20 November 2013

New York ho! Days Six and Seven

I get up and drink earl gray tea and eat rice chex and read maps and use the internet until an hour after I originally meant to leave. I wake up a sleepy Nan in order to hug him and bid him farewell. Packing up my truck takes no time at all and then I'm driving, taking a wrong turn, trying to turn back around and failing, then finally driving eastward on the proper road again.

I spend about 3 hours on I-70 before I'm too sleepy to really continue driving safely, and I pull over into a rest stop and devise a way to lie down across my two front seats without crushing any of my things or any part of my body. I have a pillow, blankets, and stuffed animals to make it easier on me. It's a tight squeeze by the steering wheel (I have short legs, okay?!) but I manage just fine. I think I sleep about two hours, and when I awaken it's softly drizzling outside.

That drizzle takes its time and then becomes a full on *rain*. It gets dark really early in the afternoon, and I drive through the rain listening to my terrible audiobook and every once in a while making sarcastic remarks at it. In Columbus the crumbling roads writhe like snakes amidst its raw, smoking industry, factories and warehouses lit up by the sickly glow of streetlamps--by the fierce, ascetic glare of headlights. Traffic is thick as the rain, which sloshes across the road and reflects light just-so to confuse the placement of the markings painted there. In the distance a great orange flame rises over all, spitting and howling at the storm with long tongues of furious fire.

I pass through a small piece of Pennsylvania, lake Erie to my left, and before I reach New York the rain has become a snowstorm, sleet flying straight at my windshield like stars at warp speeds. I am on I-90 and the buildup of slush slows down the right lane to something like 40 mph--which is, according to me and the others in that lane, the safest speed to travel in such conditions. Large trucks behind us disagree and roar by in the left lane much too fast, splashing my windshield with copious amounts of water and ice, rendering me blind for a good 30 seconds after each passing. The anxiety from trying to keep on course and safe on the slick roads reaches a tipping point within me, and soon I am bursting into fearful tears each time a truck passes. I turn on 4-wheel drive, but it only helps steady me so much. There's nowhere to stop out here; and besides, the plan was to reach Waterloo tonight. As soon as I am able to get off I-90 onto route 20, away from the dangerous trucks that are making me cry, I do so. Added bonus: no tolls this way.

I'm losing no time by taking this 45 mph road instead of the interstate because either here or there the only safe speed is around 30 anyway. I crawl along and keep changing the CDs in my audiobook as they complete themselves. The book has created a very scary, awesome villain I find interesting, only to somehow forget about her until the very last climactic scene. It is not good storytelling. Feels like something a promising young middle schooler would've written: shows promise, but needs much work.

There is an accident up ahead. A bad one that blocks the entire road. Someone is standing there, makes me roll down my window, tells me to turn around. I do my best. What now? I can't go back to I-90, I can't... my wheels slip on some ice and send me sliding sideways across the road. Lucky no one was coming. I go back into the last town I'd passed, stop and check my map. I can go on east 5 past the accident, and then east 5 will join east 20 right into Waterloo. I go that way, passing through town after thickly-frosted town. It is hard to see through the reflection of my headlights on the falling snow, but soon enough it is not snowing at all.

My audiobook finishes and I take out the 13th disc. I wonder if it's even worth giving away, or if I should simply toss it later. Hmm.

I reach Geneva late at night, past midnight by at least an hour or two. I am going to look at the cabin in Waterloo early tuesday morning... I can't bring myself to pay $50 for a motel for so little sleep. I find a parking lot by a lake and park there... near to a porta-potty in case I need to pee at night. I fill up my car with as much warmth as I can before turning it off, wrapping up in two blankets across the front seat, and conking out, exhausted by the stress of driving in the snow and past an accident that very well could have been me.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. I jolt awake. Someone is rapping at my window and shining a flashlight at me. There are two police cars, lights flashing. My heart is racing from the shock of it.

I open the passenger door. An officer waits as I sleepily paw through my purse and pockets for my driver's license. Apparently this park closes at 10, and I am trespassing. I tell him the full truth of what happened. I am young, innocent, cute, naive. When he establishes thru running my license that I am not a wanted criminal, he tells me to put on my shoes and drive away. Try sleeping in the grocery store parking lot, he says. That's your best bet. Sleep there and buy something in the morning when they open. I nod gratefully and putter through Waterloo to the Tops in Seneca Falls, cranking the heat up high to replace all the heat lost by the open door. When I reach it I lie down again and sleep fitfully till sunrise, warm enough to keep my circulation going but too cold to sleep restfully.

