On July 4, 2009 Bob and I felt freer than we have in a very long time. Our 5th day on the road was also our 5th day out of our house and our 1st day in Iowa.

It finally began to sink in. The house saga is over. And we are free. This is a beginning. And what better place for that to set in, than Iowa with it’s wide-open expanses of land? Iowa is more progressive today than California, after all, right? It’s not that we’re planning on settling here. No. It just feels good to be here.

Ever since Bob and I met, I have been fascinated by the fact that he grew up in such a small town – a farming community in (what seemed to me) the middle of nowhere. He’s from Humboldt, Iowa. I really love coming here to visit because it’s so hard to get a cell signal in places that you’re forced to disconnect and just relax. That’s what we’re doing.
And today, in order to blog, we had to search out the only public wifi we could find at the Hy-Vee grocery store. So, picture me at a booth in a small town grocery store where the regulars have their own mugs lining the walls and the coffee is only .75 cents for a large.

Our Independence Day began in Lincoln, Nebraska where we got right back on I80 and headed East. Bob, luckily had the brilliant idea to get off of 80 in Omaha and drive through the Missouri Valley taking 30 towards his hometown. It was so pretty. Overcast and cool. Perfect driving weather. It sprinkled a bit. We could see the rain miles away across the open fields. The hills rolled and the countryside was very green. For a while we drove alongside a freight train.

The best part about our drive, though, was when we rolled into Logan, Iowa and I accidentally drove us right down the 4th of July Parade route. It happened before I knew it. There was traffic, which surprised us. It hadn’t occurred to us that we were headed right towards a parade until we were in it. Technically, the parade hadn’t yet begun. It was about to. And there we were on Main Street with townsfolk lining the road waiting for the real parade to begin. Some waved at us. Picture us with our car packed solid and the bikes on top.

Pablo was sticking his head out the window. Kids pointing at him and calling out: “Doggy!” This is what we saw:

As I’m realizing that I’m on the parade route, I’m trying to figure out how to get off of it when “God Bless America” starts blaring out of these giant speakers. It was so loud I couldn’t think. Not to mention, I was laughing so hard it made it hard to drive. Finally, I made a right turn and got out of there. A block away and there was no traffic. That’s Iowa.

We continued on towards Bob’s hometown of Humboldt and made it with plenty of time for their evening parade and fireworks. The trained geese dressed in clothes were the highlight for me.
The next day brought a giant and wonderful family reunion and two birthday celebrations. Lots of food. Smoked chickens, marshmallow salad, deviled eggs. I was confronted by the fact that we really don’t have a plan when asked, “So where you headed?”

“And everything you own’s in your car?”

“Yep. Well, pretty much. Except for a small storage locker.”

“Been there. Done that.”

“Yep.”

And that was that. There wasn’t much more to say. Like all the food we’ve eaten the last few days, we’re still digesting our experience. (too gross? Sorry.) For now, we’re just watching the corn grow. With family.

Tomorrow we continue on to my hometown where we’ll begin to form a plan. Our plan to climb our way out of debt. Yes, we sold the house. Yes, we avoided foreclosure. Yes, we still have a Mt. Everest of debt. And we’re up for the climb.

This picture was taken moments before we pulled out of our driveway in Los Angeles for the final time. Pablo, packed in with all of our belongings.

 
 

American Home

07.04.09

Good evening from Lincoln, Nebraska where the sky is exploding in glorious colors!

They do their fireworks here on the 3rd of July, apparently. We were treated to a show driving along I80 in the rain. (We’re resting here for the night before continuing on to Humboldt, Iowa for family, more fireworks and Americana.)

So, I thought I’d do something a little different in this post…

Though I haven’t written much about it here on LITTOF, I am a playwright.

And back in November when the prospect of losing the house started to look very real, I started a new play called American Home.

So much in the news was about people taking drastic measures in the face of foreclosure and I wanted to understand not only what was happening with us, but so many other Americans as well. What was MY worst case scenario, I wondered?

