Note: This essay was written eight years ago, in 2015, when I moved out of Virginia for the first time. My then-girlfriend (now wife) Caitlin and I packed our stuff into a UHaul and drove to Austin, Texas, where we moved into an apartment sight-unseen. This piece is a reflection on that trip. It appears in “Disppearing to Notice: Collected Writings from the 2010s,” which will be available on Amazon sometime in the near future, maybe.


Caitlin put him on a leash and planned to walk him up and down the fence line while I ran inside to use the bathroom. I was gone all of three minutes, yet as I walked across the parking lot after finishing up, I saw Caitlin standing by the passenger door with tears streaming down her cheeks. Scottie, looking shaken, was wrapped in her arms.

We were originally scheduled to depart for Kentucky on Aug. 25, but once Caitlin came down with a nasty stomach virus that left her couch-ridden for much of the day we decided to bide our time for 24 hours and try again. By daybreak, Caitlin was feeling much better, and thus we started making the necessary moves for our departure. As we went about getting the final things packed, news broke out of Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia (just a few miles from Caitlin’s parents house where we were staying) that two employees for a local new station had been shot point-blank and on-air by a disgruntled employee. The national media caught wind of the tragedy, and soon enough every major outlet was running the story, thus casting the eyes of the world upon rural Virginia for depressing reasons. It was too much to bear in the early morning, the thought of flipping on the television for a run-of-the mill local news report, perhaps as you sat down to drink your first cup of coffee, and witnessing a double murder. Just awful.

Caitlin’s sickness and the gutting news out of Smith Mountain Lake on consecutive days seemed like grave portents for our journey Out West, but nonetheless we packed up the automobile – a 16-foot Budget truck with a car dolly on the back to tow my dilapidated ‘98 Honda Accord – and hopped on 81 toward the Tennessee line. At first I was a bit paranoid about driving too fast around curves and whipping the cargo in the back this way and that and maybe breaking something of real value. But the paranoia subsided after a few minutes and I started spinning the big bastard around like a Formula One car. Curves that would have been no problem in a sedan were now much trickier – the possibility of jackknifing loomed over every maneuver. But like most things, once you get used to it, it becomes second nature. And so it was in the case of the budget truck and car dolly.

We were rolling along down 81 S with the cab stuffed full of food (gifted to us by Caitlin’s mom, Terry) and fluffy pillows. I drove, Caitlin sat in the passenger seat, and Scottie the cat was riding bitch, as it were, stuffed into a rusty old Pet Taxi. Scottie is, on average, a pretty mellow cat. This has been confirmed by cat lovers and cat haters alike. But when we stopped at a rest area in Tennessee to let him use the bathroom, he betrayed his reputation as one of the chillest felines around. 

The (bearded) author behind the wheel, Scottie in the Pet Taxi.

“What in God’s name happened?” I asked her. 

“He tried to run away!” she sobbed. “I had to chase him through the woods and he almost escaped for good.”

She showed me the scratches and cuts on her shins and thighs from the claws and the briars. They were substantial. She had forgotten Scottie was wearing a breakaway collar, so when he jerked the leash, the whole contraption came detached from his neck. Sensing a chance at liberation from the dark reality of the Pet Taxi, he darted. And the clever little guy almost gained his sought after freedom. According to Caitlin, had it not been for a fence at the edge of the woodline, Scottie would have been a goner. Apparently, the fence ended about 20 feet down from where Caitlin apprehended him. Had Scottie realized this, he could have made the turn and sprinted into virtually endless forest. Our pathetic human legs wouldn’t have caught him. 

How in the world would Caitlin and I dealt with the loss of such a beloved feline? One dares not think about such nauseating alternate realities. All I know is it’s almost three days later, at 12:35 a.m. in Austin, Texas, and I’m sitting here in my living room watching Scottie press his face to the balcony window as the ever-steady traffic swooshes by on the highway about 50 yards outside. I’m glad the little booger’s here instead of roaming the Tennessee woodlands.

