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Nomadic Life: How We Transition from One City to the Next

On the Road Moving On by Larry McMurtry

On leaving day, Chris and I finish packing up, clean up where we’ve been staying, and get on the road. Unlike our moves from the houses we’ve lived in, there’s a specific check out time. Like many of our drives, we’re breaking it into two days. Dallas is the next city we’re living in for a month, but we’re spending a night in Joplin first at a Hilton Garden Inn. Thanks to all of our traveling and two weeks of quarantine in the Hampton Inn & Suites Vancouver Downtown, we are Diamond members. 

St. Louis, August 31st, 2021 6:00 A.M.

We went on our last Central West End coffee walk. I wanted to workout before spending hours sitting shotgun in our Toyota 4Runner, but checkout time was 10 a.m. and there was a lot to get done. I skipped the workout, which was a good thing. At 9:59 a.m. we walked out the door. Just in time. We did a lot, but to what end?

It might have been less discouraging for me if I hadn’t set up a “My Productivity Chart” in Google Sheets the day before. On the chart, I specified the following weekday goals:

  • Exercise 2-Hours
  • Create/Write 3-Hours
  • ChriMel Tasks 3-Hours
  • Read a Script or Book 1-Hour
  • Watch a Movie
  • Watch a Vlog or YouTube video that isn’t a workout

10:15 A.M. On the road to Joplin.

My backpack and purse rode shotgun with me. I took out the InStyle magazine that I’d bought on impulse from the Whole Foods in the Central West End neighborhood we’d called home. I finished reading the articles that interested me: Jennifer Aniston Knows What She Wants and Steve Martin Short. Then, I opened up my well-worn copy of Moving On by Larry McMurtry. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. I adore Patsy and Jim and Pete and Boots so much. Detesting Sonny is a head shaking joy. The rodeo men and women populating the book feel familiar. They take me back 20-some years to when I spent five months living in Pendleton, Oregon, home of the Pendleton Round-Up rodeo.  

22-years ago in Pendleton, Oregon.

During the rodeo, I worked double shifts serving and bartending at a place on Main Street called Marshall Station. My uniform included a Marshal’s badge and too-tight jeans. I was 21. 

Pendleton, a town of 10,000 people, hosts about 50,000 during Round-Up. Men sat at my bar in the afternoon. They’d talk about the future bars they planned to open. At night, there was the predictable refrain of from-out-of-town cowboy types, “What’s a guy gotta do to get arrested by a pretty little thing like you?”

There was Scott who played Scott music. He was a tall and lanky local, who played the guitar and sang; and, when real excited about something, he’d do a flip in the air and land upright on his cowboy boots. My rodeo romance guy, Dan, said Scott reminded him of Woody from Toy Story. Dan was the lone health food vendor at Round-Up. He loved details. One day, he brought me a caramel apple in a box wrapped in apple wrapping paper from the Hallmark in town. Scott and I spent a lot of nights aching over broken hearts and shooting pool after the rodeo left town.  

There was Wayne, a Pendleton old-timer. I was told that he had once been big in rodeo. When I met him, he was short, slim, and sick with cancer. He drank screwdrivers. Craig, my favorite cook at Marshall Station, would walk Wayne home on nights he seemed a bit off balance.  

Toni, my boss, was rail thin with crows feet deepened from her smoking habits. I think she was in her 60s. She liked slapping asses and tried talking me into going to a male strip show. I was and still am convinced that all I would do is blush and stare at the ground if I went to one of those. They do not interest me. 

Shannon and another girl I worked with whose name escapes me were why my uniform included too-tight jeans. They said to buy a size smaller than I normally wore for the week, to trust them, I’d make more money. I trusted them and bought a pair at J.C. Penney’s. I made a lot of money that week.

Those are the memories I pondered in between chapters of Moving On during the ride to Joplin.

Joplin 3:10 P.M.

Chris pulled into the Hilton Garden Inn’s parking lot. He had checked us into a non-smoking room through Hilton’s app earlier in the day, so we unloaded what we needed and headed straight to our room. He used the app again to open the door to our room, which reeked of cigarette smoke. There was a non-smoking sign right next to the room’s door. We went downstairs to see about getting a different room to spend the night in. 

“Which room was it?” the woman at Guest Services asked when we explained the situation. 

“428,” I said. 

“Oh, that’s one that hasn’t been remodeled yet.” She gave us a room on the other side of the hotel and an upgrade. We thanked her and headed to the fourth floor again. 

We opened the door of this smoke-free room and it was indeed free of any sign of smoke. I carried in my overnight bag, backpack, and yoga mat. Chris brought in his suitcase and backpack. We checked our computers to see if there were any tasks that needed our attention, handled them, and then went out to dinner at Finn’s, a locally-owned restaurant with a large patio.

Joplin MO Finn's Food and Drink and Chris

Finn’s offers a semi-fine dining experience that includes craft cocktails. Temperatures hovered around 90-degrees, yet we sat on the patio out of an abundance of pandemic caution. The service was attentive and kind, the food was delicious, as was a craft cocktail involving gin, butterfly pea syrup, a mint spring, and an ice cube with a strawberry frozen in it. I was relaxed and tired from the heat, so I’d taken off my writer’s cap and had forgotten to take note of the drink’s name. 

Joplin 5:30 A.M.

