Thursday, November 1, 2012

Florida at Last

The rest of the drive was thankfully uneventful. We couldn't wait for it to be over, as we made our way through Orlando, taking notice of the new stores that had sprung up since we were gone.

Our condo (which had been renovated slightly since we'd moved) was gorgeous, but disconcerting in it's differences. Our new roommate, J is super nice. The dogs are a bit confused (especially whenever people walk nearby) but the cats are thrilled to be out of the truck.

Though I hadn't planned on moving back to FL, and really didn't want to, I feel pretty positive about the situation. It's wondrous to have running water. And I can even shower once a day if I want!

Since we have no furniture yet, it's a bit challenging to find a place to sit, and I keep pacing, trying to find a comfortable spot. But all together, I'm planning on this being a good move. Though I can't wait till we can regroup, deal with the Mom situation and go home again.

More 280 Hell

We reached Columbia around 2:30 or 3 and couldn't find a place to pull over and park for the rest of the night. It took us until freaking 4:30 in the morning before we found somewhere safe to stop. Meanwhile we'd considered the possibility that since things tended to happen in 3's, did 3 deer in total count as 3's, or did 3 INCIDENTS of deer count as 3's?

Turns out it was the later, and another two deer ended up jumping in front of us. Fortunately, we missed hitting those. 

From Columbia and past it, the area was rural and buildings and businesses nearly nonexistant. We finally found a lone gas station with one other truck pulled over there. 

The gas station was closed and didn't seem to have bathrooms anyway, so I had to get out to pee behind our truck. Whereupon we discovered that the passenger door would no longer open. A particular bummer, since the driver's side door handle is broken and it's a pain in the butt to open that door.

Another crappy night's sleep, but at least it wasn't too cold this time.

Suicidal Deer

We kept ourselves awake by imagining blogging about our journey and then sending an email to the Shelby County fathers. "We realize that the two adjacent roads with the same numbers probably didn't occur during your administration. However not correcting the situation is highly negligent. Are you incompetent? Uncaring? Or just clueless?"

The full moon had gone behind the clouds and the road was dim in our headlights, but well maintained and unlike much of the roads we'd traveled, there were plenty of reflectors to mark the road's edge. Bubba's thrift obviously didn't apply to the guy in charge of the Reflector Committee. The stop lights had also dwindled to several miles apart and the speed limit was up to 55. Quantum commented on those items, then said, "But what is it with this county if even the deer are willing to commit suicide to get away from Rt. 280?"

Moments later we saw movement on the road ahead. Two more deer darted across the road in front of us. Quantum swerved and tried to slow. 
The first deer made it across. His buddy slammed into the side of our truck. 

There was nothing we could do but mourn. There wasn't even a nearby turn-around. And if the poor creature was alive but wounded, we didn't even have a way of putting it out of its misery.

I said a blessing on the deer's soul and we both processed the situation.
We were unhurt, if shaken. We could have rolled the truck. A vehicle behind us could have gotten involved if the road hadn't been so quiet. The dogs were okay. The cats, in their cage in the back of the pickup, would be okay, though no doubt terrified. (And already pissed off from the past few days of being stuck in the cage.)

We felt horribly guilty about the deer, though. "Gods, we were just talking about deer comitting suicide," I said.

Quantum mentioned a deer accident he and some friends had been in many years ago. "And when we went back to see what happened, the deer had gotten up and gone. And that time we were going a lot faster, so maybe this deer could have survived?"

I didn't say anything. I remembered seeing broken bits and parts scatter and fly at the impact. Though I didn't see any blood on the car in the rear-view. I'd later learn that the pieces and parts were the headlight housing smashing into oblivion, Though the headlights did still work.

The Rt. 280 Doppleganger

"Okay this is more like what I expected Birmingham to look like," Quantum said, as the city hove in sight, a mass of twisting highways, ramps, bridges and huge, ugly high-rises. Rt. 280 portended ill from the beginning. Although a well-tended 4 laner, it was studded with stop lights every quarter mile or so, for miles and miles.

