Jeff’s and His Father’s Excellent Adventure

Jeff’s move to Miami had been planned for about six months. He decided that he had had enough of winters in Chicago; his brother was moving out on him, he was without a job or a girlfriend. Why not move somewhere warm and start over? He decided on Miami and started investigating on the internet for opportunities for residence, school and work.

Jeff found that he needed to attend the Miami-Dade Community College for a few terms to build up credits in order to enter the University of Miami or Florida International University. He enrolled via the internet and found that classes started on June 27th. That date fixed the parameters for the move.

Jeff prepared several budgets for the move. He looked carefully at the alternatives for getting his furniture to Miami. Basically, the choices were to hire movers to take the furniture while he flew to Miami. Or, to buy a car, rent a trailer and haul his assets to Miami himself. Since Miami is not a city particularly enabled for public transportation, he would need a car once he got there anyway, so the latter choice made the more sense.

Jeff again went to the internet and investigated personal transportation. Again, the parameters were more or less fixed by the need to haul a trailer loaded with furniture for 1,400 miles. He located a 1994 Ford Explorer with less than 70,000 miles for $4,000. Still using the internet he obtained a full report of the history of this particular automobile by entering the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) onto a website. The car appeared to be clean.

His Dad made him sign a three-year loan agreement with monthly payments, but at a much more favorable interest rate than was available commercially. The car was purchased and Jeff’s plan was moving forward.

A trailer-hitching ball was purchased and installed. Jeff then visited the local U-Haul facility and made arrangements to rent a trailer. He ordered the small one. Then they told him he could have a bigger one at the same price. He was headed that way until they told him the smaller one was actually a lot cheaper. The small one (5 X 8) was confirmed. The facility looked over his Ford Explorer and said it would be fine. (Little did Jeff know that his car was fine but the dealer was not).

Somewhere about this time, Jeff’s Dad agreed to ride along and help with the driving. Dad’s schedule was tight, however, so the date for the move became June 11. That allowed two days to drive down and one day to find a place and move in. Dad bought his ticket for a return flight and the trip was set.

The plan was for Jeff to pick up the trailer on Tuesday, load it at his mother’s house, drive it to his father’s condo, spend the night there and leave first thing Wednesday morning, June 11. Plans are nice. But, like all plans, this one didn’t quite come off as was hoped.

The trouble started on Monday when Jeff found he had a flat tire on his car. He had pulled a nail out the day before and thought that would be the end of it. It was not to be. He spent the better part of Monday getting the tire repaired.

The trouble continued on Tuesday when he went to the U-Haul facility to pick up the trailer. It soon became obvious that they didn’t know how to wire the car so that the trailer lights would operate when connected. It was mid afternoon before they gave up and started calling other U-Haul facilities. One was located and Jeff drove over. This one was able to get the lights working properly but the day was gone and Jeff still had to pack the trailer and drive to his father’s condo.

Jeff had assembled everything he owned at his mother’s house. He had it all arranged according to priority for the move. In the end, he managed to pack EVERYTHING into this little 5′ by 8′ trailer. Unfortunately, it took him until 1:30 AM on Wednesday to finish packing. He arrived at his father’s condo at 2:30 AM. His father did not wait up, but the phone call from Jeff got him out of bed.

They backed the trailer into an empty parking space inside the garage and parked Jeff’s car behind his father’s. Jeff took a shower and everyone went to sleep.

Unfortunately for Jeff, his father doesn’t recognize the value of sleeping late and woke up at the usual 6:00 AM. With the promise that Jeff could continue his beauty sleep in the car, they loaded their suitcases, reattached the trailer and set off on the Excellent Adventure at about 7:30 AM.

Wednesday was a good driving day. As you can see below, Jeff did get time to catch up on his sleep, as promised.

If you look behind Jeff in the picture, you can see two of the three cats that accompanied us on the trip. The mature Siamese named Stormy was the most upset by the moving vehicle. He didn’t stop meowing until well into Kentucky. You can also see the plastic web barrier that Jeff set up to keep the cats in the back and away from the driver. In general, this was pretty effective, but when they really wanted to come up front, they found a way.

We started off toward Indianapolis, and then Louisville, Kentucky and on to Nashville, Tennessee. Here, we turned east toward Chattanooga.

With Jeff driving, we encountered some hard rain that slowed us down a bit. At 45 mph, Jeff could barely see the taillights of the car in front of him.

Once headed toward Chattanooga, we entered the southern part of the Great Smokey Mountains. The Explorer with its loaded trailer still performed like a champ. On the steep hills, we found that second gear was necessary, both going up and coming back down.

