Away and back again
I haven't touched a computer in almost a week. I've already made seven typos just typing these two sentences. My fingers feel clumsy and untrained.
Last week, I flew to Atlanta to help my mother-in-law move from Georgia to Oregon. My job was pretty simple: I'd load her things into a rented truck, then drive that truck home. That's a roughly 2,600-mile journey, and since I only had a few days in which to traverse the country, I asked my dad to come along.
My family, historically, are road-trippers. When we migrated west in covered wagons, and everyone else stopped when they found land they liked, we fell in love with our wagons and just kept going. When we ran out of land, we wheeled about in circles for awhile, then went back — all the way back — to where we started, and started again. Once, when I was eighteen, my uncle and I drove from Anchorage, Alaska, to Houston, Texas, in three days' time; we slept when the other was driving, showered in truck stop showers, ate mostly food from boxes and tins. Years later, my father and I drove from Portland, Oregon to Devil's Tower, Wyoming (a roughly 3,000-mile round-trip jaunt) just to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind projected on an inflatable outdoor screen at the base of Devil's Tower. My dad has probably racked up about as many road miles as a junior-level trucker.
So I asked Dad to come along, and he did. (Not many people would volunteer to sit in a cramped truck cab for several days, but he did.) We flew into North Carolina, then Georgia, on an overnight trip during which neither of us slept. We caught a taxi to the rental truck shop, then drove to Fayetteville, where we spent a couple of hours packing the truck. My mother-in-law and I carried; my dad organized the load inside the truck. After a few minutes of conversation, we climbed into the truck for the first of four days on the road.
We drove from Georgia to Tennessee to Kentucky to Illinois to Missouri to Nebraska to Wyoming to Utah to Idaho and finally to Oregon, logging mostly ten- or twelve-hour days behind the wheel, and napping in the uncomfortable passenger seat. We subsisted on mostly food that came in wrappers or boxes. But we're both older now, and we were already tired from the lost night of sleep while we flew across the country, so rather than driving all night in shifts, as we might once have done, we stopped in hotels, slept, woke at early hours, and got back to it.
I brought books along — Grisham's Sycamore Row and John Sandford's Deadline, exactly the kind of novels that make the road miles pass a little faster — but I didn't open either. I didn't bring headphones; we barely listened to music, until the final day on the road when Dad played old songs he thought I might enjoy (a little Grand Funk Railroad, a little Kingsmen Trio), and I returned the favor with Josh Ritter and The Civil Wars. Then we listened to every single one of Mike Birbiglia's albums, commenting on how his comedy has transformed from jokes to one-man shows of surprising emotional weight. But that was just on the last day, when we were both worn out and ready to be home. For most of the days previous we just talked. We talked about everything from football to books, and spent hours one evening talking about belief.
Most of the trip was spent in the flatlands, quite a bit fighting headwinds, our poor truck struggling to eke out decent gas mileage against the incoming cold fronts. We were sometimes pinned between storms; we crested the highest point on interstate 80, in Wyoming, to find snow everywhere, and the thermostat frozen over. I packed poorly for the trip, and shivered in shorts and flip flops while my dad laughed.
On the last day we drove through eastern Oregon, and made our way through the Columbia Gorge, passing The Dalles and Hood River, and I gushed like an idiot over how beautiful that part of the world is. But I maintain what I told Dad, which is that I think it just might have been the most beautiful country I'd ever seen. I'd be a very happy man to one day buy a house that's settled into the orange and green pine forest that overlooks the river valley.
We arrived home in Portland in a rainstorm, after night had fallen, and met Felicia at a storage unit, where we unpacked the entire truck into a 10'x10' space like pros. (Felicia and Dad were the pros; I expressed doubt, then surprise, as they achieved the impossible, packing the contents of a sixteen-foot truck into that tiny cube.) We picked up my Jeep, returned the rental truck, kissed Squish and ate a quick bowl of soup, and then hit the road again, this time so I could drive Dad north to meet Mom, who would meet us halfway between my home and theirs.
I finally came home for good around 11:30 last night, happy to see that boxes of Eleanor and other books had arrived while I was away, elated to find that my wife had made kolaches for me, and then I fell into bed, blinked, and it was six-thirty a.m. and my alarm was tittering at me.
I'm off to work now, feeling somewhat rested, but relieved to be home, relieved to be behind the wheel of a vehicle that doesn't believe its purpose in life is to steer you off of the road, and preferably from the highest heights possible. I don't even know where work is today; while I was away, the office was packed up and relocated to another building somewhere downtown. Which means I should probably be out there looking for it, and not here, writing this blog.
But: hello! It's nice to see you all again. I'd almost forgotten what the real world is like.