It’s all in the journey, isn’t it? I mean that in both a literal and figurative way. The physical act of moving, whether it’s through exercise or relocation, adds perspective. Doubly so, when you do it alone. I just made one such journey.
If you missed it, I packed everything up and moved the entire operation to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Everything. Well, everything I could carry. It was hard, scary, daunting, and so incredibly freeing. There were mornings of silence, as I spent the first few hours of driving in silence. There were afternoons of exhausted, hungry, ugly crying as I filtered through the fear and anger at the fear. I spent 3 1/2 days on the road, a literal hot mess. It was rough.
After what happened to Neely at It Starts With Coffee, I’m hesitant to put up any bad reviews of anything. To be fair, she was completely in the wrong, and set out to destroy the photographer. Suffice to say that I won’t be renting from Hertz ever again, if I can help it. Initially they were very easy to deal with and understanding, but once I was on the road and noticed my contract was incorrect, it was literally impossible to get a hold of anyone who was helpful, or wanted to be. I stayed in the phone loop for hours on end, Tuesday through Thursday for one question to be answered. Finally, Thursday evening, I got a phone call, and the man on the other end, in a very condescending way, answered my question as though I should understand rental car speak.
That’s not important to this story, though. Let’s continue.
I let fear drive
I was supposed to leave on Sunday, then Monday, and I ended up having to set out on Tuesday, because I had to be here by Friday. Don’t do that, folks. I let fear drive me through Sunday and Monday, hoping against everything that I would find an affordable solution closer to home, even as I longed to live near a beach in a place I could afford. Fear is a bitch, and anger is her pal, and they aren’t helpful for long.
I made it to Park City, Kansas, just outside Wichita, the first night. I stayed at a Red Roof Inn, and Gladys was amazing. I was frazzled and weary. I slept well, and later than I wanted. I promptly hopped back on the road, and headed for my next stop: Oklahoma City.
I landed in OKC just in time for lunch, and was able to meet an online friend in real life. He’s an amazing costumer and comic creator, who is married to an outstanding attorney and cosplayer. Sadly, his wife wasn’t able to join us. I will catch them both on my next pass through. After we grabbed a bite at The Garage (delicious! eat there.), I headed through Dallas, and into Tyler for the night.
Have you ever been someplace and knew that you weren’t supposed to be there? It doesn’t happen often, but that’s what happened in Tyler. I hopped out of the car, rented a room, and walked inside. My gut was instantly alert and upset, and the hair stood up on my neck and arms. I drove to the front, asked for a refund, and drove my road-weary existence through to Shreveport, landing comfortably and safely at one of the Choice Hotels.
Had I started out on Sunday, I would have spent some time the following day exploring. My grandparents were married in Shreveport in 1940, and lived there for a bit of time before they shipped off to where he was stationed. I would have loved to have found their home and the church where they were married. As things are in the South, it is likely that both still exist, perhaps weathered and spent, but still in use.
I was already a few hours (days) behind schedule, and the Doppler radar was beginning to look pretty maroon, thanks in part to that hurricane that hit Mexico in the days before I had traveled this far south. I had a decision to make, because there were 2 ways to get to Mobile, each equidistant, and both looking at flash flooding. I chose south to Lafayette, even though Jackson was only a few hours away. The entire route was covered by flooding orange-red-maroon, and it would’ve set me back a day to travel through – perhaps my entire life if I didn’t make it. South had a few red spots that looked like they were moving through pretty quickly, and I can drive in rain.
As I hit the first storm, I cried and cursed myself for not just staying put, even though I was so far behind. The red hadn’t moved on, the highways were 2-5 inches deep, without the trucker wakes, and I couldn’t keep my windshield defogged to save my life. I slowed way down, and luckily most others did, too. Then it cleared up, and there were herons and lilies and cattails and lush, green beauty, the likes of which I haven’t seen since my 2005 road trip to Neosho, Missouri. I was stunned silent, turned off the radio, and soaked it all in. I stopped for gas, glanced at the Doppler, and decided I could make Baton Rouge for a late lunch.
It stayed drizzly and warm, with clouds and sun moving through pretty quickly. I began to trust that it was clearing up, and I would have a semi-wet cruise into Tallahassee for the night. I was wrong. As I crested The Bridge in Baton Rouge, I hit a micro burst. There is nothing so terrifying as sideways rain on a bridge along the Gulf Coast, trust me. Except maybe a hurricane, and I hope I never experience one. I. Couldn’t. See. It was worse than between Shreveport and Lafayette. I couldn’t breathe, I was crying so hard, and I couldn’t pull off for feat of being hit, or carried into the roadside glade and getting stuck. I ended up getting carried along by traffic, all the way to Hammond. So much for a late lunch in Baton Rouge.