I’ve since completed the play. Well, at least a first draft. And I just wanted to share this one monologue as it attempts to convey the despair we experienced in our darker moments. Now that we’re on the other side, it’s easy to forget how challenging it was. And I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that it is possible to feel utterly powerless and still be able to turn that around. When you’re in it, it feels impossible. When you’re out, it feels like it was never that hard.

I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. And I think that’s what my play ended up being about more than about people losing their homes- though that’s where it began.

Anyhoo… Here’s the monologue that opens the second act of my play American Home:

AMERICAN HOME
ACT 2, SCENE 1

“THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MIKE WASHINGTON”

Lights up on MIKE WASHINGTON.
He addresses the audience.

MIKE: I keep thinking about Tetris. You know that game? You know with the blocks. All different sizes and shapes and you have to position them as they’re falling so that they fit without any empty spaces. You’re supposed to get them to fit perfectly together and when you do, they disappear. But the blocks don’t stop falling. They keep coming. Slow at first.

(Bills fall from the sky. Slow at first.)

And you can manage that pace. You’re doing all right. And you start to feel good about it. Auto-pilot kicks in. Just when you’re getting cocky, they fall faster.

(The bills fall faster.)

And you make your first mistake. Then you adjust. And you’re back on track. Fitting the blocks. Turning them, getting them to fit just right. Your confidence builds. You’re agile. Good reflexes. Keeping up with the game.

And then they fall faster. And it’s not so easy any more. You up your game. Your pace quickens. Muscles tighten. Stomach twists. They fall faster and faster. And the faster they fall, the more flustered you get. Your heart races. Palms sweat.

(MIKE’S heart races. His palms sweat. He looks up
at the bills that continue to fall on him.
)

The game is faster than you. Without a doubt. Too fast. I can’t keep up. The blocks will pile up. Pile up. Pile up. One on top of the other, filling the screen. No more room. But the blocks keep coming. Failure is imminent.

I knew how to win. You just keep up. Stay calm. But I got too flustered. Made too many mistakes. And now it’s too late. I’m out of room and about to fail. It will all be over soon. And when it is. When I fail. It’s a relief. Because the anticipation of failure is always more painful than the actual failure. It’s inevitable. But with Tetris, there’s always the end. Game over. Where everything just stops.

(The bills stop. All is silent for a beat. MIKE breathes.)

And you can start again if you want. That’s the beauty of it. You press play and you get a new screen. Blank. Room for all those blocks to fit. You can avoid the mistakes you made the last time. Keep your cool a little bit longer. Learn some tricks to make the blocks fit.

Life is like Tetris except the blocks never stop falling…

(The bills continue to bury him alive.)

And there’s no such thing as a blank screen. I keep looking, but for the life of me I can’t fucking find the start button.

Copyright (C) 2009 Stephanie Alison Walker

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Photo by Digihound, LLC

 
 

A View from the Road: This is a picture of Spotted Wolf Canyon on I70 in Utah about 60 miles West of the Colorado border.

Good morning from Grand Junction, Colorado!

We rolled into town yesterday at about 5 PM (we’re on Mountain Time now.)

Ah, there’s so much to say. I don’t know how to do it in just one post. So maybe I’ll write several.

Okay, first of all… I think I will begin with the actual closing day. That was Tuesday. Two days ago. At 3:30 PM as we were driving East on the 210, we got a text from our Realtor that the sale of our house had finally recorded. It was done.

The day began in a frenzy as was expected. I was operating on 3 hours of sleep. But we had to get out of the house, so sleep was secondary. If you saw the last post, you saw the junkyard that was our driveway in the middle of the night. Well, we really didn’t want to leave that for the new owners so we called 1-800-Gotjunk to haul it away. It cost us $300 to do that. It’s really not fun to pay to get rid of junk, but when you’re looking at a matter of hours to get rid of it, you do what you can.

Slowly the money we made on our Estate sale was disappearing. Shipping a few boxes here, a few more there. Paying $300 to have our junk hauled away. Shipping yet more boxes as we realize they won’t fit in the car… in total we spent about $1,700 on this move (not including gas money to get us to Illinois.) So that $1,500 from the Making Home Affordable plan would really come in handy right about now. But I’ve given up on that. All there is now is looking forward.

