While participating in various video game discussions over the past few days I came to an accidental realization while glancing at my avatar to the left of my posts. I, PeteRock, was nearing the 1000-post-milestone mark.
While this type of milestone may not be any major feat for some of the more succinct posters here at GamingTrend, given the typical length of a PeteRock post, to have composed 1000
of these behemoths is quite the "accomplishment" (i.e. welcomed distraction from doing any actual work). Yesterday afternoon I noticed I had reached a post count of 999 and I managed to force myself to avoid making any more posts while considering how I would commemorate reaching 1000. A simple "Yay, 1000!" just wouldn't contain nearly enough words, but I was left wondering what would
be enough. And this morning I recalled a letter I wrote to family and friends detailing our 3000-mile journey across the country on our way to our new home, Phoenix, Arizona. I treated the letter as a short story, working to include drama, humor, excitement, and suspense. There was no need to create characters as the real world was kind enough to supply oddballs even my own crazy imagination could never come close to dreaming up, and in the process I developed a document that I could revisit from time to time to reminisce about one of the most life-changing adventures I've experienced to date.
Many probably won't even consider reading such a story, but for those that do (who are most likely the same ones who actually take the time to read some of my other lengthy posts), thank you for taking time out of your day to read my excessively long and drawn-out ramblings, as they obviously take some work and attention on my part, and I compose them to make what I consider to be a meaningful contribution to the community, not merely to provide my fingers with ample typing exercise (although the excessive typing does help to make it sound like I am busy at work). For those who are willing to dedicate the time and brainpower necessary to venture forward, I hope you enjoy my little anecdote about the longest trip of my life:
On the night of Thursday, June 16th, Jaime and I packed everything we own (along with as much office furniture as we could fit………and a pet fish) into the largest moving truck I had ever seen: A 35-foot Penske monstrosity. The truck was packed full from front to back, and from floor to ceiling. We then attached a car carrier to the back of the truck, loaded our Hyundai onto the carrier, and then proceeded to load every one of Jaime’s houseplants into the car (approximately 47 plants, some rather large), converting it into a mobile greenhouse. The car was completely full from floorboards to ceiling.
The entire vehicular unit was approximately the same length as an 18-wheeler, and it wasn’t until this point in time that I came to a horrifying realization: I actually have to drive
this thing 3200
miles (yes, I know the United States is only approximately 3,000 miles from coast to coast, and I’m sure you noticed the mileage error, but you will understand the significance of this error later).
Friday morning is the beginning of our journey. We decided to stop in Pittsburgh to see Jaime’s family before we begin the actual trip to Arizona. So, on Friday morning Jaime and I climb into the truck, we set Jaime’s pet fish between us on the bench seat, Jaime gets comfortable with her book, I take a few deep breaths, disengage the parking break, close my eyes, and we headed toward the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Terrifying Challenge #1: Guide this monster through the turnpike tollbooth. With the truck placed perfectly in the center of the lane, there was no more than four inches of clearance on either side. Not exactly a lot of room for error, but we made it. Only 99,000 miles left to go (at least that is what it felt
like). However, after about an hour of driving I actually started to get comfortable with the truck. Actually, I became comfortable with the insurance
we got on the truck, not necessarily the driving of it. You more or less press the accelerator to the floorboard, grab hold of the gigantic steering wheel, try not to hit anything, and have faith in your accident coverage. That’s about it.
Typically it takes us around 4 ˝ to 5 hours to get from our house to Pittsburgh. In the truck it took us close to seven. The first indication on just how long
this trip was going to be. We arrived at Jaime’s parents’ house around dinnertime (finding out along the way that her parents just happen to be out of town for the weekend
), and decided to water the plants in Jaime’s car. I pressed the keyless entry button, but nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. Jaime tried hers. Nothing. I’m sure you’re wondering why we just didn’t unlock the door with the key. Because the key doesn’t disable the alarm. That has to be done with the keyless entry. Isn’t modern technology grand? Unfortunately the keyless entry wasn’t working. We thought that perhaps the batteries were dead in the keyless entry key chains and called Hyundai roadside assistance, but there wasn’t much they could assist with. Opening the door with the key wasn’t an option because we didn’t want to set off the alarm, on our own car, in a small neighborhood, with plenty of onlookers, since we already managed to draw enough attention to ourselves with our 60 feet of moving truck nightmare. I’m sure decorative china and picture frames were falling from walls all through town as I bucked the diesel behemoth down Jaime’s small street. We weren’t exactly town favorites as it was. Having to wait for the car battery to die in order for the alarm to stop probably wouldn’t have helped our standing with the local townspeople. Perhaps I could disconnect the battery, but based on my luck already, I wasn’t about to press my luck with high voltage.
