.”
She laughs, walks over and spins around the cup dispenser. Right there, in reach and next to the cups are the tops. Fancy putting them in the actual cup dispenser. I wander around the store a little more. I’m supposed to be getting souvenirs for my wife. This is state #4 and I haven’t picked up anything yet. I look at the hats that she won’t wear. I pick up a tiny wooden replica of a lobster trap. Inside is a plastic crayfish. The stamping on the box reads, “I caught this crayfish in Lousianna for you.” There is also an alligator one. I decide not to get anything and head back outside. The young lady is still chuckling about the tops as the door closes behind me.
Today is a shorter day. We’re only going to San Antonio. The fog was supposed to be gone by 9 AM, but it lingered well past that although not nearly as heavy as last night. The first exit into Texas is on the border of Texas and Louisianna. It’s exit 880. The exits are numbered by mile making it 880 miles of Texas. The sign post ahead, just like in an episode of the Twilight Zone proclaims, “Proud home of President George W. Bush”. Only 880 miles to hold the gag-reflex in check.
Kenny Rogers says, “somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even.” but in this case the gambler burned an auto transport cars and all. Luckily it was right next to a weigh station and we were diverted through it.
San Antonio. Again we arrive in darkness. It’s been many years since I drove through but it comes back to me. I-10 is like a snake trying to wrap itself around its prey, the city itself. I rises and falls turns left then right. And traffic zooms through downtown at speeds close to 70 MPH even at night. The La Quinta here is on the South side of the highway. Mom calls me cause she’s lost. She got off the right road, but can’t find the hotel. San Antonio has a turnaround lane. If you need to be headed the other way on the frontage road you stay on the turnaround road. It has a cement barrier and you don’t even have to deal with the traffic lights. That’s the road mom should have been on. A little while later she calls again. She’s found the hotel and she’s trying to relay directions to me from the desk clerk. I only need to know one thing, which exit number? Neither mom, nor the clerk know and the one mom tells me the thinks it is, is already 30 miles behind me. Great. I begin looking much more closely at the exits, hoping that mom is wrong. San Antonio is not really a place I want to get lost in (again). I’ve already gotten off I-10 to try to figure out directions and ended up off a side road.
Finally I see my exit, 561 if I remember right, and to the left across the road, the La Quinta sign. I make the turnaround… sort of. I actually missed the turnaround road and end up on the regular surface street. A couple of lefts and a right onto Computer Road and I’m where I need to be. The desk clerk is outside sucking on nicotene laden smoke. I acknowledge him, “my mom didn’t drive you too crazy did she?” He assures me that she didn’t and I head on up to my room. It’s a decently sized room. Nothing hugely fancy, just nice enough. And this place has those punch card keys too.
We decide that it’s early enough – somewhere around 9:30 or so – to have dinner together. There is a busy “little” Mexican food place next door that we walk over to. Inside it’s not quite what we thought. Instead of taking your order and serving you at your table, you order at the counter on the way in. Essentially you order the main fillings that you want and grab the standards off the taco bar. And they’re soft tacos. The food is delicious, although the mild salsa is a little hotter than I would have hoped for.
Tonight we vow to get on the road by 8AM.
I’m up by 6. Mom and I had decided on breakfast by 7AM so I was well on my way by then. Denny’s sits right on same plot and I grab a table for two. Mom’s still getting ready so I start with coffee. Our waitress is young, fair skinned with strawberry-blonde hair held in place with Christmas ribbon. She carries a sadness below the surface that is almost covered by her thin smile. “Are you ready to order or are you still waiting for your friend?” I ponder the use of the term friend and tell her that I’m still waiting.
I sip my coffee as I watch the sky growing ever lighter outside the window. Our waitress bemoans the fall off in business and her daily tips to the old guy at the counter. He’s obviously a regular and feels no shame in asking her why she has money troubles. Outside a young couple kiss each other oblivious to the fact that poor Jessica’s mother writes her bad checks. The girl outside notices me and I pretend to not be watching them. Mom walks in and Jessica fills our coffee mugs. Her bells jingle at the back of her waistband, begging to be noticed as she walks away.
