Day 16: Raleigh

Home sweet home

If I were still in Tacoma and asked to drive four hours, even if for a fun day-trip or weekend adventure, I’d say screw it. Too far. Four hours gets you nearly to Spokane. It gets you past Eugene, Oregon. It gets you well past Vancouver, British Columbia. Four hours is a long time to sit in the car.

Today I made that trip and caught myself counting my blessings for such a short drive.

We slept well at the snazzy new Hotel Indigo in Asheville. As with many of the places we’ve visited on this trip, I was sorry to have spent so little time exploring in this town, but grateful for the little time I did have. We had breakfast at a little place near the Biltmore (yes, that Biltmore, the Vanderbilt estate created by Frederick Laws Olmstead) that was recommended on the Road Food website, called Tomato Jam cafe. Apparently it was under new ownership since the review was written, and things may have gone downhill a bit, as the biscuits were large but by no means the “size of a cat’s head,” and the gravy was simultaneously too salty, too peppery, and too bland. Nevertheless the spiced apple pancakes with candied-spiced-almonds were great, and a surefire way to beckon diabetes. I would argue that by now on this trip I have at least one diabete.

From there we hit the road. After two weeks of long drives, four hours seemed trivial. Our friends in Greensboro were busy at work, so we lunched at a pleasant little pub-cafe in Winston-Salem (it was probably Winston, but maybe it was Salem … who the hell knows. I need an education). We watched as foothills gave way to rolling hills and the forested landscape opened up to tract homes and office buildings denoting that we had arrived in the long suburbia that stretches from just west of Winston-Salem to … well, quite nearly the coast. They don’t call it “Sprawl-eigh” for nuthin’.

I was getting excited and nervous. I actually had butterflies. Though, those may have been the oversized critters these parts are known for. At about three-thirty we pulled up to our new place. Angie and I looked at each other. “Well, here we are.” I smiled tentatively. “Here we are,” Angie agreed.

Ellen and Corrine met us with the keys — they had been housesitting for us for the last couple of weeks; Ellen is another first-year classmate of mine from the Northwest — and we went inside to look around and have a chat.

The house was charming, old, and quite filthy. The photos we had seen did not quite convey the age and wear of this hundred-year-old cottage rental, and apparently neither the previous tenant nor the owners had done much deep cleaning. Moreover, our boxes were grouped in rooms at random, without regard to what was written on their large, 60-point-Helventica color-coded labels. Ellen described the movers as three toothless old men (I’m paraphrasing). I surmised that they were also illiterate, or else truly didn’t care. The boxes in the worst condition were those marked “Fragile,” and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what was put where.

As for the house itself, we fully expected a bit of grunge and a small kitchen space. We didn’t realize how much grunge, or how small, or that the bathroom was tiny and without adequate shelf or sink space, with a rickety shower-ring over the clawfoot tub that’s ready to crash down over our heads at the slightest tug. Or that the bathroom itself is oddly positioned between two bedrooms, with no access from the living room or hallway. and while the air conditioning works well, the lighting in this house is dismal.

All right, all right, all right enough kvetching. I consider it my due diligence as a member of the Tribe to file my complaints at the outset. You’ve moved before; you can commiserate, nu? So with that business aside, let me assure you that we are actually happy — yes, happy — with our new place, and excited to tackle some of the projects that will make this house a home.

We opened up a bottle of Noah’s Mill aged bourbon that we picked up on the road, and shared a drink with Ellen and Corrine before they left us to begin the task of unpacking. I immediately began to feel overwhelmed. Angie humanely dismissed me to go to the grocery store to pick up a few staples for the next day or so. There is a Whole Foods Market a mile form our house — a godsend and a curse both, let me tell you. We hadn’t had one of those stores near us since we lived in Seattle, and though I remembered them for their wonderful selections of fish and meats and deli items, I had forgotten all about their lifestyle fascism. Screw you if you want some soft, non-recycled toilet paper for your sore bum., and if you want to pick up some Coca-Cola for making mixed drinks, forget about it. Oh, and the crowds! The place was a zoo, and my overwhelmed rapidly tipped over into frazzle-fried.

