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 Two
November 9, 1999
A few notes before I begin part two: First off, I am sorry for the delay in sending part two. I have no excuse for that other than a really cool computer game I got off a free CD. Secondly, I must apologize to Jane Loutzenhiser. Though I spelled her name accurately (no small feat that), I did misrepresent her in the story, as she reminded me in an e-mail. "YOU WHORE! YOU LITERARY WHORE, YOU! I was reading along, weeping for you, until I got to my honorable mention, or, rather, not-so-honorable mention, as it were," Jane wrote. "For depicting me as a late-arriving, key-locking fool, I offer no thanks....I did, in fact, arrive close to 10:00, as I promised (prob. 10:15 at the latest). I remember this because I had to be somewhere else around that time, and I called from your house to postpone, and checked the time. I thought, 'That silly Jeff Drake will say whatever necessary to exaggerate his plight. Anything for a good story to write. Of course he doesn't mention that I was late because I ran 14 miles at 6:30 a.m., but instead that I locked my keys in the damn car!'"
Jane is, of course, correct, and I apologize. In my own defense, however, I will note that Paul Treacy had no problem with his depiction in the story, writing, "Thanks also for including me by name and work ethic." Although he was "half worried that this long list of people on your address list will now consider me an eager box- and furniture-mover." Paul did lose points, however, for referring to my cat as "Mr. Whiskers." My lovely cat's name is Myrna.
When last we left our hero he was staring angrily at his rented car trailer, having seemingly been defeated by the cruel fates of moving. His mother was startled by his near-rhapsodic repetition of the word "fuck." And the sun was beginning its downward slide in the sky. Would he be able to load his car onto the trailer? Would he get on the road at all? Would this snag in his unraveling plan only portend further troubles?
All these questions and more will be answered...
With my optimism having completely deserted me (though its departure was clearly marked by a trail of blood), I was beyond clear thought. I was frustrated, I was angry, I was disappointed. I just wanted the whole ordeal to be over. My mother, while sincerely trying to help, kept offering options, posing them as questions. "Maybe you could pry it with something? Have you tried calling Amy and Bob? Liz and Josh? Your father? Maybe Dick could help you? Do you have to leave today?" I couldn't answer any of them and the asking was only frustrating me more.
"I think I just need to take a shower and sit quietly for a few moments to gather my thoughts," I said in a calm, measured voice. Or at least, I tried to make it calm and measured. My voice may have, in fact, sounded quite crazed. You'd have to ask mom about that.
Luckily, I had packed clothes and toiletries for my trip and left those easily accessible at the very back of the truck. I took my shower, changed clothes, then sat in my now empty room, on the floor, with my back against the bare wall. It was a little startling to me how close to tears I was. The frustration was so great at that point that I felt captured by inertia. I weighed the option of simply waiting until Sunday morning to leave. That way I could retain my original timetable only a day later.
There were a few aspects of that option that were unappealing to me. The first was simply that I would be waiting another day to get on the road. For whatever reason, I was itching to put my plan into motion. I was excited to get moved into my new place and to put my full efforts toward finding a job writing or editing for someone out there. Another strike against the plan of waiting a day was my rental agreement. I had rented the truck and hell-spawned trailer for seven days. And since I had picked them up on the previous Wednesday, they would be due on Tuesday. If I waited a day to start my trek, I would be arriving in L.A. on Tuesday, which would leave me with little or no room for error. By this time, I was utterly convinced that something unfortunate would happen during my trip and I really needed to have the cushion of an extra day.
No, I wouldn't wait a day. Somehow, some way I would get that son of a bitch of ramp extended and get on the road. I WOULD leave today.
Squeaky clean and reinvigorated with determination, I grabbed my hammer and my mother's hammer and climbed the stairs. Since I couldn't find a prybar to rend that bastard ramp free, I had decided to use mother's very sturdy metal hammer. Unlike my hammer, the entire thing was metal, shaft and all. It had a comforting weight that reassured me of its usefulness and informed me that if indeed it wouldn't work as a prybar it certainly would fly far when I threw that bitch as hard as I could toward the heavens.
