I packed up the last of what I owned in my car, put the cat in his carrier, turned on the ignition and drove away. I didn’t look back. I had given everything away and there was nothing I wanted more than to leave the state behind. For the first few hours the cat cried at the top of his lungs until we came to an understanding. I wouldn’t turn the music up loud enough to where I couldn’t hear him talk just in case he had something to say and he would remain silent until he wasn't.
I had decided to travel across country, as far I could get from Pennsylvania to California. I didn’t have anything against Pennsylvania. It’s a beautiful state if you’ve ever traveled through or visited. Wide fields and farms that go on over the horizon, woods you can get lost in for days. But I was running away and running to all at the same time. Since I was ten I had the dream of living in Southern California but gave up on that dream when I met someone and stayed in a relationship for far too long and gave up on my dreams until now.
I had all kinds of maps, though I had already decided to go straight through the middle of the Country. I left in September, right before the heavy snow starts to fall in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. My friends had warned me I could be stuck there for days if I didn’t leave soon. I thought about site-seeing as I went but that meant keeping my dream at bay even longer and I had waited long enough.
I wasn’t even out of Pennsylvania when I took the wrong highway putting me in West Virginia. I had only been there once before to visit a boyfriend’s family. They lived in a large log cabin home in the mountains. I stepped out of my car to pump gas and get a snack when men in pick-up trucks were now focused on staring at me. Not in the hi can I help you look but in the you don’t belong here and we know it kind of look. I did my best to look nonchalant, waving and smiling goofily until I was done. In this moment I was glad I decided not to travel alone. My future room-mate was traveling in his car as well, pumping his gas. I only hoped he tried not to talk out loud. I wasn’t sure how his Bronx accent would fare here in the country and I didn’t want to find out. Of course he did what he always does, gave me the look and walked inside the convenience store. He came out laughing and off we drove. I called him on my cell-phone. He answered in a country accent. I am sure, though never verified he talked that way in the store. I could only hope nobody took my license plate, got into their General Lee car and followed us.
We drove until we got to St. Louis, Illinois finding a hotel and settling in for the night. I found a semi-cheap hotel with the absolute most fabulous bedding I had ever experienced; down pillows and a down comforter on top of a lush mattress. I knew it must be a sign, a good one. There was only one catch. The place didn’t take pets. Most places don’t. No matter, I brought a boy from the Bronx, I wasn’t worried. He told me to pull around and wait for him. A few minutes later, more laughter and my cat bouncing up and down in his carrier as my room-mate went running into a back door. This would be my cat’s first experience at a hotel but not his last. We left early morning, leaving a few grains of kitty litter on the hotel room floor. While getting on the highway we made a stop at a park with large 3-D statues of turtles. After pretending to ride a few and taking pictures we were on our way again.
The cat and I came to a new understanding over next few days. I would leave his carrier door open and he wouldn’t try to get out. If I locked it, he would scream holy hell until I opened it again. He was like me, always wanting to have the freedom to do what we wanted even if we weren’t going to use it. We just wanted to make sure everyone around us knew we knew we could go at any time, yet we never left.
We drove straight through Kansas until we got to Denver, Colorado. Along the way, I got a postcard in every state, took as many pictures as I could and tried to put every mile into my memory so I wouldn’t forget even one moment of this experience. Kansas was a sea of green textures pulling in all directions. At times I wanted to get out of my car, pretend I was in a movie and run through the fields. I even found a store for Route 66. I don’t know how I had gone through life not knowing the history around the highway but when I entered the store I was brought back to another time. There were Elvis memorabilia, I Love Lucy items, Marilyn Monroe, The peanuts; virtually anything I could think of was here, knick knacks ranging from a dollar to hundreds. When we entered Denver I was exhausted and tired and ready to turn around.
I never had doubts about driving across the country to get to California until this moment. I couldn’t get the cat carrier out of the car. I had the carrier door wedged into the dashboard and everything had slid behind the car seat. With intoxicating clarity, standing there staring at the cat and he at me, I understood I had just given away my business and was without a job. I was about to go into debt again. The debt I just got out of from my previous relationship. And above all I had no T.V. I gave it away, along with all of my furniture, most of my clothes and personal belongings. If it didn’t fit in my car, I didn’t own it. Maybe it was the thin air in Denver but I wasn’t sure I had made the right choice. The hotel we found wasn’t as nice, the breakfast in the morning was cold and most of it wasn’t available at the time we were leaving. I was off kilter but I still packed the cat back in his carrier and kept driving.
I wasn’t ready for the mountains ahead of us. Neither was the cat. We traveled over 10,000 feet reaching the top. I had a bag of cheese curls in the back seat that popped from the air, my ears and head hurt, I heard talking coming from the carrier in a low, soft meow. By the time we were going back down the mountains I swore I would never go the same route again. This is not to take away from the beauty I saw or the fact I had just traveled over the Rocky Mountains. It was impressive as was the Starbucks in the shape of a log cabin. I regret not stopping and looking inside. These are the little things as I’ve gotten older to remember to do. The little things, you don’t think you have time for but fulfill your curiosity.
We stopped in Utah for a late lunch. As it was with West Virginia it was again here. We found a diner and decided to try it. When we entered everyone stopped talking and stared at us. We sat at one of the tables and ordered. The entire time we ordered, ate, paid and left not one person talked. We ate in under ten minutes. We didn’t stop again except to get gas until we were in Las Vegas.
As we approached Vegas I looked at the sky. It was evening and a rainbow was going over the city. I smiled. I let the cat out of the carrier, put him in my lap and told him everything was going to be o.k. We had made it to the other side of the country. I saw the sign I had waited for all my life “Welcome to California.”
I had made it. I got out of my car and had my room-mate take my picture. I stayed a few minutes reflecting on the past few days and years and how I had finally gotten here. The highway ahead went up another hill. It reached up to a place I couldn’t see from where I was but I was ready to make that last climb. In a few hours I was in Los Angeles. I had passed through a check-point making sure I was not smuggling fruit into the city. It took a few more hours to find a motel in Orange County. One I could afford. They also didn’t take pets but that was o.k. I was getting used to sneaking my cat in and out of hotels.
We traveled 3,000 miles in three days. We stayed in Orange County for a month taking the cat in and out of the room along with his food and kitty litter pan every day until we found a guest house in the Hollywood Hills. I lived on Arby’s five roast beef sandwiches for five dollars. I didn’t care. I was about to start a new life. It was everything and nothing I thought it was going to be. It was better.