The Second Drive Across the USA in
Sallie, Nils and Theo move to LA.
Friday 20th Feb 1998: Office Packing Day
Of course, Sallie had been hard at work boxing and labeling things for
some weeks, and I had been building road cases for various things and
slowly coming to terms with packing up the computer Doreen. Having
committed the ultimate act in computer paranoia (making a CD of the
entire disk drive and mailing it ahead.... the truck may get destroyed
but Doreen will live on) I went in to work with a light heart, ready to
look at all the things I would not miss, and some of the things I would.
Packing the office was not too much of a chore. I took great delight in
not taking any copies of Physics Today, or any computing equipment,
much to Bill Hartkopf's chagrin I think, having already made him remove
most of the files there on.
Nils had gone in to finish the last corrections to his thesis and pack
up the optics lab and his office. Steve Ridgway had kindly left us a
number of boxes to take, full of heavy paper, and one that we have come
to call the memorial Ridgway Monitor box (a giant MacMonitor packed
sideways in a GateWay 2000 box) and a bunch of rolled up plans with a
note expressing a hope that we could find a box for them. We didn't.
Hal presented us with two 'family radios' from Radio Shack, which of
course belong to the department now, and they are excellent toys which I
recommend to anyone traveling in more than one vehicle. With only a 1
mile range they are nevertheless extremely useful, as we found out
By lunch time my office was a mess and I had a large pile of milk crates
and boxes ready to go.... even more than Steve left behind. I think the
office will stay in that mess until someone else moves into it. The
express elevators did not work, at least not both of them, another thing
I decided not to miss. Everything seemed to fit into about eight crates
and boxes, so I went and joined the rest of the staff for a final
`Friday Lunch' at the local Chew & Spew.
After the cheapo Chinese food, where we had one of the largest turnouts
for Friday lunch, I dropped by the Physics office to pay my respects to
the `other side', and returned to my somewhat empty office. I then went
down to the slab to see how Nils was going with the packing. A new MSc
Student, Lief, very kindly offered to help pack and also offered the
services of his truck. This was a great boon, as we had much more stuff
than our poor little car could handle. Lief and I did a load of office
stuff while Nils completed packing the lab. We had all three offices,
and the lab back home after two trips and we were all rather tired. Of
course, this was nothing compared to the next two days......
Saturday 21st Feb 1998: Home packing day the first
We got up early and prepared to go and get the dirty great big truck,
which is a pretty good description. We had the choice between a brand new
petrol driven truck and a diesel version, which was a few years and
nearly 100,000 miles older. We decided to go for the diesel truck as it
would be cheaper to run. Wrong decision. We aren't paying for the fuel
and the old truck is noisy and not very comfortable, the dash lights do
not work and it leaks.... but more of that later. Sallie drove happily
off in the Suzuki and Nils and I drove off less happy, not quite scared
shitless, in the 24' truck.
We negotiated the I285 and then the I20, being cut off more than once,
and went off not so merrily, but enthusiastically, towards the storage
facility that held all of Nils' worldly goods. This was another moment
when I thought `I will not miss this', thinking of the I285 and how
people drive on it. When I see a dirty great big rental truck I start
to think about how the driver is probably not used to driving it and
that I should give it some room. Not so other people on the I285! Oh
well.... what can you do. I decided to think about the insurance I took
out on the thing and went on regardless.
John Jackson, our guitar playing friend of Road to Ruin fame, kindly
gave up his day off (well, he was on call) to help us get Nils' stuff
out of storage into the truck. It took several hours and it completely
filled the truck. OK, I exaggerate (which isn't like me is it?), it
filled the surface to about 3 feet up. For a single guy just out of
college Nils has a lot of stuff. We then sent John off to buy wardrobe
boxes on our behalf and headed back up the I20 and I285 to our
We managed to back the truck up to the bottom of the stairs and started
rearranging Nils' stuff in the truck. We then used the wooden crate we
had shipped our stuff from Sydney in as a safety box for the computer,
music and stereo equipment. That was very satisfying, all the sensitive
gear in a big wooden box which we then nailed closed with some of the
copious amounts of spare wood that Nils and I had between us. We did a
bit more farnarckling and rearranging of stuff in the truck and then
prepared for the evening farewell do. Sallie went off early with Helen
to help prepare, Nils went to Kinkos to have his thesis copied and I
had a bath, only one of several baths to come, as I knew there is no
bathtub on the mountain.
