Packing up my ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN/You Are On Indian Land exhibit into a 26 foot U-Haul over the past winter gave me flashbacks to the last time I worked that hard loading all my “stuff” into a 26 foot U-Haul. The last U-Haul event was with my husband at the time, so many years ago. We were moving from Algoma, Wisconsin to Magdalena, New Mexico. New Mexico was our dream as artists but it was going to take a bit of fortitude and determination. Following is a recall of making that dream happen.
SUNDAY — 4:00 pm, June 21, 1996
GRUELLING (gru’el-ling) — a 26′ U-Haul packed with 100 tons of stuff, two cats, towing a car trailer and two artists across 4 1/2 states totaling some 1700 miles
After three and a half days of squirreling most everything intended into a too small great big yellow truck, my husband, Douglas, and I are ready to say good-bye to Algoma almost 12 hours later than planned. Three very hard weeks of packing, finishing sculpting jobs, sorting, a giant garage sale, trashing, “on second thought I need that” untrusting and cleaning has exhausted us. We are looking forward to simply sitting, sightseeing, and steering for four days or 1500 miles, whichever came first. Silly us.
The night before our ETL, in our empty home, we watch the tail end of the Olympic opening ceremonies. Lyrics to one of the songs by Gloria Estephan, “… when you think you can’t do it, you do!” proves, at least to me, inspiring over the next few days.
26 feet of truck and another 20 or so feet of trailer, we fear the turns. After finally leaving Algoma and saying a not so tearful good-bye to the midwest, we count only six turns across and down five and half states to our home in Magdalena, New Mexico. Silly us. A few short miles down the road we double-check the trailer where the cats are in the car set up with beds, food, water and a cat box. I envy them. The trailer is okay and although the cats look stunned, we expect them to be just fine. Silly us.
Eleven miles down the road, in Casco, the truck’s Service Park Break light comes on and stays on for the next 300 miles despite attempts to turn it off.
SUNDAY — 8:00 pm
We stop south of Madison, WI at a rest stop for a picnic and check again on the car passengers where we find the normally adversarial cats hovered together IN the cat box. Annie still likes us and comes out at our beckoning. Grits, her stress level affecting her judgement, pees missing the box and draining over the edge onto the carpet floor.Tummies full and rested I take charge behind the wheel with fear and trembling. At 35 MPH Douglas says to me, innocuously as possible, “You can go faster if you want to.”
SUNDAY — Midnight
For several hours I have been tested with road construction, fatigue, narrow passages lined with concrete blocks or ravines, uneven lanes, dust clouds, sudden stops, rough roads and tolls. While I drove Douglas intends to sleep but can’t with my constant declarations of “Oh, shit!”. Time to look for a hotel.
“Don’t pull in until you know you can get out. There’s no backing up.” “Nonsense,” I think pulling up to the motel parking lot, “Every motel has a turn around.” I drive all 46 feet of us into a lot with, unbelievably, no turn around.
“I can back up!,” I boast sleepily. “What’s the big deal!” It becomes a big deal for the awkward pivotal point gives the car trailer a mind of its own. Back and forth, back and forth, maneuvering yards of axles inch by inch the rumbling of our diesel engine waking every patron in the place. The motel owner moves his car — courtesy or fear of me flattening it like a pancake? 45 minutes later and we are finally out of there. They didn’t accept pets anyway.
MONDAY — 1:00 am, June 22, 1996
We find a truck stop with plenty of turn around and tolerance for pets. We park next to the big guys to catch a few Z’s.
Can’t sleep so we check the manual under “Service Park Break”. It is STRONGLY suggested the operator take heed as the break could suddenly engage while in motion. Great! 200 tons of stuff suddenly catapulted over our heads.
MONDAY — 2:00 am
We call 1-800-GO U-HAUL and within 20 minutes a mechanic smelling of gas and grease arrives but the “Service Park Break” light fails to show up.
“It was on! 500 miles! We swear!”
He has a crazed look about him and I wonder if he would look that way at a decent hour and a lit “Service Park Break” warning light. He goes home and we rookies decide to have breakfast with the veteran truckers albeit it’s still the middle of the night.
Revived on full stomachs, a gallon of caffeine and peace of mind with a darkened warning light we drive into and through the dawn.
