Sunday, October 30, 2005

My stuff is here!!!

Busy, busy, busy these past few days! My POD finally arrived on Thursday,

so I’ve been engrossed in unpacking and getting organized. Seeing all my stuff after a month of having practically nothing was like Christmas. I didn’t notice its absence much for the first few weeks, first staying at my parents' house and then in hotels. But living in an empty apartment for nearly two weeks without my stuff was frustrating. I should not complain, because I had a roof over my head, the heat worked, and the basic necessities were covered in terms of a bathroom and a minimalist kitchen. But it’s remarkable all the things you find yourself needing, like a can opener (thankfully Campbell’s soups now have pop-top lids) and deposit slips (I’d run out). Anyway, all those concerns are over now, because I have my stuff!!

A quick side note: When I opened the POD, I couldn't help but laugh hysterically. It was practically half empty, compared to how crammed my parents' PODS were.

Alas, we could have fit SO much more in there...sad, considering how much stuff we ended up just giving away. But hindsight is 20/20, right? It's like the Titanic lifeboats (only much less tragic, of course)...the first few went out, seemingly full, until they realized how many more people they could actually carry.

I found some help unloading the POD on—where else?—Craigslist. Two guys from the Durham area came down and for 80 bucks did all the heavy lifting and carrying up the stairs. It took them less than two hours to finish! And it was worth every single penny, let me tell you. I did do a fair amount of unloading myself before they arrived, because the POD was delivered around noon and they couldn’t come till 5:00, and I was anxious to get started. But once they arrived, the most difficult task was directing them where to put the boxes as they were bringing them in. For instance, “This one says ‘Jewelry box, heater fan, Tupperware.’ Where do you want it?” he’d grunt under its weight (clearly it contained more than the label declared—bricks, perhaps?), waiting for me to make up my mind. “Uh, the bedroom, I guess?” A lot of things ended up in the bedroom, because it’s pretty big and has a ginormous closet, so if all else fails, shove it in there for the time being!

Once they finished, I got right to work opening boxes and putting things away. The kitchen is always the easiest place to start, because everything has a place and the biggest decision is which drawer to use for flatware and which cupboards to use for glasses and dishes. The rest of the house involves lots of decisions on where to put things—should the couch go here?, should the shelves go there?, and so on. I was motivated on Friday to get a lot done, because Saturday we had plans (more on this in a sec) and Saturday night my parents were coming over for dinner and a movie so the place had to be in some sort of presentable condition. I did a lot of pushing and pulling and sliding of things—very draining when you have a cold, which I do, of course. I think I’ve got all the furniture where I want it now, though. Still a fair amount of boxes to be gone through, but it’s manageable.

Saturday morning my apartment complex was having a yard sale, something I’m told they do twice yearly. It was bitter cold outside, in the high 30’s, and of course it was Saturday morning, so I slept in, probably missing all the greatest bargains. No matter, because I’m happy with my acquisition: a pink lava lamp, for a whopping three bucks! It works beautifully, and I enjoyed watching the mesmerizing gobs float around later that evening while we watched Bewitched (gotta love Netflix!).

After the yard sale, we drove out to Pittsboro, where my parents’ new house is, for the town’s annual street fair. It was a very lively event, packed with people, with tents stretching down the street and snaking around corners.

The weather was beautiful, with clear skies and a gently warming sun. We had fun checking everything out and meeting some of the locals. My mom bonded with a lady at the animal shelter booth who has Chihuahuas, and who recommended a good vet nearby. My dad liked the local sheriff as well as the candidate campaigning to replace him (who is also on the school board and who practically begged me to return to teaching as apparently Chatham county is in desperate need of teachers).

After the fair we went to check out the house again, to see what progress had been made.

The kitchen cabinets are in, and I think they are gorgeous.

The marble fireplace hearths are also in, and equally stunning. It’s coming along quite nicely. They have less than three weeks to finish—hopefully they come in on schedule!

Quickly, now, to backtrack for a second...I wanted to write about last Saturday, when my parents and I went up to Ennice (in the mountains of Alleghany county, about 3 hours away) to visit Matthew, Amy, and the kids. The leaves had started to change up there (everything down here is still pretty green) so the scenery was breathtaking.

Silly me, I dressed for warm weather (a la the state fair) and ended up freezing my patootie off. But it was still fun to see everyone and drive around. Prestin is officially experiencing the terrible two’s, learning to assert his own will...or at least testing the waters, seeing how far he can push his boundaries. He can still be very charming, though, especially when he learns a new word that makes you laugh. His current favorite toy is this gold string of Mardi Gras beads, which I promptly named his "bling bling." Of course I howled with laughter when he finally picked up on this term, which encouraged him to use it even more.

