Adventures in Your New Life, Episode 2

We bought the Albany, Oregon house four years ago. People ask me, “Why Albany?” And I immediately think of the reasons that are not mine: “I love it!” “I grew up there.” “My family is there.” None of this is true. If I was a chronic liar I could have made up any reason at all, but the decision to move to Albany was based on an admixture of logic, cost, compromise and lust.

The lust to move, I mean, not the lust most people can’t help thinking about and don’t like to admit to thinking about. My family lives in California, where I was born and raised by a normal mom and dad, the dad of whom I speak who always had to be on the move. The interval of my moves throughout my life lengthened from a few months to 20 years of staying in one place. I would substitute my lust for change and newness to changing jobs. As a registered nurse, this was easy.

We’re moving to Albany because 1.) Seattle is crowded and changed beyond belief. 2.) I want level streets and small townishness (a bit like the cowboy/wine town I grew up in). 3.) I could buy a big-ass house in the Old Town section of Albany for an affordable price.

I made the decisions. There are other nebulous instinctual feelings fueling my choice, and a husband who quietly says, “I just want to live wherever you are.”

Sweet, huh?

Stephen and I left the Corvallis Best Western, loading the dogs into the Ford Transit dogmobile, and headed out on a Wednesday to tackle the 240-mile drive back to Seattle. Our route took us north on Highway 99, that venerable old north-south western route preceding Interstate 5. Hay and blueberry fields gave way to the vineyards of Oregon’s boutique pinot noir growers. After the frustrating complexity of Newberg, trying to duct over to I 5 before the congestion of Portland and failing, we chugged across the Williamette (pronounced Will-YAM-et) River during morning rush hour, and burst free of traffic somewhere north of Longview, Washington.

I 5 winds along the north shore of the Columbia – except that it’s really the east shore because the Pacific-bound river takes a sharp turn northward before emptying out at Astoria. We made good time, me driving and doing my California thing as Stephen calls it, getting around left lane hogs.

We’ll be home by one o’clock, we crowed.

When the traffic came to a dead halt at Chehalis-Centralia, two small cities half-way between Portland and Seattle, we remembered.

We’d heard it on the news early in the morning, around 6am. A tanker semi had gone out of control, hitting the median then overturning in three freeway-northbound lanes, flooding the roadbed with thousands of gallons of used motor oil. (The driver was arrested—DUI.)

All lanes closed.

My phone apps were not helpful. They showed me the black and red, but no information about when the lanes would be open again. We were just south of the first Chehalis exit. I muscled over into the exit lane. Of course, just as we got safely in there, the traffic began moving again. Many who were trying to get off moved back into the flow, but I didn’t trust it. Besides, we were hungry, and there was a Burgerville in Centralia.

While Stephen has many talents, using an iPhone to pick out side routes through town is not one of them. We baby-stepped in a thick line of cars and semis inching alongthe Chehalis’ main street. Waits as long as five lights. Semis navigatingsmall town corners.

The thing about these two towns is that they are severed by the Burlington Northern rail lines. Finding an east-west shortcut through residential areas is challenging. My navigator was unable to help. I ducked out of the main connector between the two towns just north of the Fair Grounds and followedintersecting streetsleading toward Burgerville.

Completely blocked and going nowhere.

A convenience store beckoned, convenient in that we could easily turn into it, buy water for the dogs, get them out of the car, use the bathroom, and decide what to do because we weren’t going anywhere soon. Burgerville became the house Alice was trying to get back to in Through the Looking Glass.

Having plotted our escape route using my phone, I navigated while Stephen drove—while I love to drive, I also love to navigate. Maybe it’s a control thing. Others scoped out the same route, but we were saved by the appearance of a traffic cop at the intersection of our residential street and the small highway leading north out of Centralia.

The Tenino Mexican restaurant substituting for Burgerville was twice as expensive but just as tasty. Ducting around the thousands of acres that is Joint Base Lewis McCord, we found I 5 again north of Olympia and pulled into our driveway an hour and 30 minutes later.

I used to protect my days off. A four-hour delay like that would have turned me into a rabid bat if I was scheduled to go in the next day. I have been granted the gift of managing my own time. Retirement is a second chance at a childhood summer. I’ve always wanted that.

Next: Open health insurance Explanation of Benefits letter. Blink at the 5 figure bill. Question: why now? Another in the long cascade of unfortunate events.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


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