It’s a dogged day through Ioway needing to stop often at rest stops which become stay overs tending to cats as well as ourselves. Thinking the cats would welcome fresh air and exercise, they claw at our backs while we struggle to leash them then run after as they make a beeline to the farthest bush lined edges. They are terrorized by cars, trucks, noise, people, dogs, crickets, daylight, falling leaves . . . It’s no wonder I have never in my life seen a cat at a rest stop. Most cat owners know better.
At an average speed of 45 MPH, hilly terrain and frequent stops it takes an eternity to cross Iowa. The day warms up and cats are brought into the air-conditioned cab along with their pillows, blankets, food and water. The passenger must sit with feet in the litter box.
MONDAY — 5:00 pm
The four of us are exhausted. Cat Grits can’t stand from thirst and fatigue. Maybe too many “it will do you good” walks. She is pissed and won’t drink or eat. We take an exit promising lodging outside Council Bluffs.
The exit takes us down a steep hill we know must be laboriously scaled again in the morning as we haul back up 300 tons of stuff. We suddenly find ourselves on a busy rush hour business district with no promised motel in site and only a small grocery lot large enough to turn in to escape the traffic madness. In extreme stress, much like Grits the cat, we imagine having to wait until late evening and an empty lot.
“Just when you think you can’t, you can . . . ”
Douglas maneuvered truck and trailer around cars and agitated people finally exiting a busy entry while I stood in the middle of the street holding back traffic. I see lips mumble profanities. “Hey,” I want to yell, “You’re not hauling your house in the trunk!”
We chug our 400 tons of stuff back up the hill. Having, by now, long overshot our six turn maximum, we are getting hardly anywhere agonizingly slow. Our new mantra: “We will stop ONLY if the hotel AND its lot are visible from the highway.” Good luck with that.
A few miles later the Rath Hotel accommodates us with few patrons and enough asphalt to bury Council Bluffs. We re-Christen it The Wrath of God Hotel. The cats couldn’t be more pleased thinking we are finally “there”. No, it’s just Omaha.
A Ma & Pa car repair/restaurant/”antique” shop sits across the street. We have a North Platte potato casserole for a meal and, silly us, buy an unusual pair of S&P shakers for only $3 to add to our 500 tons of stuff.
TUESDAY — 11:00 am, June 23, 1996
After 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, we board the huge yellow truck on day five of our allotted eight. And it’s just Omaha. “The Long Long Trailer” movie with Desi and Lucy comes to mind. We assure ourselves the good roads of flat Nebraska will help our time. We do, indeed, increase our speed average to a blinding 60 MPH. The roads are relatively smooth and the cats are finally able to rest without their little heads shaking like the dashboard bobbing head madonna. The trailer echoes every bounce jarring us in turn, thus, we feel every bump twice. The cat, Annie, whose life, till now, needed us only to keep her box clean, food available and door open upon request; hugs my lap with her head in my hand attempting to keep her brains from rattling loose and falling into her neck. Grits wedges her head between blanket and seat with her feet pushed against Douglas’ side. “Aw, she loves me,” he says. “No,” I think letting him believe his sentimental notion. “She’s tying to stay the hell on the seat.
We drove into a pounding thunderstorm with strong winds but we avoided stopping in Nebraska until absolutely necessary. It became absolutely necessary. At a rest stop, in the rain, I shoved cats aside and pushed through pillows and blankets and stepped over the still dry cat box to run to the restroom to find the women’s side closed. I reached deep into my memory bank to my assertiveness training classes in Algoma and found the muster to use the men’s side. We are off with everyone repositioned in the truck in less than five minutes.
The only other Nebraska moment is a jammed door lock we fix with a Swiss army knife. Who needs a crazed gas fumed mechanic when one has a Swiss army knife?
TUESDAY — 9:00 pm, Sterling, CO
The air has lost its humidity and we are beginning to smell New Mexico. The change in climate has aroused the cats for we return from a late dinner to find them out from their usual hiding place under the seat now hanging out on the dash looking out the windshield. Maybe they think we’re ‘there’. Silly them.
We decide to drive straight through the day and night to our new home in Magdalena wanting to end this olympic time trial. I am anxious to sit in a stationary chair and watch REAL Olympians trained to tax their bodies, brains and emotions. I try not to think about the job ahead unloading our 600 tons of
belongings junk. My arms and legs are littered with bruises and my fingers are still swollen Kielbasa size from lifting a gazillion 100# boxes of books. Beneath the bruises my arms have gotten buff — well, buffer. “See my muscles,” I say to Douglas flexing as the mile markers slowly drift by. I need more sleeveless tops I think to myself.