Ah, the joys of children. Meanwhile Layne's temperament is sweet as can be. And of course Cassidy is ever-adorable in the way most six-month-old babies are.

The coming week will start out uneventful—more unpacking—but on Thursday I drive to Philadelphia to visit Marcy, an old friend from high school (who is now a professor at Penn!). I’m excited to see more of the East. I’ll be staying with her until the following Tuesday and hopefully I’ll have the time (and energy) to post about the trip before my other dear friend, Nicole, comes out to visit me for my birthday (the big three-oh!). Then maybe it’s time to start looking for a job...;-)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Goin' to the State Fair

Yesterday my parents and I went to the State Fair.

It was so much fun! The weather was pretty warm, which made it a little more strenuous, and it was pretty crowded for a Thursday. That’s probably because it was canned food day, where if you brought four cans you got in free. They had to be Food Lion brand, so we made a special trip to get 12 cans. Cost us about ten bucks. Pretty good deal.

The parking situation was not ideal. The fairgrounds are pretty centrally located in the city, and right after we got off the freeway we saw a sign for free parking but passed it by because it seemed really far from the fair itself and we didn’t know if there was a shuttle or anything. We continued on and kept passing by places that said “Parking $10.” We pulled into a place that appeared to normally sell stone (as in, for fireplaces and such) but during the fair turns into an ad hoc parking lot. The sign said “Parking,” with no price, so we thought maybe it was free. No such luck. Ten bucks. Oh, well. We did save eight on admission, so I guess it evens out.

It was somewhat of a trek to the nearest gate, normally not a big deal, but with the sun blazing down on us, we all started to sweat from the get go. We bought water pretty quickly, only a buck, so that was nice.

We saw the livestock first. Lots of prizewinning cattle of all different breeds. Cows are so cute. It’s a shame people eat them. The females all seemed to be really bony, with ribs and hip bones sticking out, but they won prizes so I guess that’s how they’re supposed to look. The males, on the other hand, were positively ginormous, just these big monstrous beasts--no bones showing there. All the better to make good steaks, I guess. I tried not to use a flash as much as possible but sometimes it was too dark and I had to. Some areas had babies, with their birthdates posted above them. Aww.

We’d arrived right around lunch time so after the livestock we washed our hands (tons of warnings everywhere about washing your hands) and had lunch. The parents had hot dogs and I had a slice of cheese pizza. I could have had a “giant turkey leg” but I didn’t feel like gnawing on an animal bone after seeing the cute cows and plus, I wanted to save room for’s why.

I’d read about the legendary deep fried treats, and was excited to partake. You could have funnel cake, or elephant ears(!)--basically funnel cake dough but in a slab, not all lacy--but I opted for...get this...a deep fried Snickers! And my dad ordered the deep fried Twinkie!! Both resembled corn dogs with powdered sugar on them, but the dough was sweet, not savory.

Both were very tasty, but my vote has to go with the Snickers. In theory, a deep fried Twinkie sounds great. But in practice, the stick goes up the center into the gooey filling, which proceeds to liquefy during the frying process, thereby giving the stick very little to embed itself in. All the filling pools at the bottom of the Twinkie, and so each bite is not a uniform deep-fried-snack-cake eating experience. The Snickers, however, while it also melts, is still structurally sound, and every bite is full of tasty Snickers goodness. Highly recommended for a once-a-year indulgence!

I had never been to a state or county fair (at least that I recall) and I learned the basics right away. Fairs are 70% food, 20% games and rides, and 10% livestock and produce. The rides were not appealing to us, having just eaten, the games are a waste of money (sorry, I’m a spoilsport), we’d seen the livestock, so we went for the produce. HUGE pumpkins and watermelons, nice looking apples, yams, squash, etc.

People also submit honey for competition, and there was a bee exhibit with what looked like a big bee farm (a la an ant farm)

and then also a guy standing in a mesh cage with a bunch of bees. Brave. In the corner, incongruously, was the presidential section, I guess. They had a Jackie Kennedy dress, a Dolley Madison dress, a replica of Reagan’s limo, and, the piece de la resistance, a photo shoot area set up to look like the oval office, complete with a big cut out of George W. Bush, which you could pay $5 to have your picture taken with.

Next was the Noah’s Ark exhibit where we came across more cows, as well as sheep, turkeys, and pigs.

Bunnies were in a building all their own. Finally we came to the duck racing, just in time for the four o’clock show. Man, those ducks are fast!

