Saturday, August 16, 2008

travels with

I met my dog when he wiggled up to me in a strip mall parking lot in 1998. He was a sweet, blond puppy with a black beard and an unmistakable look of mischief in his eyes. His oily, wired hair stunk and could never be considered soft, but his face was so far to the left on the continuum of ugly that he actually qualified as the cutest thing on earth. The dog had come out of nowhere on this sticky summer day, wasn't wearing a collar, and I saw no sign of an owner. It broke my heart to walk away from him as he stared, wagging and wiggling at me from the asphalt carpark, but I managed to turn away, and entered the store.

An hour later, on my way back to the car, the scraggly puppy recognized me and clumsily ran my way. I didn't know what to do; he was clearly a stray and I couldn't just leave him there. Even though I could tell by the look in his eye that he would be a difficult dog, I'm a sucker for a sickly animal, so I ushered him into my car and took him home. Five minutes into the trip, he christened himself "Ralgh" after the action of losing ones gastric juices all over the back of a car seat and onto the leg of the really awful and evil prepubescent girl I was babysitting that day. By "ralphing" on the leg of this annoying little girl, he had beelined his way into my heart, and the rest, as Michael Jackson might say, is History.*

*Michael might also take this opportunity to say "He-e heeee! Ow!" but I'm not going to go putting words into the great man's mouth. What right have I to do that?!

Ralgh the dog has seen me through college and marriage, divorce and desolation. A year and a half ago, just weeks after the dissolution of my marriage, I was steeped in desperation and sadness. I opened my eyes one morning and spontaneously asked myself, "What will you do now, Eva?" and the answer came without thought and widened my eyes with realization: "I will travel." And that is the day that my journey began, first as concept, then as action, and next, as realization.

From the moment I made that decision, I knew that Ralgh had to remain a part of my life. I wasn't sure how I was going to do it, but I made a commitment to him that day in the parking lot, and I intend to see it through until the sad day of his death. He's not the type to travel as cargo in airplanes, so that left one option: ROAD TRIP!

Though anxious to an extent which I have never seen in a dog, Ralgh is really quite adaptable. He loves the car, maybe because he came from the streets, and he's not unique among dogs in his love of sniffing new places. I think Ralgh's going to love the Vantasy, and this trip has become as much for him as it is for me. If only I could teach him how to help me pack up boxes and fix RV refrigerators (He-e heee! Ow!).

Ralgh's nearing the old age of 11 years, now, and I've noticed him slowing down. He spends most of his time sleeping, and sometimes there's no trace of that mischeivous energy in his eyes. It's been replaced with... complacency. I might go as far as saying... peace? He still has his crazy moments, but he's slowing, and it's sad and scary for me to see. I let him off his leash last weekend at the coast and he ranandranandran, and afterwords he squinted, stumbled, and looked like he was having some sort of cardiac episode. I was sure he was going to die. I pleaded with him to walk a little bit, he complied, and after about five minutes or so he seemed fatigued, but better. I'm still not sure what happened.

The episode threw me into an unexpected depression. I want to be self-sufficient on the road, but I cannot, CAN NOT handle the death of my dog all by myself out there with no support. And I want him to live the Vantasy with me; this is his trip too. And what about protecting myself in the middle of nowhere? That's Ralgh's job, which he accepts enthusiastically. I can't lose him. He's all I have. I'm terrified.

But we can only press on. We'll prepare. We'll go to the vet this week. We'll start jogging together in the mornings, slowly, a block at a time. We'll take our evenings easy, and enjoy whatever time we have left together. And I'll let go of control, learn that the fates are out of my hands, and that whatever happens will be right.

"A journey has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness... All plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us... In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it."

- John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charley, an account of his journey across America with his French poodle.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pane Fetish

To be absolutely fair to myself, the Vanta C was the first car I've ever purchased. Growing up a stone's throw from the Motor City, and with two older car-crazy brothers meant that there was always a hand-me-down car coming my way. My last car was a 1995 Ford Escort, which made its way to me via my mom, who got it from my oldest brother after he'd grown tired of it, and who then passed it on to my other brother until he joined the Army and left home. As if on cue, I returned from overseas, car-less, and the rest was history. The Escort needed me, I needed it, and I became the fourth person in my family to call it her own.

RIP Escort 1995- 2008

Before the Escort was the Skylark, handed down. Before that was the Taurus, handed down. You get the picture; I've coasted through life, never scouring the classifieds for a set of wheels, never setting foot on a used car lot, never negotiating bank loans, never dealing with Car Salesmen, and never being treated like a woman who was trying to buy a car. So, for the sake of fairness to myself, I can blame my complete inability to make an informed auto-buying decision on my cushy life of tossed-off rides. To be even MORE fair, my van is not only an automobile, but also an RV, complete with appliances and plumbing. So, essentially, this purchase also makes me a first-time homeowner.

So, I can cut myself a little slack on the moment of stupidity which occurred the first time I met my Vanta C. Blinded by her towering stature, loft bed, and kitchen, I couldn't think rationally. I WANTED HER! And I wanted to ignore the millions of red flags trying to warn me that she was going to be a load of trouble. I made the classic inexperienced car-buyer's mistake: I believed what the sellers told me.

For example, a light blue piece of metal covered one of the windows on the back cargo door. It had been bolted to the van, right over the window. When I asked why it was there, Dishonestladyseller told me that she liked her privacy when using the toilet, so she convinced her husband, Dishonestmanseller, to cover the window. Inside, the window was covered in curtains, and plastic tinting gels... I didn't get a good look (YES! One of my stupider moments!) until two months later when I decided to wash all the curtains, and... wait a damned minute! There's no window at all! Just a gasket clinging to the last few remaining class shards and a piece of cellophane duct taped to it.