After a good night’s rest, we woke up early without alarms. Chris is training for a half marathon and has usurped me as the early morning riser. We brushed teeth, dressed, and stretched. Then, we headed to Mercy Park, so Chris could get his run in and I could walk. 

Mercy Park 6:00 A.M.

Mercy Park was built at what was known as ground zero for the 2011 Joplin EF-5 tornado that roared through town destroying 553 businesses, 7,411 homes, and killing 161 people. The park has a large pond, beautiful landscaping, and several works of art throughout it. A sculpture called “Lift Her with Butterflies” by Angela Mia De la Vega caught my attention. My first thought when I saw it was that there’s something beautiful about the idea of butterflies soothing the souls of those experiencing the despair and terror that the tornado brought. 

Joplin MO Mercy Park Lift Her With Butterflies

A few days later, I read about the butterfly people of Joplin in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. According to the article, several children claimed that they were protected by the butterfly people as the tornado bore down on the town. 

Hilton Garden Inn 7:30 A.M.

We returned to our room armed with our Starbucks orders: Chris with his grande Blonde Roast black. Me with my grande Pumpkin Spice Latte with coconut milk, no whipped cream, four shots of espresso, and three shots of pumpkin sauce (a normal grande has four) and Bacon & Gruyere Sous Vide Egg Bites. We showered, worked, packed, and got on the road.

On the Road around 10 A.M.

I was in a writing groove as I sat shotgun, laptop on lap. 

“Do we maybe want to get some footage of leaving Joplin?” Chris asked. 

“Do you?” I asked in response, intentionally difficult about it. After all, if I had wanted to, or if I had been thinking about it, I would have been doing it. Instead, I was trying to capture details about Joplin in words. Less efficient, sure. Yet, more contextualized, layered, and in keeping with what my mind was puzzling out. 

“Yes, I think we should,” Chris said. 

My phone was somewhere in my large, black purse, which was beneath my legs, which were beneath my backpack. I closed my laptop, put it in the back slot of my backpack, and pushed it off to the side. Then, I pulled my purse out from beneath my legs and fished out my phone. It was a process and I complained throughout it.

Chris apologized for not mentioning that he wanted B-roll earlier. I should have known we needed it and done it without prompting. When I want to write, I don’t think about other things and I detest being asked to consider them. I can be a bit dramatic and unreasonable about it, especially if there’s been a stretch where other responsibilities have kept me from writing as much as I’d like. 

B-roll footage is our only consistent source of argument on the road. Chris does all the driving between cities. He sees a lot of interesting things that he’d like captured on video. My eyes are often fixed to a screen, or a book. Sometimes he’s able to communicate in time for me to get my phone’s camera on it, sometimes one of us (usually me) is a beat too slow. Our B-roll arguments have lessened as we’ve progressed on our YouTube channel journey. Chris doesn’t want as much footage as he used to and we usually discuss what we want before getting on the road. I remind myself that it is my job to do the B-roll since I don’t want to drive and it’s more pleasant for everyone if necessary jobs are done without complaint. 

A note on driving:

I used to drive more when we went on road trips. A few months before the pandemic, Chris bought a Toyota 4Runner with big tires on it. I was leasing a Buick Encore at the time. The Encore is a 4-cylinder compact SUV. I drove my Encore through mountain ranges and on busy highways in unfamiliar cities with relative ease. During the first year and a half of the pandemic, I barely drove at all. Now, I’m getting used to driving again, but I don’t like driving in big, unfamiliar cities alone in Chris’s truck because it feels like a target for attention.

Back on the Road (HWY 44)

In Oklahoma we learned that hitchhikers might be escaping inmates. It was on a sign. Soon after learning that, we saw signs for tolls. Our next lesson along Hwy 44 in Oklahoma was to always have some cash on hand and ready. The tolls were pass, or cash only. No cards accepted. Chris had to open a back passenger door and dig through luggage to find a bag of change. Thank goodness he knew where it was I didn’t. We’d paid three dollars and were counting out more change when a woman in a vehicle behind us, kindly paid our balance and wished us well without betraying a flicker of annoyance.

Dallas 4:45 P.M.

We parked outside of our Northeast Dallas apartment. It was 98-degrees, but felt hotter. It took us four trips each up and down the stairs to move our month’s worth of stuff in. Air deodorizer hung heavy in the stairwell. Perhaps it was trying to cover up the older apartment building smell, or mold, or the scent of pets. We couldn’t tell. My allergies flared. In the kitchen of the apartment, there was a fishy smell. 

I’d ordered groceries from a Kroger near our new place while we were in Joplin. They’d been ready to be picked up for a couple of hours. We decided we’d need to buy something to clean out the garbage disposal drain to help combat the smell. We went to the grocery store I didn’t realize was closer to us to pick that up along with some wine and beer. Then, we picked up the Kroger order and made one more trip up the stairs with all of our purchases.

Apartment 6:00 PM

I poured myself a glass of wine, sat at the dining table and went through the video Chris had assembled of our The Difficult Part of Nomadic Living – Transition Time! St. Louis to Dallas video, noting edits that I thought should be made. It took an hour, maybe more.  I typed them up, so Chris could get started on editing. Then, I made our dinner as Chris worked on the edits. After dinner, I unpacked as much as I could before calling it a night. 

The transition didn’t feel complete. In some ways, six days in it still doesn’t. Maybe tomorrow?

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What does transition time look like? Check out the video: