My family has always been a driving family. Whenever we would take a vacation, mom, dad, me and my two sisters would pile into the car and head out, usually long before the crack of dawn. We drove to the East Coast, to the Grand Canyon and to and from Texas more times than I can recall. So, when the time came to move, it only seemed natural to drive myself, my stuff and my cat across country. This is my story.
3 Days, 32 Hours and 1,730 Miles
or How I Learned to Love Driving With My Cat: Part One
October 12, 1999
It seemed so easy. The plan seemed almost foolproof.
I would fly out to Los Angeles, California, to look for a job and a place to live. Three weeks later, I would fly back to Kansas City to pack up all my belongings, cram them into a Ryder truck, put my car on a trailer to be towed behind, put my cat in the cab and schlep it all out to L.A., a mere 1,730 miles away.
Easing my transition would be my friends Brooke and Charlie Dillman who had offered to put me up in their apartment for those three weeks while I looked for jobs and a place to live. And the strategy, indeed, appeared to be going as planned. In the process of sifting through nearly 100 potential apartments (only a handful of which did I actually get to see, the overwhelming majority simply being phone numbers connecting me to answering machines and less-than-helpful would-be landlords), I stumbled upon a very cool studio apartment in a terrific neighborhood that I could move into as soon as I returned to L.A. with my car, cat and belongings.
So I was in high spirits when I landed at KCI on Sept. 21, just three weeks after I had left the city to pursue my dreams of writing for a living. All I had to do in the following 3 1/2 days was finish packing my belongings, load them into a truck and hit the highway. So simple, so streamlined was my strategy that I almost grinned with self-satisfaction.
But if Mrs. Van Wagoner's senior English class at Shawnee Mission East taught me anything, it was that hubris has unpleasant consequences. Always.
The first sign that things might not unfold as I had envisioned was the trucks and workers I saw just around the corner from my mother's condominium when my friend Bob Dusin, who had been kind enough to pick me up from the airport, dropped me at my mom's. About four buildings away, a crew of roofers were removing sun-bleached shingles with pry bars and pitchforks (indeed, they wielded pitchforks) in preparation for a brand new layer of red-brown cedar shingles. Though I noticed the work being done, I processed the information no further, entering my former abode and setting myself to the task of boxing up the rest of my belongings.
Later that day, I noticed the memo sent to my mother regarding the replacement of the roofs on both the condo buildings and their adjacent carports. Misreading the dates listed, I sighed a relief that the workers would not be conflicting with my moving plans.
Only hours later, through clarification from my mother, I realized that -- as fate would have it -- the workers would more than likely be ripping up the roof of my mom's condo as well as the carport immediately in front in the next few days: the exact time that I needed to move.
The roofers, in an incredible display of synchronicity needed to park their trucks and trailers in front of my mother's condo at the same time I needed to park my Ryder truck there. My plan of moving my belongings into the truck on mid-afternoon Friday with the help of my friend Steve Jones (or at least getting a good start on moving) was easily thwarted by the roofers who set up camp outside mom's front door.
"Certainly, they'll finish around five o'clock," I thought, optimistic at midday on Friday. "Five is a normal quitting time." So my auxiliary plan was to do some of the big packing (those things that required two people, like my bed, my dressers, etc.) between about five and seven that evening. You see, I had plans to have dinner with friends that evening. We were going to meet at Margarita's for (naturally) margaritas and Mexican food at around seven-thirty. I thought Bob Dusin would be able to assist me, and then he and I could go down to Margarita's, triumphantly filled with a sense of accomplishment.
You see, my original plan was to leave KC very early on Saturday morning (Sept. 25), like around six or seven, and try to make it as far as Albuquerque, New Mexico (900 miles and about 14 hours later), if I could, on that first day. As I figured it, that would leave only about 16 hours of driving to be split between the next two days, allowing me to arrive back in Los Angeles on Monday (Sept. 27) before noon and could be moved in by Monday evening. It seemed completely possible. With the extra hour courtesy of Mountain Time, I would arrive in Albuquerque by about eight Saturday evening, mere minutes after sundown. Perfect. Easy.
Come five-thirty Friday evening, it was obvious that the roofers were not about to quit. Oh no, they seemed content to work until it was too dark to safely drive nails.
"All right," I thought, adjusting my plan to fit the situation. "I'll just do my loading early tomorrow and hopefully get on the road before noon. I'll at least be able to drive eight or nine hours and make the New Mexico border."
At dinner that night, I tried to encourage my friends to assist my moving the next morning and got a few takers. Bob Dusin, who had been willing to help me had I needed him that evening, informed me the next morning was out of the question, as he would be driving up to Iowa to watch his K-State Wildcats take on the Iowa State Cyclones. But a few of my friends said they would help: Paul Treacy, Jane Loutzenhiser (who said she would not be able to arrive until after ten) and Trish Berrong.
For reasons that are still mysterious to me, I didn't think to call either of my sisters to try to recruit them and their strapping young menfolk (one husband and one boyfriend, respectively) to my cause. Got no good reason for that. Guess I'm not too bright sometimes.
So anyway, I figured three or four people would be able to make fairly quick work out of my meager belongings. After all, I had less than two rooms of stuff. Proving my optimism is often difficult to crush.
