Friday September 12, 2014

Thirty Years Ago This Month

Thirty years ago this month (Sept 1984), we packed everything into a 24-ft U-Haul truck with a VW camper minibus on a tow bar, and drove across the country from Fort Washington, Maryland, to Walnut Creek, California (2830 miles).

The original plan was to rent a house (owned by a friend who was moving to Hawaii for a few years) in Walnut Creek. However, the night before we got into the truck to drive west, we received a phone call. The house had been sold (surprise!). We could stay one night in that house when we arrived and the friend put us in touch with a real estate agent to help us find a different house to rent.

The trip wasn't bad, not really, but you could say that the phone call the night before we started rather set the tone.

We had friends helping us pack the truck. One of them helpfully packed a particular small suitcase in the very first load, way up in the most inaccessible part of the truck. That suitcase contained, among other things, our maps... (i.e. it was one of the few items I wanted to be able to have at hand during the trip). Oops.

We had to stop a few times as we drove out of Maryland to re-configure the tow-bar before we got it right. (It was a cheap adjustable tow bar and we didn't receive very good instructions on how to use it. It kept slipping from a triangle shape to a straight line.)

Then, the wheel bearings in one of the VW's wheels froze up and started to smoke when the wheel stopped turning. We were lucky to find a VW mechanic in the next town. The mechanic was fascinated by the melted-together wheel bearings ("Hey, Fred, wouldya look at this? I ain't never seen nothin' like this before!"). He didn't overcharge us and we let him keep his new "paperweight".

We stayed at a few KOA campgrounds, each easily visible from the freeway but 10 miles or more of driving to actually reach. (Weird.) We varied by also staying at Motel 6 or the equivalent. You really can't go wrong with indoor plumbing.

We caravanned for part of the trip with a friend who was moving to Colorado. At one point, our friend got off the road at a small rural exit in Pennsylvania. (Why? We never did know). We followed, so as not to lose her, with me muttering about rural side roads in Pennsylvania not necessarily ever coming back to the highway and would this road be large enough for the truck... The road went over a one-lane bridge at one point; our truck fit side-to-side and we were luckily under the weight limit but the muttering got a lot louder.

After that experience, at the next major exit with a shopping center, we purchased a pair of CB radios (this being 1984). The next time our friend drove down an exit on her own, we pulled over to the side and called to say "Hello. What were you thinking?" and "We'll just wait for you to come back to the freeway."

After Nebraska, our friend turned south, to Colorado, and we stayed on I-80 into Wyoming. Shortly after that, our truck's emergency brake started to slip. There are a lot of hills in Wyoming! Oddly, our most difficult experience was parking overnight in a motel parking lot were we needed to find a long enough, flat enough, space to park the truck. By the time we were driving south through Nevada toward California, we were used to navigating a truck with no useful emergency brake.

Interstate 80 was under construction through Salt Lake City, Utah, with gravel the size of golfballs in the road bed. That was a lot of "fun" in a 24-ft U-Haul truck towing a VW minibus. (Rumppeta rumppeta rumppeta...)

We had stopped at an information kiosk along the freeway somewhere before Utah to ask "What's the road like ahead? Anything we need to know?" but, apparently, they hadn't thought the road work was worth mentioning. (We did notice the suspicious absence of commercial 18-wheelers, so obviously some people knew about the construction and had detoured around it.)

The SLC airport is very near the interstate. I swear I could count the antennae on the underside of the plane that went over. That part of the trip gave the phrase "Watch for low-flying aircraft" a new meaning...

When we reached the California border, we were asked if we were bringing any "lawn furniture or anything that had been outs doors" into the state. We were; we had a redwood hot tub in the back **. Partway into the trip, we had set off several "bug bombs" in the U-Haul truck, so we could say "we fumigated the truck". The border patrol opened the back, took a sniff, gagged slightly, closed the doors and said "Welcome to California."

** Note: a dry redwood hot tub makes a great packing crate for computers and monitors, especially when padded with a 6-ft diameter pouf.

Then it was south on I80, past Vacaville, the Nut Tree, and the onion fields (mmmmmmm; I want a hot dog), and into Walnut Creek to find the house where we would spend one night. The next day we met the realtor and found a house we could rent for a few months.

A few days later, I had a job interview (scheduled before we left Maryland) which resulted in a job offer. I started working in South San Francisco (40 miles away on a multi-lane freeway with lots of traffic through a tunnel and over a toll bridge) the following Monday. I took a van pool four days a week and drove in, after lunch, on Wednesdays.

I also started looking for rental housing on the Peninsula after work on Wednesdays and we moved to a rented house in Pacifica over the 1984 Christmas holiday week. Three and a half years later, we moved out of that house to a home we bought in San Bruno. We've been there ever since.

When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, I always wanted to visit California, especially San Francisco. My sister and I took a trip to California, by train, the summer after I graduated from college and she graduated from high school. We spent several days each in Los Angeles (with a side of Disneyland), and San Francisco. I fell in love with San Francisco.

I went to grad school in Maryland, where I met my sweetie, Rich. When Rich suggested a move to California after I got my MS ("You'll be looking for a job. Why not look in the Bay Area?"), I thought that was a pretty good idea.

30 years later, I still think it was a very good idea. I love where we live.

Aerial photo

Thirty Years Ago This Month ( in category Retrospectoscope ) - posted at Fri, 12 Sep, 20:47 Pacific | «e»

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