Mom makes a comment about how I seem to be fairly competent with the truck. Well, duh! It’s shorter than what I drive everyday. I sure as hell better be competent with it.
It’s still a long drive today and we manage to get on the road right at 8AM. The fog followed us to San Antonio. It faded away so slowly that I don’t remember when it was gone.
I don’t remember much of Texas. The mind has a way of erasing certain types of memories. What I remember most was the seemingly large number of small deer that lay on the sides of the road in various states of decay. With some there were drag marks from the middle of the travel lanes; gruesome rust colored streaks embedded with hair and bits of “jerky”. There were surprisingly few birds picking at the drying heaps of flesh and bone. Perhaps all the vultures and war hawks have moved to D.C.?
My brother tried calling me and I lost the signal twice before deciding to stop at a rest stop to take care of the phone call and some personal business. I think this is when my brother told me that the storage plans had changed. No longer will mom be able to store all her extra stuff at my brother’s in-laws, now we have to store it in Cottonwood. Not to worry though, my brother drove down, rented the unit and even bought a lock for it. To top it off, he got permission to park the truck in the parking lot of a nearby business overnight.
Texas rest stops, other than the big one at mile 880, are small. They are barely more than wide spots in the road with a couple of toilets and a few garbage cans. And what the hell does “Restroom Temporarily Closed” mean? How temporary? Crap. I get back in the truck to head out to the next rest stop.
El Paso means, “the pass”. As in passing from Mexico into the United States. There is only one Immigration check on our entire trip and El Paso is it. Traffic is diverted down to one lane and then off the road. A woman with her children is told to pull over to the “inspection lane” in front of me. The INS officer looks at me and asks, “Are you travelling local or one way today?”
“One way”, I respond.
“What’s in the truck?”
“Where are you heading?”
“So your mom’s moving?”
“Have a nice day.”
I must be getting better at this, I didn’t have to raise the door of the truck at all. But then, who smuggles drugs from Florida to the West Coast or Cubans to Arizona? That and there was an accident that commanded the attention of several agencies – including Border Patrol – just past the check point. Funny, I don’t even remember what happened there…
The only thing remotely remarkable about this stretch is that there are power generating windmills in West Texas. They range along the tops of some of the ridges and go for miles and miles. That and the small oil horses “grazing” in the fields – but I expected those.
El Paso. Daylight. Yes, we arrive during daylight hours. Mom calls me to tell me which La Quinta to go to. There are two across the road from each other like a hotel version of Starbucks. Apparently, she went to the wrong one but manages to get our reservations moved across the street. Good thing too, cause I didn’t really want to drive all that extra way. Tonight, it’s Chili’s for dinner. It’s across the (heavily travelled) road from the hotel. While dinner was good, they managed to be out of mom’s favorite wine. She settled on an Irish coffee for dessert instead. Over dinner we discuss the last segment of our trip. “How far do we have to go tomorrow, mom?”
“It’s about the same as today.”
I slump emotionally. I have had this number in my head, 444 miles. It’s wrong. It came from my original travel and stopping suggestions. Mom has since modified it. I have gotten into the habit of not needing to know more than a day’s worth of travelling since I do it all the time. Planning too far ahead means that I don’t know where I’m going since groups constantly change stopping points and often have to stop at “unscheduled” places – to eat dinner for instance. And now it means that the last leg is over 500 miles. There is an anxiousness, anticipation that occurs when you know that you are close to your goal. When you know that if you drive just a little faster you will be done that much sooner. It’s that feeling that comes over you knowing that there are only 30 miles to go in Texas, then 20. I was almost getting to that feeling… and then there were 100 more miles than I thought. At least somewhere in there you gain an hour, the time zone goes from Central to Mountain.
