(About 3 years ago, I got it in my head that I needed a change and decided to uproot my life in California and move to Florida. I know, what was I thinking? LOL. Anyway, here’s my manic account of the trip. Bear in mind that I avoid freeways, hate to drive and my only companions for this trip was my dog Maggie and cat Boodie. Neither of which are great conversationalists. WC)
Okay, first let me start off by saying, if I’d known what lie ahead of me, I’d never have made the drive. Luckily, I was protected by my total clueless-ness until I’d made the commitment and was halfway across the country. So, my advice is “don’t try this at home, kids.”
On Sunday morning, October 19th, I stumbled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and began to assemble the piles of possessions I hoped would fit in the car. I had a quick cup of leftover coffee from the day before, took a shower, dressed and rousted my neighbor out of bed so he would move his car. The packing went amazingly well and quickly. Although, I found I had to leave behind dishes, lots of toiletries, towels and various other things I’d hoped would fit. I gave my neighbor a hug, put Maggie and Boodie in the back and made my final tour of Tujunga as I neared the 210 Freeway. It was only 7 am and Sunday so I anticipated little to no traffic. Surprisingly, there were many early birds on the road and the anxiety grew to a lump in my stomach and stayed there for my entire drive to Desert Hot Springs, my first stop.
Outside of nearly missing the off ramp to the 605 and bumpy roads, the trip was uneventful, except that my tolerance for freeway driving was so low that I feared I’d missed my exit ramp 20 times before I actually reached it. The sky was blue and the desert sun mean and relentless. The most remarkable thing was the windmills stationed by the hundreds on the desert floor that seemed to wave hello/goodbye to me as I approached. I found my exit and got off. Said a quick prayer to God, thanking him for keeping the car from exploding and me from having an anxiety attack.
I managed to get to Marli’s and we had a happy meeting, laughing and crying and so happy to finally meet. Although, within an hour my dog had decided to poop on Marli’s carpet which put a damper, I think on the rest of the visit. It was cruelly hot, and I felt compelled to constantly walk Maggie around the trailer park so she would do her business outside. Rather than further desecrate Marli’s pristine home.
I had reservations on accepting Marli’s invitation and I was tense at times because of my dog and the trip I was terrified to make and knew I was going to anyway. At the end of the evening, we had a good talk about my fears of trip, making the drive and God and some really profound thought provoking ideas were exchanged. For this I truly thank Marli. She is a lovely person and her kindness at letting me stay with her before I really started my trip I will never forget.
Not much sleep that night. It was hot. I was anxious. The cat was already traumatized and we hadn’t gotten more than 120 miles of a 2500 mile trip. I awoke, gulped a coffee, hugged Marli goodbye and we were off.
20 miles of access road to the freeway, a mile before the on ramp I saw a detour sign and was loathe to turn back so I followed the arrow and when I could stand it no more, asked the next car if they knew where the freeway was. “Over there” they pointed to my left. Okay, back comes the lump in my stomach and we’re on the freeway again. A stop at the Burger King in Blythe, some gas and cigs and back on the freeway. “Welcome to Arizona” the sign said. And I giggled and cried just a little – feeling I’d made some small bit of progress.
Though hideously hot, the drive was flat and straight away and by 1:30 I was pulling into the Motel 6 in Casa Grande, where I arranged to meet my buddy David, from my writer’s group. What a delight a Motel 6 can be to a weary, hot, tired traveler with two impatient pets. The air conditioning worked just fine and the tub filled up quickly. I called David and we agreed on a time and I took twenty minute nap. Across the street for smokes and a tee shirt a couple of calls to friends and then David and Stella were there.
David was just as I thought he’d be – big, happy, and enthusiastic. He insisted on taking pictures, though I knew they’d not be a pretty thing to view at a later date and ironically, though I’ve been sent the files twice I can’t open them. Again, God is listening. We had a nice dinner and a good talk and off they went to their home and off I went to my motel room. Some tv, a midnight snack from the diner and off to sleep.
Wake up call, 6 am and back in the car we go. I drive and drive and still seem to be in Arizona. Then I see a sign that says goodbye Arizona, hello New Mexico. Gas, cigs, water, check the tires, check the oil and off we go again.