"If this is going to be like that for the whole trip, maybe we should go back to 65." I studied the map. "It's the long way around, but it might be faster in the end, and prevent the radiator from overheating."

Just then, Quantum spotted a sign. "Wait, it said 280 that way!" He hung a quick right, following the sign. Within a few yards we suspected something was wrong. A few yards later, as the road narrowed and twisted ever more, with no signs for 280 in sight, we nade a u-turn and went back the way we'd come. A few minutes later Quantum said, "There it is! 280 East." We took a fast left. This time it took a bit longer to be obvious that we were on the wrong road. It narrowed to barely two lanes and the speed reduced to 45 then 30.

"This is crazy!" I said, "this can't be right. We've got about 140 miles to Colombus. At this rate we'll never get there." I turned on my flashlight and consulted the map again. "We've got to make a right here somwhere. I have no clue. Read me a road sign so I can figure out where we are."

Just then a deer darted from the woods. Quantum slammed the brakes and avoided it.

"It says Shelby Country," Quantum gave me the next few route intersections. All were too small to show up on the state map.

"Just make the next right damnit."

"If I make the next right, it'll be into someone's driveway. WTF? 20 mph?"

"Just make the next right onto a road," I growled. "That'll take us towards 65 somewhere."

We made a right, then came to a wider road and Quantum took a right onto it. No road signs told us what road it was, but it should take us back towards Birmingham and maybe even to a business where we could ask directions. But all the shops - even a gas station - were closed.

"I'm beginning to understand why Bubba hates Birmingham. Can you pull over and let me look at the map?"

"Why can't you look at the map while I'm driving?"

"Because. My glasses suck and the print's tiny and I can't read the map. And every time we hit a bump I lose my place. Will you just pull over?"

"If I do, the truck might overheat," Quantum said.

"How am I supposed to - oh crap!" The flashlight grayed and began to die. A cop sped by, lights flashing. "Maybe we should ask him," I said. "Well, if we take a left it should bring us towards 65."

Quantum made the next left onto a not nearly as wide road. "Rt. 55," he announced. 

"Argh! I can't read the map!" I shook the flashlight. Glancing in the passenger side mirror I noticed a sign that identified the road we'd just come off. "Turn around!"

We made a U-turn and looked at the sign. Rt. 280. The two of us gaped at it.

"It's weird," Quantum said. "There's two kinds of signs for the road. Some of them are white, like that one. And some of them are blue."

"Well just stay on this road. I think this is it."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Maybe. No. But it's wider than the other route 280." We passed a blue sign. "Wait! Blue signs like that?"


"Shelby County," I read. "Holy shit. THIS is State 280. That disaster back there was COUNTY Rt. 280."

"No! What idiot would name a county road the same as a state road that went right by it?"

"Yeah, cause nobody would ever get confused." I caught the next intersection number and shook the flashlight. It was 11:30 at night. We'd only made it about 20 miles from Birmingham.

Bubba's Campaign and the Missing Road Signs

Somewhere near 40 miles to Birmingham, we crossed over the border into Alabama. While we were still informed on an imperative and frequent basis that this was the future home of the I-22 corridor, signs letting us know how far it was to Birmingham (which we'd been informed of regularly back in Mississippi) seemed to go missing.

On this trip (as on our original journey to CO) we noted that Alabama had the only phonetic road sign that we'd ever heard of or seen. Apparently the residents and visitors to Guin will be unable to find the place unless a second sign spells "Gu-win".

It was about 20 miles until ANY sign notified us of the distance to ANY town. We soon "discovered" that this was the work of Bubba, the director of signage for Rt. 78 (and perhaps all of Alabama).

Bubba, it seemed, had a vendetta against the folk of Birmingham. (Which he labels "burning hamsters" or "bumming hummers" depending on his mood.) It therefore became his personal campaign to confuse and dis-enlighten travelers, especially anyone traveling from Mississippi (whom Bubba disparagingly references as "missississies" whether or not they are Mississippi natives). Bubba incidentally, was a native of Gu-win, thus the imperative for correct pronunciation.

