by Amy Austin on December 31, 2008
I am still using all of my energy just to recuperate right now and had not intended to share much in the way of details, but now that it's out there...
First, my impromptu visit to see Steve and his lovely wife, Brenda. It is certainly never my intent to blindside anyone with an unexpected drop-in visit -- least of all someone I've never met before! -- but it was what it was. Steve is one of my absolute most favorite people here on this site, and things being what they were, I just didn't have the time or sensibility to have had the forethought/realization that I would be passing so nearby on my trip... it wasn't until after I paid my last toll at the Baltimore tunnel (for a grand total of $89 in tolls on the way down!!!) and passed right by the familiar turf of Fort Meade that something sounded off, "Steve!" And yes, I did feel badly about the lack of preparation, but the timing was still somewhat serendipitous (both in my calls and the fact that I would have been passing through in the middle of the night had I not stopped in Joppa, MD for a much needed night's rest just a short trip north of Steve in Bowie) -- somehow, though, I just knew that Steve and Brenda would handle it graciously and receive me with pure aplomb... and I was neither wrong nor disappointed, except in the necessity of my hasty departure -- I would have been much more upset, though, at not having made the attempt, last-minute and awkward as it might have been.
So I stopped off at the Southbound Maryland Welcome Center on I-95, where I was unable to access the alleged wifi advertised on the way in. This sucked because I had no idea how I was going to contact him but by goo.tc -- and yet, not only was it not an option, but I wasn't even sure if his number (which had previously been available on the GooCon conversation!) was publicly listed, either! I couldn't even remember where exactly he was in MD (wouldn't have possibly forgotten "Bowie" except by conditions of extreme stress and fatigue), but was fairly sure I'd know it if I saw it, and I asked the Welcome Center attendant for a phone directory. "Which one?" Ha! Silly me... what was I thinking to believe that I might find the one "Steve West" in the DC Metro area, without even a starting place to narrow it down to! Well, he began to produce about 5 ginormous directories... which deflated me only a tiny bit more (the upside to being thoroughly beat down is that each successive hit feels pretty minor by a certain point) -- and, amazingly!, I immediately found "Steve & Brenda West, Bowie" in just the second one... which produced an elated "Eureka!" feeling that made me practically shout (with a voice that was already nearly gone and is still not quite back even now as I type this), "that's it! It *has* to be!!!" I called once and was disappointed to get a machine (no confirmation of anything, either, since I don't know any voices!), where I left what I was certain was a crazy rambling and cryptic message (further enhanced by my gravelly disappearing voice and slightly manic presentation of sheer afterburner energy by that point) that would confuse *anyone* who received it, even it *was* Steve & Brenda: I tried with great difficulty to explain who I was, apologetically wished a Merry Christmas to whomever I might be disturbing on the weekend before, and promptly felt like an idiot upon hanging up.
I then tried one more time (futilely) to access the wifi there and decided that nothing more could be done after a second call to the machine (that I wasn't *about* to feel like more of a lunatic talking to again! ;-D), and I packed up my laptop and headed back to the 17' U-Haul with Explorer in tow and Devil & Angel (aka, Troublekins) inside. It was just as I was about to put keys in the ignition that I got a return call from the correctly tracked Steve West, who extended an invitation to his house (and I had fully expected a lunch-type meeting elsewhere when I first had the idea and made the call, btw... so it isn't even like I was expecting to drop in on somebody at their house, guys!), which was just the shortest distance out of my way -- hardly at all, even! -- and I happily accepted. (And yes, Aaron, not only is Steve *that* cool to invite me, but I am also *that* cool that he wanted to... ;-p)
I was also not surprised by Steve's fantastic hugging abilities. My philosophy is that you can't have too many hugs... but particularly if they're quality -- and it's definitely true that all hugs, huggers & huggees are not created equal! (I like your intended handling of a meeting with Aaron, Jackie -- I hope I'll be there sobbing and laughing my ass off right alongside you!) As a sensitive individual, it's always nice to meet fellow huggers that put some feeling into it -- and I had no doubt about Steve's greeting skillz. Brenda was equally kind and gracious, and their daughters -- whom I interacted with much more briefly than I would have liked -- were both lovely and beautiful girls who also reflected impressive parenting skillz, too. Everyone was everything I could have expected, and then some. Thank you, Steve, for welcoming me into your home and making me feel like an old friend! (And the game traffic really wasn't that horrific -- yes, it was stop-and-go for a bit... but it really only cost 4 minutes on the ETA, according to my navigator. Much worse was the "rush hour" (time-wise) traffic ahead of that (around DC, I guess?), which I couldn't really understand, since it was a weekend... but maybe DC is just always like that???)
