It was 30 degrees in Ann Arbor the afternoon I left town for the last time. The last time as a resident. The year was 1998. It was a typical mid-March Michigan day and about three inches of snow covered the earth. And I would come to know that my destination, coastal Georgia, Savannah specifically, would be blanketed in "T-shirt and shorts" weather, and I would love the change. At the moment, however, at a gas station at Washtenaw and US-23, I was seething that 5 pounds of kitty litter had spilled in the back seat of the car while I was trying to level and stabilize the cat carrier with Sasha ensconced within. There was piled so much stuff which I felt should come with me in my 1990 Cavalier rather than with the movers, stuff we needed to have this weekend before the movers arrived, so much stuff that I had to leave some of it with the moving van, not able to cram any more in the front passenger seat, back seat, trunk, front floor, or anywhere else. And now, as I began the 980-mile trek to Savannah there were 5 pounds of granulated kitty litter strewn about the back of the car. Did I mention it was Friday the thirteenth? It was not the mood in which I wanted to leave Ann Arbor.
The seething eventually turned more placid as the drive southward developed. I had hoped to be able to make the trip without stopping for more than the occasional half-hour rest or for gasoline breaks. I'd been up since before 8 that morning, and just the work of cleaning the house and preparing for the packing of the truck seemed interminable. I was amazed that the packers concluded their work as early as they did. Starting at around 8 o'clock the North American Van Lines crew finished just after 3 p.m. (I would never pack and move a household myself!) Then the truck pulled away and I finished visiting with my dad and mom who came down from South Lyon to say goodbye. And after they left there were even more things to dispose of! Boxes, trash, miscellaneous waste. I got to the point that I felt I could do nothing more than just leave the rest to the new owners. And upon a final walk-through I discovered a sewing machine and an ironing board in the front closet! Not hidden, but in plain view. How could the moving crew miss that! There was no possible way it could fit in the car, I was the only remaining item that would fit. So I called North American Van Lines. While I wasted more time waiting for a call back from the truck driver, I found a few more things to throw out. The driver finally called back, saying he was 40 miles away and couldn't turn around. I stated that he could either pay me the $300 or so the old machine was worth or he could pay the cost to have a local agent come over immediately and ship it down to us in Savannah; but I needed to leave this house without delay. For $300 he said he'd drive back to pick it up, it would take about an hour. Mentioning that I would leave it on the porch for him I finally abandoned the house that Melissa and I called home for the past seven years, and I drove down the driveway videotaping the items near the back door as proof that they were there so the driver couldn't late say: "I didn't find them there when I returned to the house." Having the camera roll as I pulled out of the garage and toward the street keeping the things in camera view in doing so should have helped me with a problem that surfaced the next day. And that was trying to recall whether I hit the motorized garage door closer when I drove away. I thought about this about fourteen hours later, Saturday morning, in Knoxville at about 6:30 a.m. I called our real-estate agent's voice mail number and left the message asking if he would drive by the house to check it out. I didn't realize his pager would be on to wake him that morning. Oops! The door was closed, by the way. And when I later reviewed the video tape it could be seen closing as viewed in my side view mirror!
I felt fortunate at least that the departure occurred as early as it did (pulling out of the driveway at 4:00 p.m.); driving at night is not as tolerable to me as it was once. Sasha and I were well past Toledo before night fell. Driving Interstate 75 was very familiar to me what with all the visits to Melissa's family in Cincinnati, and I really didn't mind it. The flat Ohio landscape fills a driving need I have to be able to see long distances where my imagination forces me to image the land as it might have been a few hundred years ago traversed by Indians. At 4:55 p.m. I hit the Michigan/Ohio line. I called Melissa near Sidney, Ohio, to give her a check-in report which I planned on doing periodically. It would reassure her that we were still ok. At 8:38 p.m. we crossed the Ohio River, not stopping in Cincinnati to visit the in-laws. They were probably sick with colds but in any event it would not be a good stop having a cat with me. Maybe more uncomfortable for Sasha than for the in-laws.
Anyway, by then I was in full cruising mode. I had determined that the drive should last around 15-16 hours non-stop. The American Automobile Association measured the trip at 940 miles, and my plan was to drive straight through. It would do Sasha no good to prolong the trip, either by visiting relatives, or sleeping in a rest stop or motel. There was some concern for how six year old black and white (mostly white) longhair cat would handle the long dark hours in a moving noisy vehicle. She's traumatized enough even in a stationary automobile. As I hoped, she eventually stopped her continuous stream of crying, just two and a half hours into the drive. After that she offered only intermittent complaints. On whole she did very much better that I expected. She really was quite a trooper!
