Vermont Trip Report
It's hard to know where to start this telling. It’s not just a trip report, but a great migration.
No, a Great Migration -- the second one in my lifetime.
As many of you know, the story itself started at least four years ago when I began the struggle with Countrywide (which then became Bank of America) to get my mortgage loan modified, and then in January of this year, a final denial and notice of impending foreclosure. (If curious or unfamiliar with the details of my ordeal, you can read it starting here.)
I only mention this because we started packing soon after, slowly and unbelievingly at first, and then over the coming weeks and months (February to June) with more frantic haste and despair.
It is a kind if madness to suddenly be told that you have to pick up everything and get out of your house for which you've fought for most of your life. Here's your American Dream that you achieved with superhuman labor, and now, screw you, let it go.
And it is even more overwhelming when you have a lot of stuff. Not really fancy expensive stuff, but stuff nevertheless, and stuff that means a lot to you. Stuff accumulates because (not having had anything back in the USSR) my mother and I love beautiful, intricate, interesting things, dream about them. And also I am an artist and a book person in every way possible. So I have tons of unclassifiable knick-knacks, miniatures, dolls (many of them made myself) pieces of art, sculpture, paintings, etc. (Except for a famous artwork by Constantine Cherkas, given to my father as a present by the artist, a friend of the family, all the rest of it is just inexpensive copies, or my own unknown and unappraised original work).
And the notion of MOVING ALL OF IT anywhere (across town or across the country) was a daunting impossibility.
When I bought the fixer-upper house in Los Angeles in 2000, I was hoping I’d die in it and never ever move again -- I had been a person without a home, without a country, a refugee, a resident alien, a temporary wandering passerby and OUTSIDER for most of my life, and a permanent HOME of my own was the most, precious thing possible.
But now it was inevitable I begin to pack.
We had packed over 200 boxes (I still don't know the exact count but the movers had something like 6 pages of detailed inventory).
I got most of the boxes at Home Depot, and some (for the art) in a specialized box shop.
Skipping a lot of anxious weeks of this, I will start the actual trip report on the Monday of June, the 6th, when we were in the final throes of packing, barely moving around, surrounded by mountains of boxes in every room, and I was supposed to turn in my Time Warner Cable box and cable modem.
Early Monday I drove to the local TWC branch, and at the same time used my GPS in the jeep for the first time (I had bought one just for the Vermont trip), and the GPS dutifully guided me as I got acquainted with its functionality.
After I turned in the cable equipment, and was officially cut off from the online world, I drove to Home Depot for a few more last minute boxes and tape, and also to pick up some root hormone.
Let me explain -- I was planning to take some rose cuttings from the roses in our back yard and especially where dad's ashes had been scattered, and to put them in earth and carry them with us to Vermont. And online research taught me I need this stuff called root hormone to stimulate root growth for cuttings.
Anyway, Home Depot was out of it, so I then went to Green Thumb Nursery, where I tried to get help from the clerks there, but the main "expert" guy was on the phone, and I waited and waited, as he would explain to me in spurts, then get back to some important plant order he was taking, and I was frustrated that here I was wasting precious packing time. Finally another lady partially explained how it's done, and between the two of them I bought a bottle of root hormone powder, a plastic terrarium and a small bag of nice potting soil. She was much more willing to help when I told her this was very important -- I had to take these rose cuttings from my father's grave and then we were leaving in two days. So I couldn’t wait, etc.
So I got home with the nursery stuff, where mom was as usual on shredder duty. For the last several weeks, mom had been shredding the endless papers and canceled checks and bills and immigration forms we had kept for the last 35 years -- mostly because we had not owned a shredder for all these years before (could not really afford one, and besides shredders were not so widely used or known a decade ago, but I knew I just could not toss things out that had social security and bank numbers on them), and there had been no good reason (and more recently, no time) to go through old papers in the back of the closet anyway.
But now that we were moving, I had to go and reduce our load, and so I went through the papers first, sorted them into "toss" and "shred" piles, and gave mom the shred piles. Mom had already worn out one shredder, and I had to buy another on the Sunday before, a really cheap small one, the best I could afford, so it was overheating fast, and would go "on vacation" every half hour or so, and mom would have to wait for it to cool, then resume.
So I got home, and then went outside to collect rose cuttings. Mom also went out with me and pointed out in particular her favorite bushes, the beautiful peach and yellow roses, the fragrant musky red, and lavender and other lovely hybrids (we had planted about 300 rose bushes of all varieties in the back and front yard). I made a point to get all varieties. First I prepped the plastic terrarium by putting in several scoops of the earth from the place in the garden where most of father's ashes had been scattered, to line the bottom of the tray. This was the SPECIAL earth.