Everything smoothed out after Virginia (funny that all my troubles seemed to happen north of the Mason-Dixon line -- I hope this is the trend... or the end of it, as the case may be!), and two back-to-back 5-hour Energy Boosters carried me the rest of the way to my 0800 arrival in Gainesville on Monday morning and through the following 2 hours of unloading, at which point I promptly became as ill as I had been expecting after the week+ of sleep-deprived packing/preparation for the move... and the very stressful move itself! I got myself registered and seen at the VA here (yay for nice perks for combat veterans!) on Christmas Eve, as I was fearing bronchitis or pneumonia. Lab work and chest x-rays ruled them out... apparently just a "viral upper respiratory infection" that only required fluids and bed rest to recover from... which I have had no trouble complying with. My voice, almost two weeks later, is *still* not quite right... but finally seems to be on the return, which I had begun to doubt.
I'm sure it was no help that I didn't beat the Friday snowstorm out of New England -- I got to see a foot of snow actually accumulating on the ground (and falling on my head as we loaded!), which was both amazing and distressing. I had lamented the predictions for snow starting at noon (and with startling accuracy, too!) because I had intended to be gone by that morning, and even though I had been given the opportunity to see two more snowfalls just days before (both melted by the end of the day), I really wanted to see a foot of snow, too! But, obviously, that isn't the kind of thing that one should hope to see just before embarking on a 1,200-mile trip with a fully loaded 17' U-Haul and (also stuffed) Explorer in tow... and, let's not forget, two dogs. Still... it was really the coolest thing to actually see the accumulation -- and with no wind, there was an atypical lack of drifts, along with hilarious pilings of a foot of snow in places like the 2-3" wide deck railing in back and picnic table in front of the house... it looked just like someone had placed a perfectly white twin mattress squarely on the table, and we laughed about how "comfy" it looked, while threatening to chill and soak you if you succumbed to the temptation to lie on it! Unpleasantly, the snow that got packed on the porch under our feet as we loaded became slippery and dangerous... much like some of the roads to come.
We finished loading at around 0200, which Lee found pretty funny because I had been saying, "Oh, I'll be gone by 3!" (in response to the weather reports calling for the "worst" of it between 3 & 6 (PM!), as well as advising *against* travel Friday afternoon/night), to which he insisted, "Yeah... 3AM!" I wasn't so amused... especially when it took about an hour to get the auto-transport with my Explorer hitched to the damn U-Haul, and I did not get gone out of town until after 0430 (yes, that's in the morning), with snow still falling here and there.
One particular "there" was a little New England town called Old Lyme, CT -- about 70 miles and an hour and a half into my ridiculously long trip (the longest since my cross-country drive from CA to NC... and I am *not* an endurance driver!) -- where I started to feel the first wave of protracted fatigue start to cozy into the new sensation of stillness that came with *finally* sitting! and just being on the road. Since it was morning out by now (sometime between 7-9... I can't exactly account for the missing time from the above estimate, except that I was driving at about 40-55 mph, did stop before that in RI for gas, and must have had a catnap there at some point or something... I don't know -- this is the horrid nature of the entire first half of the trip: feeling so tired that it hurts (and my feet and legs were killing me from all that came before anyway, with my swollen appendages stuffed into socks and sneakers laced loosely enough to pull them off and on with ease) and driving for what felt like millenia at a time, only to find that I had covered what seemed like walking distance, relative to the distance left to be covered -- it was awesomely miserable), and since I preferred to cover as much road as possible by night, I thought I might try to find a room and get some rest. I saw a sign that indicated "lodging" in this picturesque old New England town... but when I got off the exit, I quickly realized that this was B&B country... not your cheap Motel 6 or Super 8 experience, which was what I was looking for.
