The Trip From Hell
Nashville, TN When Don and Diane first arrived in Hayward in 1986 it was raining, so it was fitting that it was raining as they pulled away from 641 Sunset at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, June 29th 4 days behind schedule for the long move to Nashville, Tennessee.
Don drove the big, ugly '66 Chevy dual-rear wheeled step-van. Diane followed in the Isuzu pickup pulling a 5 x 8 open trailer. Eastbound on Highway 580 and south on I-5 they had to stop a couple times to fix a dangling chain, secure a blue tarp. The step-van had horribly loose steering, due to being over- and/or unevenly loaded, and Don found it difficult staying in his lane. He swerved out of the center of his lane with every pothole or gust of wind from each passing truck. It was fishtailing like a boat. It was going to be a long trip.
After gassing up on I-5 just north of the Los Banos turn-off, Don checked the oil in the step-van and, driving away, noticed that it seemed to running on only 5 of its 6 cylinders. This caused the California emigrants to change course east toward Highway 99 through Los Banos in search of an auto parts store, rather than continue south on I-5 to Highway 158 as they had planned. (This proved to be a very fortuitous course change.)
Prior to the start of the trip, Don had fixed the truck's headlights and turn signal wiring, replace the battery, put in a new starter motor, and changed the oil. So it was a relatively simple matter to lift off the motor cover and check the condition of the spark plugs. All looked good except for the first one, which appeared not to have firing. Don replaced it (in the wild hope that it would do some good) and, while securing the spark plug wire, noticed that it had invisibly come loose from its socket (probably when he had checked the oil at the last stop, inadvertently pulling on the wire with the dip stick). Sure enough, the problem was fixed, and they continued east toward Fresno.
At a truck stop on 99 just south of Fresno, they gassed up again, and Don noticed that one of the rear tires was flat the outside right. They fixed the tire, and Don and Diane were soon (it takes at least 30 minutes to change a truck ire) driving away, with the advice that their newly patched but partially rotted tube would probably not hold very long, and that they should buy a new tube and flap at the first opportunity. It was about 9:00 p.m.m, so they pulled into a Traveller's Inn for the night, where the cats were happy to get out of their carriers, but not too thrilled about being in a strange hotel room.
The next morning, Don found a tire store that carried the hard-to-find 18" tube that the step-van needed. Continuing their journey down 99 and planning to stop at the next truck stop and have the new tube installed, Don had a blow-out on that same right rear tire. Since it's a dual-real wheeler, he was able to drive slowly to a place that fixes truck tires, about 5 or =190 miles down the road. Unfortunately, the 18-inch tire they now needed was only available where Don had bought the new tube. So Don left Diane and the cats with the step-van, while he back-tracked 15 minutes north into Fresno in the pickup to buy a tire. $100. Ouch!
After the new tire and tube were installed, Don tried staring the step-van, but only got a dead "click." The brand new battery was dead. They got a jump start and drove to a Nap auto parts store in some small town south of Fresno where Don bought a new (rebuilt) alternator for $26. It turned out, however, that it was only a broke wire at the alternator, so he didn't have to install the new alternator, just had to fix the broken wire problem and get the battery charged, which took an hour or so. (Better keep the alternator, though, just in case.)
Soon they were headed south on 99 again when, suddenly, a loud noise came from the back of the truck. The inside right rear tire had lost a big strip of its tread. They limped to a gas station and got directions to a place in Pixley run by a couple of Okies who changed truck tires.
It was now almost 5:00 p.m. Don located a Firestone store in Tulare (some 20 minutes north) that had the 18-inch tire and was open 'til 5:30. So, once again, Don left the cats and Diane (and a .25-caliber automatic) with the step-van while he took the Isuzu to Tulare to buy a second tire, tube and flap. When he showed up at the Okie shop with the tire, the owner said, "Oh, you got a new one!" Since the going rate for changing a truck tire was $15, the Okies charged $25, plus $5 for disposing of the old tire ... "seein' how ever'body else is closed and y'all is able to afford a new tire and all ..." (They didn't really say that).
By 6:30 p.m., Don and Diane were again headed south on 99.
Being a full day behind schedule, they decided to keep driving through the night. Also, the cooler night air would be easier on the cats, not to mention the tires of the overladen step-van. Cutting 4east near Bakersfield onto 158, they headed toward Barstow and I-40. There were no more breakdowns, and by 8:30 a.m., July 1st, they were pulling into a Motel6 in Kingman, Arizona, where they took a room for the day. At about 9:00 at night, again driving all night (on horrible Arizona roads) they managed to make Albuquerque, a dirty industrial city, by the following morning, where they slept in a Motel6 for the day. There, Diane broke a contact lens and was forced to the rest of the drive without any depth perception. At about 9:00 p.m.m, they resumed their journey eastward on I-40 toward Texas. Somewhere just past the mountains east of Albuquerque, the air turned from dry to humid and the accents turned southern. They were now in the South.
Oklahoma City was the next motel stop. Oklahoma, as you might guess, is populated largely with Okies, who didn't seem all that friendly, so Don and Diane were glad when they made it into Arkansas the next night. Around 3 a.m.m, don, having been relentlessly pushed onward by Diane for 3 nights running, needed just a quick rest, so they pulled into a rest area near the town of Ozark in the Ozark Mountains. Spookiest place they'd ever been. The hills have eyes! They were quickly pressing on toward Little Rock, Bill Clinton's town.
The sun was up by the time they pulled into Little Rock for gas. A beautiful place! Don, inexplicably, felt like he was home. The humid Southern air, the horse pastures, the accents, the spooky, deep green forests. It all seemed familiar and right.
On the morning of July 4th, they pulled into an EconoLodge in Memphis, where they spent the day and night, since they weren't allowed to move into their Nashville apartment until the 5th due to the office closed for the 4th of July. That night, it rained for the first time since California, but Don and Diane, exhausted, slept through it, oblivious to the thunder, lightning and flooding that made all the newspapers out West. The rainy drive to Nashville the morning of the 5th was blissfully uneventful, and Don and Diane finally set foot in their new home, a 1-bedroom apartment in a luxury yuppies complex, at around 2:30 p.m.m The "trip from hell" was over.
Two days later, Don was noticing he had just alight southern drawl, the calluses from his 7-day death grip on the steering wheel were starting to go down, and he was still more exhausted than he'd ever been in his life.
Warning to Lucy, Jeannie, Tiffany, John, Bill and all other horse people: Stay out of the South. You will not want to leave!