The Plum Rides Again!

She is fixed! After having been told by “the best mechanic in Las Vegas” the suspension was broken and was causing the shake/wobbly wheel, I was told it would be $2000 and should not bother repairing it. “Get a new car,” Yoshi the mechanic said. Wrong. Wrong. So f’n wrong. Btw, he put on new tires — granted, she needed them — and gave her an alignment. He assured me the car was completely safe because the bearing will hold the wheels on. Problem was, it wasn’t the shocks at all. Not even a little. What was wrong? A cracked axle. One more trip down the highway, and we could have been dead.

It was my friend who said to take it to Pep Boys. Pep Boys? My eyes rolled invisibly in my head. “What can it hurt?” my friend said. Okay. I had no confidence. Hour after hour passed. Finally, I called them. “It’s the axle at the CV joint,” he said.

The Plum has 200,000 miles on her. I know she’s not going to live forever, but she’s going to go a bit further. That’s pretty much a miracle.

Driving, for me, is more than going to and from a workplace or the store. It is a passion. I’ve driven all across the country in every direction for two decades. These journeys have taken me up mountains, down city streets, across deserts, along a barely single lane road on the side of a cliff, through a couple of hurricanes, over long bridges, and to celebrate the repair of The Plum, down the Dragon’s Tail. The Tail of the Dragon, US 129, is famous among motorcycle enthusiasts, especially for the well-banked sharp curves. It is a biker’s dream ride. In a car – a cage, as motorcyclists would term it – it’s not too, too challenging for a well-experienced driver, but, holy shit, was it fun!

Photographers embed themselves on the curves to capture drivers as they go down. Here’s mine. You can’t see me, but you can make out the stained-glass flower which hangs from our rearview mirror. Best day ever!

Crazy Hopeful

I like it here, it’s quirky.

Knoxville is a city on the rise. Businesses, shops and restaurants are opening, and the downtown is being revitalized. Things I value are held in esteem here — music, movies, art, theatre, and libraries with actual collections of books in them. There are also farmer’s markets and natural food stores, and I have heard there are some damn good restaurants to be enjoyed. The mountains are a short drive away, as are several big tourist destinations.

In the past seven years, I have moved a staggering eight times. Knoxville was never a part of any idea of the future I ever envisioned. In fact, I would go so far as to say it was completely off my radar. Living here for two months now, I still feel a little awkward. I’m not so much a fish out of water as one swimming in a completely different school than I have before.  Although my Midwestern heart beats strong, as a traveler, I’ve always had a great appreciation of the South. This may be a new beginning, but I have a lifetime of experience packed in my bags I can’t wait to unpack.

Are there downsides? Yes. There is a hella homeless problem. A tent city lives beneath a viaduct near downtown. Poverty, drugs, and crime exist in this and every city, but there are groups trying to help here more than I’ve seen in the other areas I have lived.

The most important news is Daughter #1 finally landed a job with the potential of enormous growth. It is the total change of direction she has been looking for since putting retail management in her rearview mirror. She’s working in human resources and will pursue her degree in accounting in the evenings. This is the first solid step toward building her dream.

Next up, I would like to find some part-time work, do some volunteering (hear that, Tennessee Theatre? I am aiming straight at you).

Update: January 2019

Things have not turned out quite the way I’d hoped. Daughter #1 lost her job as a recruiter after refusing to outright lie to her job candidates. After a change in management, her new boss insisted she not tell the temps when they had been turned down for a job to “string them along for as long as possible.” D #1 said, “That’s playing with people’s lives. They could lose their homes.” Morally, it was absolutely the right thing to do, but it’s been… difficult.

Leaving Las Vegas

We raised enough money to rent a truck and pay for the gas to get us back across the country a mere five weeks after we arrived in the Las Vegas area.

Welcome sign, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Days were spent – and tears were shed – sorting, letting go and repacking our belongings so it only took us a couple of hours to pack the truck. I planned to leave the truck at the U-Haul facility overnight so we could leave early the next morning, but was told it was impossible due to liability. It was already well after lunchtime. With no choices left to us, we made plans to be on the road by 4:00 PM. I brought the Purple Plum around the U-Haul parking lot, and a kid barely out of high school strapped the car onto the carrier. Then, we headed back to the house.