Like I said, there was still a little bit of "weather" off and on... and I decided that it was probably a good time to give the girls their breakfast and a business trip -- which I figured would also give me "a breath of fresh air" that could sustain me until I found some more reasonable "rent-a-room"-type accommodations. It even just so happened that my navigator directed me to turn around in a little sliver of road connecting two forks of a "Y" -- like a little triangle park, if you see what I mean. It was a perfect place -- or so I thought -- to park the "rig" and let them out one at a time in the little triangle that was a foot deep in snow (between my fatigue and the weather -- not to mention, unfamiliar surroundings -- I just didn't have the strength to handle them both). As a dog owner, and one subjected to some rather "high maintenance" behavior at times, I ought to have known the risk I was taking... but once again, I blame fatigue for not seeing what was coming.
I parked and leashed both Devil and Angel, whereupon we (Devil & I) quickly exited and made a brisk and efficient walk -- all business taken care of in less than 5 minutes... just like I like it (especially under the circumstances) -- I left Angel leashed to the steering wheel, where she patiently waited her turn outdoors. Time to make the swap... return to truck, get Devil back inside while keeping Angel from hanging herself from the steering wheel. Leave Devil (who is not nearly so calm and patient as her big sister) inside the nice, warm truck with the heater running. And the engine. And the one key that U-Haul gives you to run the damn thing. See where this is going yet?
Yes, little thinks-she's-going-to-die-if-the-apron-strings-are-cut Devil threw a little "me, too" tantrum while I tried to walk Angel (who is not nearly so efficient about "business" as her little sister... and was apparently "affected" by the road trip (not too unusual for her) in that she seemed to be saving it up for later -- I think I saw her go once on the whole journey) and stepped on the manual lock (passenger side already locked on purpose), leaving me and her sister out in foot-deep snow... inadequately dressed. If you recall, I was wearing socks and loosely laced sneakers -- with jeans -- all of which got soaked up to the knees. I do own snow boots, btw -- they were packed up and loaded well before the weather reports called for a snowstorm. I even have a dog set -- also packed up and never worn -- and if Angel's pads were feeling anything like my face and hands (my hands are only just now getting over the major chapping), then I know she was hurting, too.
When I saw what had happened, I was in complete disbelief -- that I hadn't had the sense to anticipate that disaster. A few seconds later, I was banging the window and cussing Devil for being so damned impatient and clever enough to do so many things she shouldn't, but not smart enough to open the damn door. Her frantic impatience about getting out of the truck completely subsided as my hysteria quickly escalated, and as I made my tearful calls to U-Haul's roadside assistance (that I thankfully had enough wits to think of pretty fast, too) interspersed with calls to friends that none of whom were by their phones!, and by the time I was fully immersed in upset and pacing around the truck with poor Angel on her leash, that little bitch was calmly lying down and intently watching me from inside the warm truck with the confidence that only a dumb dog can have while seeing someone completely lose their shit. This only served to make me even madder, and I screamed at her that if she had only behaved this way in the first place we wouldn't be in this mess! And yet I still found cause to wonder why nobody was stopping to ask what was wrong. No, seriously, though... plenty of traffic caught at least a glimpse of me on my cell phone, crying hysterically to who knows whom about who knows what -- and even someone shoveling their driveway close enough to hear and be heard (though not close enough to see if male or female) -- and not a single inquiry from any of them as to my well-being!
Meanwhile, I gave someone at U-Haul roadside assistance named "Christine" one hell of a trial-by-fire, because her monitor (the person quietly listening in for quality control purposes) felt compelled to break in and introduce herself as being there to survey poor Christine and then left her to her own devices to help me. Other than the occasional repeats (I've already been told by many that I am unintelligible when crying, let alone with craggy voice, too), Christine must have passed her checks admirably... and we must have made the day at the water cooler. I tried hard not to flip out when she said that they would be there "within the hour" -- but it was hard, what with snow falling on me and my legs soaked up to the knee now.
