You Can’t Go Back

October 27, Willard, Utah

When riding down the road, Bill is most likely to point out a cool old car–he has a magical ability to name the model and year of any American car from the 50s or 60s after taking the briefest glance. I’m more likely to point out a hawk, or interestingly-formed tree. It’s safe to say we’re attracted to somewhat different things.

Leaving Woodstock in October instead of September meant giving up our planned visits to national parks along the way. We’d stayed in campgrounds across the country, usually within earshot of the Interstate. We’d spent one night in the parking lot of what claimed to be and may well have been the world’s largest truck stop. Bill loved it. I thought it was an interesting shopping experience that didn’t entirely make up for sleeping under bright lights, listening to semi trucks pull in and out, and walking inside at 4 am to use the restroom and being the only female in the place.

So I was delighted when, after we finally escaped Wyoming and crossed into Utah, Bill proposed spending the night at a state park. Willard Bay State Park, right by the water. It looked like it would be lovely in daylight, although we would arrive there in the dark. Bill called ahead and was told there would be someone there to check us in until 10 pm. It sounded great.

Except.We crossed magnificent, empty landscapes, stopped several times in what an old friend would have called “Butt-Fucking Egypt,” IOW, the middle of nowhere. Places where we drove for hours with no sight of anyone or anything except the occasional, isolated house. (How does anyone live here? I wondered.) We stopped in convenience stores that offered the only sign of commerce for hundreds of miles. We found our way to the town of Willard, Utah, but then we got lost. Our trusty Magellan (Ellen the Magellan) led us to the state park–eventually–but the park had a few entrances stretched over several miles and no indication as to which one led to the campground.

So we guessed. We picked an access road. It looked like it went near the water, though it was tough to see far in the dark. We followed increasingly rural roads through brush and bushes. Bill struggled to work our way around tight turns. We began debating whether we were going down a geographic rabbit hole but the debate was settled when the road Ellen sent us down proceeded through a small, square tunnel. Even if there was a campground on the other side (which seemed doubtful) there was no way the trailer, or even the van, would fit into that entrace. We had no choice but to turn around.

Except. Could we turn around? it was exceedingly unclear. This was a narrow dirt road and, especially now that we had the load levelers in place to reduce the trailer fishtailing on the Interstates, neither backing up nor making a tight turn was particularly possible. Bill is remarkably good at this stuff. I got out and did my best to help direct him. This took a very long time because I somehow always wound up on the side of the van where Bill was unable to see me in the correct side window and there was no way he could hear me over the engine.

It took about 45 minutes and we flattened a few bushes but we finally managed to face around and drive back up the road in the direction from which we’d come. We started seeing signs for the campground, drove up what seemed to be the right road, and had to do another lengthy turning-around maneuver in someone’s driveway. But then something miraculous happened: The campground was right in front of us.

Except. There was no one in the check-in building, nor anywhere in sight, even though it was not even 9 pm. Let’s drive in and see the campsites I suggested, so we did, although by now Bill was understandably gun shy about pulling into any space he might have to back out of. Plus, to spend the night, we would need a public bathroom. One thing we’d learned in our weeks of travel was that the bathroom facilities in both the trailer and the van weren’t quite ideal. In the interests of simplicity and not having to cope with the whole dumping-out thing (not that there’s anything wrong with that) we’d been staying in campgrounds and requesting spaces near the bathroom ever since Cleveland.

As we wove in and out among the camping spots, between trees and shrubs in quiet darkness I thought a night in the woods would be quite a lovely thing. “There’s a bathroom,” I announced, pointing. “Want me to go see if it’s unlocked?”

He did not. He did not see hookup stations or spaces he could easily “pull through” as the vernacular goes. Also, he was pissed off. At the camp and the attendant who was supposed to have been there, at the state park and its incompetent signage, and perhaps at the whole damned Bay. So we drove on out of the campground and retraced our route back into the city of Willard.

