Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Updates From The Heartland: The Move, Pt. 9

(Chipping away at the stone ...)

My blood pressure began to rise, as a cat defecated again, and the sun beat down on the cabin. I had no choice I would have to go back to the office and get Antoine.

I rolled down the windows enough but not too much, and climbed out. It was boiling hot, and Cromwell panted. I know this because I had faced the opening of the kennel toward me. The kennel was enormous, by the way, and took up most of our shared bench. This gave me excellent access to their non-stop complaints, and frequent bathroom breaks.

Still, I felt terrible. Our other cat, Talisker, just laid in the back, in a small puddle of water that used to be in his dish. They didn't look sick, but they didn't look too happy either. In fact Tali mostly looked resigned and depressed. Given that he is such a chipper cat normally this in turn depressed me.

Resolved: I had to get this truck to start as soon as possible.

Back on the hot sidewalk I walked, once more, up the block to U-Haul's office. At the gate I was greeted, yet again, by the loitering day laborers who now knew to not ask me if I needed help. I sure did, but not of the variety they could provide.

I didn't see Antoine, of course. I asked for help at the desk, and was told that I would need to talk to Antoine. I told them that I didn't see him. I was then told that he was "around."

With a few moments to kill I bought two bottles of cold water. One for me, one for the cats.

After a few minutes I saw Antoine outside and flagged him down. He looked stunned. "Really, are you sure the lights aren't on?" I said I didn't think so. He then asked me if I turned the key hard enough. I said probably. We went through a few other obvious options until I convinced him that yes, indeed, the truck was probably as dead as I claimed.

Antoine looked dubious, but started to walk down the block to see what was what. I followed again, and said what I hoped was my final goodbye both to the U-Haul office and the loitering day laborers.

Once at the truck Antoine climbed back into the cabin, moved the seat back, and tried to turn it on. It made a wracking sound and died. He waited a few moments and tried again. This time it made a smaller wracking sound before it died. Come to think of it the truck kind of sounded like Harvey.

Hmm, Antoine said. Hmm. "Your battery's dead." I figured. As far as problems go, this was not too bad of one. They have about a million trucks here, and probably at least one extra battery, right?

He got out of the truck and asked me if I had called the U-Haul emergency number written on my receipt. I had not, because I was actually at a U-Haul station. He told me I should anyway. I then climbed back into the truck, adjusted the seat and dialed the number. Of course I was put on hold for some time -- because they were experiencing "unusually high call volumes" -- before I finally got to speak to a friendly Southern guy named Harold. Harold told me he would register my complaint and send someone out. They might be there in 45 minutes to an hour. Yes, an hour.

I asked Antoine if there was anything he could do, after all the truck had worked not long before. He said he could try to jump it. I said that would be fine and he took off.

Once he was gone I rolled up the windows, and opened the kennel. (The windows were rolled up so the cats couldn't make a break for it.) I poured some cold water into the cats' dish, and told them I was sorry. I know this sounds sappy, but if you've ever owned a pet maybe you understand. I really was sorry, none of this was their fault, and yet they had to suffer.

Cromwell immediately drank up the new water, and Talisker continued to lie in the back, his fur wet, listless.

I closed the kennel door, and rolled the windows back down, consumed with guilt.

Five minutes later Antoine rolled up with another truck, popped the hood, had me pop my hood and hooked up some jumper cables. After two minutes we tried to turn the engine. It gagged and did nothing. Five minutes later it gagged with a little more vigor and then died once more. Finally over 10 minutes later it turned. I knew it was not a good sign that it took this long to start, but put that thought to the back of my mind. I had to go!

Antoine told me to let it run for another 10 minutes before starting the trip, so that the battery fully charged. Tick-tock. I thanked him, and he drove off.

It was now almost 4:00 p.m. According to my original plans I was supposed to nearly be at Mike's by now. I was supposed to get there by 4:30 and start the drive, then we would keep at it well into the night. Well, that wouldn't happen.

As the truck idled I first called U-Haul to cancel the help that was on the way. They gave me a confirmation number for the help I never received, which I wrote down anyway. Then I called Randi to see how she was and how their trip was. She told me everything went great and the trip had no delays, which is almost, in its way, as unusual a story as mine. I told her about what had transpired so far. She expressed sympathy for me and concern for the cats. She then told me I should take it as easy as I could, and to not push myself too hard. I was grateful to have such a loving and supportive woman in my life. She also told me Stella was fine, and having lots of fun as she played with her cousins. I was glad to hear it.