Finally, some kind gentleman (also shoveling his property nearby in a different direction) took notice of me and asked if I was all right (hell no!), inviting me to the warmth of his house and a cup of cocoa while comforting me with the fact that he had friends who had also been locked out of a vehicle by their dogs (yes, this was comforting to hear in my condition). His wife was out walking their two, and there was concern about Angel being there when they returned... but we were winging it. I barely had time to get my wet coat off and use the bathroom, when I heard one of his two sons mentioning the presence of a police officer! Yes, that's right -- no one stopped to talk to me (until now), but they did make sure to call the police on/for me. Coat back on, and now the locksmith is here, too. It wasn't exactly "right outside" of his house, and I had to be there for him to unlock my Devil, so... I left about as quickly as I arrived, passing the wife (dressed in a full snowsuit, btw) and two dogs on my way out. The man kindly returned with a hot cocoa that had been started for me while I was in the bathroom... which was very kind, indeed. Policeman wanted to see my ID (to make sure I wasn't a thief or dangerous felon of some hysterical sort, I guess -- standard procedure, I'm sure), and the locksmith was a suitably "jolly" guy who was a tiny bit afraid of unlocking the door, understandably. Devil, by now, had a pretty good understanding that this was somehow all her fault and went back and forth between barking at the locksmith and grinning sheepishly and submissively at me. I got over it quickly enough... and, as it turns out, got enough "fresh air" to press on again for a while.
The details of "a while" are pretty hazy to me -- I was practically sleep-driving for much of this part of the trip... with some much needed "rude awakenings" in the form of a missed turn and double back on a mountain road right before a bridge (damn navigator and its slightly off timing!) and a little bit of a slip-n-slide coming off of the same bridge. It only lasted for a second, and I recovered very easily and quickly -- but if it had been even only one second longer, I think I might have pissed myself. That little surge of adrenaline was worth at least an hour of clear drive time. Right after that, too, a nice Coca-Cola driver was trying to signal me -- he motioned and made gestures to indicate that my bicycle was swaying atop my Explorer (did I forget to mention that little detail??) and pulled over with his hazards shortly past the bridge. Assuming that he wanted me to follow, I pulled over and stepped out of the truck, while he hopped out carrying a couple of those black rubber bungees and wearing a mere delivery driver outfit. I mention this because, while I stood watching him reinforce the securing of my bicycle (already done with a couple of cheapie elastic bungees), teeth chattering involuntarily, he looked like a cool and nimble mountain goat on the fenders of the auto-transport. When I asked if he was "from around here", he confirmed that he was indeed from the Bronx and apparently rather unaffected by the cold that was probably amplified tenfold for me by the insane fatigue at this point. (Yes, I did pull over for a couple of "power naps" at one or two spots before this, but it's kind of like trying to get a weak car battery to take a charge -- there comes a time when it's just too drained.) So, with my bike sufficiently secured, I was back on my way (which is really good, because I would have hated to see my bike sail off the roof of my truck at some point later down the road... and after all that!). I think the Coke driver wanted me to meet him at a rest area to recheck it, but between his vague language ("you're gonna' want to recheck that..."; "first rest area on I-95") and my extreme fatigue, it just didn't happen. I forgot that the turnpike is part of I-95... and if he had just said "the Vince Lombardi service area", I would have known what he was talking about (hell, maybe he did... there's no telling -- he could have given me directions to the end of my nose, and I'd have been flummoxed). So I don't know if he was waiting for me there, but if he ever reads this... sorry, dude, and thanks for looking out for me. ;-p
At some point, though, I did actually start to hallucinate and feel far more dangerous than a drunk driver, and I began to think about looking for lodging again. I was on the Jersey Turnpike, trying like hell just to plow on through and not get off or incur more tolls (I already mentioned the grand total on tolls, which by the end left me with $11 of the $100 I brought with to cover them!), but my eyelids were closing involuntarily -- which is scary enough in your own car, but it's downright terrifying in the outfit I was driving! So I had no choice but to relent, and I got off at Brunswick/New Brunswick/East Brunswick or whatever the hell they're calling themselves over in that urban nightmare of a place (it becomes relevant during my second call to roadside assistance) -- let's just call it HWY 18... because that's the road I had to take to get to any motels. I explained to the toll attendant that I didn't want to get off the turnpike but that I simply *had* to and was there anything closeby... he was very nice and understanding (unlike the jackasses that eventually began honking their horns behind me) and told me that the place I wanted would be on the left. It was extremely helpful information for anyone familiar with the area... not so much to a dumbass tired non-urban dweller such as myself. There was a lot of important information missing there that I would have to discover myself... the hard way (is there any other way???).
