Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My trip to AZ, part 2 of 2: 1,839 miles and 1 apartment

My dear sweet peas,

Let's see...in part 1, I told you about how I got enough money for my move, how I ended up with a huge truck instead of the small one I reserved, and about how my dad pulled a Scott Peterson on his first wife.  This second part is about my actual drive and my new apartment.

My total journey was 1,839 miles.  While I normally love road trips and stopping in weird places to try local foods and to check out interesting landmarks, for this trip I needed to save gas and make good time, so I stopped only to refuel, to sleep, and to use the restroom.  I ate in the truck and didn't take any pictures of anything, with one exception in eastern Arizona.  I also drove the old-fashioned way: with a paper road atlas.  No GPS, no laptop, not even a smartphone.  And I never did get lost or make any wrong turns, not even in the high-speed mazes of those big city tolls and interchanges.  Although I did miss one of my exits in Madison, WI and had to backtrack because I couldn't cross several lanes of bumper-to-bumper construction traffic in my huge-ass truck fast enough.  But all went smoothly after that, as far as directions go.

The first day I drove 761 miles in 14 hours, and spent the night in El Dorado, Kansas, just outside of Wichita.  In terms of scenery and landmarks, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and eastern Kansas all look exactly the same, so when the sun went down that night, I was still in a lush, green little world. 

The second day I drove 648 miles in 10 hours, and that portion of the trip was a bitch.  Eastern Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles looked the same as they did the seven other times I've driven through them--ugly, depressing, hot, and windy.  Parched brown grass as far as the eye can see, and half the towns are completely deserted.  I'm sure the people of Kansas are wonderful, but I can't understand why they live there, or why anyone first settled in that place.  At one point I drove through one "town" which consisted of a post office, two run-down motels, and five abandoned, dilapidated gas stations.  The sadness of it was striking, and it made me wonder what everything had been like when it was new, and what had happened since.  Many of the towns in that area were like that, and it's where I most feared my truck would break down, so I went a little faster.  If you didn't already know, once you get to the Plains, the speed limit goes up to 65 for two-lane highways and 75 for multi-lanes, and this second day is how I found out how much more money one spends on gas by just adding those few extra miles per hour. 

So on the third day I kept it strictly at 65 and let everyone pass me, and drove 430 miles in about 7 hours.  I was delayed because at first glance, it seemed like taking Highway 60, rather than Interstate 40, from New Mexico into Arizona would save a few miles.  Plus, the speed limit would be less than 75 mph, and Highway 60 is a scenic route.  How could it go wrong?

  Thanks for this visual, Google Maps.

Indeed, Highway 60 between Socorro, NM and Show Low, AZ is one of the prettiest roads I've ever driven.  That portion of New Mexico was so lovely that it took my breath away, and I'd like to go back there for winter break or spring break or something. 

However, between Show Low and Globe, AZ, the highway is an utter NIGHTMARE.  It goes through a damned canyon--I think the Black Canyon.  I've driven through mountains (and mountain blizzards) before, but man, look at this road!

Thanks, Google Earth.

I drove that road!  And it just winds and winds and winds, up one mountain and down another, over and over, for  h o u r s.  I felt like Frodo climbing up Mount Doom, all disoriented and in a trance.  I have to do this alone, Sam!

Don't get me wrong.  The Black Canyon is extremely beautiful.  It was the only place I stopped to take any pictures.  But see that guard rail in the photos below?  There is no shoulder on that side of the road, and on the other side of the railing is a bottomless abyss.  It's like a sharp million-foot drop off.  Zoinks!



Okay--Black Canyon.  Beautiful.  Got it.  But remember, I was sort of in a hurry, I was driving a huge, heavy truck with bad blind spots, the road was very steep and narrow, the speed limit was between 25 and 35 through this dangerous mountain range, people were tailgating me, and my truck was really struggling with the altitude.  And then it started raining, which prompted all the traffic around me to drive even faster.  I have no idea how people are comfortable barreling around those corners so fast, especially when the roads are slick.  I could actually see some of the other trucks around me skidding out of control a little bit, and they didn't slow down at all.  This part of the drive was enormously stressful, and I was so happy when those mountains were finally behind me.