After that almost disastrous loss, our luck (and Scottie’s temperament) took a turn for the better. The trip rolled on without incident until we reached Nashville on 40-W as the sun was setting behind the city’s skyline.

That stroke of natural beauty was followed by near-death experience involving a rogue Mac Truck near the 40-W/24-W junction. Even the famed and brave George Worsham (Caitlin’s seafaring grandfather) will tell you that switching from 40 to 24 at Nashville is a dangerous undertaking, due to confusion caused by the seemingly never-ending construction and the ease with which one can end up in the wrong lane. We found out this truth the hard way. As we turned our cheeks to the setting Nashville sun, with that damn car dolly bouncing willy nilly around behind us, we quickly realized we were going to have to dart through two lanes of traffic to get where we needed to go. 

In a slight state panic – one of the few honestly terrifying moments of the trip – I jerked the Budget truck to the left and may have moderately cut off an orange tractor trailer. I still had to slide over one more lane, but before I could make my move, the Mac Truck balled the jack and HURUMMMMMPHED past us by mere inches as Caitlin wailed in the driver’s seat and I punched the horn with all my might. The WHOOSH of air he generated rocked us around like a ship in a tempest. 

It wouldn’t be our last heated encounter with an ornery whales of the highway. 

With an hour left before arriving at George’s place, travel fatigue started to set in. It’s often during the height of this fatigue that some of the oddest conversations arise. Here’s one that cropped up between Caitlin and I as we completed that final stretch to Hopkinsville.

“Did I ever tell you about Old Lady Edna?” she asked.

“No. Who was she?”

“She was this lady I used to call when I was younger. You’d call her up and she’d, like, cuss you out and say some of the dirtiest stuff I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“What would she say?”


“Oh my god.”


The Nashville skyline at sunset.

“Was it a joke? Like a hotline you called? And for $2.99 a minute you could enjoy the odd pleasure of being cursed at by an obviously disturbed geriatric?”

“No, no. I don’t think so. I think she was a real lady.”

“How many people used to call her?”

“I don’t know, a lot. It was one of those things that everybody knew about, you know? It was like common knowledge.”

“You probably ruined this woman’s life.”

“The number is disconnected now.”

End scene.


I rose around eight o’clock the next morning to find George, the old sea captain, thumbing through a map book on the coffee table, a pair of reading glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. His wife, Martha, poured me a cup of coffee from an old Bunn coffee maker and splashed in a little milk as I sat down next to George on the couch. I was eager to map out the final leg of our trip, which was to commence later that evening. The map was sectioned out by state, so we had to constantly flip from Kentucky to Tennessee to Mississippi to Texas et cetera and so forth to figure out where each road continued in each state. 

We sipped our coffee and charted the course using a pink highlighter. After an hours worth of perusal, George and I decided on a route that would take Caitlin and I into the deep American South, through Jackson, Mississippi, and then West over the Mississippi River, through Shreveport, Louisiana before finally rolling over the Texas state line (where we would still have several hours worth of driving to do, because Texas is freaking huge). I was in support of this route. When I was 15, I visited Louisiana for a baseball tournament and had enjoyed the uniquely Louisianian pleasure of driving past swamps and old shanty houses while dreaming about hunting gators for a living. Our route was settled. We closed the map book. 

Martha, Caitlin and Captain George.

Caitlin was awake by then, so all four of us – George, Martha, Caitlin, and I – piled into George’s truck and departed for Roundie’s Restaurant in downtown Hopkinsville, a restaurant George had owned for about six years in the 1950’s during a decade-long hiatus from the Merchant Marines. Back then, it was called the Rock Cafe. Now it was Roundie’s: a little brick building in the middle of town with University of Kentucky basketball memorabilia hanging on the walls. Twice I tried to buy a Kentucky News Leader for 75c in the newspaper box outside the front door. But each time I put my money in, the glass door wouldn’t open. I gave up and went inside.

