The Long Story of Where I Went and How I Got There
As a kid in Syracuse, New York, I never really liked change. Consistency was my security blanket. I was big on tradition for tradition’s sake — so much so that when, at the first Thanksgiving dinner my wife and I hosted, my mother passed a bowl to my friend while informing him, “It’s not Thanksgiving without cabbage salad,” I didn’t bat an eyelash.
My family never moved from the first house my parents bought. Four out of five of us never knew another home growing up. My father worked for the same company for around 45 years, and probably would have made it to 50 if his job hadn’t moved to Mississippi. We ate dinner religiously every night at 5:30 when he arrived home. For breakfast on Monday mornings, we ate cold cereal. On Tuesdays it was scrambled eggs. Wednesdays it was oatmeal, Thursdays poached eggs. On Fridays — my favorite — we had French toast.
No, my mother hadn’t been in the military. It was just easier with five kids to have a consistent plan. I liked knowing the plan.
After college, I moved from Syracuse to Rochester — the first big self-initiated change of my life. It went well enough. Soon, Rochester became my home. I’ve always loved New York State. It has one of the greatest cities in the world and Niagara Falls. It borders another country, the ocean, and two of the Great Lakes. Plus, it has four distinct seasons, of which I’m a fan. (I especially love fall.) I was prepared to live out my days in the Empire State.
My wife, Rebecca, had other plans.
Rebecca moved a lot in her life. She was born in Western New York, but her family migrated downstate as her father chased work training and shoeing horses. When she was eleven, he packed up the family and moved to Arizona to pastor an C&MA church, eventually settling on the Navajo Reservation. When she was in high school, she lived with her family outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, until she went back to New York for college.
I was an unexpected wrench in her plans to leave New York and travel after graduation. We got married, found an old house in a great neighborhood in Rochester, and settled down.
Many times over the years, she made it clear that staying in Rochester was never in her long-term plans. Many times I simply nodded my head and said, “OK.”
When we decided to sell our house and move out of the city, life felt very disrupted. I loved our house, even though after 11 years it still needed a lot of work. It was my anchor — my home base. We moved out to an eastern suburb to a small ranch on two and a half acres surrounded by eighty-foot pines. It felt like being in the country — at camp — yet we were ten minutes from downtown Rochester and could walk to a major grocery store. Immediately, I was ready to call this my forever home.
For seven years we enjoyed our special property. It was a lot of upkeep, and snow-blowing 300 feet of driveway got a little old in the winter, but it was our place and I loved it. Still, Rebecca talked of moving from time to time and even spent nearly two years living with her aunt and uncle around Hartford, Connecticut, after she got a good job in the area. We made it work, and when Covid hit and remote work became all the rage, she moved back to Rochester full time. We actually embraced the lockdown and made the best of it.
This Time For Real
I think it was this past January that Rebecca told me she needed to move. This time it was different. Since November I’d seen how the cold weather and lack of sunny days were affecting her. Even when the snow isn’t bad, Rochester winters can be rough. Grey days follow more grey days. It can feel like you’re living in the Ray Bradbury story, All Summer in a Day. On the rare days the clouds give way to blue sky and sun, it’s a newsworthy event.
Frankly, I too was over the cold, grey, and snow. As a kid, enduring Syracuse winters (where the average snowfall is around 125 inches a year) was a badge of honor. At this point in my life, living anywhere that averages over a hundred inches of snow a season, while not partaking in any winter sports besides playing find-the-mailbox after the plow comes by, seems like a badge of questionable life choices.
So, we began our hunt for milder climes, finally settling on a city that met our criteria: At least 300 sunny days a year, affordable housing, four seasons, hot summers with low humidity, in a state with politics we agree with and, most importantly to me, in one of the “New” states.
