Saturday, May 13, 2006

Another Long Drive

The last time I drove across the country, I had company--Nick and my kitties, Jean-Claude and Oberon. This time, it was just me and the cats. Moving to Chicago has been an adventure. So many changes! As I packed up my car on my final Friday afternoon, I felt horribly lonely as I closed the door to my apartment for the last time. Nick should have been there with me. But he was already hard at work making our new life better for me when I got there.

He hated the idea of me driving all of that way by myself. Not only was I a girl (and therefore unable to ward off strange men and all other forms of danger) but I was ten weeks pregnant (surprise!). Not to worry, I told him. I have the attack cats to protect me. I'll be fine. After all, I'd survived this move before, not to mention a whole other host of life experiences including car accidents, flat tires, dead batteries, getting lost in unfamiliar places, assault, unwanted sexual advances, dog bites, mosquito bites, bee stings--what else was there?

I had my route fairly well planned out. Originally, I'd planned to go north, through Colorado, but the end of March was their snowy season. It would have been fewer miles, but probably more hours as I got stuck in snow. I opted for the road more traveled, and decided to drive through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and finally, Illinois.

I left at exactly 3:45 on Friday afternoon. I'd hoped to make it to Downers Grove by Tuesday at the latest. That Friday, I'd only hoped to make it to Phoenix. That was about five hours away and I had friends there I could stay with--El, Carrie and Jalen. El and I had become friends when we both lived in Kansas City. He moved west about a year before me.

Of course, leaving that late on a Friday put me smack in the middle of rush hour traffic. Five hours turned into eight. Not to worry, however. Kitties and I made it safely to El's house around 12:00 that night. I enjoyed my first night in a real bed in more than a month. What a great night's sleep!

Jalen, who is just about two, absolutely loved my kitties. He tried his best to crawl under the bed with them, but he was just too big. We got as early a start as my body would allow, leaving Phoenix by 8:00. My goal for the day was Albuquerque.

Arizona is a gorgeous state. I went north through Flagstaff, and if I ever have the opportunity to live there, I'll take it. They even get a bit of snow, which seems odd for Arizona to me. Crossing into New Mexico, the kitties started to whine. Actually, it was just Oberon. He makes an awful sound when he's truly unhappy and sounds like he's being tortured to death. All I could do was turn up the radio. When we stopped for lunch, I'd let them roam around the car a bit and have the opportunity to eat or use the litter box.

They were so happy to be out of their cage that I thought I'd give them a break and see how far I could get with them out. I was pulling over at the very next exit. They kept trying to crawl down by my feet or climb up on the dashboard. Once I'd shoved them back in the carrier, the whining started again. I had no idea what was wrong, other than they just wanted to be out of the car. I completely understood. I wanted to be out of the car too.

Three years before, when Nick and I were driving the same route in the other direction, we'd gotten to Albuquerque fairly early in the evening--too early to stop for the day. We'd seen billboards all over the road for Gallup, New Mexico: 2000 rooms! It seemed like an ideal place to stay for the night. We made it to Gallup just about 8:00. There were certainly plenty of rooms, but none of them were worth what we paid. Dirty, small, smelly, and bullet holes in a few windows. Yikes! We agreed to leave VERY EARLY the next morning. I did not plan to stay in Gallup this time around. But I just had to stop there and call Nick. "Guess where I am?"

I made it to Albuquerque around four in the afternoon--far too early to stop. There was a tiny town on the edge of the state line, Tucumcari, that had plenty of hotels. It was another two hours or so. Six o'clock was still a bit early, but if that's what I hit, then that's what I hit.

I pulled off the highway at an exit with four hotels. Pulling up to one, I noticed that the parking lot was horribly full. Finding no space to park, I moved on. At the next, I found a "no vacancy" sign. At the third, I made it as far as the check in desk before I was told that no rooms were available.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Snow birds."

"Sorry, what?"

"Snow birds--everyone is heading home from their winter vacations."

Snow birds. Nice. They probably did this every year and knew that Tucumcari was the place to stay. Ok. No problem. It was still early. Let's push on and see how much farther I can get.

I crossed the border into Texas around 8:30. Amarillo was about another hour or so away and the next big city. I was getting tired of driving and worried that I wouldn't find a hotel in Texas either. But off in the distance, a glowing Best Western lit my way! I'd just crossed into Vega, Texas--my home for the night...I hoped.

Pulling into the parking lot, I was relieved to find it fairly empty. At the desk, I asked if they had rooms. The attendant looked at me like I was nuts. Of course they had rooms. Hallelujah! The room was modest, but just fine. I slept far too late, but we were on the road by 9:00. As I left the next morning, I saw a sign on the door--no vacancy.

It was actually cold in Texas. I pulled over for breakfast when I got to Amarillo and had to put on a sweatshirt. Somewhere between Amarillo and the Eastern border of Texas, I passed the worlds biggest cross. They aren't kidding when they say that everything is bigger in Texas. I actually considered stopping to take a look, but I could see it just fine from the road. It was certainly big.

I made it to Oklahoma City that afternoon and stopped for lunch. The kitties had been whining all morning and I needed a break from them. The weather was perfect in Oklahoma. But I'd heard from other people at the Hardees that bad weather was headed that way. I called my parents in St. Louis. Yes, they were having some tornado warnings. They looked up my route on the internet and saw that things didn't get bad until Springfield, Missouri. Looking at my map, I decided that I'd shoot for Joliet, MO and just stop there. It might be early, but I'd rather stop than be stuck in a tornado.

Driving through Oklahoma, the whining only seemed to get worse. I tried to turn up the radio, but I'd go deaf before I drowned Oberon out. I opened the window, hoping some white noise would help. After a few minutes, the whining stopped. Thank goodness! I rolled up the window--it was chilly. As soon as the window was up, the whining started again. Hmmm. Could they just be hot? I tried turning on the air conditioning. That was it! He was hot! I turned it on for as long as I could stand it. The instant I turned it off, Oberon was whining again. Fine! I'd rather freeze. I pulled my sweatshirt over my legs and pointed the vents to the back seat. Peace at last!

The skies over Joliet were clear as a bell. Not a single cloud. Maybe the weather was late. It was just about 2:00. I decided that I would just keep driving and stop when it started to look nasty. I made it all the way to Springfield--no weather at all. Bright and sunny.

I found a nice, cheap, Econolodge and pretended that I didn't see the "no pets allowed" sign behihnd the desk. Kitties would just have to behave. It was a frustrating night. I had to keep getting out of bed to pry Jean-Claude out of the window, but we got up early and left by 7:00. It had been bright and sunny the day before. This morning it was completely overcast. I guess the weather was coming. Lucky for us, a few hours later, we were back in the sunshine.

As I drove through Missouri, I thought how ironic it was to be driving my car through there again. Until a few months before, I'd still had Missouri license plates. Now, we were all California. I actually drove right through my old neighborhood. I drove past my old gradeschool, my church, my college--and then right across the river into my new homestate--Illinois.

The drive from there was uneventful. I just pressed on. Making excellent time, I pushed open my front door at 4:30 on Monday afternoon. Nick was home. Finally, I was too.

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