Animals die all the time in planes. You read about it in the papers, they do terrible things to animals by accident. How they can forget there are animals in the cage-like objects that look nothing like suitcases I don’t know, but they seem to. Hell, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us considering what they do to our inanimate luggage. It arrives broken, shuffled through, or not at all, so why trust them with living things? That’s why I decided my cats had to be driven cross-country with me, and my regular car was not going to cut it. Three cats, two people and a litter box was not going to make 4-5 days of travel without someone getting hurt. So I decided on a small RV. I had just closed down the cat rescue I’d run in my house for 2 years, having rescued and adopted out all but 3 of 65 cats that came to me, like hell I was risking losing the last ones to some dumb baggage handler’s mistake.
So, I enlisted D, my fellow animal rescuer, to drive across country with me. How hard could it be driving 3,000 miles with three cats in tow? We love road trips, we love hanging out with each other, and I had drugs to shut Piglet up if she never stopped howling like she usually did on the way to the vets. At 2:30pm on moving day, after wrangling Roxanne, Milo and Piglet into the behemoth, I hopped into my RV and started driving to D’s house to pick her up. Immediately I knew I had a problem. The stove top rattled so much my teeth hurt, the cabinets and frame squeaked with each road bump I passed over. Terrified cats who didn’t like cars immediately became frantic pinballs in a 21 foot tin can with moving parts. But I still had no idea that I had an RV that was so old it should never have been sent across country. I only found that out after we made it and the RV return center in California expressed their concern that I had ever been allowed to travel so far in such an old RV.
So, to try to allay the feline fears and my own jangling nerves, I taped down the rattling metal door to the fuse box, but this big ass rattletrap had more problems than one metal door that was no longer staying closed. I dismantled the stove and packed a pillow into the top, laying the heavy grate on top to hold the pillow down. I stuffed my childhood one eyed stuffed elephant into the oven hood, locked down the beds and put all the other moving and removable parts into a closet to muffle their noise. It was the best I could do to quiet down the RV, the squeaking we would just have to survive by clenching our teeth. I carried on to pick up D down the back country roads that led to her boyfriend’s house praying that everything else would go better for the rest of the day. I had called ahead to tell her I was on my way, but not surprisingly, as I arrived at D's I found out that her boyfriend had sent her to the bank, knowing full well we were leaving right away. He chose to fill her last few minutes at home before a vacation with an errand. For that favor he handed her a full $100 to make it through a week of feeding herself and shopping for souvenirs. Such a generous guy. But we were finally on our way by 4pm.
D jumped in, after kissing her three daughters goodbye and waved as we drove off into the sunset. California here we come! The plan was to drive all night and hit Illinois, and the home of Triplet King’s (TK) parents, sometime around dawn. Ambitious, but we were psyched! The cats immediately surprised us. Milo settled in under the driver’s seat, Piglet, amazingly hung out on either my or D’s lap as we drove, and of course Roxanne was still residing under the covers of the ‘bed’ in her cage at this point. What happened to hysterical Piglet of the annual vet visits? Why didn’t I just ingest the kitty sedatives right then instead of the pack of cigarettes I decided to start smoking to handle the stress of the cross country move? I don’t know, all I can say is perhaps the cats realized that they were trapped, on their way to a new life in a big tin can and there was nothing they could do about it. They made the best of it and thankfully never sprinted to freedom at a rest area.
Our plans to drive all night faded after only half a state. We made it to West Virginia when the exhaustion hit me. I had only been driving for about 4 hours and I was already over it. We pulled into this truck stop with a diner and went inside to have a cup of coffee and some dinner. Now you see those scenes in movies all the time where people walk into a restaurant and immediately recognize that they don’t belong. I guess we were far enough into redneck territory that they could pick us out immediately. The stares we encountered were cold, hostile and blatantly easy to read: ‘what the hell are you two girls doing at a truck stop in West Virginia at this time of day?’
We survived that meal, with a bit of indigestion, and headed out for the next leg of our trip. D took over as her specialty is night-time driving. Pretty soon, those of us who never stay up later than 10pm hit our limit, and by that I mean me. I took my first turn on the back bed and attempted to sleep. Those of you who have never slept in the back of an RV as it’s going 70 mph on a poorly patched stretch of highway have missed a ride worthy of your best neighborhood amusement park. By the time a bump in the road translates back to the back end of a lightly loaded RV, it makes the shocks jump about 2 feet up and down. Now shocks are an important feature of any automobile, and they serve a purpose, but do they really need to bounce that much? And if you think you can sleep while every 30 seconds your body is launched a foot above the mattress, think again. Eventually I did sleep about 2 hours, but by then Darlene was ready for a nap. I guess we must have suddenly gotten old as we’d only driven about 8 hours out of a predicted 50 and we were already stopping to sleep. So much for the road warriors. We found a rest area in Indiana where we parked and slept for a couple of quiet, still hours.
Early in the morning we headed out again for Illinois. I had never met TK’s parents before, much less talked to them. Here I was going to drop in on them with an RV full of cats, smelling like someone who has been driving for 24 hours while smoking like a chimney, and hopped up on caffeine. Great idea. Little did I know that the moment TK’s dad saw me drive up in that 21 foot RV and park in his driveway en route to California to be with his only son, having given up my whole life just to do so, I was ‘in'. The mere sight of me driving that behemoth impressed him, but my drive to be with his kid was the whipped cream on that sundae. Happily, the fact that I talked for 30 minutes straight, barely taking a breath between sentences and running each word into the next, due to a mixture of fear, excitement and coffee, did not change his opinion. Sadly, we were having trouble remaining upright since we had slept so little and driven so hard to get there that morning. Yes, we weren't college kids anymore and all-nighters were a bit much for us. After an hour of polite conversation with eyes half closed, they sent us to bed. We curled up in the RV and had a 4 hour nap.
Meanwhile, Roxanne who had been holding it since 8am the morning before, decided terror was nothing compared to a screaming bladder and raced to the litter box. Then she scurried back to her carrier, which was under the covers with me in the dark. When we woke up, we had a snack and hit the road again, making the fateful decision to take I70 through Missouri and Kansas instead of I80 through Iowa and Wyoming. We had vague hopes we might stop by the animal sanctuary in Utah (Best Friends) and so I70 made sense for that if nothing else. What we didn't realize was that by the time we hit Utah we'd be sick of driving and anxious as heck to get to CA, not willing to stop and spend a day visiting even orphaned cats and dogs.
Oh lord this story just goes on and on...
Oh lord this story just goes on and on...