In February we flew out to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and looked for places to live. We decided on a newly built apartment complex on “historic Route 66” in the Nob Hill neighborhood near the University of New Mexico and made a plan to move. Because of commitments I had, including shuttering my IT consulting business along with the fact that we wanted to make some updates to the house before selling, we decided we’d move Rebecca out to Albuquerque at the end of April, and I’d stay in Rochester and oversee the house renovations. I’d also have a huge garage sale to divest myself of many years of unnecessary stuff. (I’m not a hoarder, but I do have some… tendencies.)
I’ll admit, the thought of leaving behind my home and friends for a new land-locked state was a bit disturbing at first, but the Covid lockdown had made me realize a few things:
- I’m very happy spending the majority of my time with my wife and cats.
- I don’t need to be around other people as much as I always thought I did.
- When it comes to the energy I put into outside relationships, I often don’t see a great return on investment.
In addition, my 90-year-old mother passed away right at the beginning of the pandemic. I’d always felt a need to stay “in the area” while she was alive. I felt more free to move after her passing.
Another thing that truly helped was the realization that anytime I moved in the past, as much as I’d loved where I lived, once I moved I lost my emotional connection to the old place. Even after we sold my mother’s house, which had been in the family for around 65 years, I felt no loss or sadness. I didn’t need those places to have memories about them. That’s the best part about memories: they’re portable.
I quickly realized, I’m cool with this move. However, that didn’t mean it was going to be stress-free. Au contraire mon frère. There was much work to be done on the yard and house. There was the distribution of my clients. There was the disburdening of a lot of stuff and the packing up of the remainder. There was the initial move of belongings across country and the setup of the new apartment, and all along there was the constant concern about how the cats would react to not only the eventual trip but to being stuck in a 1100-square-foot apartment after having had twice as much house and a two-and-a-half acre lot to run around in.
Oh, and did I mention that I had a play scheduled to be produced down the Thruway in Buffalo in the midst of everything?
Move Part 1
At the end of April, we put a hitch on our eight-year-old Mazda 6, rented a U-Haul trailer, and got down to business identifying what we needed to transport out west in the initial move. I used my apparent Tetris skills to efficiently pack the car and trailer, and on the morning of April 28, we hit the road.
If you’ve never driven across country, I highly recommend you do it sometime. I suggest you do it with someone you enjoy spending time with, and you probably shouldn’t do it with cats.
We’ve driven across country a few times, but this was the first time we took the “southern route.” For this trip it was just the two of us. We decided to wait and bring the cats out in September. Reddit “Idiots In Cars” post? I was happy to quickly learn I did a good job packing the trailer with all the heavy stuff up front, so it performed like an extension of the car.I was a bit anxious about how the car would handle. When I changed lanes, would the trailer weave back and forth in ever-increasing waves until I jackknifed and ended up the subject of a
The first day we made it the 800 miles to O’Fallon, IL. (Not to be confused with O’Fallon, MO, 50 miles to the west.) It was a relatively uneventful drive. Well, we did run into one little issue. The tongue of the trailer had a habit of scraping the road if we were going down a very steep incline. We heard it scrape following a visit to a gas station. The next time we stopped for gas, I did my usual quick check of the vehicle and realized that scrape had slightly damaged the wiring harness. Without it, we had no break lights or directional signals on the trailer. Not a good things to be lacking if you’re driving on a 75-mile-an-hour highway in the dark, dark night of Nowhere, Illinois. Fortunately, it wasn’t night yet and we were at a truck stop. Unfortunately, it was starting to rain, and I couldn’t easily access my toolbox (rookie mistake). I did manage to get ahold of a razor blade and some electrical tape. A short time later I’d done such a good job repairing the harness that when I returned the trailer two days later, the U-Haul dude had no issues since all the lights worked properly.
The following day, we continued our journey, passing through St. Louis and getting my first glimpse of the famous arch. It’s cool and all, but I still think they should have built it over the river, which is how I imagined it as a kid. Needless to say, I was disappointed when I learned the truth. Still, it’s a pretty impressive sight.