At around seven Saturday morning I began shuttling some of the boxes out of my mom's basement (my former living space) to the truck in front. I had taken special care to sweep the area for loose nails (finding a half-dozen potential tire killers) and had moved the truck into position long before the roofers returned. They would have to work around me, instead of the other way around.
At around nine, Paul Treacy showed up, with his dog Digger in tow. Mom had been nice enough to buy some bagels and cream cheese in expectation of a small army of helpers. Needless to say, she too was a victim of my now-waning optimism.
By ten-thirty, it was becoming obvious that Trish Berrong had forgotten her offer of help and Jane still hadn't arrived. Paul, the trouper that he was, and I did the majority of the moving. Mom assisted and eventually Jane showed up. With Jane's arrival, Paul was allowed to leave, having other appointments that very morning. So the moving proceeded apace with me and Jane quickly emptying my mother's basement of my goods. The process was only briefly derailed by Jane locking her keys in her car. But as soon as Jane's keys had again been liberated from the confines of her vehicle, the moving was completed.
With the hands of the clock fast approaching noon, my positive outlook was taking a beating. Paul's words shortly before he exited rang in my head, "I'm not very optimistic about your ability to fit all this in a studio apartment." God bless Paul Treacy's directness.
"Yeah," I admitted. "I'm becoming less and less confident that will happen." I sighed. "Oh well, I can always throw shit away."
So here at nearly noon, with a few quick errands to run before loading my car onto the trailer and putting my traveling circus on the road, I was exhausted but still certain I could put some miles behind me. Besides, a few things were looking up. Though my mom's condo complex normally only had one entrance/exit at 75th Street, because the roofers had big trucks with trailers (my brethren!), they had taken down the chains the blocked the other entrance onto Nall. (Apparently, this passage had been sealed when too many cars used the condo parking lot to avoid the light at 75th & Nall.) I realized that if the roofers could take the chains down, I wouldn't have to devise a way to turn the truck and trailer around after loading my car onto the trailer. I could drive it out the other side of the condo complex! Simplicity!
After dashing off to grab some cash, bungee cord (to secure my load, so to speak) and a bite of lunch, I turned to the task of putting the car on the trailer.
A few technical words about the car trailer: There's this great bit of engineering that assists one in loading one's car onto this trailer. You see, there are these 12-foot ramps that extend from the bed of the trailer. (The very same technology that makes drawers such a convenience!) A person slides them out so he/she can drive his/her car up onto the trailer, then he/she slides the ramps back in and drives away. It is the simplest of concepts.
Well, the person who had rented this trailer before me must have been very enthusiastic about sliding those retractable ramps back into their slots. Very enthusiastic.
Still confident that I could get on the road within the hour, I backed my Ryder truck up to the trailer and connected it just as the plump man at Bledsoe's Rentals had instructed me. All the connections were made with ease. "See," I thought, "things are looking up." The trailer was hooked up. I could now just drive my car up onto it, secure it there and hit the road.
After extending the passenger side ramp, I turned my attention to the driver side. You see, there's this little spring-loaded latch that makes sure the ramp doesn't slide out of its cubby. And one must press that down while tugging on the looped strap handle. It had worked so well and so smoothly with the ramp on the passenger side, I was a little startled when I met with resistance on the driver side. Checking to make sure that I had released the latch all the way before tugging on the strap, I again pulled, fully expecting the ramp to extend from its hiding place.
Again, the ramp didn't budge.
"Okay," I thought, "it's jammed. I just need to shake it loose." So I rattled the ramp side to side a bit and pulled again. Again, nothing. Not the slightest give. So I rattled it again and pulled again. And then rattled and pulled. Rattled and pulled. And rattled and rattled and rattled and pulled. And...
"FUCK!" The word exploded out of me, startling my mother who had helped me pilot the truck into place. "I don't need this right now!"
My frustration at not being on the road by my chosen time was rising. My four hours of sleep and the physical fatigue of schlepping my crap up a flight of stairs and into a truck only added to my delicate mood. Trying to regain some composure, I crawled under the trailer to give a look-see, to find out just what in the name of all that is holy was keeping this god-forsaken ramp from extending.
Technical words about the car trailer, part deux: In order to keep the ramp from sliding too far back in its little cubby slot, the engineers of said trailer had installed a little bumper of sorts to halt its inward progress. The "bumper" was merely a bolt, about the thickness of my ring finger, screwed into the back "wall" of the cubby slot and bent in a J-shape, so that the ramp would butt against the curve of the "J." Simple technology once again.
In the aforementioned enthusiasm of the previous renter, this ramp had been jammed so forcefully back into its place that it had ridden up on the bent bolt, jamming the back end of the ramp between this bolt and the deck of the trailer. Oh yeah, and there was some rust, too, which seemingly was serving as a bonding material between the bolt and the ramp and the ramp and the deck.
Pounding the area with a hammer only hurt my ears. Shouting obscenities did little more than upset my mother. So I returned to pounding and tugging, alternately. Then to pounding while my mother tugged. Neither of these approaches worked. Even spraying the area with a gratuitous amount of WD-40 seemed futile. My mother's suggestion of taking the trailer back to the rental place to see if they could fix it (or replace it) was completely unappealing to me. The process of driving to and from, plus the time it would take to either fix or replace, would push my departure back another hour.
It was looking less and less like I would get on the road.
© 2002 Jeff Drake