29 August 2012

Seven years later

I left my apartment at about 3:15 am -early Sunday morning on August 28th 2005. I was moving to California from Forest Park, a suburb of Chicago. I was trying to start over, even though I was going to continue working for Borders and would be farther into the 'burbs of LA than I was from Chicago. Of course, at the time, beyond knowing my house mate Bill, I knew no one. But I had hoped that my time at Borders and living in La Verne would be short. Of course, I ignored my own history, but that's the way I operate.

My parents wanted to come with me, share the driving. But I said no, this was something I needed and wanted to do. Even though I had been standing pretty much on my own for a long time, to me this move was designed to really show people -because some suspected that I was spoiled by my mother- I can live and be on my own, cut-off from family.

I drove and drove. That was one of the other reasons it I wanted to do it alone. I wanted to get to California as quickly as the U-Haul pulling my car could get there. So I chugged on Interstate 55 south towards St. Louis. I passed the Illinois state capital of Springfield about 3 hours later. A few hours after that, I passed onto Interstate 44 through St. Louis, waving at the giant arch there, and then into Missouri. I continued on and on, the road passing beneath my wheels, kicking up stones and debris.

I had music, but it was on a boombox, so it was just CD's. Still, I was bored. The weather outside was warm as I drove south, but keeping the windows open on caused drag, which would bring my mileage down. Running the air conditioning did this as well. So I drove shirtless -which turned out to be a mistake, as the windshield of the van reflected the sun onto my stomach and lower half of my chest. So I ended up with a bit of sunburn. 

Anyways, my relentless desire to get to my new home drove me to continue driving. So as I said goodbye to Missouri, and wandered into Oklahoma, I began wondering where I should stop and when. My older brother mentioned to me that I could sleep in a Walmart parking lot, as this was apparently allowed. And as I drove -stopping only for gas, food and peeing- I saw a many Walmart's along Interstate 44. 

But I plowed on. But as I drove through Oklahoma City and onto I40, I realized I was exhausted and had been on the road for nearly 17 hours. As I passed the city limits, I saw a Walmart and finally pulled over into it. I got out the van, achy, tired and hungry. After eating some Mickey D's, I wandered through the huge store for about a half hour, before retreating back to my van. 

As I tried to get some sleep, I faced a conundrum. It was still very warm in Oklahoma, so I had to keep the windows open a bit, but I feared leaving them wide open could lead to problems. So as darkness settled in, at about 8.30 that night, I began to snooze. It would be a restless, warm sleep (though I had earplugs, so I was able to block out the noise of the parking lot plus the traffic noise coming from the 40) but I would be able to get a few hours of much needed rest.

I slept for a about 4 hours straight before I began catnapping. And after trying to get a more deeper sleep, and failing at that, I finally decided at 3am on August 29th to continue my journey.

Trudging back onto interstate 40, I looked to the Western sky knowing a few more states and a 1,000 plus miles still laid ahead. As the dawn chased me, I eventually left Oklahoma behind me and entered into northern Texas. The only thing of note in that state, was Amarillo, otherwise this part of Texas was a wasteland of farmlands. Like driving through Nebraska on I80, this part of I40 was dull, boring and reminded me of a post-apocalyptic world. Thankfully, unlike Nebraska, my time in Texas was short and I crossed into New Mexico and entered into Mountain Time.

From there, I40 took me through many small towns that resembled the many small towns I passed through when I began my journey. Luckily, when I needed gas and food, I generally stopped at truck stops, as it was less creepy for me (I brought a nice club with me, just in case, and kept it in the cab of the van). As I began to rise up and up as the Rocky Mountains were near in my future, I passed through Albuquerque and eventually onto Gallup, where lack of sleep and hunger made me stop for the night at around 6pm. It was also there, I saw footage of what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans. Life went on, as I traveled, I realized, and because I was listening to CD's, never turning on the van's radio, I did not know how damaging the storm became. 