The cat is not talking to me and has that vile vindictive look of a seasoned enemy – no doubt still remembering my prying her from under the bed that morning. My legs cramp and tremble – I sing along to Eric Clapton and BB King. Maggie finds a perch atop the cat carrier and watches out the back window as the scenery rushes by. “Welcome to Texas.” Again a prayer and giggle and tear. We’re in El Paso. Boy does it smell bad. There is stuff in my eyes and I’m wildly blinking so I can see. It smells like gasoline, oil and dirt. I want to go further but I don’t’ know what’s ahead of me, if anything and I can’t see and the smell is terrible. Okay, we stay in El Paso. Travel Lodge. Nice room, too expensive.
I settle the pets in, the dog is wound up, the cat is plotting revenge. I walk – again it’s vicious hot weather – to the Burger King and get more junk food. I bring it back and me and Maggie eat. A bath, some calls, some tv. Potty breaks for Maggie and into bed. 5:30 wake up call because I’m not sure if the traffic ever ends at this juncture, it seems in full force even at 3 am when I wake up and wonder where I am.
Back in the car, onto the freeway and drive, drive, drive. Does the sun ever come up in Texas? Bumpy roads, road work, driving through mist and roads cut into mountains. The stink never ends. Cow poop, gasoline and oil. Will I ever smell anything else? My legs are in permanent ache and agony and I can’t feel my feet and I know I’ve got 1700 miles to go. I drive, I stop, I drive some more. Finally, Sonora, Texas. Get a room – the most depressing of the drive. Twin Oaks motel. Makes Norman Bates’ place look like high hog digs. The air conditioner is conveniently located in the dressing room and keeps my clothes nice and cool. I have come to sweating permanently – food – is there any? Well, I had a tasty salad at the Dairy Queen. Fast food abounds, except there are no Burger Kings or McDonald’s. I need real food. I go to the convenience store and get canned peaches and milk for dinner. “Tomorrow I’ll have a decent meal,” I tell myself.
6:30 wake up call. Cold and damp, can’t see a thing. Bad coffee at reception. I pass on the honey buns and fruit loops. Back in the car after prying the cat loose from under the bed. I really want to get to Louisiana today but know I’m dreaming. More up and down mountains and canyons, more oil, cow poop and gasoline. I’m afraid to light a cigarette for fear of setting my hair on fire. I can’t feel my legs, much less my feet. I think my jeans could drive without the help of limbs they are so ‘broken in’ and smelly. I can’t make it to Louisiana but get to Beaumont, Texas. 50 miles from the border. I can live with that. Again, all the good restaurants are on the wrong side of the road and can’t bear to drive to them. So, Domino’s delivers. Sure do love those cinnastix, especially with that icing. Diet coke, starch and sugar- a fine dinner.
Calls to friends, a bath, tv. Can’t stay awake. 6 am wake up call. Back on the freeway. Yay! “you are now leaving the State of Texas.” “Welcome to Louisiana.” At least I think that’s what the sign says – does the fog ever lift in Louisiana? Nope. It sure don’t. Driving 35 mph, visibility about 20 feet – trying to keep the big trucks and red cars in sight. Need something to follow. Keep telling Maggie – “it’s okay, hon, we’re okay.” But really I’m talking to myself. I’m talking to God, I’m just talking – hoping it isn’t my day to die.
Then we STOP. Idle. Crawl. Stop. What’s going on? I know there must be an accident up ahead. Yep, about 10 cars and 4 big rigs. I thank the great spirit in the sky for not involving me. Now, I must get out of this state. Into clear weather. I stop for gas and a ‘meat pie’ – yikes! Don’t ever eat one of those things. I couldn’t’ even give it to the dog. It’s cool though, cuz I’ve got cigarettes and peanuts and warm diet coke. Life is good. More Clapton and BB King. Endless bridges. Just when I think I can turn off my brights, the fog comes back like a ghost with a grudge.