We drove about 650 miles on Wednesday and stopped at a Days Inn in Ringgold, Georgia. We had a decent dinner at a Ruby Tuesday and hit the sack. Jeff reported hearing his father snore a few times, but he didn’t push the point.

Once again, his father woke up with the sunrise, this time at 5:30 AM. Jeff rallied with the promise that his father would start the driving and he could go back to sleep. This was no problem. By 7:00 AM they were back on the road.

This was to be a day full of adventure.

They had just passed through Atlanta, Georgia headed for Florida when things got interesting. They pulled into a McDonald’s and opened the window to place their order. Someone was burning leaves in the vicinity and that seemed unusual for June. But, this was the south so who knew?

Jeff was the first to notice that the burning leaf smell was not coming from outside, but was coming from the car’s air conditioning vents. The car was immediately shut off and both jumped out. Opening the hood revealed nothing. Not too hot. No smoke. It all looked normal. The car was pulled over to a safe spot, out of the way of traffic and Micky D’s commerce. Turning on the fan again caused smoke to pour from the vents. This was not good.

One of the McDonald’s employees reported that there was a Ford dealer less than a mile down the road and got us the phone number. A quick call on the cellular phone got the service department and an invitation to bring it on in. However, we were advised, the whole service department would be leaving in 5 minutes for their lunch hour.

In 90-degree weather, with the fan off and the windows down, we drove the mile to the dealer. Here we waited for the lunch hour to elapse. Jeff paid a lot of attention to the young lady holding down the phones for the service department during the lunch break. Unfortunately, she was terrified of cats so she kept her distance from Jeff’s car. Jeff loaded the cats into their cage and took them into the air-conditioned waiting room.

After the stipulated hour, the service department returned to work and Jeff’s car was assigned to Tony. He checked a few things, tried the fan and got the same result we had.

Thinking it was a fan motor problem, he removed the fan from its housing. When he set it on the floor, leaves fell out. Ah ha! We were not crazy. He then reached his fingers into the heater box from which the fan draws fresh air and pulled out a hand-full of chewed up leaves. The heater box had been a nest for some critter at some point in time.

We all breathed a sigh of relief. Tony blew out the heater box with compressed air and then vacuumed everywhere. No new parts required. In addition, they found and replaced a leaky vacuum hose. This measurably improved the gas mileage from that point forward.

The bill was about $70 for labor and with only two hours lost, we were back on our way. The car ran better than ever.

Jeff drove for a while and then his father took over as they crossed into Florida. Here the weather took a turn for the worse. Nasty, mean-looking clouds loomed ahead. Lightening was everywhere.

The dark clouds turned green and heavy rain began to fall. Traffic slowed to 40 mph and everyone put on their four-way flashers.

The worst of it only lasted about 30 minutes, but the rain continued for several hours.

We were well into Florida, when we departed the familiar territory of the Interstate Highway system and entered the Florida turnpike. This was a toll road. The first tollbooth was for a fixed fee of $2.00, or so we thought. The toll collector quickly reminded us that we were pulling a trailer. That would be an extra $2.00, thank you very much.

At the next tollbooth, we were given a toll card to pay when we exited the turnpike. We were on our way with no more tollbooth interruptions.

The Florida turnpike has service centers placed about 45 miles apart. They are in the center of the highway so the same facility can be accessed by either north or southbound traffic. We had rolled past a few of these service plazas when we entered the next phase of the Excellent Adventure.

Driving along minding our own business and intently listening to a book-on-tape, both Jeff and his father heard a bump and then a thumping noise coming from the rear. Both looked in the rear view mirrors and saw that the trailer tires were not flat. The car was handling normally, so its tires were not flat. But the thumping was there.

With flashers on once again, we slowed to 40 mph. The overhead signs indicated the next service area was only a mile ahead. Better to be lucky than good. Pulling to a stop in a remote area, both climbed out and found nothing amiss. This was too strange. Touching the hubcaps revealed that they weren’t even warm. This was not a bearing problem. All six tires were properly inflated.

To further investigate, Jeff got behind the vehicle while his father pulled ahead slowly. That was when Jeff spotted the problem. One of the trailer tires had thrown part of its tread.

It was 7:00 PM and getting dark. The service center reported that they didn’t have any tires that would fit. Apprehensively, Jeff called the U-Haul 800 service number. They got a fix on our location, collected our cellular phone number and promised to call back.

