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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Truck Caper and random Observations

The time to move south was finally upon us. We had talked for some time about moving to either Texas or Florida. Opportunity and desire combined, we found a perfect situation in Orlando and it was time to go. I am a bit of cheapskate at times so as moving day loomed I evaluated all the options, talked to several moving companies, consulted with others who had made similar moves recently and came to what I thought was a brilliant decision. Paying movers to load and unload on either end of the trip and then driving the truck myself was cheaper by far than other options. In fact it was about 50% cheaper given the recent decline in gas prices. I love to drive and if you give me coffee and cigarettes aplenty I will bounce down the road for days at a time perfectly content. My wife could drive the Honda along with the cat and my stepdaughter and my daughter could drive the 16 year old Jag. We save a few grand, the move got done and everyone’s is happy was my conclusion. As we shall see, dear reader, I am a fucking idiot.

We will eventually get to the point of the story but I shall take the license to wander near and far along the way. As with everything I write here this will be part commentary and part story with healthy doses of economics, politics, sports and occasional stupidity dumped in the mix. One of my favorite activities on road trips is to observe the nation through the windshield in an attempt to gain some deeper understanding of current conditions.

Our journey begins just as a massive heat wave hits most of the country. This becomes more critical as time goes by as the air conditioning in the Jag does not work and tight ass here never bothered to fix it. As long as there is air moving in the car I don’t care. I had high tech 2-60 AC as far as I was concerned. Roll down 2 windows and drive 60 miles per hour and I am good to go. However I was not driving that car. My daughter was along with the somewhat spoiled climate control inclined dog. However we got on the road around 1:00 on the 28th and all was good initially. The truck was professionally loaded, it was not brutally hot and our caravan headed south. The plan was to get south of the clusterfuck known as DC well before rush hour hit in full fury.

As Mike Tyson once said “ We all have a plan until we get punched in the face.” Washington DC traffic is horrendous pretty much anytime of the day. As bad a president as Woodrow Wilson was his namesake bridge is worse. They just rebuilt the damn thing a few years ago and yet there were construction and repair related delays getting across the damn thing. The Empire State Building was put up in 18 months and  has been fine for decades. The Woodrow Wilson can’t even stay repair free for a fucking year without needing some type of traffic snarling, commuter soul crushing event. Once we cleared that abomination I began to breathe easier as the traffic radio was informing of normal conditions on 95 south.

I have avoided DC for years and in my solo days would fly though DC late at night on my southern journeys. I had completely forgotten that normal conditions on 95 south means completely, entirely and resoundingly fucked up beyond belief. Our little vehicular parade was on the brakes all the way down below Fredericksburg. Grant moved the entire goddamn Union Army to Richmond in less time than it took us. It took almost two hours to clear traffic and get back up to speed. My daughter was dying as to have 2-60AC you need 60. We were not moving at 10 for much of the stretch and temps were hovering around 100.  She and the dog were going through water by the gallon.

No matter how bad it gets for the rest of the country the DC area thrives and has a reasonable economy and the attendant traffic jams. The huge complex that is government sprawls out in every direction and employs hundreds of thousands of bureaucratic minions. The companies that feed off the massive cash tit that is the federal government bring millions more people each dedicating a minimum of 8 hours a day to consuming taxpayer dollars. It is a giant parade of legislators, lobbyists, freeloaders, taxers and spenders circling the beltway fucking up traffic and burning through YOUR money.  I fail to see how any rational human could spend time in the traffic snarl that is Washington DC and not realize the giant criminal fraud and corrupt self-feeding institution our government has become. No intelligent person can circle the beltway and not be an anarchist of libertarian by the end of the trip.

Once we moved inside the Richmond beltway traffic broke free. Now my little 26 foot U-Haul and I could only move along at between 65 and 70 MPH. The truck would go faster but it got right damn hinkey at higher speeds. The bounce factor increased to the point it was a like being in a water bed with a fat person dong the jitterbug. The steering got right damn jiggy as well at anything over 70. As traffic south of Richmond moves at 80 or above most of the time, I called my wife and my daughter and told them to stay together but just go on without me. The Jag was bringing up the rear during the first leg so I told Lisa to just pass me and stay on Erin’s bumper the rest of the day. I would poke along and get to our destination hotel in Fayetteville North Carolina whenever I got there.  My daughter was very concerned about going on without me and was really talking up the whole “Are you sure dad, I don’t want to just drive ahead and leave you behind?” It would have been convincing as hell as a show of concern if she wasn’t already three car lengths ahead and accelerating while the dog sat in the front seat waving bye-bye.

