Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Camry Continental (Day Three)


San Antonio! What can I say? Saint Anthony would have been either very pleased or very disappointed. The city needs help. And it’s a saint’s job to help. So that would have made him happy, I guess. The lady at the front desk of the hotel told me that the hotel was a bit cut-off from the rest of the city. When I asked her to recommend fine dining she said “Whataburger.” Now, either she didn’t understand what I said, or she spoke the truth. She looked and sounded intelligent so I’ll go with the second option. What else do I need to say about a town where “Whataburger” defines fine dining! So, then, the city is hardly alive. But it is still a trap, a kind of Post-Modern prison. The streets are a maze. It is hard to get anywhere, even with detailed directions. And it is equally hard to get out. I spent an hour in the morning, just trying to find the I-10. And the I-10 is, quite possibly, the biggest highway in the U.S. 

In the process, I got nearly halfway to Austin. Austin is about 60 miles away from San Antonio and I drove a little over 20 miles toward Austin before I realized I wasn’t going to find the I-10. Of course, as soon as I turned off the highway, I came across a Stop sign. I stopped. I looked around. And I drove on. That was a mistake. A police officer stopped me and said that I hadn’t stopped for long enough. So, I told him I was lost and he gave me directions back to San Antonio. So, it wasn’t all bad, I guess. Finally, I did find the I-10 and I was on my way to El Paso. With all of the time I had wasted on finding the I-10, though, it wasn’t long before I stopped for lunch. I’d been on the road for just under 3 hours but only 2 of those hours were in the right direction. Still, the drive was entertaining, in the beginning.

I passed a town called “Welfare.” I thought it was funny that an entire would name itself Welfare. That’s really sticking it to the government, isn’t it? Deal with it, Senators and Congress reps. We’re Welfare and proud of it! But that was just funny. What was really strange was a town called Junction. So far as I could see it wasn’t close enough to anything to be a junction. It’s basically a scrap of land in the middle of nowhere. It’s almost as if all the gunfighters in the Wild West retired here and started barber-shops and tag agencies. I stopped at the most high-end restaurant in town to get lunch — Subway. They did have some type of sandwich that I had never before seen at any Subway — chicken with Fritos. I wouldn’t eat it again but it wasn’t bad — just weird, like the rest of the town.

The landscape, during this drive was a mix of beauty and completely non-descript. By and large, it is flat and stony. A few shrubs grow here and there, sometimes in large clumps, covering several miles. Most of them are between 3 feet and 10 feet high. Miles pass without any change in the landscape. But sunset! What an experience!

There is a vast ring of small hills. The sun set to the left of me behind one of the hills. The sky was gray. But then it turned into all colours of the rainbow! It was a sight that was so awe-inspiring that I can’t even say it brought tears to my eyes. Tears are so mundane and ordinary. The sky turned molten gold. It seemed as though mountains of gold hung in the sky, trying to meet the mountains underneath. The grey clouds further away turned bronze, then silver. When it finally got dark, the sy created a perfect rectangle. The bank of clouds seemed to have been cut with a knife, leaving a sharp edge. And I could see the space between the mountains and the clouds. It’s impossible to describe. Really, you had to be there. But the colour of the mountains changed from gray to rose to purple to black. And then there was the sky itself, changing from blue to gold to pink and then various shades of grey. As I drove toward the mountains, it seemed they were waiting to embrace me. I felt comforted, awed, and inspired, all at the same time. But that was not to last long.

As I drew to within 20 miles of El Paso, another police car stopped me. He claimed I was speeding. I claimed I wasn’t. He lost. He let me go and told me to watch my speed. I did. What I didn’t know was that he had put another police car on my trail. That car stopped me again, five minutes later, claiming there was a problem with the way the frame covered my licence-plate. I thanked him and said I would take care of it. But my troubles had just started. I couldn’t find the exit I needed because the way it was marked had changed. So, again, I drove 20 miles past my destination and turned back. In the process, I also got stuck in traffic for 30 minutes because someone had been rude enough to get into an accident just about then. But finally I made it to my motel.

I was hungry after all that. So, once again, I made the mistake of searching for fine dining. I drove for 20 miles or a little more. I ended up at the Applebee’s (Neighborhood Bar & Grill, in case you didn’t know). But at least the food was good and so was the service. That brought the day to a good close.

Let’s see what tomorrow holds!


The Camry Continental (Day Two)


The journey from Tallahassee to San Antonio should have been uneventful. And while I encountered no major issues, I can’t honestly say it was entirely uneventful. The day began well, if a little late. I was a little tired so I decided to take things easy in the morning. Still, I was ready to go by 11:00 a.m. I was packed and I had everything in the car — except my three girlfriends (Melody, Ghungroo, and Chaklu). Melody and Ghungroo were both very cooperative and I had them in their carriers in under a minute. That’s when the problems began.