We put another 775 miles behind us that day and spent the night in Amarillo, Texas. From what I can tell, Amarillo is one big truck stop. That was fine for us. Saturday morning on our way out of town, we stopped at the Cadillac Ranch. It’s an art installation that was created in 1974 when three friends buried 10 Caddies nose-first in the ground. You are welcome to grafitti them, and they even sell spray paint on-site. We chose to appreciate them passively.
An hour later we were in New Mexico, and a few hours after that we were in Albuquerque unloading the U-Haul and moving into our new apartment 1860 miles from our house in Rochester (as the crow drives). We got settled in fairly quickly, despite the fact we managed to bring a lot of stuff, and even managed to get quite a few pictures hung before I had to cut out on Monday afternoon. I had dress rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother on Tuesday evening and couldn’t miss it.
It was to be a circuitous trip home. When I was trying to book my flight some weeks before, the only available and reasonably priced flight was from Albuquerque to Albany (216 miles from our house in Rochester). That meant I needed a car to get home. So, the weekend before the trip, we visited Rebecca’s aunt and uncle near Hartford. We drove two cars as far as Schenectady, NY, and left one at my brother’s place. Later in the week, he was conveniently heading to the airport for a trip and left my car there for me to pick up a few days later. Sometimes, things actually do fall into place.
Saying My Goodbyes
The next couple of months consisted of me fixing things around the house, selling things online, and preparing for our big garage sale while also working my consulting job. In June I flew out and spent some time with Rebecca and we made an impromptu trip to the Ikea outside of Denver, a mere six-hour drive. That’s just how things are out west — six hours from everything else.
Rebecca flew back to Rochester in July for my play which ended up being… cancelled. It wasn’t so much cancelled as it just failed to happen. The small production company in Buffalo that was staging it just sort of disappeared. They stopped communicating, stopped updating their social media — basically just stopped being. It was bizarre and disappointing, but after Covid having delayed it’s production twice, I just shrugged and moved on. And by that I mean I threw myself a farewell event.
In June, I’d hosted my last Rochester Spoken Word Speak Easy reading event. Rochester Spoken Word was coming to an end, at least in name. The name was associated with my company, and my company was going away, and I was going away, so it just made sense to shut it down after five and a half years. I expect something similar will continue on without me thanks to my partner, Evvy, but it won’t be called Rochester Spoken Word. I wanted my farewell event to be the last associated event, so I rented out Nox (a cool bar in the city) and had a little bash where some of my favorite writers came and read, and I read a bunch of my own stuff. We had a nice turnout, and more importantly, we had a good time.
The next day, it was back to work.
Conveniently, Rebecca decided to stay in Rochester until the final move. I can’t imagine how things would have gone without her there. We had our giant garage sale in August, and we unloaded a lot of stuff, including my hundreds of CDs and DVDs. We also got rid of a library-worth of books. That giant cleanse was wonderful.
I’d always saved stuff because:
- It’ll be worth something some day.
- I might need it.
- Someone will want it.
Funny thing, for the most part, those all turned out to be incorrect assumptions.
During that time, we also had our second bathroom redone and the house painted inside and out. Basically, like most homeowners, we did the things we always wanted to do right before we moved out. Then, right before the big move, we went on vacation to Vermont.
Ah, Vermont! I truly love that state and would be happy settling down there. Yes, the weather isn’t much different than in New York, but there’s just something magical about it to me — especially the islands in Lake Champlain. We’ve been renting a cottage there on North Hero island for over 10 years. It’s my happy place.
Move Part 2
After a week of relaxation, it was back to reality and the final push. The plan was for Rebecca to leave on Wednesday with her friend MJ and the cats. They’d be driving the Tesla and she didn’t want to run into any issues finding open chargers heading into Labor Day weekend. I was to leave on Saturday with the fully packed, 16-foot truck with my friend Rob riding shotgun. There were still a bunch of last-minute things to take care of around the house, which is why I was leaving later. Due to a previously scheduled vet appointment, however, she didn’t get to leave until Thursday morning.
