Monday, September 7, 2009

Revenge of Tom

The honeymoon is over.

Tom has a will of his own, yes- and he's vicious. We've paid for our little detour down the Path of Giants by tenfold.

But we'll start with the present. For the moment, RJ and I are in a little town in southern Utah, by the border of Nevada, and close enough to Zion that we could have driven there yesterday with enormous ease. Unfortunately, both of us are struggling valiantly with a nasty cold, and spent all of yesterday sleeping in air conditioning. Yes, we're in a hotel room. But I swear, mum, it's cheap as hell! Besides, after getting kicked out of Las Vegas...

Okay, okay, so it wasn't Las Vegas, but it was close enough. We were told to leave the town of Henderson. And what grave crime did we commit to get kicked out of that crummy Las Vegas suburb?

This leads back to Tom. Everything is his fault.

For those who are unfamiliar with GPS systems, they have this nifty feature called 'Point of Interest' (or POI.) This allows you to find certain things- such as gas stations, hospitals, grocery stores, museums, rest stops... one of Tom's POI categories is 'Camping'. This absolutely thrilled me, as you might imagine.

So we tested it out after the day we spent in San Francisco, hoping to get to our campground before dark.

To our dismay, Tom led us into the middle of a suburban intersection, and his electronic voice cheerfully informed us, 'You have reached your destination'. As we sat there, dazed and bewildered, we decided we'd simply have to go to a different campground. 'Curry Creek' sounded promising...

Phase forward two hours. We're on a one-way unpaved road going down a swampy gully with a sharp cliff on one side. RJ has had to deal with me stuffing my fist in my mouth to keep from screaming. We've been in the MIDDLE of NO WHERE, it's ten o clock at night, and there have been NO signs of any campground. Cheerfully, Tom tells us to keep going down this series of winding twisting paths, sometimes the road feels so narrow that we are absolutely going to plummet from it and die. I'm exhausted from a long and eventful day spent traipsing San Francisco, and I'm watching the gas needle point steadily lower. Our fun day has turned into a nightmare, and it won't ever end.

Finally, we pull onto a roughly paved road. And then, the road has two lanes. Hallelujah, glory be! Perhaps there IS a camp ground up ahead! We pick up speed; we drive, only one more mile...

It tells us to turn in at this drive. Still no signs for a campground... and then it tells us, 'You have reached your destination'.

We're in a trailer park, people. A small, rural trailer park counterpart to the suburban one it had directed us to before.

I start to sob. Well, okay, not really- but it's a close thing. Apparently, Tom believes that trailer parks for permanent residents are also acceptable campgrounds.

Battered, defeated, depressed, we head to the nearest town, and look for a park. Nothing. We settle into an enormous parking lot, put the sunshade up, and sleep.

Well, RJ slept. I lay there, eyes wide open, head milling full of thoughts, unable to get comfortable.

Finally, at about three AM, I shake RJ awake and say that I'm okay to drive. We're going to find somewhere to get out of the car and sleep.

Onto Tom's Tomfoolery, I search for a location with the words 'shore' in them. We will sleep on the beach under the stars, damn it.

This sends us back to San Francisco. I drive. And drive. And drive. It's so late, and I'm tired, but paying as much attention as I can, single mindedly focused on the road...

We get to this 'beach', and it turns out to be a small park on a river near San Fran. Not only that, it's closed, with threats of 'severe tire damage' if we attempt to pull in the wrong way. At this point, I do start crying.

We look for a park... and we find one. It even offers camping. I don't care what time it is. I need to get out of the car, stretch out in my tent, and SLEEP FOREVER.

We drive down winding twisting paths. Who would have known San Francisco had such a rural forested area in the heart of it...? A deer idles back into the trees as we approach, at one point. The moon is a silver globe in the tree-filled skyline. We make it!

The campground is closed. We should have gotten there before ten PM (SUCKERS!)

At this point, it's looking again for a park so we can pull in and just sleep in the bloody car. I don't care. I'm tired. I'm tired. I AM TIRED.

We find a park in the bad part of town in a two hour parking zone, pull in, lock the doors, and catch some sleep.