By this time most everything was closed, except for a Flying J convenience store/truck stop. In my view, Flying J is sort of a poor man’s Truck Stops of America, but in some of these Western states, that seems to be all there is. Anyhow, there between the forlorn-looking hot dogs and the hallway to the washing machines we learned that, yes, Flying J permitted RVs to spend the night in its parking lot. Also, there was a KOA somewhere a few miles away although whether we’d be able to find it and whether it would be open to receive us at this hour were unknowns.

What to do? Sleeping in a campground seemed more appealing than sleeping in a truck stop. On the other hand, we were both exhausted, and we were here. And I was fairly grumpy. So I said, “I don’t care.” In retrospect that was a mistake.

Bill chose what seemed like the darkest place in the parking lot, in the shadow of a yellow schoolbus that for some mysterious reason was also spending the night. Then we climbed into bed.

Sleeping in the van is usually quite comfortable. First of all, we have our very own queen-size memory foam/latex mattress that we got on deep discount but normally costs $3,000, as well as our cuddly cats. Also, the van has a fantastic heating system and although our mattress covered the heat vent, during his week alone in Cleveland, Bill serendipitously happened upon a fabricator at a McDonald’s who agreed to make a single small duct so that now the heat was piped from underneath our mattress and blasted into the van at large. Toasty. Cozy.

Except. For the heating system to function, the van needed to be plugged into an electrical source and of course the Flying J parking lot did not offer such a thing. I had come on the trip with a great fear of being cold at night, so I was super-prepared with a plush sleeping bag we’d picked up at our LL Bean escape and also a pair of flannel pajamas and a wool union suit. I even had little fur booties for my feet. So I snuggled down and was just fine, but I was the only one. Around three in the morning there was a general commotion because all three cats plus Bill were too cold to sleep. Miri had wandered toward the front of the van where Bill didn’t want her to go because of her occasional but distressing habit of peeing on things. Being sleepy and muddle-headed he had picked her up without thinking how he was handling her. Off balance, she had flailed and scratched him near the bridge of his nose. By the time I was jolted awake, everyone involved was deeply upset.

“You know better than to pick up a cat like that,” I told him. I didn’t bother to point out that trying to keep Miri from exploring the limited space she had in the van was a hopeless endeavor, not to mention that I’d been religiously spraying the place with anti-pee pheremone spray which seemed to be working. Instead, I did what I usually do when awakened in the middle of the night: I got up to go to the bathroom. In this instance that meant pulling on my boots, winter coat and hat, and hiking all the way across the parking lot while hoping no one would make too much of the fact that my pants were actually pajama bottoms.

“How’re you doing?” asked the clerk brightly as I entered the Flying J and made a bee line for the ladies room. Observing company policy, I’m sure, but at that moment it made me feel suicidal.

“This the last time we sleep at a truck stop,” Bill announced when I returned.

I don’t think there’s anything he could have said that would have pleased me more.

Image: Shaun Fisher via Creative Commons

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Where Do Penguins Really Come From?


October 27, Near Cheyenne, Wyoming

I’m always trying to get rid of things, especially coffee mugs. Before we moved, we had enough to serve coffee to a small state. One day when we’d gotten behind on the dishes and had nary a fork, plate, bowl, or spoon that was clean and ready to use, I pointed out to Bill our rack of coffee hooks, still full of cups ready to go. Since we generally use two each every day (one for coffee in the morning, one for tea in the evening)…well, we had a lot of cups.

One cup I wanted to send on its way but he always insisted on keeping was a footed white mug with a black line drawing of a penguin and the words “Little America” in fading letters. Little America, he explained, was the U.S. base in Antarctica and so the cup (which he’d bought at a yard sale) had come an awfully long way. And so we kept it and when I packed the kitchen for our move it came along.