We finally pulled out of our driveway at about 2:30 PM. I think. I didn’t check the clock, I’m just estimating. It was hot. We were sweaty. Gross. Ready to be done. I had this experience of feeling too tired to even be sad. The move had taken so much out of us that we were just ready to get the hell out!

As we drove away it felt sort of anti-climactic. All this work and here we are. Driving away. I thought I’d cry tears of relief. We avoided foreclosure! Success! A celebration, right? Of course we’re relieved about that. I actually acknowledged it to Bob as we were battling traffic on the 210. “Hey,” I said with the little energy I could muster, “We avoided foreclosure. High five.” And I held up my hand and Bob touched it. High five. It was pretty lackluster. There was no whoop of victory. Just an acknowledgement. I guess I had expected to feel anything ranging from euphoria to despair, but more than anything what I felt was peace.

And when the tears snuck up on me as we were passing Fontana, they weren’t because we were leaving the house, but our community. We will miss you greatly, L.A. We will miss you more, friends. We love you.

So we are without a house. No longer homeowners. We’ve lifted the anchor and are setting out into the open sea. Uncharted waters. Making it up as we go. For now.

The interesting thing is this, I feel at home right here. No, not here as in Grand Junction. Here as in my own skin next to Bob. The two of us setting out together like this. We are headed to the town where I grew up. To my family… where we will feel home. If feeling at home is nothing more than a feeling, then you don’t really need a piece of land to feel that way. Make sense? Yes, I know the cliche “Home is where the heart lies.” I guess this is that.

So you can be houseless but not homeless. We are vagabonds. Wanderers. Transients. Well, I guess the distinction is that we are employed vagabonds, transients and wanderers (and grateful for that distinction!) Anyway, all of this is to say that it feels good. And weird. All at once. We are living what I once thought would be the worst case scenario and we’re embracing it. It’s not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. It’s not bad at all. We’re actually excited. Liberated. And how perfect that Saturday is our nation’s Independence Day.

I told Bob yesterday that I kind of felt like a kid again. Is this how starting over always feels? I guess we finally found the ‘reset’ button.

A RECAP OF THE LAST TWO DAYS

TUESDAY: Departed L.A. and drove as far as Vegas. Saw a drug deal in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Tropicana, quickly pulled out of the parking lot and looked for a, well, less seedy place to stay. Finally found a dog-friendly and decent accommodation at La Quinta Inn for $69 (didn’t get much sleep as the people across the hall left their dog alone in the room all night while they went out gambling. Poor dog barked all night.) Highest temp: 111 degrees

WEDNESDAY: Drove north and east to cooler climates through Nevada, Arizona, Utah and stopped just over the border in Grand Junction, Colorado. We found a dog-friendly hotel on Main Street downtown called the Hawthorn Suites. $99 a night. But worth the extra money because we actually slept. Didn’t see even one drug deal. And we have working wifi in the room so I can blog and Bob can work. We’ll be here until we have to check out. Which is, ah, in only one hour! (no time to edit this post because I still have to shower- yikes!)

Last night we took Pablo for a walk down Main Street and ended up at a little pizza place with outdoor seating for a glass of wine and some grub. The place was appropriately called Pablo’s Pizza, and yes, he acted like he owned the joint. While waiting for our pie, we paged through the local paper and came across this fascinating story about a Grand Junction native who spent the entire winter on his raft exploring Lake Powell with his dog Pepper.

There truly are all sorts of ways to live a life. Here’s one:

GJ man spends winter rafting, exploring Lake Powell – Grand Junction Free Press

And this is a chalk drawing on the sidewalk across from our hotel. It’s a little hard to make out, but it just seemed fitting since we are reinventing the American Dream for ourselves.

So how are you guys? What’s up? Have you been following us on Twitter? I’ve been pretty chatty there from the road.

Oh- does anyone have any good road trip game suggestions?

Next stop: Denver! (It feels great to be back in Colorado after soooooo long! We can breathe. Fresh mountain air.)