Friday, March 13, 2009

California, here we come...

Today, Friday the 13th, we:

Drove as much above 80 mph (the legal speed limit) as we safely could to get out of Texas.

Saw the sun shine for the first time in four days as we crossed into New Mexico ("the land of enchantment"). Were planning to jump from the car and kiss the earth in gratitude until we saw the "beware of rattlesnakes" sign.

Crossed the Rio Grande.

Drove along the Mexican border and went through the border patrol, sure that we were going to be made to stop and unload the entire car and all three cats (or, at the very least, that Lulu would do something to cast immediate suspicion on us). Thankfully, we passed. (But the car in front of us did not!)

Visited Las Cruces, New Mexico, and historic Mesilla (, where Billy the Kid was once imprisoned and sentenced to hang (before he escaped). Stopped in at a shop called Lulu and at a quaint little bookstore where Jennifer bought every book she could carry on Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and outlaws of the Old West.

Went to Cracker Barrel and purchased four more bags of chocolate malted milk balls. When the cashier told Jennifer he would like to come along on the trip, she said, "Good luck finding a place in the car. If you can find one, you can come."

Saw the ghost town of Shakespeare, New Mexico, just outside of Lordsburg (

Toured famous roadside attraction The Thing? ( Highlights: a vintage Rolls Royce rumored to have been driven by Hitler, thousands of pieces of driftwood art, and the Thing itself-- which appears to be some sort of ancient mummy. Penny equated it to walking through a really funny nightmare. Afterward, we enjoyed browsing in the gift shop, where Jennifer bought some official The Thing? souvenirs.

Enjoyed a quiet day from Lulu, but had to help Rumi through a meltdown, as he suddenly made up his mind that he was done road tripping. He had to ride the last forty miles sitting on Penny's lap in his cat carrier.

Continued to give thanks that we were out of Texas. Enjoyed the scenery of New Mexico and Arizona, both of which were beautiful. Or, at least, not endlessly, mindnumbingly ugly.

Stopped for the night at the only hotel in Buckeye, Arizona, along with every trucker traveling the I-20.

Tomorrow we reach California and 5436 Harold Way...

Still Trapped in Texas

Day Three. Thursday, March 12, 2009.

9:00 am: Jennifer and Penny attempt to dress for Arctic-like conditions that followed the Texas typhoon. Jennifer was attired in layers of sundresses.

10:00 am: Loaded cats on luggage cart with our various possessions. Wheeled two polite cats and one howling cat through lobby. Pretended we did not know howling cat but had trapped him upstairs in hotel and felt compelled to rescue him and give him a good home.

10:15 am: Began loading car.

10:55 am: Finished loading car. Drove immediately to Wal-mart to buy cat litter and chocolate donettes. Jennifer pumped more gas.

11:00 am: Continued driving through West Texas. (Quite possibly the ugliest place on earth.) Passed through Clyde, Texas: "If we were any tougher, we'd be making license plates." And Stanton, Texas: "Home to 3000 friendly people and a handful of soreheads."

12:30 pm: Lulu unzipped Rumi's cat carrier and let him out. Because of Rumi getting out, we had to go to the Exxon station in Cisco, Texas, and put him back into his carrier (and also buy more road snacks).

12:40 pm: Back on the interstate.

1:00 pm: Lulu climbed to back of car, opened dry food container, and had herself a snack.

Sometime after: Managed to ride 87 miles from Cisco to Sweetwater without incident.

2:30 pm: Arrived at WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) Museum in Sweetwater, Texas (home of the World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up). Town still shrouded in ice from last night's ice storm.

3:00 pm: Headed for Pecos, Texas (home of the world's first rodeo), to spend the night. Continued driving through West Texas.

6:15 pm: Arrived in Pecos. Quickly abandoned the idea of spending the night in Pecos.

6:20 pm: Back on interstate. Just when we thought we couldn't bear the sight of one more bleak, barren landscape, mountains arose miraculously in the distance. Jennifer and Lulu drove as fast as possible toward the mountains and the sunset.

9:00 pm: Officially left West Texas and arrived in Van Horn, Texas (population 2000. Hotels: 10, due to all the local scenic attractions).

12:00 am: Two Nivens and three cats enjoyed a good night's sleep, knowing that Friday would bring at last New Mexico, Arizona, and possibly California.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Trapped in Texas

Wednesday, March 11, 2009--

8:30 am: Begin to pack car.

11:00 am: Finished packing car. Departed Monroe, Louisiana, for Sweetwater, Texas.

11:04 am: Stopped in Wal-Mart to buy the following-- a USB cable for my phone; disposable litter boxes for cats; a cat carrier that Lulu can't unzip, unfasten, or otherwise let herself out of. (None of which we found.)

11:15 am: Jennifer actually pumped her own gas.

11:19 am: Back on I-20, headed for Texas.

12:30 pm: Arrive in Gibsland--daffodil capital of Louisiana--to visit the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum and death site. Only to find that the museum was closed for the day because the museum director had a doctor's appointment.

12:35 pm: Visited the Authentic Bonnie and Clyde Museum, right next door to the Ambush Museum.

12:40 pm: Made reservation at La Quinta Inn in Sweetwater, Texas, (where I was planning to do research on a new novel), and were informed that tomorrow is the 51st Annual Sweetwater Jaycees World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-Up. (

12:45 pm: Back on the interstate looking for Targets and Cracker Barrels.

Sometime in the early afternoon: Stopped at Cracker Barrel to buy four bags of malted milk balls.

