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Cat VanGo

I apologize in advance, this post is very long. But worth the read:

Back in January of 2015 I needed to take care of some loose ends. I had a storage unit full of furniture and two cats that did not belong to me, in Arizona. I had to deliver both to a condominium in Utah that I had just purchased for someone else – as a condition of my future freedom.

I will admit that I occasionally make questionable choices, but I was pretty sure that I had developed a plan above reproach. I would rent a truck, load it full of furnishings, and drive 14 hours to deliver the load to its new home. I spent less time considering the cats, I have to admit. Ok, NO time. I had calculated the space taken up by all of the items and determined the best size truck to transport it. I researched the available routes; taking traffic, construction, and drivability into account when planning them. I made arrangements for help with unloading the truck, and had a rental car ready for me to drive back to Arizona. I had also arranged for a crew to help load the truck, since I hate asking friends to do manual labor with me (mainly because I REALLY hate doing manual labor for friends!). Also, I had decided to leave on a Wednesday night, meaning I would be loading the truck that day. Since I was the only unemployed person I knew, I kind of had no choice but to hire strangers.

D-Day arrived. I picked up the truck. IT WAS HUGE!!! Granted, a 20 foot U-Haul is not the largest they rent, by far, and to be honest I have driven much larger vehicles, but it had been a while. When the truck was masterfully maneuvered into loading position, I waited for a bit, hoping that the help would arrive soon. After about an hour of loading what I could myself, I made a call to the person who was going to bring me a crew to help (ok, ok, do all the work!). That phone call went something like this:

“Uhhhh… hello?”

“Hi, it’s me. We made arrangements for you to load a truck today.”

“Uhhhh… we did?”

“Is this Burt?” (Name has been changed due to lack of memory)

“Uhhhh… yeah?”

“Burt with a craigslist ad I responded to and booked you to come load a truck today at the mini-storage place at 10 am?”

“Uhhhh… Oh yeah! Are you at the storage place now?”

“Yep, I’ve been here since 10 am, Burt.”

“Uhhhh… I’m in Tucson.”

“… Burt, I am in Sierra Vista.”

“Uhhhh… Hey, no problem, I have a guy I can call that lives out there and can come help.”

So, after the loss of many of my IQ points, it was established that a person would come help me load. It was also suggested that the cost would be the same, as he has a minimum charge. I ignored that statement and eventually the help arrived. We proceeded to spend the next several hours loading the truck, long enough for my employed friends to arrive and help. By late afternoon, the truck was loaded. I paid Burt’s “guy” a mutually acceptable amount and I drove to the house to prepare for the trek. I had planned to drive overnight, avoiding traffic most of the way, and arriving at my destination mid-morning. The delay in loading the truck had pushed the time table back a couple of hours, but I still was planning a night drive. I am a master of improvisation and the setback was only a minor glitch in my plan. It was time for the next step: loading the animals.

My brilliant plan was to put the cats in their carrier and have them ride with me in the cab of the truck. The carrier I had was actually a dog kennel, but a medium-sized one, so it fit. Everything was done. The dog was on the seat, the cats were in their kennel, I had a load of jerky, chips and coffee, and an empty bladder. Then… I started the truck and the two cats FREAKED THE FUCK OUT! I am not talking about a little bit of nervous pacing and meowing, people. These spawns of hell began to scream and push themselves out of the cage through the gaps. Yes. OH YES. They were able to escape the kennel. Once they did so, they quickly decided that climbing up me, using all claws, was the ONLY thing they wanted to do. Meanwhile, Peanut, the loyal pug, curled up on the opposite side of the cab, sighed, and gave me a look that loosely translated to: “moron!” (little bitch)

It was time to revise the plan. The cats were returned to the house while I staunched my wounds and considered feline-o-cide. I opened up the back of the truck; remembering that 20 feet was WAY more space than needed for the furnishings I was transporting. I spent some time rearranging the back, and created a space for the cats using blankets, the USELESS FUCKING KENNEL, and various ropes and straps. I must have still been suffering from the effects of talking to Burt, because I thought it would be a good idea to add a litter box and a water bowl to the cat zone.