I didn't say a word as I walked out of my mother's condo toward my nemesis, the truck and trailer. With a hammer in each hand, I felt like a gunslinger in the Old West. The Spanish patter of the roofers only added to the illusion. A tumbleweed would have been nice right about then. Or a lone wolf howling in the wind. Instead, it was the flatulence of a pitchfork wielding roofer that I heard. And laughter.
Grim determination welled up in me, bringing with it the flecked foam of my previous frustration. "This has to work," I thought. "If not, I'm out of ideas."
Not leaving myself any time to contemplate the possible failure of my plan, I quickly slid under the trailer, wedging my mother's hammer in place and using the head of my wood-shafted hammer as a fulcrum. I steeled myself to press with all my might. But before I could even work up a decent effort, the ramp sprung free. It happened so suddenly, so anticlimactically, that I was almost disappointed. As if, to further the gunslinger image, I got out to face the bad guy in a shootout and right before I went for my gun he dropped dead of natural causes.
But my disappointment vanished quickly as my optimism lifted itself off the operating table, out of the very jaws of death, and reasserted itself. It wasnąt yet two o'clock. I could salvage my plan. I was going to get on the road after all.
"The WD-40 worked," I said triumphantly upon reentering mother's condo. "I guess it just needed to sink in."
"Well, good," she said.
With mother's help, I steered my classic 1985 Toyota Tercel hatchback onto the trailer. As promised, the ramps worked like a dream, once extended of course. I secured the front tires to the trailer as the plump rental expert had informed me and pulled the truck, now with trailer in tow, closer to my mom's condo. All I had left was to load the cab of the truck with travel necessities: my map, my CD player, my cat Myrna, Myrna's litter box, Myrna's food and water.
With Myrna and her stuff tucked into the cab of the truck, I went to make sure that I could pull out of the opposite (and normally chained off) entrance to the condo complex. While the chains had been down earlier and the path to freedom fairly clear of other trucks and cars, I wanted to make sure before I put the truck in a spot I couldn't easily free it from. Already I had worries that I would have to figure out a way to turn that bad boy around, trailer and all. It would be an ugly proposition and one strictly against the information given to me by the gasoline-scented men at Bledsoe's Rental. Clearly spelled out in bold-faced, capital letters, one pamphlet read: "NEVER BACK THE TRUCK UP WITH THE TRAILER ATTACHED!"
Leaving the truck and trailer blatantly in the way of anyone who might want to visit my mother or her neighbors, I walked over to the "forbidden entrance" and found the chains back up. On my way back around to my mother's condo building, I ran into a trio of roofers. One was obviously the bossman, as he seemed to be doing almost no work versus the stacking and moving the other two men were engaged in.
"Hello," I said, walking up to The Man Who Would Be Boss, who looked like a slightly thinner Keith Hernandez (for you baseball or Seinfeld fans out there). "I was wondering if you could take down the chain over there. You see, I'm moving and I've got a big truck with my car on a trailer behind it, and I really can't back it up, and there's really nowhere in the complex where I could possibly turn it around. And I saw that the chain was down earlier, so I was wondering if you could take the chain down for me so I could just pull my truck and trailer through and not have to worry about how I would turn it around or back it up. I would really appreciate it."
Surprisingly, it wasn't until all the way up to the phrase "I would really appreciate it" that it dawned on me that English was not this man's first language.
"You want the chain down?" he asked earnestly in heavily accented English.
Bidding my mother adieu, I climbed into the cab of the truck, waved goodbye to the nice Mexican roofer at the gate and pulled onto the road. It was two-thirty. "Only 28 hours to go," I said aloud, already mistaken about the duration of the trip.
For a three-day, thirty-two-hour trip cross country with my cat and myself crammed into the cab of a Ryder truck and my car in tow, the trip was fairly uneventful. Oh sure, Myrna didn't sleep, eat, drink water, or use the cat litter box while we were on the road (and performed these tasks only sparingly while in the hotel room), but the weather was gorgeous for the entire trip. Hardly a cloud in the sky and only occasional bouts of stiff cross-winds.
I made it to Dodge City, Kansas, on the first day. It took me eight hours and I found a Holiday Inn with a gigantic parking lot (the primary factor in finding a place for the night) and a back entrance (so no one would be the wiser to the nature of my traveling companion). After a quick check-in with my mom and my girlfriend, I hit the sack in preparation for an even more hellish day on the road on Day Two.
