(CN) — We had set out from Augusta, Maine, more than a week before — two restless kids determined to find a better future in the West, my Geo Prizm filled to the brim with all our belongings.
I remember the snowbanks lining the street I grew up on receding in the distance, some of my mother's final words to us — an admonition that my latest hand-me-down car wouldn't make it out of Maine — still boiling my blood in a way that only a parent of a know-it-all child can.
After stopping in Portland for one last view of the big city, we drove to Virginia. In my memory the hills there were a lush green and everything was somehow also a bright purple.
The "Virginia is for Lovers" stickers reminded me of my doting grandmother, who shared the first name of that beautiful state. She had passed away only a few years back, the first time I could remember the death of someone I loved; two of my other grandparents left this lonely rock when I was very young.
Virginia's widower lived another decade, in turns delighting our family with his detailed stories and at others tormenting us — mostly my sister, the only one he thought understood technology — with his endless computer problems.
After spending two days sweating out bad hurricanes and even worse Abita beers while traipsing around pre-Katrina New Orleans, we struck West in earnest, blowing through Texas as quickly as possible without running the risk of being pulled over.
When we reached the orchards, mountains and deserts of New Mexico, I wanted to slow down and remain for a while, but what little money we'd had we'd frittered away letting les bon temps roule, and besides, we had beaches to get to and a new life to start at the end of the rainbow that was Interstate 8.
Alternating four-hour shifts behind the wheel, we made good headway through the increasingly hot and barren Southwest. We reached our normal 12-hours-per-day limit near Tucson, Arizona.
In my aggressive moderation and eternal but hopeless desire to stick to itineraries I lobbied to stop, but my companion — forever stretching the limits — declared that he could keep going till morning. I just shrugged, mumbled something only I could possibly hear, put in a new CD, turned up the volume and leaned my head against the passenger window.
His fire extinguished past midnight close to the California border, as we approached a place called Yuma. I consulted the AAA travel book for Arizona, part of a set that my forever loving if skeptical parents had given me for the journey. I quickly found a recommended hotel, possibly a Holiday Inn, which I called and booked.
We soon pulled in, another anonymous crew at another cookie-cutter hotel that, in the dark, could have been anywhere in the country if it weren't for the still-intense heat.
Not long after arriving we passed out in our separate beds, exhausted but thrilled to be only a few hours away from our new home at the other end of the country.
The phone rang in my dream. I picked it up, but it kept ringing.