Our lesson is that Tom cannot be trusted to navigate to camping locations. We spent the next day driving round Mariposa and Yosemite, but unfortunately, due to the raging wildfires, there is only one way into the park- and subsequently, Tom wants us to navigate only by the closed ways out. We sleep in an overpriced hotel for the night, as the campgrounds wanted fourty five or more just to sleep on a measly patch of dirt. FOURTY FIVE DOLLARS, people. For the privilege of hoisting a tent! WTF.

The next day we navigate down through southern Cali, and we are determined to leave California- FOREVER. Oh my god California. Why? WHY? We drive and drive and drive... at one point, we failed at remembering the gas tank existed. We nearly ran completely out of gas. Thirty miles on empty, Candii is a real trooper- we paid four dollars a gallon when we found a roadside gas station. And we kissed the ground for the privilege of doing so. We won't forget this lesson any time soon.

Got some amazing photos... of flat, empty nothing. Yay. Southern California is not really our favorite place.

Finally, we left the state, and arrived in Nevada! HOORAY! No campgrounds in sight, though. But we'd heard somewhere... now I can't recall the source, of course... that Walmart would allow you to sleep in their parking lots.

We settled in. I tried to get comfortable, and eventually fell asleep.. but woke up with the pressing need to use the restroom. I shook RJ and mumbled this, but he must not have heard me.

I took my time, and when I returned to the parking lot... the car was locked and RJ was not there. I waited for only a minute before I saw him heading my way.

His window had been tapped on by a police officer. He had been asked to exit the car, and then patted down. They kept asking where I was- he guessed in the bathroom. They acted as if the likely reality was my murder and his theft of the car and all of our things. Yes, police. Very good. In the Las Vegas surburbs, the most interesting thing you can find to do... is kick people out of Walmart parking lots?

RJ was told that it didn't matter what Walmart said, we would have to leave. We were not welcome in the City of Henderson.

So I drove. At one in the morning. Because, you know, sleeping in a parking lot is much worse than driving 75 miles an hour when sleep deprived. That's definitely safe. Good job, public safety. GOOD. JOB.

We found a park called 'The Valley of Fire', where we drove, and drove, and drove. Eventually, I found myself driving Stupidly Scary Cliffs at three AM, got fed up, and pulled off the road. I turned off the car and went to sleep.

Thank you, Tom. You're stupid. We don't like you any more.

Anyhow, the morning after that, I drove into Utah, where we found a great deal on a hotel room. RJ has been throwing up snot. Poor thing. So we spent all day yesterday just sleeping.

Anyway, we are off, today. We will try to camp, as we've had adequate rest here. Today will be Zion, and possibly Bryce- we'll see. Lots of pictures, and I'll keep you all updated as I may!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day Four

We left Portland on Sunday, after my mother convinced us to stay for my youngest sister's birthday. It was nice to see the family all gathered together one last time... and even nicer to go back to my father's house, only to realize I had an unexpected windfall of a paycheck I hadn't realized I had forgotten about.

Feeling cozy with an extra two weeks worth of wages, I made the decision, at dad's persistent urging, to purchase a GPS...

This was possibly the best idea for the road trip, ever.

I ended up with a Tomtom of some variety, and his initial trial down to Oregon City taught me very little in how to use what would affectionately be known as 'the damn thing' in the late night hours I drove to Eugene.

We chose the British accent due to my liking of British accents in general, and, at eight, just past sundown, we drove away from Oregon City for the last time, the coordinates of my friend in Eugene- Alexandra- planted in the little machine's memory.

At first, it was disastrous. “LEFT? RIGHT NOW?! BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT THE LITTLE- OHGOD I JUST NEARLY REAR ENDED- AGGHHH THAT'S MY TURN- I HATE DRIVING!” Was the theme song of the first half hour leg of our cross-country journey.

RJ has been nothing but wonderful to me this whole way. Neither of us feels disappointed so far, despite my agitation and high stress levels.

Anyhow, my Tomtom has instilled within me the confidence to get lost and actually adventure. The thing shows us how the road turns, where to go, when we'll be there, even what the speed limit is! Unfortunately for him, he has become drastically personified by RJ and I; we're fairly certain that this machine hates us. Tom's voice seems to get ever more exasperated as we dare to take the scenic route- The Path of Giants is absolutely breath-taking, by the way. And poor Tom's robotic tones seem to raise a pitch as we tacitly ignore his carefully calculated route in favor of 'OH LOOK A GAS STATION I HAVE TO PEE!'