I was feeling like I was getting the better end of the deal. I’ve heard the cats on the 10-minute drive to the vet. I couldn’t imagine spending three days in the car with them. We’d taken Daisy on six-hour trips before, and she was actually not too bad. She’d cry for a few minutes, resolve herself to the situation, then hunker down and stay hidden away until our eventual arrival. I was far more concerned about Eddie, who had spent very little time in the car and was used to wide-open spaces. When we first got him, we confined him to a large bedroom and hallway for a few days to acclimate him. I’d built a six-foot gate out of wood and welded-wire garden fencing to keep him contained. On the second or third day I caught him climbing it — paw over paw — making his escape. A day later, the gate had become pointless.
I was worried he’d bolt out the car door at some rest area in East Bumfuck, Indiana, and that would be the last we’d see of him until years later when we’d receive a mysterious postcard from Fort Hancock, Texas, and we’d take the hint and reunite with him in Zihuantanejo, Mexico.
Surprisingly, both cats did OK, especially Eddie. He didn’t try to make a break for it, and at night he slept on the bed with Rebecca instead of underneath it like Daisy. All-in-all, their drive — though not overly exciting — was at least relatively easy.
I had big plans for my trip with Rob. We were going to head out on Saturday and have a leisurely drive, taking in some sites along the way. I planned for us to stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Kurt Vonnegut Museum in Indianapolis, and the World War I Museum in Kansas City. I really wanted to go to the Greenwood Rising Black Wall Street History Center in Tulsa, but it was closed on Tuesdays when we’d be passing through, so we decided instead to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Like I said, a leisurely drive. We’d arrive in Albuquerque Wednesday afternoon, unpack the truck in a few hours and have all day Thursday and Friday to show Rob the sites. His flight home was booked for Saturday.
In Scott World, time has a way of moving faster than normal.
By Wednesday — three days before our scheduled departure — I could see there was still too much to do. I told Rob we’d be leaving some time on Sunday and booked a rental car until then since I was now carless. On Friday he helped me pick up the rental truck, and that night he and our friend Kevin helped me start loading it.
At this point I have to say, I owe a MOUNTAIN of gratitude to my friends Tony, Evvy, Rob S., Kevin, and Rob — especially the last two. They all helped me in various ways, especially in that final week, but Kevin and Rob went above and beyond. They just showed up and did the shit I asked — no hesitation, no complaints. They were amazing. I can’t thank either enough.
Despite all their help however, by Sunday I decided we’d be leaving Tuesday morning — afternoon at the latest — and told Rob to push his return flight out a day. On a good note, we’d be able to go to Greenwood Rising since we’d be in Tulsa on a Friday. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to go to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum since now we’d be in Indy on a Wednesday, which is the one day a week it was closed.
I went to bed late Monday night. There was still a lot to do. Rob was getting dropped off early in the morning. Maybe we could hit the road by noon.
I woke up at 6:20 am and looked at my phone. There was a text from Rob. It said, “I’m here.” I looked at the time stamp: 5:59 AM. I jumped out of bed feeling terrible for making him wait. He was relaxing on the hammock in the yard. He didn’t want to wake me. He’s so damn British.
We immediately got to work finishing things up. There were constant bags of trash to drag to the curb and more things to jam into the truck. I was still painting doors and he was installing electrical outlets and faceplates. It seemed never-ending. At one point I went down to the curb only to find that some asshole trash trolls had ripped nearly every bag open to see what was inside. I duct-taped them up and knew if I caught someone doing that again we’d be even further delayed by my murder trial.
Slowly, we checked things off the list as the sun got lower and lower in the sky. Finally, at 9:00 pm — three and a half days after I initially planned to leave — I eased the 16-foot Penske truck out of the driveway, and under a light drizzle, said goodbye to Rochester.
