Exit - Stage Left

Oh, the agony of it all! This was far more difficult than any of us had imagined. And most of the agony was brought on by STUFF. We started \ the endless process of examining every single thing we own (or perhaps, more appropriately, owns us) in early July to make a decision about its fate. Seemed like enough time for a good start.

But it wasn't.

Samantha and Banshee being interviewed by Ron Reagan and the crew of TV.COM

We held the first of several giant garage sales and charity donations at the end of July. I began making piles of stuff to sell, stuff to give to relatives and friends, lost and found, more piles for various charities – and bags and bags of garbage.

I don't know how the paper piles are in your house, but in ours they were paper mountains. There were papers to file, papers to do something with, and various unknowns. At the beginning, I attempted to properly deal with each thing I picked up. By the end, I realized that this was futile – and that almost all those paper mountains were meant to be thrown away all along, instead of stealing my time, space and psychic energy – and that this trip now gave me permission to do so.

And then there was the other stuff. By the end, we had three large garage sales, more charity pick ups and dump hauls than we could count, friends with closets and cupboards full of our stuff, and we still had enough flotsam and jetsam to fill an 18 wheeler and then some.

When we first started out, we were just going to keep a few treasures and get rid of everything else. Then we discovered how many "treasures" we had. And, after thinking about it for a bit, we decided to keep enough stuff to get started again (you know: beds, dressers, sheets and towels, pots and pans). But that was the beginning of the end. The decisions became muddy, and our minds were mush. I am sure that we got rid of things we'll miss--and I am equally sure we kept a bunch of stuff we'll look at in a year and wonder what possessed us to keep it.

But the real horror was the movers. I had looked forward to using professional movers for the first time in my life. But using movers is not be undertaken without thorough counseling--and NOT by the moving company, but by those who have used them. Watching our movers was like watching a double bill of "Twister" and "Deliverance." The "great sucking sound" that came from our house was from men who are used to packing oil company execs who don't have to pay for the move, and who prefer to ship their firewood to their new location. And there were too many of them on the first day.

They moved through the house like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up boxes that were packed and addressed for mailing, bags and boxes set aside for charity and friends, and the things set aside for our packs (Samantha still laments the days she took to make tapes of our favorite music for the road, and George grudgingly bought a new set of binoculars to replace the ones now in storage--we resigned ourselves on the sleeping bags). They even unpacked items I had in a suitcase to take to my sister and put the contents in storage. They packed up bottles of wine after being told not to (at $35 per hour), they took the ice trays from the freezer and packed them (leaving frozen food on the top of the refrigerator to melt). They stripped the front of the refrigerator of its papers and maps--the only place we had thought safe to post our trip information so we could find it again--and when I asked if they could leave a few cups and the coffee maker, they packed all the cups and left all the rest of the dishes unpacked. They packed oil lamps full of oil (we discovered this when one leaked all over some Pima Indian baskets--their solution was to take the lamp out and leave it in the bathroom sink and repack the baskets--the other lamp is still in a box somewhere). They broke part of a hanging lamp, and didn't say anything--and just shrugged when asked about it. All-in-all it was one of the worst experiences of my life. And probably in theirs.

We were so focused on leaving – the farewells to everyone from friends to the power company – that we didn't have time to focus on going. We threw things in "for sure" piles for stuff to take, in "maybe" piles for stuff that we might want to take, and then we had piles to take to folks along the way. We had vowed to get our stuff in one backpack apiece, but we no longer had any clarity of vision when it came to making decision about "stuff." So we started throwing things in "Alaskan Suitcases" (large cardboard boxes reinforced with duct tape).

When Fred came to pick us up at 10 p.m. for the ride to the airport, we were still shoving things in boxes, bags, and backpacks, and piles outside the house for friends to pick up, and a growing mountain for the garbage men to haul away. When we'd seal one up, he'd load it in the van. We didn't have a clue how many we had until the counter person handed us back 11 slips for the checked luggage. And we each had two carry ons! (day packs, briefcases, computer, camera, etc.)

But it wasn't until we arrived in Phoenix that we realized how much we had. Piled up on the curb at the Phoenix airport, it looked like all we needed to add for a true 'Grapes of Wrath" look was an old mattress and a live chicken clucking on top.

The next hurdle was moving that pile of atoms from the airport to my parents. We checked the Super Shuttle – $37 base fee + extra for the extra bags. We didn't fit in a regular cab, so the security man called for a station wagon--and it would be between $40 an $45 for where we wanted to go. Just before it arrived, a huge white stretch limo pulled up. The driver stepped out, slapped a magnetic sign on and opened for business. Remembering that our friend Suzan Nightingale (whose death this summer was part of the impetus for this trip) often said that when you got up to four people a limo could cost the same as a cab – so always take the limo, we strolled over to check. She was almost right. It was cheaper.

We piled things in the back, in the front, in the seating area, and entered Phoenix waving through the sun roof – rummy, disheveled, exhausted, but in style.

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