I get up and go into Tops for breakfast, buying a package of turkey pepperoni and a strawberry/banana smoothie and eating them in the car with the engine running for warmth. At 0800 I call the cabin owners to confirm when I can come see it. How about 9, she says, and tells me how to get there. I go early and wait for her.

It is adorable. Small, but all I need, wood floors, wood walls, wood ceiling, wood bunk beds. It heats up quickly and stays toasty warm without too much trouble. My only issue is it has no oven, but she says the last tenants used a convection oven instead. It is reasonably clean, altho' I will need to clean beyond the immediately visible surfaces later. I run through my options in my head. This location is probably the closest to work, which is a straight shot from here up 96 to Lyons. Heat, electric, internet, all included in the bill. I ask when can I move in. Right now, she says. I meet the landlord and in a flurry of questions and answers obtain phone numbers and information and lightbulbs then they're gone and I unpack half my truck, make the lower bunk, and crash to sleep.

I now live in upstate New York. Who'd've ever thought.

pax.

mon/tue, nov. 11th and 12th
Bloomington IN to Geneva, NY
Geneva to Seneca Falls to Waterloo

17 November 2013

New York ho! Days Three, Four, and Five

It is good to be here, in Bloomington, with my honorary brother, Nan. (He is also my British Grandmother, hence the nickname. Long story.) He is going to grad school at the University here, studying music. He's constantly singing something. I don't think he even realizes it half the time. I love him like a brother and I'm happy that I don't have to drive today.

I drink Earl Grey tea every morning that I am here. On the first day, we go by the mall for a while, and I eat boiled eggs from my pockets in the food court while Nan has a grease-dripping lunch from the mall pizzeria. We browse Hot Topic and some other stores, then head to Barnes and Noble, were we get lost in the stacks of books. I spend a lot of time looking at the Star Trek books. I'm not super interested in the official, published fanfiction novels, but I like the textbook-style books--visual dictionaries and such. I want all of them. I almost buy a history of the Federation book, but then I decide that someday I will go online and buy all of these kinds of books at the same time, and have them all, and also possibly for cheaper than they are here. I do end up leaving the bookstore with a copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which I've been meaning to pick up for a while. (I don't read it until I reach New York and obtain lodging, but it is beautiful and brilliant and it makes me cry.) Nan leaves the bookstore with a pretty little copy of A Christmas Carol by Dickens.

We go hang out with friends of his that night, have a few ciders and beers between us, get acquainted. They're feminists and one of them is a Trekkie, like me, so we have a lot to talk about. I talk about Star Trek so much tonight. It makes me happy. Nan rolls his eyes at us and sometimes tries to redirect the conversation but he doesn't understand just how awesome it is to be able to talk Star Trek with someone who has, in the very recent past, re-watched all of TNG and most of DS9 just like me, and remembers all the little details and has opinions and loves and hates and... it's just great.

Saturday and Sunday blur together in my mind. At some point I make a phone call, setting up an appointment to view a cabin in Waterloo early Tuesday morning. I don't call any other places but I keep browsing craigslist looking at prices. The Waterloo cabin has all utilities, including internet/cable and snow removal, included in the rent. Since heating seems to turn out very expensive in upstate New York, the price seems like the best deal. There might be cheaper places I could live, but not by a lot. I decide that if I like the place when I see it, I will probably take it as soon as possible. I begin to think in terms of moving in there even tho' I haven't seen it yet. Brains work that way.

My dad calls me, too. It is good to hear from him.

On the third night, I meet a person who has no gender, and prefers the pronouns they/them. I am bad at this, trained as I've been to never use "they" to refer to a singular person. I default to "he" a few times accidentally and backtrack and rephrase the sentences using their name instead of the pronoun. Later I wonder if a singular "they" should be used with singular verbs. "They is really cool." "They wants some pizza, wanna bring them some?" We need, in English, a gender-neutral pronoun that rolls off the tongue and is not "it". More experimentation needed. More practice needed. Time will tell.

Nan and I are very lazy. We watch a lot of youtube. We wear wizard robes and witch hats and watch Hocus Pocus (which is, of course, the best Halloween movie of all time). We watch an episode of the Muppet Show, the only DVDs that I actually brought with me to NY. I take naps. I realize suddenly that driving gives me all kinds of ridiculous anxiety and that driving so much for so long made me a nervous wreck. I need these few days just to iron out my nerves for the final assault on Monday. Nan's driving is terrifying and mostly when he drives me places I just close my eyes.

