310 Miles to Yuma: House-Hunting Leave Part II

For those of you just joining us, I am on house-hunting leave driving to San Diego to find a new home as we prepare for my new duty station.  When we left off our hero (me) was driving across Texas with no end in sight.  We now join the trip already in progress:

If you think that a drive across the country might be slightly boring and you need to liven it up a bit, the best thing you can do is bring a cat.  That’s what I did and the results have been remarkable.  The family cat has been my traveling companion for the last three days, and has been keeping an ongoing monologue the entire time.  I’m not quite sure what she is saying but the overall theme appears to be that she is not happy with her accommodations.

“What kind of idiot brings a cat on a house-hunting trip?” you might be asking.  And I’ll be honest; I began asking this as well.  The truth, is my wife and I need the furry beast out of the way when the movers come and we didn’t want to be subjected to both the cat’s howling and our children’s screaming when we drive the whole family across the county next week (that’s right I get to do this again).

I never thought I would see the day when entering New Mexico would be my highest aspiration.  Finally leaving Texas has made me the happiest man on the planet.  World peace would make me happy too, but not nearly as much.

As I gaze on the absolute beauty of New Mexico, the golden horizon takes my breath away.  What also takes away my breath is the aroma.  Which is, essentially, cows, or more specifically cow manure.  It was then that I noticed that the view is not only breathtaking golden beauty, but also filled with more cows than I have ever seen (or smelled) in my life.  There were cows as far as the eye could see.  Some of you may have been raised on farms and believe that livestock have a pleasant smell or that farm animals are an acquired scent, but that is because you have never smelled 100,000 cows all at once.

That’s not all there is to say about New Mexico.  There is far more to the state than “looks great, smells bad” (the official tourist slogan).  For example there’s… um…well they have… err…  Well to be honest I have no idea what else is in New Mexico, but there’s got to be something else, right?

As fast as I can, I make it to the Arizona line. From what I can see, Arizona consists of cactuses (or maybe it’s “cacti,” I should probably look into that) and dirt… a lot of dirt.  There are also tumbleweeds.  I have almost been run over by three of them.  Have you ever seen the cute little ball of rolling sage on TV used to set the scene for the desert?  Well, in real life they are the size of a Chevrolet Suburban, only faster moving and more fuel efficient.  These things will knock you off the road.

On the upside there’s not a car in sight so I can drive as fast as I want. However, after driving for three days (or maybe three years… it’s all pretty blurry) I am exhausted; at least the howling cat in the backseat is keeping me awake.

Arizona does not appear to have a robust population. What few people I have seen at gas stations are very friendly. I had a very friendly and very long conversation with the gas station attendant, who would not take my money until I heard all about everything that has ever happened in his life, his wife’s life, and his kids’ lives (he has four and it was necessary that I heard about them individually).

Back on the road again, I started seeing signs for Yuma in only 350 miles.  I was thinking it must be major metropolis (well, for Arizona) because I have seen a sign for it every 15 miles.  As I approached Yuma I drove past the largest trailer/RV park I have ever seen.  For the next 10 minutes (or approximately 57,000 cat howls) I drove past single-wides, double-wides, and the greatest assortment of recreational vehicles I have ever seen.  I was starting to think that Yuma was just a city made up trailer parks.  I wish I could tell you that it was much more than a trailer park; unfortunately I was busy passing a truck when I got to the exit and have no idea what Yuma consists of, but I like to imagine it is a town deserving of all its publicity.  Five minutes later I crossed into California.

California!  I was finally there.  I made it to the west coast, to the Golden State.  The trip was finally over, unless you count the 160 miles I still had to drive.  I’d like to tell you that those 160 miles were beaches and tiki bars, but it turns out the western portion of California looks pretty much the same as Arizona, with an amazing view of the Mexican border (which also looks just like Arizona).

At least when I get to San Diego I can finally get some rest; I just need to meet with a realtor and find a house first.  That shouldn’t take too long, should it?  San Diego probably has tons of luxurious houses with big yards for rent at reasonable prices.  After an afternoon looking for a house, I can put the cat in a kennel (which should improve her mood, as she is now riding on the roof) and then lounge at the beach for a couple days before I fly home.  What could possibly go wrong?