It took a few minutes for the waitress to come over and wipe down our booth. After she did, we slid into it and began searching the menu. The desserts looked tantalizing: Nutter Butter Pie, cherry cheesecake, and other appealing treats. But it was too early for that. We were here for sustenance, for something hearty; eggs, meat, protein, energy…a meal that would get us through the day. I decided on two eggs (over easy), tenderloin (of unknown origin), hash browns and two biscuits. 

We sipped hard coffee. George found a Kentucky News Leader on an empty chair near the counter and handed it to me. I opened to the sports section and discovered that the UK basketball program, which had come within two games of going undefeated the previous season, had signed two walk-ons, including one from Mt. Lebanon High School near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just a few minutes from where my parents grew up. “Small world,” I thought.

The food was comfort eating at it’s finest. The hash browns were crisp and the eggs were perfectly cooked. The tenderloin was cut from a pig, and I bisected it and placed each piece on separate biscuits. Caitlin got a meat-free gravy slathered over biscuits, which she adored. She started losing steam near the end of the meal, so I helped polish off what was left on her plate. After about 15 minutes, the four of us had consumed most of what had been placed in front of us. George took the bill to the front desk and kindly paid for everything.

We sipped our coffee and charted the course using a pink highlighter. After an hours worth of perusal, George and I decided on a route that would take Caitlin and I into the deep American South, through Jackson, Mississippi, and then West over the Mississippi River, through Shreveport, Louisiana before finally rolling over the Texas state line


As we drove back toward Lover’s Lane in George’s roomy truck, we had a decision to make: return home for a day of leisure, or find something to do. Caitlin mentioned going to the Land Between the Lakes, a place I had never heard of. George said it was about 40 minutes west of Hopkinsville. We mulled over the idea for about five minutes, then decided to go for it. 

It ended up being a fine decision. The LBTL is a 170,000-acre strip of land between Kentucky Lake (to the west) and Barkley Lake (to the east) that features parks and walking trails, a planetarium and plenty of fun stuff to do. A tall, rusty bridge separates the mainland from the Land Between the Lakes. It was said that elk and bison roamed certain areas of the island, but according to the official website, the chances of spotting them in the middle of a hot summer day were impossible, at best. 

As we drove south through the heart of the island, toward something known as The Homeland (essentially a community that recreates what life was like in the 1850’s), a buffalo and elk range appeared on our right. George slowed down, and we peered out over the lush green field. Nothing of note. We continued up the road a ways, around a few loops and curves. Just as we began to concede that we weren’t going to spot any notable wildlife, we caught sight of a group of fury brown bodies through the treeline up ahead.“Look,” Caitlin said. “Bison!”

Bison between the lakes.

George pulled the truck onto the gravel shoulder. Just beyond the fence line, upon which hung a large sign reading “PLEASE STAND BACK FROM FENCE,” there was a group of 20 to 30 bison soaking in the warm Kentucky rays. Some were just calves. Others were full-grown. By turns they lounged, sniffed one another and used their tails to whip away the flies. Their thick brown coats absorbed the warmth. One particularly young one nuzzled up next to what must have been his mother and closed his eyes to take a nap.

We left Kentucky around 8 p.m., planning to drive straight through to Texas – roughly a 13 -hour trip. We had tweaked our travel plans a bit: instead of driving down into Louisiana, which would have tacked on about three more hours, we decided to cut over through Memphis and Little Rock. Driving at night turned out to be a bigger pain than it was worth. About four hours into the trip, just after passing through Memphis, took a turn for the worst.

Scottie, who had been so docile during the eight-hour trip to Kentucky, suddenly hated riding in the truck. He meowed a lament every three seconds or so for the entire ride, moaning through Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. By the time we reached Arkansas, just after 1 a.m., the tension in the cab had reached a boiling point. Tears were shed and psyches started to crumble like bleu cheese. We were driving on shoddy southern roads, with huge tractor-trailers bearing down on us from both sides, pushing us around the highway with the wind they created. It was too much to bear, especially in my strung-out, over-caffeinated state. Scottie desperately needed to use the litter box. Nerves were on end all about the cabin.

