[or: What Not To Do In Winter – Except When You Have To]
First and foremost, the disclaimer: let me say something only a few of you know…
- I write for Trip Advisor, and have been doing that the past few years in my travels. Have a few commentaries on places and lodging and am adding more with all the stops made due to delays and storms…a lot!
- This trip was not a holiday or vacation, it was a move – one that was anticipated for my cousin to make, but NOT AT ALL PLANNED for this time of year!
- Late February is NEVER the time to plan a move in most of the contiguous 48 US states, except possibly the southernmost bunch. Things can go from hot to cold, wet to arid, at almost anytime and almost anywhere on this 4000km (2400mi) venture!
- My cousin Becky is the centerpiece of the move, having been given the opportunity to leave the only place she’s ever known in Bristol County, RI (ALL of three towns big) to be with two of her closest friends in Albuquerque, NM.
|| THE PLAN ||
The first hint of a relocation was offered back in the fall of 2013, as my cousin’s two close friends who had lived with her after their Newport, RI home had sold earlier that year decided they would return to New Mexico after 15 years in “Little Rhody”. This was the first offer, a way to close the book on a world that had seen her family one by one reduced to nothing from at one time having substantial wealth; with cancer ravaging and problems mounting, illness and job loss, her brother estranged in the last few years, finally having to sell the home both her mom (my aunt Claudia) and our grandmother had spent their last living years occupying, Becky was downsizing out of necessity to a small one bedroom with her beloved pooch, Shelby. She was in no way ready for that new life, and declined the offer…but that offer was one with no end date.
Last year had little reprieve. Finally landing work, she fell day one due to a part of a spiral staircase in disrepair, causing her to fall flat. Instead of the company taking care of her immediately they chose to terminate her. Two lawsuits are in the works to recover monetary and medical damages. The inability to get medical attention in time and long extensions to cover court-ordered repayment added immense stress to her, family and friends. She had such guilt for all the assistance needed, but those who helped were determined to get her through, doing all that could be afforded.
It became very clear to me that the only true hope of getting back on track with life would be exploring opportunity Becky had overlooked. The job market in the Northeast has been abysmal for some time, and Rhode Island still ranks very high in unemployment. Every door sought for work folded, then every hope for maintaining her home evaporated. Even friends who would have had her move in temporarily had to decline, one by one. However, her two dear friends in Albuquerque still had the open door.
An eviction proceeding was truly the last sign needed. Without her appointed attorney available to be at the court, Becky had to negotiate with the apartment owner’s lawyer who gave her an offer of waived payment for two months with the departure from the premises by March 1st. It gave her 11 days to make a decision, get packed, and go someplace. I had been telling this wonderful cousin who shares a birthday two days from my own that the New Mexico offer is still there, that it would be tough to leave the only place you’ve ever known with friends you’ve had since a child. However, as doors close, the open door is the next venture. She tearfully agreed to make the arrangement with about eight days to go before all had to be out of the place.
Her two friends confirmed all was fine for her to head west and live with them, having shared memories from when everyone was back at Sherry Avenue in the house with every beloved moment they would incessantly talk about, and how it would be great to re-create the moments all over.
|| The Move ||
Family and friends put together all the necessary stuff – cash, time, transport – to get Becky fast-tracked to a whole new life. It was very emotional for us all; knowing the trepidation she had so far from all that was familiar equaled my own deep pain of knowing what happens when everything you do fails and only one direction remains. Insisting the move was going to undo so much loss, I became half training missions expert, half confidant. I’d be doing the driving of the moving van hired to get her possessions there, and we would be doing this trip tandem-style, with her and Shelby in the car and myself at the wheel of the moving vehicle.
While frantic packing got underway a few days before the departure, I was busy on communication with friends who had lived near various portions of the journey. I had two nagging issues ahead: weather (winter conditions with little windows available to drive like mad and avoid ice, snow and wind) and schedule (with hope to make the destination in four days). Very ambitious task, considering my cousin had never driven farther than Connecticut (less than 250km/156mi, round trip, on her own). With severe back pain and all the driving ahead, I ran a risk that she might not make it, end up in hospital, or worse, but this was our road and the time was at hand.