I instead decided to head inside and enjoy a frosty beer to take some of the edge off of the long drive. After about an hour (and five beers), I decided to go back out to the car. For some reason beer causes men to think they are better equipped for problem solving when intoxicated than when sober. I’m a perfect example of this phenomenon. I tried the keyless entry again (as if given enough time to rest the batteries would magically recharge). Something just didn’t seem right. I decided I would just have to bite the bullet and try opening the car door with the key. I unlocked the door, took a deep breath, and opened the door, squinting my eyes in anticipation of the ear-piercing alarm (not sure why squinting your eyes is a natural reaction to the anticipation of loud noises, as if it has any effect on your hearing
Perhaps the key does
disarm the alarm. I thought I’d try starting the car to make sure everything was in working order. Nothing. Crap. The battery must be dead. But how
? Then I see what happened. One of Jaime’s plants had been resting on the brake pedal, riding the brakes like a nursing home escapee FOR THE PAST SEVEN HOURS.
In comes Pap, Jaime’s 83-year-old grandfather. This man can fix anything. He’s like a retired McGyver, saving lives with a paper clip and a rubber band, all in exchange for pork roll. I know this because the first day I met him I tried to help him adjust his garage door opener. All that was needed was a simple adjustment so that the door would close properly. Being the Mr. Fix-It that I am, I somehow managed to blow the opener up (I don't mean shorted it out, I mean blew
it up, completely with flying shrapnel and debris), which threw me from the ladder I was standing on, and in spite of my help, Pap still
managed to get it working again with some old pinball machine parts, the spring from a ballpoint pen, and a bottle cap from my beer. I think he even restarted my heart with a 9-volt battery and some tinfoil. The man is simply amazing. So he stopped by with a battery charger he had put together decades ago with bubblegum, an old hairdryer, and a discarded toilet paper tube that has apparently been charging batteries since WWII. I ran an extension cord from Jaime’s parents’ garage, we hooked up the car’s battery to the charger, and flipped the switch. By this point in time we had long forgotten about the car’s alarm system. However, we would soon
Pap was standing with his head under the car’s hood, looking over the engine, making sure nothing else needed attention. It was at this point that the battery had enough juice to power the car alarm. I’ve never seen an 83-year-old-man jump that high in all my life (and he probably would have gone higher if the car’s hood didn’t halt his upward progress……rather abruptly I might add). I felt so badly. I almost killed Pap
. And I’m sure the initial shock took a few years off of my own
life as well. Once I managed to disable the alarm with the keyless entry (which did
in fact work), we had a nice laugh about it (once we used the charger made out of toilet paper tubes to jumpstart Pap’s heart again). Jaime watered her plants, we all had dinner, and then Jaime and I were off to sleep to rest up for our first real day of travel. Jaime calculated that we had approximately 3200 miles to cover from Pittsburgh to Phoenix. For some reason I didn’t question this number, whether it was because I was too tired, my reasoning was hampered by too many jolts back to life by Pap's 9-volt and tin foil homemade defibrillator, or I simply did not realize that this would put us somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. However, a time would come when we would begin questioning our calculations (fortunately prior to driving into the Pacific Ocean). We had to be in Phoenix by the 22nd of June in order to move into our new apartment, which meant we’d have to cover close to 800 miles each day for the next four days. Since the truck doesn’t travel any faster than 62mph, that looked to be around 14 hours of driving a day (not including lunch or dinner stops). And since Jaime was terrified of driving such a large vehicle (and I, too, was terrified of Jaime driving such a large vehicle), that meant 14 hours of driving I
would have to do each day. This was looking to be more of a bad idea every minute.
We got on the road around 5am and started the first of many long days of travel (or what we thought would be many days of travel). The first few hours really aren’t so bad. You’re excited to be on your way, the sun is coming up, and it feels like an exciting adventure. Before you know it, you’ve driven for six or seven hours and it’s about time for lunch. Or, in Jaime’s case, you’ve slept
for six or seven hours and are ready for lunch. We traveled through the rest of Pennsylvania, a bit of West Virginia (imagine one’s surprise when you’re expecting to see signs for Ohio and instead pass into West Virginia – you start wondering where the heck you could have taken a wrong turn, especially since the Turnpike is the straightest path of misery ever created), Ohio, and we were now in Indiana. What exciting cuisine did we experience on our first big day of travel across the diverse United States? What fascinating food did we have the opportunity to sample while traveling through Indiana? Cracker Barrel. They should call it Crap
per Barrel. Why? Because it’s crap
. Not to mention the one-way ticket to the crapper that comes free with every meal.
You feel a sense of accomplishment when you’ve managed to drive 7 straight hours. However, once lunch is finished, that sense of accomplishment turns to dread when you realize you’re only halfway for the day (and you’ve got unstable Cracker Barrel food just waiting for the most inopportune moment). Unless you’re Jaime, in which case you look forward to a nice long nap after a filling meal. That first hour after lunch feels like it should have been three, and once you start looking at your watch every so often, the drive feels that much longer, especially when the only conversation option you have is the pet fish sloshing beside you. When one of your driving companions spends a lot of time sleeping, and the other is a fish, the drive feels rather long and tedious. However, by the time you pass the 10-hour mark for the day, you’re more or less in a “zone”, and you start enjoying
your conversation with the fish, laughing at his odd but welcomed humor, understanding his willingness to keep up a conversation in order to stave off motion sickness from the water sloshing in his bowl, and you just keep on truckin’. And the wife just keeps on sleepin’. Hibernating bears don’t sleep as much as Jaime when she’s in a vehicle. Some of you might wonder why Jaime is getting such a hard time in this letter. She, too, will admit how much sleep she caught up on during our trip.