Then on top went the small bag of fine gardening soil to make sure the roses thrived. Then I went around the garden -- front and back yard -- and cut off stalks and stems as mom pointed, trimmed them as needed, soaked the stalks in water, applied the root hormone to the bottoms, then planted them in the terrarium. Finally when it was full, with at least a dozen cuttings, I heavily watered it so the soil was rich with moisture, and I put the clear plastic top in place.
I carefully carried the large tub over into the house and rested it on a shelf, meanwhile wondering WHERE in the world to fit this in our jeep. But that was going to be a problem for later.
Next, I went back to packing last minute stuff, and mostly at this point going through ancient papers and dumping them or putting them into mom's shred area, till the wee hours.
If I recall correctly that's what happened on Monday.
On Tuesday (the day before the movers), the lawyer / realtor drove up in the afternoon and I handed him a set of all the house keys, and he had a chance to see the mountains of boxes filling every space. I think he was duly terrified, probably wondering how much of it would be gone and how much would be left.
I did not tell him there would be at least five computer carcasses, gutted for hard drives, and nearly every room, and tons of old computer hardware, monitors, floppy drives, automatic sheet feeders, printers, etc. in the closets.
About a week previously I had spent two days gutting the PCs and nearly killed my carpal tunnel hands opening old cases and unscrewing a million screws to get to the hard drives, in some cases having to take out everything else inside and even the motherboards. A friend had earlier suggested I get a degausser from an electronics store to simply wipe the drives clean and donate the full machines to the local schools, etc.
Great idea, but the problem with that was -- A) I had no money to spare for a degausser, B) I had no place to plug in these PCs in order to first turn them on then degausse them (with the boxes every-frigging where and no available flat surface), in fact I had to work on my bed to just get the PC cases open, and C) I was too paranoid about the information on the hard drives, (possibly including other people's personal info, such as Norilana author info) to just leave them behind. So, fear not, I got all the hard dives out -- in most machines there were two, daisy-chained, as I had been in the habit of adding many drives in one machine in the early days. But now the hard drives were in one big bag, safely boxed up and going with us to Vermont.
I also had to make some hard decisions about leaving behind computer hardware, two printers (a dot matrix and a thermal fusion, both perks from my old day jobs) and a copier, and one very, very, VERY SPECIAL old laser printer.
HP LaserJet 4L.
Stinky Little Buddy.
Yes, if Paul Melko is reading this, he will know what I am talking about -- both he and I had an HP Laserjet 4L and both of ours lasted forever and ever and were hardworking absolute workhorses. Toward the end, the printers tended to overheat and stink up the room with an indescribable scent of eu de rubber and burnt toner. Hence the name, Stinky Little Buddy. Paul's unit died several years ago and he mourned it appropriately. And mine -- mine was now on its last legs, jamming paper after more than about 3 sheets with greater frequency, as it heated up, but unbelievably it was STILL going strong like the Energizer Bunny of Printers!
I COULD have taken it to Vermont.
But I knew that it was heavy and it was going to die very soon after getting here. And I could not afford the weight to add to the huge cost of the move. After all I had the new HP LaserJet 3030 All-In-One to replace it, and both were heavily in use back in Los Angeles.
So I made the sad decision of leaving Stinky Little Buddy behind, a printer that served me since the late nineties. It deserves an ode!
There it sat, lonely on the old desk surface in the kitchen next to another large thermal color printer, and an old copier that were just not worth their weight to be moved here.
Am I nuts to be grieving for old tech? Seriously. But that's just the kind of gal I am. My computers are like kids. I even kind of feel bad for those gutted carcasses of 286s and 386s. And the VGA monitor in the closet. And the automatic sheet feeder.
Anyway, I guess more sorting and trashing and shredding was going on till the wee hours on Tuesday, as mom and I frantically tried to get all the stuff ready, with some things going into plastic tubs, and others in boxes, for the movers coming early on Wednesday the 8th.
On Wednesday we were ready for them at 9:00 AM when they were due to arrive between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM.
They showed up around 9:30 AM, and there was a problem.
The huge truck could not fit into the alley behind the house as I was originally hoping it would. And because of the City of LA Bridge construction, and diverted narrow roadwork and traffic, they could not park at the curb next to the house either.
So the driver temporarily parked on the center divider island down the block as he and the three loading guys tried to decide how to do this.
Eventually they put the truck at the very end of the block near the curb where they were sort of, kind of allowed to park. If course it meant they had to carry the stuff a long way from house to the truck, but it couldn't be helped.
