Archive for July, 2008

I Don’t Like U
July 25, 2008

On the road again…

Willie Nelson


No, not YOU… I’m talking about U-Haul!  The post-graduate move to Colorado got off to a bad start when I discovered that U-Haul does not allow Ford Explorers to haul their trailers. The original plan was to haul the Houston “stuff” up to Longmont in a trailer behind “Bert” the 1996 Explorer (and leave him there). But when I went on line to make the reservation, I discovered that they didn’t allow this particular model to haul their trailers. I wasn’t sure why, but figured that perhaps the car was too old, or something. Plan B was to haul the stuff behind “Donnie Ray” (circa 2002), then drive back and return with Bert another time.


I didn’t have any trouble the second try on line; I just changed 1996 to 2002, and the reservation went through. It said that someone from U-Haul would contact me the day prior and tell me where to pick up my trailer (which cost $110 to rent one way).


As promised, the person called, and I inquired about the trailer hitch. He said to bring the vehicle in so they could take a look. When I did, and he saw it was an Explorer, he said he couldn’t lease a trailer to me. I’m sorry to say I blew a gasket, and that poor man was on the receiving end. He insisted that I had mistakenly put “Expedition” in the field, but I know I did not, as I had gone through the on line process twice with no problem. My question was why even offer “Explorer” as a selection if they refuse to lease to them?


I had no real options at this point (the day before we were to pack and leave). No other local trailer companies rent one way, and so I had to go for a truck. Yes, I could have researched other self-moving truck companies, but given the time, I just went for what was right in front of me, a ten-foot truck affixed to a van sort of vehicle. Of course, this cost $475, which was quite a bit more than $110. Boy, was I mad!!


The next day we went to retrieve it, and that man was nowhere in sight (probably on purpose!). I honestly had planned to apologize to him for my angry outburst while still letting him know I think their policy stinks. And so it was that after getting briefed on its features, Shannon and I drove off in this very large vehicle with no rear views except for side mirrors that were tricky to figure out. For sure it was bouncy and loud, but at least it had an air conditioner and a radio. No gas in it… interestingly enough, it took exactly $100 to fill it.


Joel, Shannon, Megan and David did the loading while I was away at a wedding shower. They ultimately did an excellent job, as upon our arrival in Longmont, not a thing was broken or damaged. But the two days of driving that beast were quite an experience!


The worst part was the lack of rear and side vision, followed in order by needing a long braking distance (no stopping short allowed!), no cruise control and needing to really depress the gas pedal hard to stay at highway speed. Oh, and the way the seat was configured, I couldn’t rest my heel on the floor, so it was quite a physical effort to drive.


We left Houston really early on Sunday morning, so there was no traffic to speak of. It took a while to finally get comfortable with using the mirrors, and honestly, there was only once when I had a scare, which was on the freeway in Fort Worth, where there was a lot of traffic all going very fast! But we survived and pressed on.


Our aim was to stop in Amarillo (a ten hour day), and by sheer luck, we filled up our beast outside of FW, just prior to driving through an area devoid of towns or amenities. Thank goodness for that! Once we reached Amarillo, we found our trusty Hampton Inn without a problem and were more than ready to stop. After walking to a Wendy’s for a hamburger dinner, we crashed and slept like dead people.


Monday morning, we again arose early and hit the road, thinking to get out of town before rush hour. I thought I’d wait and fill the tank once we got past the city limits, but there was a convenient station on the corner by the hotel, so I just did it there. And again, thank goodness, because Amarillo just ends, and then from that point on until you reach Denver, there is basically NOTHING but a desolate, alien landscape with a few little funny towns here and there. Signage was non-existent, and the highway was just one lane. It was quite nerve wracking not knowing exactly where we were or how long it would take until the next little oasis. And every so often, we would have to pass a slow moving vehicle… yikes!


My trusty co-pilot Shannon was great at keeping me headed in the right direction. We played the alphabet game a million times (although in the panhandle, there weren’t many signs to study) and kept a list of the license plates from various states (again, on a one lane road, this game isn’t very easy to play!). We talked and laughed, and tried to find NPR stations until there was nothingness on the radio, at which point we tuned in an iPod that we could sing along with.


