The Second Drive Across the USA in a Truck


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 later on. 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 apartment. 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 curtains. 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 improved. 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 La Land. 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 checked. 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 not.

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. Ciao, Theo (& Sallie & Nils)