A couple Saturdays ago, my friend Tracy moved to Cleveland. She doesn’t drive stick, so I offered to follow their 26′ truck in her boyfriend’s SUV. She’d buy me a plane ticket to get back in time for my Sunday bar shift.
I got to her place at 2pm, as she was doing the last of the sweeping and mopping. Her terrified cat peeked out at us from the crack of the opened bedroom door. We carried the last of her belongings down to Justin’s car and waited for the landlady to come and approve of the condition of the apartment and promise to return Tracy’s deposit, so we could get going.
Justin and I decided to wait downstairs so we wouldn’t have to keep listening to that suburban trixie whine about some dust on the window pane. She was not the one who’d rented out the place three years ago, when Tracy moved in, and was obviously new to the landlording racket. I’ve moved into many apartments in much shabbier shape than the way Tracy left this one. We hit the road around 5pm.
The six-hour drive passed uneventfully, aside from Justin heartbreak over the bizarre fact of the rest-stop Sbarro being closed at 9pm. No calzones would be enjoyed on this trip. We pulled up to their new house around midnight, Eastern Standard Time. I watched Justin confidently swing the 26-foot Budget truck into the narrow drive between two houses, then stop after scrapping something about ten feet down. What followed was a tense ten minutes of inching forward and backward, trying to squeeze back out of the spot he’d wedged himself into. What happened was that he’s smashed into the awning of the side door, changing the shape of the rotting wood and shingle structure into oblique angles. A nosy, likely inebriated neighbor with a tattooed tear on his cheek offered unsolicited assistance. Tracy and Justin waved him away. He told me he’d be happy to help unload the truck for a c-note, then retreated to the porch of his house across the street to watch the show.
We unloaded the couch and mattress, then drove to a gas-station Tracy knew for sandwiches.
Tracy’s sister showed up the next morning and the four of us unloaded the rest of the truck. There was a couple hours left before my flight, but I had Justin drive me to the airport so I could get out of their hair and get some work done on the computer. No sooner had I settled into a seat with a coffee and some airport junk food then an email informed me that my flight was canceled. It was snowing in Chicago. Their website was unresponsive and hold-time on the phone was 81 minutes, so I trudged to the gate to get an update. A long line snaked away from the service desk. A few minutes later, the PA announced there’s be an announcement in 45 minutes; for no, due to poor visibility, all flights were grounded.
I called Tom and Sherry to see if they could cover my shift, but no dice. Then I called Brian and asked him to book me an Enterprise car from Cleveland to Chicago. I called Sam to say I’d be a couple hours late, then ran for the rent-a-car shuttle. It was 3:50pm EST when I hit the road west.
The highway was mostly deserted as I sped through pockets of blinding rain, rarely dipping below 80MPH. As the milemarkers shrank to zero at the Indiana state line, then reset to count down again, I kept checking the clock. By South Bend I knew I could make it to the Skylark by 8pm, in time for my shift.
I walked into the bar at 7:30pm, reeling a little, but happy to know that years of driving for a living had left me with the ability to do the crazy thing I’d just done. Cleveland to Chicago in four-and-a-half hours isn’t too shabby.
I’ll miss Tracy, but always remember the battered awning on the side of her new house and my frantic trek back to Chicago. When I think of Cleveland from now one, this is what I’ll think of.