Settling In

Posted: October 14, 2011 in Living
A Texan's Map of the US

Image courtesy of iowntheworld.com.

As you may have heard, Texas is indeed a big state. Day 1, we managed two states. Day 2 we covered 4 states, and day 3 was devoted entirely to getting to San Antonio from Amarillo – and there was actually a stretch of I-10 where the speed limit was 80. So, when I talk about what “things are like” in Texas, I really mean what things are like here in the Greater San Antonio Metroplex (as I call it.) If you lived in Glendive, and someone was describing all of Montana from living in Missoula or Butte, well, that would just hack you off, wouldn’t it?

One of the things that has struck me so far about Texas, all the way from Amarillo to San Antonio is how friendly people are. Texas is noted for its hospitality and it seems like everyone wants to make sure to uphold that reputation. There are, of course, exceptions, but by and large people have been friendly and welcoming, even in “the city.”

Another thing that Texas and Montana have in common is a very strong “place” identity. Down here, they say, “Don’t Mess With Texas,” and they mean it. Like Montanans, they take pride in their quirkiness.  “They might be weirdos, but they’re our weirdos” is common to both states. For a further sense of identity, a drive around any neighborhood will turn up several houses with a Lone Star in the motif.

It is said that the two big things in Texas are religion and football, and religion is #2. From what I’ve seen, this is not an exaggeration. There are football stadiums everywhere, and they are not small. The only stadium in Montana that can compare is Washington-Griz.

Food. Dear lord, the food. A staple of the San Antonio is the breakfast taco, which comes in many forms and flavors, and is quite possibly the best breakfast food ever. Chorizo, egg, bacon and cheese is the best in my book. The jalapeño is a staple down here. Since moving here, we’ve discovered bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeños, armadillo eggs (stuffed jalapeño wrapped in sausage, then breaded), buffalo butts (stuffed jalapeno wrapped in spiced chicken and finished off with a bacon wrap) and many other culinary delights. San Antonio has been called the fattest city in Texas, and it’s easy to see why.

The climate is slightly different, too. The weather is hot and dry with intermittent scattered hot and dry with chances overnight of continued hot and dry.

But, come December, I won’t be shoveling the heat out of my driveway…

San Antonio – Week 1 (The Dark Time)

Posted: September 5, 2011 in Moving

Whatever happened from this point forward, we were actually here. In San Antonio. I kept having to remind myself that we had actually made it. It was already Thursday night, and I started work on Monday, but we were in the city of San Antonio, Texas in one piece, and only a little bit worse for wear.

The Hotel Number (divisible by 3), as I mentioned earlier was not the in the best state of repair.

Hole In the Stairs

She canna take much more, Cap'n. Structural integrity is at 70% and fallin' fast!

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Yes, that is erosion from the condensation running out of the window AC.

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But Hey! No cockroaches! So there's that!

I had the room booked through the weekend, as we were working through a “relocation” company to get a place to live. I had severely underestimated the role the “relocation” service would play in this move. The extent of their “service” was to send me my relocation advance, less taxes and call a real estate agent down here. That was pretty much the end of their active involvement.

Friday morning, we met with the real estate guy who, contrary to my belief about lawyers and real estate agents, turned out to be a pretty cool guy. He had a list of homes to look at, and we went a-looking.

We started with the concept of “close to work,” and started looking at places near the Castle. (That’s the nickname for the building.) Naturally, the circle got wider and we revised our concept from “close to work” to “not quite in Austin.”

The last place we looked at was just about right size-wise, with the right number of bedrooms and just about everything, so we decided to put in an application, which was two hundred non-refundable dollars. After listing some references and whatnot, we figured we’d be in the house sometime Monday.

We took the weekend and explored San Antonio a little bit on Saturday then went to Corpus Christi on Sunday. It was a hot, windy day, but nice to visit the Gulf of Mexico.

Not knowing what the next few days would hold, I booked the room for one more night on Monday. Just in case.

Leaving 4 children, 1 adult, 2 cats and a dog in the the motel room, I went to work the next day. Made the requisite phone calls checking on the house.

No news.

