Tuesday, August 12, 2008

As I Lay Dying, Redux

I recently completed what had to be one of the most challenging trips I'll ever make, driving from Colorado Springs, home for the last four years, to Charleston, home for at least the next nine months. I made the trip driving my Jeep Grand Cherokee, towing a 6 x 12 U-Haul trailer, loaded to its recommended max weight. Following close behind was my teenage (for a few more months) daughter in her VW Beetle.

We'd made the trip in the opposite direction a few short months ago at the end of May, both of us in the Beetle. We made it in two and a half easy days. I anticipated that we'd be a little slower eastbound. I had no idea.

It wasn't possible to drive that trailer above 60 mph without it developing a mind of its own. I gradually learned how to dampen its contortions while slowing to a speed where it would settle into straight trail again, but, let me tell you, that was work. Hard work by the end of a long day on the road. And it was frequent, even at 60. So I didn't push it. Anything encouraged it. Uneven road. Big trucks with bigger bow waves. I was careful never to let it approach the point where it would be in the driver's seat, but I could sense that it would be happy to take that position if I ever pressed it. The result was long, slow, exhausting days. What had been two and a half, ten to twelve hour days westbound became three, solid, twelve to fifteen hour days eastbound. Plans to stay with friends had to be abandoned. We arrived in Charleston after midnight at the end of the day I'd planned to be there by lunch, already half a day behind in my search for a new place to live. (I had begun looking for a place to live at least a month before, but had given up hope of finding the right place before my arrival because the best ones, the ones I had any interest in, always rented within days. So, I resolved to keep an eye on what was available, but knew that really making a decision would require being there.)

After just four hours of sleep, I met the world's kindest Realtor (who, if I ever have the opportunity to buy a home in Charleston, has my business, hands down) at 0800 the next morning and began a long day of looking at houses, condos, townhomes, and apartments. I can never sufficiently repay her for that day. That search itself may be the topic of another post altogether. It could have been much more painful. It didn't seem painful at first. We narrowed it, by day's end, to two places. I finally chose one based on the fact that it was far more accommodating to visits from my daughters, especially the one in Wilmington, who would, I was sure, drive down several times with friends if I chose the one I did--opting, at the same price, for twice as much space, newly constructed and "beachy," vs the much closer in, half as large, nearly as old as my parents, but in the neighborhood everyone wants to be in (for the same reason everyone wants a Gold Card). Everyone except me and Billy Bob Thorton. It would be worth the drive, I explained, to be in a place my daughters would look forward to visiting--even for only nine months.

Anyway, called to tell the Realtor my decision, and she began to really press the other agent to return our calls. All day, from the initial showing, we'd been trying to reach her and not had our calls returned. Once I decided that was the place I wanted, the real press began. It finally took an e-mail to the other Realtor's broker. Result, delivered to me at dinner, finally relaxing with my daughter after the long day of searching: it rented the day before. Back to square one. Especially when my daughter said, "Don't take the old one. That's not where you're supposed to be."

So, Sunday morning, the search continued. On my own this time. After looking at a house only blocks from the Citadel, I decided to drive by a place I'd discounted early on because of the lack of a yard. Almost instantly, Jackie started nodding yes. Only a few more blocks from the Citadel, it was, for all practical purposes, new. I can't imagine what was left of the original building other than the frame itself and the stairs. One building, four apartments, two up, two down, with interior entrances from a central foyer. New brick facade exterior, new walls, new floors, new ceilings, wiring, pipes, cabinets, counters, appliances, etc. Seriously, I can't imagine what other than the frame and the stairs is original. Off street, gated parking on oyster-shell lot, common area w gazebo, grill, bar.

My daughter had said at dinner the night before, "Don't worry. That place (the one I thought I'd settled on) is rented because that's not where you're supposed to be either. There's a better place waiting. You'll see." The kid is clairvoyant. Less monthly rent, more space, walking distance to work, virtually new construction, and new construction in a class nothing else had approached (new hardwood floors, new stainless appliances, granite counters, all stone tile bath (of the sort my airline captain friend used in constructing his 6000 sq-ft "captain's house"), chair molding throughout the main living area. So I'll have to walk Sydni several times a day. Big deal. We'd started that already anyway. Good for both of us. And easy to do when you can walk to work in ten minutes.

So, happy ending to the house search. Only hitch, the two finished units were, of course, already rented. But the site supervisor promised one of the remaining units would be done by this Wednesday. "I guarantee it." Watching him work, on Sunday no less, I chose to believe him. I still do. We'll see. At any rate, I signed a lease.

All of this, of course--especially the happy ending--would seem to belie the title of this post. Trust me. Stay tuned. I'll get around to some of the other adventures that kept giving me flashbacks to images of a mule's four stiff legs rotating into the air as its bloated corpse floats by on the flood (unless I mis-remember my Faulkner). Eventually, I hope to have time for a good, bad, and ugly post of some of the "highlights" of this journey.

I'll say this up front though. Beyond good, beyond beautiful, beyond completely irreplaceable, has been the company of my oldest daughter. I've missed my youngest every step of the way, but I've been cheered throughout by the older of the two. We have similar tastes in most things, similar wit, similar peeves. We've laughed, stewed, and generally had a grand time, despite trials beyond any I would have willingly put her through. She's been a trooper of the most remarkable kind, never complaining. This is the daughter who sulked for a solid year after we moved the family to Fayetteville, NC, back in 2002. This nomadic odyssey? Nothing but good cheer, tolerance, always a step ahead when I needed help, fun. Fun even when everything else around us was anything but. As a result, for all its "just shoot me" moments, it'll be fun to look back on and remember. Always.

UPDATE: My new place will be ready Monday. Meanwhile, there's a park bench I've had my eye on just outside the gate to the Citadel. Doesn't get more convenient than that. Sydni will keep watch.