At about 820pm (only 40 minutes late) Stanley, Robin and Steve came to
pick us up and drove us to the party. You know, in retrospect, having
the party the night before the big day of packing the truck was probably
not a wise idea. Next time I move I will do otherwise. Anyway a good
time was had by all and there were only a few tears. All of the
important people showed up. Kate of course, as it was at her house,
Helen & Ed, the guys from the band, a sickly Renee & Renee, Mauricio and
Jenny, Bill and Debra, Lewis, Paul and a cast of tens. Even Paul and
Brenda from work showed up to my delight. We played, we sang, we talked,
and unfortunately for the next day, we drank. I had a touching moment
with Stanley, who got very `tired and emotional' when we played a Little
Feat song and I'm sure Sallie had a few teary people too. We finally got
home about 1.30 and to bed shortly there after feeling happy and ready (ish)
for the big day.
Sunday 22st Feb 1998: Home packing day the second
Normally I do not suffer hangovers. Naturally I did this day. I felt
terrible.... dam that low down southern whiskey. We started backing the
truck back into position just as Bill Hartkopf, bless his heart, turned
up to help. We positioned Nils in the truck as the official 'Tetris Truck
Packer' and started loading things in. And continued loading things in.
Stanley turned up and we continued loading things in. Between the hang
over and nervous tension I got sicker and sicker, Stanley was also not
feeling his best, but we continued loading things in. Ainoha and Robin
showed up and we continued loading things in. Lewis showed up and we
continued loading things in. I marveled at how our original two suit
cases had multiplied and we continued loading things in. Hal and Susan
turned up (they had failed to get to the party due to being delayed in
Athens), they said goodbye and we continued to load things in.
By lunch time I was convinced I was going to die but we continued to
load things in. Stanley was sent to get more rope and Sallie and Ainoha
were sent for lunch. Stan got hungry and so also bought lunch. We ate it
all and continued to load things in. It was then I started to get the
feeling that it wouldn't all fit in the truck but we continued to load
things in. Ainoha and Robin packed for all they were worth and we
continued to load things in. Bill (from the band) turned up and cleverly
dismantled the computer desk and provided a delightful interlude by
playing some guitar picking for us. Through it all we kept loading things
in. Mauricio and Jenny arrived at the tail end along with Kate. Mo, who
was a bosun in the navy, advised on tieing the knots and Kate vacuumed in
order to cover up the sobs (lovely girl that she is). The loading, to your
surprise, continued. By about 6pm we discovered that it was almost all in
the truck and I was feeling a lot better.
Murphy, being very strict, ensured that it rained like the end of the
world during a few hours of the loading operation. It was then that we
found that the truck leaked through the rivets in the roof. Great. I
dashed off to Home Depot with Stanley to get plastic sheets (the truck
was half full, we couldn't face reloading it into another one) and we
used duct tape and dexterity to get it over the stuff inside. We tried
not to think what would happen to all the stuff in cardboard boxes
inside and soldiered on.
By 7 we were exhausted but basically done. Kate volunteered to get food
and John came by to visit with Nicky to say a last farewell. Stan,
Robin, Steve, Nicholas, Mo, Jenny and Nico stayed for a while, seemingly
reluctant to leave. We sat in a great big empty apartment and talked and
consumed the food. By 9 all had left and we settled down on our blow up
mattresses. Of course, blowing the dam things up was a final delightful
task, but we slept like the dead.
