TWO MONTHS LATER, ANDREW WAS IN NASHVILLE STARTING HIS NEW JOB. I was in Chicago getting my own work in order and figuring out our move: It was up to me to get the bulk of our stuff to Nashville, a load that included our three cats: Abner, Maybelle and Ellie. By this time, he’d proposed. (Demand No. 1=check.)
So I asked Andrew’s mom, Terri, to accompany me, and the cats, in my 2007 Honda Civic on the drive down South. Our friend Nik would drive the 12-foot rental truck, which, after a Tetris-like feat of packing, fit all of our remaining stuff, including my ad-hoc collection of thrifted mid-century chairs.
I figured a seven-hour road trip with my future mother-in-law on the most stressful day of my adult life would provide us with a good chance to bond. Plus, Terri is cool. Like, let’s do tequila shots and watch that concert DVD of Morrissey, cool. I knew she’d be a good travel partner.
And so, on a unseasonably spring-like day in early March, we packed up the car. We drugged the most dramatic of all my cats, a hairless sphinx named Ellie, and set off for Nashville. I collapsed into the front seat, watching my apartment recede out of view.
I thought I would get emotional, leaving the first home I’d ever owned for a new life south of the Mason Dixon Line. I’d spent the last two months coming to terms with leaving the city where I jumpstarted my career and had satiated all of my reporting curiosities, despite Chicago’s shrinking collection of media outlets. But really, as we set off, all I thought about was wrangling the cats, getting them into their carriers, and hitting the road so we could get to Nashville before dark. We were going to drive nonstop, eat fast food and occupy ourselves with an array of podcasts I’d downloaded for the occasion.
We made it as far as Gary, Indiana. And what happened next was like the plot of some sad Thelma and Louise remake for Animal Planet.
“Do you smell something?” Terri asked.
I turned around and I saw Maybelle, the coolest tempered, had puked in her carrier. But the smell was far too noxious for a just cat vomit.
“Let’s pull over,” Terri said. “I think someone pooped.”
“But we’re in Gary. Where are we going to pull over? I am pretty sure it’s just puke. We can make it until we need gas.”
At this point Maybelle was clawing at the door of her carrier. She wanted out. So I opened it. That’s when I saw her sad state: She had it coming out from both ends. I conceded. “OK, we’re pulling over.”
Amid the post-apocalyptic landscape that is Gary, Indiana, we found what was the saddest Days Inn Motel I’d ever seen, with faded siding and a marquis sign missing more than a few letters from its advertisement “FREE WIFI.” It did, however, have a large dumpster in the back, the perfect receptacle for terribly soiled cat blankets.
We pulled in just as the smell was peaking. For good measure, I looked in Abner’s carrier. Terrific. It was like a symphony of shit. So I let him out. Now Abner and Maybelle were both wandering around the car, climbing on and under the seats. Surely this was against some rule of the road, I thought.
“I need to throw out the blankets,” I told Terri. “And we need to drug all of them.” Right then, a maid walked by, dropping a bag of trash into the dumpster and leaving us with a long hard stare.
Back on the road, I made a mental note to stow this drive away for future relationship leverage. This was quality stuff.