Chaklu is what they meant to say when they came up with the term “scaredy-cat.” She is tiny, all black (except for 6 white hairs on her neck), and afraid of everything she can see and most things that she can imagine. So, she would never wander out of the room, especially in unknown territory. And a motel room, unlike a house or apartment had few places in which to hide. Even so, a diligent 30-minute search later, she was invisible. To be safe, I walked around the property, shouting her name at the top of my voice. I was afraid I would have to leave without her. So, I called the front desk for help. They sent a guy to move my bed. Beds in motels are heavy. I guess they don’t want people stealing the beds. Anyway, the guy moved the bed. And there she was! Having worried me half to death, she now glared at me as though, somehow, it was all my fault! I picked her up by the scruff of her neck and dumped her unceremoniously into her carrier.

I asked the guy how she could have possibly gotten under the bed. I had checked the bed. Three sides were sealed with planks of wood. But the fourth side (the headboard) had a tiny bit of space behind the pillows. The sneaky little thing got in there and from there under the bed. The space under the bed was huge for a little thing like her. But I was glad to have my third little musketeer back with me. And off we went — in search of a car-charger for my phone.

I had bought one a week before leaving. I tested it and left it in the car so I wouldn’t forget it. However, when I actually needed the stupid thing, it went invisible! So, after duly getting lost, searching for the T-Mobile shop, that was on the same road as my motel, and less than 3 miles away, I found the place and bought my charger. Now that I have it, of course, I don’t need it. My phone is fully-charged already. In fact, the girl at the counter was confused. She is/was about Isha’s age and she asked me if my phone was completely dead. I said, no, it was fully-charged. She looked at me blankly. I said I was driving and I may need to charge while on the road. She still looked doubtful but she took my money anyway. But, at this point, I had solved the Mystery of the Missing Cat and I also had my charger. I was pretty much fully-charged too, having eaten a pretty decent breakfast (or so I thought).

By the time I was actually on the road, though, it was 11:45 a.m. I had eaten at 7:00 a.m. By 12:30 p.m. I was hungry. So, I had just barely gotten on the road when I had to stop again. I bought at a chicken-sandwich at a Dairy Queen, of all places! The gas station where I stopped had a Dairy Queen counter and, I think, a Wendy’s counter, side by side. I wasn’t really paying attention so I went to the DQ counter. I placed my order and paid for it. I figured I would use the restroom while waiting for my sandwich. There was one other customer. So, I figured, it wouldn’t take long for the guy to prepare my order. When I returned, he hadn’t even started to work on it. His excuse was that he had run out of tomatoes and he didn’t know whether I would want a tomato-less sandwich. I told him that I would probably not blow up into tiny little pieces if my sandwich did not have a slice of tomato on it. He needed another ten minutes to get my sandwich ready. I guess there’s a reason Dairy Queen sells dairy stuff.

So, NOW, I thought, everything is under control. Right. Never believe stuff like that. I had been on the road only a few minutes when it started to rain. I’m not talking about “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” kind of rain. I couldn’t see past my wipers. I had to hit the brakes and drive at roughly 2 mph for miles! But nothing happened. Nobody got hurt. There were no accidents. The rain finally got to a point where I could drive at highway speeds.

And so NOW, everything’s OK, right? No way! There was a large red flashing light on my dashboard, that said “BRAKE.” I was terrified! I had gotten my brakes checked the day I left. So I was surprised too. But the idea that my brakes could fail while I was on the highway on a slick road was, to say the least, not perfectly reassuring. That there was no exit for miles did not make things better. But, finally, I was able to exit. I bought some brake fluid at the nearest gas-station. Brake-light gone! Yay! Celebration time! And get-back-on-the-road time. But I was a little shaken, and I waited a few minutes.

By 5:00 p.m. I was back on the road. Of course, the clock had changed from Florida time to not-Florida time, meaning that the stupid thing was an hour behind. So, I guess it was really 4:00 p.m. when I was back on the road. And now that every possible thing that could possibly happen had already happened to me, I thought everything would be fine. Of course not. It started to pour again. But the deluge lasted less than 40 minutes or so, not 40 days and 40 nights. Actually, it probably lasted only 10 or 15 minutes, this time. The rest of the drive went fairly smoothly, until the last few miles. I had directions but I couldn’t read them because the print was too small. So, I stopped at (of all things) a deserted gas station. You’d think those things exist only in horror-movies. But there was a real, live (or dead) gas station. I memorized the last 2 or 3 steps. And then I was back on the road again — kind of.