Monday 23rd Feb 1998: We leave Atlanta
I woke up in exactly the same position I remember being in before I
went to sleep. While Sallie and Nils showered and dressed I went to the
store to get coffee, (yes it had been packed a little prematurely)
batteries and kitty litter. Yes kitty litter. We had a lot of painting
things left behind, including dangerous solvents
and so on, and the best advice I got for disposal was to mix it into
Kitty Litter and throw it away. While it didn't sound like a good idea
to me I had no better and so that's what I did. We also cleaned out the
fridge and threw many other things away. The vacuum cleaner, which
was cheap and unliked, we left for the next tenants. While Nils went to
get his thesis, return Kate's cooler and finish up at the University,
Sallie and I cleaned and waited for the landlord, Mrs Clement. She was
very nice, as always, gave us an excellent reference and took nothing
out of our deposit except the agreed upon $50 for a final cleaning fee.
Well worth the money, as I didn't really want to scrub the bath, stove and
fridge and so on.
Due to one thing and another, Nils was unable to get back until after
12. We had a final 'meal' (more fast food... our bowels will never be
the same), packed the final things into the truck and tied the last
piece of rope. At last we were ready to leave Atlanta, convinced that
while we will miss all the special people we had met, we would not miss
the city itself. Once more down the I285 and west on the I20 towards
Birmingham Alabama with me at the truck's wheel and Nils in the car.
Sallie rode shotgun in the truck and handled the radio comms.
Since the truck came with only a half tank of fuel (of course we should
have checked!) we stopped about 100 miles down the road, refueled, and
Nils took over the truck while I got into the car with a sore back (a
sore everything actually but the truck's seats are bad). During the
packing Sallie rediscovered the back support pillow we lost two years
ago and kindly insisted we use it while driving the truck. By 6pm we had
reached a place on State road 78 (heading towards Memphis) called Jasper
where we stopped for the night in a rather cheap and nasty hotel
originally named the Jasper Inn. There were 21 spottos and no major
incidents apart from going past one very nasty accident (smashed and
turned over car in the opposite side of the interstate complete with
bodies on the road) and one minor accident (slightly bent car and angry
people). Again we felt stiff and sore, but relieved to be finally 'on
the road'. We try not to think about being of no fixed address with all
we own in a poor rental truck. After one beer and some ice skating on the
telly we again slept the sleep of the extremely tired.
Tuesday 24th Feb 1998: We meet a new state
After a breakfast from the 'Omelette Shoppe' next door (a poor man's Waffle
House, but better than Huddle House) we hit the road at about 830am and
headed towards Memphis. I took the wheel of the truck again and Nils was
in the car and we did just fine. Memphis area was a bit scary, lots of
traffic and we were unsure about directions, but between Nils'
knowledge, a map and the radios we got through and into Arkansas, home
of the president of the United States. What a crappy state it seems to be
so far too! The road conditions immediately became terrible. Those of us
in the truck did a dance and bounced around, the safety belts locking us
closer and closer to our seats. We stopped twice for fuel and there
were only 17 spottos, most of which occurred while Sallie slept.
As my father would say, the roads in this state seem to have been
designed by a railway engineer. Long stretches of straight dull roads
and short corners. No scenery. No points of interest. Some hairy
moments, though to break the boredom of the road. After lunch in a
particularly nice `Family Country Restaurant' we were passed by a house.
Nils was driving the truck by this time (fortunately for me) and though
we were driving at 65 (the speed limit) a much bigger truck came
barreling by with half a house on it. Very disconcerting for me in the
car and even more so for Nils in the truck. Having recovered some
minutes later the other half came whizzing by us. This one had
Apart from the house, we managed to find only two people on the road
traveling slower than us and continued on past Little Rock on the I40
and on to a small college town by the name of Russelville where we
stopped in a Holiday Inn. Much better. A decent Chinese meal later and a
small shopping run to get Metimucil, water and a cork screw we settled
down to a documentary on Reagan and a bottle of wine. The weather channel
predicts storms for us tomorrow but as we have plenty of time (we have
the truck until next Tuesday) we are not very concerned, except for the
stuff under the plastic that we are officially not thinking about.
Tomorrow we have another new state... O... O... Oklahoma and another
400+ miles and many gallons of diesel.