Despite the fowl’s fierce performance, I found the dog that wrangled them infinitely more adorable, proving my affection for mammals over avians.

Further evidence of my bias against birds is the fact that keeping ducks in a cage and racing them for human amusement doesn’t really bother me. But the fair also had an elephant and a camel that you could pay to ride.

Somehow that just seems really unfair for those animals to have to walk around in circles all day long with people on their backs. It’s the same kind of unfairness I object to with circuses. Even the ones that treat their animals properly still keep them in cages and teach them tricks for human enjoyment and it doesn’t seem right. Now, animals in a zoo, if they’re in a space that is made to resemble their natural habitat, and they have enough room, I guess that’s okay. But cages, definitely bad.

One of the most pleasant stops at the fair was the Our Land, Our Legacy exhibit. Why? It was air conditioned. Yeah, the man who invented A/C is my personal hero. But in addition to the cool air, it was neat to find out about all the local produce grown here on family farms in NC. I’m excited to go to some farmer’s markets.

Our last stop at the fair was the Village of Yesteryear, where every booth was a different artisan exhibiting--and often in the act of creating--authentic wares. There were potters and caners and metalsmiths and guitar makers and soap makers and all sorts of old-school craftsmen and women. Very neat.

And of course what fair would be complete without a stiltwalker?

UPDATE: I just heard that the day we went to the fair was the hottest fair day on record. Yikes. And also it was the most crowded day so far. Odd, being a Thursday. But understandable, being cheapskate--uh, I mean canned food--day.

Getting cable TV and internet

I made an appointment with the cable company to have internet and TV services installed on Tuesday. I’d read online that Mediaworks stinks (enough to warrant the nickname Mediaworst) and my first impression wasn’t great. They do not give you a four hour window; rather, the appointment is for ALL DAY. The technician can show up any time between 8 am and 6 pm.

To prepare for this day long wait-fest, I purchased season one of Lost on DVD. I’d heard all the buzz, but had not watched a single episode. (I felt I already watched too much TV as it was and didn’t want to add another series to the mix.) But being faced with 12 hours of nothing to do except read, I decided what the heck. For the price of 2 movie DVD’s, I could get 24 episodes of a reputedly great show. I thought it was a pretty basic premise: plane crashes on a tropical island, the survivors play Robinson Crusoe. How could that remain fresh for more than one or two episodes? Turns out it really is a great show. Very high production values, closer to a movie than your average TV program. I found the writing and acting to be stellar. The plot is riveting, and develops at a good pace. All the different characters have compelling back stories and the format of the show, with the flashbacks, is unique and keeps every episode fresh. The creepiness factor is relatively low overall, given the fantasy/sci-fi element, but when you're a single girl watching it alone in a dark, empty apartment, episode after episode after episode, that factor automatically doubles. Frankly, the creepiest part was the title sequence. The simplicity of a single word, blurred, off kilter, coming toward you...fantastically unsettling. Brilliant design. Bravo!

Now, of course, I want to watch Season Two, but I’ve missed the first five episodes. Enter iTunes, which conveniently just started selling episodes for $1.99 the day after they air! Score for Melissa!

Now, I had time to watch almost the entire season one because the cable guy never showed on Tuesday. Let me correct that. He did appear at my door, long enough to write on a door hanger that services were not installed because I failed to sign a key release and leave him a check. He neglected, however, to knock or ring the doorbell. See, Mediaworks serves the “multi-family industry,” i.e., apartment complexes, and I guess most people don’t have time to wait around 12 hours for some technician to stop by (go figure!) so they tell the front office to let the cable guy in and they leave a check on the TV. I didn’t want to do that. Not like my place is filled with valuables, being practically empty, but a) Comet is here, and b) I wanted to be here to explain where to set everything up (since it’s not obvious, again due to the emptiness). So I was here, all day, watching Lost, waiting patiently and expectantly. When I found that card on my front door I was furious!

An irate phone call to Mediaworks did nothing to remedy the situation. They asked, “Did you step out for a moment and possibly miss him?” Uh, no. I even checked out the window for the van before going to the bathroom for crying out loud! I said I wanted the technician to come back, since he’d left the card less than an hour prior to my finding it. I was told this was not possible, and the next appointment was two days later. I asked to speak to the manager and was put through to her voicemail. I did not receive a return call. Several hours later I called back, only to get cut off after being on hold for 10 minutes. (Mind you, this is all happening on my cell phone during peak hours.) Called back again, waited another ten minutes, and was told I had already been rescheduled for tomorrow. Interesting, since tomorrow was supposedly already booked. Whatever, I guess I’ll take it. I told the lady to make a note in my file that I would be home, and the tech must ring the bell. The next day, I put the same door hanger back on my doorknob, after writing on the back, “I AM HOME. Please ring doorbell multiple times if necessary.”