Sitting at the dining table, apologies were made to our hosts for the abrupt departure we were about to make. Time was ticking away. Panicked and rushed, we gathered our things. Daughter #1 cleared and washed down the bathroom sink, cleaned the mirror, and began to throw our things into boxes. The cats, Milo and Rory, were caught and secured in their carriers. We had to leave quickly to make it to the first hotel – the only one at a reasonable cost that accepts pets, which was in Holbrook, AZ. It was getting late, nearly 6:00 PM. We said goodbye, apologized once again for the hasty departure, flipped on our traditional opening travel song (On the Road, Again by Willie Nelson) and set out on the journey.

Once again, a furious wind plagued us with up to 70 mph gusts. It seemed excessive. In the earlier post, Sometimes, Life Hands You Lemons; Other Times, Life Chucks Them at You, I wrote about the big blow from the Nor’easter storm that followed us from Kent Island, Maryland to the Las Vegas area.

Love's Travel Stop

In the desert, gas stations can be few and far between. At 9:30 PM, we pulled into a Love’s Travel Stop. I made my safety walk around the car to discover the strap around the passenger side’s wheel was completely off and stuck underneath the tire, which sat askew in the trailer’s wheel well. 

My heart dropped into my stomach, and I started to shake. I glanced out into the dark of the desert, thinking about having been stranded out there on the highway, but quickly turned my attention back to the problem. What was I going to do?

I looked around for someone who might be able to help. A man was gassing up at the next pump. He was pulling a flatbed trailer with a truck on it so I ventured, “Excuse me. Can you help me?”

A bit hesitant, the man followed me to the opposite side of the car. “Oh, that’s not good!” he said in a Texas accent. He called over another man. I was taken aback. The younger man was about thirty, tall and thin with a van dyke style facial hair.

Together, in a feat of strength, the men lifted the car up enough to slip most of the straps out from beneath it, but not all. I would need to reverse the car on the trailer.

A few moments later, D #1 emerged from the store. As she came around the truck to the car, she stopped dead in her tracks, staring at the second man. Our eyes caught, and I mouthed, “I know, right?” She took a spot in front of the trailer to help guide me back, when she noticed the safety chain wasn’t attached. The car was hanging on by the straps on one wheel. Had it broken free out on the highway, someone could have been killed. We all marveled at the good fortune that it was discovered before that could happen.

The strap finally freed, they re-strapped the wheels and chained the trailer up. The first man said it was the strangest coincidence they were there that night. He had loaned his truck to the younger man. When it had failed to start, he got a trailer to drive out to Arizona pick the truck and his friend up. Soon after, we had thanked our helpers and were ready to go.

Once we were back in the truck, we couldn’t believe how much the younger man resembled my late husband, Steve, the girls’ father who died when they were four and two. It felt like some bizarre providence that they helped us out on the road so near where Steve had lived in Arizona during part of his time on the road. A time featured strongly in the book I’ve written and need to do the final edit on.

Exhausted, we rolled into the parking lot of the Holbrook Motel 6 sometime around 1:00 AM.

Tough Choices with a Twist

What do you do when you went one way, but opportunity went the other? When it’s just you, a person can take their licks, cut their losses and move on. If others are involved, it’s not so easy. The decision to stand up and say, “I’m sorry I’ve troubled and inconvenienced you, but I’ve had an offer I can’t afford to turn down,” is a difficult one. I’m a big girl. I own big girl panties. I think I even have a badge in big-girl-ness laying around here somewhere. Yet, this is awkward and unfair to all involved.

Here’s the deal. RemeBox Dancember my last post: “Sometimes Life Hands You Lemons; Other Times, Life Chucks Them at You or… Life Makes a Hard Left Turn”? Yes, yes, the title was ridiculously long. Anyway, we were forced to move in a very short amount of time from our Maryland home. Our location is currently Henderson, NV, and we need to be in Knoxville, TN.

Nothing on this journey has been straightforward so, of course, there was another complication. A circumstance we couldn’t foresee pushed up our timeline. We would need to leave in a week – now, as of this writing, three days. Although we arrived with pretty much nothing, we did work during our time here. Unfortunately, life isn’t free. We had to pay off the bills remaining from our previous home, a storage fee for two units, as well as a sizable car repair and personal expenses.

What to do? I set my mind to raising the money.