The cat zone. Located in the back of a U-Haul truck. That was 20 feet long. Don’t worry. I will explain what happened, soon enough.

After completing my masterpiece, I was standing back, admiring what I had done, when the phone rang. Seeing that Burt was calling, I decided I could use the entertainment:

“Ummmm… hello?”

“Hi, is this Mike?”

“Ummmm… yeah?”

“Mike, its Burt. Did my guy come out and help you today?”

“Ummmm… Burt? No, some other guy came out. You were in Tucson.”

“… Uhhhhh… I know, but I had my guy come out and help you.”

“Ummmm… he did help, yes. Thanks.” ”

Ok. He said you only paid him $80!”

“Ummmm… I did pay him, yes. Thanks!”

“But we agreed you would pay $200!”

“I know. Bye.”

Now it was time to test the new and improved Cat Transport System (patent pending) (also known as: CTS). I loaded the cats into their temporary home and watched to see if they could get out. They couldn’t. I was a genius. I was also ready to go.

A friend that had observed the debacle asked me a question as I started to close the rolling door. “Hey, do you think they will get enough air back there?”

FUCK!!!! How was I supposed to know that?

DAMMIT!!! Time to improvise, AGAIN.

Did you know that you can close a U-Haul’s rear door with a wooden clothes hanger in the way, creating a small gap in the rubber seal? Now you do. It wasn’t much, but I figured that the cats were small anyway, so there would be enough air flow.

Before I continue, I must admit to a small problem I have recently developed. It seems that when I am inactive for too long, I fall asleep. It is called a “snap-nap” and I don’t control it very well. I knew this when planning my trip, but in my ignorance I thought driving would be so much of an effort I would stay awake.

I jumped in the truck, gave Peanut a snack for the road, and headed north from Sierra Vista to Utah. By this time it was close to 6 PM and a bit dark. I had no real issues driving the gargantuan-mobile, but I did feel the wind. I also felt almost every imperfection in the road, as I think the suspension in the vehicle was an option that was not installed by U-Haul.

Sierra Vista is about 40 minutes south of the I-10. After 35 minutes of driving I started to feel a bit tired. I realized that I could stop in the metropolis of Benson and grab a warm coffee to perk myself up. (Ok, to be honest, I was probably going to end up with “tepid”, but a man can dream, right?) By the time I pulled into the gas-o-rama parking lot I had modified my original travel plan in order to close my eyes for a short time. I parked and succumbed to the siren call of the snap-nap for about 10 minutes. Thus re-energized, I went into the “travel center”, paid Starbucks money for hobo coffee, and jumped back into my rig.

A 20 foot U-Haul truck is designed to transport your furnishings from point “A” to point “B” in relative safety. It is also designed to be driven by the average American. What that means in practical terms is that if you want to drive faster than, say, 60 mph, you can actively watch the gas needle move from “F” to “E” at an impressive clip. I weighed my courses of action, and decided that I would rather pay a bit more at the pump and drive at “normal” speeds, to avoid being “THAT GUY”.

At 75 mph, a 20 foot U-Haul has some… interesting… performance parameters. It seems that the rough ride I had noticed earlier was enhanced dramatically by the higher speed, as well as the STUNNING quality of Arizona highways. The truck was also prone to swerving, as every little puff of wind turned the massive beast into a sail worthy of the America’s Cup Race.

By Tucson, I was once again succumbing to the snap-nap, and I pulled off the Highway into the parking lot of a closed Western Wear store. I took another nap, and woke up to the dog’s tongue washing my face. I let her persuade me to take her for a walk around the parking lot. The muddy, muddy parking lot.

Although I had only been driving for 90 minutes at this point, I felt an urge to check on the cats. I was hoping that they had settled down in the dark of the ride. I approached the door and was able to hear a faint meowing escape. I rolled it open slowly, in case a cat had escaped and tried to leave. There was no need for caution, however, as the cats-in-the-cage were still there.