He arrived around noon, and did ring the bell. He was the nicest guy you could imagine. (I did not ask him if he was the same guy as before.) We chatted for probably an hour. He said I was his last call of the day! At noon! Anyway, my cable TV and internet were activated so I was a happy camper. Finally! I’m not thrilled with the cable boxes they have or the on-screen guide...both seem like they’re from a decade ago in terms of functionality. Comcast’s were much better, as were Time Warner’s. Time Warner does operate out here, but they don’t service my complex. Bummer. As for the internet, it’s not as fast as Comcast was in L.A., but it definitely will suffice. After not having my own reliable internet connection since Sept. 19, I’ll take pretty much anything better than dial up!

Monday, October 17, 2005

An apartment for me and a new house for my parents!

I’ve been in Cary for a week now. I was very comfortable in my hotel but I’m glad to have found an apartment. I went with Avalon Peaks, because it’s the largest and I like the location. Plus, my unit has some really nice views (which will be considerably less nice once fall is over and I’m looking at bare branches).

The view from my screened porch

My living room
The people in the leasing office were very accommodating and got my application approved in less than an hour. I could have moved in Friday, but I didn’t have a bed yet, so I opted for one more night in the hotel. After I signed the lease, I went bed shopping. The first place I stopped couldn’t deliver the next day, but the second store was able to. I picked a queen size bed, my first ever, and I went with something very, very firm, because my last mattress was too bouncy and got saggy too quickly. Of course my next stop had to be a linen store to get sheets. I want to go on to get 600 thread count sheets for like $60, but in the meantime I settled for 200 thread count for $25 from Linens ‘n Things.

I “moved in” on Saturday, which means I brought in my suitcase, computer, and cat. I made a quick Wal-Mart run to get things like toilet paper, laundry detergent, cat litter, hangers, a wastebasket, a shower curtain, etc. Some of these things I have, but they’re in the POD, and I can’t very well live without them for 10 days. I rushed home to be here for the 12-2 window for bed delivery. They came around 12:45. Then I went over to my parents’ hotel (they were not around…more on that later) where the fifth wheel is and I raided the cupboards for dishes, silverware, pots and pans, towels, pillows, and a TV. Came back to the apartment and started to get settled. Oddly, there is no medicine cabinet in the bathroom, which is such an inconvenience. I mean, there is so much storage in the apartment as a whole, but right where you need it, there’s nothing. Another odd thing, different from California, is I have to pay for water, sewer, and recycling. At this point, all the utilities are still being paid for by the complex. The power company is Progress Energy; I called them this morning, and power will switch over into my name tomorrow. The cable company will be out tomorrow between 8 am and 6 pm (yeah, no 4-hour window!) to connect the TV and high speed internet. For water, sewer, and recycling, I go through the town of Apex, but they require me to fill out an application online and I won’t have internet service until tomorrow so it will be a couple days before that transfers into my name.

Yesterday I made yet another run to Wal-Mart, to get some things I thought I could do without for ten days, but decided I couldn’t. First, a lamp for the bedroom. Lighting is provided in the kitchen, bathroom, and dining room/living room, but not in the bedroom. Can’t be in the dark for ten days. Also got a blanket for the bed. In the same shopping center as Wal-Mart is Harris Teeter, which is the upscale grocery store around here. I went in to get a few items. It is nice, but not terribly special. The prices are higher on convenience things like prepared foods from the deli, but normal on necessities like bread, milk, etc. Of course, I’m comparing the prices to CA; they could be high for the area. I’ll have to go to Lowes or Kroger to see if things are cheaper there. Our realtor told us to stay away from the Food Lion. I also made a stop at Best Buy to get a microwave, since there isn’t one provided in my unit. I ended up getting the same exact one I had when I lived in the condo in Playa del Rey.

So the reason my parents were not at the hotel when I stopped by was because they were out in Pittsboro, about 30 minutes west of here, finalizing details on their new house. It will be finished the week before Thanksgiving (hopefully). It’s 2600 square feet, and on three and a half acres of land. Here are some pictures of the construction so far...mouse over each photo for a description.