Our goal for the night was Erie, PA. We just needed to get on the road and go somewhere. Obviously, the late start was disrupting our plans. We decided to do the Rock Hall on Wednesday morning and then drive straight to O’Fallon, IL, skipping the Vonnegut Museum. On Thursday morning, we’d make a bee-line to KC and visit the WWI Museum. We’d then drive to Tulsa. On Friday morning we’d go to Greenwood Rising and then decide if we wanted to drive straight to Albuquerque or spend the night along the way and get there on Saturday. Unfortunately, that meant Rob wasn’t going to get to experience much of New Mexico.
We arrived at the Rock Hall around 11:00 am on Wednesday and spent a couple of hours enjoying the exhibits. I’d been there in the past, but this was Rob’s first visit, and we had a good time experiencing it together. One of the nice things about going to museums with Rob is that we go through them at the same general pace. When I visit a museum with Rebecca, we’re together for about five minutes. Thirty minutes in, I’m still in the first room and she’s sitting on a bench outside the gift shop crocheting a scarf.
Rob is a great traveling companion, besides being a great friend, so we had a very good time together on the road. He was excited to see the St. Louis Arch on Thursday morning and really enjoyed our visit to the World War I Museum. I’d been there some years before, but I’d always wanted to go back. The place really is amazing, and it’s easy to spend hours there. On the way out we visited the gift shop where, among the hats, shirts, and grenade-shaped bottles of hot sauce we found a bin of Moon Pies — a seemingly odd confection for that particular gift shop though they did come into existence during the war (1917). Naturally, he had to buy one, which he ate shortly after in the truck on our way out of town.
Later in the evening as we were making our way to Tulsa, we stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We weren’t even on a highway. As we climbed out of the truck, Rob announced that he’d really like another Moon Pie. Good luck with that, I thought. Before that afternoon, I couldn’t tell you the last time I’d even seen one anywhere, much less in a little gas station off the beaten path.
We pumped our gas and went inside to get some drinks. Rob scoured the shelves for his beloved pies while I tried to talk some sense into him. Just before we went up to the counter to pay for our drinks I heard him say, “There they are,” and I turned to see him reaching for a small basket like your grandmother might have on her counter full of hand-made yarn pot-holders. In it was an assortment of Moon Pies. WTF? It was like someone had told him every gas station in Missouri (or Kansas or Oklahoma or wherever we were) had a basket of Moon Pies; you just had to look for it. It was one of the more bizarre, moments on our trip.
On Friday morning we planned to visit the Greenwood Rising Black Wall Street History Center to learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre that never seemed to be mentioned in our history books growing up. You needed to purchase tickets in advance, which I’d done, but I’d gotten them for Thursday. On the Monday before we left, I realized we wouldn’t be able to get there until Friday, so I called to change the tickets. I was told it wouldn’t be an issue, but the person I was talking to didn’t have the ability to change my tickets so I should call back the next day. I pointed out that they were closed on Tuesdays, but was assured that the people who could help me would be working. So, I diligently called back on Tuesday only to repeatedly have no one answer.
I managed to reach someone on Thursday and explained my predicament. She told me she could fit us into a tour in the afternoon on Friday. I asked if there was anyway we could get in on a tour in the morning since we were traveling and on a schedule. She wasn’t sure, but told me to call back in the morning. Meanwhile, she’d add us to the 1:00 pm tour. In the morning I called back to find that the Oklahoma City Thunder had reserved the museum for the morning, so 1:00 pm was the best we could do. We’d make it work.
We took an Uber from our hotel into downtown Tulsa. It’s a pretty cool little city with a lot of attractive buildings. Thanks to oil discoveries along the Arkansas River in the early part of the twentieth century, Tulsa became a boomtown seemingly overnight. Its sudden growth and influx of money coincided with the Art Deco movement of the time, so it has a surprisingly large number of buildings designed in that style. We walked around for a while before finding a very cool deli which had a respectable vegan menu. After a leisurely lunch, we strolled over to Greenwood Rising.