In short, Tom is a god, and an equal and companion in this venture. I am now able to really enjoy exploring, without the fear of getting hopelessly lost at any given moment.

At any rate, we arrived in Eugene, where we slept in Alexandra's yurt. Yes, she lives in a yurt. We spent a bit of time just exploring the town while she worked, and then spent an additional night. It was nice to see Alexandra for the last time. She tried her hardest to convince us that Eugene was far superior to New Hampshire, but was sadly unsuccessful, despite how intriguing her yurt-ish lifestyle was.

We departed just before sundown on Tuesday evening, where we headed for Eureka, California. RJ was allowed the privilege of driving. This, my friends, was a mistake; introduce a rusty driver to unfamiliar and loaded down car and endless stretches of highway that are unknown to either of us... then add a jumpy passenger who is carrying everything she owns in said car.

The result was not pretty.

Please take note:

-Driving fourty in a sixty five mile per hour zone is bad.
-Watching the road and not trying to look at your girlfriend's pretty pretty face is good
-Changing lanes by swerving abruptly is bad
-Not drifting into other lanes is good
-Pretending not to understand Tom's directions is BAD
-Knowing your left from your right is good

(Also take note that RJ claims I am 'making crap up' as I type this, but I swear to you, I speak nothing but the truth.)

At any rate, we made it to the Californian border, where we took some bad quality pictures. Then, it was winding, twisting, narrow roads that had little diamond shaped signs depicting trucks tipping over on them. This was distinctly unsettling to the both of us, but eventually, my terror got the best of me, and I was forced to sleep. At which point, my lack of shouting and shrieking helped RJ to relax enough to drive properly.

We pulled off to the side several times to view the coast, although we still have not yet made it to the oceanside itself. RJ has never touched the Pacific ocean, so this is something we will do before we leave California.

At a thrilling three fourty five in the morning, we finally arrived in Eureka... where we promptly failed to find a place to sleep. We ended up sleeping a scant three hours in the parking lot of a playground, which Tom oh so kindly guided us through many a back road to discover.

Today, I chose to drive, and, like a jerk, demonstrated all the great qualities of my driving to RJ. Including going the speed limit, changing lanes smoothly, and generally being a grouch. This culminated while RJ was napping, in me deciding I was going to find a place to pull off and take a nap. This led us to a place called Lake Mendocino, where I laid down atop a picnic table. RJ was sweet enough to give my exhausted, car cramped muscles a gentle rub, until I felt ready to continue. After that, I even managed to take us on a scenic detour for about thirty miles through Californian wine country, when I finally decided I was just too tired to be the one driving.

So far, this has been far more than I'd even dared to hope for. We're getting closer to the house of someone I know as Stargazer, from a forum we've both been a part of for many years. We survived San Francisco rush hour traffic, sleep deprivation, my ability to get lost despite GPS, and gas station salami. (It was quite tasty, actually.)

Who knows when I'll have internet next. Until then, I'm letting everyone know that I am alive and well and having the time of my life!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Last Day of Work

Here I am, sitting in my dusky purple office chair for the last time, looking around at these dingy cubicle walls. The pine cone I picked up a year ago while taking a lunch time walk rests atop the messy patchwork scarf I knitted between calls; my wall is adorned with blue and white thumb tacks, bits of sentimental paper stuck to it. The Acrobat Man is smooshed between my two shelves, his inflatable head half cut off, his stylized legs ever running into a wall.

My collection of stolen plastic flags stick out from the wall, testament to my craftiness- there's blue, yellow, a pirate flag, the gold fabric flag that used to be run on the Adobe contract when the queues were clear at night... I have a Mario mushroom on a stick that I qualified as a flag, gifted me by a manager leaving the contract. And by 'gifted' I mean 'abandoned'.

All around me, I hear the oh-so-familiar mumble of indistinct voices, the same jingle day in and out- 'can you verify your email address...?' 'First name? And the last name?' 'What product is this on, then?' The verbal idiosyncrasies of my coworkers ring clear and true to me. I am used to these people, but even more accustomed to seeing their faces on day, gone the next. Every one of these people has a story, and only a few of them will end here, I hope. Very seldom do I talk to anyone who wants to remain here indefinitely. I remember a time when I was happy to be here. And yes, there was such a time- I recall it distinctly.