After our call ended I went over my travel direction. I had planned to take the Brooklyn Bridge to the Lincoln Tunnel and then from there take the Jersey Turnpike to Mike's. Under typical circumstances this drive should take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. I decided to call my Dad to see if he had any suggestions for cutting down time, as he drives in the area frequently and, well, he is my Dad. He knows this stuff.

He strongly suggested I take the Holland Tunnel, downtown, instead of the Lincoln as it bleeds right into the Turnpike. Okay, done.

Finally ten minutes passed. I nervously put the truck in drive, and inched my way into the narrow street. Whoa! This wouldn't be easy. Though the truck drove well enough before now, with the trailer, it was astonishingly cumbersome and took wiiiiiiiiiiiide turns. I wasn't used to this, not at all. And I would have to learn how to drive it through some of the toughest conditions that could ever be: New York City rush hour!

I cut the wheel as much as possible as I turned right. I missed hitting a car parked right at the mouth of the parking lot entry by inches. Then I slowly, slowly continued on down the street, ready to make yet another right turn.

My god, this thing was a nightmare to drive. It was astonishingly slow, needed a turning radius as wide as two tennis courts, and also needed extra, extra room between it and any other cars for braking. Frickety frak!

I was nothing but nerves, Cromwell cried nonstop a foot from my right ear, every pothole jostled our valuables, and I had to watch for hyper-aggressive New York drivers at all times.

I drove down Third Avenue. Typically what I did was turn left from Third onto Flatbush Avenue, and take that to Tillary Street to the Brooklyn Bridge. This might mean nothing to you, but that's what I usually did. Now I slowly ambled down Third to Flatbush. When I got to the intersection I had a rude awakening. There was no left turn on Flatbush from Third! I am ashamed to admit it, but with the car it usually didn't matter, because I could make the turn anyway. But with this beast? No way. I had to play it safe. I drove across Flatbush, as cars honked and tried to get around me. Then I ended up near the Atlantic Center shopping plaza. I had to go right and then right again to get back on Flatbush, but there were only one way streets ... all going the wrong way! Crap. I still didn't really know how to drive this rig, and the traffic was starting to get to me.

Finally I found a two way street and started to turn. Then I realized I probably wouldn't have enough room to clear it. I got out, and checked how far into the intersection I would have to go to not hit the pole on the corner. Pretty damn far. I got back in, made a wide circular turn, slowly, as a car facing me backed up. I now realized the one advantage of driving a big rig: no one screws with you.

At the next intersection I turned right again, and was on Flatbush, at long last. I moved along at a snail-like pace, and signaled any turns for at least a few minutes before taking them. Then when I did turn into another lane I did it slowly, by degrees, so EVERYONE would know not to cut in.

I made the left at Tillary (which runs parallel to the East River) and then a right to get onto the bridge. Right before I got on the bridge a cop waved me down. No, no trucks on this bridge. What, how would I get to Manhattan? The Manhattan Bridge, he said. Oh, good grief.

I managed to pull into a side rode without hitting anything or anyone (seriously people are everywhere, and they jaywalk!), then I made a right in order get back to Flatbush Avenue, which fed directly into the Manhattan Bridge.

Okay, now you are probably asking, didn't this schmo take into account that he would need to factor in the truck before making his driving plans? The answer is, I did and I didn't. I knew the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels both allowed trucks, but I hadn't done the extra work to find out about the Brooklyn Bridge. Blame me, or blame my frantic, harried, stressed-out life. I had done so much right, but not this.

I soon learned I wasn't on a road that fed directly into Flatbush so I would have to take the long way around. Before not too long I was in the projects, hoo-ray. I must admit, I locked my doors. Fortunately I was at least somewhat familiar with these projects as they were fairly close to the Brooklyn Navy Yards, where they had brought my car, when they towed it, twice.

I knew that the roads around the projects lead, in fact, to other roads. As do most roads, I guess. I wasn't sure which ones would lead back to Flatbush, but I needed to go right, so at the first road that looked at least somewhat pothole free I made a right turn and hoped for the best. Soon the projects got small in my rear view mirror and Flatbush came into view. Yes, victory!