Reader, I wish with all my heart I would have had the mental acuity to take a picture of the sight I beheld. It seems that when you combine a bumpy ride, a large water dish, insane cats, and a litter box, you end up with cat litter EVERYWHERE!!! And, when “clumping” cat litter is combined with water, what results looks remarkably like construction-grade concrete. It seemed that one of the genius felines had decided to take a bath in the water bowl, before jumping into the litter-box. Having observed the new game started by Idiot 1, Idiot 2 joined in on the fun – modifying the game by taking a nap in the box. I am speculating of course, but based on my training in analysis, I feel I am being quite accurate.

The fun did not stop there, of course. There was also the game of “fling clay everywhere you can.” The blanket that I had constructed the CTS from was now rigid with dried clay, and some of the litter had managed to break free and coat other surfaces within the truck. I realized I had to do something, so I gently, and carefully, reached into the CTS and removed the water bowl. I also added more blankets, hoping the cats would cuddle up to them and somehow become clean. Of course, putting my hand in range of domesticated tigers signaled them that I wished to be clung to; hence 40 individual claws pierced my forearm in concert.

I extricated myself, washed the blood off, and proceeded toward Phoenix.

Battling wind, darkness, insane drivers, and a deep desire to nap, I managed to make it to Casa Grande – a bedroom community south of Phoenix. By now it was close to 11 PM and, once again, I pulled off the road into a large shopping area. Unlike civilized countries, Arizona does not believe in covered malls. I guess the theory is that if you are going to live here, you will have to pay for your stubbornness. Essentially, a developer will build a parking lot and surround it on three sides with stores If successful, other developers will move in and do the same, creating a complex sprawling over several square miles, comprised of parking lots that may or may not be connected, and hundreds of stores that can only be accessed by a mystery parking lot.

Pulling into one of these in the middle of the night, while tired beyond belief, is a bit unnerving, but waking up several hours later and not knowing where you are is an experience you have to have at least once in their life. I now have a better understanding of those who claim to have been abducted by aliens (minus the probe). My befuddlement only increased when I tried to leave the shopping area. Having no reliable memory of how I arrived, leaving became a process of muttering to myself about psychotic parking lots and exclamations of incredulity when what appeared to be a well-traveled road leading out terminated in front of a Home Goods store instead. After playing “where the fuck am I” for a while, I found an exit and continued my journey.

After my Casa Grande nap I was feeling more refreshed than normal and, other than a gas/piss/coffee/walk stop, I was able to drive all the way through Phoenix – heading toward Flagstaff. I was able to make it about half way between those two cities before, once again, I found myself using the rumble strips as navigation aids. Between cruise control and those, I was able to keep the vehicle moving, but I was glad for a relative empty road, as I was most assuredly a menace to others.

This stop lasted until dawn, about 12 hours after I had left Sierra Vista. Please keep in mind that, according to Google maps, I should have been in Provo Utah by then; 800 miles from where I started driving. Instead, I had made it a third of that distance. When I checked on the cats this time, they seemed to be a bit more subdued. They were cuddled together in a tight ball of cuteness. I realized that the air was significantly cooler than it had been before. Of course, northern Arizona in January experiences actual winter; with snowfall, and below-freezing temperatures. It occurred to me that not only was I traumatizing the cats by keeping them in the back of a U-Haul truck, bouncing around like a sub-orbital re-entry, but I was also subjecting them to arctic-levels of cold.

As I headed north to Flagstaff I pondered the problem, and began to devise a solution. Flagstaff had snow. Not a lot of snow, but a steady fall – lightly coating the roads, buildings, trees, signs… you get the point. As I pulled into a gas station, I was able to practice for my next career as a drift competitor. Give me enough snow and I can drive a 20 foot U-Haul down the road sideways!

After spending a mortgage payment at the local Phillips 76, I went in search of supplies for my intended CTS modifications. I found a hardware store that was open. I also witnessed a woman slide on ice; transitioning quickly to a sitting, then laying position. She made it a good show – at one point her left foot was above her head – gliding sideways, flailing her arms. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling like an ass for laughing when the ambulance showed up to transport her away.

I walked the aisles of the hardware store, picking up what I needed: a warm cap, some beef jerky, a couple of sodas, and the pièce de résistance, a box of chemically activated pocket hand warmers!

