by Akim Reinhardt
In February the word came in. My brother in law had a job offer in Orange County. He and my sister would finally be giving up the little apartment in far northern Manhattan and heading for the West coast.
“Lemme know if I can help,” I to told my sister.
“You wanna drive the moving truck across the country with Noah?” she asked.
“Sure, I can do that,” I said.
Monday, July 21
With luggage, I make the 20 minute walk to the light rail station. Train shows up, and the ride to the airport is uneventful. Not like last time when I had some drunk fool trying to pick a fight with me at 9:00 in the morning cause he thought I was “gay lookin'” at him. Goin' on about how he did a dime in prison and he'd kick my ass, except he's either about 60 years old or a very rough 50, and already lit, drinking tall boys out of paper bags, so no, he can't actually kick my ass. After not engaging, I finally had to tell him to shut the fuck up already, but that didn't help. Didn't make it worse either. Just kept on prattling his belligerent, drunken shit.
Nothing like that this time. To the airport, all good. Until you walk in to find your flight's been delayed two hours.
After what passes for a nice meal at BWI (decent beer, cured olives, mixed salad with goat cheese; actually, that's a nice meal anywhere), I mosey over to the gate. My gate's jammed, so I go to something a bit emptier. I open up Murdering McKinley by Eric Rauchway, a history prof up at UC Davis. He's a good writer, which isn't a given for a historian.
I mean, just look at this pablum.
About thirty pages in, this terribly annoying extended family sits next to me. Not a decent one in the lot.
I move on to a quieter spot. Then the guy behind me starts slurping the straw of his empty Dunkin' Donuts cup. And he won't stop. On and off for 20 minutes. I look behind me. He's about 50 years old
Truly, there is no sense of decorum left in this country.
Tuesday, July 22
We're departing from central Mass. Mostly I'm just here for the driving. I've circled and criss-crossed the U.S. many times. Noah's done it once. More than a decade ago he drove a gray '89 Cadillac Brougham nicknamed “The Phantom” across the northern route, which we won't be taking. So I guess I'm also here to lend my “wisdom.” Share the driving, help plot the route, offer tips on various logistical issues.
And I'm not to pay for anything. They've made that clear. He's got a moving budget. My flights from Baltimore to Boston and then from LA back to Baltimore are covered. So are all my expenses along the way. That works.
Noah's got a 16' Penske truck. Hooked behind that is a trailer for the car, an '04 Civic. On top of that is a thirteen and a half foot kayak.
He's strapped the kayak onto cars many times before. But neither of us has ever hooked up a trailer to a truck, or loaded a car onto a trailer. Or driven a truck with a trailer, much less one that's got a car on it, and a yellow kayak on top of that, looking like an insane paper hat.
When we get the truck over to Home Depot, which is apparently a place you can pick up Penske trailers, they're sorta helpful. But they also make it clear that it's all on us cause they're not the Penske people and they can't be responsible if anything goes wrong. Oh, and the pin that guarantees the trailer won't separate from the truck? It's missing, the guy tells us. He casually suggests we should probably go to aisle 16 and buy a new pin. The Penske people will probably reimburse us.
I eyeball a big drawer of different sized pins. I pull out a .55 cent cotter pin that ends up fitting perfectly. I'm also good at guessing distances, crowd sizes, and peoples' heights and weights. That's the kind of “wisdom” you get when you bring me along for the ride.
And away we go.
We might die on this trip. I think it's totally reasonable to assume that might happen.
Wednesday, July 23
It took us about 25 minutes to get the truck out of the Econolodge parking lot in Binghampton, N.Y. this morning. You turn the wheel this way, truck goes that way, trailer goes this way, and on and on.
The motel handyman sat there watching us for a while, which is understandable, until you realize that his pickup truck, parked in the corner of the L-shaped lot, is the one thing that's really holding us up. I mean, that and our own incompetence, Noah attempting a 99 point turn while I shout incoherent directions. Turns out the handyman's a bit soft in the head. After some grumbling about being parked in the shade, he agreed to move it.