Booked the room for another night.

Repeat for Tuesday.

Repeat for Wednesday.

By this point, the room was getting mighty small, and I wasn’t even in it during the day.

Oh, and repeat for Thursday.

Finally, on Thursday, we got word that everything was set for the house, and we were go for launch. So Thursday night was our last night at the Motel Number. Hopefully forever and ever, amen.

Oh, and did I mention that the UHaul was almost a week overdue (at $40/day) at this point?

I took my lunch hour on Friday, got everyone out of the motel, and we trucked the UHaul up to the new place. I finished the day and unloaded what I could that night – namely the bed. A friend from work came by at 7:00 the next morning, and we were unloaded by noon. We spent the rest of the day rearranging boxes, and rested very well that night.

Next day, it was time to return the UHaul. The closest store open was near Randolph Air Force Base. Now, this shop was in an interesting area, to say the least, but it was daytime, so it didn’t much bother me. To set the scene, though, the UHaul business was tucked inside a pretty beat-up convenience store. The owner of the store was a Mexican guy with a club foot, and his #1 helper was an older guy who definitely looked like he’d seen better days. I learned that he was from Detroit, and had retired from Ford to this area.

The best part was that the two of them bitched at each other like an old married couple. It was sitcom material for sure.

So, anyway, remember when we had to track down the Uhaul? And they forgot the dollies?

So, I check in the truck, and the windshield had picked up a rock on a chip seal job south of Bridger; before we even got out of Montana. The dollies were missing, which I thought we’d rectified in Helena. (You know, the original place we were supposed to get the truck?)

So the guy starts grilling me about the dollies, and I explain the situation. He can’t verify it, of course, and no one is working at the office in Belgrade. At this point, I’m starting to get a bit agitated. I’ve got the late fee, the cracked windshield  – which I thought would be covered under the insurance I bought, and the missing dollies. All I can hear is “cha-CHING! cha-CHING!” and not in my favor. He’s calling corporate and his bosses and who the heck ever he calls when things come up.

Finally, he gets tired of dealing with everything, and just says to me, “Look. I have to charge you for the dollies. The computer says they’re supposed to be there. Someone will ask about them if I don’t.”

I say, “I understand.”

He says, “I’m not going to charge you for the windshield or the late fees, though.”

Roughly, that was about an $800 turnaround in my favor.

I thanked him profusely, and left $120 lighter in the wallet, and was happy to do so.

We all went home in the van, and for the first time in the better part of two weeks, we weren’t actually “moving.”

Day 3: Amarillo – San Antonio

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Moving

I just couldn’t get this song out of my head, even though we were clearly doing the trip backwards. Amarillo in the morning; then down to San Antone.

But that’s just how we roll.

Again, we weren’t in a huge hurry to depart, but we got rolling relatively early. The first stop we made was Lubbock for gas and snacks. (Incidentally, we spent a small fortune on “Bug Juice” for the kids on the trip.) We obviously didn’t spend a lot of time in Lubbock, but I could certainly see why Buddy Holly left. But then again, that really didn’t work out all that well for him. So there’s that.

We lunched in Sweetwater, home of the fighting Mustangs. (How about that, Ennis folks?) The Garmin led us on a meandering route around town and finally we just pulled into a Taco Bell, grabbed a 20-pack and some drinks, and headed on down the road.

Honey Badger don’t care. He just eats at Taco Bell and eases on down the road.

If you are a SpongeBob SquarePants aficionado (read: forced to watch by chirren), you’ll remember the episode where SpongeBob and Squidward worked the night shift. SpongeBob would say stuff like, “Squidward! I’m scrubbing the shitter … at night!” “I’m taking the trash out … at night!”

Similarly, Kiran and Cameron felt compelled to add “… in Texas” to pretty much everything.

“Daddy! We’re driving down the highway! … In Texas!”

“Daddy! There’s a man peeing on the side of the road! … In Texas!”

“Daddy! There’s a stoplight! … In Texas!”

Surprisingly, all of the children made it to San Antonio, which is, as you know, IN TEXAS!”

We made a gas stop was in Eden. As I was gassing up, another patron struck up a conversation with me.