And so it was...

To Do:
Replace glass in back door.

1. Complain about it for a week.
2. Talk to friends, who advise me to go to a junkyard for the glass.
3. Go to "U-pull-it" junkyard, pretend I'm a junkyard princess and I have millions of glistening cars.
4. Find a window that fits!
5. Stare at window for a long time trying to figure out how to remove it from the van it's currently in.
6. Walk down the different rows of cars, say hi to my subjects (I am their princess, after all.).
7. Return to the window, glare at it. It doesn't care.
8. Call my amazing car-loving brother (who's also a damned fine mechanic), who tells me to just take it to a glass shop and have them do it right.
9. Go to glass shop. Action Auto Glass! Glass guys tell me my window isn't made anymore so I need to go find one at... wait for it... A JUNKYARD!
10. Make some calls, find a junkyard who will pull it for me. Buy the window over the phone, agree to pick it up Monday. Action Auto Glass says they'll install it for free!
11. Junkyard calls on Saturday, says they broke my window, but have a different (BETTER) one that they'll give me for the same price.
12. Tuesday I pick up my bubblewrapped old junkyard window and take it to Action Auto Glass!
13. Action Auto Glass breaks my window! For free! They tell me it was the wrong window and I need to go back to the junkyard and order the right one.
14. Junkyard doesn't have any more.
15. Cry, and have big breakdown right before work because I'm back to square one after spending three days and $50.
16. Try not to throw iPhone at the wall because it says "NO SERVICE" even though I'm in the middle of a city, and I need to call more junkyards.
17. Cry. Need a nap but can't take one because I have to work. Be thankful for waterproof mascara.
18. Buy a Frappucino cause I'm sad and I want to eat chocolate.
19. Complain for two more days.
20. Return to "U-Pull-It" with my boyfriend's mom and dad in tow for support and guidance. Wave to my subjects again.
21. Glare once again at the window, wield an exacto knife, and go to town on the rubber gasket holding it in the van. Take turns cutting and ripping, pulling and pushing.
22. Ten minutes later, pay $27 for a dirty old window which isn't broken, triumphantly leave "U-Pull-It" while celebrating this small victory.

As I type, my victory glass rests safely against the couch in my living room. But if there's one thing I've learned during these testing preparations, it's not to count my chickens before they've hatched. I still can't tick this item off my To-Do list, and I still have a chunk of metal covering the hole in the back door, but I got my glass! And I've realized that even though I haven't hit the road just yet, my journey has begun. This is what I wanted: the chance to be radically self-reliant. To push myself, to learn about cars, to know that the problems I encounter along the way can be overcome, and I'll be a better person because of them. I want to experience pain (pane?), because I know deep down inside myself that the moments when I'm experiencing the most discomfort are the moments of the most growth.


Friday, August 8, 2008

this post is like an onion.

Lately I've been repeatedly hearing everything being compared to an onion. Love is like an onion, because it has many layers and it can make you cry. And it can stink. Truth is like an onion. The presidential election? Onion. Big Macs? Onion. Difficult choice? Onion. Since hearing this, I can't help but walk through my days, comparing various aspects of my life to the gas-inducing staple of American cooking.

Comparing my life to an onion simplifies things a bit. Take preparation for my Vantasy, which is slated to begin on August 24th. There have been lists, erased lists, relisted lists, unlisted lists, and things that defy listing. Then there are errands combined with ever-changing lists of how to run 'em. Nothing can be accomplished in one step, and entire days are spent running around, getting nothing done. For example,

To Do:
Get bike rack

1. Call guy from craigslist about $25 hitch-mounted bike rack.
2. Wait for guy to call back and tell you it has already been sold.
3. Look again on craigslist, find another bike rack that is cheaper than new, but not cheap enough to merit dealing with a potentially creepy craigslist user.
4. Decide that going to "Rack Attack" to buy a new bike rack is a better, though more expensive, option.
5. Go to Rack Attack, and think about how the name reminds me of those girls with the lethal boobs in Austin Powers.
6. Discover that spare tire is in the way, and hitch-mounted bike rack won't fit.
7. Leave Rack Attack without bike rack.
8. Consider ladder-mounted bike rack, do internet research and discover that they are pieces of shit.
9. Drive around in confusion for two days and decide to strap spare tire to the roof, so hitch-mounted bike rack will fit.
9. Buy straps and a cover for the spare tire.
10. Return to "Rack Attack" for hitch-mounted bike rack and pinlock.
11. Decide that it totally would have been worth it to just get that one that I saw on craigslist a week ago, but at least it's done now.
12. Install tire on roof, and rack on van. Cry because it's hard. Hope that neither fall off.

Spending my days running around, trying to get my van ready often leaves me in a heap on the floor, trying not to cry, terrified that if I can't even prepare for my trip, I'll never have what it takes to actually go. I stare at my take-out burrito from the place across the street that I only go to in the case of total meltdown food emergency, and my stomach turns with that special brand of anxiety reserved for the totally overwhelmed. I have a shattered window, a gas tank malfunction, a broken refrigerator, a leaking valve near the water heater which sprays water all over the van floor, an apartment to move out of, a couch to get rid of, friends to say bye to, things to take to Goodwill, and I'm still not sure if the roof leak is fixed.

And just when I'm about to cry, I think of the onion. Comparing the bazillion things I have to do to the layers of an onion somehow makes them more benign. It's okay if it makes me cry; I'll just start peeling one layer at a time.

And if that doesn't work, I'll make a damn stir fry.