Texas finally disappears into the rear view mirror. New Mexico peels by the window. Somewhere on day five I stop at a gas station. The little “town” is no more than an off ramp and housing for the prison workers. There used to be a Texaco station here, but someone spray painted the sign black and took out the fuel pumps. The one gas station that I did find was decrepit and had the kind of restrooms that one thinks about when hearing, “Gas station washroom”. The pumps didn’t have a credit card reader so I had to walk inside and drop the card on the counter. I fueled up managing to spill some diesel because the nozzle was missing a screw where it fastens to the handle. When the tank is full, I wander back inside to get another pack of Big Red gum and a coffee. It’s dejá vú all over again. I can’t find the tops for this coffee cup. I look around. I find the tops for the cold cups, but none for the coffee cups. I ask the girl behind the counter who is busily texting the girl on the other side of the counter where the tops are. She points to them. Right there, next to the cups. I’m going to stop buying coffee in these places if they won’t keep the lids out where people can get them.
I place my purchases on the counter. $2.48. Huh? “I fueled up, too.” She was so busy texting that she forgot that I had filled the tank on that big truck out there. $108.(something). Yeah, more like it. And then she did something amazing. This girl, in this crapstation, in this town of 50, asked for my ID. I show it to her and finish the transaction. I get back in the truck and fire it up. OK… the highway’s this way? I start down the ill-maintained road. Nope. I start to turn around in the abandonded ex-Texaco and notice a sign, “Horse Motel.” Man, these people are weird.
Arizona. Almost home. A mere five hours away. The wind is blowing; not as badly as it gets sometimes, but enough to blow some dust into the air. (Someone once told me a riddle that goes, “Why is New Mexico so windy? Because Texas sucks.” It very well could have applied here.) There are tumbleweeds too. Not the little ones like you see in the movies or in cartoons. These are as big as VW Bugs. I’m going to tell you a secret about tumbleweeds. Lean in close… when you see one headed across the road at you, check your mirrors for traffic to your sides, you may have to adjust your speed or change lanes. If it looks like the tumbleweed is going to end up in your lane you “Tom Delay”. I mean mufuggin’ hammer down baby! You push that accelerator through the freaking floorboard and watch the tumbleweed disinigrate like the Death Star3. Sure there will be pieces of dried vegetation in your grill, but they are brittle plants and hitting won’t hurt you, getting half a dozen cars up your tail pipe will. Looking behind me I noticed that not everyone knows this secret. A couple of cars stopped and others had to slam on their brakes to avoid crumpling themselves and the other drivers at 70 MPH. Tire smoke hung in the air and I looked forward again. In that same stretch of road, headed East a tractor trailer was involved in some kind of accident. I felt lucky to be headed West. That is until the guy running around in the road to pick something up out of the road – and it wasn’t even his, he dragged it out of the travel lanes and then left it there. I think I used the brakes more between Tucson and Phoenix than I did the whole prior day.
Phoenix. Not much to say about Phoenix except that I am glad it’s Saturday. It is isn’t it? I mentally count the days that I’ve been on the road. That’s not enough, I have to check the date on my phone. Yep, pretty sure that it’s Saturday. I check in with home a few times, giving updates on my progress. The truck only does 70 MPH and Arizona is 75 MPH out here. The miles are going by faster than my estimate which is fine by me. My wife is supposed to pick me up in Cottonwood once I drop the truck off so I call her just outside Phoenix. It should be about the same amount of time for both of us from there.
When I get to Cottonwood my mom isn’t here yet. My wife isn’t here either. I climb out of the cab of the truck onto my jelly legs again. My phone rings. I have to give directions to my wife. My phone rings again, it’s mom. She needs directions, too.
Next installment: The Unloading
1 – La Quinta, Spanish for, “you want fries with that?”
2 – I would probably have mentioned her anyway as she was quite an attractive blonde.
3 – When I drove from Florida to Arizona the first time I towed a Toyota Corolla behind my Ford Escort, we encountered driving rain in Texas, the kind that blows at you horizontally. Visibility is next to zero and a tumbleweed the size of the car I was drive came right for us. I didn’t have time to swerve or brake. The impact sent shards of tumbleweed into the wind leaving us unharmed.