I’m moving house at the moment. In January I moved from Sydney to Melbourne. And now it’s November and I’m moving back again. Now that I’m moving interstate for the second time, a few people have asked me how the first move went. I never told anyone how that went. I was too traumatized to relive it. Have you seen ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles”? Know that moment where they’ve nearly had a major car accident and they thought they were going to die? And then John Candy’s character is all, “We can laugh about it now!”
Well we didn’t nearly have a car accident. But some seriously bad things did happen. So here is my first interstate trip story in full. For your enjoyment. So that we can laugh about it now. Together.
My fiance at the time had been applying for jobs in Sydney, where we lived. One company had passed his details on to their Melbourne office, who then called him on the Friday to ask him to start work on the Monday. They seemed to think one weekend was a reasonable amount of time to give a couple to move interstate with no notice. Thankfully we talked them into giving us a few extra weeks. We found an apartment in Melbourne to move into and packed up our whole lives. The removalists took most of our things, but I packed up my tiny little car with my most fragile belongings, plus my cat and of course my partner. And off we went…
We were only 10min down the road when we realised that there was a freak heatwave brewing. The cat was yowling and panting uncontrollably. We were sweating. We briefly considered turning the car around and waiting it out until the cool of the afternoon. But we were on a tight schedule as fiance needed to start work in only a few days’ time. So we continued on. Like fools.
Soon enough, the cat took a turn for the worse. She was panting quite seriously now and her eyes were rolling back into her head. We tried giving her water to drink, but she refused. She was seriously dehydrated. The only way we could keep her cool was to drench her with water. It was enough of an ordeal getting her out of the catbox. But then we’d have to pour an entire bottle of water over her and stuff her back in. It was most unpleasant for all involved. But it was the only thing we could think of.
We made it to Gundagai. That’s four hours south-west of Sydney. That was where the car broke down. We stopped in the sweltering heat to let the sweat sluice off us and buy some more water. You could see the heat shimmering off the bitumen. My hair was glued to my face. We felt like hell. The car was overpacked and overheated. The cat was quite seriously ill. We both felt stressed and anxious. And then the car wouldn’t start. This was most definitely a sign of worse to come. This could have been a good moment to give up on the whole venture. But someone kindly jump-started us and we figured that’d be the end of our car troubles. You know, maybe that big ole ball o’ sun will provide much-needed solar power for the purposes of battery-charging and everything will be fine. Right…? Oh the fools. The fools.
Then the aircon went.
And we were up the proverbial creek without the appropriate rowing implement.
Then the radio cut out. And the lights faded. And the whole dash went dark. I didn’t have too long to react to this new development as the car slowly decelerated of its own accord and I veered it gently to the side of the road.
So to recap: the car had broken down completely. The electrics had gone. We were about an hour south-west of Gundagai. We were both dehyrated. The cat looked like she was dying: her tongue hung limp from her open mouth and she’d lost her voice from yowling. We stood in the narrow strip of shade provided by a long-abandoned overpass and surveyed our kingdom. We were in the middle of nowhere. We had no phone reception. We were running out of water. It was 40+ degree weather, but it was closer to 50 degrees standing on the scorching highway.
We realised then, in most profound seriousness, just how easily people could die out here.
We walked in opposite directions to each other, hoping to either get a bar of reception or find an emergency roadside phone. After a blistering walk up the highway, I found signal. I called NRMA Roadside Assistance. I was put in their queue. My reception wavered. As soon as I got through to an operator, my phone cut out. It took 3 calls and waits in queues until I got through successfully. I blurted out all my details without taking a breath. I couldn’t give them a crossroad as we had no idea where we were. I was hoping they could gps my location from my mobile phone. But their response was “Just wait by your vehicle. We’ll drive along the highway and hopefully we’ll see your car.” You know, like maybe we won’t drive past you and miss you completely.