In less than a minute, they did call back. The operator had pulled up the rental information and confirmed who Jeff was and what trailer he had. She promised to locate a service person and call him back. And in about 5 minutes, she did call back with the report that the service person would be there in about 30 minutes.

At the service center all of the stores were now closed so Jeff and his father sat under a streetlight and read the day’s newspapers. Neither had any idea what to expect. Jeff’s worst fear was that the maintenance person would require him to unload the trailer in order to fix the tire.

All fears were allayed in a timely fashion. After about 40 minutes, a large 24-foot U-Haul truck pulled up beside us. When he opened the back of the truck, there was an entire repair facility on board.

The repairman pulled out a floor jack and effortlessly jacked up Jeff’s trailer. The onboard air compressor supplied power to the air-wrench for removing the lug nuts. In seconds, the wheel was off and the replacement was back on.

No one could help noticing the severe wear on the tire that was exposed when the tread flew off. This was a tire that never should have been retreaded in the first place.

With a brief cleanup and a tip to the repairman, they were back underway, having lost another hour and a half for this little adventure.

The night was now clear and traffic was light. Neither Jeff nor his father was particularly hungry and a total of 3 ½ hours had been lost during the day. They decided to press on with the goal of getting within 100 miles of Miami before spending the night.

They got to Palm Beach before pulling over for the night. It was about 11:00 PM EDT when they pulled into the Embassy Suites. Jeff’s father got them signed in and they were given an easy parking spot for the car and trailer.

Jeff was the one who noticed the sign “No Pets” above the registration desk. This necessitated another adventure to sneak the cats past the reception desk. This came off without a hitch.

Terror struck their hearts the next morning while carrying the cat cage back to the car. As they were walking nonchalantly towards the door, the hotel manager walked right past them. Fortunately, not a word was spoken and the Excellent Adventure continued.

It was now Friday, the 13th day of June. Would this be a lucky or a not-so-lucky day? It had rained hard during the night, but the morning was sunny, hot and humid. The route of travel switched over to Interstate 95 where rush-hour traffic was encountered. It was slow going.

At about 9:00 AM EDT, Jeff started to work the phones to line up studio apartments for rent. He had some possibilities from his internet work in Chicago and some more from logging on in the hotel room.

It was getting really hot. The air conditioner was keeping the car acceptable, but both Jeff and his father were worried about overheating the car. They tried driving with the windows down and the A/C off, but the cats started to pant. They were too hot. The A/C went back on.

Jeff looked at two of the studio apartments and reported they were much too small. Miami Beach is a tangle of roads and navigation is a challenge. Everyone was hot and growing impatient. Jeff briefly wondered if he would ever be able to find a place in which he could live.

While checking out one of the leads, a “for rent” sign was spotted on the side of a building. Jeff called the posted phone number and made an appointment for 15 minutes hence. This tuned out to be the place.

The apartment is on 11th Street within two blocks of the huge public park on Miami Beach. It is about six blocks the other way from the beach. It is an older building, but the owner, Rachael, seemed nice and she was reasonable about Jeff’s needs. He signed a 6-month lease and the move-in began.

Well, not quite. First came the necessity of obtaining a residential parking sticker that would enable him to legally park in his own neighborhood. The police station was only two blocks away, so how hard could it be?

Welcome to south Florida. With only two people in line ahead of him, this took an hour and a half of waiting. Jeff did manage to make a new friend of the young woman behind him. (There is a trend here) To this moment, no one understands what was going on behind the glass and why everything took so long.

By 12:30 PM, the trailer door was opened and the move-in began.

Jeff had done an outstanding job of packing the trailer. There wasn’t a square inch that went unused. And nothing was broken.

Unfortunately, Jeff’s apartment #12 is on the second floor. This meant, of course, that every load had to go up a flight of stairs. In 95-degree heat, a baking sun and high humidity, the move-in commenced. Up and down. Light loads and heavy loads. Small stuff and big stuff.

The heat began to take its toll.

…but progress continued.

…and finally, it was all inside.

The apartment has a living/sleeping area, another small area that will serve as a study and a separate kitchen. It also has a very large walk-in closet. It appears that it will meet Jeff’s needs.

By 3:30 PM Jeff and his father had both showered and it was time to return the trailer and take his father to the airport. Both stops were uneventful.

With a big hug and a handshake, the Excellent Adventure ended. Jeff has now moved into his new life in Miami Beach. He is about to start college for the first time in over 10 years. He will be looking for a job to pay for his new life. Jeff’s adventure continues, but the Excellent Adventure of Jeff and his father has ended.

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