Archive for July, 2010

2800 miles/4days: Part IV-A Frozen Hell (Arkansas)

Posted in Reflections with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

For those of you just joining us, the begining of this tale can be found here and you can follow the links back. – J.S.S.

We awoke in Missouri, ate breakfast at the hotel, and continued our journey. Still waking up, we were quiet at first and I recall as we passed the exit for Cooter, MO contemplating how it was that various founders had arrived at the names they bestowed on their villages, towns, cities, and hamlets. It was a peaceful, bizarre thought that I rolled around for a little while before we crossed into what would be our wilderness in the passage to the promised land of Texas: Arkansas.

For various reasons I disdain Arkansas, all of which, for time purposes, I will not list. The road conditions are deplorable in good weather and I have gotten foul attitudes because of my “Yankee” accent (though this second is not isolated to the state in question.) Now I add to this list that they apparently have no plan or program for removing snow and ice from their interstates. This became my problem. Though already limited to 55 MPH do to the car trailer behind the truck, I never got near that limit for most of the passage through the blasted state.

Almost immediately after crossing the border, we came to a crawl. Though all of the roads from Michigan to this point had shown evidence of snowfall, everyone else had managed to clean the mess off of the road. I had intended to make it a good distance into Texas this day. I would have been happy to get near Dallas. It should not take a full day to cross Arkansas, but it would. I quickly started wishing I could time travel and cut across Missouri into Oklahoma and bypass this hell entirely. Alas, even a saint on a mission must taste purgatory before attaining paradise.

We were fine on fuel, having filled up before getting on the interstate that morning. Unfortunately, there was no urinal on the truck. My excessive dependence on caffeine in the form of multiple cups of morning coffee would be my downfall. The traffic moved from a crawl to stop-and-go, really stop-and-crawl, only using the accelerator in rare instances, mostly alternating between the brake and the slow surge forward of an idling engine. I was looking for a place to pull off at the exits that came too rarely but saw naught but wee country roads, presumably in worse condition than the interstate and winding further into the hills where the likes of me would not be welcome. Neither a sign for McDonald’s, nor a gas station could be seen. We were in the wilderness and I had to pee. 

Though we had no urinal, we did have various other empty containers in the truck, had I been alone, any of these might have been used to solve the issue at hand. As it was, though this option was discussed, and though Judith now claims that I should have just peed in the bottle as if it was what she had thought the whole time, at the time, she was clearly disturbed by the prospect. Now, being the rescuer and guide leading Judith and Aedan from their isolated captivity in Michigan to the promised land of Texas where resided their husband and father respectively, I took the W.W.M.D. approach, asking myself “what would Moses do?” I was unfortunately unable to recall anything in the Exodus account about Moses taking care of necessities and so I had to imagine what it was that the great patriarch would do in such a circumstance. I’m sure that the answer would involve finding a shrub that afforded a reasonable level of privacy, hiking up the old robes and doing his business. So I looked for a good spot to temporarily leave the road so that I may do likewise (though myself not being in robes.) I noted some tire tracks on the shoulder where someone before had pulled over and I foolishly decided if they were able to get back on the road, so should I. I was wrong.

It seems what I didn’t account for, after a day and a half of driving, was that I was in a big truck with a trailer and dropping a tire off of the unseen pavement into the unseen mud was much more likely than it was for those who had blazed this trail.  My immediate concern though was for my bursting bladder which screamed for relief.  I waded through the ditch of knee deep snow and found a suitable shrubbery on the fence line and attained sweet relief; Sweet relief that would soon be soured by the cost of its attaining. I reentered the cab of the truck and opted to follow the tire tracks in the snow before us the 20 yards that remained before rejoining traffic on the main part of the road. I crept forward around 15 feet and involuntarily stopped. I tried to rock the truck forward and back to break it loose. Over multiple tries I may have moved 2 feet, but I also managed to bury the rear, right truck wheel to the hub. My short pit stop would become an all too early long break from our forward progress.

Various attempts were made to shovel snow and gravel into the rut in order to lend enough traction to regain the road, but all for naught. Having no local phonebook, and not wanting to dishearten my wife yet, I called the U-Haul assistance hotline. Though my situation did not qualify for them to send someone themselves, the lady on the other end of the line was sympathetic and decided to help us track down a tow truck. Around this time, Faith, having returned home from church, called to check our progress and was displeased to hear of our plight. Though I was able to walk back down the road 50 feet and read a sign to give a fair approximation of our location to both Faith and the lady from U-Haul, both struggled to find where we actually were on the map making the procurement of assistance difficult. Finally the U-haul lady called back and described a chain of calls that she had made to get a tow driver that was currently on the same stretch of road as us (I was not the only idiot, he was quite busy.) We settled in to wait.

By the time we were pulled out, traffic had partially broken up and the driver had to be extra cautious with impatient drivers that had been stuck in slow traffic flying by with no consideration. I’m sure some of them just had to pee. We were finally back on the road after only a 2 ½ hour delay. After settling up with the driver, we decided to risk the fate of Persephone and eat in the underworld.