We eventually made our escape and drove across the southern tier of New York. Fucking gorgeous. Spending time in the Appalachians always reinforces my impatience for Rocky Mountain snobbery. Here's my impression of the Rockies:
Pine pine pine pine pine pine pine.
Even as far north as upstate New York, the Appalachians still have a nice mix of coniferous and deciduous foliage. More importantly, to me anyway, at nearly half-a-billion years old, the Appalachians are the world's elder statesmen of mountains. The oldest above sea mountains in the world, they used to be as tall as the Rockies and Alps, but erosion has left them bent and stooping. Whenever I move through them, I feel like I'm in the company of old men. Be respectful.
The young buck Rockies are taller, but that doesn't make them “majestic.” It makes them preening, strutting teenagers with greased hair and tight jeans, predictable and gauche. Or, to paraphrase Phil Hartmann's Frank Sinatra: The Appalachians got chunks of mountains like the Rockies in their stool.
After a brief snippet of northwestern Pennsylvania, we entered Ohio. I once got pulled over in Ohio for doing 67 in a 65. While I was passing a semi, no less. True story. The officer didn't actually write me a ticket, but he did offer a patronizing little bromide about how “we like to obey the law here in Ohio.”
Yeah, and the people in the other 49 states can't get sexually aroused unless they're committing crimes. You sanctimonious piece of shit scumbag. Go fuck yourself.
When I attended the University of Michigan in the late 1980s, the culture of hating Ohio ran deep, but being from elsewhere, I never cared. However, after that little run-in, circa 1998, it became very real for me. For example, I think it's outrageous that in virtually every road atlas, Ohio gets four pages while a huge state like New Mexico gets one.
Thursday, July 24
There was a moment. A Phil Collins song came on the radio. Noah was driving and he reached over, I assumed, to change the station. Instead, he turned it up.
I may have to council my sister to get a divorce. I know they're actively trying to have children, but priorities are important.
Other than that, Columbus, Ohio to Lebanon, Missouri, and pretty uneventful. As I learned to say in the Midwest more than a quarter of a century ago: Sweet.
But I have no illusions, and I suspect the future is quietly scheming against us.
Friday, July 25
Today was the day of deep conversations in the cab of the Penske truck. Hours on end as we tooled across Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas. Family, politics, etc. But you ain't privy to none a that. Suffice it to say that I'm considering telling my sister that she doesn't have to divorce Noah after all.
We finally pulled over in Groom, Texas, about an hour east of Amarillo. A very pleasant Gujarati woman checked us into our motel. She was surprised that I could guess she was Gujarati.
“Well, a lot of people from there are in this business,” she said, making sense of my acute handicapping skills, which are carnival barker level quality. Step right up!
I told her I have Gujarati friends back in Maryland and New Jersey.
“How long have you been here,” I asked
“About ten years.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes. There's no crime or anything like that to worry about.
Perhaps as if to illustrate, she scoffed mildly and quietly when I asked if there was a password for the internet.
During my early evening shower, as I wiped the road grime from my face with a coarse, white cloth, I decided that I would not in fact steal a bar of soap or roll of toilet paper from this fine and clean mom-n-pop establishment, as is my habit when staying at chain hotels.
After dinner, I stood in a Dairy Queen parking lot and watched a Great Plains sunset.
Saturday, July 26
While Noah was still showering, I walked through Groom to the town's restaurant. Noah drove the truck over and met me there, pulling into the lot just as I showed up. We entered the country cafe and found seats. He asked for a decaf. They don't do that kinda thing, and rightly so. We had omelets, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, and some nice conversation with various people, including the owner.
Used to be cattle country, he said, but the drought did that in, and now it's mostly irrigated farming. The owner himself used to have a dozen head of cattle, but they're all gone, and now he's got the restaurant. The main crops being grown in the area are corn, cotton, and some milo. The cotton only came in about five years ago, he told us.
Afterwards, we hopped in the truck and turned on the radio. Who needs coffee when you've got Journey? “Feeling That Way”/”Anytime That You Want Me” was blasting as we made our way back to I-40.