I (very carefully) approached the back of the U-Haul, hoping to hear sounds of life. I did not hear any yowling so, with trepidation, I opened the rear door. Two sets of eyes peered at me, with an accusing glare achieved only by cats and REALLY pissed-off mothers. I hastily unwrapped a hand warmer, shook it to start up, and tossed it at the singular ball of furry evil before they could untangle and show me their particular brand of “love”. Two more packets followed, and it generated enough interest that I felt the solution would work. I decided to push north, through the blizzard – secure in the knowledge that I had provisions aplenty to make it further than the Donner Party.

Page, Arizona, is a Dam City, and proud of that fact. There are signs everywhere, extolling the virtues of this dam restaurant, or that dam store. There is even a dam park in town. I took some time to enjoy a brunch and a nap, and I gave the cats some water while we were stationary. The cats had established individual domains based on the location of the hand warmers. In order to introduce some fun, I tossed several more hand warmers into the CTS and left them to their own devices.

By now, the snow had cleared and, while cold, it was not frigid. I found a nice parking lot and (surprise) I took a nap. By now I had realized that I was originally supposed to be finished with this drive, but in reality I had only traveled half the distance. I cannot say I was worried, yet I sincerely wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I decided to cancel my application to Truck-Driving academy, and began to contemplate the joys of a bed. After a session of pug licks to wake me up, I left the dam city behind, and entered into the Beehive State.

Utah. Land of honey, temples, and jack-mormons. The route I had chosen took me through what is arguably some of the most beautiful scenery in North America – if you are partial to stunning rock formations and wide open vistas, bookmarked by mountains. I enjoyed the mid-morning/early afternoon drive but began to need a pit stop. A sign announced a town a short distance away, so I was not worried. What I was soon to discover was that this “town” was only existed to provide services to tourists. Considering it was January, and therefore the OPPOSITE of tourist season, not a single establishment was open on a Thursday. NOT ONE.

In addition to closed businesses there was an abundance of houses that did NOT look closed-up. So, I drove to every business I saw, hoping one would be open, or at least have a secluded view in which I could relieve the pain coming from my bladder. Finally, there was a curve in the road that allowed me to pull off, and “walk the dog”. Said dog stared at me, in what I can only assume was awe, as I unleashed a stream with enough pressure to have put out a small house fire. After averting an embarrassing accident, I opened the back of the truck, threw some more hand warmers, and drove to the gas station – that was open less than 100 feet from the curve I had stopped at.

My next nap occurred somewhere along I-10, about 3 hours south of my destination. This stop was without incident, barring the interesting conversation I overheard between gas station attendants, discussing what I at first thought was a soap opera, but turned out to be a love square between one attendant, her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s best friend, and some woman named “Dirty Skank” (which is a truly unfortunate name to live with, no wonder she was stealing every boyfriend in town).

I was hoping to make the last push in one go, but darkness had fallen, and by Provo I found myself again relying on rumble strips and the frantically honking horns of terrified Mormons, as I meandered along four lanes of interstate. My last nap took place at a construction site near what I later discovered was a State Prison. It seems large U-Haul trucks parked in an open field within sight of a prison attracts the attention of law enforcement. Having nothing to fear, I did my best to irritate the officer, answering the questions he asked, instead of the questions he meant. After watching him internally debate beating me, he advised me to move along.

The shot of adrenalin and joy, allowed me to push the final distance without incident. After unloading the truck, I had to spend time washing out the back. Kitty litter that had been soaking wet, then sprayed onto all sorts of surfaces to dry, is especially hard to remove – and considering it was wintertime, there were no car washes available to power-wash the mess. Of course, the cab was no better, as it was coated in a layer of dried mud, dog fur, spilled drinks, and various unidentified road snacks.

Within a couple of days I made the return trip, this time in a small car, and with Peanut sitting on the front seat again. While eventful, that tale is reserved for another time. As Salt Lake City receded in my mirror, I made a vow to myself: NEVER will I try to take cats on a road trip. EVER!!! If you want a cat transported, call UPS, not me! I also discovered Google is not always right, silly program, trying to tell me it was only a 14 hour drive!