WEDNESDAY — 2:00 a.m., June 24, 1996; Rest stop north of Colorado Springs
Having bee-bopped to the oldies and eating Jelly Bellies to stay awake, we cozy in between two big rigs to get some rest. The cats, however, are waking up. I steal their pillows and blankies and settle into the car which smells of catnip, to get some sleep. Douglas has been suffering from a leg cramp but finally falls asleep between cat fights in the truck cab with his head over the cat box. The inevitable happens. Both of them. They emptied three days of bowl thinking possibly we were finally ‘there’. Somehow, somewhere, just outside Algoma this trip became about them.
We dump their dump and move on through the rising sun. Coasting south and downhill to New Mexico, my initial 35 MPH timidity three days previous has become a GET OUR OF MY WAY! aggressive 65 MPH allowing the downhill momentum of 700 tons of non-essentials push us on. We’re making good time until the 7,834′ Raton Pass on the Northern border of New Mexico. “This wasn’t here the first time we came down (looking for a house)!” 45 MPH, 35 MPH, 20 MPH, 10 MPH — 200 yards from the summit. People pass snickering, gawking. Yep, we are going to pay for overloading, stop and roll back down. Good thing we had our park break serviced. My heart beats again when the top is finally reached only to have it race on the roller coaster ride down. What was that we told our Algoma neighbors? After all the hard work proving their, “You’ll never fit it all in there” warnings wrong; we looked forward to the four days of scenery gazing. Silly us.
Five hours to go we stop to feed the yellow gas guzzling monster and caffeinate ourselves with the help of an unfriendly attendant in the middle of a nowhere mountain desert. I need all available space to exit the station and have to wait for a young blonde woman and female companion to pull out of the lot. The blonde is driving a red and white 60’s Rambler type station wagon towing a small boat and trailer with South Dakota plates.
There are huge distances between towns dwarfing our block long two story rig, but we love the 360 degree horizon. The refreshing vastness gets the focus off of ourselves. We pass the exit for Cimarron wondering where in the world it could be out there. A couple of days later a tornado would take that exit and devastate the town we never saw reducing homes and the Post Office to kindling. After the storm mail was found across the countryside. It was the first tornado in thirty years.
We cruise past Santa Fe where we hope to spend lots of time in the near and distant future. Right now we just want to get through Albuquerque and home. Unfortunately we have to compete with another rush hour and some of the worst driving we have witnessed anywhere — ever. On the other hand maybe it’s not them, it’s our extreme fatigue and slo-o-o-o-o-w reflexes. When we believe our fatigue can be challenged no more, a traffic jam. Damn! We come to a creeping pace for miles until we finally approach the problem. The blonde woman in the red and white station wagon with South Dakota plates has stalled on the shoulder with the rear of her boat and trailer blocking the right lane. Too bad for her but I am suddenly desperate for a functioning rest stop — men’s okay — New Mexico having too few for weary travelers. At last, 12 miles north of Socorro a rest stop posted with warnings of rattlesnakes. Fine. Bite Me.
In Socorro we are at the U-Haul drop off an hour after hours and we can’t go home as we are driving a Big Rig and can’t turn around on our dead-end street until we shed the trailer. Contemplating our situation we talk each other up and past our fatigue, “We can do it. We can do it. We can do it . . . We can unload the car and back the trailer into that little space!” Meanwhile the Saints of Truckers conferenced and intervened in our favor for the U-Haul Guys showed up!
One, two, three and the trailer was unhitched, the car unloaded by two Hispanic brothers. Either as a macho move or angry for showing up when they had other plans, one brother drove all we owned at mach speed demolition derby style around the lot. “Hey! we have a lot of nice things in there!”
Grits christened our finally ‘being there’ by peeing on my jeans.
Two days later the truck whose yellow will forever symbolize grueling to me, was empty and returned to the brothers. We had way too much to fit in our temporary home but it didn’t dampen our joy at walking an arroyo under the bright sun anticipating many new and wonderful experiences.
As we heard over and over during the Olympic Games, reaching a goal and having a dream requires focus and determination. Nestled in a valley between blue mountains and light flooding our home and studios, we could begin our new journey — to pursue our art with serious joy. It wasn’t about the cats after all.