I guess I should have expected HWY 18 to be very highway-like... but there are plenty of roads in the country -- hell, in the world, even! -- that have highway *names*, but are really just your average thoroughfare. NOT in NJ, I guess. There were three or four lanes of traffic on my side alone... and that made me tired just realizing it. So... I handily pulled in at the first HOTEL on my right -- that would be the Days HOTEL (emphasis on HOTEL, as opposed to MOTEL or even "INN" -- for those of you who do not know the difference in class & price points) -- and walked into the lobby, dead-tired and beat-down: "How much for a room?" Without shame or even a blink, "$88.95" Now perhaps that might not seem like a lot to you, especially in NJ, but if you knew how much the entire shebang cost me altogether, you might be flinching, too. I was unable to contain my dismay: "Jesus Christ." But I was also damn tired. "Do you take dogs?" (I probably wouldn't have asked if I could have slipped them in unnoticed, but... no. And, "No.") Blank stare (on both our faces) that I imagine to be the same one seen right before the lone gunman loses his shit and unloads on everyone. I really did want to cry. He then told me that the place I wanted -- apparently the same place that the toll attendant had tried to direct me to -- was Studio 6 or Motel 6... something that sounded cheaper, anyway...
Back in the truck, I'm about to gather missing important information #1: I carefully navigated myself to the left across three lanes of NJ traffic, only to discover that it's a barrier-divided highway. Nice. That would have helped a lot to signify to me the relevance of the hotel -- sorry, MOTEL -- I wanted being on the LEFT side of the road... well, why else would he have told me... I don't know, so I could get over to the left lane in time??? (Crazy talk inside my head... and getting crazier by the minute!) So, I navigated back across the three lanes again to the right (good -- now the other drivers here know that I'm crazy and not to fuck with me!) Passing the motel as I do this and kind of half-ass noticing some weird redirect signage as I do this... but I'm not concerned, because I'm about to work really hard and go about 2-3 miles out of my way to get turned around and approaching the motel from the right. And I do mean work hard -- this is NJ (weekend/holiday!) traffic, after all. So I'm all lined up and ready to turn right into the damn motel parking lot and get some freaking rest already, but... wait... what the fuck is this?!?! You can't turn *right* into the motel, either??? This must be some kind of sick joke, right? RIGHT?!?!? No... this is NJ -- there are tricks to getting where you need to go here... and it fucking sucks! I'm looking carefully, and I'm thinking that there *has* to be a way in around the back from nearby (I guess this *is* actually the back, rather) -- I quickly take the very next side street to the right, thinking that there *must* be a way through... after all, I can *see* the back of the hotel motel from here... from this little side street and to the right... there is... the fence. And scarcely room for me to turn around, goddammit. Okay, I'm turning around in this little neighborhood... practically jack-knifing the truck/trailer to get the hell out of there... here I go. Pulling up the lodging selection on my navigator -- fuck that motel, time to find something else! -- where I am about to gather missing important information #2...
Calling the Holiday Inn Express... "How much?" (though I don't truly care anymore this moment...) Roughly the same as the Days HOTEL, as it turns out. "Fine -- do you take dogs?" No. And apparently, this hotel clerk knew what both the first hotel clerk and the toll booth guy (who saw my girls riding shotgun) already knew -- Studio/Motel 6 was the only gig in town for dogs. RAHHHHHH!!! I'll take it as an act of God that my head wasn't spinning violently and spewing pea soup by now... but I now had to call the Studio/Motel 6 and find out exactly how someone, with dogs, that's too tired to keep their eyes open on the turnpike is supposed to get off and find their way to the one place, apparently, that I can go??? I only wish I had some audio of that convo to play for you. First of all, the rooms were only about $20 less than the HOTEL rooms! Fine... money no longer an issue now. Dogs... "We only allow one dog per room." Oh, really? "Well, I have TWO." "Are they small dogs?" "No." I am not *even* in the mood for glossing things over at this moment. And after the long pause that followed -- along with the "I'm sure that if you just follow my directions, you will get here" speech to answer my earlier questions -- I snapped and told her to forget it, having just decided that I now had plenty enough energy from the angry surge of adrenaline that once again revived me long enough to get to the next stopping point. Too bad that next stopping point was less than a mile away from the MOTEL!!!