The deserted gas-station was on some kind of cursed road. It ran parallel to the highway, for miles. Every so often, there would be signs pointing to the highway, but no stop signs, no paved road, and no actual exit. After passing a few of these signs, I realised that there was never going to be an actual exit. I was just supposed to drive on the grass between the side-road and the highway to get to the highway. So I did.

Getting to the motel, in San Antonio required a good deal of concentration. There is a series of “levels” (upper and lower) in downtown San Antonio. At first, I thought I had reached an airport, by mistake. But that is how the roads are. There’s an upper level and a lower level and you have to keep choosing the right level until you get to ground level (which, by the way, is not a level at all). But, at last, I was at the motel.

It is/was a pretty grand, imposing structure. It seems more a hotel than a motel. And it is a James Bond type of motel, too. I asked the lady for my room number after I complete the check-in process. She told me they weren’t allowed to say aloud my room number and that I had to look at my room’s key-card. So, I took my key-card to a place without cameras and satellite-terminals, and looked. Aha! The secret was revealed!

After depositing my cats in the room, I remembered that I needed to buy kitty-litter. So, I went downstairs and asked for the location of the nearest super-market. She said there were two. So, I asked which one was closer. You’d think I would have learned from my first experience. She couldn’t say which one was closer. So, I looked at the printed directions and figured it out. The Walmart was a mile further away than the HEB but the directions were simpler so I went there and got the disposable kitty-litter. The purchase itself was easy. But driving through the city was scary. It was just about 8:30 p.m. And it was dead. There was nobody on the streets, hardly anyone in Walmart. There were no cars, no people, no buses — nothing! Any thought I had of going out for dinner vanished from my head.

I ordered pizza from my room. A medium pizza with three toppings cost me $20 (including a $3 tip). I thought that was outrageous! But what was worse was that the guy sent no plate or plastic forks, etc. with the pizza. But the best part was receiving the very conspiratorial phone-call telling me that the pizza-lady was on her way to my room. So, of course, I recognised the secret-code knock of the pizza-lady, a few minutes later.

And thus ended a fairly exciting but rather long day. 

The Camry Continental!


I have a grey Toyota Camry that is a little over 14 years old. Both, the car and I, have seen better days. But, despite getting older and a little worse for the wear, over the years, both of us work just fine. I mean, sure, my blood-pressure gets a little high, at times — when someone says something nasty about any of my three cats, for instance. And my car, I just found out, was leaking oil like the Exxon Valdez. But some medicine and some time at the gym pretty much fixed my blood-pressure. And fixing the oil-leak was even easier. I just sat and drank coffee while a team of experts healed my car. But why does any of this matter? There is a very good reason! My car, my cats, and I, are all driving across the country which means, given my starting point and destination, across the widest part of the US. We are going from Hollywood, Florida, to Thousand Oaks, California. The distance, given my penchant for spontaneous scenic drives and getting lost (not necessarily in that order and not even necessarily separate things, always) means that, though the actual distance is just about 2,800 miles (nearly 4,500 kms.) I will probably drive 3,000 miles, at least, and probably more.

The journey began yesterday — both, on time, and three days late. Originally, I was to have left on the first of February. But then I decided to leave on January 29. Packing, however, became an issue (more on that soon) and I only managed to leave at 3:15 p.m. on January 31, which was the (several times) revised plan after the Feb. 01 date was canceled. The amount of change and almost total lack of planning on my part confused me. I am still a little confused but I am beginning to understand, I think. I’ve never had more time, more money, and generally more resources for moving, at any time. And yet, this was my worst, most disorganized move, though, quite possibly, it is among the cheapest.

I have moved many times, in my life, in India, in Bangladesh, and in the US. Daddy’s employers paid for all of the moves before I moved (or shifted, as they say, in India) from India to the US, in 1988. Moving in the US is relatively easy even if you don’t have much money (something I have been used to, since 1988). On the other hand, it requires a great deal more planning than does a move in India. In India, you simply call a bunch of people (10, 50, 100, as many as you need). They will pack your stuff, load it, and put it on a truck (though the word truck has a completely different meaning in India than it does in the US. See here, if you want a very rough but very clear idea of the difference: When your stuff reaches its destination, you just do the same thing again that you did in the first place — hire a bunch of people and get your stuff unloaded — and by that I mean, of course, taken out of the truck, carefully unpackaged, put neatly, exactly where it is supposed to go, and cleaned and polished, if you need that as well. People have all the time in the world. And a good (or “solid” as we used to say) amount of baksheesh goes a really long way, in India.  The US, of course, is a different animal altogether.