I was still singing Broom's praises, and along with Steve Perry, when a semi nearly ran us off the road. At first he was trailing us in the right lane. Then he came out into the left and began to pass us. But inexplicably, the big rig began to move back into the right lane before he finished passing. He was only about half-way ahead of us when he started making his way into the right lane and cut us off.
Noah eased off the gas and drifted far enough right to buy us some space while not going so far as to run us into the shoulder. Handled it well. And thus does Death pass me over another day.
At a truck stop in eastern New Mexico I found homemade samosas. An Indian family was running the place and there were two women in the kitchen making food from scratch. For three bucks I got a couple of them and a little plastic container of chutney. Were they the best samosas I've ever had? Hardly. But for a truck stop in eastern New Mexico? Off the chart, brother. Off the chart.
At the filling station after that, just before Gallup, NM, I noticed my first ass pimples of the trip. After five straight days of sitting in the cab of the truck, it was to be expected. Later on that evening, while watching the dependably unfathomable colors of an an Arizona sunset from the terrace of our motel, trucks whizzing by on the interstate below, I found a third, the three of them forming an isosceles triangle on my right cheek.
I've made many long trips before, but it's different in a 16' truck. It drives much differently, of course, especially with the car hitched behind it. But I've also had a tough time getting comfortable. Even thought I'm only 5'9″, there's not enough leg room for my liking. But most of all, I'm tired of being encased in a world of vinyl and hard plastic.
Sunday, July 27
This morning was a little rough. But I can't bring myself to blame yesterday's big Texas breakfast, homemade New Mexico samosas, or the chili rellenos I had for dinner. So let's just say five days on the road finally caught up to me. Fair enough. It's behind me now, and I've moved on.
Today's drive was shorter than most. After racking up 500-600 miles per day, we logged a paltry 350. One might be tempted to say we took it easy on Sunday, but honestly, the days have all blended together at this point. The only reason I even know it's Sunday is because of the deadline for this article.
We rolled into Needles, California at about 2:30 and hunkered down at the first motel we could find with truck parking and a pool. Any devoted fans of the Charlie Brown comics will recognize Needles as the hometown of Spike, Snoopy's skinny, mustachioed brother.
I don't know how you could show up in Needles on a late July afternoon and not want a cold beer. The bartender at a nearby establishment told us it was only 102 today. Apparently it hit 124 not that long ago. I lived in Phoenix for a year and actually like this kinda thing, but it's not for Noah, he of the stocky Jewish genes. He tans well, but he finds anything over 85 to be oppressive. I tried to sell him on the virtues of dry heat instead of the East coast humidity he's used to, but he was having none of it.
After the bar, we returned to the motel and went for a dip in the pool. We were talking to some nice people who were on their way from Albuquerque to Disney Land when the transformer for the motel blew. There was a loud bang and then a big aluminum thingee on top of the shed behind the pool shot into the air and came crashing back down. Since it didn't land on anyone, we in the pool simply resumed our pleasant conversations.
However, we returned to the room to find the electricity out. So after quick showers, we walked to a Mexican restaurant the bartender had recommended earlier. Outstanding food.
But despite the glorious repast and pleasant stroll afterwards, I approached our motel room in a state of mild panic. What if the juice is still out? How will I file this paean to easy travel and mediocre writing? How will I meet my deadline? I pride myself on never missing deadlines and haven't missed a single one during my nearly four years of writing for 3QD.
I've seen a lotta roadside stuff about Jesus Christ being available for saving one from trying times. I myself am an atheistic motherfucker, but if there is a sentient creator out an about, then that good Lord was on my side tonight.
We walked back into the room to find the alarm clock blinking red numbers. And thus, dear reader, I can share these 2600-some-odd words with you.
There's just one more day in the truck awaiting us. God willin' and the creek don't rise, we'll arrive in the town of Orange in Orange County, California as you're reading these words. There'll be unloading, unpacking, and this-n-that. Then on Wednesday I catch a red eye out of LAX back to Baltimore, and I'll be ready to stand still.
Akim Reinhardt's website is ThePublicProfessor.com