They set to work loading the truck, and the driver did inventory and went around sticking yellow numbered stickers on every box and piece of furniture that was coming.
At the same time I was still packing some last minute stuff, had only two boxes to go, and the rest were trash for shredding. Mom took the dogs and sat down in one of the bathrooms to get out of the movers' way. The cats scattered around the house and yard, lord knows where.
It took them about three hours, and then they were done, including the packing of three fragile glass doll cases and two lamps, that I simply could not do myself, and these were done, and went in the truck. One of the floor lamps had some kind of small damage done to it during the at of packing it up -- a glass leaf from a glass flower petal came out (the lamp is shaped like large flower petals with lamp bulbs going where the stamen goes) but I think it was just a part that cane loose out of its metal holder and I can safely fix it here (reminder to self, buy crazy glue here in Vermont). In any case, the poor packer guy was flustered but I did not hold it against him, this was not a big deal.
When the whole thing was over, the house was very bare and strange, and I paid all the guys a tip ($100 dollars' worth, cumulatively), signed forms, went over inventory, and got the driver's contact info for the trip. I also asked him to stall the arrival, and try to arrive AFTER the 13th when we were supposed to get there. Good thing too, as it later turns out.
He told me, sure, no problem, he will arrive on Saturday the 18th.
And the truck left to get weighed.
Now, mom and I remained in the nearly empty house, shredding, sorting, and tossing, and doing last minute laundry, and nervously waited for the scary news of HOW MUCH the FINAL MOVE COST would be -- based on weight. They were going to let us know later that night. I had been TERRIFIED that we would go over the preliminary estimate.
Well, around 4:30 PM the movers rep called and said, GOOD NEWS, the weight was somewhat LESS than the written estimate, so the total cost was less by a few hundred dollars!
YES!!! That means I did not have to worry about meeting the hotel costs and gasoline costs for the drive! I would have enough to cover the drive expenses (hotels and gas).
So with the new exact amount, I rushed to the bank to buy a Cashier's Check made out to the moving company. This was the check I was supposed to present in Vermont to the driver at delivery before he unloaded.
I got the cashiers check, returned home, put the check in a safe deposit box together with our US Citizenship Naturalization Certificates, and other important papers which was driving in the car with us, and Mom and I continued the shredding and last minute packing for the car trip the next day.
I also checked up on the rose cuttings terrarium, and they looked fresh and moist and verdant as I vented it slightly, then closed it up again. Nothing had wilted, which was a good sign.
The rest of the night is a haze of exhaustion, shredding, sorting, and piles of trash.
We sat on the old sofas that were staying behind, and slept one last time on our old beds -- mine 11 years old and sagging and crappy, and mom's relatively new and very nice, with a real headboard and footboard and everything (I had bough the nice new bed for mom after she came home from the hospital with cancer, back in 2007).
We had made the decision to leave mom's bed behind since it was too heavy and expensive to move.
Since most of our bedding had gone on the truck, we slept in our clothes on the bare mattresses with a single blanket, and then all got washed the next morning.
I also made a last run to the supermarket and filled up the Jeep with gasoline.
OK, here is where it gets interesting.
There was SO MUCH STUFF TO SHRED left, that mom kept on saying, "There is no way we can leave tomorrow, maybe we can stay one more day here in the house just to clean up and shred the rest of the junk?"
I told mom, "no," since we were on a schedule, had all these hotel / motel reservations and we would be risking having no place to stay with four animals, if we got rid of the reservations, etc.
So, we went to bed again around 3:00 AM reeling in exhaustion, and decided to get up around 9:00 AM and leave soon after then, after shredding the last of the old crap.
On Thursday, the 9th, the Official First Day of the Drive, I was up around 9:00 AM with an alarm, giddy from sleepless illness and exhaustion, afraid I would start bleeding (the only reason I let myself stay in bed until that late instead of being up at 6:00 or 7:00 AM on a trip departure day, as I would have in my younger and healthier days).
Mom had been seemingly not sleeping anyway, and up even earlier, and feeding the animals, and then we ate forcibly something from the fridge (we had no appetite, both of us, these last few days but we had to eat so as not to get sick, and to save the food that was left over), and I showered, then we did some last loads of laundry of mom's as she also took a shower somewhat later with some difficulty since she was just so tired, and normally we don’t have to rush so much for her to do that.
It was around 10:30 AM when we got to last minute and the damned little shredder would stop every 15 minutes it seemed, so we had to do other stuff as we waited for it to wake up. There were still two large plastic bags of papers to shred.