Walking up the long driveway to the new house
The front porch of the new house
View from the front porch of the new house
Entering the front door
View from the dining room's bay window
View from the kitchen
Fireplace in the master bedroom
The bonus room
The living room
The backyard...or at least part of it
The view from the driveway...all the cars are there for the big fish fry
It’s kind of “out there,” but you get there mostly via a decent sized freeway, not on small country roads. It’s kind of like the way Santa Clarita used to be 25 years ago, removed from the metropolitan area but close enough to commute or visit for shopping, etc. But it has a very rural feel. It will have a septic tank and well, which tells you it’s not really close to “civilization.”

So I signed a lease and my parents made an offer on a house on the same day, Friday 10/14. After all the searching, and all the possibilities, somehow we both ended up with the same street number. Talk about coincidence. Our addresses are both 1221. (Insert Twilight Zone music here.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Apartment-hunting in Cary, house-hunting in the boonies

So let me tell you about the drama involved in Cary apartment hunting. People warned me about Cary, and I figured they were exaggerating or they had atypical experiences that turned them off to the town. I read about the incredibly tight restrictions and ordinances and the Stepford-like uniformity. But coming from Santa Clarita, I thought it would not be a problem for me. My rude awakening occurred the morning of our first full day in Cary. I went to the Woodway at Silverton apartments to look at the complex. I’d done some research online and this one had seemed ideal: they allowed pets, they provided a washer and dryer in the unit, the location was central, and the rent was reasonable. When I arrived, I was impressed by the grounds and the main office/clubhouse. I met Melanie, whom I’d chatted with on the phone a couple of times. She was familiar with my story: relocating from California, just arrived in town the previous day, looking for an apartment. She sat down with me to fill out an information card. When she asked who my employer was, I said I didn’t have one yet. She got up to make a phone call. She returned and said she’d spoken with her manager and due to the fact that I was unemployed, they were not going to be able to rent to me. I was immediately offended, because I consider myself an ideal tenant. I asked if they would accept cash in advance for the rent, and she said no. By now I was just appalled. How dare they judge me for not having a job yet; I’d just moved here and I’d chosen their town, their apartment complex, to give my perfectly good money to, and they had the nerve to turn me away. My father, being the ireful man he is, was ten times as irritated, or at least ten times more vocal about his irritation. He threatened a lawsuit for discrimination (typical Californian thing to do)...and the more I think about it, the more it does seem like discrimination. I mean, what if I were 65 and retired? Would they turn me away? That could definitely qualify as age discrimination. So what if I were 29 and retired? Or what if I just wanted to take a year off and live off savings? I understand policies, but every policy should be flexible, and things like this should be evaluated on a case by case basis. No, you don’t want a complex full of unemployed oafs who can’t make rent, but if the person can prove they have enough money to make rent, and even offers to pay cash in advance, there should not be a problem. Anyway, my response was, “Well fine then, I’ll just take my business elsewhere.” The lady tried to be nice. She said she had been in the same position four months prior when she had moved to the area. She said basically every complex in Cary would give me the same answer. She gave me the name of the complex she lived in at first, where apparently they don’t have a problem accepting unemployed tenants. But it's in Raleigh and I want (wanted?) to live in Cary.

Later that day I called around, and explained my situation. Every place I talked to was willing to work with me. They all said as long as I can show a bank statement proving I have enough money in the bank to pay the rent, they will let me sign a lease. One place (Brook Arbor) said I had to have three times the rent for three years (i.e., $87,000) in the bank, which I think is a tad on the extreme side. But I did find one complex (Avalon Peaks) with a more reasonable standard. Another issue I encountered at Woodway was they were going to want to see immunization records for Comet, which I do not have. He has not had shots since I adopted him six years ago. And yet another issue I was wringing my hands over was not having my Social Security card, which is packed in the POD--Brook Arbor required a copy of it with the rental application. I was told the way around this was to go to the Social Security office and apply for a replacement card; the office will give me a letter confirming I applied, and the management company would accept that letter in lieu of the card itself. What a hassle. Avalon Peaks said they could just verify my social through the credit check. The apartments at this third complex are HUGE (950 square feet) and have screened porches. The only snags are: the price, which is about $100 more a month than I wanted to spend; the gym, which is not as nice as the second apartment which had personal LCD TV’s at each piece of cardio equipment; and the rent does not include a washer and dryer in the unit. There are hookups, but I do not want to buy these appliances only to have to move them in six months. The second apartment is smaller, but it’s also cheaper, has a cooler gym, and comes with a washer and dryer. In terms of location, they’re pretty much equidistant from central Cary. Not that I should measure everything by Cary, of course. But I do not know where I will get a job, and that’s the most important measure. I’m torn between the second and third complexes; and then of course picking what floor to be on is also a difficult decision. First floor is easiest to move into and out of, but I will be hiring Home Depot guys again, so does that really matter? Second floor is more secure (I can leave my windows open and not worry) but winter is coming, so does that matter?