At 1:00 pm, we went in and I explained our situation to someone at the desk, telling them how we were told to show up at 1:00 to be part of the tour. That seemed to cause some confusion along with a little consternation. The person I’d spoken to on the phone was out but would be back soon. We waited. A few minutes later, she appeared and someone asked her, with what seemed like some slight annoyance, if she’d, in fact, told us we could join the 1:00 pm tour. She said she had. We were begrudgingly told where to wait.
Normally, they keep the tour groups to around 20 people. Twenty-two didn’t seem to me like it would make that much difference. We assembled in the starting area where a short movie was to be shown. Our tour guide, an older woman who let it be known she couldn’t hear very well, started to speak as more people joined the group. Apparently, this was a church group of some sort, and they apparently hadn’t been told about the 20-person limit. More and more of them wandered in to the chagrin of our guide. She began berating us all for being such a large group which would slow things down and she was on a time limit. She kept this up for a few minutes, her voice unnecessarily loud. I kept thinking, If we’re pressed for time, perhaps you should stop yelling at us and begin the tour.
Finally we watched the movie and the tour began.
Greenwood Rising seems like a very cool museum. They have some powerful immersive displays along with a lot of display cases and informative plaques. The problem with the museum is the guides. There is no need to be guided through the museum. Imagine if you went to an art museum and the docent gathered everyone together in the middle of the room and proceeded to recite the information on the plaques next to the artworks around you. You’d be constantly trying to look through people at the art on the walls across the room. It would be frustrating.
If the guide simply made herself available to answer questions, that would have been perfect. Instead, she gathered everyone around her and basically said everything that was written on the plaques on the walls. She added next to nothing to the experience and actually detracted from it. Plus, since each room had a video that played, and unfortunately looped, she was often trying to yell over the video. After her spiel, she would rush us to the next room. Yes, there were too many of us in this particular group. However, if we could have just gone through at our own pace, read the plaques, looked at the displays, and watched the videos, everyone could have seen everything, gotten the full experience and made it through in the allotted time. Instead, I’m guessing most of the group members missed out on a lot and if they were like Rob and I, they left disappointed with the whole experience. It was a shame actually.
We caught an Uber back to the truck and headed west. We decided to spend the night in Santa Rosa, NM, so we could arrive at the apartment in the daylight. On Saturday morning, we cruised into Albuquerque and began the longer-than-expected process of unloading the truck. We had rented a storage unit across the street from our apartment building, which was helpful. Unfortunately, before the truck was empty, we had to rent two more.
In the evening, we dropped Rob off at his hotel (we only have a one-room apartment), dropped off the truck, showered, cleaned up, picked up some food and met him back at the hotel where we ate and then had drinks at our favorite rooftop bar. In the morning, after a good night’s sleep, we had a nice breakfast and gave Rob a little tour before dropping him at the airport. The great move was complete.
Seven weeks in and all is well. We’re mostly settled in, and the cats, though maybe a bit bored, have adapted better than expected. Our house is sold and we got more than we asked for, so we’ve no complaints there. I’m writing again and looking into additional employment. It’s fall here and the leaves are changing. Albuquerque is over 5300 feet above sea level, which is slightly higher than Denver, so despite being so far south, it legitimately has four seasons. As I said early on, fall is my favorite season, so I’m happy in a melancholy sort of way.
We’ve been looking at houses, though we’re not in a huge hurry to buy. I feel like people are still pricing their homes like it’s this past summer. I expect things to cool down a bit more, so we’re happy to wait. In the meantime we’re enjoying apartment living and exploring our new city and state.
I’ve found that despite the stress of moving, I’ve really been fine with uprooting my life with this move. I never would have thought I would have adjusted so well, but here we are. Do I have any regrets? Only that I wasn’t able to get on the road sooner and visit the Kurt Vonnegut Museum.
Then again, now I have a future road trip to look forward to.