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W I D E   A W A K E

PA to LA: Day 1

June 1, 2003

When do you suppose did the cliché first originate? Whom do you imagine was first to speak in clichéd language—and whom was first to notice? Does the cliché date back to the time of Shakespeare? Was “there’s the rub” the 15th century equivalent of today’s “Ohh, that’s gotta hurt”? Was Conan Doyle’s popular Holmesian utterance “The game’s afoot” the “Let’s get it on!” of Victorian London?
To the writer, the cliché is the sign of immaturity, of inexperience. Both in sentence structure, dialogue, and plot, clichés are perhaps the easiest traps into which a writer can fall. Thus, when you read the sentence that follows, please understand that I am fully aware that it has been, is, and will always be a cliché. It is, however, the most straightforward summation of the events of the last day at 4344 Freeland Avenue.

Nothing ever goes as planned.
Okay, well a few things went as planned, and (pardon the cliché) in the end, everything (pardon the cliché) worked out just fine.

Perhaps the weirdest feeling about settlement is realizing at the end of the day that you are homeless. Granted, you are homeless but with a decent-sized check from having just sold a property—but you’re still homeless. And the house at 4344 Freeland was not even mine--I merely shared it with Di. Still, it’s a surreal feeling to drive past the street on which, hours earlier, you’d lived, and realize you no longer have keys to the front door, you no longer have a space to call your own, or a yard in which to barbeque. Such, however, are the effects of the choices we’ve made. And while we are both excited about the upcoming venture (and adventure), there is still a sense of loss; but it’s merely the loss of the immaterial—of walls and doors and windows and ceilings. The belongings that made the house a home remain ours, and they will no doubt find a new home, as will we, in the weeks ahead.

Which brings me to day 1 of our trip:

June 1: We leave shortly after 9:30 am on a rainy Pennsylvania morning. It has rained in Pennsylvania nearly every day during the last 30 days, so the downpour comes as no surprise. By the time we’ve sedated the pets and hit I-76, it is 10:30 a.m. The cats, Jasper & Austin, are in a makeshift domicile in the hatch-area of the Subaru. Chad, the always hyper pooch, has the back seat. Separating cats from dog is a net that spans the width of the back seat, effectively imprisoning the felines. Yet despite sedation, both cats break through the net in less than three minutes. Riding shotgun, I try to contain them, but my efforts are as useless as firefighter attempting to douse a burning building with a Dixie cup of water.

In Delaware, approximately 45 miles into the cross-country trip, we stop to fuel the Subaru and to rework the layout of animals and personal belongings and ultimately decide to place all three pets in the back seat. After 30 minutes of disharmonious meowing, the sedatives kick in and soon all pets are asleep. Traffic is light and we follow I-95 South through Delaware to Baltimore and the Fort McHenry Tunnel to northern Virginia and the Capital Beltway to Route 66 and to the Skyline Drive.

The Skyline Drive is a gorgeous road that offers picturesque views of the Shenandoah Mountains. There are dozens of areas along the route where photography buffs can capture breathtaking views and where those who simply want to stop and enjoy the views can do so. The downside to the Skyline Drive is that it’s long and its speed limit is 35 miles per hour. We lose about an hour in drive time but are rewarded by the scenery and the tranquility of nature. We exit and follow 211 to 81 South and continue the long path through Virginia toward Tennessee. I-81 is a smooth albeit creepy drive—at least through Virginia. There are countless hillsides on which groups of three crucifixes adorn the landscape. By daylight the crosses look innocent enough but as dusk approaches we are reminded of the Blair Witch Project. There are numerous churches along the interstate with huge crosses extending from the ground, some as high as six stories. Even the graffiti artists of the area seem to have been touched by the Lord our God as “Jesus Saves” appears spray painted on various overpass supports. Another sign reminds us that “Jesus is the answer” though atop this sign is pasted a second sign reading “For Lease,” leaving us to wonder if He is now offering His services on a per-miracle basis. By far the most cleaver sign we pass reads: OUR CHURCH IS FUELD BY SOULAR POWER FROM OUR SON.

The only iconography more prevalent than Jesus bumper stickers are the Confederate Flag bumper stickers and decals. By the time we reach Knoxville, the pets are wide awake—the sedatives apparently worn off. It’s nearly 1:00 a.m. before we finish dinner—bless the beasts and the Taco Bell for offering non-meat selections—and check into the Red Roof Inn, which is located next to Famous Dave’s Barbeque Ribs which, being vegetarians and having just eaten, we skip. The Red Roofed room is clean and cheap though it smells of baby powder. Di gives the pets a bit more sedative so that they (and ultimately we) can catch a few hours of sleep. I dream that we are in a movie theatre and are about to watch the new Terminator movie. The movie screen is separated by a river, the banks of which are continuously rising. The water begins to flood the seating area and we are forced to find seats further away. Eventually we sit up front, despite the water, in an area that has become a restaurant-type seating section. Dream analysis, anyone?

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