The other thing that's different here than in California is the security deposit issue. Here, you pay a pretty low security deposit, anywhere from $200 to $500 (compared to $1300 in my last apartment) but you have to pay really steep "application fees" and "administrative fees," totaling about $200 more (not refundable), and then there's the nonrefundable pet fee ($200) and the refundable pet deposit ($200). Some places also charge pet rent, usually $10 a month extra. Plus the premium if you sign a lease shorter than 12 months, which ranges from $100 to $40. And if the apartment does not include a washer and dryer, you can rent one for an extra $35/month. So your $599/month apartment can actually end up costing you $754/month and $1100 up front. Sheesh.

Yesterday and today I spent with my parents and their realtor, Kim Sands, going around to houses. Some of them are absolutely gorgeous! I wish I could upload pix using my laptop and my AOL dialup, because these places are awesome. Maybe tomorrow I can borrow my mom’s high speed connection. Anyway, they have narrowed it down, I think, to three houses, one in Wake Forest, one in Zebulon, and one in Pittsboro. All of them are pretty “far out,” but to get the acreage they want, they can’t be close to town. The Pittsboro house is not even finished yet, so they would get to pick things like countertops and light fixtures, etc. But it would not be ready until right before Thanksgiving, whereas the other two would be ready for move-in in 2-3 weeks, depending on how quickly the current occupants can get out. Buying a house is much quicker here in NC, especially since my parents are paying cash. Today at the unfinished house in Pittsboro, the builders had a fish fry and invited what appeared to be every crew member and resident in the area. They were all eating in what could become our future front yard and garage, and they were all parked in what could become our future driveway. It was kind of neat. And the food was yummy! After an exhausting day of driving all over God’s creation looking at houses, we had dinner at a place called Sushi-Thai, which serves both Japanese and Thai cuisine. I had my favorites, satay and spring rolls. Tasty.

Finding my way around Cary has been somewhat of a challenge. I have a pretty good map that the hotel gave me, and I also bought a spiral bound city map (kind of like the Thomas Guide, but it’s a Rand). But it’s hard to look things up on a map while you’re driving. The realtor has one of those navigation systems in her car, like the Hertz Neverlost that I had in the rental car when I first came to NC. It’s SO convenient. It got a little confused this afternoon, but otherwise was very helpful. I might have to look again into get one of those. A while ago I saw some on eBay for like $600.

Well, I think you’re finally up to date on everything. We don’t know what we’re doing this weekend. I know I have to shop for a bed, but we also might go to the state fair. They have duck racing and pig racing and deep fried snickers and stilt walkers and 100 rides and livestock shows and prize winning veggies and craft booths and it promises to be quite a fun event. We may put it off until next week though since Saturday and Sunday are of course going to be more crowded.

Oh, one final note about the weather. It was overcast and drizzly our first three days here but the sun finally broke through today and it was beautiful! Everything is so much greener in the sun!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Where were we?

These links used to be in the sidebar, but after a while they seemed irrelevant and outdated. I still want to keep them as a record, though, so I'm sticking them into a post dated October 13 (even though I'm writing this on December 5). Anyway, they show our progress as we made our way east across the United States.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Catching up to the present (almost)

Beware, this is an especially long entry. I’ve gotten a little behind on the blogging...we arrived in Cary, North Carolina, on Monday, 10/10. But before I tell you about that, let me catch you up quickly on the remainder of our cross country journey.

Friday 10/7 we drove from Oklahoma City, OK to Little Rock, AR. These are the highlights that stick out in my mind as I scan through the photos I took...on our way out of Oklahoma City, we were treated to a nice view of the city skyline:

Later, we passed by Checotah, OK, which is the hometown of Carrie Underwood, winner of this year’s American Idol. Oklahoma has these handy blue signs on the highway telling you all the reasons you should take time to exit and visit the towns you’re driving past. The points of interest are in a bulleted list, with the bullets being in the shape of little Oklahomas. I can’t tell you the names of the towns, but I can tell you that we drove by the hometown of Miss America 1981, the hometown of Garth Brooks, and the hometown of Troy Aiken. So I figured Checotah would have a sign mentioning Carrie. She wasn’t on the blue sign, but she had her very own green sign, plus a big billboard with her photo on it.

Oklahoma is really big on Indian stuff, being that the Cherokee are from there (well, not originally, of course, but I digress). You know how I’m collecting photos of license plates, right? Well I saw this one and I broke formation to speed up and catch a pic. It’s kind of blurry but it’s a Cherokee Nation plate!!