We were just a bit surprised as we drove across Wyoming toward Utah when we started seeing signs announcing Little America. It was only 75 miles away and had marble showers, announced the first of a series of signs. Others followed, with pictures of an attractive blonde at ease in a much more comfortable looking hotel room than you’d expect on the Interstate. Another promised soft ice cream cones for 75 cents. We needed a stop anyhow, there isn’t much to stop at in Wyoming, so we pulled up. Inside was a high-ceilinged, airy room with lavish rest rooms, a soft-serve ice cream station and other fast foods and piles and piles of tourist items. Eventually I learned there was a second area that was more of a “real” truck stop and that the real truckers went to. Truckers–who spend most of their time sleeping in their vehicles and paying for showers  individually (unless they get them as a bonus for buying gas) and have no need to worry about what anyone thinks of their appearance and mostly only talk to other truckers and the familiar wait staff at truck stops–are pretty easy to spot in a crowd. There were no truckers in the touristy building we were in.

But it was fine for us, and we took a long break from the road. I wrote a blog post on my tablet. Bill wandered the knick knacks. We debated whether this was the true origin of his penguin mug, and I pointed to the similar-looking penguins adorning the motel to bolster my belief that it was. Why penguins in the middle of Wyoming? Wikipedia eventually provided an answer: It was built 1952 to be an oasis in the otherwise empty expanse of Wyoming (it still is, pretty much) just as the camp in Antarctica was a little area of warmth and hospitality in an otherwise unwelcoming landscape. The man who created it, incidentally, died last year with a net worth of $3 billion.

After wandering around for quite a while, and sharing a grilled cheese sandwich and an order of onion rings, with Bill still not completely convinced about Little America, the truck stop vs. Little America of the South Pole, we decided it was past time to get back on the road and on to the next state. We were on our way out the door when Bill stopped abruptly.

“There they are!” And he pointed to a shelf near the floor where rows and rows of mugs just like his stood, silently settling the argument. But, he said, he liked this better–having stumbled upon where his mug came from this way, rather than from some tourist shop on the other end of the world.

And so he bought another to make a matched set with the first.


Why Oh Why Can’t We Ever Leave Wyoming?

October 26, Rawlins, Wyoming

All the way across the country, Bill has been complaining about the trailer. It’s like one of those families where each parent has a different favorite child: Bill loves the van and keeps referring to it as where we live. I keep saying that while I may sleep in the van, any actual living I do is in the trailer. Bill finds the table and seats in the trailer uncomfortably low and keeps telling me he only agreed to it because it was the first camping vehicle I liked in the slightest. I gripe about how the van doors are so heavy and stiff I can barely open and close them, plus the button to unlatch the door on the passenger side is so stiff it hurts my thumb every time I press it.

But one thing’s for sure: The combination of the van and trailer seriously lacks in aerodynamics. We catch every bit of wind that comes our way. Trucks passing by still feel like they’re pushing us off the road, though we don’t fishtail like we used to thanks to the load levelers we got in Indiana. Wind is not our friend.

We were deeply relieved to get out of the long, flat, plains of Nebraska where the wind powered in and shook our little traveling arrangement mercilessly, exhausting Bill who constantly struggled to keep us straight, cutting our MPG to absurd lows, and generally making everything unpleasant. So I was a bit concerned when my friend Michael mentioned to me that Wyoming–the next state on our agenda–was the windiest place he had ever seen.

The logical way from Denver to Seattle would be Interstate 70 West over the Rockies, but this was not our way. Our first day on the road, after ripping the awning off the side of the trailer, we had started up the gentlest possible hill on the New York State Thruway. The van engine started to audibly strain. And we started slowing d-o-w-n.

How the heck were we going to go over mountain ranges with this van towing this trailer? I fretted about this often. Bill said little, but it turns out he was doing research using maps and online RV groups. And hatching a plot. We wouldn’t go over the mountains, we would spend extra time on the road to go around them. And so we took 25 north to Cheyenne to reconnect with our old friend Interstate 80, which stretched all the way back through Pennsylvania and New Jersey almost to New York City, and which had brought us all the way through Iowa and Nebraska.

