Long before the sun came up, we drove down the deserted streets of Amarillo, Texas. The darkness gave the cats courage and five of them were in the cab with us – one of each of our laps and three on the back seat.
Leaving Texas for the last time was anti-climatic. I scarcely grabbed the camera in time to snap a quick shot of a signing indicating we were leaving Texas and entering New Mexico. One hundred miles later, we crossed into Colorado. The first major city we reached was Pueblo, which I knew nothing about aside from it being the place you write for information. According to Rush Limbaugh, Pueblo is the “home of the government pamphlet.” Sure enough, it’s the home of the Federal Citizen Information Center. For over thirty years, American’s were encouraged to write for information at “Pueblo, Colorado 81009. Today, they can call 1-888-8 PUEBLO or visit www.pueblo.gsa.gov.
Contrary to its legacy, Pueblo didn’t resemble a giant post office and governmental warehouse. It’s a charming town that’s filled with turn-of-the century, ornate brick buildings. At one time, it was a major economic and social center of Colorado. One third of the downtown businesses, however, were lost during the Great Flood of 1921. Also contributed to its decline was the fall of the American steel industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
I’m surprised that the city isn’t used for shooting movies since it’s so picturesque and low-key. It would be a nice place to retire if you enjoyed semi-arid weather, hiking, biking, and the outdoors. The average house price is just $116,000 with a one-bedroom apartment renting for $404 per month! The downside is that it gets 31 inches of snow a year and barely 11 inches of rain. It’s hot in the summer and cold, very cold in the winter.
As we drove, Colorado became more beautiful and remained a pleasant temperature, which eased the pressure of having to keep the animals cool. My perception of Denver was based on having gotten stuck several times at their airport because of bad weather and once because of a cracked airplane windshield.
A quick drive through Denver and the surrounding dispelled my negative opinion. The dramatic, dark gray mountains jutted from lush, emerald green rolling hills that were dotted with attractive homes, small ranches, and herds of reddish brown cattle. Huge bales of hay rested in the fields as if scattered by a giant child.
Denver and the neighboring towns were new and clean with shiny buildings, blocks of malls featuring the latest hip stores and eateries, towering hotels, eye-catching transit centers with polished monorails, and neighborhoods of cookie-cutter prairie, craftsman and bungalow style homes. Now I know why people wax poetic over the “mile-high” city. It is spectacular and futuristic.
Sad to leave beautiful Colorado, I looked forward to see Wyoming and herds of shaggy buffalo. As we crossed the border, I scooted up in my seat in anticipation. An hour later, having only spotted a lone camel and some cattle, we reached Cheyenne, our stopping point for the night.
We stayed on the outskirts of the town, opposite train tracks, a Home Depot, several high-rise hotels, a truck stop, and an Outback Steak House. With little to see, and it still being light outside, Rich got a quirky idea to test the kitty harnesses and leashes that we’d brought.
While I told him that cats won’t walk on leashes, he persisted. His half-hour walk with Lunetta, my baby tortoiseshell, was something akin to the following:
Lunetta would stand in one place and look terrified. After a few minutes, she’d sprint to the nearest bush with Rich in tow. After climbing under the bush, Rich would fish her out and walk her to the center of the lawn where Lunetta stand a moment or two until her next sprint to the bushes.
Pu’Yi, my enormous male blue-point Siamese did the best job of walking… a few gentlemanly steps then sit and wait until inspired to take a few more steps. Jujube, Rich’s bratty male, striped tabby was horrified by the experience and essentially laid on his belly and refused to move.
After attempting to walk the cats, we ate an uninspiring meal at Outback then decided to review our route on the hotel computer. With warm temperatures in Idaho and forest fires, I recommended we go north to Montana. Our newly plotted route was around 50 miles longer and would end in Missoula.
To say that Wyoming and southern Montana were boring would be an understatement. For around ten hours, the same grassy plain and collection of cattle and horses were duplicated. The only change in scenery was the occasional wind block, bitty town, truck stop, ranch or metal sculpture on a tall hill. These sculptures depicted buffalo (I saw no real buffalo), Native American hunters, cowboys, and other western themes.
I don’t know why Custer fought for the land… there’s nothing in Wyoming and most of Montana expect for plains! Maybe he was smitten with prairie dogs or just enjoyed a good fight!
The one thing you could get in Wyoming was lots of tourist brochures. Oh, and there’s Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming is the ninth largest state with the smallest population — only half a million people from border to border. The state mammal is the bison and the state dinosaur is the triceratops. One is dead and the other non-existent, which says a lot about the attitude of the state. The state fish is the cutthroat trout with the state bird being the Meadowlark. Does it get any more exciting than that?