To tell the truth, I was a little upset that I hadn't made it out of Kansas on Day One. So my plan was to drive like a sumbitch on Sunday to make up for that lost time. Though I got on the road before the sun rose and I had the additional blessing of Mountain Time to give me an extra hour of daylight traveling, I couldn't do much more than 14 hours on Sunday.
You see, here's the thing: I was trying to make the trip not so hard on my cat. And I really thought that after a while she would adjust to being on the road and simply go about her normal daily cat doings, that is, sleeping. But this was not the case. She didn't yowl as much as I had feared, but she never settled down. When she wasn't sitting in my lap insisting that I pet her and pet her and pet her, she was wandering around the cab of the truck. She sat under my seat for awhile. Between my legs. She crawled behind me into a space which didn't allow her to turn around. There she meowed and meowed until I coaxed her into backing up (not a natural movement for a cat). She walked back and forth on the dashboard. Luckily, the windshield was so gosh-darn huge that I could still see an adequate portion of the road. For a while, she even laid down on the dashboard.
But there was no sleeping. There was no letting up of the nervous tension.
Surprisingly, it wasn't my sleepiness that kept me from driving more than 14 hours on Sunday. It was my legs. After loading all my shit into the truck on the day before, the soreness began to sink in about midday on Sunday. From that point on, driving became more and more painful. That combined with the fact that my cat had not gone to the bathroom in 14 hours (and seemed extraordinarily agitated there in the final hours) kept me from making it to Flagstaff, Arizona: my target for that day.
Instead, I stopped 90 miles east of there in Holbrook. I was sad that I couldn't at least make it to Winslow, down I-40 another 93 miles, so that I could properly "take it easy" without the sound of my own wheels driving me crazy. But Holbrook it was, and I pulled in to the Ramada Inn parking lot at just a little after eight o'clock.
Funny thing: There on the door to my room was a sign, as big as a bumper sticker, "No Pets." I opened the door and put Myrna's stuff in there anyway. "They can kick me out," I thought. "Like to see 'em try."
Though I hadn't had dinner, I didn't feel like leaving the room. I was too damn tired. I did, however, bring a few beers up from the truck (which I had thoughtfully packed at the back in a cooler), and after getting a tub full of ice, I chilled a couple Boulevard Pale Ales and settled in for a little TV. I was disturbed to find out that there in Arizona it was already Pacific Time. So it wasn't a little after eight as I had thought driving up, but only a little after seven.
This put a severe cramp in my next day's driving. I knew that I'd have to drive at least another nine hours. I also knew that I had told my friends Brooke and Charlie that I'd be arriving in town between three and four. Looking at the map and doing a little math (not easy after 14 hours on the road and two beers on an empty stomach), I realized that my trek on the following day would be closer to ten hours long. If I could get on the road by six, I could make it to L.A. by four in the afternoon, but then I'd have to make it from the city limits to Brooke and Charlie's. And I'd have to do that at the beginning of rush hour.
Another wrinkle in the plan was the knowledge that the office at the apartment building I was moving into closed at five. That left me with only 60 minutes of wiggle room.
Try as I might, I couldn't get on the road any earlier than six that next morning. Though I got up at quarter till five, by the time I loaded the truck, checked out of the room and got gas, it was a few minutes before six. But I was determined to make it. Even though at the beginning of my journey I was a little leery of driving the truck at much over 55 mph. (A sign on the trailer insisted that 45 mph would be the fastest one should go while towing anything. At that speed the trip would have taken me nearly 39 hours.) By later in the day I was comfortable with 60-65 mph. By Sunday, 70 seemed OK, and the speed limit in New Mexico and Arizona was 75, so I was still being conservative.
I started doing math calculations in my head to figure out how much time I was saving by going 65-plus instead of 55. I figured that might make the difference between me getting to the apartment in time and missing my window of opportunity.
It was right around noon when I reached Blythe, California, just over the Arizona border and just east of the southern part of the Mojave Desert. I stopped for a little break and some pizza (Blythe is a bad town for pizza), and reassured myself I could make it in time.