But I’m kvetching again. I did make it through the store with minimal delay and a maximal top-quality food items (Cantimpalo chorizo, hooray!). As I got to the checkout I looked outside and was floored: a massive downpour was pelting the parking lot.

“Has it been like this?” I asked the cashier.

“Today, you mean?”

“Uh, no … in general? Or at least, this week?”

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No I am not.”

“Where are you from?”

“Seattle,” I said.

“Well then you should be used to this, aren’t you?”

Let me tell you, dear reader, that I am not used to this. Seattle rain is a mild-mannered affair, polite and unassuming, always begging forgiveness as though it can’t help but be there all of the time. It taps you on the shoulder, withdraws to another corner of Puget Sound, then comes tiptoeing around, always whispering, always begging pardon. Seattleites do not carry umbrellas. Seattleites forgive the rain as one would a small child or puppy.

This rain, however, is biblical. It is mighty and full of wrath and vengeance, and any temperance it shows is merely a demonstration of mercy and omnipotence. People huddle under giant umbrellas dashing in small, rapid steps so as not to slip toward the nearest overhang.

I wasn’t asked if I wanted plastic bags — another of Whole Foods’ lifetsyle impositions — and so I looked at my cartful of paper, shrugged, and strolled — deluge be damned! — to my car, where I casually, nonchalantly loaded the trunk.

A mile later I made it home. The rain had stopped. The temperature gauge on the car read 97 degrees. I stepped out into a sauna. I heard some cicada or similar chirping insect from a nearby tree. Birds here squawked and hooted rather than chirp or warble. Primeval dragonflies approached me curiously. I got eight mosquito bites between the car and the front door. Make no mistake: I am in the emming-effing tropics.

That’s about it for my first evening in Raleigh. We didn’t get much unpacked; after dinner we did a few boxes and then just went to bed at eight-thirty.

The next day was Thursday: a day of errands, mostly. Costco for laundry and dish detergent and Target to look for a coffeemaker and some other supplies, and the nearby Crabtree Mall for new glasses and sunglasses (thankfully, my new student health insurance kicked in already, so I’m going on a health care spree). Dinner at P. F. Chang’s and then home again to commence unpacking for a mere hour or two more before bed.

Today, as I write this, we’ve gotten half the kitchen unpacked. I’m here writing this and checking email at a local cafe around the corner, since we don’t yet have internet or cable set up at our place —another snafu I won’t go into here — and then Ill head back to the mall to pick up my new glasses and back to a few stores for some more odds and ends. With any luck we’ll finish the kitchen, in whatever temporary configuration we may, sometime tonight or tomorrow morning.

And that’s it. Dear reader, I don’t know what else to say: my American road trip has now come to an end. And while each day in this new exotic place brings with it its own stories and tribulations, I don’t think I’ll be chronicling them all here for you. For one, I don’t have internet access at home just yet. And I just can’t keep up. It’s taken quite the effort to post these daily journals of my move. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of them. I do intend to revisit them at some point, and perhaps do some editing and revising, perhaps compiling them into one consistent road trip narrative. For the time being though, here they are, a rough and extemporaneous log of a major transition in my life (and Angie’s too).

As always, this blog is meant as a place to practice my writing, keep the narrative juices flowing free and easy, to try new things and post snippets of writing — whether autobiographical, fiction or nonfiction, or simply “other.” It’s a professional blog insofar as writing is my profession. And to that end, if you enjoy it, I hope you’ll spread the word, and maybe share the link with friends and family. Someday I may even have some published product to sell. For now you get to enjoy the rough material free of charge! It will only continue to get better, though I guarantee it will remain as sporadic as it always has been.

Thanks for reading. Cheers.