It was moving the same direction I was, though, and I was barely ahead of it. I stopped for a breather, gas, and some seriously awesome catfish, as soon as I could see to get off the highway. I was a mess. I called my mom and told her about it. I had made it through. I was still shaking. I had just settled in with my lunch, when I glanced at the radar and saw the storm catching up with a vengeance, just as the Emergency Alert System bellowed from the television in the truck stop that there was a flash flood warning that would be active for hours. I asked for a to-go, hit the restroom, and hopped in the cargo van. It was now, or 3 hours from now, and I didn’t want to wait in a truck stop for the rain to maybe subside.
I wasn’t fast enough. I was halfway around the top of Lake Pontchartrain when I was engulfed by water and forced to slow down, or slam into the back of a car that didn’t find it necessary to have its lights on in the inclement weather. This time, it didn’t stop for long, though driving into Mobile was nice and beautiful. Remember how I told you there’s nothing like being slammed with sideways rain and wind on the Gulf Coast. Do that in Mobile during rush hour. On second thought, don’t. I was keenly aware, as I exited the Chunnel in Mobile, that I was suspended over the bowl, the Gulf was pissed, and I might get blown over the side at any moment. I am absolutely glad that it was rush hour, because the stop-and-go saved my sanity from the people who think they’re invincible and power through torrential rain with no headlights on. I was still a little scared, but got a few great pictures.
I spent the entire journey into Crestview – which should have been Tallahassee – barely able to see the road. I was supposed to meet a girlfriend from high school for dinner, and 6 became 7, then 7:15, then 7:35. I finally made it about 7:40. What could have been an 8.5 hour trip into Tallahassee became a 12-hour trip that fell about 150 miles short. We ate dinner, I met her new baby, and then I slept at another Choice Hotel, conveniently located steps away from our dinner spot. There was no way I was going to drive another 2 hours into the rainy night. The locals assured me that I would still be able to float toward Jacksonville in the morning.
And float, I did. I wasn’t 10 miles up the highway when the rain hit again, and again, and again. Then, sun, all the way from Tallahassee, through Jacksonville, and almost all the way to the Orlando exit on I-95. Then sprinkles, then torrents, more sprinkles. It slowly dawned on me that there was no standing water, even in the maroon Doppler spots. None. Zero. Not only could I see the road, I could feel it, and I wasn’t sashaying down the coast in a Mack wake. I wondered why that was, and then caught sight of the drainage holes on the sides of the road. Now, I would’ve thought that an area prone to damage in hurricanes like Katrina would do a better job of applying the secrets of dry roads. Ever grateful, I powered on.
As I was pulling through Daytona Beach, past the exit to Orlando, the rain started up again. Initially I was afraid and braced for flooding. And then? No flooding, only hard rain, all the way to Ft. Lauderdale. I didn’t have to slow down, nobody was without headlights, though there were a few stretches where there were no street lights. That made it harder to see, but it was only for a few miles. Around 10 P.M., eastern time, I coasted into the parking lot of my new building.
I had spent the previous 3.5 days crying, yelling, filtering, sorting, getting my thoughts straight and losing them again. My body hurt, my mind was cloudy, my stomach empty. You could say I was done. My right Achilles tendon was (is) bruised from the drive, because cruise control down the river is a very bad idea.
Here I sit, rewarded.
I came to terms with being rooted 2,400 miles from my family, my home, and a few close friends. I was rewarded with an awesome apartment about a mile from the beach, less than 2 blocks from the grocery store, in a place I can call my own and afford without struggling to keep my head above water.
I have a “day job” as a writer and editor, and even as great as that is, Colorado is much too expensive a place to live. I have spent the past 6 years rooming with someone, barely afloat, even with a successful business. It kept me inside, away from people, 24/7, pinned to my desk just to make sure that I had enough – but barely. For a social butterfly like me, that’s suffocating. I could feel it killing me, literally. No, seriously, my body and mind have suffered immensely, and I have not reacted well.
I would like to tell you that when I landed at my new home, it all went away. That’s not how this works, though. The adrenaline is gone – from the sheer terror of driving through the red/maroon dot on the Doppler radar through the Gulf Coast – but the pain of leaving the people and animals I love behind is still here. I am still angry that I cannot afford a place to live in my home state. I still need another good ugly cry or two. I will have to call my therapist, a few friends, and write a few volumes in my journal.
The journey was hard, scary, angry, complicated, taxing, and ultimately very freeing. It gave me time and distance to clear my head and heart spaces for new adventures, and living a life I adore. Here I am, and I love Florida. I am in a safe space. I inherited a cat and an apartment I can afford. I do have a roommate who travels for work, and is gone 90% of the time. There’s no explaining how it feels to finally have my space to expand.
I already have a friend coming to visit, booked before I had unpacked my suitcase.
I have a kitchen again, of my very own, in which to play with my food and bring you delicious recipes.
Huge piles of gratitude to those of you who reached out, and who grabbed my hand when I needed a little help. At the request of a good friend waiting for their payday, I have kept the GoFundMe campaign open, and will leave it there until September 1. Feel free to pop over there and share it and/or help if you can.
Thanks for playing along! Much love 🙂