Montana was equally scintillating. Let’s see. It has nearly double the population of Wyoming and is considered the “Treasure State.” The Western Meadowlark (notice the awe-inspiring addition of “Western”) is also their state bird. Their state animal is the grizzly bear (don’t want to see any of those), the cutthroat trout, the state fish, is “Blackspotted,” and the state flower is the bitterroot (doesn’t sounds particularly fragrant or attractive).
I really had high hopes for Montana after dreary Wyoming, but it didn’t get better until Bozeman. Like much of Colorado, Bozeman is very majestic with tall, rustic mountains, fertile valleys, stunning lakes and rivers, and soaring trees. The beauty of the area not only attracts tourists, but professionals. The average housing price is $321,519, which is fairly expensive considering agriculture is the key industry and the population is only 30,000. Although, the presence of Montana State University also contributes to an increase in housing and expansion of the arts in the area, including a symphony, ballet, opera, and several theater companies.
Bozeman is a mecca for outdoor activities from fishing, hiking, biking, and sightseeing in the warm months to skiing and snowboarding in the winter. The ski season is from November to April. Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin – the largest in the area – is over 5,500 acres in size with 24 lifts and over 220 trails.
The scenery got more spectacular as we approached Missoula, our stopping point for the night. We pull into town at around 9 and we’re deeply concerned when we saw the parking lots of motel and hotels brimming with cars. We quickly found a parking spot and walked to a handful of establishments to find all of them full for the night!
School was starting at the University of Montana the following week and parents and friends were in town to help students get set up in dorms and apartments. My heart dropped. Rich had been driving since 6 a.m. that morning and was showing signs of fatigue.
Fortunately, the desk clerks at one of the hotels knew of hotels in the area and made some calls. They found a room at a Motel 8 in Saint Regis, an hour drive from Missoula. We quickly gave the birds water, emptied the cats’ litter box, jumped into the shower then immediately conked out at around 11:30 at night.
On Thursday morning, August 23rd, we set out from Round Rock, Texas with six cats, five birds, our house plants, and a small trailer full of miscellaneous stuff, including the office equipment and furniture Rich needed to set up an office since he’ll be working from home for IBM. Lucky guy!
Rich had built a carpet-covered platform in the back of the truck for the cats and placed foam between the back of the truck and the cab so the cats could go back-and-forth. In the very back of the truck was a large cage with the birds along with a kitty litter box (see the pictures in the previous article).
While I expected the cats to be difficult to handle, they were amazing travelers. After an hour or so of intermittent yowls, they settled down. The first day, Jujube, Pu’Yi and Lunetta chose to lie on top of each other on the floor in the back of my seat. The others, Ariel Anne, Zephyra and Goldakevtch sprawl in the back with the birds. The canopy of Rich’s truck has small windows, which we left open so there was plenty of air flowing in the back.
Throughout the day, the cats would migrate to the back or come in the front for some attention. When it got dark, they tended to stay in the front. In the afternoon, most of them would be in the back, sleeping together in a giant pile. Even though the cats can be snippy at home and hiss at each other, they were like best friends the entire trip.
Because of the vibration of the truck, the water in the birds’ water bottles would flow out. We therefore had to fill their water bottled multiple times during the day and spray them with water when it got warm.
Being it was August, I was deeply concerned about the weather. Miracles of miracles, the route Rich chose through eastern Texas was unusually mild with the temperatures lingering in the high 80’s and mid-90’s until we reach Amarillo, our stopping point for the evening. For most the day, the sun was hidden behind pale gray clouds as we passed through farm and ranch land in Lampassas, Brown, Taylor, and a multitude of bitty towns that skirt the Great Plains with names like Arson, Radium, Old Glory, Peacock, Roaring Springs, and Loco.
Because Texas received an usual amount of rain this year, everything was pleasantly green. As we approached Amarillo, however, the landscape became bleaker and significantly hotter. I crossed my fingers hoping our motel room had an outside entrance and our room was towards the back so we could sneak the cats inside.
Rich had made the reservations in advance. And since Microsoft was paying, he chose slightly more upscale establishments like Comfort Suites. As we approached the Amarillo Comfort Suites, I gasped. We’d been driving for hours without air conditioning since the truck was having trouble pulling the trailer with the air conditioning going. The temperature was hovering around 100… and not only was multiple signs posted on the doors of the Comfort Suites proclaiming not pets allowed, but the hotel had just four doors inside: One through the lobby, one through the back opposite the lobby and two on either side of the building.
Thinking quickly, we requested a room on the first floor towards the back. We quickly launched a plan to park in a restaurant parking lot in back of the hotel. Rich removed the screen from the window of our room. My job was to snatch the cats out of truck, one at a time, climb over a short wall, run across a grassy area then hand the cat to Rich through the window, which he’d open and close as necessary.