Once again, though, I camped out at a Walmart parking lot. 

While I did get some more sleep that night, I still ended up waking again and again. Sadly, this was rather typical of me even at home. I would zonk out, falling into a deep, REM sleep, only to wake up thinking its hours later only to realize that I've been asleep for 3 hours. But I had five more hours to go!

Anyways, once again, at about 3am on August 30, I left Gallup, New Mexico and headed west towards Arizona. I arrived in Flagstaff just as the sun was rising. I stopped and fueled up -it was a brisk morning as I was in the mountains now. I had also worried, with me pulling my car, this would be the most difficult passage to California. But fortune favored me, and while it was slow, I passed through with no trouble. 

I rolled on, determined to reach La Verne today. But the worse part of any trip, maybe, is usually the last league. I mean, I was tired and began to notice I was retaining water, as my feet and ankles were swollen. I had been driving barefoot anyways, and wore flip-flops when refueling and eating, so I noticed it rather early. But knowing I was close to my new home, I just wanted to finally get there.

I knew this most difficult part of the trip was now at hand. As I entered California, I also met the Mojave Desert. It's looks nice at first, but you begin to remember stories -mostly from old western movies and TV shows- where this desert played a major part in the death of many folks heading out west to start a new life and I prayed to whatever God I believed in, that nothing major would happen here. Then, of course, you realize that its nothing but scrub and sand for hundreds and hundreds of dull miles. I would think most people died of boredom than the elements, honestly. Thankfully, nothing did happen to the moving van -it was running perfectly. But as I noted,  I was retaining a lot of water (I brought a gallon jug with me, but I had only consumed about half of it after three days), and with my constant foot on the gas pedal (no cruise control) my right leg began to bounce and vibrate. It became so uncomfortable, so distracting, I eventually pulled off the road and got out of the van. 

It was strange feeling, my right leg. While driving I felt it might detach itself like some booster rocket on the space shuttle, but as I got out -I literally jumped out of the U-Haul once I safely on the side of the road- I paced around the moving van like a caged lion, back and forth, around and around.

So for 15 to 20 minutes I stood or moved around the gravel on the side of I40 in the desert of California. I took note of how empty it was, wondering about the men who had to build the road to begin with -how did they deal with the emptiness and unrelenting heat, not to mention what ever insect and animal life lived here.

Eventually, feeling the blood moving through my right leg, I climbed back into the moving van and headed further west, towards Barstow, where I would pick up I15. As I approached the junction, I remembered back to late 1990 when I decided to move from Chicago to San Francisco. While it was only a brief stay there -I moved back in November of 1992- I reflected on the last thirteen years living back in Illinois, and how much I hated living there and wanted so much to return to California. Here was I15, which I could take north and would take me directly to the Bay Area. As I passed onto the south bound 15, I remember smiling. Mostly, because I knew I was never going back to Chicago to live. I was -and still am- determined to stay here.

So as the morning of the 30th gave way to the afternoon, I continued to drive south on the 15 freeway towards Los Angeles. The 210, just barely completed when I arrived, awaited me (as a matter of fact, some parts of the 210 past the 15 were still incomplete, and that's where some of the first Transformer movie was filmed in late 2005 and early 2006). That was good, as the 10 freeway can be busy and difficult. 

It was around 4 pm when I arrived on the 210 westbound. I was in the homestretch and I could not wait to arrive. Then I exited the freeway on Fruit Street and a few minutes after that was at my new home in La Verne. I traveled 2,084 miles in about 63 hours. I was exhausted, bloated like a whale, but happy. 

The only thing I unpacked was my bed, and quickly set that up. Took a much needed shower, and went out to dinner with Bill. Despite my problems sleeping in strange places, I slept fairly well the first night.

So here I sit seven years later. While I'm still happy I moved, my life is in the same position it was in 2005. And as I turn 50 in a little over 2 weeks from now, I hope the next chapter in my life turns out to be better than this last year alone.

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