Friday, May 14, 2010

Drive, part 6- the last

Day Four on the Road was barely even mentionable.  For goodness sake I didn’t even leave til noon.  And then I had to stop at Chick Fil A.  I have been wanting Chick Fil A for MONTHS and I was not passing it by (the closes Chick Fil A to my apartment in Colorado is two hours away).  But I only had to get to Lebanon, Tennessee, but a hop, skip, a jump and three and a half hours away.  I did stop for a nap at a rest stop, which was when I realized that it was the first time in this whole production that I was sleepy on the road.  That’s unusual for me, I usually am sleepy a LOT when I’m driving.  Maybe it was the fear of plummeting to a fiery death, but I hadn’t had any trouble with drowsiness til that day.  Anyway. We all had a lovely nap and arrived in Lebanon around 4:30.  I stayed there two nights, saw some friends, drank yummy Wallaby Darns at Outback, and was finally ready to approach the finish line.

I should say that, had my trip been a week later, I would not have even made it to Lebanon.  The flooding closed down I-40 and has wreaked havoc in Nashville.  I am grateful that I was able to avoid consequences of the flood and my thoughts are with those who could not.

Day Five arrived and for the last time I corralled the two fat cats into their carrier, coaxed Max into the back seat, and took off for my final destination.  It was mostly a familiar drive, one I made from Memphis many times to visit my parents when they lived in Asheville.  Much of the drive went by in a blur of familiar and unrecognized, old and new (and one more trip to Chick Fil A).  And then I was here.

I’ve been here just over a week now (at the time of writing, not publishing), and this is the first time I’ve put my hands on the keyboard to do what I came here to do.  As if the weight of the decision to come here made actually approaching the task too difficult.  Or too important and therefore dangerous.  Or too real, and actually trying would make me vulnerable to failure.  But it’s always possible it was just laziness.

And I know I lived in it for 32 years, but people I must have blocked out the memory like a woman who inexplicably agrees to give birth a second time.  It’s HOT here. And humid.  My hair is freaking out about my choice of location, let me tell you. It’s much bigger, wavier (nearly curly), and stays cleaner longer.

I’ve gotten a job doing contract work so I can pay my bills, feed my pets, keep beer in the fridge and highlights in my hair.  Work was definitely be easier to come by here, and I will likely be able to take a bite out of my debt and bank some savings.

So.  As predicted, the drive did change my life.  But I suspect it will be a while before we know how, and to what end.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Drive, part 5

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it 
This brokenness inside me might start healing 
Out here it’s like I’m someone else 
I thought that maybe I could find myself… 

If I can walk around I swear I’ll leave 
Won’t take nothin but a memory 
From the house that built me  
-Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”  

Day Three I awoke still tired but excited.  It was Memphis Day.  I hadn’t been home since I left three years ago, and I couldn’t wait.  I cranked up my playlist of Memphis-related tunes and hit the road again.

I also should confess that during the course of these three days I serially and spree-ly murdered ELEVENTY MILLION bugs with my windshield.  I got on Interstate 40 and I drove.  I would not be deterred. The interstate in eastern Oklahoma looks like the interstate in Tennessee… things were starting to look familiar. I was in Arkansas soon, and of course Arkansas is just right there across the river from Memphis, so it was like I was almost home, but then it takes like five hours to get across Arkansas, but I didn’t care because I was going home, and pretty soon it was Little Rock and I must have been flying, because I swear to God before I even knew it I was in West Memphis, and then there it was! The bridge. And the skyline.  And I was home.  It was home.

The very first thing I noticed was that Memphis has a lot of trees.  It’s not just Memphis, at all, because I notice it here in Charlotte too, but Memphis is where it hit me.  Colorado has trees, but it’s just not the same as big giant trees with their branches reaching out across the street to each other making a giant canopy under which you drive.  And everything was crazy green—I had left winter behind and found summer in a matter of days.

I drove past my last house and wished I could pull into the driveway and retake it.  I drove through my favorite neighborhoods, and the University, and the old gas station my friend and I used to call “the Cute Guy BP” because so many cuties worked there.  It’s a Shell now, and I did not find myself attracted to any of the employees.  By five o’clock I was pulling into my friend’s driveway—my earliest arrival of my three day journey.

Over the next three days I visited some of my favorite restaurants, listened to live music on Beale Street, ate a foot long corn dog, met a man who has driven a cab in Memphis for sixty years, was served breakfast by the same server that waited on us fifteen years ago on hungover college mornings, hugged lots of old friends, and laughed my ass off at old and new memories.  Some of which is a topic for its own essay, and much of which should not be published in a public forum.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Drive, part 4

From May 2010... 

Day Two arrived and I had rallied.  This would be the day.  Lots of flat, straight roads to be driven this day.  No fear of careening off a cliff to a firey death.

And by God if I didn’t get exactly what I wanted.  Highway 84 took me from I-25 to I-40, and it was perfection.  Straight for miles and miles.  An occasional passing pickup, but mostly I was out there alone.  It was, dare I say it, transformative and peaceful.  No major self-discovery in that forty mile stretch or anything, but I certainly felt renewed.