By the time we reached Arkansas, just after 1 a.m., the tension in the cab had reached a boiling point. Tears were shed and psyches started to crumble like bleu cheese. We were driving on shoddy southern roads, with huge tractor-trailers bearing down on us from both sides, pushing us around the highway with the wind they created. It was too much to bear, especially in my strung-out, over-caffeinated state.

We stopped at a nearby Walmart and bought a padlock to secure our belongings in the back of the truck. Then we headed to the closest sleeping area: a Relax Inn just off the interstate in a sketchy district of some Arkansas town. The guy working behind the desk looked vaguely Indian, with greasy slicked-back hair and bulging eyes. He seemed surprised when I walked in. There was Plexiglas separating the two of us, so I slid my driver’s license and debit card under it and gave him my basic information.

He looked at my ID, then up at me.

“Virginia,” he said inquisitively. “That’s where the shooting happened the other day.”

I nodded and told him that my girlfriend’s parents lived just a few miles from where it had all gone down. It was a terrible thing, I said. He mumbled something incoherent through the Plexiglas. Then, in what seemed like a complete shift in subject, he opened his mouth and said:

“Don’t vote for Hilary,” he warned. “Only fools vote for Hilary.”

He looked me in the eye and slid my ID back. I thanked him and walked back into the muggy Arkansas night.

Caitlin and I grabbed the necessities out of the truck, including Scottie’s Pet Taxi and the litter box, and made our way across the parking lot to our room. Our eyes sagged. As soon as we opened the door, the scent of urine blasted us in the face. Other than the stench, it wasn’t a bad place to stay. Caitlin set up the litter box and checked the box spring for bed bugs. By this time it was around 2:30. We threw back the covers and jumped into bed, agreeing to wake up at 6 a.m. It was still a nine hour drive to Austin and we had to make it there before the office at our apartment complex closed so we wouldn’t be stuck in a hotel for another night.

Our eyes sagged. As soon as we opened the door, the scent of urine blasted us in the face. Other than the stench, it wasn’t a bad place to stay.

I fell asleep right away, despite being so loaded on caffeine that my leg wouldn’t stop twitching. Though I only slept a few hours, it somehow felt like a full night’s sleep. I shook Caitlin awake around 5 a.m. She reluctantly arose. We packed up Scottie’s stuff and hit the road, the sun still hours from rising.


As we drove through muggy rural Arkansas in the early morning semi-dark, all I could think about was the flat, barren nature of the countryside.  Other than a few billboards championing Jesus Christ (our lord and savior) there wasn’t much to see. The green land rushed out to meet the horizon on both sides of the road, impeded by nary a house or road or building of any sort. It was a lonesome sort of feeling.

The flatness.

Meanwhile, in the cab, Scottie still wouldn’t shut up. We thought maybe – just maybe – allowing him to use the litter box and rest for a few hours would calm his nerves. Not so. The clock ticked, 5:30, 6, 6:30, and with the sun still below the horizon, Scottie continued his endless laments. Caitlin and I prayed that the rising of the sun would sooth the woebegone feline. Neither of us could stand another nine hours of pained meowing, one of us surely would have cracked. We were already strung out…nerves exposed at the root, we were dangerously low on sleep. 

The sun finally rose as we reached Little Rock. Signs for Arkansas Razorbacks football – or “The Hogs,” as they’re called – littered the landscape, from billboards to license plates to the produce section at Walmart (where we stopped to buy almonds and more energy drinks). The light reflected harshly off the jagged sky scrapers, but it was a welcomed relief from the smothering night. With the rising of the sun, our energy was refreshed, and a renewed sense of purpose set in. The Texas state line was almost in our sights, our trip almost through. Best of all, Scottie had shut up.