Well howdy doody, I’m in Mississippi! McDonald’s, Wendy’s, whatever. It’s food I recognize. The dog, happily gets most of it. I get to pee and back on the Freeway. I have to get to Florida today. I must!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
More bridges, more water, more humidity, more bridges more road. I cant feel my arms, my legs, my feet, my back. I am one with the road. I am the road warrior. I will get to Florida or die. Maggie looks so trusting, I’m glad she doesn’t know the truth about me. Doesn’t know I’m scared shitless and am praying the whole time that the car doesn’t explode, the tires go flat, I fall asleep at the wheel, I get stopped by the lurking state troopers who’d love to take all my traveler’s checks from me. She happily sits on the cat’s carrier and watches the scenery go by.
Glory hallelujah, I have made it to Pensacola, Florida. I have arrived. I must pull off and find a motel and celebrate. The room is okay, the cat actually doesn’t dive for under the bed and peers out the window. Maybe she knows we are almost there?
It’s hot, it’s sticky – hell, it’s Florida what do you expect. Today I MUST have a decent meal. I decide to get in the car and drive to wherever they serve real food. IHOP at your service. I order two meals – believing myself to be that hungry and starved for something that actually resembles food and doesn’t come with a happy toy inside. With wild glee I drive back to the motel with my giant bag of food, open it up and guess what, no napkins or silverware. I call the restaurant, nope they won’t bring it to me, I just can’t go back out and get it. I go to the front desk, do they perhaps have an eating implement? I get a plastic knife. Ever eaten pot roast and sweet potatoes and corn with a plastic knife? It’s a lost art. Sort of like using one chopstick. Well, the food tastes good anyway. I’m in Florida for God’s sake and I’ll be in Clearwater tomorrow, so who cares. Phone lots of friends, no one home, leave messages. I sit on my bed and cry for a while. I think it’s relief but there’s probably a good dose of fear in there too. I suddenly realize just what I’ve done and can’t believe some awful thing hasn’t befallen me and pray that my last 500 miles will go as the previous 2000 – uneventful, even, steady as she goes.
7 am wake up (I thought I deserved to sleep in) – on the road, driving as non stop as I can stand. I make a pit stop in Tallahassee, ask about the alternate route my cousin suggested and decide it’s better to stay on the 10. One more stop at McDonald’s and then we just meld with the road. We are the road and the road is us. We will not stop til we get to Clearwater. Hurray, there is the Tampa sign, I’m in Tampa, I’m seeing the signs but where is the Clearwater sign? Wow, these guys drive like L.A’ers without the hatred. Scarey. Happy nut jobs… I get off the freeway sure I’ve missed the off ramp. A nice couple informs me if I’d stayed on the freeway 5 more minutes I’d have seen the Clearwater signs. Sigh…Maggie is anxious, I’m a mess, so hot, so tired, my legs don’t feel like they really want to support me any more. Back on the freeway. Oh there it is, off the freeway, on the causeway, yep, there’s the beach, ain’t it pretty? Driving, more and more, well it seems like a lot but probably a mile have to pull over, call Trina see how far I am from the house.
I ask directions from the Clerk at the convenience store but the customers behind me are ornery and tell me to read my map. I of course say if I could read it I wouldn’t be talking to the clerk… Okay, call Trina, she tells me where to go. Back in the car, Maggie is whining she knows we’re close and just doesn’t want to be in the darn car any more and who can blame her. Finally, there it is, I turn, drive into Trina’s driveway and stop the car. Trina comes out, gives me a standing ovation and a cup of tea.
I try to chat casually like a sane person should be able to do but of course I’m babbling and probably sound like a homeless woman with too much thread in her shopping cart, unable to find anyone who wants to trade it for anything. She takes me to the house, I get the tour. She leaves.
I put the pets in the house and they bolt for parts unknown. I drag my paltry belongings into the house and dump them on the floor. Take a bath. Go to the grocery store and buy the weirdest combination of non food items and a couple of things to eat.
By midnight, I’ve put away everything I can, determined there is no television reception and fall into bed. “Tomorrow I start my new life,” I tell myself as I drift off to sleep in my new time zone.
And that’s the story of how I got to Florida.