Meanwhile as we waited for the laundry to dry, and packed the suitcases with it, and then it occurred to me I could mail some stuff to myself (stuff that did not end up in the movers truck due to fear of exceeding weight and cost), so I packed three quick boxes and drove to the post office down the street for the last time, surprising the tellers since I already said goodbye to them all before turning in my PO Box keys, etc, a few days ago.
It was around noon, and I told one PO clerk, "Believe it or not, I am supposed to be in Utah later tonight, I am running late! We should have left hours ago!"
Back at home, I parked the jeep in the alley near our back yard door, and stated readying it for the packing. I lined the hatchback trunk with plastic, then put a thick sheet over it, then lined the back seat with a waterproof mattress cover and put doggie blankets on top of it.
Then I put the two cat cages in the trunk, barely fitting them next to eachother, with not an inch to spare next to the spare tire. One cage fit only if it was raised up about 10 inches (due to a curved bump on one side of the trunk), so I put 4 spare litterboxes in the spot to raise it, and it fit just right, with one cage higher than the other. I lined the spare litterboxes' vacant interior space with flat cat food cans and jars of baby food (for old Murray who needs baby food as supplement), so as not to waste space. Next I put a travel litterbox in each cage, then lined the cages with two towels each in the cat sleeping area, and put in a food and water dish in each one.
I lined all the nooks and crannies of the trunk with cat and dog food, treat bags, toilet paper rolls, bottles of water, sanitary napkins (me) and incontinence pads (mom), various rags and towels, plastic shower curtain liner spares and STUFF we needed for the trip.
Next I started to put one suitcase on the bottom of the legroom area of the back seat, and then spent about half an hour arranging and rearranging where to put the food cooler with our veggie meat substitutes for the trip and the doggie insulin and other few perishables that could fit into the cooler, the several other bags of electronics like my laptop, chargers for cell phone, GPS, etc, bags with blankets and AAA road maps, the security box with our most important papers, the spare gasoline red 5 gallon container, the bag of dog food, apples and bread, the purse, my new spare glasses, and some other random small necessary junk.
Then I brought out the rose cuttings terrarium (all nice and fresh) which I was originally was planning to put in the back seat with the dogs, and there was NO frigging way to put it there, so I had to pt it on top of one cat cage where it was just about touching the jeep ceiling, but not blocking my rear view.
Then I went back inside where mom was sorting her last laundry, lying down on the sofa in bouts of exhaustion, shredding again, and telling me we should stay back one day, it was already 1:00 PM in the afternoon.
Incidentally we were looking at the sofa and loveseat wistfully, both ancient but well preserved, since we had kept them covered with furniture covers all these 25 years. Too bad we never got to enjoy them without covers, and now they were going to end up trashed or at Goodwill.
I was then cleaning my office and shoveling away old junk on the floor (last minute papers) and sweeping with brooms, and mom was cleaning in some other room and we both got the place reasonably clean, but not perfect, and of course all those computer carcasses everywhere on shelves… And old desks and old furniture and stuff we were leaving behind. Not our problem at that point, we were beyond all exhaustion.
I started to shred, instead of Mom while she took a break, but it was not much help, since the shredder would die on me also.
Then the realtor called to check if we had left already, and I told him not yet, but any minute now. He wanted to know if he could come by at 4:00 PM to put a padlock on the property officially, and I said, sure, we should be long gone by then. I old him we would get the place as clean as we could, but there was furniture and stuff left he would have to deal with.
At that point I could barely walk, my knee giving out (old workers comp injury for a night shift fall back in 2002), mom was just lying down waiting for the last shred cycle, and finally, we were down to about one small supermarket bag of papers, and it was already near 4:00 PM.
Mom was getting increasingly anxious (I don’t blame her) that we could not leave and it was too late in the day, but I kept saying no, we HAD to GO TODAY, are going to leave in a few minutes. To be honest I was freaking out myself, imaging I would have to drive in the dark to make it to Utah on the same day…
Around 4:30 PM, I went out to the back to do the final car loading while mom was freaking out on the sofa, and I noticed a padlock attached to the back metal gate, in a very dumb way since it was open, and apparently the realtor's agent didn’t know how else to attach it.
So I went back in the house, told mom about it, and continued to carry stuff, (including the last bag of unshredded papers, since it would have taken us at least another two hours of shredder intermittent time to process them), and run around like a headless chicken, and fill the cooler with last leftover food and veggie stuff purchased from Follow Your Heart and the local Russian grocery (both of which we will miss immensely), and then we ate forcibly something more, I think, trying to finish whatever else we could of what was left in the fridge, leaving half a Russian cake behind sadly (we had bought it several days ago to mark the goodbye occasion, but neither of us had any appetite to eat it all, and that sucks, because it was GOOD cake, and we love cake) and then I told mom, its time to load the animals.