Finally we got to the Interstate (70) that led to Denver. It was lightly traveled, and the speed limit was 75 mph, which was a little faster than I was comfortable driving in that behemoth. But we were excited to finally be nearby, and made it to the airport in due time (by 2:30), where we rented a car to use after we turned in our bumpy chariot.


That process took awhile, but in a way it was nice to stretch our legs. Shannon then followed me in the car as we maneuvered the tollway to Interstate 25 and finally to Longmont, where we parked the truck in the driveway of Shannon’s little rent house and peeked in. You can bet that I was glad to leave it there overnight and drive in a real car for a change!


After cleaning up and enjoying a nice dinner nearby, we again crashed with the delightful prospect of not having to set the clock for any particular reason. We both slept well, and after a good breakfast the next day, drove back to the house to begin the unloading process. It went much faster than the loading (of course), and we managed to get everything out but three really heavy pieces. Kat’s friend Tim stopped by to help us, and in short order, we were through! I was never SO happy than to drive that truck to the nearby U-Haul dealer and leave it forever.


The rest of our days were also filled with hard work (cleaning and unpacking), but we had fun placing stuff, hanging pictures, shopping for necessities. And each evening we’d rest our battered and bruised bodies and enjoy a glass of wine on our little hotel balcony (third floor) while we watched the sun set behind the Rockies.


We headed back (me to Houston, Shannon to NY) on Thursday, and while my moving responsibilities ended there, poor Shannon had to pack up her NY “stuff” and make another cross country trek. I do have another trip up to CO looming, but this time it will be in Bert, who is way more comfortable than a U-Haul. I hope I never have to drive another one of those ever again!



The Miracle on Westheimer Street
July 19, 2008

It was a miracle of rare device…

-Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1816)


The most extraordinary thing happened to me recently. Our church offers a weekly Taizé service each Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. This is a contemplative service, very spiritual and soothing, with chanting melodies, prayers and communion. It is a candlelight service in the Chapel, which is my absolute most favorite space on the campus. I don’t often go, as the church is not close by our house, and traffic in Houston at that time of day can be brutal.


But on this particular Tuesday I was going that way to pick up a coffee table from my sister’s house (for Shannon’s new house), so I thought since I was in the neighborhood, I’d go to the service and then run my errand. I left the house at 5:25, a little later than I’d anticipated, but I’ve traveled this route enough times to know which way is the quickest one.


Well, I picked the wrong way that evening, and was I ever stuck! Traffic was backed up on Memorial (one lane), and we inched along to the light at Briar Forest, then I wound my way down Piney Point to the intersection of Fondren Road and Westheimer. It took me twenty-five minutes to travel maybe three miles!! Ridiculous.


So there I was at 5:50, miles away, ten minutes before the service began. I thought to myself, “well, if I’m meant to go to this service, I will make it.” I lifted a prayer, and decided if traffic continued to be clogged, I’d just continue on to Mary’s house and skip the service, since it’s a very intimate one, and latecomers really can interrupt the ambiance.


The light turned green, and I accelerated. The light at Richmond was just turning green as I approached, so I sailed through. At Westpark, I stopped briefly in the left turn lane, watching the cars whiz by. As their light turned yellow, I said, “Please let my light turn green first!” What do you know, it did!


I jumped on the toll road, merged onto 59, and rolled along to the Edloe exit. There was a line of cars waiting for that light, but it was green, and as I joined the tail end of the line, I said, “Please stay green for me!” What do you know again! It did.


Over the bridge and back across Richmond, the light was green, and in the home stretch, with two minutes to spare, the light at West Alabama also turned green! I screamed into the parking lot as the church carillon chimes were sounding the 6:00 hour, ran into the building and opened the chapel door.


As I took my place, the service began. Was I meant to be there? Did God answer my prayer? All I know is that I was so amazed by this experience that I truly delighted in the service and really took it to heart. It was the perfect antidote to traffic stress, and I hope to attend it more often (leaving the house much earlier next time!). 

Home Alone, July 4
July 10, 2008

Honest labour bears a lovely face.

– Thomas Dekker (1570-1641)


Joel’s been away fishing this week, so I’ve been tackling some home projects in his absence since I don’t have to think about anyone but myself. By this I mean I don’t have to worry about what I look like, nor do I have to prepare meals or do laundry on a regular basis.