I take a walk on Sunday evening while Nan goes to church. It settles my mind.

I am ready for New York.

pax.

November 8th - 10th
Bloomington, IN

10 November 2013

New York ho! Day Two

I toss and turn with the cold, but manage to sleep a significant amount... I rise at 8 a.m., having collected enough sleep between 18.30 and 08.00 to total 8 or 9 hours. My tent is coated with a diamond glitter of frost on the outside, and slick with condensation on the inside. Emerging from it into the cold air takes a colossal amount of mental effort. But I manage. First thing is to pee, then to pack my bedding back into the truck along with the tent. Packing the icy rain fly back into its bag, bare-handed, is super painful. I can hardly feel my fingers and have to take a break periodically, wander around in the sunny parking lot and come back to it. I wonder about gloves but don't want to dig around in my cases and boxes to find some.

Got some mud on my Starfleet hoodie. This makes me sad, but then I get over it.
Breakfast is simple... an apple, some cured beef sticks, an Izze. I sit with my car running for warmth while I eat it. For lunch I will have more avocado and rice cakes. I read over and respond to a few texts from friends and family, then pull out of this lovely, lonely little campground, leaving it behind as I press ever eastward.

I find my way back through rural Kansas roads to I-70 using a combination of the sun (to know which way east is) and notes from google maps I jotted down before leaving home. I have to get gas before I hit Kansas City and Missouri just to realize later that Missouri gas prices are significantly cheaper than any gas prices I've seen so far. oh well. As is always my luck, when I finally have to pull over to fill up, the next station I pass has gas cheaper by 5 to 10 cents.

I get lost a little in pre-Kansas city city, off I-70 due to confusing signage, filling up at a 7-11 with no public restrooms. I am approached by a man in a backwards cap and oversized shoes, and he asks whether I have 75 cents for the bus. I give him a dollar in quarters. Then, he tries to give me his phone number and address. His upper teeth, all of them, are capped in some kind of gold plating, with letters on them. K... C... ? initials? I tell him I'm not from Kansas and won't be here much longer. I lie and tell him I have no phone yet as he keeps trying to give me his number. He repeats it often enough I expect he wants me to memorize it right then and there, but I push it from my mind, and bid him farewell as I finish looking at my maps and figure out how to get back onto I-70. He saunters back to sit on a bench with a friend of his on the other side of the 7-11.

I put on an audiobook that I bought specifically for this journey: Iced by Karen Moning. It's... really bad. It's narrated by an obnoxious 14-year-old, leaves huge holes in its world-building and plot... mentions past events that seem much more interesting than present ones (leading me to be like, why not write the more-interesting prequel to this instead?)* ...and the voice actress's Irish accent lapses from time to time into American South (??). I bought it because it was set in Dublin and featured a superheroine lead, but most of the book involves more powerful men fighting over the right to own her, and... ugh. It's mildly amusing to the point where I leave it running, and to where I want to know how it ends, but I have to speak aloud my critiques periodically in order to bear listening for long stretches at a time.

* actually, I researched this later and this *is* a sequel. Unfortunately, nothing on the packaging mentioned that, or I probably wouldn't have boughtten it.

I don't stop again until I reach St. Louis. I have an internet friend there I planned to meet for lunch--we have a lot of real-life friends in common, so I want to meet him in real-life too. I want to park near the famous arch but get turned around and end up in a very impoverished part of Illinois. All the buildings here are crumbling, surrounded by the rotten bones of dead industry: rusted-over machinery, graffiti-encrusted brick, weed-eaten concrete. My friend texts me... don't get out of your car on the Illinois side of the river. I lock my doors and heed his warning. It looks about as poor and run down as Steubenville, where I used to fearlessly walk alone at night, but it's best not to take chances when you're carrying all your worldly possessions in your truck with you.

Parking by the arch is $5 I don't want to spend, so I drive around in circles for a long time looking for a meter. My friend and I meet in a Hardee's, where he orders food and I whip out my avocados, rice cakes, and cured beef. We talk a lot about music, especially jazz bands and the like we were in during high school/college. It's a nice lunch and we leave before our meters run out... I would've liked to have talked longer, but I still have quite a bit of driving to do. I ask him for a picture I can use as his contact photo in my phone and he gives me this:

(picture of an arctic fox, looking to the right with snow on its nose)

A man with two little girls comes by and asks us for money. My fox friend gives him all the change in his pockets. All I have is a $10 bill so I give him that. He's so grateful he hugs me. Then he apologizes to my friend, in case I'm his girlfriend. He thinks I'm hot and he likes my Starfleet hoodie. I don't find what he's saying creepy 'cause I don't think he's trying to pick me up or hit on me... even tho' he calls me hot like 5 times, I think he's just trying to pay me a compliment in the only twisted way he knows how. I just think it's funny how a homeless guy likes my super nerdy hoodie.

