Reader’s Note: This is the first in a series of writings in which I will document my experiences and thoughts (as Internet connection allows) as I cross the United States from California to Maine in my beloved 2007 Mini Cooper with almost 169,000 miles on it. I’m writing it for myself, but if you’d like to follow along and share in the adventure, I welcome you. These are rough drafts, affected by fatigue, exhilaration, road buzz, hip pain, and what have you. They will be edited and refined over time.
It was 6pm. Godammit, I'd meant to leave at noon.
I'd been ridding myself of possessions in earnest for the last week in preparation for my driving move to Maine. I flashed to a recurring nightmare I have on occasion in which I'm very late for a flight and I'm trying to go up the down escalator. The new renter was on his way, and I was still fucking HERE in this California Central Coast basement apartment that was as lovely and magical as it was decrepit and somehow pitiful as I dismantled the magic that had made it a joy.
I looked down at piles of everything that still remained after a huge going-away party I'd staged for myself, putting things out free on the street, and many, many Mini-loads to Goodwill. What I was looking at was everything I wanted to take, everything I thought was important. Thirty years of life in California distilled to a few sizeable piles on the floor.
And I knew it would never fit. Never in a million years.
I'd set myself the mission of taking to Maine only what would fit in the Mini as a way to clear the decks for my new life on an island off the Maine coast. And now, here was a giant problem right in my face, with no time for debate or rebellion. It knocked the wind out of me.
As my hands went to my knees so I could breathe, the voice in my head that I trust so much--instinct, intuition, God, whatever--said in a very firm tone: "Take half of that." My response came out loud: "No, no, there's no way!" And yet at the same time, I began to gather up the pile of clothes I'd mentally labeled as "Fall in Maine." Into the still-empty Mini it went, bound for Goodwill. Then the red cowboy boots. And the cool new ones I'd never gotten to wear because they were buried under some other shoes I also didn't know I had. Holy shit.
And soon the Mini was filled to the roof again with things I wanted, but didn't need. The man at Goodwill practically rolled his eyes as I approached the donation drop-off yet again. He didn't understand that what I was handing over to him felt like my best, most treasured, most precious things. And there were. Without a word, he trundled them away into the bowels of the thrift store that now contained most of the material evidence of my life in California.
I returned home, tearful, exhausted, and thoroughly frayed. There was suddenly something very wrong with my low back. Ignoring it, I looked at what remained. I noticed that through the sorrow and pain, there was a deep feeling of satisfaction and pride. I was ready to leave. With a new burst of desperate energy--the short-lived kind that lets mothers lift cars off their children--I packed everything into theme-based piles and Food4Less bags: Bathroom, Nighttime, Camping, Food.
Here's what's left of the contents of my enormous, dirt-floored walk-in closet and magnificent wardrobe, in those two plastic compression bags. Also note Miss Kitty, who's been my faithful traveling companion since I found her at a store in Maine in 2008. My laptop. A map.
As I started to gather my remaining things to pack them into the Mini, I began to wonder if I'd had some kind of stroke. I'd start saying something to myself, and then trail off, with no idea what I'd been about to say. That other voice kept saying, "Take an Aleve. Take an Aleve. Take an Aleve." I kept saying, "OK, right. OK. OK." But I got sidetracked and never did. I knew there was a lot of pain happening somewhere, but somehow it wasn't mine. It was awful. I was in a nightmare that I couldn't escape and would never end. I was a machine that was shorting out, sparks flying, parts falling off as I tried to use them. All I knew was that I had to finish. I had to leave if it was the last thing I ever did.
Finally, miraculously, the Mini was packed and ready to go. I closed the hatch and walked back up the stairs to mop the floors and do a last check. I ate something and drank some water.
As I drove up the steep driveway, the new tenant was driving down. He made room for me, we waved and smiled, and I got up to street level to say goodbye to my upstairs neighbors. They took this picture of me:
And with that, at 7:30pm, I got in the Mini and hit the freeway headed south. I had a vague idea that I was headed for Sedona, or maybe just Santa Barbara 2 hours away. But when I got into Santa Maria 40 minutes later, I saw the sign for Highway 166 crossing inland, east, and there was that voice again--"You need to take that tomorrow. Stop here." Seriously. These were words in my head. I saw a sign for Motel 6 (they said they'd leave the lights on for me), stopped at a Chevron to get a cold 6-pack, checked in, and carefully laid down on the bed. It felt like heaven, and that first beer was the veritable elixir of life.
The other 4 that followed were largely unnecessary, but I didn't care. I puttered around, getting out my shower stuff and supplements. Got in my jammies. Then came the $25 Domino's pizza. Again, not caring. I think it was my first Domino's pizza in about 27 years. Delicious! I felt like a buzzed, doughy ghost.
I turned on the TV (ooo, TV!) and looked through all the channels of utter crap. I'd hoped that maybe during my many years away from TV, things might have improved. But no--it was much, much worse. Seven-minute commercial breaks filled with fast food, alcohol, pharmaceutical, and car ads broken up with 4 minutes of some kind of "show."
Finally I found a bad MMA fight on the Speed channel (?) and watched that for a bit before shutting the damn thing off. I turned off the fluorescent light next to me and curled up in a ball, instantly asleep.