The past few days have been spent sorting through stuff, getting rid of a good deal and reboxing what’s left. At first, it was so painful Daughter #1 and I were in tears.  Since then, we’ve come to a sad acceptance that things must be let go. One of the hardest things is losing books. I had already halved my collection on our first move, then halved it again the next, but now, it’s being cut yet again. I understand no one who collects reference and coffee table sized books should ever move. They should just build a house around their library and stay put. In a perfect world, I would have done that.

The wheel on the our car, lovingly called “The Purple Plum”, has become so wonky there is no way The Plum could safely drive 2000 miles so I’ve taken a leap of faith and rented the truck and a trailer to pull the car. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pull in those last few hundred to pay for the gas and at least one night of sleep – two would be safer.

Sometimes, Life Hands You Lemons; Other Times, Life Chucks Them at You or… Life Makes a Hard Left Turn

“Dave wants the house back,” our landlord’s mother told me. In those five words, my life changed.

Only an hour before, I lived in blissful ignorance, planning the coming months as I sought to rebuild my fortunes after a hard six months of helping family members (specifically Daughter #2 and her partner). Joy and sadness have been previously documented in Why Do Terrible Things Always Come in Threes? They would be moving in three weeks, and then, I would step on the gas and start to pull ahead. My illusions shattered.

Scrambling for a place to live in thirty days is tough enough at the best of times, but right now, was the worst. A place was found in Knoxville, Tennessee. Never spent much time there, except to pass through, but I had friends in the area so it was good enough. I took the car – lovingly named The Purple Plum – into our local mechanic to make sure it could pull a trailer over the Smoky Mountains, and he found the front brakes were in a dangerous state. We could have been killed. It was an unexpected expense, but safety first and all that. The packing began in earnest, the trailer was rented, and all seemed like it was falling into place. Woohoo!

Going up Shits Creek

In case we go up Shit’s Creek, we have a paddle!

The trailer was packed.  Then, it was unpacked, when I realized not everything would fit. Decisions were made about what was valuable and what could be sacrificed. As Daughter #1 was loading, she injured her arm.  That night, her arm swelled to triple its size and resembled a pale sausage, while her hand turned purple. Worrying. Still, we had no choice; we had to keep going. To make things more fun, it took two more unloads before the contents were properly balanced. I was doing most of the lifting, but D #1 was better at Tetris-ing the boxes into the small space so she kept working with the injured arm. In the end, we were forced to leave a great deal behind.

The cats (Milo and Rory) were on edge for weeks. Milo, who is fourteen, has been through many moves over the past seven years. He’s gone from Wisconsin to California (including two smaller moves within that state) to Delaware, then to Kent Island in Maryland where we had been for three years. Milo knew the signs. However, our poor, seven month old kitten had no idea, but he knew he didn’t like it.

The Purple Plum pulls the trailer.

A couple of days before we were set to pull out, Knoxville fell through. There was no way we could make it work. A friend had been offering us a place to stay until we could get settled, but she was in Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas. Could we impose upon her? It seemed too much, but there weren’t any other choices. We asked ourselves, “Could the car travel that far pulling the trailer? What about over the mountains?” There are two ranges between us and her: the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. Since we had to leave the house in only a couple of days, we had no choice. We (D #1 and I) would drive south around the first set of mountains and come up through the Rockies at their lowest point just south of Las Vegas. The cats were packed in the car, hugs where made and tears were shed, saying goodbye to D #2, and off we went into the biggest storm of the year. We played our road mix of songs and sang our way through much of the night. If Milo began to cry, we sang ‘You are My Sunshine,’ and soon he would stop.

A Nor’easter – as they call the most furious of Atlantic storms – came chugging in, with winds of seventy miles-per-hour pummeling the side of the car the entire way to Florida. Add to that the cars trying to illegally draft off the trailer to save them gas and pull hard on our engine. The Plum was strong.  She kept going, and I kept shaking each of the offending vehicles off our tail. Because of the wind’s strain on the car, we had to stop often, and although we tried to drive until eleven or later at night, we weren’t making good progress. The terrible wind followed us across the south as we headed west.

The cost of gas was murdering the budget, and hotels Rory explores the hotel room in Wichita Falls, TXwere getting more and more expensive as we went along. Many didn’t accept pets so it became ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ driving the cost higher. We still had plenty to put down a modest first month’s rent plus deposit and a bit left over so we were okay. Then, we hit the roads in Louisiana that pounded our poor Plum’s suspension near to its limit. The cats’ nerves began to fray as the car rode the waves of the road. Up and down, up and down we went. The meowing turned to mild screaming and not even ‘You are My Sunshine’ stopped it, but at least we were still moving.

