The last ten days of October and first November days were spent preparing for the move to McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC (the motives for the relocation were described in a September posting). Americans are a mobile people, and I am probably typical. We moved a lot when I was a kid, first for a short-lived, unsuccessful (for my dad) “restart” in Cleveland, Ohio 1957-59, then after the family went from homeowners to renters following my father’s illness 1965-66 – he had no medical insurance and sold the house to pay his healthcare bills. (Is it any surprise that I have long advocated for universal coverage? But I digress.) In my adult life, I’ve lived in only five places – a tiny studio with Linda for four years of graduate and law school; a rented duplex in St. Paul; our first house, a splendid but needful 1912 craftsman bungalow in that city; for almost 20 years our big house on Cheyenne Drive in Richardson, Texas, and nearly five years in a new bungalow in Allen, Texas. So moving again didn’t seem all that unusual, and certainly not emotional, even for a softie like me.
Move preparation demanded significant paring of stuff: not just furnishings (we donated an enormous 2007 GE refrigerator, sold our dining room set on Craigslist), but all sorts of other stuff, smaller things that just accrete in a lifetime. So out went the almost 20 oak goat-head plaques, recognition of my long service as a judge at the Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas, as well as more than two decades of paper appointment books, how we tracked our calendars in a time before, first, PDAs, then smartphones. Why was I keeping them? And why did I still have a spiral notebook from B-school in 1983? Some stuff went to landfill, some to recycling. I did keep some memorabilia from Republic Airlines, but its last telephone directory went to the recycling bin.
And I spent about an hour paring down correspondence from decades earlier; in the process I uncovered replies from prominent people – the Canadian immigration minister, responding to my complaint about being denied entry across from Detroit in 1977 (I had to go back across the river and buy a train ticket); and a short, sincere apology from Pauline Kael, longtime New Yorker film critic, who I dinged for some remarks about New Zealand that I found demeaning. Back in the day I was quick to dispatch a cranky letter!
The weekend of November 3-4 was for packing; we had hired movers, but still needed to box up books and linens and a ton of framed art and photos. On Sunday I took a last bike ride around Allen, both on the streets with my road bike and on some pleasant, leafy trails near our house. A few farewells and hugs to neighbors who we will surely miss. Time to say goodbye to a good place.
On Monday morning the 5th, we signed a bunch of paper to sell 614 Seeport Drive. Drove home, packed a few more things into the Toyota, kissed Linda, and at 11:28 I backed out of the driveway and pointed the car toward Virginia, 1320 miles northeast. It was going to be a long road trip, one of the longest of my life, and I was not real excited about 20 hours behind the wheel. I saw the Dallas skyline a couple of times in the rearview mirror. I wasn’t sad about leaving, though the 25 years there was a good run.
Stopped in Sulphur Springs, Texas, for lunch at Whataburger, a wonderful Texas chain that somehow has survived the onslaught from McDonalds and others. Picked up a couple of their small cheeseburgers (less likely to be messy in the car) and a 32-ounce chocolate malt. Texas comfort food, for sure. Cruise control was set at 80, 5 mph above the speed limit. Rolled into Arkansas, with some nice autumn foliage, past Bill Clinton’s hometown of Hope, around Little Rock, and east to Memphis, crossing the Mississippi about 6:15.
East of Jackson, Tennessee, not yet close to Nashville, my overnight stop, I was getting hungry, but did not relish chain fast food. It was raining, but not so hard that I did not notice the billboard for a truck stop and Indian food. Say what? Chapatis and dal for the big-rig drivers? I took the exit six miles east of Jackson and found my way to the back of the convenience store, where turbaned Sikhs and ladies in saris watched cable TV from the Punjab. Ordered a simple vegetable plate (called a thali). The Indians seemed a little mystified about the enthusiastic Anglo, but I tucked into a lovely, spicy meal. The cook brought out more hot chapatis. It was a wonderful experience. By 10:45 my head was on the pillow at the Holiday Inn Express in Mount Juliet, an eastern suburb of Nashville. Plumb wore out.
Up at six, big (free) breakfast, out the door and east on Interstate 40. Up and down and up and down. Past the right-wing faithful on an overpass with a big sign that read “Vote Obama Out /Save America/Vote Republican.” Through Knoxville and up into the northeastern corner of Tennessee. Forty was a nice freeway, but I-81 was truck after truck after truck. The road followed the Appalachians northeast, in valleys between ridges. A semi almost blocked the opp to snap a picture of the “Welcome to Virginia” sign; it was so good to be in our new home state. But I was still 370 miles from my destination. Stopped for a big McDonalds shake and pressed on. The weather had cleared, and the mountain views were gorgeous. “This is gonna be a good place to live,” I thought. I was happy to be in Virginia.
And happier still to pull into the parking lot of Robin’s apartment, park the car, give her a hug, and open a cold Yuengling beer. It was election night, and after Dylan and Carson went to sleep we tucked into Chinese take-out and watched the returns roll in. When NBC predicted that President Obama would take Ohio and have enough electoral votes to be re-elected, I gave a small whoop, high-fived Robin, and headed to sleep.
On Wednesday morning I drove over to the new house, 7711 Bridle Path Lane, McLean, and was delighted to find a flag bracket to hold Old Glory, the last item I packed into the Toyota two mornings earlier. Did some work at a Starbucks, drove to National Airport, picked up Linda, and went to buy the house. Hooray for that! Literally the first task the day after signing the papers was to put up the two National Geographic big maps, of the world and the U.S., in the garage. And the next ten days went by fast, moving Robin and the girls in, taking care of a couple of small repairs and installations, and unpacking after the moving van arrived on Tuesday the 13th. Fitting too much stuff into a somewhat smaller house created some challenges, and some stress (read: yelling), but we got through it.
On Saturday the 17th, I paused from a lot of remaining work. I needed some exercise. Prising a bicycle from the piles and boxes in the garage was no small matter, but I managed to extract the red Trek city bike, pump up the tires, and set off for the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, the former railway right of way that runs 50 miles west-northwest from Alexandria on the Potomac. According to the iPhone map, the trail ran within 4.4 miles of home, to the south. As soon as I started pedaling I felt better, and once I reached the trail I continued east on a clear and crisp day, 21 miles round trip, a true and quite large slice of therapy. And another reminder of what a great place Northern Virginia is: the hills, the big trees (several in a ravine adjacent to our house are at least 150 feet tall), friendly new neighbors, and lots more.