When my husband and I graduated from the University of Florida, we moved to Orlando, Florida. Even with 2 college degrees, my first job was for $5/hour and so was Brian’s. Any extra money we had after bills, we’d use to do shows—sketch comedy, plays you name it. It wasn’t easy but we were having fun.
Then after a few years we hit the highly sought after Orlando Convention/theme park/ dinner theatre trifecta. It was not uncommon to wake up, do some convention entertainment in the morning, work a shift at Universal/Disney in the afternoon and then perform at a dinner theatre at night. You could do that 7 days a week and we often did.
We still were putting all our extra money into doing our own shows. By this time, we had a theatre company, a sketch comedy group. We were respected in the Orlando theatre community which is a good theatre community. We got to the point where our company was doing 4 sold out runs a year, we had a following and we loved it. The thing is, we were never making any profit. If anything, we always had just enough money to get by. We were working all the time and we were, career wise, getting bored. We had plateaued but there was nothing to be done about it. We couldn’t get out of Orlando. We had no money. This went on for years .
Well, through tragedies come opportunities. My husband’s mother passed away. She left us some money and it was enough to pay for a move. I mean pay for a move. We hired movers to carry the big furniture, we flew out to LA to rent an apt early and we spent a shitload of money on both our cars to make sure they would make the cross country drive. We got tranquilizers for our cats. We got walkie talkies so we could communicate from car to car. We were getting out of Florida and it was gonna be easy.
So, in January 2002, my husband and I woke up to an early morning light rain and began our cross country move from Florida to California. We had packed up our cars the night before. The kitties were tranquilized. Brian was driving the truck and I was driving the Sentra. Our plan for the first day was to drive to New Orleans and have a romantic dinner. We never made it.
After 3 hours of driving we were in the panhandle of Florida. It was still raining but not too bad. The cats were drugged out with an occasional moan. We were chatting on our walkie talkies. It was great. We were excited. Then, about 50 miles east of Tallahassee, my car started shaking violently with white smoke coming out the back. And then it just stopped. So I made it over to the side of the road and we called triple A and waited for the tow truck in the rain.
We see the tow truck coming in the distance and I’m immediately reminded of where I’m at. I’m in that part of Florida that is the true South. There is nothing but swampy country all around us and this truck pulls up and 2 men get out. One guy is in his 40’s and the other is a kid in his 20’s. It’s quickly apparent that the younger one is mentally challenged in a banjo playing deliverance kind of way. He’s got overalls, random patches of hair and eyes that just don’t look at you right And they’re both the kind of people that don’t mind standing in the rain, for long periods of time. So we tell them what happened. The older guy tells kid to go turn over the engine and this overly excited young man runs to our car and turns the key and we hear this horrible knocking noise. The kid jumps out of the car and starts clapping his hands and dancing in a circle saying “Tell em what it is Pa, tell em what it is, boy oh boy tell em what it is!!” The older guy tells the kid to shut up and then says, “I think you threw a rod.” Which is horrible news but it did not stop the younger kid from laughing a high pitched maniacal laugh.
So we get towed to their station which is way off the highway. We don’t know where we are. I won’t lie, we’re nervous and scared but we get to the mechanics and we see that the manager is a black man and it comforts us. For a second. Until we see this farmer walk in with a plaid shirt, john deere hat and a HUGE pot belly. He walks sheepishly up to the receptionist, she barely looks up and says, Earl, did you get your tractor stuck up in a tree again.” He replies, “yep.” Not sure how he did that since Florida is flat, I am thinking about this hard when the manager comes out and says that with a thrown rod it the engine would have to be rebuilt and he doesn’t have the parts.
We’re faced with a decision. We let Florida win (and yes this had turned into a war with Florida) and we turn around, hide our tails and go back to Orlando and stay there forever or we get towed to Tallahassee, buy a car and keep going. We chose Tallahassee, although the tow truck guy was mad at us because it was 50 mile drive plus we made him put our drugged out cats in his passenger seat so I could ride with Brian.
For the whole hour that we were driving to Tallahassee, I was on the phone with our credit union. Even though I had no job, no promise of a job, I had good credit. More importantly I had free Universal tickets for the loan officer I was dealing with and that seemed to be all she needed to grant me a 20K loan.
We find this Nissan dealership in Tallahassee. Picture this: A tow truck pulling a broken down Nissan Sentra in the parking lot. And a pickup truck with the bed completely full of boxes and suitcases. In other words, we had “easy target” written on our foreheads. Like I said it had been raining so there wasn’t much business going on at this dealership. Therefore, the salesmen were thinking, these assholes need a car. There were about a dozen of these vultures all huddled near the dealership’s front doors waiting for us to get out of our cars. What these simple men didn’t realize was the mood my husband was in. My husband got of the pickup truck, walked over to the tow truck and grabbed the two cat carriers, one in each hand. He charged the group of salesmen and said loudly, “I need a car, I need it today and I don’t want to be fucked with! Where can I put my cats?!” The salesmen dispersed like scared children and only one guy remained. He said, “you can put them in my office.” 2 hours later we leave the dealership with a used Nissan Altima.
Our trip was on its 10th hour and only 3 of those hours were on the road. It was now dark and we are starting to realize that our romantic dinner in New Orleans is off and all we want to do is get out of the Florida. We get on the road and now the rain really starts up. It becomes a torrential rain storm of epic proportions which can be common in Florida but this one was biblical. There are blinding sheets of rain being dropped on to our cars, we’re driving 20 miles an hour on the highway with our hazards on, driving West trying to make the state line. It was as if Florida was refusing to let us leave. It had its claws in us and did not want to let us go. Then I see the state line. We crossed over and the rain lightened up immediately. By the time we got to Mississippi it was just sprinkling. Great! We’re done. We’re out! Let’s just get to a fucking motel room and go to sleep.
We pull into a gas station to fill up and then we are gonna call it quits for the day. But, you know, there just had to be one more thing. Florida was in cahoots with the rest of the South and wanted to fuck us for getting out. We are pumping our gas when all of a sudden this white van careens into the parking lot and screeches to a halt. This woman jumps out and says ‘help me help me, she’s not breathin’, help me.’ Well no one moves. Not even my husband and I. We are so tired and so exhausted. ‘help me help me.’ Everyone just looks at each other and after a few long seconds I see my husband take a deep breath in, put the gas handle back on the gas pump and go over to the van. I turn around to put my handle back in so I can go help too and when I turn around I see my husband lifting a woman with one hand out of the van. It took a split second to realize the one hand thing was a pre-existing and it didn’t just happen. By the time I get over there, my husband is leaning over the woman, he looks up and says to me “she’s wasted, she reeks.” Then her daughter about 5 or 6 looks up and me and says, ‘my mama does this all the time.’ Well she was drunk and having an asthma attack. Then, out of nowhere, this woman pushes through the small crowd of people that’s now there and throws the blanket over the drunk asthmatic lady and raises one hand and starts praying “cover her on up with your love Jesus, cover her on up with your love Jesus,” over and over and over. I catch my husband’s eye on the other side of the crowd and we both seemed to be on the same page. We so very slowly started walking backwards thru the crowd, one step at a time, towards are cars. We got into our cars quickly and screeched out of that gas station right as the ambulance was screeching in. We found a motel. We unloaded our tranquilized cats into our room. We climbed into bed and laid in silence praying that Texas and Florida didn’t have a secret deal going on.