Until I hit I-40, and was forced to stop for gas at the most expensive gas station from here to Tarnation.  Or at least from here to Colorado.  And the spell was broken.  But I was hopeful.

As I headed toward Texas, I wasconsidering Route 66.  Lots of cool roadside stuff there, right?  Cheesy Americana was just what I needed.  I gave it a shot.
What I found were sad, boarded up businesses, slow speed limits, and lots of stop lights.  Although the lady that worked the drive through at McDonald’s was super nice and called me “Sweetie” when she handed me my Diet Coke.  Route 66 slowed me down and depressed me, but there were some things like the Cadillac Ranch that I wanted to see on the other side of Amarillo.

Determined to see something, ANYTHING, that could be called a roadside attraction I instead became one.  Before I even got to Amarillo, while changing lanes my rear passenger side tire blew out.  Fortunately I had no trouble pulling off onto the shoulder, and I thanked God repeatedly this happened in Texas with lovely cell phone service and no cliff from which to plummet.  Also fortunately, and thanks to an icy issue from two weeks prior, I had just joined AAA.  My GPS quite handily gave me my exact location to share with the AAA operator and the tire-changing man was on his way.

Also fortunately, for all of us, my spare tire is on the back of my car, and was not buried under everything I own.  I waited about an hour from blow out to the arrival of Randy, who changed my tire and told me how to get to a tire retailer.  I thanked him and was on my way again.

I didn’t want to buy a new tire.  My spare tire is a real tire, not a donut, and I didn’t want to spend the time and money to get a new tire.  I really really didn’t.  I texted my sister and asked if I really had to.  She said she didn’t know but thought I probably should.  I texted my roommate and asked her.  She wasn’t sure, but thought it would be a good idea.  I texted my best male friend and asked him.  Yes, he said. You need a new tire.  Dammit.

Fine.  I found the Discount Tire, bought one new tire and hung out in the waiting area for 45 minutes while they took care of things.  In amazement I listened to the Southern accents around me.  They sounded so strange and at the same time so familiar, like déjà vu, but not.  Foreign and, at the same time, like home.  I had that feeling a lot once I got to Memphis, but this was the first time I experienced it.  Max and the kitties hung out in the car without interest while the tires were changed, the air pressure checked, yada yada yada.  And finally, FINALLY!  We were on the road again.


Thanks be, the rest of Day Two was entirely uneventful.  But, instead of a six o’clock arrival at my hotel with plenty of time to relax, it was nine.  And when I got to the door of the room with the loaded down luggage cart, including cats, I could not locate the room key (found it today in my car.  Sorry LaQuinta).  Max and I had to go down the elevator (he was less than pleased), back to the front desk, request a second key, then back up the elevator (he peed a little I think) where I had left the cats (and all my stuff) on the luggage cart outside the room (nobody was gonna steal two twenty pound cats).


Monday, May 10, 2010

Drive, part 3

My time in Colorado has toughened me to mountain driving. I’ve done Vail Pass and been forced to take Tennessee Pass in scary weather when the interstate was closed.  I’ve driven Independence Pass multiple times and don’t even get slightly anxious anymore. But Red Mountain Pass kicked my ass for some reason.  The heavily loaded car, the animal cargo, the lack of other cars on the road, nonexistent cell phone signal… any and all contributed to making me one giant stress ball incapable of fully enjoying the views.

When I finally got down on the other side I felt a huge weight off my shoulders, and disappointment.  It wasn’t supposed to be stressful!  It was supposed to be transformative and peaceful, dammit!
I kept going. I stopped for gas.  I passed through Durango.  Before I knew it I was in New Mexico.  I was sad as I crossed the state line and said goodbye to Colorado.  I plan to be back in the fall, but something felt final about that moment.  And not in a transformative peaceful way, either.

Much of the first part of my New Mexico drive was filled with stop lights and low speed limits.  This was not magical.  There was some beautiful scenery, but I was barely able to enjoy the magic because I was done of it.  I had wanted to stay off of interstates some (not that I had an option from Durango to Santa Fe), for solitude and more interesting scenery; I had found neither, really.  By the time I was on major highway I just wanted to be done.  I was done.  My eight hour drive was closer to ten at that point, and my shoulders were still up by my ears from the near-death drive over the pass.

Santa Fe, I have to say, was lovely.  I arrived as the sun was setting, and the pear trees were blooming there (they were not yet in Colorado, where it was still winter, and they have already passed in North Carolina, summer is here- Santa Fe was my Spring), and the breeze was perfect.  I loaded the cat carrier on a luggage cart (the carrier is more than 40 pounds, as each cat is at least 20), lured Max into the elevator (he hates elevators, but also refuses those outdoor stairs that are like grates), ordered a pizza, and got as much sleep as I could despite Merlin’s frequent meowing and Max’s bed-hogging.