July 4 found me with a list of things to do such as “clean the outside of the house”. All who know me know I can be Miss Frugal when circumstances call for me to be “she who will figure out a way to not pay someone to do a particular task”. I don’t shy away from dirty jobs, and actually, I kind of like them in a therapeutic sort of way.


But before I began, I rode my bike down to the annual Villages parade in the morning, so I did get my patriotic fix. However, I’ve got to say that this year’s version lacked imagination except for one float with a colonial theme, that featured a woman dressed in the style of the times waving from the deck. Other than that, it was mostly just politicians and realtors plus one local church that had its members out in force, handing out information. The all star marching band and fire engine were the best part.


Afterwards, I got down to business and hosed down the front windows/door surrounds with a treatment that claimed it would eliminate mildew. My friend Anthony scoffed at such a product, and honestly, she was right. It didn’t do what I’d hoped it would. However, it did knock down the pollen/dust/bird doo element, and thus it made some improvement in the front elevation.


But I wasn’t happy with the results. Then I got to thinking about the bathroom mildew spray product I have, and I tried it on the remaining exterior mildew stains. Wow! It broke them up immediately! I then took a scrubbie and a big bowl of water, climbed up on a ladder and hand washed the surfaces, which ultimately emerged bright and clean. After I toweled everything off, it looked like I’d just had the house freshly painted. I, however, was a TOTAL mess, but boy, was I proud of myself!


I don’t know why, but it made me think of the patriot women who pulled their sisterly selves up and dealt with the hardships that the Revolution imposed on them in the absence of their spouses. I know that their lives were so much more difficult than mine, and that I have no reason at all to compare them.


But in the spirit of “figure out the solution to the problem”, I hope they would approve of my ingenuity, elbow grease and frugality in achieving my goal! So I will just salute them as a free woman who has benefited from their labors, and appreciate them and the lessons they have taught to us all.


Happy belated Independence Day to you, and let us all cherish the sacrifices that so many have made to make our country a beacon to the world.

The New Car
July 4, 2008

Through the unknown, we’ll find the new.

-Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)


After a year of driving good ol’ Bert, Joel finally decided upon the car he wanted to purchase and patiently waited for the one with all the features he selected to arrive. Yesterday was the day the as yet unnamed car came home after we listened to a de-briefing by the sales representative on how everything works.


Oh my. I’m afraid my eyes glazed over as he pointed out the how to’s of this vehicle, which has so many bells and whistles that all needed to be set or applied just so, that I can’t even remember how to put the key in the ignition. What ever happened to cars that you just turn on and drive? You know, the kinds that go when you press the accelerator and stop when you put the brake on?


I know there are still cars out there like that because we rode in one while out in Las Vegas in May. Our friends Jim and Bett from Charleston, SC offered us a ride to the airport at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning in their rental car to save us a taxi fare. So here we are at this fancy resort, and Jim pulls up in a tiny little something or other. He had the windows rolled down, and Bett explained that to get in, you had to unlock the door by pulling up the button. There was no remote key locking system.


We barely fit all of our luggage in the trunk, and as we crammed in the back seat, our knees just about touched our chins. To close the window, one had to grasp the crank handle and roll it up. How novel! I believe Jim said it cost $15 a day or some ridiculously small sum, and I remember thinking, “hooray for having options like this!” It would have cost us 4 times that amount to have hailed a cab, and here Jim spent that amount to use the car for four days!


Back to the present: after enjoying driving fancy his new toy yesterday, Joel drove it home last night and tucked it in the garage next to 12 year old Bert. And then he promptly left town for a week on a fishing trip. I told him before he left that the car would be sitting right there when he returned, because I’m afraid to drive it without some kind of lessons! I just have this vision of myself screwing something up, or heaven forbid, getting a ding in some parking lot. As I mentioned before, I’m not sure I even remember how the key works.


I opened the garage door to show the car to my sister, and then shut it… no dust allowed in there! After that I went and treated 6 year old Donnie Ray to a car wash, which he sorely needed (but with gas being so expensive, he’s had to do without lately!).  


So while my vehicle may not be new and fancy, at least he’s clean and nice looking now. With his parking lot battle scars, I’m not afraid to venture out with him into the urban jungle. In the meantime, I envision that sleek silver car sitting in the dark garage this week, getting words of wisdom from Bert, the best car ever. I hope he takes them to heart and turns out to be a champion!