The rest of the day continued stop-and-go; brief breaks in traffic and frequent reductions to 20 MPH. We stopped counting tractor-trailers turned over in the median at 9, but we managed to make it into Texas. As we crossed the line, I saw a unicorn over the moon with a Texas star on its rear left flank and a rainbow encircled the welcome sign and the roads immediately became clearer. We pressed on until near midnight so that we didn’t have to be near Texarkana, as it gets part of its name from the state that had destroyed our forward progress.

For those of you thinking I am blaming poor Arkansas for our delays when I was the one that had to pee, let me lay down the math for you: 9 AM to 12 AM = 15 hours, subtract the 2 ½ for the unfortunately long “potty” break and we have 12 ½ hours left, subtract another 2 ½ for food and gas stops and we are down to 10, I was able to maintain the 55 MPH maximum for the trailer in all of the other states crossed on this sojourn, so, in 10 hours I should have made 550 miles. Plus, had I been going 55, I would likely have been able to make it to a more proper rest stop which would mean I could add another 130 miles to the total putting it a 680. Now I wouldn’t have pressed to 12 if I had made it to Dallas, so I wouldn’t have made 680 miles, but I could have. So I blame Arkansas. Thankfully, we only had left to cross the Texas.

Final part coming soon.

2800 miles/4days: Part III-Maintaining the Snowball

Posted in Reflections with tags , , , on July 9, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

Contiuning the telling of an adventure that took place in February 2010. Now will you quit your whining, Judith?

For those of you just joing, the story begins here-JSS

We went to the Prime Table for dinner; a little Greek restaurant in Niles. I like Greek food, but you can’t find it in Midland, TX, so this was a pleasant diversion from the mission at hand.  Judith informed me that if we could not get everything, the TV stand and end tables were ok to sacrifice. 

“Will that help?”

No; those pieces are tiny. Leaving the piano or the fridge would help.

“Absolutely, I mean, if we need to.” I really am not a good liar.

And so this dance continued throughout the loading process: Judith would ask if everything was going to fit and I would blatantly and unapologetically lie to her. It was a fun game that I hope she enjoyed as much as I did. As it wore on I would start to give hints of doubt, indications that the slated sacrificial pieces would in fact be sacrificed, I would fish to see if there was anything else that could be left behind.

Oh, the dining room chairs, great. Are you completely certain that you need to take the fridge? Seriously?

I was informed that, though it was recommended by others to leave behind the fridge and stove for the new tenant of the house and pointed out that the apartment they were moving to is equipped these items, Brad insisted that he have his appliances. I took out my mental notepad and pen: punch Brad in face upon returning to Texas.

But, I’m way out of the time line. We returned from dinner and it was now time for me to give full proof to my ineptitude in driving the big truck. It was decided that we needed to remove the trailer so that we could lower the ramp and that we should back up to the front door for minimal carrying over the snow and ice. We decided to remove the trailer where it was at the end of the drive way and use the snow covered side yard to maneuver the truck into position. Quickly this was proven to be a mistake; the truck was hard to maneuver (or the driver was incompetent,) the trailer added an obstacle to the positioning, and empty box trucks get ridiculously bad traction on the snow. These three (or four) things added together made for an hour or more deciding we had tried this all the wrong way and then trying to start over the right way; re connecting the trailer, moving it to the street and getting the truck as close to the door as possible.  Somehow I had managed to get the truck stuck on an invisible railroad tie that was in the yard buried under the snow and the end results of this was simply that I could not get to the trailer from where I was. I needed momentum to leave where I was and delicate maneuverability to get where I wanted to be.

I eventually managed to extricate the truck from what seemed to be its natural habitat in the yard and out into the street. This still left us needing to get the truck in front of the trailer that was blocking the end of the driveway which meant reentering the yard over the curb and back into the snow. I circled the block and came down a side street that gave me a decent angle of attack and, as much as an empty 17’ box truck can be gunned on ice and snow, I gunned it up into the yard angled for the back end of the drive near the garage.  This final hope move proved successful and I was able to back up to the trailer in order to reattach it and move it onto the street.

As we started the reattaching I was reminded of the nice U-Haul lady who advised that if the trailer did not have to be removed, it should not be. The ridiculous notion that a box truck would be completely loaded around the trailer instead of removing the obstacle and utilizing the ramp suddenly made sense as we struggled to get the trailer reattached.  The trailer jack does not lift the trailer up, it lifts it up and back. Proper alignment is necessary to get the trailer socket to fit down over the ball hitch. Add a little bit of slippage due to ice and inexperienced eyes estimating the proper location and you have a lengthy procedure.

After we got the trailer re-attached, I had the privilege of proving my skill backing it out of the drive. Dumb luck alone made this a quick procedure. We then re-detached the trailer and parked the truck back in the drive where we could load through the front door. We stuffed “grandma’s attic” as full as we could and put the china cabinet in front of it and stuffed it full. It was late and cold and we were tired and had to reattach the trailer again to get it off of the street because of a complaining neighbor. The real fun would start tomorrow.