Our first entry into Wyoming was at night, and the wind was quiet. We stayed at a campground in Laramie. In daylight the next morning, we saw the mural about surviving Wyoming winds. Uh-oh, I thought.


We’d spent an extra day in Denver so Bill could have his knee looked at (probably just a sprain, they said, but didn’t give him an MRI). It was a lost day we could ill afford if Bill was to make his gig in Snohomish on November first. But he had a solution: Rather than going completely around the mountains, we could cross the Cascades at relatively low, relatively unthreatening Snoqualmie Pass. We studied what we could about the this pass. Michael discovered that the last town on the East side of the pass was at 1,500 feet. The pass itself was at about 3,000 feet so that seemed like a reasonably gentle climb. It would save us a day and get us to the gig. Bill decided we would take that route.

At a truck stop where we were having a ridiculously heavy breakfast, I overheard one of the truckers holding forth about Snoqualmie Pass. I whispered to Bill that he should ask that trucker about it, and he struck up a conversation and did. They discussed the pass (not too bad, the trucker said), but then he looked out the window at our rig and remarked: “I’d be more scared here than there.”

It turned out a high wind warning had been issued for the section of road we were about to travel over high points in Wyoming. No light loads were supposed to be on the road. Another trucker carrying an empty cattle car had looked in his side mirror to see his trailer’s wheels lifting up off the asphalt and had decided to come in the truck stop and wait it out. Driving over the mountain stopped sounding like a good idea.

Another trucker helpfully suggested an alternate route, by smaller, slower roads, around the mountain instead of over. So that’s the route we took, getting not too far down the road, and then–in view of wind warnings and rain on I-80–put up at a campground in Rawlins in the late afternoon. Once again we were stuck not far enough from where we’d started. Oh well. Tomorrow we’d get farther. Like at least to the next state.

Image: baka_san via Creative Commons

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Denver at Last

October 21-25, Denver

Whenever we talked about this trip, Denver loomed large as a way station. Neither one of us loves the city itself, but it exerts a powerful draw. First, there’s Michael, who’s been one of my best friends since I was in my early 20s, even though we lost touch with each other for a few years. And then there’s Bill’s friend Tom Furhman. Bill met Tom a few years ago when he took a trip to Denver on his own to spend some time alone at his brother’s cabin in Mancos to write songs and think about life.

Tom had a regular kirtan every Saturday night and so they performed together. Musically, they’re a good match. Bill has a very wide vocal range but mostly sings in the high tenor end of things while Tom has a lusty deep baritone voice that blends well and Bill loves singing with him. Tom admires Bill’s confident ability to improvise his way into anything; he’s a classically trained pianist who more than knows what to do with a harmonium. His kirtan has been meeting regularly for a decade and has slowly taken over his entire house, with the living room piled with rugs and cushions for a kirtan audience to sit on, and a minimum of traditional furniture.

I had never met Tom, though I’d heard a lot about him. When we rolled up and I saw this gentle, bearded man sitting with his girlfriend outside his front door, I warmed to him immediately. Tom welcomed us into his driveway (we’d been planning on a campground between Lakewood, where Michael lives, and Littleton, where Tom lives, but we gratefully scrapped that plan). And with almost no notice, he threw together a kirtan for our second night in town, complete with a really great drummer and a respectable-sized audience.

It was Bill’s first time leading, or co-leading a kirtan in a good long time, and my first time being his backup singer in more than a year. It was a huge amount of fun. One of the kirtan participants, more versed in things Hindu than any of us, pointed out that it was Diwali, the festival of lights, a time when old things are swept away and replaced by new. Seemed about right for us.

Michael came to the kirtan, although all the singing reminded him a bit too much of church, he said. He’d been trying to follow this blog and figure out when we would been passing through, and since we were so behind schedule, the poor man had been trying to leave space for us in his schedule for a whole month.