My friend and I part ways and I keep on through Missouri, needing a fill up again in Illinois where the gas prices are much higher. My friend Nan calls me to make sure I'm still coming to his apartment in Bloomington, IL tonight. I definitely am. I get off I-70 and putter through small town Indiana roads on my way to his University town. I get tired of my audiobook and play music for a little while. Nan keeps texting me while I'm driving so I just call him. He tells me how to find his place, thinking I'm another 45 minutes or so away. Within 15 I'm knocking on his door.

I've missed him quite a bit since my senior year of college. It's nice to have a chance to hug him again. I give him some presents (he's easy to get presents for, so I do that a lot)... mostly religious articles I no longer need or use or desire to have. I give him an awesome purple-and-green rosary that has glow in the dark spots on the beads. That present was meant specifically for him, while the rest are just religious things I could never simply throw or give away. I know that what he keeps he will take care of, and what he gives away will go to people who really want it.

I eat a really simple supper and we set me up with a fluffy sleeping bag on his floor, along with my blankets and pillows and my stuffed giant anteater I've named Lady Annabelle. We talk and catch up. When I crash, I crash hard.

pax.

wed. Nov. 7th. Topeka, KS to Bloomington, IN.

New York ho! Day One

Tea. Irish Breakfast. Hot.

I add a splash of almondmilk to my tea and settle down in the red armchair by the fireplace. It is early in the morning: after my mother has left for work, but long before I typically arise. My father is in and out of the garage, doing work. Bonnie, my mother's little five pound runt of a min pin, jumps into my lap and digs to get under the blanket draped over me. I let her curl up in my lap and ask my dad to bring my breakfast to me if he doesn't mind... a boiled egg and leftover fried chicken from my last Colorado supper. I don't want to get up, don't want to leave this warm puppy, my tea-drinking chair, my CO friends and family. But onward it is. Adventure. Unknown.

My car is already packed. I bid farewell to my father, Bonnie, and Clyde, and hop in. Grizzly Bear is buckled up in the passenger seat, holding my CDs--music and audiobooks for the trip--in his lap; a week's worth of food lies at his feet. I relinquish the garage door opener and drive away, leaving the door wide open for my dad to close later.

First stop is King Soopers for more toothpaste, which I ran out of this morning. I duck out quickly before anyone can recognize me. I buy a quart of oil and fill my tank with gas. Then, I'm off to Limon to hit I-70.

I've driven I-70 before. It's boring. I hate driving. I stop for gas and eat avocado on rice cakes and drink Izzes. At some point I listen to an audio production of Sleepy Hollow... I never knew that Ichabod Crane was such an utter dweeb. Or that the headless horseman only makes a singular appearance in the story. Hmm. I think I'll give this away now that I've heard it once.

I hardly pay attention to where I am until the western horizon behind me is an angry red gash between the earth and sky. I'm looking for a particular exit after Topeka... I find it and rattle down country roads in the fading orange light, looking for a free campsite by a lake in the dark. I miss a turn or two navigating toward it but am able to make U-turns in the dirt. The road fades to gravel, turns sharply right, and I'm there. It consists merely of parking, a sink-less toilet building, and fire circles scattered about the grounds. I have to set up my tent by the light of my headlights, as the sun has now sunk below the horizon. Darkness catches the white on my breath, holding it there.

Inside my tent I throw a flashlight, my phone, my sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and extra blankets. I buckle my fur-lined winter hat under my chin and huddle into the nest I've made (after locking my car and turning the lights off). I can't seem to keep my feet warm enough. Coyotes howl and bay and yip in the woods around me. I'm alone here. No one to pay for the privilege of sleeping cold in the frost. It is barely 6:30 PM and I settle in to sleep early because I've nothing better to do.

Of course I have to pee in the middle of the night. My feet are ice. I barely make it three yards from the tent and just pee there, in the grass, rather than trying to make it to the toilet building, where the doorknobs and toilet seats would bite me with cold. I try to wrap a liner around my feet when I shove myself back into my cocoon but it's too late for them... they're cold all night.

At least I'm free.

pax.

wed., Nov 6th. Colorado Springs, CO to Topeka, KS.