*foreshadowing* We weren't certain what Bubba had against Birmingham, but we were soon to find out. *cue sinister laughter* "Bwahaha!" */foreshadowing*

To convince the higher-ups on the public works/roads & bridges committees to fall for his villainous plot, Bubba explained that not wasting signs on telling travelers the distance to upcoming cities would save the state money. (We in fact noticed only about 5 or 6 such signs in the entire distance between the Mississippi state line and Birmingham.)

"We don't need to know that sort of stuff," Bubba lectured. "We already know that stuff and those darn missississies will have to deal. Besides, I ain't never left Gu-win and who cares how far it is to Birmingham? It's only the state capitol, after all. Besides if we put Birmingham on the signs, that's a lot of extra letters and the signs will have to be made longer."

It wasn't until mile marker 48 (exactly half way from the border) that a sign finally announced "Birmingham 48." We assume this meant 48 miles, since the thrifty Bubba didn't spare extra lettering for the word "miles" either. This unsettled us a bit, since by our calculations Birmingham should have been at least 10 or 15 miles further. But needing gas and a rest break, our hearts were gladdened at the idea of a shorter drive.

Two more signs announced Birmingham at 28 and 21 miles to, and then a surprising "Birmingham exit 1 mile". Following this was the announcement that all traffic on Rt. 78 (presumably ALL traffic, since Rt. 78 was the only route on that highway) must exit.

And now we have documented proof that the folks at Rand McNally maps were (perhaps unwittingly) in collusion with Bubba.

On the map, Rt. 78 is shown as dead ending at Rt. 77 with eventual construction to bring it to meet Rt. 65. The exit we were forced to get off at did not jive with the map. As we left the ramp we were greeted with a tiny sign (Birmingham and an arrow to the right - no mileage, thanks to Bubba again.) on a narrow and ill-lit road. Some time later we found another tiny sign, "Birmingham 12".

"Ah ha!" I said. "There's our missing 10 or so miles." Meanwhile I scanned both the road and map trying to determine where we were. None of the roads bore any resemblance to the map, and Bubba hadn't allowed any street name signs or route markers.

Not wanting to miss our next route change, Quantum stopped at a Walmart to ask directions. As usually happens at such times, as soon as Quantum got out of eyesight, I decovered where we were. There, way off in a corner of the map (about 15 miles from where I thought we'd been let off) a tiny portion of Rt. 78 was shown. Obviously it had been nearly obscured at the prompting of Bubba.

The kind gentleman at Walmart gave Quantum excellent directions and we were now on our way to Rt. 280. We got to Birmingham around 9:30 at night and hoped to make Columbus, GA by about 11:30 or midnight. Silly us!

The Horror That Is Construction Zones

The journey to just before the border of Arkansas was long but relatively ok with the exception of tired eyes and butts that were sore from sitting on the same part of the seat for hours. We pulled into the parking lot of a gas station/truck stop/casino. Q checked the fluids and noticed that there seemed to be a major leak between where you add radiator fluid and the radiator itself.

We spent a cold and uncomfortable second night cramped in the front seat of the pickup.

Next morning we had a simple but amazing breakfast at a little diner. $5 each got us endless (and excellent) coffee, perfectly cooked eggs, oniony hash browns, toast, biscuits and southern gravy.

We spent the morning admiring western AR, possibly one of the most beautiful areas in the country. If it weren't for the rednecks and the politics...

About a half hour out of Little Rock we reached a giant clusterfuck. Some major moron in charge of roadworks had decided to allow construction to route a 4 lane highway into two narrow lanes (one each way) with concrete barriers on either side and no emergency exits. Quantum watched the engine temp climb as we drove at near standstill and wondered what we'd do if the truck overheated.

As we finally passed through we saw that the opposite side traffic was backed up about 10 miles and also near standstill. One trucker was even out of his truck, walking along the road. No doubt every trucker there (at least several hundred) was cursung the amount of gas he was using and worrying over his schedule. 

Think about that when you complain about the high prices at the grocery. Just about everything in your store is shipped on a truck.

