Crossing America Without Two Cats and a Dog
3/13/13 And so we set off on our second cross country drive in two months. My sweetheart set up a navigable home, then flew back to Tampa while I unpacked (very little), spent time with dear friends and returned to my job in the Pacific Northwest. Of course we spent most of our time on the phone, e-mailing and sending each other lovelorn cards, but we survived the separation, found a great cat/dog sitter and soon it was my turn to fly to Tampa, incredulous at our continuing odyssey.
Without our little darlings meowling, barking and barfing up kibble in strange motel rooms, we were free to see some of our friends along the way. Becky Arbogast, of Bella Books and the old Naiad Press, and her partner, author Robin Alexander, met us for dinner. It turned from a get together to a boisterous hoopla event when Becky’s mom and friend joined us for some tasty Tallahassee grub.
3/14/13 We drove to Metairie, Louisiana, tossed our essentials into the motel room and splurged on a taxi into New Orleans. Our driver was from Pakistan, and regaled us with tales of Mardi Gras shootings. The writers J.M. Redmann and Greg Herren, after full days of work, kindly agreed to meet us at The Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro on Frenchmen Street in the heart of the blues and jazz Marigny district. Missing our kitties, we stopped at The Spotted Cat Music Club and discovered a marvelous retro mix of Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald in Miss Sophie Lee and her band, The New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings. If you can’t get to NOLA, buy her CD “Tallulah Moon.” The Snug Harbor boasted the best cheeseburgers in town, but I tried blackened redfish and ascended to culinary heaven. My sweetheart, who is thrilled by Nola’s open container policy, imbibed some of a Hurricane and a bowl of gumbo. While a jazz quintet provided the mood music, we talked shop with J.M. and Greg, sister Bold Strokes Books authors. Greg drove us home in an interesting jalopy only a New Orleans writer could love.
3/15/13 It would have been hard to beat those two gay literary America nights and we didn’t. We got stuck in Louisiana road construction: swamp and more swamp for hours and hours. Our motel’s internet had been down that morning, probably with a major NOLA hangover, so we had no motel reservation. Out of swamplandia at last, we chose a Denny’s for its wi-fi, but, alas, that had been eaten by an alligator or sunk in quicksand. After a meal that didn’t quite measure up to Snug Harbor fare, we discovered that our three-month old GPS, Mrs. Bundt III, after her last ill-fated trip through Texas, had gone on strike.
Next up was Columbus, Texas, where we had been stuck with a flat tire for two days over New Years. We were reluctant return, but it was getting really dark by now. My phone gave us some numbers and we called them all. Every goddess-forsaken motel was full to the brim with – who? What were all these people doing in Columbus? We were flabbergasted, as well as homeless. One place said they were booked for a wedding. But the rest? Was the town having its annual Great Tumbleweed Contest? Gay Cow Festival? Then we got lost. We almost squabbled until we found an open convenience store. He didn’t know why anyone would stay in Columbus either, but he directed us out of town, without even calling me sir. I guess I needed a haircut.
Finally we spotted, ahoy!, the Weimar, Texas, Days Inn. The first sign of trouble was the cards on the desk which read “Scottish Inn,” not Days Inn. The new owners hadn’t gotten around to changing the sign. Or anything else. There was a scribbled warning on the elevator: “Out of Order,” The clerk told us that people used it anyway. My sweetheart said, (sotto voce) “And they were never seen again.” She later sang lines from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” like, “You can check out anytime, but you can never leave.”
There’s more. Both beds were concave. No exaggeration, they dipped so far into in the middle they must have rested on the frames, if there were frames. I thought my sweetheart was going to barf at the sight of the rug. She said the stains were like something out of the film “The Shining.” We looked at the bathroom. She guessed they bought the whole room from a salvage yard, almost intact. The fixtures were rusted, the tub was missing large patches of enamel. Needless to say, cleaning was not in the owners’ vocabulary. “House of horrors!” cried my sweetheart as we fled back to I-10.
We spent the night in Flatonia, Texas. My sweetheart wisely asked to see the room first. It was dark enough to hide any faults so we collapsed for the night. Or my sweetheart did. After she fell asleep, I spotted a small bug on the blanket over her leg. I’d checked the bed for bugs, honest. After our last stop, though, I panicked. I grabbed my tablet and frantically researched the sizes, shapes and genealogy of bed bugs. I studied the one I’d put out of its bedbug misery. I woke my sweetheart and told her I wasn’t positive what the critter was, but we had to leave. She mumbled something that sounded like she wasn’t waking up and leaving that bed if I found a giant mutant Texas Horned Lizard in the room.
I sat shotgun for the next two hours, scanning the bed for anything that moved. Slowly, suspiciously, I let myself read a few pages on my Kindle, scanned the bed again, checked under the mattress again, read a few more pages, imagined a rifle resting across my knees, loaded for bug.
We were a mere third of the way home.