DAY ONE: Saturday, a cold but bright day, still below freezing, we left the apartment in the rear mirror at 10:30AM. The first leg was to get to Connecticut and take a break for lunch. Becky had been feeling queasy for days, not eating much, but I managed to pack along a bunch of organic foods we both enjoyed – and forgot half of them in the back of Dad’s vehicle as he drove away. Shopping was once again on the list, but for what we had, plenty was available for several days. First stop? A rest room, of course! That one was the beautiful facility just over the state line in North Stonington CT…very close to the two biggest casinos in the world, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. My stomping ground, as well, having lived in Mystic, Groton and Norwich for a combined 19 years. With she and Shelby relieved, we kept the route intended, veering north through Middletown CT and eventually hooking up with Interstate 84 for the first long leg. Our destination was to be Virginia. We made it by sundown, just barely, to Wilkes-Barre PA.
DAY TWO: Stuck in Wilkes-Barre, snowed in, we enjoyed the stay at the Days Inn just minutes away from the Wilkes-Barre International Airport – which was also very close to the other Mohegan Sun Poconos Casino. Becky wasn’t feeling so great and Shelby needed the break from all the driving (and she may never want to get in a car again after this trip!) JoAnn at the hotel was a gift – one of the most wonderful welcomers to a night’s stay anyone could hope for. She happened to be VERY dog-friendly, and Shel took to her immediately! The accommodations worked well for our two days there, and we discovered a great Chinese food delivery service about nine minutes away who cater to Vegetarian tastes and were undeterred by the bad weather. One of the pitfalls was a plan to visit with our own Bearded Gent Shawn (aka Fearsome Beard) who was staying with family in Roanoke VA, but the storm forced plans to be changed before he headed back to sunny California. As Saturday night turned to Sunday night and eventually Monday morning, a window of opportunity evolved as a cold front pushed the storm to our south and east. As long as I could see the mountain tops where I-84 traversed, it was time to move onward.
DAY THREE: The big push…I knew at this point our original plans were completely out the window, and all that could be hoped for was to get to Tennessee and I-40 so that the longer trek of this trip could be a straight shot. West Virginia was the stop that finally got us into warmer air and no more snow on the ground, a truly happy sight. We made excellent time, got into Roanoke VA around the dinner hour and had the guts to push all the way to the Knoxville TN area by mid-evening. The day was dry, warmer than we’d felt in weeks, and finally…I-40 was the ‘big drive’ to get us much further west.
DAY FOUR: The hotel was quite nice, a Super 8 with a quiet area and some very accommodating gents running the place. Got in a nice midnight conversation with the night manager, bearded himself. Becky had been showing signs of wear, and while talking with my sister and her close friends they were taking bets if I was going to push on to Nashville to get a bit closer to the goal. She has back issues, and sitting long periods is a huge no-no, which is why I built in stops along the way to get up and move, take rest room breaks, etc. – I get that I’m somewhat Camel-like on long trips and less needing to pause. It’s here that I got Marty Ray, a local Memphis singer who caught my ear, to reconnect with me and an attempt was made to try a stop in Memphis. The drive was treacherous in the Cumberland gap region: thick fog for hours, slowing the trip significantly…and Becky had decided before leaving the next does of back pills had to be taken – sadly, with area drinking water. Their water is notoriously awful, but she being an old Bristolian and having had bad water most of her life, she determines the Tennessee stuff can’t be so bad.
My warning was almost prophetic; she was queasy most of the rest of the way. Still, the trooper that she was, we managed to get to Memphis by dusk. Sadly, the delays had done their damage: it was too late to contact for the interview, and wouldn’t you know?…we both landed in front of the very spot where she and I had been faithfully giving to help some of the neediest children and families – staring right at the front of Saint Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital – with absolutely no way of stopping to take a photo…after three attempts! This is where I got angry…not at anyone, but at the fact opportunity turned to nothing twice, in the same hour! We crossed the Mississippi River to find thick fog and horrible roads (full of construction and pot-holes) to make a stop in Forrest City for the night. Wonderful people and just about everything you could need there, including all sorts of food, but the locals were very skittish at night. At the Wendy’s next door the attendants had doors locked at 8:45pm, even the drive-up window was locked once the cash was exchanged. Regardless of the air of fear, we got to sleep right away as exhaustion and frustration don’t make for much conversation.
DAY FIVE: One little surprise almost turned to disaster at the hotel. Their bathroom door was defective, having jammed with the handle unable to unlock. Found out about it when I was in there and thankfully had a jersey draped over the door so it was unable to close. Being locked in a confining space, no matter how utilitarian, is not a desirable feature, especially with a schedule getting dangerously low on available time. We had another cold wave to fight, and it was advancing into the Little Rock area, so we got the trip underway with every intention to make Oklahoma City. Once out of the capital district the drive got less wet, and most beautiful – western Arkansas has some very fine scenery; but with colder rain coming and snow greeting us again in Fort Smith, a hasty stop and conference got us to the point of agreeing that when the snow stuck to the grass, we would stop for the night. Sallisaw, Oklahoma, was our target; it was also the moment where the roads were too compromised with snow cover. It was only mid-afternoon, a pity really that we needed to end the day’s travel so soon…but this part of the journey had more benefit than trouble.