The only other thing I remember about driving through Oklahoma, besides how pretty it was (it made an impression because I’d expected it to be brown and boring), was stopping at a gas station that also had a restaurant called the Pig Out Palace, and there was a pickup truck in the parking lot that had goats in the back.

I tried to take pictures of all the “Welcome To” signs, but I missed Oklahoma. I did get Arkansas though:

We arrived in Little Rock (or rather, North Little Rock—the 40 does not run through Little Rock proper) in the late afternoon, around 4:00 I’d say. I checked into a Super 8 right off the freeway. Okay room, nothing to write home about. I watched a little of the local news...there was not only an air show that weekend, but also the state fair. AND it was Friday night so there was high school football, which is a very big deal around here. So much going on, oh the entertainment choices!! I took a nap and then went to see my parents at their campground, which was even farther away from Little Rock. We went looking for a place to have dinner, but there really was nothing we could see from the freeway except a Cracker Barrel. This is a restaurant that they don’t have in CA, or at least I’ve never seen one there. But they are ALL along the 40. They offer comfort food and a quaint country gift shop. We decided to eat there. The portions were very large and the food was quite tasty. Hard to make bad comfort food. I had the chicken and dumplings...I can’t recall what everyone else had, but I do remember that the menu had a ton of choices and it’s always hard for me to make a decision. We had a really nice waitress, Sarah, who answered all my questions with neverending patience. The gift shop did not have anything I was interested in buying, but browsing after dinner was fun.

Next we decided to visit the Clinton Library. We drove into the city and found it without trouble. The design is quite unique, and I once again found myself trying to take pictures at night without a tripod. They came out okay I guess.

The next morning, I got up at my normal time of 6:30 and was ready to go by 8:30. Yes, it took me that long to get ready because loading the car was a process that involved several trips, what with the cat carrier, the litterbox, and all my luggage. Anyway, my parents had to have someone come out to fix the wiring on the fifth wheel because my dad had been driving this whole time without brake lights, and we finally had gone to a Walmart to get replacement parts but when he tried to fix it, suddenly everything stopped working. So they had to wait around for the RV guy to come. So I went back to the Clinton Library to take pictures in the daylight,

and then I headed east on my own. Turns out the whole trailer had to be rewired and my parents did not leave Little Rock until 12:45, so I’m glad I did not wait around for them.

My first stop was Memphis. I was excited to cross the Mississippi River, because I had never seen it in person before. I was set on going to Graceland (Elvis’ home) or at least driving by it. So I did not cross the river on the 40, but rather the 55. There was some traffic (due to, I discovered later, a crew painting over graffiti on a freeway underpass), so I had lots of time to take pictures, but they didn’t really come out very well due to the bridge blocking the view of the water. Hmph.

Graceland, it turns out, is behind all these trees, and the only way to see even the outside is if you pay the 20 bucks for a tour. I did not want to pay, because I don’t care that much about Elvis, I just thought it would be cool to say I’d been to Graceland. Plus, I didn’t want to leave Comet in the car for that long. So I skipped it. Hmph again. But I did get this shot. I think you can see the columns of the front through the trees a little bit.

I got back on the 55 and exited Riverside Drive so I could get some good views of the river. Very nice.

Passed by Beale, which I know of from Marc Cohn’s song “Walking in Memphis.” Also passed by Union Avenue, also from that song. I wanted to go on the I-40 bridge that spans the river so I drove west back into Arkansas

Got off at the next exit and bought some lunch at Wendy’s, then drove east over the bridge again, back into Tennessee. Memphis has a very pretty skyline. I wanted to visit Mud River Island, which supposedly has a 5-block replica of the river that actually has millions of gallons of water flowing through it, but I couldn’t find it and I wanted to get going.

I headed towards Nashville and it was a very pretty drive. Tennessee is just as green as North Carolina.

Lots of trees and hills to make it interesting, plus lots of rivers. I was impressed.

Saw lots of cotton growing in the fields—mundane sight for native Southerners, but novel for me.

There seemed to be lots of shopping along the way, too. Lots of outlets and such. I did not stop except at the Casey Jones Village exit where there was a cute old fashioned general store.

They had a cotton gin (or a replica?) in the foyer.

Once in Nashville, I checked into the Comfort Inn off highway 65. They claimed to have internet, but it didn’t work, of course. I knew that my parents were going to be staying off Briley Parkway at exit 12, and I saw that there was a huge mall called Opry Mills off exit 11, so I headed there for some shopping while I waited for them to arrive.