The drive through Kentucky seemed fairly short. It was, of course, in a direction crossing the narrowest dimension of the state on a heading north to south. Crossing into Tennessee at 12:11 a.m. on Saturday morning, I got the first inklings that hinted a one shot trip would be too much for my body to take. While the trip via I-77 straight south out of Cleveland, as AAA advised, may have been shorter by 19 miles, it would also have been through a much more hilly West Virginia, would be at night through unfamiliar territory, and would throw in a couple of toll roads to boot. At the very least gas mileage would suffer. I chose I-75 since it was initially a straight shot due south, and would turn east only when Macon, Georgia was reached. I could not get past the psychological hurdle of leaving Ann Arbor then almost immediately traveling due east. Mentally I would be wanting to be heading south! So instead of trying a new, unexplored path, I ventured the tried and true. Most of it would be at night anyway, so there would be only blinding darkness to view. One road's darkness is the same as any other's, I reasoned. After crossing into Tennessee it would be another hour and a quarter before I would pass Knoxville, with Chattanooga another hour or so beyond. Again, I was familiar with this route having made the drive more than a few times spending a couple years at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. But at Knoxville I succumbed to the awful, painfully exhausting fight to stay awake. Fortunately not by hitting a guardrail or bottom of a ravine but by pulling into a Budgetell for some desparately needed sleep. There was just no possibility of driving any more that night.
The respite was welcome, and after about 4 and a half hours of sleep we rose and continued the journey, leaving Knoxville behind greeting the brilliant pink dawn and the almost risen sun. It was a marvelous sight. The sky was emptying itself of some large picturesque clouds, to reveal a glorious sunrise. Refreshed, the trip could be resumed in a better mental frame, as well as scenery. I didn't quite realize the implications of the desk clerk's comment to me as I checked out, "Didn't stay long." I was only thinking that I had awaken at about 6 o'clock and knew I would not get much more sleep, so might as well get back on the road. The morning continued to bloom around me in so lovely a manner as to make the trip into Georgia a delight. I resumed listening to the book on tape Melissa sent me, "The Horse Whisperer," and was greatly enjoying the story. The 4-cassette tape would be finished before the end of the trip, and it proved to be a satisfying way to spend the hours. She bought it for her drive South and mailed it up to me for my trip. Fortunately it arrived the morning of my departure, and my dad was kind enough to pick it up for me at Edwards Brothers, my employer of the past 12 years, on their way over to visit me on moving day. And fortunately again, Melissa sent it there, for since the United States Postal Service wasn't to deliver it until Friday, and Thursday was the final day for mail delivery at home, it arrived just in time at just the right location.
An hour and twenty minutes passed after departing the Budgetelle, and I reached the Georgia State line at 8:20 a.m. The day would prove to be gorgeous, and the drive would remain under cloudless skies, unlike what Michigan was experiencing. I had left Ann Arbor in freezing temperatures but no precipitation, though it had threatened; so far "Father Nature" was smiling on me. The night in fact had passed under a cloudless sky and full moon, washing the landscape in a dull glow moonshine. South Lyon was not so blessed, if one's blessing was leaving the North to evade winter's ugly temperament. Three inches of fresh snow was reported by my folks to have fallen since the time I left, like a sweet kiss goodbye left unrequited. This was only further confirmation of our decision to move as far south as we comfortably could. With the choices of North Carolina, a lovely state that sadly still gets too much winter, or Florida that sadly gets too much heat, Savannah seemed the most logical choice. Only time will prove us wrong, but every confirmation was being presented. As morning turned to noon, the refreshment of sleep had dissipated, and the interminability of the long drive returned. Atlanta came at 10:14 a.m., and Macon would roll by at 11:41, and still 2 and a half hours remained, a drive that seemed as flat and monotonous to a weary traveler as that of the Ohio flatland is to many. It was a new and fresh panorama, but it seemed to never end. Sleep and weariness fought with alertness, and it became less clear which would win the closer Savannah crept ever so slowly nearer, and I was too close to Savannah to pull over and "waste time" resting. I had finished the book/tape near Macon, so it was just me and the road--and Sasha, who would every once in a while mew, wanting me to reach back to the carrier in the rear seat and scratch her head and give her some comfort, that, yes, this trip will eventually end. But only eventually.
Finally, by 2:30 p.m. I entered Savannah, and could feel the end at hand. Fifteen minutes later I had negotiated the city and made my way to Wilmington Island and our new life. Under a brilliant blue sky and warm breezes, we pulled up in our driveway at last. The excruciating sitting half folded in a cramped car almost seemed to be only a faint memory, as I opened the garage door and was greeted at the kitchen door by a happy and relieved wife. It was a great homecoming. A perfect end to a distraught beginning. I would have a couple of days to unwind from the grueling journey as the movers were scheduled to arrive Monday morning. But it was the "T-shirt and shorts" weather I had hoped for which greeted my arrival. I felt a tremendous satisfaction in the culmination of the past few month's planning.
The day after reaching the new house we purchased, I drove to the nearest car wash, and was delighted to find they had real vacuum cleaner machines: strong suction and lots of time for only 50 cents. The kitty litter cleanup took less time than I imagined. It even removed the myriad white cat hair from the upholstery. I have my car back, my wife back, and a real, brand new home for us three. Thank God!
The following week I'd return to Ann Arbor for five days to help train my replacement in the buyer position I left. But this time travelling by aircraft!