As it turns out, we had similar stories. We both had pretty much sold everything and followed a dream or a job to Texas. He has a Mexican restaurant there, and has been doing OK. We’ll get back there one of these days, just to have dinner and catch up.

Another notable highlight of this segment was that I, in the UHaul truck, passed THE official pace care of the 1989 Indianapolis 500, not once, but twice! OK, granted it was being pulled on a trailer, but still!

Another thing I noticed about Texas is that, like Montana, they have “rivers” and “creeks,” but unlike Montana, they forgot to put water in them. Back home, I think we would call them “gullies.” I never actually saw water in a “river” until we were almost to San Antonio.

Thanks to my excellent foresight and planning, we hit San Antonio proper right around 5:00, just in time for rush hour. On the upside, most everyone was trying to get out of town, not in, so it wasn’t all that bad, relatively speaking. Following the lead of the wise and beloved Garmin (thanks again, MDT!), we safely arrived at what was possibly the worst individual hotel in the entire Motel Number chain.

But at least a.) it had a pool, and b.) we had arrived.

Day 2: Cheyenne – Amarillo

Posted: August 18, 2011 in Moving

After a grueling first day, I didn’t want to push the crew too hard, so it was about 9:00 when we left Cheyenne. I wish I could say that there was something magical and mystical between there and Denver, but there really wasn’t. We just chugged along, much like Honey Badger. We don’t give a shit, we just drive down the road. “Look out!” says that bird.

I-25 in Denver was pretty much a parking lot as we went through. Cameron and I gave Invesco Field a hearty “Boo, Broncos!” and a thumbs-down as we went past.

We made a brief stop for pet potty just outside of Colorado Springs, and watched some trainers fly around. Got a good view of Cheyenne Mountain, bristling with antennae and conspiracy theories.

South of Colorado Springs, the mountains started turning into the plains, and things started really feeling different. Every mile to that point had been mostly in mountain country, but that was getting well behind us. As we chugged into Pueblo for lunch, (kids voted for McDonald’s, if you can imagine that) the sense that we were well and truly moving was starting to sink in.

Pueblo called for a little shift in passenger arrangements. Kiran joined Cameron and I in the cab of the truck, so as to prevent murder most foul in the van. Kiran and Chloe, being closer in age, have a tendency to butt heads rather frequently. And by “rather frequently,” I mean “constantly,” and it was at a fever pitch.

We set on down the Arkansas River, bound for Lamar, and passing through towns such as Manzanola, La Junta and Las Animas. The area really reminded me of eastern Montana in that it seemed like it was drying up and blowing away. There are a lot of Melon Farmers (SWIDT? Sersiously! Melon Farmers!) in that area, with a ton of roadside stands. One high school mascot was even called the “Meloneers.”

We arrived in Lamar, ready for a fuel and potty break. We pulled both vehicles in, and as I went over to fill up the van, I noticed that the pickup truck at the next pump had Montana plates.

“You’re a ways away from home, aren’t you?” I asked him.

He peered at my plate and said, “So are you, apparently. Where you from?”

“We’re coming from Helena. Heading for San Antonio, but we’ll stop in Amarillo tonight.”

“I’m from Helena and headed for Amarillo, too. Gotta pick up some horses.”

“I’ll be damned.”

That was the extent of the conversation, but what are those odds? Pretty long.

So, at Lamar, we refreshed ourselves and turned south for Oklahoma and Texas.

We made our last fuel stop for the day in Boise City, OK. The best features of Oklahoma were the corrugated roads and the heat. I think it was 105 there, and there’s nothing quite like walking across acres and acres of pavement in that heat. I’m sure that there is more to Oklahoma than bad roads and heat, but we weren’t in it long enough to find out. It wasn’t too long until …

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. . . we were there. Or here, as the case may be.

North Texas is populated mainly by oil wells, and approximately 3 trees, which you can see in the picture above.

We slogged the rest of the way into Amarillo, and started looking for dinner. The kids, of course, wanted McDonald’s for the 80 billionth time. The adults, however, were looking for something a little different, so we found a place called Whataburger. It’s a chain down here, and actually quite good. I’m a convert, fer sure.