All's Not OK in Oklahoma

Waking up at 5:30, we warmed up the car. Suddenly, Quantum noticed smoke billowng up from the engine.

An hour or so later it was determined it was the water pump. We called around and found that one guy could order a new pump for us. We could have it Tuesday! ACK! Today was Saturday. Fortunately another place had the pump in stock - a bit more expensive, but we couldn't afford to wait till Tuesday. Quantum called the local "taxi" (who generally just delivered take-out food) and set off. By noon, Quantum still couldn't get the water pump (and all the associated parts) off. He called the taxi back and went back to town for an 11mm wrenc

Just before the taxi arrived, Quantum realized that the part that had siezed up earlier wasn't the water pump, but the AC compressor. Even though we didn't need AC, the whole thing was in line with the same belt that drove the fan and water pump, so it had to be replaced.

Then we had the joy of figuring out how to take the fan and fan housing off. For an allegedly quality manual, the Chilton has crappy instructions and their pics are abominable. And of course NEITHER of the belts that the CarQuest folks had sold us back in Walsenburg were the right ones. Fortunately the truly damaged belt was replaced by the one Quantum had bought at the local store.

Behind the truck stop I met a couple of horses and a burro that was sooo sweet. She wanted to nuzzle me and let me pet her for ages, and followed me when I walked alongside her fence. Her muzzle was velvet soft. I want a burro someday!

We were finally on the road by 5pm.Hopefully (and $300 later) the truck runs now.

The Drive Begins

The first day of the journey passed easily enough.

Quantum and I joked about the "historical markers" (which we never did seem but which signs for appeared every several miles or so) and the trend of some of the farmers to purchase the same maddening color of red paint. We figured some enterprising salesman had a huge vat of paint to sell. In Texas we also took note of the lack of actual "rules based" (speed limits) and informational signs (route numbers). Meanwhile there was plenty of signage for the darn historical markers and whatever group had adopted the roads. We went an entire 30 miles between two towns without a single pointer as to what the speed limit was. Quantum was sure it was a speed-trap setup.

At 2am we pulled into a truck stop parking lot and got a few hours of cold, cramped sleep.

 So far things were going too easy, and both of us suspected that was going to end soon, but didn't want to voice it. There's a reason hobbits don't like adventures.


Quantum arrived in Denver around 8 Tuesday night and I picked him up at the Loaf & Jug at 6:30 the next morning. (The bus didn't get into town till nearly 4am and he didn't want me driving in the dark.) He'd been gone an entire month, and it occurred to me that we'd had Karma longer with him away than with him there.

Our first job was to get the cap on the pickup. The thing weighed a ton! We pulled and shoved at it. I could barely budge it.

"We've got to get this on," Quantum said. "It's starting to snow.

After a good half hour of lifting and tugging, we got it up onto the pickup bed, but couldn't maneuver the heavy piece of crap onto the edges of the bed, Just as we gave a final heave, the cap's weight shifted and it went flying past my head to land like an upside down turtle in the driveway.
"Why didn't we bring CK back with us?" I asked for the fifth or so time. (The plan had originally been for CK to drive out with us so he and Quantum could tow the Blazer (which we'd gifted to CK. Why that had changed, I wasn't sure.)

It took us about two more hours to get the darn cap on. We stacked straw bales and lifted it a bale at a time. Several times the bales toppled and the cap nearly went with them. Finally it was on.

We took a break. The cold had followed Quantum from Denver, where it was snowing the previous night. Quantum drilled holes to bolt it to the bed and went to town to get CK (and test the bolts on the driveway) while I continued packing.

Next morning we woke to a thin blanket of snow. "Told you the weather forecast called for it," Quantum said. I hadn't seen a newscast in at least 3 or 4 months.

We spent the morning loading the truck and hoping we'd be able to get up the driveway.

"It's not going to fit," Quantum said. 

"I'll make it fit," I said. In the end most everything did. Last o be loaded were the cats in the PVC framed cage CK had made to bring his cats to CO, and which he and I had spent a long night re-covering with chicken wire.

