Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Road Trip

My daughter, who lived in Houston, found a new job in Seattle. To bridge the 2,500 miles between the cities, we made a road trip.  Just Maggie, her dog, Alfred, her two cats, two suitcases, kitchen supplies, an air mattress and me. Google Maps and AAA agreed on the routing, mostly on Interstates-- Amarillo, Denver, Boise and Seattle, a three-day trip.

Day 1. We got away from Houston at 8:30AM, driving IH45 north toward Dallas.  It’s amazing how well a freeway works when you go against the rush hour flow. But it wasn’t long before strange things started happening with our car.  Slowly, but surely, it dropped speed until some sixty miles out of Houston full throttle yielded  only 45 miles per hour.  By this time an ominous warning icon, a red exclamation point framed in a redder triangle, had appeared on the console. We limped into a garage cum tire store in Huntsville, home of the Texas Prison Museum.  But upon learning that our car was a hybrid, the mechanic refused even to  open the hood.  It was time to throw in the towel and call AAA’s tow service to the nearest Toyota dealership, thirty miles away.

Sitting with a dog at your feet is a great conversation starter.  One woman, recently arrived in Huntsville, recommended a local veterinarian (more on this later); another asked if Alfred’s Thunder Shirt™ calmed him.  In the course of our exchange I shared our far-away destination and how the trip was beginning inauspiciously.  About this time our tow arrived.  Maggie and I climbed into the cab with the driver, and just as we were pulling away from the garage, I heard a tapping on the window.  It was the Thunder Shirt lady, pressing money into my hand; “I know it isn’t much,” she said.  I must have looked like Tom Joad, fleeing the dust bowl.

We spent the night at a La Quinta, which maintains the most permissive pet policy among the regular motel chains.  But Alfred nearly spoiled our best-laid plans.  Seems that he barks at strange sounds, so often that other guests complained to the management.  Fearing our eviction, Maggie slept on the floor with the dog and stifled his barks; I slept with the cats, very restful.

Day 2 began with some good news from the Toyota dealership.  Our car trouble resulted from the installation of tires of two different sizes on the front and back wheels which confused the computer that manages the hybrid transmission. We got back on the road with four new tires but not before making a trip to the recommended vet for a dog sedative.  Driving through Fort Worth on US Highway 287, we came to a vestigial segment of US 64.  That road goes through my hometown in Arkansas and appears sporadically from North Carolina to Arizona.  We reached Amarillo and, aided by the sedative, spent a quiet night at La Quinta.

Day 3. The grain and cattle country west of Amarillo is beautiful.  At one point Maggie observed that “you could make a western movie out here.” We crossed the New Mexico state line and into Mountain time a little before noon, and then disaster struck.

I was driving on a deserted stretch of four-lane highway; suddenly Maggie pointed ahead and said, “Dad, there’s an animal in the road,” and, indeed there was, a prong horned antelope.  I braked hard; the animal looked up, saw danger approaching, ran toward safety and then back into our path.  Colliding with our front bumper, the poor antelope flew into the ditch.  The only wild animal we saw on the whole trip, and I had to run into it. Although the bumper and hood were crumpled into the shape of a cleft palate, the car was driveable and not leaking fluids.  So we drove into Colorado and stopped at the Toyota dealership in Trinidad.

Examining the car hoisted on a rack, a Toyota mechanic assured us that the car’s internal organs were all intact and that it should get us to Seattle. He was right with a qualification; the air conditioner expired soon after we left Trinidad.   We reached Castle Rock, CO, and pulled into the La Quinta (of course), hot and wind blown from the afternoon drive.

In the middle of Night 3, after one of Alfred’s barking fits, I decided that we could go no further as we were.  The next morning Maggie and I explored how to fly her and the animals from Denver to Seattle.  It turns out that Alaska Airlines has a pet policy almost as liberal as La Quinta.  But we would need to get a doggie-sized crate and certificates of good health for all three animals.  Day 4 included a trip to Walmart for the crate and to a Pet Smart—who knew that they had a vet in their building? -- for the health certificates.  We repacked the car, and everything fit, including a little space I was reserving for the next mishap, unnecessary as it turned out.

Day 5.  Delivering Maggie and the animals to Denver International Airport was a piece of cake, considering that we drove there on a Sunday morning and quickly located a skycap for the luggage and pets.  A considerably lighter Prius rolled out of DIA at 11AM and into Rock Springs, WY, that evening.  I no longer had to worry about pet policies to find a place to sleep.

Day 6 began with a long climb to the Continental Divide in Utah and a descent into Idaho.  East of Boise three road signs warned of “Deer Migration Route,” “Extreme Fire Risk,” and “Dust Storm Area.” I was headed toward the valley of the shadow of death.  As it turned out the tires and the antelope exhausted my quota of misadventures for the trip, but while neither deer nor dust crossed the road, forest fires in Idaho, Oregon and Washington State, hazed the atmosphere all the way to the Cascades.

On Day 7 Maggie and I were reunited near the SeaTac airport.  The three-day drive had taken a week.  By the time I reached Seattle, Maggie had boarded her pets, made contact with the King County Library administration and signed a one-year lease on an apartment.  No longer needed, I returned to Texas on a four-hour flight.