It was somewhat nerve-wracking to drive over the bridge. For some reason I realized that, whoa, that sure is a lot of water down there, better be careful. It's likely I thought this because I still had relatively little control over my truck and trailer. But I couldn't let myself think about this too much.

Though I drove extra slow I still made it across, and then made my way onto probably the single most traffic-clogged street in New York, and by extension the nation, Canal Street. I had no choice, as this street lead directly to the Holland Tunnel. I typically avoided Canal under the best of circumstances, which these were not, but I had to grit my teeth and deal with it.

There were cars everywhere, and drivers cut in and out at an alarming rate, though none of us went more than eight miles an hour. My strategy was to inch along and trust that no one wanted to mess with a big truck. This mostly worked.

Inside the cab the blasting AC had finally cooled it down, and Cromwell had at least stopped panting, though the meows kept up at a steady clip. I could deal with this, I said, I can deal with it.

As I got closer to the tunnel I saw a sign that said TRUCKS and had an arrow that pointed left, away from the tunnel. What? Did I qualify, or did they mean 18 wheelers? I didn't know, but I didn't feel I could risk it. I bailed out as I was about to enter the tunnel, and looked for the alternate route. Of course as soon as it was too late I saw another truck as big as mine ready to enter the tunnel right where I had bailed. As for the alternate route, there was none.

Sweet, now I would have to go around the long way, during rush hour, to get back to the most crowded street in America, in the most illogical, poorly designed, part of New York, Tribeca. Here the quaint cobble stoned streets veer off at weird angles, sometimes abruptly, and often don't lead anywhere you think they should. But they are quite picturesque.

I had no choice, I would have to bite the bullet. I started to do the drive around, Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians, making enormous, awkward turns, as the late afternoon sun beat down right into my eyes. I got on streets that lead away from where I needed to go, I got lost, but finally I saw a long street that lead into the mouth of the tunnel. It was choked with traffic, but at least it went where I needed to go. Screw it, I would wait in line.

I nosed in, and realized it would be a long, long wait. Possibly at least a half hour to go 100 yards. I turned on the radio--thanks for the instructions U-Haul!--and settled in. We crept along, which was fine by me. After the harrowing experiences of before this would do.

After we had closed half the gap I saw a bus on my right side, the kind that ferries tourists around not kids. The drive waved at me, one big vehicle to another, and he smiled. Then he proceeded to cut me off, and not only that he clipped my right side view mirror as he did so. It didn't snap, but it did get whacked totally out of alignment, making me blind on that side. I had no passengers so they couldn't readjust it, unless I put the cats to work.

I cursed him out three ways from Tuesday but mostly stewed, impotent, in my rage.

The traffic crept on, tick-tock. It was now 5:30 p.m. Where had the day gone? If I was lucky maybe I could get to Mike's by 6:45, and then we could go; a late start, yes, but not too late. God, did I really drop Randi and Stella off this morning?

Finally it was my turn to enter the tunnel. Suddenly a lady cop materialized out of thin air, and waved me to the side. Good god, what now?

She told me that while trucks were allowed they did not allow trucks with trailers. I would have to go uptown forty blocks to the Lincoln Tunnel. Of course I would!

Okay, okay, I can deal with this, I thought. I pulled over onto a little side road near the tunnel and got out. At least I could adjust my mirror back into place. I tried and tried, but no matter what I did it wasn't quite right. This was another time where having a passenger would have been an immense help. Instead of having them do it now I had to run, change it, and then go back to the seat to see if it was right. If it wasn't, and it never was, then I would try again. Eventually I got it kind of right, but only kind of.

Then I slowly crept back onto another small street, and then onto another small street, that finally lead onto the West Side Highway, which would take me past the Meatpacking District and Chelsea and to the Lincoln Tunnel.

This part was relatively event free. I was completely exhausted from nervous tension, but the drive into the Lincoln Tunnel was thankfully without event. Before not too long I was in blessed New Jersey, and finally on my way!

Of course several hours had been burned, on a day that was already tortuously long. I tried to follow Randi's advice and take it as easy as I could, while still remaining vigilant and ready for disaster. Fortunately no disaster came, for a little while.

Next Up: The Thomas Edison Memorial Service Area!

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