The snow was kind enough to melt, and at 2 pm we were on the road at last. We drove into town to fill up on gas, noticing RY & S sitting by a light. We'd hoped to make it without running into them, but the managed to snag us at the gas station.

S insisted on coming around to my window and telling me how much she loved me (a crock - she loves herself) and whining about her electric nearly being shut off. I realize they've got financial hardships like the rest of us at times, but compounding it by causing trouble?

At 2:48 we pulled onto the highway and left our beloved Walsenburg behind.

Good Bye Yak Girls

After having contacted several places, we finally found a home for the yaks. Grateful as we were to find them a new home, and not have to feed them anymore (since we were seriously running out of funds) it was heartbreaking letting them go.

Sean, their new owner has about 250 head of yak in Alamosa. He's a sweet guy and they should have a good home with him. He wanted to learn their names, and invited me to visit any time we wanted, so I know he's got no plans of turning them into hamburger.

It was one of the windiest days I'd experienced there when he arrived.  The girls were reacting to it, and didn't want to go into the trailer. Well they did, but then they wanted to dance out of it immediately again. We couldn't get his trailer close enough to the fence, so we had to hold a piece of plywood to cover the gap between the gate of their corral and the gate of the trailer. That, of course, was whipping in the breeze and wanted to fly out of my hands.

I'd purposely saved part of the bag of Horse Candy (the yaks love the stuff) to get them into the trailer, but it had disappeared. After several in and outs, we finally got Yonkers, Zoozoo and baby Ferdie trapped in the front half of the trailer. Yeti wasn't having any part of that, preferring to do her yak dance, with her tail lifted in the breeze. I suddenly realized - it was only Yeti. I'm not afraid to get in the corral with her. I went in and she came right over to me and followed me into the trailer.

I cried after they left. I'm going to miss our ladies. The only compensation is knowing they're going to be in a good place.

Cursing out RY

I'm not proud of myself about this incident, but such is life.

With little money left to feed the yaks, we were selling everything we owned that we didn't absolutely need to take with us. Unfortunately very little of what we had was actually sales worthy. I managed to get $100 for the water tanks, $75 for the auger and $100 for the propane tanks. Way below what everything was worth, but we needed to sell it fast.

The a day or two after selling the propane tanks (which had taken up a huge piece of real-estate in the back of the pickup) CK wanted to get the last of his items from RY's house.

"I've been thinking I'd take back my water tank too." CK said. Everyone had wanted to buy my watertanks, and CK figured he could make a few bucks.

"One of RY/s water tanks is yours?"

"Yeah, and it'll really tick him off too." (RY hauls and sells water - which has actually become highly illegal lately, as the town wants to be the only ones in the water business..)

I arranged to help him haul it and borrow it for a few days, since now that I'd sold mine, I needed some way of bringing water up to the yaks.

After the deal with the landlady, RY was on my list of not-favorite-people. He wasn't there when we showed up, and his daughter P made the mistake of asking how I was doing. "Pretty bad," I told her. "I've got four yaks that are starving and RY owes me %650 and hay as well, and then he starts making harassing phone calls. Since P was one of the people who'd borrowed part of the money from Quantum.

Later that afternoon I ran up to the store and when I came back to CK's house, he told me, "RY called and he's really pissed off."

"Good. So am I."

"Then S called and she was crying and telling me, 'All the stuff we did for them, was worth more than $650."

"She seems to have amnesia'd all the stuff we've done for them, however."

"He says why are you telling P this stuff instead of telling him to his face."

I dialed. "You wanted to tell me to your face, I'm telling you to your face. I'm ticked off."

"What's this about owing you money?"

"You borrowed $400 from Quantum, S borrowed $200 and P borrowed $50. That was over a year ago, and then there's all the hay Quantum paid for that we never got.

RY had the balls to tell me, "Quantum told me I didn't have to pay you back."

If so, that was news to Quantum, since we'd already discussed that RY owed us the money and was probably never going to pay us back. "Umm no. If anything, Quantum told you not to worry about paying him back RIGHT THEN."