As soon as we were done performing, I rudely abandoned the kirtan crowd and invited Michael into the van where he could meet the cats–Laird parked on his lap–and we could talk. We got to continue the conversation two nights later after we decided to stay an extra day so Bill could have his right knee looked at. He had sprained it trying to slow down our over-enthusiastic moving men as they jammed our foam-and-latex mattress into the van (yes, we have our very own queen-size mattress in the van to sleep on). It’s been an issue throughout the trip and so Tom took Bill to a nearby emergency place while I tried to catch up on work. Gee, I sound like a really caring spouse, don’t I?

That night, Tom and Bill went off to yet another kirtan, while Michael and I went to dinner at a nearby brew pub that we found using “restaurants near me” on our smartphones.

I hadn’t spent any time with Michael for about four years. Bill and I had taken a trip out west in celebration of my 50th birthday, and I’d reconnected with Michael then after not seeing him in a long time. In the intervening years, he and his sons had been through some very hard times including the death of his wife. He’d pulled them through, but when I’d seen him last time, he was still grieving. Now he had a new relationship, and though there was much still to be worked out, it was great to see how much happier he seemed.

After a nice brunch with Tom and his lady friend Anya–we had some great meals while we were in Denver–we went on our way through the Denver traffic. Back to the road.

Image: Robert Kash via Creative Commons

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A Long, Flat Way

October 20, Lincoln, NE

I used to think of Iowa as flat. That was before I saw Nebraska. Our introduction to the state came when we crossed the border from Iowa on I-80 and the roads immediately became much worse. We didn’t think much about it–Iowa roads had been decidedly better than Illinois or Ohio to the East. The state, I had always thought, had its act together, for instance with higher literacy rates than those around it. Then again, maybe it was the cleverness of making sure Iowa always held the first caucuses of
election season that gave it national attention, brought in national money, and made things generally better.

Past Omaha, the roads got marginally better, although we became used to rolling through construction areas every five miles or so. And each lasted about four miles. At the end, there’d be a sign saying that whatever construction company was responsible for the mess “thanks” you. And then, a mile later, it would start all over again.

We spent a night at a campground in Lincoln and then had breakfast the next day with our friend Mark Miller, his daughter, and 15-month-old granddaughter. And it was out on the road again. Mark had directed us to a wildlife area on the Platte River where huge crowds of migrating cranes rested on their way through at the end of October. Alas, while we are traveling too late in most other respects–too late for the itinerary we originally planned, too late to visit national parks–we were too early for the cranes. We took a pretty walk by the lush river and got on or way.

Endless corn gave way to giant ranches and the occasional feedlot as we progressed west. And finally, as we crossed into Colorado, we began seeing windmills, mile after mile of them. Wind had buffeted us all the way across Nebraska, but, at least from the Interstate, the only windmills to be seen were the old-fashioned well pump kind made only for supplying cattle with water. Too red a state for that danged alternative energy? We couldn’t figure it out.

We drove on through. And finally made it to Denver.

The Hawkeye State


October 18, Iowa City, IA

When I was 18, I left my home in Manhattan to attend the University of Iowa. I went because it was a well-known school for writers, and also because of an off-hand comment by a professor at an Ivy-League school I was visiting that made me want to jump the tracks of what was expected.

My high school friends had trouble even remembering where I was going, let alone understanding why. “University of Iowa, Idaho City, Ohio,” said a t-shirt that I loved.

Once there, I found myself quite out of place. Long skirts as everyday wear were common in New York City in the late 70s, but wearing them was one of many things that made me stick out in Iowa City. I was a Jewish, slightly Asian-looking, black-haired New Yorker. There wasn’t much hope of my blending in.

But being there was good for me in innumerable ways. Too far to return home for weekends or quick visits, I was truly away from everyone and everything I’d ever known. I had to learn new ways of being, of presenting myself, and of looking at the world. I learned about journalism working on U of I’s newspaper, The Daily Iowan, which was the only morning paper in town. And I got my first taste of America, which is very, very different from the Upper West Side.