I had to pay for the privilege of driving an old, beat-up, heavy, and cumbersome U-Haul. Plus, I had to insure it. Plus, I had to buy boxes and pack everything myself. I’ve paid people to do it but they generally break more than they pack so I’ve given up on that. On the 29th, I rented a storage space (something pretty much unheard of, in India, unless you’re talking about commercial warehouses of 10,000 square feet or more). I need the storage because this move is supposed to be temporary and I’m supposed to be back in a few months or so. Anyway, the U-Haul lady was pretty upset that I was just paying for my truck and driving it myself. She wanted it picked up on time too! I got my truck at 9:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m. and that, of course, is a capital crime! Anyway, so I picked up the truck on the 30th, feeling pretty confident that I had packed just about 99% of my stuff. I put it all in the truck (with a little help from a younger friend and my neighbour and the guy who fixes my apartment whenever something falls apart — and, bear in mind, my apartment is a little over 50 years old). Randy (one of the guys who helped me load the U-Haul) also helped me unload it. And that, I thought, was that. Except, of course, it wasn’t.

I stayed at a motel, the night of the 30th because, of course, there was no furniture at the apartment, any more. My cats, however, didn’t care about the furniture. They liked the extra space. So, they stayed at home while I was basically kicked out and stayed at the motel. At 7:15 a.m. on the 31st, I figured I would just take one last quick look at the place to make sure the place was empty and clean. And that’s when I realized I hadn’t even begun to pack two “little” closets. Take my word for it — closets are the work of the devil. ONE tiny closet, apparently, can hold enough stuff to fill up most of Buckingham Palace. Still, I had no idea how much stuff was in there! I thought I would be done in 10 minutes. Don’t laugh!

By the time I had finished packing, putting it in the storage space, and returning the keys to the apartment, it was 2:30 p.m. It didn’t help that I thought a 5×10 space would be plenty to store everything from my apartment. Again, I thought I would be out of the place in 10 minutes. My cats, however, decided they liked my place too much to leave it without a fight. And so, I had to wrestle one (Ghungroo the Grey) to the ground. The other one decided it would be more effective to hide — even though I could see her pretty easily. But then she had one more option — she could run. The correct word, from a cat perspective, I guess, would be “saunter”. That cute little black ball of fur (Chaklu the Tiny) is greased lightning, compared to me! Melody, the third, the Princess of the house, stuck up her nose at me but cooperated, otherwise. So, finally, I put all of my stuff in the car, including my cats. I forgot things several times and ran back to get them. About a hundred miles down the road, I realized that I had forgotten all of my shaving stuff that I had laid out very neatly on my bathroom sink, so I wouldn’t forget anything. But being brave and adventurous, I decided that I could manage without shaving for a day, perhaps even two, until I bought some disposable shaving stuff.

As I was passing Gainesville, I realized that I had not purchased any kitty litter. So, around 7:00 p.m. I stopped at the Gainesville Publix and bought two disposable kitty litter boxes that contained “free” kitty litter. I paid $.7.00 + tax for those stupid things, so I don’t see how any of it is free. But, despite my better judgement, I decided not to contest the issue with the Publix manager. Finding space for those boxes was a problem, though. At this point, my car was filled with two large suitcases and two small ones, in the trunk, two 30-lb. boxes of cat-food (though one had only 2 lbs of food it), my weekend travel case, my laptop, and a box full of random stuff that I saved from the apartment for no reason that I can think of, at present. But I managed. My cats protested. I told them to deal with it. Yeah, I’m a real bossy guy — no problem shushing three ferocious little cats sitting quietly in their carriers in the back seat.

My first stop was Tallahassee. Since I am driving alone — the lone human, anyway — I decided that I would try to pass the time by figuring out different ways to say “Tallahassee” without messing it up completely. My number one choice is Taslahalee. Tell me if you come up with something better. Surprisingly, I reached my motel in Tallahassee two or three minutes before 11:00 p.m. I tried to see if I could make it to the front desk before 11:00 p.m. (I lost to myself, if you’re keeping track of these things). As it turned out, this was one of the few things I had planned really well!

I picked my favourite motel (La Quinta) for the drive, in December. And I called and asked the guys at the main office to check with each location if they would accept 3 cats. They did — at no charge! So, I was (and am) thrilled! At the end of the day, I was tired, confused, exasperated (with myself) and generally not a very happy camper. Jason and Freddy had nothing on me. The Alien, though would have won easily — but then he’s an alien! Still, I liked my room. I got calls from my parents and some friends before I fell asleep. So, overall, the day went well. But tomorrow is another day. 

By the way, just in case anyone decides to follow this blog day by day, keep in mind that this is a 5-day trip. And I deliberately make my entry one day “late”. So, by the time you read an entry, I am already at my next destination.

Feel free to comment, ask questions, etc. I’m looking to get a million hits on my blog by the end of this journey 🙂