Wednesday 25th Feb 1998: We meet another new state
Well the rest of Arkansas sucked too. No wonder Clinton needs to find
extra circular activities. Of course, one gets a rather jaundiced view
of anywhere looking at it from an interstate, all towns look the same,
kind of ugly, but I have no reason ever to go back to this state.
O...O...Oklahoma was a little better, at least the road conditions
Our second new state went past without any trouble. I took the wheel of
the truck in the morning and Nils once again took the afternoon stretch.
The spotto count was low, only 9, but so was the traffic density. We
stopped for lunch at another nice truck stop called `Country Pride'
(which of course turns out to be a chain).
Most of the day was quite uneventful and we finally stopped just inside
of Texas at a place called Shamrock and stayed in the 'Irish Inn'. There
was nothing really Irish about it, but they had a bar and a hot tub and
the room was clean and comfortable except for the pillows which held
your head at a constant 45 degree angle. Once again we fell into bed at
about 10 and slept well, if you ignore what it did to our necks.
Thursday 26th Feb 1998: Through Texas and New Mexico
As anyone would suspect the roads in Texas are well maintained. The only
trouble was the places where they were maintaining it, when we were
forced to drive in single lanes. No big trouble, just a few nerves
keeping the truck in the lane. Nils and I did the same driving shifts
and we once again had lunch in a Country Pride. OK, the choices are
not great so we stick to what has worked well in the past.
We were stopped in the weighing station in New Mexico, only to be
politely asked what we were hauling, and after explaining it was our
personal belongings we were wished a nice day by the beautiful latino
official and we drove on. We saw a truck being stopped by the INS people
but we went on without a hitch.
The scenery become more and more attractive. There was a bit of
snow (nothing to slow us down much) and a head wind (which did slow us
down) but the mesa and scenic, snow covered mountains were just lovely to
behold. We expect this stuff to continue. It did get colder and colder
though, as we are slowly climbing. We expect tomorrow to be colder
still, although we expect no rain or snow. The only danger ahead may be
some ice, but we will be going carefully and slowly.
The worst of the driving occurred when a particularly aggressive truck
driver took offense at Nils trying to pass an even slower truck, He
honked and tailgated but that was all. We soldiered on through most of
New Mexico, through the charming Alberquerque (where we failed to make
the well known left turn) and into a boarder town called Gallup where
we are in another Holiday Inn.
There was no parking to be had. There is a Rotarian function on and
there are loads of people around in cowboy hats, badges and giving each
other secret handshakes. I cheerfully greeted one of them but he only
gave me the evil eye, the unfriendliest person we have met on the entire
trip. We had a delightful (although not cheap) TexMex meal in the
almost empty restaurant.
Tomorrow, Arizona and, hopefully given time, the meteor crater (we
have all seen the big hole in the ground already). If we do over 400
miles we will be in good shape and considering we did over 500 today
that should be fine, despite the probability of snow and ice. Oh yes,
the spotto count today was 15.
Friday 27th Feb 1998: California at last
Lowest spotto count so far.... seven, although some of them were big ones!
As predicted the scenery was fantastic today. We woke to a snow covered
car and truck and white mountains in the background. We had a wonderful
free breakfast and after a bit of trepidation about the icy conditions
we were off at about 845 and west once again on the I40.
After only 16 miles we were in Arizona where we were stopped by the
weigh station and politely told to move on. With the painted desert all
around us and snow topped mesa we traveled towards Flag Staff, always
being careful not to make any sudden moves on the bridges (which often
have black ice). Having decide to see the meteor crater another time
we made it into Flagstaff for lunch and actually found
a Chinese restaurant for the traditional Friday lunch. We decided to
move on for another 50 miles or so before the refuel and driver swap
and headed back to lower altitudes.
With Nils in control of the truck and I behind the cars' wheel we
continued. It was just lovely for a few hours there and we slowly
crossed the state of Arizona and by about 5 reached the boarder of
sunny California (and it was indeed sunny). We were stopped at the
boarder again and we even had to open up the back of the truck in order
to show that we didn't have either fruit or Mexicans in there. Since we
didn't we were allowed to move on after being congratulated on covering
our stuff with plastic. Apparently we were the first rental truck the
official had seen that did so. We explained that the truck leaked, and
she went on to explain that they all did. Feeling pleased with ourselves
we drove on towards Needles.