So when our route west took us right by Iowa City, I couldn’t resist stopping there. Bill and I had a long breakfast with an old boyfriend and his sister, and then I spent a brief while wondering around town. It wasn’t at all the town I remembered, having grown up into a nice, cosmopolitan little city. Even the Hamburg Inn, there for more than 40 years where Bill and I had a meal for nostalgia’s sake, is much spiffier and much less of a greasy spoon than I remembered. Iowa Book and Supply was much the same as I remembered and I got myself a Hawkeyes sweatshirt to replace my old Iowa one that fell to shreds years ago. And the Old Capital building looked every bit as much the gilded penis that I remembered.

But even things that were the same looked different because one element had chanced completely, and that was me. It was really brought home to me as we rolled through the cornfields that afternoon, the same endless cornfields that made me and my father turn back in frustration after an hour’s drive out of town hoping to see whatever sights there might be. Now I saw something I’d completely missed in three years as an Iowa resident: Iowa farmland is very beautiful. So are the barnboard farms that dot the countryside, though many have been abandoned as big corporations have taken over for farmers whose banks have forced them off their own land.

“Why did I never see this when I lived here?” I kept asking Bill. Part of it was a preference for nature left wild and not submitted to agriculture. And then I craved action and excitement more then than I do now. It comes down to this: You can retrace your steps but the world will not look the same through 54-year-old eyes as it does through 18-year-old ones.

I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Image: LearningLark via Creative Commons


October 14-17, Granger, IN

Bill is the driver (I’d be hesitant to try driving the van; I would never, ever try driving the van/trailer combo). Unlike me, he’s not directionally challenged. So it’s been his job to figure out our route throughout this trip. Before we left Cleveland he declared that our next stop would be somewhere around South Bend, Indiana–because nearby Elkhart was known far and wide as the RV Capital of the world.

My first reaction was annoyance–his obsession with RV life had gotten way out of hand! But then he explained: Surely around there we would find experts who could help with some of our problems.

What problems? First there were the skylights in the van that had been leaking badly ever since we’d paid the RV place in New York State $744 to fix a slight leak there. Then there was the non-working toilet dump hose in the van, supposedly checked out by that same despicable RV place before we left–clearly it had never been looked at and had come apart in Bill’s hands. Then there was another big problem which, believe it or not, I haven’t mentioned till now: the unnerving fishtailing of the trailer.

“I officially hate the trailer!” Bill declared once as we drove down the road. I tended not to answer these comments, but feeling the van swing back and forth within our lane–and watching the little bubble careen back and forth in the level on the dashboard–did not make me feel particularly relaxed or safe as we traveled down the road at a relatively sedate 55 to 60 mph, which was as much as we could handle.

The fishtailing was so bad–and Bill was so concerned about it–that I started seriously wondering if we should find a way to abort. In 19 years in which Bill has done 99.7 percent of the driving, I’ve seen him get disgusted. I’ve seen him get angry, and I’ve heard him complain of other drivers’ life-threatening behavior. But I had never seen him frightened before. If he was frightened, there must be really good reason to fear.

“It could be that I’m not accustomed to it,” he said. “Maybe I’m just being a Nervous Nelly.”

There are many areas of life in which Bill is indeed a Nervous Nelly. He tends to suspect that all large spiders might be venomous. Every time I get on an airplane without him he worries that it might go down, although he seems to have no such fear if we’re together. But driving? Never.

“You’re not a Nervous Nelly behind the wheel,” I told him. I thought we could get along without a functioning toilet in the van. We have one in the trailer anyhow. But I wasn’t happy with that fishtailing.

So we headed toward South Bend and wound up at a wonderful campground in Granger where we stayed three nights. The owner directed us to a dependable RV repair place where for less than $600 they put the toilet in the van back in order and largely mitigated our fishtailing problem by adding a load leveler to our hitch. (It wasn’t Bill’s imagination.) Oh, and they finally fixed the leaky skylights as well.

