Monday, March 14, 2005
3:30am at our going-away party at 12 Galaxies (thanks to Robert Levy for hosting, and for keeping Rob from falling out of the chair!)
Our departure from the Bay Area was almost idyllic. The party we had at the 12 Galaxies club in San Francisco with 60 of our closest friends came to a blurry end around 3:30am, with both of us laden with gifts and tequila shots, hugging all of those around us, slurring about how much we loved them, and sincerely meaning it. After the party, it was all work all the time until the van was packed and ready to go. Luckily, we’re both good worker bees, once procrastination is no longer an option. We had all of our possessions sold or stored and only had to wait on the van before we set off…
…Which brings us to our newest purchase, a 1981 VW Westfalia Vanagon - The Van, aka Pearly Baker. She was all decked out with pop-top camper, stove, fridge – ready for camping on the beach! We named her after the noble character in the Grateful Dead song “Wharf Rat.” A van’s gotta have a good name, right? Well, apparently giving a motor vehicle a good name doesn’t necessarily bring her good fortune. After getting her checked and okayed by a mechanic in San Francisco, we figured out this mechanic had given us the shaft. When we decided (after running out of gas on a freeway interchange with no shoulder) that the fuel gauge had to be fixed, we took her to another mechanic who, when looking into the fuel gauge problem, found about a million other problems as well. We were packed, ready and…stuck. We moped about our house for days, living out of our suitcases, weary from a full week of sleeping on an air mattress and generally pissy about the whole situation. “Hey hon, let’s make some oatmeal.” “Sorry babe, the bowls are already in storage.”
Although the van kept us put longer than we wanted, we loved our mechanic, Steve at Karmakanix in Berkeley. He is the quintessential Berkeley VW mechanic. Not only does he blow glass and play the didgeridoo, he is also a veritable encyclopedia of VW knowledge. Seriously, the man can talk for days about the variations of rebuilt air-cooled engines.
Steve at Karmakanix
Unfortunately Steve forgot to grease one of the new CV joints he installed, and 200 miles later we’re stuck in Los Banos, CA at Clyde’s Automotive Repair. Now, we were definitely peeved at being in Los Banos, a true cultural backwater in the context of greater California, and still so close to where we started! But if we had to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, Clyde’s was where we wanted to be. The knowledgeable and honest Clyde and his irresistibly adorable wife, Kathy, made sure we had everything we needed for what we were initially afraid might be a one-week stay in Los Banos. At first the problem seemed like it might be the transmission, since, who would suspect a brand new 1-day old CV joint of making such an awful racket?! Luckily, Clyde took everything apart and found the problem, so our stay was only a day and half.
Clyde, Pearly's savior in Los Banos, CA
The remaining three days of the drive were automotively uneventful, saving one flat tire in New Mexico. We raced toward Mississippi, resisting the temptation of places like the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, a giant meteor crater, Billy the Kid’s grave and Dinosaurland – this was not that kind of trip. You could practically see Rob’s loin cloth and war paint as he assumed road warrior position.
Road Warrior Carley and Pearly gun it across northern Arizona
Kina wants to drive!
We made it to Oxford, MS in record time, just in time for a Saturday night out with Carley’s brother, Barrett, and his girlfriend, Molly. Now, for you Yankees (a term used for *anyone* who grew up outside of the Deep South), Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi, is a true gem of a town. In addition to epic tailgating events during football season, the town has managed to resist the economic lure of strip malls and box stores, leaving Oxford’s commercial hub – the town square – with good quality restaurants and stores…all locally owned.
The next day we finally made it to Carley’s hometown and Elvis’s birthplace, Tupelo, MS, where Carley proved herself a true Tupelonian by promptly catching the flu epidemic that was going around town. Rob’s Yankee blood was luckily immune. The flu set us back several days and Pearly threatened to set us back even more with her substantial oil leak and the dearth of remotely qualified VW mechanics in Mississippi. Then an alignment of the stars (and a very generous offer from Carley’s parents) gave us another option. Why not cut our (considerable) losses with Pearly and get a reliable, if conspicuous, SUV? For free. Now, we’re not talking a petite SUV that runs on biodiesel. We’re talking about a tank of a vehicle. And while our inner environmentalists shuddered a bit, the SUV is actually more fuel efficient than Pearly and it will get us over some rough Mexican roads, provided we’re not carjacked.
So, the cast has changed (sorry August, but Pearly was not true!) to Rob, Carley, Kina, and Trixie the Tahoe (no meaning here, we just liked the alliteration). So, for now we’re still in Tupelo, visiting with Carley’s parents and friends, wedding planning, and making last minute travel preparations. But we can almost hear and smell New Orleans, our first stop on the way to the border.
On to Leaving the USA!