I can’t even remember how long they took. Was it an hour or two hours? Who knows. It was an eternity. Thankfully another car stopped in the meantime. They were a really lovely couple. They didn’t have any water to spare, but they gave us ice packs. Nice couple stayed with us for a little while. The woman consoled us while the man looked under the hood and pretended to know what he was talking about. “Probably your engine,” he said. “And there’s no sense replacing that. May as well just abandon the car. Get NRMA to tow it and just buy a new car from somewhere.” They were also very concerned about our cat, who was most definitely dying by this stage. Then they suddenly remembered they’d left their baby in their car with the window cracked. We were highly anxious that they were neglecting their newborn for the sake of our cat. So we encouraged them to continue on their way.
There were many things running through my head at this stage. If the car was indeed a lemon, I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. I’d have to just leave it on the roadside. Or pay to have it destroyed. And what then? Would we hitchhike to Melbourne? With an entire carload of all my most precious possessions and a half-dead cat? We tried not to talk about what would happen if the cat did die. We couldn’t bring a cat corpse with us to Melbourne. Especially if it came to hitchhiking. We’d have to just bury her in a shallow grave on the side of the road. I did a mental inventory of my things and figured losing my all valuables would be insignificant compared to when my brother died. Oh god. If I died out here, what would my mother think?
Let’s skip forward to when the NRMA showed up. Turned out the problem was the alternator. Bonus points to anyone who guessed that from the symptoms listed earlier. Good news was it was totally fixable. Bad news was NRMA didn’t have a spare alternator and couldn’t get one. He offered to tow us, but could only tow us to Wagga. That’s over an hour west of our journey. So completely in the wrong direction. The only other suggestion he had was that we could just buy a new battery from him and drive until we drained it. We’d have to hope that it’d get us close to Albury. Or at least far enough south that if we broke down again, the NRMA there would tow us into Albury and not back up to Wagga. There was also some further complication where the NRMA dude didn’t have a spare battery and had to return to his depot or had another urgent breakdown to take care of. (I was so dehydrated by this point I was hardly creating long term memories.) So we had to wait another hour or so on the melting highway for him to return with a battery. With depleted water supplies. And a mostly-dead cat.
The NRMA dude’s parting advice was “Don’t use any of the electronics. I know it’s hot but don’t use the aircon. You’ll just have to drive with the windows down and hope for the best.” So there we were, hacking through the heat at 110km/h with the windows wound down. Blunt force of the wind slapping us in our faces and whipping across our ears. If you’re following my “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” motif this was was about the equivalent of the burnt out car. Just substitute the icy snow for liquid magma.
Or better yet, this:
And we got to Albury. How? I don’t know. Magically, the replacement battery held out until Albury. That’s still only about halfway to Melbourne. But we’d booked a motel. We couldn’t risk asking them permission to bring the cat in and having them deny us, so we just snuck her in. Luckily she was too hoarse to meow, so no one could complain they’d heard cat-noises coming from our room. But we did have to constantly herd her away from sitting in the windows.
We were stranded in Albury. We’d moved over a weekend and no mechanic was open until Monday. Even then we figured it may take a few days to get the part in. Fiance had to leave a message to call in sick to his new work before he’d even started the job. We had no money. And there was nothing to do. We spend two days watching the three channels tuned in on the tv and eating vending machine food. Only one of us could leave the room at a time for fear of the cat freaking out. We were so relieved she’s survived that we almost didn’t mind the cabin fever.
A few days passed and we finally we got the part. The car was fixed. The cat was alive. My possessions were in tact. It was just over 3 and a half hours to Melbourne. Things were looking up.
We held our breaths for that last stretch, not daring to use the air con. But we made it. And fiance was only a few days late for work. I convinced him to stay at a friends’ house for the night so that he could use their showering and ironing facilities. We left the cat to explore the new apartment and dragged ourselves into the main street of our new suburb to get a much-deserved dinner out. We ate some flash-fried chicken thing as entree and noodles for main. I dropped him off at his friends’ place (so sick of driving, oh god!) and came home to the abandonment-issues cat.
I wish the story ended here. Isn’t that enough?
But that’s when I got food poisoning. The flash fried chicken thing had clearly not been cooked through, so I spend the whole night with my head over the toilet vomiting. Again there was indignity. And fears of dying. And fears of someone having to tell my mother her other child had died. Can this story get any worse? Oh yes! Much worse! Much!
Between voms, the removalists called me. Instead of coming at a reasonable time, like during daylight, they were going to be turning up during the hours of 2-4am. Why? WHY? I can’t answer this question. No one can.