We’d spent our 14th anniversary driving from Cleveland to Granger, arriving too late to go out to dinner or otherwise celebrate. The second night, we did laundry and made a campfire, although the bundle of wood we bought turned out to be a little too damp to work efficiently.

Oh well. We had regrouped. Everything was looking better. Now we could really be on our way.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

October 14, Cleveland

Bill picked me up at the Cleveland Airport and took me straight back to David and Doris’s for a matzoh ball soup family dinner. Thirty-six hours later, after some badly needed sleep and some equally badly needed showers (thanks again, David and Doris!) we packed up to go.
We discovered a few things. First, if you use the toilet in the van just a little too much without dumping it out, it starts to smell. We also learned that the RV place in Coxsackie–supposedly the only one in our area you could trust–got even more wrong than we thought they did. Not only were the skylights they charged us $744 to repair leaking twice as badly as before, they had also assured Bill that the plumbing in the van was in good working order and ready to go. It was a pleasant surprise, since the person who sold us the van had told us it wasn’t working. But they said they’d checked it out thoroughly and would work fine.

I don’t like to accuse anyone of lying. And I suppose they have their own version of that conversation. Maybe Bill heard “It should work fine,” but what they actually said was, “We have no idea–we haven’t bothered to check it.” Because that’s what they meant. We know, because a hinge that held the dumping pipe from the van in place was completely rusted in place and obviously hadn’t budged in years.

If they had checked, it’s just possible they would have noticed that all was indeed not well with the van plumbing. In fact, the fabric part of the dump hose had disintegrated over the years and when Bill tried to pull it out for use, it disintegrated into a giant Slinky.
We managed to get the van toilet dumped out with the hose from the trailer and some gumption. We imprisoned Miri in the cat carrier since neither one of us could face dealing with cleaning up our bed again. And we headed out.

Somewhere in this process, I asked the question. I couldn’t help it. I’d been thinking it and not asking it almost from the moment we set out.

“Are you enjoying this?”

Not exactly, Bill admitted. “I’m not enjoying all the problems but I am enjoying that we’re figuring out how to solve them,” he said.

I can relate to that. Overcoming challenges is very satisfying and we’ve had a few of them on this trip so far. And I see why it’s working for Bill more than me: He’s been the one solving the problems. I’ve been more like an innocent bystander, at best, and a heckler at worst.
But when I said this, he protested. “I couldn’t do it–wouldn’t want to do it–without you,” he said. In fact, he admitted that late at night while I was away in San Francisco, he’d asked himself what he would do if I did not return. “I probably would have hunkered down. Maybe wound up in an apartment here. It’s not that I couldn’t have figured out how to pack up and go with the cats and everything, I just wouldn’t have wanted to.”

In fact, some friend or other had, half-jokingly, suggested just this: Already on the West Coast, I stay there and wait for him. But of course I would never do that.

“You don’t really think I would have done that, do you?”

“No,” he said. “But it was late at night. I started wondering, ‘What if her plane crashes?'”

“So if my plane had crashed, your biggest concern would have been how to get out of Cleveland??”

That at least got a laugh. I’ll admit I continued pretty moody, and difficult, and miserable for many more miles. After all, none of this was my idea. On the other hand, I agreed to it, and here we both were in the middle of it. So we continued west. Determined that things would get better.

I Lose My Cool and Get It Back

Getting paid well for my work is really nice. Having that money go missing when I’m counting on it, not so much.

Earlier this year, I was offered a job managing a new website for a large company. It was a big job–many hours a month–but with a nice monthly payment just at the time we needed it to finance our move and the improvements to our house needed to rent or sell it. All had been going well since then.

But then, as our move approached, I faced the same question for each of my clients: Given the time lag between when I send in an invoice and when I get paid, should I put my old address or my new one on the invoice? (Some readers may know that we don’t have a new place to live yet–the new address is a post office box in Lake Stevens where our good friends live.)