But that time has long faded. I should have left when it did. I can hardly stand the sight of this place, the smell of the building, the way the floor trembles when someone walks by on the cheap flooring, the constant sound of calls pouring in, data being collected, so much information that it simply becomes meaningless... I hate the sound the phone makes when the customer comes on the line, the insistent and demanding "HELLO??" when they hear it connect... but most of all, I hate the sound of breathing.

Maybe it's strange, to hate such a thing. I understand that people need to breathe. Breathing is, after all, quite a necessary part of being alive as a human being. I know that it is an irrational hatred. But for me, it's too close, too intimate, to listen to a stranger breathe... I don't want to be that close, to feel the soft wind of their exhalation across my ear. And that's what it makes me think of. It makes me feel sick. This strange idea has gotten worse in the past few months, to the point where it is grating enough to have me squirming in my chair. My most dreaded call is not, in fact, the screamer who calls me a c***- although I hate that call, I will admit; no, it is the Mouth Breather. The person who is incapable of breathing through their nose. Maybe they are congested, maybe they have some sort of disorder, or maybe they're simply winded by how angry they are to be on the phone with me- there are many factors which can, combined or alone, create the Mouth Breather.

Most often, the Mouth Breather is plenty polite. They do not yell at me or shriek obscenities in my ear. No... they just breathe. Long, wheezing breaths. Sometimes the phone moves, and there's a hopeful rustle- and then, the breathing again. Like my very own personal Darth Vader, 'hooooooo-chuhhhhhhhhhhh... hoooooooooo-chuuhhhhhhhhh'....

But today is my last day here. No more Mouth Breathers... at least, not for a while.


This morning, I began packing the trunk of my car with things like my boxes of books. This has reassured me. I have many, many things... but so far, everything is fitting according to plan. I'm a little concerned about the size of RJ's suitcase- namely, I don't know exactly how big it is. We'll just have to play it by ear, I guess. I'm feeling like everything will work out fine, though... I mean, I have EXTRA space.

RJ gets here at five thirty AM. This is a glorious time of day I like to call 'butt-early o' clock'... yet I'm not really mad about having to wake up at four to be ready and to pick him up. In fact, I couldn't think of a better reason to get less than six hours of sleep.

I already have a Plan. I'm making him get in the shower first thing, and then it will be time to sleep for a few hours. After that, using the rest of the eggs in the refrigerator, and the rest of the whole grain pancake mix for a good breakfast... then it is off to my last Karate class, where Sensei Nick can evaluate RJ for himself, heh.

I suddenly feel unready to leave, now that I've left the call center for the last time. An unsureness that shakes me to my bones, but trust me, it is too late to turn back now. Not that I want to. Well, okay, part of me wants to. But I ignore that part of me. The fear will do me no good.

Tomorrow, I leave Portland.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Waiting Game and Online Dating

I've turned in my notice at the place I rent and my job. I've packed most of my things, and gotten rid of most everything else. I've said goodbyes to various people and places. I've culled down my collection of books. I've driven to Goodwill. I've gotten my car checked out (and paid for expensive repairs to my brakes). I've consolidated all my disks to a disk case, and gathered up my food items to give to Aubra, who will be bringing them to the local food bank.

I still have things I would have liked to do that I don't think I'll have time for, such as Craigslisting my old Xbox and games and better organizing what few things I have. I still need to do that last load of laundry, and wash my bedding, just for good measure. I still need to see if all my Stuff will fit in my car.

But really, right now it feels as if I am trapped in stasis. Because I really don't have the time to sit by the phone waiting for someone to call me about the Xbox (I'll just take it with me and sell it when I get there.) There's little left to do, and I'd prefer to spend my time to myself... saying goodbye to all the people I know and have known is depressing, and I don't want to focus on that my entire last few days here.

But there are so many things I am anxious about! Will my stuff fit in the car? Will I have enough money? Will I be able to find a place to live, and a job, once I get to New Hampshire? Will I get hopelessly lost on the way there and end up out of gas and broken down in the middle of no where in the blazing desert sun? Have I lost my mind in deciding to do this? Is everyone just too polite to point out to me that I've lost my mind?

And then there's the additional complication.

I asked my long distance boyfriend from Georgia to come join me.

Perhaps it sounds crazy, but both of us are in places in our lives where we NEED to leave the nest, and what better way to test a fledgeling relationship except by putting tons of strain on it via a shared road trip with both of our Things?