When the loading help arrived in the morning things kicked off full swing. My damaged foot was reminding me about what I missed moving to a warmer, drier climate as I slogged through the heavy, wet snow. I did manage to avoid most of the heavy lifting while directing every sliver of space to be stuffed with something. I have been part of several moves in my time and I have never seen a more efficient use of space. That truck was packed. I feared that shifting might make reopening the truck once in Texas a bit dangerous, but that was at least 48 hours from now. The “Easter Egg” was loaded onto its trailer and stuffed full. The “sacrificial” were sacrificed, we got everything else. It turns out that the snowball’s chance was not as bad as originally forecast.

We were treated to some pulled-pork sandwiches toward the end of the load. Packed and ready, we started the second 1400 of my 2800. It would be considerably longer, at times more amusing, and equally as frustrating. We made it through Illinois by the end of the day without incident and stopped somewhere in the tiny sliver of Missouri that separates Illinois from Arkansas. Hell was ahead of us, but we didn’t know it yet. We would discover it for ourselves early enough the next day.

Part IV can be found here.

10 Lessons/10 Years

Posted in Reflections with tags , , on July 1, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

Today I have been married to my wife for ten years, five of the happiest years of my life. Over these ten years I have learned a few lessons about what it takes to stay married. Mind you, many of you know these lessons better than I, but some need the education. Here are ten of the finest:

  1. Just because you don’t care doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention. That is, there are things that your wife is interested in that you might not be. However, she might pepper her discourse on the mundane with tidbits that you really want/need to know. These tidbits are likely to come back later in quiz form, though the amateur (new) husband might not recognize the pop quiz until it’s too late. Besides the fact, that when you are droning on about the NFL draft or some bit of equally trivial nonsense that she could care less about, you want her to feign interest, right? Which brings us to:
  2. Keep it Simple. When you are droning on about things you know she doesn’t care about, simplify. In my case, when I start talking about work, I sometimes need to get into technical stuff to explain why the people I work with are idiots. I see her eyes glaze over like Krispy Kreams and I know I’ve overloaded her. Simplify, it’s rather rude to droll on about something that is so uninteresting to most of the world. It’s not that she isn’t smart enough to get it, but imagine a technical description of something that that doesn’t interest you at all; how long could you keep focus.
  3. She’s Always Right.  Not really, but she’s always worth giving full attention to. And, whereas discussions and debates may be swayed towards one side or the other, arguments are always lost. If winning an argument is important to you, hopefully you have a comfortable couch. She might be wrong, but you need to decide how much you would stake on proving that, and realize that even if you win all of your points, you still lose.  Also, when she gives up early and says “you’re right” in a certain tone, you are most definitely wrong. But more importantly
  4. Never, ever, argue with a pregnant woman.  I have spent five of ten years of marriage with a pregnant woman. If she wants you to get up and go get some ice cream at three in the morning, go; you’re not going back to sleep anyway. I learned this one by moving a piano, by myself at ten at night that had to be moved to make room for the baby that was still four months away from birth. Had I not tried to convince her that it could wait, I could have called someone to help, but no friend is coming over at ten to move a piano. And above both of these,
  5. NEVER compare her to her mom.  You may get along with your mother-in-law; your wife may talk to her mom daily and be very close. That doesn’t matter, especially in a fight, don’t do it. It will haunt you most unpleasantly.
  6. Small things count big. I learned this when she was pregnant too. During Christmas, I would plug the tree in before I left for work so when she got up it was twinkling and happy. It was ten seconds that made her day start brighter, which made my day better.
  7. Tell her she look nice. I still slip on this one, but when she has put the effort in to look good to go out, especially if she’s going with you, notice. Say something, be specific. This also gives you a starting point for derailing should the worst happen, because although it seems so in writing,
  8. “Does this make me look fat?is not a yes or no question.  It is a freight train coming straight for you. If you answer it directly, head on, you will be wrong and sorry. She has already seen something in the mirror she doesn’t like so “no” means you are lying to her. “Yes” is equivalent to telling her she’s fat. Your choices are to avoid it or derail it. I don’t know how to avoid it, but if you give the compliment before this happens, you have a head start derailing it. More help than this I cannot give, every woman and mood is different. Good luck.
  9. It’s not where she says it is. This may vary differently for some of you, but for me, if my wife tells me where to find something, she has only just eliminated the first wrong answer. It’s not there. It’s not worth getting mad about. Just start looking somewhere else.
  10. Tell her you love her. She knows, and as much as men don’t need to hear things, she does. Say it often. Once a day is probably not often enough.

This may be helpful to some of you and some of you probably learned these the hard way. For those of you unmarried, let me inform you of one more thing: you are not ready for marriage. Not that you shouldn’t get married, you’re just not ready. You have no idea what you are doing and nothing anyone can tell you will properly illustrate it. Do it anyway, it’s worth it.

Happy Anniversary, Faith. I love you.