Everything went fine. They sped up and the car cooled off just fine.  I bounced along down the road thinking deep thoughts. I caught up with them for a quick dinner and dog poop stop and they took on off ahead of me again. They got to our hotel about a half hour ahead of me and had the animals and required essentials all organized in the hotel by the time I arrived. The hotel was jammed so after circling a few times I parked on the street next to the hotel behind two tractor trailers. I grabbed my bag, circled the truck to make sure all was well, checked all the locks and headed inside.

My wife informed me that I was expected to take the daughter to the hotel bar for a drink. She and the dog had not enjoyed the trip as much as the rest of us and this was my fatherly duty. You would think she would know better by now. My daughter and I have a blast in the bar. We are both talkers and will strike up conversations with anyone about anything. We got to the bar just as an event in the hotel was ending and many of the participants were wondering in for a nightcap. One of the special ops divisions had a dining in with the commanding General and soon the bar was full of special ops officers from Fort Bragg. We spent more time than we should have talking to them about history, literature, the middle east, Iraq, Afghanistan and other matters of the day. It was fascinating but there was a real consensus view that the Afghanis will never be able to govern themselves and we need to either take it over and stay forever or blow it the fuck up and walk way. The latter conclusion seems to have more supporters. All of the folks we spoke with had been there including many as first boots on the ground and all expected to be going back. Most expect to see action in other parts of the Mid East as Arab spring becomes Arab Shitstorm with specific concerns arising about Egypt and Syria. Fascinating evening all the way around and I bought more drinks for our nation’s warriors than was prudent.  We stumbled back to the rooms and fell asleep looking forward to another long day on the Road to Orlando.

Now the story takes a turn for the worse. In the morning I grabbed a quick shower, loaded my bag and went out to throw it in the truck. Except the truck was not there. One of the tractor trailers I parked behind was still there but my truck was just gone. Gone. The whole fucking truck. I was stunned to the point of speechless. I staggered back to the room and just looked at my wife. I had to tell her the truck with EVERY FUCKING THING WE OWNED was gone. I ran to the front office and asked if they had towed the truck for some reason. No such luck. I had them call the police.

The Fayetteville police came out and took the report. They told me what I already knew and there was probably little hope of recovery for our stuff. We called UHaul and reported the theft. They talked to the cop and got all the needed information. I was a little surprised they do not have GPS devices on their trucks but they don’t.  There was nothing left to do and no point staying in Fayetteville.  Stunned the wife and I loaded the stepdaughter and the cat into the Honda with Lisa bringing up the rear with her faithful but thoroughly confused canine companion.

To say my wife was devastated is understating the matter. It was not the big stuff that hurt. We had already called the insurance company and knew we had full replacement cost on everything. It was going to be a massive pain in the ass we would replace the furniture, appliances and electronics. It was the little things, the sentimental irreplaceable things that just hurt all the way down inside. Her mother’s china. Her aunt’s heirloom ring. The finger paintings from first grade. Baby shoes. The first sonogram. Love letters. Decades of photo albums. Every mile bought new memory and a fresh round of tears. This was devastating to me as there was almost nothing I could do to ease this pain, this loss that some heartless fucking petty criminals had inflicted on the woman I love. There was nothing I could do to ease the pain or stop the tears. It was brutal.
I am something of an emotional hard ass about stuff but there were things on that truck that had traveled with me for decades and the loss hurt. I fought back the tears as I drove because I needed to look strong for the wife.  I had to force myself not to think about the baseball bat my Dad gave me when I was sick, the three of four surviving pictures of him. The pictures of my kids as babies. Our wedding albums. You can take most of my stuff and I won’t care that much. These things hurt me way down inside in places I don’t usually like to travel.

In the meantime the sun is waging harsh warfare with the highway. It is over 100 degrees and my daughter is just dying in the JAG. After the lunch stop in the middle of South Carolina I knew I had to take over. If I have moving air and smokes I can handle it. I spent far too many years on the road as a salesman in a wide variety of broke ass vehicles to let a little heat bother me. We loaded up with sodas and water and continued on our sad journey south to rebuild and replace our stolen lives.