There was one thing that might thwart me: a California law. Though the speed limit in California was 65, trucks and vehicles towing anything were instructed to go 55.
Even with that against me, I was confident I could still make it to the apartment before they closed at five. I'm not sure what made me so confident of this. My ass hurt from two and a half days of driving. My nerves were frazzled. But...
Myrna walked up to her food bowl and ate some food. Then, she had some water.
It doesn't sound like much, but she hadn't done either of those things while in the truck at all. She hadn't as much as sniffed her food. And then, after we got back on the road, she curled up in the passenger seat and WENT TO SLEEP. After 27 hours of driving, I guess she finally figured out "No, I guess we're not going to the vet," and she relaxed. In fact, she slept for the final five hours of the trip.
That seemed like a positive sign. "I'm going to make it," I said to myself. "I think I'm going to make it."
At first, while driving through the desert, I stayed within a few miles per hour of the speed limit, nervous about flouting the law so carelessly, so intentionally. But my speed increased as I went. By the time I emerged from the desert, I was fully convinced that no one followed the suggestion of 55 mph for trucks or vehicles towing something. After all, trucks and other vehicles towing things were passing me. Even though I was going 65, I was still being passed.
And now, I couldn't slow down. I was too close and the clock was ticking away too quickly.
Through congested traffic and poorly paved roads I made my way closer and closer to my destination. Six miles from my exit, mere minutes away from my goal I saw the flashing red and blue lights in my side mirror. I looked at the clock: four-thirty. So close and yet so far.
After guiding me off the freeway, Officer Eklund was kind enough, chatting with me about the Chiefs, inquiring about where I was moving to, and writing me a ticket, all at the same time. What a talent! He told me that he pulled me over for driving a truck in the "number two lane" (of five total lanes). That is, the second lane from the left. Doing that while driving a truck and trailer was against the law.
"How am I supposed to know that?" I asked him.
"There are signs posted," Officer Eklund said kindly, then he added sternly, "get your hand out of you pocket." In my discomfort at being pulled over and my haste to get to my destination, I had begun to fidget with my keys in my pocket. Officer Eklund obviously thought I might be threatening him.
"Sorry," I said. (And incidentally, to this day, I haven't seen one of those mystery signs the officer spoke of.)
The "driving in the number two lane" violation, Officer Eklund informed me, was a "trucker violation" and therefore carried a $400 price tag. Apparently seeing my eyes pop out of their sockets, the good officer then informed me that the ticket for speeding (going 65 mph while driving a truck and trailer) was about $200.
"Which would you rather have?" he asked.
I laughed. "I get to choose?"
Needless to say, I chose the $200 ticket (which I can have expunged from my record by attending traffic school -- not an option with the "trucker violation") and went on my merry way. At quarter after five I pulled up to my apartment building. Of course, no one was in the office. So I went over to Brooke and Charlie's. Relieved that I wasn't dead on the highway, Brooke and Charlie offered to let me stay in their apartment that night, thus allowing me to move into my apartment the following day.
Despite the ticket and missing my opportunity to get moved in on Monday as I had planned. I was relieved to be in town. And things really started looking up: I found a place (three parking spaces wide) to park my truck and trailer right in front of Brooke and Charlie's. AND Brooke had made a big ol' pot roast and potatoes dinner. That delicious comfort food took a little of the sting away. That and the beer.
Yes, things were looking up. I would get moved in on Tuesday and all would be right with the world.
Naturally, when the morning came, I discovered that I got a $45 ticket for parking where I did.
EPILOGUE: So I'm all moved in now. After long hours of lugging my belongings up the one flight of stairs to my apartment, Brooke and I got all my stuff in order. The apartment is lovely and my cat is back on her normal sleeping/eating/defecating cycle. The $45 ticket was dismissed (I had been cited as a "commercial" vehicle parking in a residential neighborhood). And I guess all I have left to do is go to traffic school and take care of that $271 ticket (a bit more than Officer Eklund intimated), plus the $29 for traffic school. But you're all welcome to come visit some time. It's a nice neighborhood, and they've even put my name on the front door buzzer, right there in black label tape: DRAKS.
Ah well, that's close enough.
© 1999, 2002 Jeff Drake