Part 4, Act 2 — the story of our romance continues with a road trip back to Texas…
We drove through that night leaving California with a loaded U-Haul, pulling Sara’s car behind us, and 3 cats in 2 carriers in the cab with us.
Oh — did I forget to mention Sara’s cats?
Yes, we had 3 of them with us: Rocket, Rosie, and Grits. They were, um, not totally thrilled with riding in the carriers, especially since 2 of them had to share the larger one.
Fortunately, the cab in that size rental truck is pretty spacious, so, with Sara and me snuggled up together on the driver’s side, the cats and their carriers got most of the seat there.
I recall some yowling at first, but, in truth, they settled in pretty well. Sara did discover it was a bad idea to try and reach a hand in to pet any of them — Rocket nearly snagged her with a pawful of claws.
If you’ve never driven across the desert southwest, you really should. There is no more quintessential American drive — miles and miles of uninterrupted horizon, indescribable majesty of the open range, and the incomparable beauty in the way the light paints the landscape, especially in the dawning hours, or near sunset. It takes about half of forever to cross that expanse, so you usually get a chance to see both sunsets and dawns as you roll along.
And there’s not a whole lot of cities or towns or even people in between a lot of those miles.
The hours and miles passed, rather quickly really, but in that way that seems so s-l-o-w as you’re going. Landscape that large just takes a long time to traverse no matter what, and the distant mountain ranges out on the horizon seem almost like stage scenery as you crawl along at 70 miles an hour. Time passes. Miles click by. Everything looks more or less the same. You start to wonder if you are moving at all.
These are kinds of drives that can really try your patience. Boredom vies with inanity while searching for something, anything really, to do to pass the time. Even your long-time best friends can get amazingly annoying after a few hours on the road, and spending that much time with someone you hardly know can be painfully revealing. But Sara and I were doing just fine watching the miles fly by through our windshield.
I discovered a fun little game along the way. You know when you first meet someone and you start sharing all your stories? Well, we’d already swapped a lot of the Big Stories in our first few days, but with even more time to talk, I started telling more stories, as well as sharing my vast store of useless trivia. With Sara listening so intently to the various stories I’d tell, I felt compelled to elaborate a little as we went along. And then a lot. I’d start by telling the basic truth of an actual event or some bit of trivia that sounded just a little unusual — but true.
“Really?” she’d say.
I’d nod and add a twist to what I’d said — a twist that would veer ever so slightly from the truth, sounding a little stranger but still, well, believable — if not exactly true.
“Really??” she’d ask, sounding a bit more incredulous. So I’d take it a little further from the truth. “Really??” she’d ask again as I got to the point of simply making stuff up truly bizarre statements straight out of left field.
“No!” I’d finally break down, laughing out loud. “I’ve been making it up since the first part of the story!”
I loved how she just kept falling for this sort of nonsense as we drove on across Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Not once did she doubt my stories, no matter how outlandish I made them. What fun!
Still, that drive across the Southwest does take just about half of forever. At least it starts to feel like that eventually, especially if you’re intent on driving straight through. We swapped off driving and sleeping, stopped when we needed food or a bathroom break, but basically we kept rolling right along.
We did try at one point to see if we could give the cats an break from their carriers, starting first with Rocket, who was basically a mildly rebellious adolescent male. He immediately ran under the truck. It took us nearly 20 minutes to get him out from there and back into the carrier. The cats would have to just hang in there with food and water till we got to Texas.
Exhausted by the time we reached West Texas, we stopped at one of those huge interstate truck stops in Van Horn. You know the kind: about 10 acres of parking, dozens of showers and lockers, and probably about 50 dining booths, each outfitted with a pay phone (remember kids — this is 1989, so no cell phones). We ordered coffee and breakfast and Sara decided to call her mom to let her know where we were.
Instead, she ended up having a rather garbled conversation with Harve, her step-father who had Alzheimer’s. “No, Dad,” she’d try to explain, “I’m already in Texas …no, we left California…me and Alan…Alan…no, you haven’t met him yet.” By the time she hung up the phone, she looked over at me, a little worried, and said, “Mom wasn’t there — I’ll have to call back later and talk to her. I’m sure he has no idea what to tell her, and whatever he says will probably just confuse her.”
Sipping the diesel-fueled-coffee, I looked out the window at the wide open landscape and the road before us. Only about 7 or 8 more hours of driving before we reached Austin.
Now, we had a truly road-tested romance, ready for whatever came next.
Next: we close Act 2 with a Texas Xmas