Mom was FREAKING OUT, and it was around 5:30 PM by then, and she started to carry some other bags and plastic tubs from out of nowhere and claimed we had to take it with us in the car.
I was screaming, "Are you crazy, there is ALREADY no room for anything!" -- earlier, her stuff partially fit in the suitcase and I thought she was just additionally bringing one small extra bag -- not five!
But she was INSISTING we bring it, including her extra underwear and more pads (she was so worried about the bathroom situation still), so I said, FINE, put it on the seat for now, let's get the animals.
So we went into the house, and first I got unsuspecting Murray the tailless old orange sweetie cat, and I carried him to the cat cage and put him in the one that was higher up, and closed the gate behind him, and boy was he shocked!
Then we went back in for Johnny the orange and white younger guy, and put him in the other cage, and boy was he furious!
With both cats loudly protesting we left the hatchback open, and went back inside for the dogs. Now, a few weeks ago I had bought special dog harnesses instead of ordinary collars, for safety, and this was the first time the dogs were going to use them, so with mom's help I managed to get the red, larger one of the harnesses on Robin the big Chow first, one leg, then the other, then tighten straps around abdomen, etc, snap together near collar and their rabies tag. Robin did not like it, but then he is always stubborn and hard to put leashes and things on, as he starts to jerk around wildly in excitement. This was for his safety and so he does not get loose in the middle of the country.
Then was Charlie the diabetic blind Lhasa Apso's turn, and he got a blue smaller harness, and boy he really hated it! He started to growl, and for a minute I could not budge him! Then he heard Robin was moving and he relaxed and finally went along.
So for the last time we led the doggies down our garden back yard, past the rose bushes, let them pee on the grass, and then out through the back gate and into the alley to the jeep, where I bodily lifted the 88 pound chow and the 27 pound lhasa onto the back seat, and shut the door behind them, cranking the windows on both sides for air.
Then mom and I went in taking turns carrying other stuff into the car, and mom went to use the bathroom for the last time, then I went to use the bathroom, then we realized it was getting KIND OF DARK. And the cats were howling in the cages. And the dogs looked dejected and stunned in the back seat, with bags crowded around them.
Mom and I were sort of in a freaked out argument mode, with mom protesting and me freaking, and I told her to just sit down in the front passenger seat while I will be putting stuff AROUND her and the dogs, since she REFUSED to not bring it and insisted it was coming in the car.
At that point our next door neighbor's wife got home, and she stopped in the alley to see what was going on, and we said goodbyes absentmindedly (I feel bad now, expecting she thought us rude), and I think she was kind of confused and surprised we were leaving, with twilight coming on, but honestly my MENTAL STATE was such I could not really know what was going on, as I was trying to fit stuff into the car, arguing with mom.
Finally I fit everything except two travel mugs and one plastic tub (I emptied the contents and stuffed them in various crevices, and the tub itself was left).
So I just angrily left the tub leaning against the wall in the alley, and the two mugs in it, and then I took one extra AAA tour book of California and Nevada and just left it to hell behind, to make room.
Then I shut the hatchback, locking the cats safely. And I got in the driver's seat. I put stuff behind me and under my seat and under my feet (with just enough clearance to move my foot to drive safely), and mom was HOLDING some huge black trash bag of her stuff on her lap and another bag stuffed under her legs, looking shocked and horrified at the whole situation.
I put the key in the ignition, and saw it was 7:30 PM. It really was getting dark, not just blue twilighty.
I don’t know what kind of crazy shit was in my brain at that point, motivating me, but I felt there was NO WHERE TO GO BUT FORWARD. Like if I didn’t go NOW, I never could. If we unloaded the car and returned to the old house the world would collapse.
I HAD TO GO.
And so I put on my seatbelt, turned on the GPS and told it to drive to a Best Western in Utah.
And then, with dogs shuffling around in the back seat and bouncing the jeep, and making noises, with cats YOWLING and rattling their metal cages, with mom saying this was insanity and she was going to go back inside and she was going to lie down and die, or we are all going to die or explode or fall apart, I don't know -- with all of that, in the gathering twilight, I started to drive down the alley.
I turned onto Winnetka Ave, the street we lived on for eleven years. Then I continued driving in the dark past cars with headlights on, and I turned my own headlights on.
And I got onto 101 South, and started to drive vaguely NORTH-EAST….