I've kept kind of quiet about this aspect... because I know it sounds nuts. Because I'm a little embarassed to say that, yes, I met my boyfriend on WoW, and no, I've never actually met him yet. I know. I KNOW. 'You can't really know if it's the real deal if you meet online!' 'What if he's really a crazy stalker?' 'He might have lied to you about everything- you can be anyone online!' 'Anonymity breeds crazies!'

I know.

Trust me, I am aware of these potential issues. I'm also aware that, even if he's everything he says he is- and he has been nothing but honest with me in the year we've known each other- that there may simply be no chemistry between us.

I know the risks. But to be honest?

I'm more worried about the trip than this particular aspect of it.

I mean, if you're going to date long distance, you have to meet some time, don't you? If it doesn't work between us, we will both have the maturity to continue on with this and make it to our destination, where we can part and go our separate ways. This is a risk neither of us might have taken, without the push from the other. Just that makes it worth the risk, in my opinion. Because this is something I needed to do, and I don't know if I would have done it on my own.

So we'll see what happens. But this, too, factors into my fears. Because what if we do meet, and it isn't what we'd hoped? Just another thing to add to that dreaded List. What if my interpersonal intuition is way, way off and he's an axe murderer?

One step at a time. We'll see what happens.

He gets here on Saturday, early morning. We leave Saturday night.

So now... I'm just waiting.


I'm starting to get real sick of waiting, today.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why New Hampshire?

In two weeks time, I am leaving Portland.

I am driving away, and I won't look back.

Only what can fit in my car is coming along. All the accumulated riff-raff and knick-knackery is departing my ownership. I am leaving a job, a home, and the place I have known my entire adult life- the city which is the closest approximation of belonging that I have.

"Where will go? And why?"

New Hampshire. And... honestly? I'm not sure.

When I was young, I lived in Vermont for several years. My grandparents still live there. But Vermont isn't New Hampshire... and I don't have contacts in the Granite state.

My impressions of the east coast are Vermont. Endless green hills, with quiet roads rounding the curves of the majestic mountain roots, their high peaks long eroded and gone... every so often, a gash of granite sprouting through the greenery. It is a place utterly unlike Oregon. The trees are different, the mountains are different, the air is different, the people are different. I spent a summer among the green hills, in a small town on Lake Champlain at my grandparents' house. Morning walks through clouds of mosquitoes, daily five mile treks around the island, wandering...

Looking into the local New Hampshire economy suggests that the job market there is more compelling than my native Oregon. But Vermont was always more difficult, in terms of employment. Taxes were higher. The cities were smaller.

New Hampshire allows me to be close to family- but not so close that I don't feel my independence.

New Hampshire echoes in my thoughts. The taste of it is subtly different from Vermont; the terrain is less elegantly rounded, a little rougher feeling. The woods are darker, somehow.

In the three years since I've turned eighteen, I have struggled to keep my obligations to a minimum. I have avoided pets, boyfriends, debt- all with the intention that I would remove myself from the comfort zone, and travel the world.

I went out and got my Teaching English as a Foreign Language/Second Language (TEFL/TESOL) certificate with this intention, and yet, here I am, still working at a call center, feeling trapped and increasingly unhappy. Why?

It's easy to fall into the trap. I'm safe here. I have a (somewhat) stable job, I make above minimum wage... and yet...

It's too easy to say 'someday'.

What's keeping me here? Recent changes in the workplace have rendered me with a startlingly high amount of job disatisfaction. I have very little left of a social circle, due to my anti-social nature and dislike of telephones. The economy in Portland isn't getting any better, either.

So here I am; I'm 21, working a job that feels all too much like a dead end, wondering when my life is going to start.. but what am I waiting for?

Snap out of it.

I do have control. I am alive, and opportunity isn't going to fall in my lap. Wake up and smell the city of roses, people. Instead of feeling paralyzed and unable to change, just do it.

So that's what I'm doing.

Instead of continuing to escape reality through video games and burying my head in the pillows to stifle the screams, I'm going to take this risk. I am not the only person in the world who has felt trapped. I am not the first person to abruptly uproot and move away.

So, here goes, world. This is my story. I'm holding my breath, and waiting...

Two weeks until I leave Oregon.