And so they came. At 2am. Banging and clattering, and giving a horrible 2am first impression to my new neighbours. They unloaded things and dumped them at the entrance to the block of units. My apartment was on the first floor, so up 1 and 1/2 flights of stairs. But they were dumping my things on the ground floor outside the door to the building. I questioned them on this. They said they were pressed for time. They had another job to go to at 4am and didn’t have time to unload my things. I said that I had paid them to deliver my things to my apartment. They replied that no, I only paid them to deliver things to my address. I insisted they bring all my furniture and boxes upstairs to my apartment. Up the stairs that I had paid extra for per stair. They said that they would just dump my stuff on the side of the road if I didn’t cooperate. I’d been puking all night, I was exhausted from the car/cat/motel ordeal. I just wanted this nightmare to end. They finally compromised saying that they would bring as much as they could upstairs into the apartment, and then at 4am anything left over would be dumped on the roadside. I was exasperated. I couldn’t argue. They were holding my possessions random.
I helped carry as many things upstairs as I could just to make the most of the time. It’s hard walking up and down flights of stairs while carrying heavy boxes after you’ve spent the whole evening with your head in the toilet. It’s hard enough lifting your head off the bathroom floor let alone do the removalists’ job for them.
Should have gone with Ace Ventura Removalists:
In the end, about 40 boxes were left outside my apartment building. They were only slightly out of view of the street, just down a driveway. But they were there for the stealing. Who needs to break into a house when the tenant has already boxed up and labeled their possessions for you? And I’m not talking boxes of clothes and cutlery. This was our tv, game consoles, dvds, my jewellery … things of resalable value that had virtually fallen off the back of a truck.
So picture me now. It was 4am. I was drained and exhausted. From driving, from throwing up, from carrying heavy boxes. Oh yeah, and I have a long-term shoulder injury. Did I forget to mention that? I couldn’t possibly bring another damn thing into the apartment. But I couldn’t leave my things there. I crawled back into my apartment and collapsed face-down on the floor. I figured 7am was about the time people would be getting up and heading off to work, thereby discovering the treasure trove of packaged items on their doorstep. So I slept for three hours. I woke up at 7am to the sound of rain. Yes rain. It was now raining on my earthly possessions. God truly hated me.
I have truly never wanted to be alive any less than in that moment. I just wanted to not exist anymore. Not existing would be better than this. I couldn’t just lay there and feel sorry for myself. I had to get up and move the boxes. It would be bad enough to go through all that and just lie there crying. But I couldn’t even do that. To have to get up and continue dealing with it? Oh I wanted to just blink out of existence.
So what happened? Cavalry came. I called a distant relative who I knew lived in Victoria and she drove two hours to help me. She, her husband and another friend of mine all moved my things up while I sat shaking and rocking in a corner. My friend brought me the most wonderful care package: a red knit cardigan, a box of white peony tea leaves and two valium. And eventually I slept.
I couldn’t tell anyone about the ordeal. It was so traumatic, it took me weeks to recover. This is on top of the grief that regularly put me into catatonic and dissociative states. But fiance and I unpacked and made the place a home. Our neighbours turned out to be psychotic junkie hoarders. But they didn’t steal any of our things. And the removalists hadn’t broken anything. And the cat, the car and I all recovered from our afflictions.
Things didn’t work out with my fiance. We split up a few months ago. Neither of us were able to take the cat for different reasons, so we found her a new home. I’ve just moved all my things from Melbourne back to Sydney. I did the move very differently this time. Incidently, I highly recommend Kennards for boxes and Taxibox for moving. Kennards just lent me their company ute for free when the boxes I bought didn’t fit in my car. And the Taxibox people were really caring human beings. In fact, the move back was rather pleasant. I even stopped for tea and scones in Glenrowan and stayed at a beautiful B&B in a converted church in Gundagai. And my car miraculously made the drive back without any problems.
I’m trying to move on from trauma. You might think that leaving your fiance, moving interstate again and saying goodbye to your beloved pet would be horrifically stressful. But I coped. I’m proud of myself. And I’m moving forward. Maybe we can even laugh about it now.
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