So, we made Amarillo by nightfall;  down to San Antone.

Day 1: Helena – Cheyenne

Posted: July 20, 2011 in Moving

700 miles in one day was a pretty  ambitious schedule, I’ll be the first to admit.  But, I knew that the kids travel well,  do it was definitely doable.

Road construction between Helena and Toston made the start of the trip a virtual crawl. Leaving at six a.m., I had figured on being most of the way to Laurel by nine or so, and into Worland, WY by noonish. Give or take, with an allotment of potty breaks.

After construction delays and what have you, it was close to two when we finally rolled into  Worland.

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Waiting for us in Worland was thits wonderful sign at Goodies. How cool was that? This was courtesy of my friend Arrian Walter who runs the joint. (Shameless plug: Eat at Goodies!)

After a wonderful prime rib melt lunch, and a too-short visit with Arrian and her folks, it was time to continue to Cheyenne.

The route took us through the stunning Wind River Canyon, which you must see. The only downside of seeing this marvel its that you’ll have to drive through Wyoming to see it.

There are approximately 32,157 miles of Stony Lonesome between the canyon and earth. At least from the southern end. Sixty hours of driving finally found us in Casper.

This may surprise some of you, but the wind was blowing on that stretch.

Moving on through Casper, we saw a metric buttload of power generating windmills. I haven’t checked the number, but there had to have been at least a hundred. One can only imagine the noise and bird kill for not that much electricity.

We had a quick bite in Douglas, then pressed on toward Cheyenne. There was quite a thunderstorm ahead of us, and we watched the lightning pop and crackle for most of an hour.

We got into Cheyenne and our GPS units were giving us different opinions on route. One said Exit 10, the other preferred 9.

We opted for 10, and found ourselves at the gates of Warren AFB. With a Uhaul truck.

We got out of there as fast as possible, not wanting a TSA treatment from the USAF MP.

We made it to Exit 9, and after 3 false attempts at left turns, due to not being able to read street names in the dark and rain, we rolled into the Hotel Number. (Divisible by 3.) Hotel Number’s sure conditioner operates st about 3 BTU’s, do that your room reaches a comfortable temperature right at checkout.

The Hotel Number here in Cheyenne is conveniently located smack dab in the middle of the railroad yard, for your convenience. Instead of listening to that lonesome whistle from miles away, it is literally outside your door. To make your stay more memorable, every train that passes through Wyoming is required by law to blow past here at least hourly.

But, I will say this. Most everyone was exhausted enough to sleep through it.

Except me and the cats, I think.

They have ben petty traumatized, thus far. They have to wear harnesses, which they hate, and they were definitely not fond of the trains.

Zilla, though, has handled everything with grace and aplomb.

I girds it’s good to be a big dumb dawg.

On to Amarillo!

UHaul. If UCan Find Your Truck.

Posted: July 18, 2011 in Moving

Friday was my last day at my old job.

There were a ton of things I’d hoped to get done, but my office was never empty long enough to do anything. There was a fairly steady stream of well-wishers stopping in for that last visit.

They threw me a going away party, which I thought would be cake and sitting around telling stories. Instead, people made plans.

It was humbling. They did not make it easy for me to leave. The people at MDT are among the most generous I’ve known, and left me speechless due to the giant lump in my throat.

But, enough about that. In the middle of my last day, I look at my cell phone and see a voicemail. It’s from UHaul. “I need to talk to you about your equipment reservation.”

I didn’t know what I needed, so I’d reserved a 26′ truck, and a 12×6′ trailer.

I figured they were probably missing the trailer, since I’d been past my local UHaul dealer the previous day, and had seen 3 26′ trucks on the lot.

You already know the answer to this.

It was the truck that was missing, and they told me they had one in Butte. Just a short drive over the Continental Divide. Each way. At my expense.

The Anger Sharks were beginning to circle.

I agreed to pick up the truck in Butte, but had to go to a meeting. When I came back, there were two more almost simultaneous voicemails.

