Thursday, November 26, 2009

Train Now Leaving on Track Five!

My first escape from Ogden, Utah came in the form of a car accident. Or the proceeds of a car accident, anyway. When the insurance adjuster handed me that big (ish), bad (ish) check, I made the (insane) decision to grab my then boyfriend (now husband), our too many cats, and pack it all up for California.

That’s Cal-ee-four-ny-ay!

Not really understanding that there were other truck rental choices out there, we went with that orange and white disaster we all know and despise, U-Haul.

Because we were moving, in effect, two households, we snagged a 26 foot monstrosity of a truck that handled like—well, like a 26 foot truck. Tacked onto the tail-end was a 17 foot auto transport for my newly put-back-together and freshly painted 1973 Mustang.

My joy.

According to U-Haul, a move from Ogden, Utah to Los Angeles, California should take, load to unload, five days. In some universes, that may actually be possible. Not so much in ours. In fact, by the time we hit the road, we were three days into that five day rental. No, we didn’t have an apartment lined up or any sort of employment planned. Ah, yes, those heady days before parenthood. I get all reflux-y just thinking about it today.

Aside from a back-and-fill disaster in a really bad part of Vegas, our U-Haul experience was surprisingly trouble-free . . . until that famous killer of moving trucks, Cajon Pass. It was there our truck decided that gears are for wimps. In fact, it decided it had only two gears—reverse, and a rather sad first gear that topped out at a whining 15 mph. Yes, even downhill on Cajon, 15 mph was our maximum speed.

Have you ever driven rush hour freeway in SoCal at 15 mph? We didn’t dare establish eye contact with our fellow highway-mates for fear of being shot. No, I’m not joking. Californians take their freeway speed very seriously.

Not wanting to be stuck on the side of a busy interstate, we decided to take the first likely exit to come our way. It only took us about an HOUR to get there (at 15 mph): Rancho Cucamonga.

Rancho Cucamonga, did I say?

Yes. Yes I did. And until that very moment, I had spent my life believing that Rancho Cucamonga was a creation of Looney Toons. You remember, don’t you? “All aboard! Train now leaving on track five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc... amonga!" Almost immediately, I realized that the make-believe Rancho Cucamonga was bisected by the equally mythic Route 66. I had that momentary, “Oh, hell, I’ve wound up in another David Lynch movie” feeling as Tommy hung that right turn and put us smack in the middle of . . . not a lot.

No, not a lot. In fact, it took us half an hour (at 15 miles per) to find a gas station. Apparently, Rancho Cucamonga doesn’t believe in gas stations. They also, we discovered, don’t believe in pay phones with return numbers. I guess that’s to discourage the bangers and drug dealers. Unfortunately, it also discourages U-Haul’s customer service folks, who refuse to deal with anyone who can’t provide a return number. We wound up having to call someone back in Ogden to act as go-between for us. No, the gas station basta—uh—clerk (ahem) wouldn’t let us use his phone, either. But we managed to bypass the hassles and wheedle a third-person promise from U-Haul that someone would be “right there.”

Four hours? Yeah, that sounds about right. Four hours stewing on the grass, dying for a bathroom (yes, that same phone-denying "clerk" wouldn't let us use the restrooms, either). And when the magical tow truck from U-Haul DID show up, it was . . . itsy? We had a 26 foot truck with a 17 foot auto transport, and they sent a converted Ford Bronco to tow it? Hello?


More wrangling, more hassling third-person, and we’re told, once again, that they’ll be “right there.” Mmm. We weren’t nearly so impatient this time around—we knew what to expect, wait-wise. We walked over to a Jiffy Lube and used THEIR restrooms. About an hour into our new wait, as it became dark, there was a shout from the gas station and a teenage boy ran out at top speed, right toward . . . my CAR. My freshly painted, gorgeous Mustang up on her auto transport trailer. The kid leaped up on the trailer, planted a hand in the middle of the hood, and vaulted over. Forgetting that I was in Southern California, I launched myself from the grass and gave chase, shouting, “Hey, you #$@!, that’s my @#@! CAR! You %$@# up my car I'll take it out of your @#$!"

Stupid is as stupid is, right?

The kid was caught (trapped between us and the basta--clerk from the gas station), the car un-dinged, and no one got shot. Sadly, none of the ugly possibilities had gone through my mind as I dashed after our young shoplifter. That’s the crazy thing about traumatic brain injuries—sometimes they do a real number on impulse control and the like. Heck, sometimes it's so bad you toss all your stuff in a U-Haul and take off with no real plan.

Now, I know this all sounds terrifically UN-lucky, but that’s not the case at all! See, the new, big, wowser tow truck came and the driver/mechanic (who, upon learning were were homeless, slipped us a business card for the apartment complex he lived in) determined that the truck was utterly unbailable. That being the case, they dragged the whole mess to their tow yard (in Rialto, another fictional place), then helped us unload the car and place the contents (for free) in one of their locking storage sheds.

They then informed us that, because of the mechanical failure, they would hold onto our stuff for as long as it took us to find a place, and then drag the broken-down disaster to our new place at our convenience for unloading. Oh, and they’d pay for our hotel room, too. That took us from “oh, hell, we only have until tomorrow morning to find a place, unload the truck, and get it back before the 10 am deadline” to taking a few days to find a place with no time limit and no additional charges. So the breakdown wasn’t bad luck at all! In fact, it bailed our sorry behinds!

Funny thing is, after a few days of apartment hunting, we wound up calling the number on the tow-truck driver's card, and two days later we were moving in . . . U-Haul delivered as promised, and picked up as promised when we’d finished unloading. Were we in Los Angeles, our original destination, our dream? Nope. In fact, we never made it anywhere near. We were in Fontana (often called Fontucky, and for good reason), a good 45 miles east of L.A.

But we DID manage to get our kicks on Route 66 every time we headed to L.A., the beaches, Hollywood, or really anyplace worth going. And th-th-th-that's what it's ALL about, folks!

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