What stopped us dead was an exit ramp of a La Quinta hotel in Wichita Falls, Texas. Something popped, and there was a horrifying whomping sound as we drove. We pulled into a mall parking lot to make a call to U-Haul to ask what kind of choices we had just over mid-way on our journey. Luckily, there was a U-Haul hub just a mile away. We made it there, and the manager worked with us to give a good price, but even with this savings over normal cost, our finances were devastated. He did save us about $700 total, but he only had a 20-foot truck to give us. All our belongings didn’t even cover the bottom of the space. We’d make it to our destination, but we wouldn’t have much when we got there. Gas for the behemoth truck – in the wind – was outrageous.Unpacking the trailer into the Uhaul truck.

On, we went. Two women (5’ 3” and 5’ even) in this big truck, pulling The Plum on full-car trailer with two quite unhappy cats in their crates along for the ride. Neither snuggles, nor choruses of ‘You are My Sunshine,’ moved Milo to stop shouting or Rory from echoing his big brother’s angry frustration. They did not like the rumble of the truck.

We journeyed on through New Mexico, Arizona and finally up into Nevada through the mountains and over theThe Purple Plum behind the 20 foot Uhaul truck. Hoover Dam. After a full week on the road, we arrived into our generous friend’s arms late Thursday afternoon, on March 8th, we nearly collapsed from exhaustion. Where our journey will take us from here, we are unsure, but for now, we are safe. We need to remake the money we lost during this rough journey quickly so we can find our new home.

Our Beautiful Boy

Our new beautiful boy, Rory. He came to us two and a half weeks ago from a local shelter. We didn’t want to announce him before we were positive he was absolutely healthy… and is he healthy! The little boy is the light of our lives, highly social — he needed to be that with 5 other mature cats *at least temporarily* in the house — and so active that he has to fall asleep in the middle of playing. Of course, the real test was with Milo, our 13 year old, ‘I’m so done with playing’, cat. Although Rory cannot help but annoy with his endless enthusiasm, Milo tolerates him and has even played chase with the little guy.Rory Sitting 200

Why Do Bad Things Always Come in Threes?

There is a strange horrible beauty to life, and death, sometimes. In the hours after a waterspout over The Chesapeake Bay turned into a tornado and ravaged our town in the earliest hours of Monday, July 24th — by the flickering light of candles — my younger daughter miscarried her child. Her sister curled up next to her on the bathroom floor holding her tight as we cried, then laughed, and cried again. We didn’t know what had happened a couple of miles away yet, only that the electricity was out. It wasn’t until my daughter’s partner had to drive from their apartment in Dover, DE through the gauntlet of emergency vehicles that we had any inkling. He barely made it thru as police has barricaded traffic, checked ids, a police officer only allowing him in because he explained what was happening in our house.

In the days and weeks preceding this awful night we had lost a new kitten to illness, nearly lost our beloved older cat to the same, had a car accident, and fought hard to hang onto this pregnancy. Terrible things do come in threes.

Weeping Angel

There is a strange horrible beauty to life, and death, sometimes. In the hours after a waterspout over The Chesapeake Bay turned into a tornado and ravaged our town in the earliest hours of Monday, July 24th — by the flickering light of candles — my younger daughter miscarried her child. Her sister curled up next to her on the bathroom floor holding her tight as we cried, then laughed, and cried again. We didn’t know what had happened a couple of miles away yet, only that the electricity was out. It wasn’t until my daughter’s partner had to drive from their apartment in Dover, DE through the gauntlet of emergency vehicles that we had any inkling. He barely made it thru as police has barricaded traffic, checked ids, a police officer only allowing him in because he explained what was happening in our house.

In the days and weeks preceding this awful night we had lost a new kitten to illness, nearly lost our beloved older cat to the same, had a car accident, and fought hard to hang onto this pregnancy. Terrible things do come in threes.

While she was staying with us younger daughter was on bed-rest and a high iron diet. Of course, we had just filled the refrigerator with wonderful, nutritious foods and they spoiled on their shelves. It was a financial blow we could not afford. Older daughter was told by her boss, even after only an hour of sleep that terrible night, she had to go to work or lose her job. Not a word of thanks was said when she went in to a day of only a trickle of customers. The store’s generator could run only a single register with the heat in the store nearly unbearable. It was a cruelty no one expects.