Yes, that's right... I revved up my rig and headed angrily back to the turnpike, reinvigorated with my seething disgust over the whole detour. There it is -- the exit to the turnpike. What the hell was that God-awful horrible noise? I can see the toll plaza now. Wait a minute, what is this? Why is my trailer swaying so badly? Oh, no. No, no, no. Say it isn't so. Wow, look at that -- there's barely enough room for me to pull over there out of traffic. And there's just enough room for someone in front of me and behind me as well. Looks good to me! (More Crazy/Angry talk in the head... not to be confused with Crazy/Beautiful...) Better check on stuff.
Yep. There it is -- the trailer is off the mother-fucking hitch! Woohoo!!! Roadside assistance, here I come... AGAIN! Are you ready to hear from me again today??? I didn't think so. No, they needed to hear from me a few more times to explain where are you again, exactly? Well, it's not like the frickin' toll plaza has an address on it... and have you ever talked to someone who had no idea what a toll plaza or toll booth is or looks like? Neither have I. But the very first one I've ever encountered works the phones for U-Haul roadside assistance -- that's a no-shitter, there! I seriously thought that she was trying to fuck with me... only the fear in her voice convinced me otherwise. Like Jon Stewart says... I can't make this stuff up -- it writes itself.
So two and a half hours later... yeah, a good time to nap, wouldn't you think? No. Not when you have to keep cranking the engine to keep the cab warm, and every sound you hear approaching the toll plaza (I keep having to correct my typing of "tool" plaza, etc. -- same difference, I guess... though most of my toll trolls were quite nice, actually...) sounds like that of someone coming to put a trailer back on (there are an awful lot of trucks on the road, did you know?) But yes, I did finally fall asleep waiting, actually. And then they came. It was just like washing your car for rain.
So two and a half hours later, I was on my way again... and somehow made it to Joppa, MD, where I stopped at a nice little Super 8 and had some of my leftovers from the last meal with my friend in RI for dinner, along with some continental apple juice (oh, how I'd have loved it if Chris Walken would have showed up for a laugh), a shower before some much-needed rest and two more before a full continental breakfast and departing the next morning... which brings me back to dropping in on Steve. Easily the highlight of the trip... especially up to that point. The trip from that point on was mostly uneventful and smooth sailing. I got here at 0800 on Monday morning (last week) and was not at all surprised to find myself supremely sick by then. I felt very faint and weak on the unloading, almost falling down and/or passing out more than once. Thank goodness for my three good friends, though... we got it unloaded in 2 hours, and the U-Haul reps didn't charge me for the slight delay in turning it in -- yay. My voice and breathing were so bad that I started to be pretty worried about bronchitis or pneumonia. Got enrolled and seen on Christmas Eve at the VA, where they were surprisingly nice. During the four hours there, I registered, then was seen by one nurse, had lab work and chest x-rays done, seen by another nurse practitioner who ruled out the serious stuff and told me just to take it slow and easy, with lots of fluids and bed rest. (If you insist...) Which is why I couldn't make my cable appointment until the day after Christmas... which could not come any sooner than today. Aside from worrying about expiring goos and unclaimed cards in the exchange (even forgetting to check in the brief times I was online lately!), it's been like drug rehab to be without my internets. And with nothing to do but sleep or read, and only ONE channel to entertain me (PBS is wonderful in the evenings, but not so much around the afternoons, when the kiddies get out of school ;-p) -- the horror...
Edit: Just realized that the break for lunch made me repeat myself about being ill... how embarrassing -- sorry!!!
Cable guy hooked me up this morning... so here I am! I started writing this earlier when I saw Steve's post (and it was originally a reply to his, but then I figured I should segregate such an enormous post to my own blog, with a simple redirect from Steve's -- except then I couldn't figure out how to reactivate my dead blog (get it? Exquisite Corpse???), and so now it's a ginormous public reply in Steve's blog anyway! I suppose I can always edit later... done) when my friend Denise dropped by, and we went to a delicious sushi lunch, for which I wore my "Big in Japan" shirt... which did not go unnoticed. ;-)
I'm sure that's about as much as anyone can stand to read (or write!) in one sitting anyhow... I'm going to go breathe now -- and eat some sushi leftovers!
Four Replies to Eureka!
Amy Austin counts down the days until... something... Read more »