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Moving story

We move a lot. It’s a benefit—or burden, depending on your outlook—of the military life. We prefer to look at each move as an adventure, which helps the whole family maintain a positive outlook. But it’s not an adventure without an element of challenge, and a few of our moves have definitely been challenging.

The most memorable was our cross-country move—aren’t they always?—from Dayton, Ohio to Santa Maria, California. We shipped our beater of a sedan and set out in our piece-of-crap van (part of the live-below-our-means-plan, which we’re still on, but the means have improved since then) for the 2300-mile drive.

Everything went along smoothly until we stopped in Arizona to visit family. Something went wrong with the van and we had to take it to a mechanic, thus delaying our departure a couple of days.

Finally, we were on the road again with our 700 pounds of household goods and two preschoolers. We stopped in Palm Desert to retrieve my husband’s car and caravanned into Los Angeles. We made it through the the suburbs in bumper-to-bumper traffic and onto 101 northbound, and blam. Right at the intersection of the freeway and a two-lane onramp, the van died.

Oh, yes, my fellow road warriors were most pleased with me. Did I mention it was July 4th? I was that “broken down car blocking the right lane” on the traffic channel.

Details of the transfer to my husband’s car and the towing event are fuzzy, but when the mechanics got a hold of the van, it started right up. They couldn’t tell us what was wrong since it was working. Well, !@#$%. We took the kids to McDonald’s (PlayPlaces rock with little ones in tow), and began to list our options.

We still had 150 miles to go and it was already mid-afternoon. If we broke down again, we might be in the middle of nowhere next time. If we left the van behind, what would we do with it and all of our stuff?

We decided to store our stuff and, if possible, sell the van.

And the countdown was on. We had only a couple of hours until the dealer closed.

Step 1: Store our stuff. We found a storage company, paid the $90/month fee, and moved everything down a hall, up an escalator, and down another hall in multiple trips. We were barely able to fit our suitcases in the Camry. We stuffed three in the trunk and crammed one between the kids in the back seat.

Step 2: Get the van detailed. Off to the full-service car wash for a professional wash and vacuum.

Step 3: Sell the van. We arrived at the dealer about thirty minutes before closing. (Yes, this may not have been our most ethical choice, but it’s what we came up with under duress.) The van was still running and continued to perform like a champ. We basically got paid what we’d spent to get the van fixed in Phoenix.

We made it the rest of the way without incident, checked into our temporary lodging on base, and drove around until we found a place to watch the Lompoc fireworks from our car. Our treat for a crappy day.

Two days later, we rented a fifteen-passenger van, took out most of the back seats, piled the kids in, and drove back to L.A. to retrieve our things from storage, making the return the same day.

At the time, the whole situation was stressful and maddening, but now I look back on it as an adventure. Another obstacle that we survived and overcame that made us stronger.

And just in case you were wondering: that was my first and last van.

Road trips

Have you ever noticed that the most memorable trips are those where things go wrong? At the time it seems awful, but later you laugh about it. For some reason, nearly all of my driving misadventures involve California.

The first one that comes to mind was a few months after The Engineer and I were married. We took a weekend trip from Tucson to San Diego. A mini, belated honeymoon of sorts to one of my favorite cities. We drove my Acura (of the now infamous aftermarket cruise control), which was at this point nine years old and driven to death.

On the morning we were due to leave San Diego, the car battery died and my husband pushed the car back and forth in the parking lot of the hotel while I tried to pop the clutch to get it started. Poor guy. It finally worked, and since it was too early in the morning to get the battery replaced, we drove to El Centro (about three hours or so) and stopped for lunch while the guys at Sears replaced the battery.

That would have been enough, but this is where I must mention that it was July. In the desert. At midday. Not an hour after we left El Centro, we heard an ominous thump as the air conditioning belt flew off and sailed behind us. Now, I know that when my dad was a kid, he took the same trip many times and just roasted with the windows down.

But, hah, we’re better than that. We improvised in the 100+ degree heat. I’m not sure whose idea it was, so I’ll take joint credit with The Engineer, but we tied up the sleeves of my long-sleeved shirt (hey, the beach doesn’t warm up until fall) and stuffed them with ice cubes which we spent the remainder of the drive rubbing on our face and arms to stay cool.

I hardly remember anything else about that trip, but it’s precisely the things that went wrong—and the knowledge that we were able to handle them, and did so together—that make it a fun memory.

Got any misadventures to share?