Upon entering our room at the Days Inn, I took this picture from a day window seating area…sooo comfortable! Becky and Shelby got in, Becky hits the bed and…zzzzz…my cousin and her faithful pooch were off in dreamland. The sun was returning to the sky, but there was no reason to move on, not with the blissful state they occupied. Taking a lean back on the other bed, I succumbed to slumber on a mattress that made the invite to lay back and linger…as long as you wish. As predicted, this navigator lost himself in blissful rest until sundown. With a restaurant opened across the street which in years past had a great buffet (Western Sizzlin’) the choice for dinner was obvious. Reputations tarnish, and though the people were wonderful, the food was regrettably bland and not terribly appetizing. Snow and ice had returned to the area, so sleep seemed the logical, and most relaxing, thing to continue.
DAY SIX: In the hotel lounge area a breakfast station featured this lovely woman who I struck conversation with about the storm and her stay. She was with a tall man, truck driver from Tucson, Arizona that had an emergency stay at the hotel as their tractor-trailer rig went into a sudden skid just before the hotel exit on the opposite travel lanes, jack-knifed and sustained enough damage to the truck to end their travel any further. Thankfully their cargo and this couple were fine, and even in pretty good spirits. She had made an extra waffle which was gratefully accepted (the first person this whole trip who actually cooked for me!), and after a bit of socializing, the conversation ended up at the front desk – asking for some disclosure as to the nature and manufacturer of the mattresses. They admitted the big pleasure so many get from the comfort, and that insiders there have taken reservation on bringing specific bed sets home as an upcoming liquidation of the bedroom suites was on the calendar shortly. As my fellow Gent and Messianic man Alan Sloan was within grabbing distance to this property, word was sent. He also got the inside scoop on a local radio announcer Doug Berton at Mix 105.1, the facility just a few doors up as we made connection during the storm. Got a chance to catch the morning show and it was great! What was more spectacular, every male on staff, not one exception – is FULL BEARDED! http://kxmx.com/onair
With a cold but brilliantly sunny day on tap, we were rested and ready to take on the road to at least Amarillo, Texas or ideally, just inside New Mexico. Here was a part of the road trip where special notice was taken. It was the first section where earlier tornado damage was spotted in about four different places. The drive was direct through Oklahoma City and Tinker Air Force Base, a place I’d been very familiar of in former business contact but never ‘in’. Outside the metropolis, the open land and slow upward climb was beautiful and eery all at once; several Cherokee trinket shops dot the roadside and we needed a break at the outermost location just shy of Texas. Here was a perfect ‘stretch your legs and walk the dog’ time, a decent walking trail and buffalo on the other side of the fence. Becky was begging for a buffalo moment, and this was probably the best of the stops for that thrill.
The two large, furry beasts were strolling through a seemingly typical afternoon of eating the prairie grasses, oblivious to the two Rhode Islanders gawking and their faithful Shelby gazing on them. What we found a bit strange was the tufts of fur covering their backs and upper sides had a distinctive green tint – as though moss was taking over. They largely paid us no mind, enjoying the chilly afternoon’s fare of prairie grass. Shelby being the dog she is was beside herself in the investigating excrement piles from other critters – unknown to us – which had decided to make their rest stop here.
We made our next stop the food and fuel station across the street where Shelby was in for a second surprise: her own foot-long sandwich complete with shaved steak, Provolone cheese and black pepper which her hairy cousin (moi!) could not resist feeding to her. The drool was faucet like and the tail wagging could have cooled down an entire room! Hands were too busy and a bit slick from the olive oil used to get a proper picture, sadly.
We made Amarillo, Texas, around nightfall. The fact this higher plains city keeps climbing as you travel west was odd and a bit unsettling, but it made for some interesting eye candy as the New Mexico border was within easy distance. With a good 10 hours travel and stops accomplished, the decision was made (once again with the help of my sister back home doing all the analytics) to stay at Tucumcari, NM, at a Days Inn which offered suite accommodation. Parking was a challenge; no room at the Inn for a moving truck, but a bordering Methodist church with a dirt parking lot afforded lots of room for us; it also came with a bit of mud to contend with. The suite was nice indeed, but that night a rowdy bunch of students kept Becky awake until 3am, after several desk call complaints were lodged. I was adrift in dead sleep.
DAY SEVEN: Just 3 hours separated us from the intended destination, and I was eager to finish this; however Becky was lagging from the rough night yet managed to drive on, keeping close pace to the back end of the moving van. A call from my sister about an hour from Albuquerque had me in a good chuckle, as Becky relayed the fact I was doing the posted speed limits this entire leg, and she wondered if I was in distress. Actually, the fact I needed to get this rig emptied and returned by day’s end to Budget or incur even more cost overages was all the thrust needed to be done with this trip – today.
One thing about New Mexico’s largest city: it’s hard to see it coming. It’s in a valley surrounded by red mountainside at almost every turn. What seemed like suburbs to us was in fact just outlaying towns divided by terrain sinking rather deeply down into the valley of this vastly populated space. Our final destination was to be the Northwest city sector, and by now I had both a good drawn and aerial map of the intended home delivery. Thankfully the streets here are laid out quite like those in San Diego, which made finding things relatively easy and one’s sense of where he was relatively confident. With only one little mistake taken just a mile from the residence, we got there at 1:45 pm local time.
A bright wall of sunshine greeted us as we backed the truck up for unloading, and one of the two friends greeted us with a teenage neighbor who got the work crew organized. That crew was a bit behind schedule, so I worked with the lad to unload the back quarter. About the time my knees were having no more of lifting and stretching the rest of the crew arrived; two parts of family of the lad, one of them a neighbor – his father – an Albuquerque patrolman who truly impressed me. Wonderful guy to know, and to know that he is a presence in this rather peaceful spot near the cross-hairs of Interstates 40 and 25.
This rather benign space was crammed with people moving things all afternoon. Becky and I were inside, prepping her L-shaped comfy sofa in the sunroom and making certain Shelby had something deeply missed and beloved once more within her reclining reach.
A picture does say a thousand words, even in the absence of ‘woof’. This sweet girl traveled 2400 miles, 4000km, through vast American landscapes. She got the car ride of her life, and we have been taking bets whether she will ever again head toward the rear seat when Becky says ‘let’s go for a ride!’ Just to see this face squished contentedly in the sofa cushion somehow made all the troubles we encountered less troubling. Though Becky was still pining for Bristol, she was now focusing on the next immediate plan, to get a yard sale going and reduce all the newly-repositioned clutter.
Once the truck was emptied, the return had a little surprise or two in store for yours truly. I was still a bit regretful to be all the way out here in the desert southwest, a place that truly connects me to nature, and not do more than just whoosh past in a driven frenzy. At the Budget Truck return desk a man greeted me with a very long goatee and broad smile. We had a good 20 minute conversation about the trip, the great way the truck performed, and a kindred love of music (he had the same radio station playing as I did in the truck). Turned out he was a local pastor, a Houston transplant 13 years in this city he adopted as ‘home’ for his family. He learned that the station we both liked had a bit of my influence airing, as I’ve been one for a number of years on their music survey committee.
With only a few hours left before my return flight to chilly Boston, we finally got to eating local fare. Actually, we were in separate vehicles and getting an impromptu tour of downtown Albuquerque and its causeway landmark full of shops and legends, the main road – Route 66. Finally, I got to travel it – though only a few miles of it – another one of those ‘bucket list’ goals somewhat achieved. Dinner was at the famed Frontier, a restaurant that rambled from connected buildings to the main area where cooks stood with green lights at the ready for order taking. We kept the menu traditional, from the enchiladas with green chiles to their signature ‘sweet roll’ – a giant bun glistening with a buttery sugar and cinnamon topping. We also got to eat that thing as many of the locals do – dipped in red chili sauce. Southwest nirvana!
About 9:30pm we said our goodbyes and I was deposited at the Albuquerque International Airport for my midnight ‘red eye’ flight back to Boston. Exhausted, sore and sleeping, the flight got us zipped into JFK Airport NYC by 5:45am and within the hour we took the final leg to Boston. That flight actually landed a full half hour ahead of schedule, can you believe it?! First time on Jet Blue, great experience. Sis and brother-in-law were soon to arrive, whisking me away to one of our faves for a great breakast fare, Bickford’s.
By noon I was back, girls =^.^= wondering why a four day trip was twice as long, but in their own forgiving way, Yin and Yang were just thoroughly happy having their Cat Dad home; after all, I am their favorite pillow. And being such, their favorite pillow needed the cuddle and drool of his little princesses in great big measure.