I got a call while I was in Casual Corner Annex (one of my favorite stores that they only have a few of in the country!). My dad told me that he and my mom had gotten separated pretty early on in the day. This would not be a problem if my mom had a cell phone, but she does not. My parents had been communicating via walkie talkies this whole time. I was hoping my mom would be able to find her way to the campground but it was not meant to be. I got a call later and my dad reported that she was at exit 219...Briley Parkway was exit 215. She was close, but there was no way to call her back and tell her that. My dad had told her to turn around and try to find it again. I told my dad, if she calls again, tell her to stay put and I will go find her and take her to the campground.

An hour or so later my dad called to report that she was at a Shell station off exit 196. He had arrived at the campground but had not yet detached the truck, so he couldn’t go get her. I quickly paid for my postcards and magnet at the gift shop I was browsing, and headed for the car—which was at the opposite end of the mall, of course, and this was one ginormous mall. I finally got there and headed west.

I would like to say a word about Nashville freeways. That word would be fustercluck. I managed to get out of there on the first try, which was truly miraculous. If you think L.A. freeways are confusing, try Nashville. Absolutely ridiculous. And then once you get outside the city, it’s pitch black. But I made it. My mom was waiting at the gas station, dogs in the backseat. She laughed as I pulled up. I escorted her back to the campground, using a different route this time, one that circumvented all the craziness of downtown. Thank goodness for the AAA TripTik, that saved me on many an occasion.

When we finally got there and settled in a bit, it was really late. For dinner we ended up at a restaurant called Bob Evans, which was basically a Cracker Barrel look alike. I went for the lighter side with a salad. Quite tasty. We went back to the campground, planned the next day and then I went back to my hotel to crash.

The next morning—Sunday, 10/9—we started on time, leaving the campground around 9:15. We drove all together to Asheville. We had planned stops in Cookeville and Knoxville, but ended up passing by both because it was rainy and we didn’t need gas and the dogs were sleeping. The drive to Asheville was very pretty (I feel like I’m saying that a lot, but it’s true! This stretch was especially beautiful due to the mountainous nature of it.)

Crossing the North Carolina border was a momentous was exciting to think that we were crossing into our new home state.

We stopped at the North Carolina welcome center to celebrate our entry and stretch our legs. We asked a nice couple to take our picture but apparently they had never seen a digital camera before as it seemed very foreign to them. But we got a photo even though it’s not perfect:

The mountains around Asheville are beautiful, but it was kind of disappointing that the fall foliage was not on display yet. (Later that evening we saw a commercial for an upcoming news story about why it’s still not happening even this late in the year.) But what was fun was when we arrived at the campground in Asheville, Matthew, Amy, and all the kids were there to greet us. I’d been conspiring with Matthew for days to set this surprise up and we pulled it off flawlessly.

My dad got to meet baby Cassidy for the first time. She has grown so much since I saw her at the end of June. She’s a big chubby baby now, adorable to no end.

I was reminded of how cute Prestin and Layne are, as well.

There was a Days Inn right around the corner from the campground, so I checked in there. The first room they assigned me was disgusting. It smelled very strongly of bug spray, the carpet felt damp, and the phone didn’t work. The second room they gave me was much better. I went back to the campground and we hung out at the trailer for a while. For dinner, I wanted to go into downtown Asheville, but we ended up at the Cracker Barrel outside Asheville, since Matthew had never been, and it’s a good place to go with kids. It was fun to be out with the whole family. We went back to the trailer and sat around. I watched Desperate Housewives at 9:00. I left around 11, totally tired, and Matthew and the kids left shortly thereafter. They had a three hour drive ahead of them.

The next morning, Monday, October 10, I was able to access the wireless internet at the hotel so I posted, and then we drove into Cary. It was rainy the whole way. The worst was at the highest elevations leaving Asheville—there was terrible fog, so thick you could barely see. We drove into Cary around 3 pm, and we headed for the Marriott Towne Suites, which is to be my parents’ home until they buy a house. Their unit is very cute. It’s basically a furnished studio apartment, complete with pots, pans, fridge, stove, utensils, etc. Plus, free wired internet access. And only $59 a night. But their pet policy requires a one-time $75 fee, too steep for me, since I plan to be in a hotel only a few nights. So I headed for the Red Roof Inn on the other side of Cary, for only $45 a night, pets free of charge. It’s actually a pretty nice hotel. The room is very clean, and I got a business king which means a nice big bed and a big desk. They do not have any sort of high speed internet (wireless or wired), but I’m going to try using dial up AOL.

It’s late and I have an early start tomorrow. But tomorrow I will write about my first day of apartment searching in Cary. Oh, the drama.