What else surprised me about the drive is that there were those Adopt-a-Highway signs all along these obscure, lonely mountain roads.  Having coordinated and attended highway cleanups myself, this was shocking to me.  How on earth would you get a group of people to agree to drive an hour through dangerous hairpin curves to pick up garbage along a desolate highway that's 8,000 feet above sea level?  I had trouble getting people to agree to clean up a pretty lakeside highway in a well-to-do area just a couple miles between two well-populated, sea-level cities.  I also noticed that the highway cleanup signs out west often do not list the sponsoring organizations, but dead people instead.  "Adopt-a-Highway, Next Two Miles: In Loving Memory of Stacey Lynn Thornberry - We Love You."

I wasn't sure what to think about this.  Is Stacey smiling down from outer space at all the discarded beer cans and fast food containers that are conspicuously missing from her section of highway?  Perhaps she is.

I saw some other interesting signs, too, such as:

"Runaway Truck Ramp Ahead"
"Watch For Falling Rocks"
"Elk Crossing Next 10 Miles"
"Cattle Crossing"
"Rough Road Ahead"

The "Rough Road Ahead" could have described most of the roads I drove.  Aside from the gas mileage thing, the other reason I didn't want a big truck is that I didn't have that much stuff to move, and a smaller truck would have allowed me to pack things more snugly so they wouldn't bounce and roll around so much.  As I hit some of these tectonic faults in the road, the truck must have went airborne at least three times.  I think it bottomed out once.  And I could hear all my stuff start to come loose.  Bookshelves doing somersaults, chairs and lamps doing backflips, my bicycle auditioning for the circus.  When I was in Kansas, I opened the truck's back door a crack so I could peek at the damage, but an avalanche was imminent, so I closed it up again.  I was sure that the next time I opened that door to start unloading in Phoenix, I would need buckets to carry out the sawdust and unidentifiable bits of glass and plastic.  By this time my truck was essentially functioning as a rock tumbler, but instead of rocks, it was my furniture. 

When I pulled into Phoenix, it was just after 5pm on Thursday July 28th.  I had a reservation at a Motel 6 right next to the airport, and as I got out of the truck I noticed that the entire motel was surrounded by razor wire.  The smell of mold almost knocked me over as I entered my room, which featured peeling paint and a comforter from the early 1980s.  I checked for bedbugs like I normally do, but later, as I was falling asleep, I jolted awake, certain that I felt something crawling on me.  I frantically turned on the lights and threw back the sheets, but nothing was there.  Nothing was there.  It happened a few more times, and by now I was getting paranoid and imagining that things were crawling on me and eating me and I started thrashing about and scratching myself out of fear until I finally conked out, exhausted. 

Anyhow, that evening I had picked up a newspaper and looked at the apartment listings.  I circled three of them and called two of them.  One of them answered, and I made an appointment to view the place the next morning, on Friday.  I drove the truck, still filled with my stuff, to this appointment, and viewed four of the apartments that were available in this sprawling complex.  One of them was kinda cute, so I applied, and was approved that afternoon.  I moved in the next day, Saturday the 29th.  And since then I have been cleaning, unpacking, figuring out where everything is in this town, and preparing for school to start on August 18.

And that is the story of how I moved to Phoenix and found a place to stay.  My place is in north central Phoenix, and not in Tempe, where ASU is.  I didn't want to be too close to campus and all the parties and loud music and drunk people.  I wanted to be in a quiet residential area.  And this place, both the landlord and the property manager assured me, was quiet.  "We don't put up with any nonsense," they said. 

I did look at some other apartments after that, because this place I rented has no lease and is a month-to-month deal.  The landlord says this allows him to kick out drug dealers and other people who cause problems, but I think there's some other reason.  Anyway, it's good for me because I can move if I don't like it here.  So I looked at a few other places, because Phoenix itself is like one huge apartment complex, and there is definitely no shortage of places to choose from.  But the other places I checked out, while gorgeous, were expensive and TINY.