The electric company workers told us it would be 3-5 days for power to be restored. We didn’t know how we would survive in the hot-house. As soon as the police partially opened the road to allow people out, her partner took younger daughter, still suffering, back to their place in Dover.

 Amidst all this horror we found ourselves surrounded by unexpected kindness. Two friends, only known through Facebook, found a way to help by sending some non-perishable food, which carried us through the next few days. Their kind and hopeful messages kept me sane. I couldn’t be more grateful to them. Later in the evening after older daughter got off work, having not been able to get off the island for food, we were able to get over to the Chick-Fil-A. The line was wrapped around and through the parking lot. Once I ordered in my normal fashion we crawled toward the drive thru window watching each customer in front of us pay and receive their bags of food. When we pulled up, I reached my handed out the car window to pass the young women my card, which they waved away. “Your meal is on the restaurant today because you were so lovely when you ordered,” the young woman said holding the bag of fried bits of chicken and potato. Both older daughter and I burst into tears. I said it had been a horrible night and then day. They asked what had happened so I told these two strangers in a drive thru about the miscarriage and the candles while we all held hands through our respective windows, tears streaming down all our faces.

 Miracle of miracles, the power was restored sooner than expected. Many people lost a great deal that night. Some lost a portion of their houses, a few lost their entire home. Luckily, only one man was injured, eighty-one years old, crawled out from beneath his house – pissed off as hell, I hear — with a shard of wood implanted in his chest. He’s still angry, but fine. Time for all of us to rebuild.

When a Facebook Friend Dies

When a Facebook friend dies there is no protocol to follow. Sometimes the person sets up a list of a few friends to notify and spread the word. Other times, you just hear through a long grapevine and, occasionally, you never know why someone stopped posting. Those latter friends hang out in a strange limbo of not knowing. Were they incapacitated or did they just leave everyone behind one day in an exodus away from social media and its time sucking traps? What we don’t take into account is we have contact with these people often every day of our lives. How many “in real life” friends or even family can you say that about? Just over a year ago, I had lost a precious friend after a stunning and quick illness, but we shared a large group of people together. We grieved, and still grieve, together for the enormous loss she left behind.

On Friday, I learned of Bruce’s passing from a mutual friend. Bruce often disappeared for a week at a time due to limitations on his data streaming. When two weeks passed, I still didn’t notice. It seems like he liked and commented on some of the things I posted last week, but I guess that was three weeks ago and I’ve lost track of time. Caught up in my own problems and grief, which I didn’t share publicly, I didn’t notice him not being there. Had I posted about the death of my beloved uncle, or the struggles my mother is going through, he would have been one of the first ones there with a kind word. Even though he was on the other side of the world, in Australia, he always seemed to be around.

Trouble 4
Trouble, Bruce’s beloved “Boof-head” dog.

Bruce, also known as Unusual Ape, was a big man. Sometimes he got in trouble for hitting people, but almost always it was a man who abused a woman. I can’t imagine what would happen if he came upon someone abusing an animal, because of all the things Bruce loved in his life, it was his dogs… especially that “boofhead” Trouble. He would often record them lying in bed with Bruce’s big hairy arm across them, scratching their head and laughing in his deep rolling laugh. The thing about Bruce? He didn’t much care for people… not in person anyway, but his virtual friends were another matter entirely. He’d send messages, little videos, voice recordings, he posted the coolest stuff and wrote poetry. He had an enormous love and pride of family . His sister put up an obituary for him, “Ohana” it said, because, you see, Ohana means family. That’s from the Disney film Lilo and Stitch. No one believed in that more than Bruce.

A few years back, he bought a piece of land out in the Middle of Nowhere, South Wales, Australia. He documented his days long trip there in video. His dream was to build a Hobbit-like house, though he was going to start simple. He drew out a rough plan and started building a fence around the property. He may have been lonely sometimes, yet he had a joy out there which is difficult to describe. He’d arise at dawn to the sound of birds and watch the sun come up. Often he’d share these moments with a post.

I’ll miss the bastard. Facebook without Unusual Ape? Unthinkable. He was rough around the edges, but had a heart as giant as the moon. How could an asthma attack take his life? I can’t fathom it.