We were lined up to go when one of the desk clerks from the hotel came out the back door to throw something in the dumpsters. Hearing the birds in the back of the truck, he came over to investigate. Fortunately, I had the tailgate up in the truck so he couldn’t see the kitty litter box. However, if he looked through the cage, he would have seen three sets of yellow and green eyes staring back at him. In addition, there was a very interesting tortoiseshell “bird” with a long black tail lying on top of the cage. And in the front seat were two more cats.
I tersely answered his question, hoping that he’d go away. No such luck. He kept asking questions. I needed to get him away from the truck so I yanked off the birds’ water bottle, which Rich had wired to the cage and explained that I need to fill the bottle with water.
“Come inside,” he offered. “We have cool water inside.”
“Oh no,” I barked, “They need special water. Yes, special water that I have in the front of the truck.”
I could feel Rich looking out from the window and wondering what was happening. It was a dreadful situation. I needed to get the cats out of the hot truck, but I could open the doors or lower the tailgate for fear that they’d run out or worse, the motel clerk would see them.
Finally, he went inside and I started migrating the cats inside. After racing back-and- forth four times and having to crawl on my hands and knees inside the truck, by the bird cage and over the kitty litter box, I grabbed the last two cats – Golda and Ariel – slide out of the truck backwards, raced across the grass with a cat in each arm, and chucked them at Rich through the window.
Rich, trying to grab both cats at once, ended up getting scratched. But, at least the cats were all inside! To minimize the presence of the cats, we locked them in the bathroom with their litter box and some food and water. We then went back outside and sprayed down the birds, who can better tolerate the heat, which was dissipating with the setting of the sun. An hour later, the temperature was in the low 70’s.
The next morning, at around 5:30 a.m., we boldly carried out the cats through the side door. After a quick breakfast, we headed for Texline, the last town before the New Mexico border.
While my fantasy of leaving Texas was filled with elation, my parting moments were filled with tears and hysterics. I arrived on a steamy Wednesday evening. Nearly to the day, five years earlier, I had initially flown to the Austin Bergstom Airport to see Austin for the first time and sign papers to purchase our Round Rock, Texas house.
On that day, I gallantly skipped down the concourse to Rich’s eager arms. This time, I reluctantly wandered outside into the heat then called Rich who was parked near the airport, waiting for my call.
While we’d been separated for six-weeks, Rich was fatigued from weeks of fixing last minute things at the house, packing, and getting everything ready for our trip. Picking me up was simply another “to do” on his long list.
The next morning, we got up at 4:30 a.m., anxious to get started. Even at that early hour, my glasses steamed up as I walked outside into the thick, grayish humidity.
We’d decided in advance to have one last early morning breakfast at the iHOP down the street from our house. Every month or two, usually on a Friday morning, we’d go to iHOP for a decadent breakfast of runny eggs, hash browns, pancakes or toast.
Our breakfast seemed the last sane moment of that stressful day. The moving truck didn’t arrive until after 11 a.m. By the time, they parked and got settled, it was nearly noon. By then, the humidity was oppressive.
For the next eight hours, three men labored on-and-off at packing up our remaining furniture, boxes, building materials from our garage. They were horrifically inefficiently, working for a half an hour, resting for 15 minutes. Plus, they’d take a few things out of room so I had to wait until late in the afternoon to clean much of the house.
By 7 p.m., I was close to tears with exhaustion, frustration, and the oppressive heat. The air conditioner struggled to keep the house cool with the doors propped open.
When they finally left, Rich and I scrambled to do the final cleaning then tossed our grimy clothes in bag and hopped in the hot tub for the last time. We each downed a small bottle of Blackthorn Cider, which we’d served at our wedding and traditionally drink on special occasions.
Thoroughly snookered, I gathered up my suitcase and jumped in Rich’s truck. We drove to the Red Roof Inn down the street then hobbled to Chuy’s for one last Mexican meal. I don’t remember what I ate, but it was too much, too late at night.
After a fitful night, we drove back to the house, one last time, to gather up the cats, birds, cleaning supplies, and last bit of food in the refrigerator and freezer.
Rich hadn’t measured the bird cage and after bringing it outside, realized that it didn’t fit in the back of the truck. I struggled to clean up the back bedroom where we kept the birds and cats, using a worn out mop to slop up kitty litter, bird poop, and dust and dirt that had gathered under several large rubber mats that had been kept under the bird cages and kitty litter boxes. Meanwhile, the cats were running through the house and leaving dirty footprints where I was mopping.
And I couldn’t cram everything from the refrigerator and freezer into our two ice chest. It was heartbreaking to chuck perfectly good food in the over-flowing trashcan at the curb.