“Uhhhh…this is Uhaul in Butte, and we, uhhh, well, that is to say that we, uhhh, don’t have a truck for you. But Good Luck!”

“Uhhh….this is Jane at Uhaul, please give us a call ASAP.”

Long story short, they did find us a truck in Belgrade, so right after work, we jumped in the van and headed to Belgrade to pick up the truck. Which I had reserved. To be in Helena.

On the way out of town, I call Mom to let her know what was going on, and stopped in East Helena for gas. I’m talking to her and gassing up when the guy from the store comes out and says, “Uhhh…it’s illegal to talk on your phone at the pump.” I look at him and say,”No it’s not.” He says, “It could explode.” With increasing disbelief at the efficacy of science education in our public schools, I say, “No it won’t. Not from a phone.”

Then he left.

And shut off my GODDAMNED PUMP.

I did a quick scan for the closed circuit camera, shot him the bird, and began a road rage fuelled trip to Belgrade.

My co-workers gave me a new Garmin GPS unit as a going away present. (Told you they were generous.) I made the Spousal Unit hook it up and get it ready to use, and we put in the UHaul dealer’s address for a nice test run.

As we approached Belgrade, the GPS suggested that I get off I90 at Manhattan, and follow the frontage road on in.

I scoffed, and said,”No, GPS. We’ll get off the interstate at Belgrade, thank you.”

Those of you who live in the Gallatin Valley already know what is happening as I hit the Belgrade exit right around 5:30 in the evening.

After idling through 3 light changes, I told the Garmin, “You were right, O Mighty GPS. I will never doubt your wisdom again'”

So.

Got the truck. With an extra day. And extra miles. And enough of a discount to make the trip worthwhile, aside from losing an evening’s worth of moving work. Oh! And they didn’t throw on the dollies and moving blankets. Which I found out when we got back to Helena. This will figure in later, if you hadn’t already guessed.

Saturday rolls around, and my good pal Justin shows up with doughnuts for all. Including four maple-frosted, bacon-topped apple fritters.

Yes. I said bacon-topped.

They were delicious.

My other good pal Scott came by later, and we had most of the truck loaded in a heartbeat. It was clear that I wouldn’t need the trailer, so I called UHaul to cancel the reservation.

“Well, sir, I may have to charge you…”

I lost it. “You guys not only screwed up my reservation. Twice. And made me drive 80 miles one way to pick up a truck which was supposed to be in Helena, and now you’re going to charge me for a trailer I don’t need?”

The Anger Sharks were frothing the waters at this point.

“I suppose we can waive the charges, sir.”

Outside voice: “Thank you very much.”

Inside voice: “You’re GODDAMNED RIGHT you will.”

Status as of right now: One 26′ truck is in the driveway, ready to roll. Tomorrow morning, it’s wheels-up and the first destination in Cheyenne, WY, with an awesome lunch in Worland.

Bittersweet

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Moving

I have to admit that this whole “Moving To Texas” thing, while very exciting (and draining, I might add), it is also very bittersweet. You can take the boy out of Montana, etc.

As I’ve explained ad infinitum, I didn’t consider leaving my current situation out of any dissatisfaction. In fact, my position is rather enviable for this area. Decent salary, challenging work; just about anything you could ask for.

Long story short: I’m going to miss this place, and here’s just some of the things I’ll miss: Mt. Helena in my backyard, The Sleeping Giant in my frontyard, Gates of the Mountains, Yellowstone Park, Makoshika Park, Glacier Park, Ennis Lake, Canyon Ferry, Hauser Lake, Fan Mountain, Lone Mountain, the Sphinx, Quake Lake, Hebgen Lake, snow, pine forests, Secondary 253 from Brockway to Terry, the Centennial Valley, the Rimrocks, the Clarks Fork Valley, Paradise Valley, Muzz & Stan’s, Butte in General, and that’s just for starters, and doesn’t even take into consideration Montana’s greatest asset, and that is her people.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m not equally excited to meet new people and find new sights and face new challenges.

I got the truck reserved, and relocation funds have been allocated.

This is really going to happen, and I still don’t think I fully have my head around it.

(Also: Packing sucks.)