We had the hammer down. For the better part of five hours we flew down 95. The switch was probably a good idea as my wife and daughter are best friends and decided that they needed to take action. They began building inventory lists of stuff in the house by room, crying little tears at some of the stuff that was lost.  It was a small distraction at the magnitude of the loss. As her brother put it it was if our hosue had burned down and we all escaped. We had to focus on the fact we were all okay and would be fine. The insurance claim was going to be a major pain in the ass but it would all get done and we would not be homeless or sleeping on floors. However if you want some idea of the pain look around your house at all the little things that make up your life. The pictures. The refrigerator magnets from the trip to Niagara falls with Uncle Fred and Aunt Edna. The lamp you bought together in that funky little shop at the shore. The lopsided  sculpture your daughter made you in preschool. The martini glasses from “That Night.” Gone. For good. Can’t be replaced. Gone. On the floor of some fucking warehouse somewhere or in a dumpster because they have no value to anyone but you.

Then the call came. The North Carolina State Police had found the truck and what appeared to be most of our stuff was still on it. We pulled off the highway and plotted our next move. We had to turnaround and head back but it made no sense for all of us to trek back the five hours to reclaim out belongings. We loaded our daughters in the Honda, sedated both animals with Dramamine and sent them on to the resort hotel we had reserved in Orlando for the night. The wife and I climbed into the Jag and began to backtrack the five hours to North Carolina to get the truck.

As we headed north it became apparent form our conversations with the police that the truck had been found about forty minutes away from the hotel just sitting on the side of the road. It also became apparent the  State Police in North Carolina and Officer Leviner of the Fayetteville Police were just great people. These folks were calling constantly to let us know what the situation was and where the truck would be. It was supposed to be towed into the impound lot for us to pick up. The troopers apparently decided we had been through enough for one day. The got together and drove the truck to the State Police repair yard, had the mechanics check it out, consulted with the local U-Haul guy to see if he had another truck in case ours could not be driven. As it turned out the mechanic gave it a full clean bill of health and they decided to just leave the gates to the repair shop so we could pick it up after hours. The U-Haul dealer called and gave us his home number in case we needed to help starting it since the ignition had been stripped. It was all some faith in humanity restoring stuff.

We arrived about 7:30 in the little burg of Elizabeth Town NC around 7:30 and there was our truck in the repair yard. It was apparent that some stuff off the very back was gone but the majority of our stuff was still there. My theory is that given the number of U-Haul’s and trucks in our hotel the previous night the thieves had prior knowledge of a U-Haul full of contraband or highly valuable cargo at that location and simply stole the wrong damn truck. When we unloaded Saturday it was obvious that this was the case. All the loose shit was thrown off, cabinets open and dumped. My briefcases were dumped all over the cab but they left the cigarettes, electronics and checkbooks with everything else. When it became apparent that this was not the droids they were looking for, they left it running on the side of the road and walked away.
We were now 9 hours of backtracking to Orlando.  My wife was overheated but happy again.  We made the not so smart decision to just stick it through and get all the way to our destination. I asked if she wanted the truck or the car and my poor over heated sweat soaked wife tells me she would feel guilty taking the air conditioned truck.  I just gave her a kiss and the keys.  I could drive the Jag with the heater on just then as I was so relieved that she didn’t have to deal with the loss of all her belongings and keepsakes. It was a long night on the road but we pulled into Orland about 5 in the morning with our stuff.

After an hour cat nap it was time to head over and meet the realtor to get the house keys and sign the lease. We are in Windermere right outside Orlando and this place is gorgeous. I have big honking ass palm trees in yard. We have met more neighbors in two days than I spoke to in years living up north. There are a dozen or so little lakes and ponds throughout the community and we have been just walking around taking it all in.
Being me there are some general observations form our expedition. First traffic on (%, both car and truck, is not up to pre-crisis levels by any stretch of the imagination. We were on the road on a Friday before the fourth of July and the volume was just not there. It is not the ghost road it was when I drove down in December of 2008 but Lisa went into rush hour in both Jacksonville and Orlando and reported that while traffic was heavy she never had to hit the brakes. This would seem to confirm my opinion that the economy is better but not good once you get away from the sewer that is our nation’s capital. The added cost of high taxes becomes readily apparent as you go south as well. Gas prices dropped steadily along the way and one station in South Carolina broke the $3 barrier for regular. Speaking of South Carolina if you ever have the chance to drive through the state three times in one day, take a pass. It is three hours of sunbaked gateway to hell. 95 in the state is in shitty shape and you bounce your brains out in a truck. I have some great memories of the state and know some great people there but the highway is flat boring and bouncy. I also note that the ratio of church to strip club billboards form North Carolina’s northern border to Georgia’s Southern line remains a constant 1 to 1.

We are here and so far I love it. I have wanted to live in Florida for years and now I do. It was an interesting journey down but we and the majority of our stuff is here. I’m looking at Dads baseball bat and Victors cane, the pictures re going up and everyone is safe and thrilled to be here.

Next time I just pay the damn movers.

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