I then told him I was ticked off about the whole situation and if he wasn't going to hold to his word, then I really didn't have phone minutes to waste on him and that I really didn't appreciate him calling the landlady either.
Naturally he once again denied that.

Well I got it off my chest anyway. Even if I don't suspect it'll do any good.

Dogs Must Pee

After I ran out of gasoline for the heater and internet, M (and CK) had been nice enough to put me up "for two weeks," M said. A week into it, I was losing my mind. Besides our spending a day and a half hiding from the landlady, M had an enormously bad attitude

He has an elderly (14 years old) dog, Bear, and he obviously had some fantasy that my dogs were sort of like his - laid back, barely able to move because of the aches in her hips and quiet all the time. Well my dogs aren't like that. Zen and Bushi are four, and Karma's only one-and-a-half, and they're all used to being able to run loose and get out their enormous font of energy.

Living at M's they were forced to stay in a tiny 8x10 bedroom and could only be walked on leashes about three or four times a day.

To add to that, Zen is both a super alert-dog whenever something's going on, and has some seperation anxiety issues. He can't stand being away from either Quantum or I leave the place without him and is known to go into conniptions whenever Quantum goes off in the truck.

And they were in a strange place with strange people moving around, strange dog smells and noises from the other room. The dog's weren't allowed to interact with Bear. At first the story was, "she'll attack them". It later became "they'll attack her." Neither was likely. Especially if properly introduced, dogs (including pit bulls, folks!) tend to get along. 

And my particular dogs happen to like other dogs. Had they been allowed to meet, I'm confident that all four of them would have gotten along well. 

Then there's the fact that dogs (like most of us) do have to pee on a regular basis. Gods forbid that happen at say, 7 in the morning.
Also, walking three big dogs (only one of which (Zen) has learned not to pull on a leash, since I so rarely need to walk them on one, and since Karma is new) is no easy task. That meant any time I had to walk them it'd take CK and I together.
Here's how that generally works: In the morning, I wait till I hear noises that suggest CK is up and moving around. Meanwhile my dogs are bouncing and making, "I wanna go pee," noises. Eventually, I give up on waiting, since the dogs desperately have to go. I poke my head out of the door and whisper for CK or open the closet that divides our bedrooms and knock on his side.

Invariably, CK will wait until I've given up on him and then knock or call at the door. Zen (and possibly the other dogs, but usually just Zen) will be confused/alerted by someone on the other side of the door and will jump at it and scratch it with his nails. At this, M will growl and curse, I'll leap to grab Zen's collar, but generally too late.

By now, Zen's getting "bunctious" and the other dogs are starting to as well. CK asks what I want. (Umm duh, it's morning - dogs need to pee, what do you think I want? Yes they do that on a regular basis, I realize it's odd.) CK comes into the bedroom as I'm trying to leap for the dogs' collars. CK has to put Bear out on her chain before we can let the dogs out of the bedroom. By now they REALLY have to pee. Their claws are scrambling at the floor as they race for the door. (One day Karma didn't make it all the way, which led to M cursing up a storm while I cleaned the puddle from the rug.)

Even if it's not morning,the cycle's pretty much the same. Someone knocks at my door without warning, Zen goes nuts.
It finally occurred to me that I'd actually trained my dogs to scratch lightly at the door when they needed to go out. That may have been part of the trouble, but the real problem was that all the dogs were feeling displaced, and Zen especially, was concerned for his turf.

By the second day of this nonsense I asked, begged and pleaded CK not to knock at or yell to me through the door.

"How am I supposed to get ahold of you?"

 "Instant message me." It's simple, it's silent. It doesn't alert the dogs. I can grab their collars before they have a chance to scratch the door. A week later I'd made that request at least once per day. The day before I finally left, I said, "Please CK, I'm begging you. Don't knock on the door or yell to me through it. It pisses M off, the dogs freak out and I get in trouble."

"Well how am I supposed to get ahold of you?"

"IM me."

"Wow, I haven't even turned my computer on in a week."