Wednesday, November 7, 2007

For Bella

"You should keep a daily blog about your move!" she said. "Blogging is good promotion" she said. "You should definitely blog about this" she said.

Okay. Though I'm dubious about the "promotion" part I'll write stuff here for the entire world to see in perpetuity. Because I'm that interesting...

I just moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, and my friend Bella, a formidable blogger herself, encouraged me to chronicle the transition, beginning with the road-trip that brought me out here. I began writing daily about the trip for myself, but I found it to be so bone-deep exhausting that reliving it so soon just made me more exhausted. And re-living it in daily detail made it worse. Big picture is better.

Chicago to L.A. in 4 days. I had planned on making it sooner but my father insisted on coming with me. He's 71 and not in great physical condition so we had to take our time. When he initially invited himself he believed he would drive my car and I would drive the truck. No way. I knew my car would be too small for an overweight elderly man with a fake knee to be crammed into for 7 to 9 hours a day, four days in succession. So he drove the truck. He also insisted on taking the Northern route through the mountains. He didn't want to drive through the desert. Full truck. Old man. Mountains. Slo-o-o-ow. Now, I drive a little 4 cylinder, so it's not that zippy in the mountains either, but it can manage better.

Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck because of him. His driving reflexes aren't too great anymore, nor is his eyesight at night. At one point, on our first night, he slowed down to 30mph on the interstate looking for our turn-off. Trucks whizzed by, engine brakeing, annoyed. This would set a tone for the rest of the trip. But I'm glad he came with me. I knew it was his last chance at a good, long road trip (I know, that sounds like he's died, but he said so himself when we arrived in L.A.) . He has always traveled a lot by car and never flinched at taking a cross-country trip. This is something he and I share.

When I first went to college at a small school in San Diego, my father wanted to go with me then, too. We took the train. I only had a few trunks and boxes of stuff so I shipped them ahead. My father reserved handicap accessible sleeping quarters for us, which were a little bigger than most and had their own toilet, so I was very grateful. It was my first time through the Southwestern desert and I marveled at it. The train tracks were nowhere near the highways so the night was completely dark except for the stars. The colors of the landscape were stunning. At one point a coyote ran along the tracks with the train for about a mile. It was all very exhilerating for a midwestern boy. I can't say that my father and I became closer then because of our interaction. Though he told me some stories about growing up and being in San Diego when he was in the Navy, we didn't share too much. We became a bit closer solely from taking the trip together. After our arrival he stayed a couple of days with me then took the train - the northern route this time - back home. He left a long letter with me before he went, an extrememly personal and emotional statement of good wishes and pride. For the first time in my life I had gotten a glimpse of my father as a young man my age.

On this trip, in what should have been the most beautiful part - the drive through the mountains of Colorado then the highest elevation in Utah - we hit torrential rains, adding further to my father's and my anxiety. It was white knuckles and full bladders all the way. On day four, our last, just as we entered Arizona from Utah, the resonator dropped from my exhaust pipe uner my car. On a Sunday. In the desert. My little four-cylinder chugged through the mountains with the deafening rumble of a dozen Harleys openining up full throttle. With some fortune we found a small town with a small auto shop that was actually open. They had no welder available that weekend however, but at least the mechanic was able to rig the pipe so it wasn't dragging on the ground. I had three-hundred miles to go. The sound was almost unbearable, and my whole body was rattled but I pressed on. My friend Dianne called me on my cell phone as I passed through Las Vegas, and she laughed that great laugh of hers. "White trash! Leaving Las Vegas with your exhaust hanging on the ground!" Yeah, yeah. Made me smile.

The traffic from Las Vegas to Los Angeles that Sunday was INSANE. The weekend gamblers from Southern California were all going home. It was 300 miles of solid cars, trucks, SUVs. And me, my Dad, my white trash ride and the truck. Ugh.

Though we arrived later than planned because of the car repairs, we made it in time to watch the Bears lose. My father confessed that the trip was harder than he expected, but he also said he was really proud that we did it. I, too, was really proud, as so many times before with my father. It was a very affecting journey of giving and taking the lead, of worry and confidence. My friend Donald and I recently talked about parenting the elderly parent. I got my first taste of that on this drive, but only in the slightest way. My Dad was still my Dad, remaining "in charge" and incredibly strong, and I'm glad.

This is, indeed, the short version, though I'm not sure it seems that way. So much more happened in those four days and the few days after arriving (don't ask me about the "pig rig"), but this is the big picture. This is how I'll remember the trip. I'm so grateful I made it for so many reasons.

So, Bella, it's a start.