Ten minutes later: We entered Texas and it started to rain and the temperature dropped 35 degrees. (Apparently there's been a drought in Texas and they desperately need this rain. We think they could have waited at least till Friday.) (For the record, cats do not like rain or windshield wipers or passing trucks.)

Several hours later: We can hardly see for the rain. Still looking for Targets. Found a PetSmart and Office Depot and stopped to buy USB cable (so we can post these pictures. You better enjoy every one of them.), pink maximum security cat carrier, and litter boxes. While Penny stays in the car to keep Lulu from escaping (the boy cats are too terrified of the rain and the windshield wipers to even think about getting away), Jennifer fights through monsoon-like conditions to reach Office Depot and PetSmart. She returns to car 30 minutes later, completely drenched with umbrella blown inside out, triumphantly clutching a USB device and a pink maximum security cat carrier. We return to the interstate.

Five minutes later: Wind and rain accelerate to hurricane force. We begin to doubt that we can drive the remaining 240 miles to Sweetwater and we despair that we would ever get out of Texas.

Ten minutes later: We reluctantly decide to take shelter at the La Quinta Inn in Weatherford, Texas, where Jennifer assembles industrial strength pink cat carrier in front seat of overstuffed Beetle while Penny--hair askew, clothes bedraggled--makes her way in to plead for shelter from the storm. Along with every other traveler on the I-20.

Two minutes later: We load half the car on to two separate luggage carts, including Satchmo (who begins howling and growling at the top of his lungs, terrifying children and adults huddled in the lobby), Rumi (trembling quietly), and Lulu (trying to take the hinges off her new cat carrier).

Fifteen minutes later: Penny carries on brief flirtation in elevator with robust but elderly gentleman who assists with the luggage cart which is careening wildly out of control due to being excessively overloaded.

Bedtime: Still raining. We reconfigure our trip plans, figuring out that we will need to travel 14-15 hours each of the remaining days in order to make it to LA by Saturday. Basically, we're hoping to get out of Texas by Easter time.

So as the day comes to a close, Rumi is curled up under Jennifer's legs, Lulu is twirling and purring and rolling around on the bed, and Satchmo is hiding.

Tomorrow's goal: Travel for 600 miles so we can get the hell out of Texas. Also-- visit the WASP Museum and attend the Rattlesnake Round-up in Sweetwater.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

500 miles and 4 states

Miles driven: 503. States crossed: four.

A smooth day of travel-- beautiful weather. Hot and sunny. And no traffic except through Jackson, Mississippi. Goodbye, Georgia. Hello, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana.

Meals: Burger King and Cracker Barrel.

As of now, all three cats think they've always lived in room 327 at the Jameson Inn in West Monroe, LA. Satchmo is in his love bucket, Lulu is on the bed, Rumi is sitting in the window, fascinated by the air conditioner.

Random highlights from Day One:

Talladega Speedway.

America's Best Inn. We had no idea it was just off the I-20 in Union, Alabama.

Crossing the Mississippi River.

Chunky, Mississippi.

Cracker Barrel. Best malted milk balls ever.

Road conditions. It's impossible to decide who has the worst: Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana.

The Jameson Inn. Where Mom and I made fifteen trips back and forth to the car, up and down the elevator, unloading the cats (Satchmo was one trip alone), cat supplies, and only the barest essentials for our overnight stay.

Other travelers laughing and waving and pointing to us and at us as they passed us on the road. Was it our Obama sticker? The sight of my Beetle stuffed to the ceiling with all my earthly possessions? The fact that we were traveling with three cats, one of which was walking around on the dashboard or draped around my shoulders? At the Burger King in Mississippi, I figured it out. Pressed up against the back window, for everyone to see, was my brand new bag of Always Maxi Pads.

Socks. There was a pair of socks, balled up and thrown on the floor, by Mom's bed in the Jameson Inn. I assumed they were hers. She assumed they were mine. She said, "Don't forget to pack your socks." And I said, "What socks? I thought they were yours." She said, "Those aren't my socks."

Lulu. She let herself out of her cat carrier twice, once after I'd reinforced it with duct tape. (Her new nickname is Ludini). After a brief antiphonal chant of kitty protests, they all settled down for the car ride. The boys slept and Lulu helped me drive. She spent most of the ride curled up on my lap or sleeping with her head on my shoulder.

Tomorrow: Gibbsland, LA, where Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down. (!!) (

Goal: Sweetwater, Texas, home of the official WASP Museum, where I'll be doing research for my next novel, the sequel to Velva Jean Learns to Drive. (

(We'll be doing Thornton Wilder research when we reach the Arizona desert.)

On our way to Alabama...

My hands can barely type this because of all the strapping of boxes I've been doing for the past week. But Mom and I are on our way today, leaving Atlanta for all points west. Ultimate goal: Los Angeles. Two Nivens in a Beetle, and anyone who knows the Nivens knows we love to bring many things with us, especially on trips. When you're traveling with three cats in a VW Beetle, this can be a challenge.

But the car is almost packed. We have: crunchy Cheetos for Mom (her road food of choice), 500 bags of Salad Peas (or whatever they're called) for me, and several dozen cans of BBQ Pringles. We also have: my iPod, numerous CDs, three cat carriers, cat toys, cat food, litter boxes, suitcases, linens, pillows, books, multiple bags, wine (which we won't be drinking while driving), travel bingo, and many different make-up cases. And my camera, so the entire trip can be documented.

So now I'm getting up and getting ready and going to get this menagerie on the road...

Goal today: Louisiana.