Santa Fe, by the way, at 7000 feet, is the highest state capital in the country. Just some trivia for you.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Drive, part 2

From May 2010...

Maybe 25 minutes out of my driveway, my car loaded with every piece of summer clothing and possible toiletry I own, along with my critters, I realized I had left the dog’s bowls behind. I had an extra, but it was on the floor in the back of my SUV when I loaded it up.  It wouldn’t have taken THAT much time to go back, but I had already said goodbye to the apartment, and I didn’t want to retrace those steps.  So I stopped at Wal-Mart.  Dog bowls purchased, I was again on my way.

Once on the interstate, I realized that my shiny, happy, new GPS needed to plug into my power outlet, duh, but so did my FM transmitter/iPhone charger.  And no way in harmonica am I gonna make it across the nation without my tunes.  So in Grand Junction (90 minutes after WalMart) I stopped at Best Buy (which I used my new GPS to find, thankyouverymuch) to purchase a power-splitter thingy.

After wandering the BestBuy and looking lost in front of multiple employees for ten minutes (remind me to write to Best Buy about that), I finally asked someone for help, found my needed item, and hit the road. Again.  Trying to find my way back onto the interstate, and without the ability to see much from my rear or passenger-side view mirrors (boxes and cat carriers, you know), I did have the ability to hear.  Which is good, because I might not have otherwise known that a motorcycle police officer was pulling me over.  I was apparently speeding my way out of Grand Junction, and this would not do.  I had missed a speed limit sign. Not that I was looking for it.

After commenting on the weight of one of my kitties (“that is one BIG cat”) and nicely enough cutting down my speed from 15 over to 9 over the limit, I received my ticket and we were on the road again.  Again.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my phone charger thingy wasn’t having it.  For some reason it just wouldn’t work with the brand new splitter.  My detour through Junction and therefore my speeding ticket?  In vain.

Anyway, I didn’t care, I was off!  To new worlds!  Before long I found myself in the absolutely charming town of Ridgway, where I planned to eat lunch in the True Grit Café which is supposedly also very charming and my step-dad loves John Wayne, so that’d be cool and it’s my adventure and won’t it be fun!  Except I was only a tiny bit hungry.  And the two shopping stops and the speeding ticket had set me back on some time.  And I didn’t really want to leave the animals in the car alone while I ate lunch by myself.  So I didn’t.  I got back in the car after Max’s pit stop and pressed on.  First intended roadside attraction: scratched from the playbill.

I was on to a section of road between Ouray and Durango that is quite beautiful, Red Mountain Pass. It is phenomenally gorgeous.

And steep. And curvy. And without guard rails…


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Drive, part 1

From May 2010...

I planned this cross-country drive like I was Elizabeth Gilbert off to the ashram… It would be transformative, this drive.  It would show me things about myself I hadn’t noticed.  It would allow me to find peace within myself and ground me for the task ahead.  This drive?  It would CHANGE MY LIFE.

In case you're new here, let me first explain “the task ahead.”  I have been living in Colorado for three years.  It is indeed the most beautiful place I have seen and I have to believe among the most beautiful places in all creation.  It is also frakking expensive and I, a lapsed attorney, have a lawyer’s student loans but not her paycheck. So, when I recently decided that I am a writer and writers write and I needed to do that, my well-employed sister invited me to stay with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina for the summer, to focus on the writing.  I’d have to get a job to pay for my car other bills, and, you know, beer.  After my ski season job ended and no summer job in Colorado fell in my lap, I decided that was a dandy idea.  Thus, the reason for the drive.

Back to it, now.  I wanted to take my time. The drive from here to there could be done in 3 days, driving 10 hours each day.  I wanted to lollygag a bit.  See more of western Colorado.  Take my time, see the silly roadside attractions like giant balls of twine.  Stop when I wanted to stop, etc. I decided to swing west to Grand Junction, down to Durango, and over to the Grand Canyon. Then I would come east from there to my hometown of Memphis for a few days, and eventually straight up I-40 to North Carolina. But there were considerations.  Namely, Max, Dobby, and Merlin.  My dog and two cats would be traveling with me, and they aren’t all that into lollygagging.  Or the Grand Canyon.  So, while still on my bucket list, the Canyon was chopped from the list and the trip to Memphis shortened to 3 days instead of 4.  Then there were financials… and an extra night in a hotel suddenly seemed wasteful when I could just get to Memphis a day early and stay with a generous friend for free.

And there it was. The plan settled, three 8-hour-drive days: Day 1 to Santa Fe via Durango. Day 2 to Oklahoma City. Day 3 to Memphis.  The mountains of Colorado would be majestic and amazing. Take my breath away.  Remind me what I loved about my adopted state.  Make me feel small and inconsequential and give me perspective.  New Mexico would be magical, the desert beautiful.  Texas and Oklahoma would be wide open… prairies stretching for miles, nothing to see but road stretching out ahead of me, an invitation to the future.

And so I hit the road.