Little Rock in the morning.

To pass the time, we listened to David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning book 1776, a historically factual and startlingly human reflection on the events of 1776 – events that started a revolution and shaped a rising nation. It was a 12-hour listen. We started it at the beginning of the trip, and had followed George Washington in his ascent from indecisive leader to courageous revolutionary. A few hours later, as we entered Texas, ol’ George made his first brilliant move of the war: an attack over the iced-over Delaware River that demolished the Hessian Army and broke a string of devastating American defeats. Rumor has it that the leader of the Hessian Army was caught off guard because he had gotten hammered the night before and ignored a warning about the impending attack from the Continental Army.

It was the turning point in the war. In the car our spirits were turning, too. 

We rumbled through the rest of Arkansas and into Texas without incident, a bumpy ride over flat, never-ending plains. Coming from a state with as much mountainous wonder as Virginia, the lack of undulation in the land was a real contrast. We blew past the “Welcome to Texas!” sign (which ended up being much smaller than expected) in the aptly named Texarkana, and a few hours later we reached the outskirts of booming Dallas on 30-W. From there, we picked up 635-S (to avoid penetrating the heart of Big D) for several miles before hopping on 35 S. It was the last leg of our trip: a three-hour straight shot right down 35 S, on through Waco and finally into the urban center of our new home.

The last three hours of the trip were a blur. I was beginning to crash from my unhealthy (but undeniably necessary) upper intake, so the only thing I wanted to do was get off the road. According to my calculations, I drank four 16-oz energy drinks within a 24-hour period. That sort of caffeinated excess certainly wouldn’t be recommended by any food and health professional worth their salt, but these were unique circumstances: I was navigating dangerous Texas roads, going tire-to-tire with rogue Mack truck drivers, all on only about three hours worth of sleep. Caffeine, and adrenaline, were the only things keeping me going.

Everything’s bigger in Texas (except the welcome sign).

Caitlin and Scottie were in good spirits, though cabin fever was starting to set it.  I do remember driving through good ol’ Waco, home of the fourth-ranked Baylor Bears football team and my former boss, Jim Dick. When we reached Taylor County (about 20 minutes from Austin), we stopped at a Walmart Supercenter to get a money order for our apartment dues. We were cutting it close: the apartment office was closing soon, and if we didn’t make it in time we would have been stuck in a hotel for another night. That would have pissed everyone off. Scottie included.

Caitlin and I walked into the store, nerves frayed, creeping like a couple of crackheads in love. We picked up a 12-pack of Blue Moon (necessary) and some Sriracha sauce for the Thai food we planned on ordering when we got to the apartment, before doing our business at the money center. As we approached the self-checkout line, a sneaky representative from a local bank snuck up beside us.


She launched into an elongated spiel about the virtues of the institution she was trying to sell. Caitlin’s face turned lobster red and my right eye started to twitch.

“No thanks,” Caitlin said. “We just moved here and we’re kind of in a hurry.”

She continued.


We started to creep away slowly, like a pair of vampires recoiling from light. I could feel the bags under my eyes sagging with mass. Eventually the bank lady ceased her persistence, and we scampered out of the store, ready to bring this trip to an end.

The first supper in Texas.

We sat cross-legged on the floor of our apartment, the traffic on I-183 swooshing by just outside our window as we slurped down Thai noodles without Sriracha sauce. Scottie ran free across the carpet, content, yes, but worried we may shove him back into the Pet Taxi and subject him to another unbearable ride to God knows there.

“It’s starting to feel like home already,” I said, looking around the barren apartment. 

And it did, somehow, even without the furniture and everything still packed away in the hot Budget truck. Reflection on the trip seemed necessary, but not now. Maybe I’d write about it later, maybe when my body wasn’t about to shut down from exhaustion. I’d write it down so in 30 years we would be able to look back and remember what it was like to be young and on the verge of a grand new adventure, in a state far away from the numbing comforts of home.

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