Along the way we passed a small town called Holbrook, where we of course
had to stop for a photo opportunity and some water. We had then to decide
to stop in Needles, or drive the extra 150 miles to Barstow. Since we
knew that tomorrows drive would be through the interstate system of LA
and up the mountain we decided to keep going, and going, and going. It
seemed to go on forever. I was comforted by a cassette of Billy Conolly
(and I must have been a sight, laughing out loud alone behind the
wheel) and one of Split Enz. We finally made Barstow by 7 local time
after some 11 hours and 546 miles and now find ourselves in another
Holiday Inn, although this time without either a bath tub or spa (dam).
Tomorrow LA and next week Pasadena!
Saturday 28th Feb 1998: We reach the mountains
Due to the large increase in traffic density and whatnot the spotto
count went up to 15, mostly on the freeways of LA. We started at the
normal time of about 830, after consuming our free cheapo breakfast
and headed south down the I15 towards the San Gabriel mountains and La
The final fuel stop occurred about 50 miles down the road in a little
rip off station where they charged $1.70 per gallon. What's worse is
some silly woman pulled up into the full service area directly in front
of the truck, forcing us to come to a screeching halt and blocking our
way completely. Stupid woman just sat there with an empty expression on
her face. I could tell she knew something was wrong but she couldn't
quite put her finger on it. Maybe it was me staring at her that helped
her realize it would be a good idea to get the photon out of our way,
which she finally did after having all her windows cleaned and her oil
With the final tank of gas in the tank we headed off towards LA. It
was, as it always is, a bit scary driving the truck on the LA freeway
system but we managed quite well, making one wrong turn which only
cost us an extra 17 miles or so. We reached La Canada/Flintridge (the
township at the base of the mountain) at about 1230 and stopped at
Ralphs for some groceries.
Then came the big drive up the mountain. Sallie, whose back was in
terrible shape by this time, took the control of the car while Nils and
I sat in the truck, Nils riding shotgun and I behind the wheel. It was
a very slow trip up, with Sallie behind us warning of cars behind us so,
when there were 5 or so, we could pull over and let them pass. The last
section of road we did with Sallie driving ahead warning of oncoming
cars as we were forced to use the entire width of the road to get around
some corners. The road in the observatory itself was the most worrying as
it was even smaller and covered in touristas. Still, by 230 we had the
truck parked near the 100" and our stuff moved into the cottage.
It was at this moment that I saw a familiar face walk towards us. Peter
Lawson had spent the day with his family walking around the mountains
and had seen the truck go past. He, correctly, assumed it was us and
came to say hello. He had brought a rather lovely bottle of wine with
him and so we had lunch and a long chat (not having seen each other in
about 5 years). After lunch we started unloading the truck, and Peter
foolishly agreed to help. We got the bulkier furniture out, making a
bit of a mess of the beam combining lab in the process, and decided
that enough was enough. Peter and Laurence and Chloe went back down the
mountain to their hotel room (they have yet to buy enough furniture to
move into the house) and we retired to a gin tonic and a light meal.
We called the rellies and went to bed early, Sallie very early as she
is feeling not at all well. Steve Ridgway is expected tomorrow to help
unload the rest of the truck, some of it being his stuff, most of it
Sunday 1st March 1998: Unloading the truck
After an excellent nights sleep we awoke to meet up with Steve and Bob
and started moving all the stuff into the BCL area. Between Bobs dolly
and Steve rather excellent 4 wheeled cart it only took 2 hours or so to
finish unloading. Of course it's always easier getting things our of an
enclosed space into a larger one than the reverse. Still, we were
please with ourselves and drove on down the mountain for a nice lunch
and some more shopping. It's truly nice to be in a state where you can
buy wine on Sundays!
We now prepare ourselves for our new lives in LA. I to a new job and
location and Sallie to finding a place for us to live in. We'll let you
know the address when we have one.
Theo (& Sallie & Nils)