Texas Travels- House Hunting Leave Part I

While in the service you should definitely think about seeing some of the country you are serving. I highly recommend the method wherein you drive across the entire country at 85 MPH without getting out of your car for anything but gas, in three days, as you transfer duty stations.  I have utilized this method very successfully over the course of my career and have seen the vast majority of the country within view of the freeway.

One place I haven’t seen, until today, is Texas. I am currently on house hunting leave.  That wonderful ten days of free leave to lounge around your house while pretending that you are going to your new duty location to look for a new home.  At least, that is what I should have done; instead I am driving from Chicago to San Diego.  If you look at a map you will see that Texas is not, technically, on the way.  Unfortunately, the ice storm from hell is decimating the normal route, so I have been forced to adapt by driving straight south to Arkansas (where I have learned they take pronunciation of their state very seriously) and then move west through Texas.  I have seen a lot of Texas, which involves Interstate 30, Interstate 20, and soon Interstate 10.

Although I have never been to Texas before, I have heard a lot about it from the approximate 4/5 of the Navy population from there. Texans love to talk about Texas, they can’t help it; it’s bred into their DNA.  If you spend five minutes around someone from Texas you will hear how it is the only state that was once its own independent country (aside from Hawaii), about how the Lone Star State is the biggest  in the country (if you don’t count Alaska… and really, who does?).  You will be told that everything is bigger in Texas (it’s always about size isn’t it?), and that you do not mess with Texas (forcing us to pick on West Virginia and Kentucky instead).

There is no other state where this happens.  You never see people from North Dakota go on and on about how great North Dakota is.  Wearing their North Dakota-shaped belt buckles with tattoos of the North Dakota flag and telling you that whatever you do, you do not mess with North Dakota.  Why?  Because you have never met anyone from North Dakota; the entire population of the state could sit in a booth at McDonald’s.

I was excited to see Texas.  Who wouldn’t be impressed by a state where the entire population who, despite all their differences, are united in the belief that that they are better than the rest of the country?  Driving across the border, you could just feel the pride radiating.

The first thing I noticed about Texas (apart from approximately 600 state flags) is that the speed limit is 75 MPH. This is going to be great:  I’m going to put my car on cruise control at about 84 MPH and I’ll cruise through this state faster than I can blink and not even worry about getting a ticket.  Or so I thought.  I was wrong on two counts.

First, it turns out that Texas is a really big state. No matter what you have to say about people from Texas they are right about at least one thing.  It is really big.  Even if I was traveling at the speed of light it would probably take a day (longer if you were going through Houston).

Second, I discovered that although the speed limit is 75 MPH I was not technically going faster than 65.  The right lane was filled with what appeared to be a never-ending line of trucks going 60.  The left lane was filled with trucks trying to pass the trucks in the right lane by going 61 MPH.  Even when the left lane was mercifully free of trucks none of the locals showed any desire to even approach 70.  Maybe Texas, which is known to be very strict on crime, has made speeding, by even one mile, a capital offence and no one wants to risk it by even getting close.

Weather in Texas has been another adventure. For the 16 years that I have driving across the state 95% of it has been in varying levels of fog.  For all I know I might be traveling across the most beautiful landscape in creation, or possibly a garbage dump.  All I can see is about 25 feet in any direction.  But just so you Texans know, it is some of the most beautiful 25 feet I have ever seen.

The fog finally broke just in time for me to get struck by lightning… well, not quite, but it was close. Apparently even the lightning storms are bigger here.  I am not talking about your average lightning storm where you see some flashes of light in the sky.  No these were bolts like in cartoons.  This is the kind of lightning that will try to kill you, if necessary follow you home, ring your doorbell, wait for you to come out and then zap you. I actually saw two lightning bolts hit the ground.  One hit the ground twenty feet from my car.  It’s times like this that I really hope my high school science teacher was right when he told us that lightning can’t strike a car because of the rubber tires.*  I finally made it through the storm and realized that El Paso was right around the corner (which in Texas talk is only 750 miles).

So I continue onward, through the state that will never end. While I still have a great admiration for the Texas spirit I am looking forward to admiring it from the outside. I am thinking of all those brave men like Davy Crockett who gave their lives here (possibly in traffic) and it is now my sole goal in life not to die here too, but if I do, when you remember the Alamo, remember me as well.

*A Google search revealed that lightning can, in fact, strike you in your car. It must be true, it’s on the internet.