My new apartment is over 800 square feet (which is huge for just one person with no pets) and is a two-story, so I have no upstairs or downstairs neighbors.  That means no McStompersons above me and no screaming babies below me.  It has a spiral staircase, a patio, two bathrooms, central air, on-site laundry, and a pool right outside my door.  And I can see the mountains from the parking lot.  All for $450 a month plus electric, which is right in the price range that I wanted.  It's main problem, though, is that no one is taking care of the landscaping, which, with some love, would be divine.  But at the moment it's kind of a seething mass of decay and overgrowth.  I've been tending to the plants around my area, but the grounds are so large (64 apartments total) that there's no way I could do the whole complex myself.  It would be a full-time job, but I suppose in this economy, the landlord can't afford to hire someone. 

The walkway to Pool #2 and to my door.

The other problem is that it's not exactly quiet.  I mean, my immediate neighbors are quiet, but the ones down the walkway from me are fucking obnoxious.  Last week, two of them stayed in the pool for twelve full hours, cackling, screeching at their dog "Ricky," and belting out renditions of Black Velvet.  Right outside my door, thank you very much.  And these two women appear to be in their late thirties.  That afternoon one of them shouted, "Oh my god, is it really 4:20?  Like 4:20 p.m.?  WOO HOO!"

Oh dear.

On top of that, the jackass guy four doors down from me has an expensive stereo system and is in the habit of turning it way up and then keeping his door open all day, so that everyone else is forced to listen to his music.  And he's an older guy with a big gray beard (his name is Bob), so you'd think that by now he'd be over the whole if-I-play-my-music-loud-then-everyone-will-know-how-cool-I-am phase, but apparently not.  The bass from Bob's music rumbles through the entire apartment complex, and last night I asked him to turn it down for the second time in one week. 

"You must be really sensitive to bass," he accused me.

No. No. No.  Don't you dare blame me when you're the one who has your music too loud.  Man, I can hear that shit way out by the parking lot.  Out by the Dumpsters, even.  If I can clearly hear it several buildings aways, you are the problem, not me.  You want loud music, you get some earphones.  And when I ask you to turn it down, that means I don't want it turned down just for the moment, you fucking knob.  That means you need to play your music at a reasonable level EVERY DAY.  ALWAYS AND FOREVER.  

God, I HATE loud music.  I probably hate it more than flying and dealing with health insurance paperwork.

I shouldn't rant, though, because I suspect Bob's elevator might not go all the way to the top.  Last week I was moving some gravel and laying down a couple 99-cent stepping stones that I had picked up from a hardware store.  As I was on my hands and knees positioning these stones in the dirt, about to fill the gaps between them with gravel, Bob walks by and points dismissively at my handiwork.  "You should have just laid those stones on top of the gravel!" he said.

"On top of the gravel?" I scrunched my nose.  "Why?"

"Because the haboob will just come and wash all that dirt away and turn everything to mud!" he said with dismay.  

"No, I'm putting the gravel around them," I said.

What a nut.  First of all, a haboob is a DUST STORM.  They don't wash things away and they certainly don't create mud.  Second of all, if you lay stepping stones on top of gravel, they'll shift position as people are stepping on them!  Third of all, don't criticize a job before it's done.  What Bob said is like walking up to someone who has just erected the frame of a house and saying, "Oh man, you gotta put a roof on that thing or else the rain is just going to come right through!"

Thank you, Albert fucking Einstein.  I'm not finished yet, so why don't you go sit down and shut the hell up?  Jeez. 

I want to live out in the country so bad, it hurts.

I can't wait to start grad school and be surrounded by people who actually have some sense.

Anyway.  The good news is that my furniture came out okay.  A few bookshelves got scratched all to hell, but otherwise, everything was fine.  Not a single piece of my crystal dinnerware set was harmed, and, amazingly, my computer started up just fine.  I really do love the desert and the mountains, and I'm enjoying Phoenix.  It is a very flat, spread-out city, and kind of looks like a giant strip mall.  But I don't mind.  There are tons of things to do, the bus system is easy to figure out, and the lightning here is awesome.  Desert thunderstorms are truly spectacular--tall and imposing, blushed pink by the sunset.  I don't mind the heat anywhere near as much as I feared, and I love how every day is a gorgeous, sunny day.

Although I might be singing a different tune once the global water crisis really hits.

Stay tuned for more pics of my apartment!