Everything’s going along pretty smoothly. We live in Port Chester, NY. Third grade is drawing to a close. My pixie cut is growing out, I’m looking more and more like a girl by the minute. I made Gerald Braun laugh on the Third Grade Circle Line Cruise around the Statue of Liberty. I’m considered a damn fine speller, if I do say so myself, despite the mishap with “playground” that one time.
Then my dad goes on some kind of sudden trip to Seattle.
My mom is on the phone with him, crying and yelling, “I HATE MY LIFE! I HATE MY LIFE!” My brother and I are looking at her and looking at each other. What the hell is going on? She hangs up and tells us we have to go stay at our friend Elaine’s house. She has to go get on a plane to Seattle right now, tonight. What?? We scramble some things together and my mom calls a limousine service to take her to the airport and drop us at Elaine’s on the way.
-Mom, why do you have to fly to Seattle?
-I have to go look at a house.
Two weeks later, we’re ready to launch this thing. We’re moving to Seattle. Like, right now. We’ve had the garage sale. Danny Covino came with his mom, which was weird. I wondered if it meant he was in love with me. That seemed like the only reasonable explanation. What a time to find this out, right before we’re separated by a country. Ah, well. And now it’s midnight and the giant moving truck is here from King Van Lines, and we were supposed to be on the road several hours ago but something keeps holding us up and it’s making my mom angrier and angrier. It’s about the driver of our moving truck, something about him coming with no people to load the furniture, and something about a gallon of rosé that he’s carrying around and drinking out of all day. His name is Jim, and he wears a t-shirt that says “The Canadian Hippie” on the front. His daughter is about my age, and we get along great. We play in my room while it gets darker and darker and later and later, and it’s difficult to see what my parents are getting all worked up about, but there you go.
1:00 a.m. and we’re finally on the road. Can’t make it too far because, well, it’s 1:00 a.m. We sleep in the car at a rest stop in New Jersey. I’m going to begin to agree that this is weird. We’re sleeping in the car. Yes, I’m with Team Mom and Dad on this one. Sleeping in a car is lame. This is The Canadian Hippie’s fault, we all agree. And suddenly our family is united, and thus begins my two week summer adventure wherein Tina Kunz of the New York Kunzes will become Tina Kunz of the Seattle Kunzes.
Back up. Why are we moving all of a sudden? What’s that all about? Well, at the time I don’t know. But later I’ll hear something about a nervous breakdown, maybe? My dad had a nervous breakdown? Results have never been conclusive. Let’s agree that he had a nervous breakdown. There has always been a lot of mystery around this. I have no new information.
Once we’re on the road, though, he seems fine. He seems great! So, here’s the setup. We have our two cars. My dad drives one of them, and a young friend of the family, Irving, drives the other one. We’ve got CB radios, and we all have handles. (It’s 1978, right in the middle of the CB craze. Everybody’s feeling very Smokey and the Bandit.) My dad is Slowpoke, because he drives really fast. My mom is Mother Hen. My brother is Numbers Man. Irving is Cookie Monster because he eats bags and bags of Chips Ahoys. (He has an alternate handle: Life Saver, because my mom keeps telling him he’s saving our lives.) And I’m Light n’ Lively, which is a brand of milk in New York but not in Seattle.
I always ride with Mom and Dad. Numbers Man sometimes rides with the Cookie Monster, sometimes rides with us. I’ve got my firecracker flag pillow by my side, which was a gift from my third grade class. Everybody signed it. It’s shaped like a firecracker, patterned like a flag. Andy Haas informs me that the Mariners suck. Everybody else is pretty sweet. The pillow makes me feel sad and good, and it smells fantastic, sort of warm and powdery. I smell it all the time and I’m always afraid I’m going to suck the smell out of it with my nose by smelling it too much, but that great smell really hangs on. In other flag news, I have a flag puzzle that has all the flags of all the countries in the world, with the name of the country beneath the hole where the flag piece goes, and the name of the capital city printed right on the piece. On their own, released from their countries, the capital city names sound like people’s names, and I assign genders and personalities to them all, and have them mingle with each other. Any capital city that ends with an “a” is a girl, with a few obviously feminine exceptions like Paris. All the others are boys. Ankara and Brasilia are my favorite girls. Athens and Amman are their dates. I have all the cities and their countries memorized in short order.
My superb memory proves to be a coup for us all in Pennsylvania. We stop at a Dutch restaurant for lunch, and they have a challenge going. If anyone at the table can memorize this very long poem about a bird before the check comes, lunch is on the house for your whole party. Our eyes light up. I grab that pansy-ass poem. I’m like a machine. “The Golden Finch is a lovely bird. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” I have that shit filed away before we order dessert. The moment comes. The waitress and the manager watch as I reel it off. Lunch is free! As a reward, my mom and dad let me go into the gift shop and pick out a enormous, swirly, multi-colored lollipop to take with me in the car. This trip kicks ass. I don’t know what any of us were worried about.
Indiana is GREAT. Don’t know what my parents find so boring about it. There appears to be candy and ice cream available for sale no matter where we stop. Motels everywhere across the country are fantastic. Ice machines. The Badlands are compelling, those strangely formed green hills and cliffs. I peer at the land intently, trying to feel the badness. Something bad must have gone down around here, I think to myself. And then we get to Montana, and Montana fucking outdoes itself. We stay at a giant Holiday Inn in Helena. It has a motherfucking Polynesian-themed pool! Any hotel with a themed pool makes me want to run up and high five all the staff. AND! When we’re going into this hotel, I hold open the door for a man in a ten-gallon hat, and the motherfucking awesome old wealthy cowboy tips me a dollar! This is the first money I’ve ever earned. I stare at my dollar all night.
We’re getting closer to Seattle. Who knows what’s going on with The Canadian Hippie? We’re in worryingly less and less frequent contact with him as we drive across country. The atmosphere is increasingly chilly when we do see him. When we get to North Bend, which is about an hour outside of Seattle, some kind of confrontation happens between my dad and The Canadian Hippie. I don’t get it. I hang out with his daughter again, and we can’t figure out what all the hate is about, but it’s making things awkward for us. It’s less fun to play with her this time. We’re clearly on different teams, like it or not.
We arrive in Seattle on my birthday. July 3rd. It’s overcast. We don’t know anybody. We don’t have any furniture. (The Canadian Hippie abandoned us and our moving van after the mystery confrontation. We found it unlocked in a nearby mall parking lot a week after we got to town.) My mom buys a Pepperidge Farm cake and puts a cutting board on a small box and throws a pillowcase over it for a tablecloth. She has silver candlesticks that were in a box in the car, and we have candles. We sit on the floor and they sing the birthday song to me. The trip is done. It’s cloudy and strange and lonely, and I’m nine, and I live in Seattle.