Hysterics ensued. I agonized not only over our present situation, but the realization that I was leaving a fabulous house where everything fit perfectly and looked so pretty. I knew that I’d have to settle for considerably smaller and less glamorous house in Washington (at least, until we could build on our lot in Anacortes).
Turning the bird cage on its side, Rich was able to get it to fit. With patience and much determination, I finished cleaning the last bit of the house and squished the last bit of food into the coolers. We crammed everything into the trailer we were hauling behind Rich’s truck. The cats were tossed in the back of the truck on a carpet-covered platform that Rich had built. And with a tear-streaked faced I said “good-bye” to a chapter of our lives and a house and plantings that brought us both much joy.
Good-bye to my herb garden, Japanese quinces, salvias, gardenias, irises, and flowering natives. Good-bye to my beloved kitchen with white tile counters and dozens of cupboards. Good-bye to our huge master bathroom with a coffee bar, complete with a little sink, refrigerator and microwave. Good-bye to our huge covered balcony where we used to watch lightening storms. Good-bye to ancient oak trees where we watched fawns and their mother feed. Good-bye to our cozy den where we watched NetFlixs. And good-bye to my hobby room with its bright green wall (for inspiration).
Two weeks ago, I attended the Microsoft annual company meeting. I wasn’t planning to attend, but curiosity got the best of me after reading the questions and answers about the event. One of the questions asked, “Will there be loud music?”
“At a company meeting,” I mused.
The answer was “yes.”
The event was held at the home of the Mariners, Safeco Field, a dramatic 47,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof and plenty of room for over 17,000 employees, which were transported there by dozens of commercial buses along with thousands of their own cars and Vanpools. I opted for a comfy seat on a bus.
Unfortunately, the plethora of cars and buses converging on Safeco Field resulted in a horrific traffic jam and my office mate and I arrived an hour late… just in time to loud cheers and clapping as Bill Gates walked onto the stage.
After grabbing a box lunch, we rushed to our seats with the Microsoft Learning group. On the field was a huge stage with two JumboTrons and banks of lights and speakers. In front of the stage were rows of chairs. Our seats were on the first level. Above us were two more levels, packed with employees.
For the most part, everyone was grouped by division with some groups equipped with colored clappers, flashing buttons, matching coats, hats and scarves, Hawaiian shirts, and other distinguishing gizmos. Whenever their group was mentioned, they’d scream. The loudest group was Microsoft Live who were gung-ho about announcing the beta version of a new search engine.
Word-on- the-street was that it was the final year for Bill Gates to speak at company meetings. He spoke for at least half an hour… I was too overwhelmed by the event to remember a word of what he said. Although, I do recall, early in his speech, there was a few second episode of feedback that contributed to everyone’s hearing loss. Gates, not skipped a beat commented that the feedback was necessary to wake up someone that was spotted sleeping.
“Don’t fall asleep,” he quietly warned.
Also on the stage, several times, was Steve Balmer, who was fairly calm until the very end of the meeting, which started at 11 a.m. and lasted until after 5 p.m. The opposite of Gates, Balmer bounces off the walls. He runs up-and-down the rows of employees shaking their hands. He screams at the top of his lungs and says whatever is on his mind. He’s the fire that ignites employees. The perpetual cheerleader. The nuclear reactor that powers the innovation, the marketing prowess, and the engineering excellence of Microsoft.
Astonishing was the software, products and services being developed by Microsoft from games to mobile devices, software servers that power the world’s websites, factories, financial systems, web-based services, and everything in-between.
What stuck in my mind was an application that enables users to perform various tasks by tapping or moving around icons that appear on a tabletop. For instance, Bill Gates placed his credit card on a virtual box that appeared on the table. In the opposite corner, he placed a Zune. In the center of the table was a selection of virtual CDs. Bill was able to “open” the CDs, select a song then drag it into the Zune. The cost of the song was automatically subtracted from his credit card. And the next time he turned on his Zune, the song would automatically be in the playlist.
This tabletop concept was applicable was a variety of industries, including restaurants. Patrons could peruse the virtual menu that appears on the table. In a hotel, customers could use the menu on the table in their room to order room service, select movies to play on their TV and review the various services offered by the hotel, like dry cleaning, location of the work-out room, and so much more. Cool!
None of my blog entries would be complete without mentioning food. Microsoft had available 17,000+ box lunches for employees to grab and eat during the event. Mine contained a scrumptious turkey sandwich with a little container of spicy orzo salad, bag of cut-up apples, kettle chips, macadam nut cookie, and bottle of vitamin water. There were also roast beef, vegetarian, halal and kosher box lunches.