Next came Missouri. What a miserable place that was. Perhaps I’m a little biased due to my experience. We have to pass through St. Louis, and if you’ve never had the opportunity to drive a 60-foot monstrosity through that nightmare they call St. Louis, I’d suggest leaving it off of your “to-do” list. Five lanes of pure mayhem. Apparently the term “merge” indicates to St. Louisians that they are to close the distance between themselves and the car in front of them as quickly as possible, making sure large vehicles have no opportunity to change lanes whatsoever. Fortunately, in this case size DOES matter. I took it upon myself to educate the city of St. Louis in the art of “forceful merging” and the concept of "full accident coverage". I wasn't too terribly impressed by the great arch, mainly because there was no clown peddling Big Macs. WTF?
Once we finally got through St. Louis, I thought we’d have smooth sailing through the rest of Missouri. Unfortunately, our atlas does not show topography. The roads may look flat on paper, but they aren’t necessarily flat in real-life. Missouri is nothing but mountains. It’s great if you’re going camping, hiking, or are driving a responsive sports car. However, avoid this state like the plague if you are behind the wheel of a massive truck full of your worldly possessions. When you’re driving a truck that won’t go over 60mph on flat land, imagine the issues you run into going uphill. That baby maxed out at a whopping
35mph going uphill. And there was a LOT of uphill. I was actually seriously concerned that we may start to roll backward at one point. Of course, going downhill we definitely managed to make up some time. Actually, I think we managed to go fast enough to travel back in time. I’m sure the motorists of Missouri enjoyed us zooming by on the down hills, and then backing up traffic for miles on the up hills. Don’t worry. I had plenty of middle fingers to go around. That’s okay, I didn’t like them much either. Not only was hospitality in short supply, but apparently no one eats in Missouri. They must hunt and kill their own food, because there wasn’t a single restaurant. Not even Cracker Barrel. What exotic food would we experience while in the wonderful, scenic state of Missouri? Would we hunt our own squirrel? Rabbit? Bear? Cracker Barrel? Nope. Fucking McDonald’s. Apparently that child-molesting Michael Jackson wannabe clown relocated from the arch in the city to the mountains. Although, when you’re faced with the possibility of having to eat the pet fish traveling next to you in the truck, eliminating a source of such stimulating conversation, a Big Mac sounds mighty tasty. Of course, once you get back on the road, the Big Mac no longer seems like such a great idea. Funny how hindsight works.
Missouri was the most tedious state to drive through on our journey. No restaurants. No gas stations. And no flat roads. As we broke the 14-hour mark, we (meaning I) decided it would be a good idea to stop for the day. I needed some sleep. So I woke Jaime up so that we could go to sleep (isn’t that a crazy sentence). We fortunately managed to cover most of Missouri (only a couple of hours of driving in the morning to get to Oklahoma). For some strange, inexplicable reason Jaime wasn’t very tired, but I'm pretty sure I fell asleep while still wearing my shoes.
And before I knew it the alarm was going off at 4:30am. Day 2. I already hated Arizona and I didn’t even get there yet. We gathered our things and got back on the road. Before long we were FINALLY out of Missouri (and Jaime was already asleep). The change in scenery was amazing. We went from rolling mountains to some of the flattest farmland I had ever seen. And we came across a rather interesting road sign. It read, “Do not drive into smoke.”
Next they’re going to tell me, “Turn on lights when dark,” or "Turn on wipers when raining." Still, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the driving into smoke warning.
We had yet to encounter any ominous smoke, and it was about lunchtime. When we began the trip we had dreams of sampling fantastic local cuisine across the United States. And with our arrival in a new state, we had hopes of sampling some of the regional food of Oklahoma. I am sure you are salivating, anxiously waiting for me to reveal what succulent food we enjoyed in Oklahoma. Anyone who watches the Food Channel knows that every state has its own culinary specialty. And where do we have lunch? Cracker Barrel. Of all restaurants, why is Cracker Barrel the only restaurant we come across? Not even a McDonald’s, Burger King, or Taco Bell. With every Cracker Barrel visit that pet fish was starting to look far more appetizing than anything I had eaten so far. But then I'd be starved for good conversation rather than just good food.
I was keeping track of our mileage, and during lunch I realized that we were about halfway (or so I thought). My geography knowledge was never very good, and since I was going strictly by the numbers Jaime put together, I thought we were at about the halfway point. Jaime, on the other hand looked at me like I just ate her pet fish. Based on Jaime’s original mileage calculation, we were
halfway. However, when we looked at the map, Oklahoma looked a whole heck of a lot closer to Arizona than it did to Philadelphia. Apparently Jaime made a mistake in her calculations and overestimated by 1000 miles! I was apparently driving way more than necessary each day, and we were on a schedule that would put us in Phoenix TWO DAYS EARLY. Perhaps there was still hope for my sanity. Right, Mr. Fish?
My story is continued in the following posts below because I received an error message few have probably ever experienced:
The message exceeds the maximum allowed length (20000 characters).