I’ve been working for the company that publishes the website for more than a decade. In all that time, no invoice has taken longer than four weeks to get paid. It was a big check and we needed the money soon, so on August 12, knowing we wouldn’t leave before September 15, it seemed like a no-brainer to have the payment sent to my Woodstock address.

It seemed like a slightly worse idea on September 14 when the check still hadn’t arrived and I dropped a short note to my contact to ask if the payment had hit a glitch. Payments from the company are “net 45,” she responded, and these days were taking even longer than that. Net 45? It had never taken me that long to get paid. But it was taking us longer than expected to get ourselves packed up, and I could wait another 13 days.

On September 26, with still no check and knowing we’d be leaving in a week or so, I emailed my contact again. Would it be possible to have the check sent to the new address instead? Maybe it had already been mailed, she responded, but if not she would. When we left eight days later and the check still hadn’t come, I figured it had gone on to Washington and didn’t worry about it. Since all other checks were either accounted for or invoiced with a Washington address, and since our departure was singularly disorganized, I hadn’t worried too much about changing our address in a huge hurry. On the other hand, my P.O. box rental had been due October 1. I was away that day so Bill picked up my mail and paid the rental–with a plan to close down the box and get most of the payment refunded before we left.

Wednesday, I flew to San Francisco for the ASJA board meeting and conference. On Friday morning, having taken an online look at how our bank account was dwindling, I wanted to make extra sure that the big check had gone to Washington. So I sent another quick email asking for confirmation. She wrote back immediately to tell me that–so it turned out–accounting was required to send a payment to the address on the original invoice, so that’s where it had gone. So sorry she hadn’t told me sooner.

That threw me into something of a panic. The big check–the one we were counting on to pay the multi-thousand moving bill for our container of things that we sent ahead, along with lots of other debts–had gone to a P.O. box that was cancelled? What would the post office do with that mail? Return to sender? Route it to limbo? Would we ever see that money?

It was early morning, California time–I’d awakened before dawn thanks to jet lag–and I had to stop what I was doing and hurry down to the hotel lobby or miss the shuttle to the ASJA conference that day. Frustrated, I stomped into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me hard enough to shake the walls. My makeup bag, which I’d set on the only available spot, the back of the toilet, slowly keeled over and tumbled into the toilet. Of course it was open and all my makeup (which admittedly is pretty minimal) dispersed into the water.This resulted in about as much cursing as you might imagine.

Later that morning, I texted Bill, still in a financial terror tizzy. He told me calmly that 1) He’d made sure to leave the P.O. box in place for the moment till we knew that forwarding was underway, and 2) that he would mail our mailbox key to our friend Gordon who’s both contractor and caretaker for our house and Gordon would retrieve the check and deposit it in the bank for us. Crisis solved. Lipstick soaked unnecessarily. I felt pretty relieved, and pretty stupid.

That afternoon, I felt like I needed a break. I also felt, in my post-presidential state, more entitled to play hooky from ASJA doings than ever before. The conference was fantastic–I never would have left if I was looking for writing work, but I’m turning work away these days. So I snuck out of the conference a bit early and bailed on dinner with other board members. I’d found out that Friday was women-only day at the baths in Japantown, and one of my fondest memories from an earlier San Francisco visit was an afternoon spent chatting, soaking in the hot bath, and making quick visits to the cold bath (one after the other is highly relaxing) and slower visits to the sauna.

So I walked up San Francisco’s hilly streets to the Japan Center, and the baths were even more wonderful than I remembered. I think they may have gotten an upgrade in the decades since my last visit. Finances be damned, I splurged on a massage after a bunch of soaking, then crawled into the sauna, then lay on one of the of the wooden benches until I realized that if I didn’t get up and go back to the hotel soon I wouldn’t have the energy to ever leave. Mmmm…

The following day I went back to the conference and then went to bed at 9 pm so I could rise at 3 and catch a 4 a.m. van to the airport for a 6:20 flight back to Cleveland and life in a van.

Image: Karl Baron/Creative Commons

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