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Travels with Fuzzy

John Moe

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Fuzzy gets stuck
(John Moe)
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John Moe recently moved his family from Seattle to St. Paul, Minn. It was a big shift -- two kids, a house that had been a home for 10 years. He's been keeping track of the process and the emotional toll it's taking in a series of stories called Moving Day.

It's 6:46 a.m. Getting ready to go. Need to go get the hamster.

I love my family. That's why I drove a hamster to Minnesota in a minivan.

Good morning, Fuzzy. Are you ready to go on a trip?

Hamsters are adorable. Simple, too. All you need to do is feed 'em, clean their cage and let 'em run around in the exercise ball once in a while. That's it. And they live maybe two years. It's not like a cat, where if you get a cat that's a jerk then you're stuck with this jerk cat for 15 years. We bought my son a hamster when he turned 5. A lesson in responsibility. I usually take care of it. A lesson in reality.

Oh hey, we got snacks. You want snacks? You want a carrot? (chomp chomp) Hey, that's my microphone.

My family was moving to St. Paul, and part of moving is actually getting your family to the new place. Driving there in winter seemed dangerous and, with young kids, too unbearable to imagine. Flying? Too abrupt for a life-changing move. So we booked a sleeper car on Amtrak. Great for us people, but no pets allowed. The most sunflower seed-dependent family member was shut out. Still, Fuzzy was family. We had to get her across the country.

Couldn't really put her on an airplane. Having her on the train would have been difficult. Couldn't leave her behind. She's no good for eatin'. So here we are.

We kicked around some ideas and finally realized there was only one option: drive her there. We loaded up the van, buckled her cage on the passenger seat, and Fuzzy and I hit the road. A man and his hamster.

We're pulled over in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, with a gorgeous view of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Do you see it?

This trip served many functions. It was practical -- I'd drop off the van and some of our stuff in St. Paul so it would be there when we arrived. It would also give me some alone time. The job of moving had wrecked me: Sort every possession we have into cardboard boxes, hug our dear friends -- knowing everything will be different from then on -- and do it all on deadline. New people were getting ready to move in to our house. It had all made me short-tempered, jumpy, hard to be around. So it would be like a vacation for me.

It's about 30 degrees outside. We're driving through western Montana, about 70 miles west of Missoula. Around St Regis. Hamsters are from Syria.

Fuzzy wasn't much of a travel companion. Hamsters are nocturnal. Which made things, like stopping for lunch, kind of dull.

Well, I ordered the roast beef. Do you want some lettuce? Still sleeping, huh? Well, it is only 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

Fuzzy slept. The temperature dropped. And I began to think how stupid this plan really was. I had brought a fragile desert animal on a winter drive through the northern plains? I obsessively kept leaning over, poking Fuzzy, making sure she was breathing.

If I could just keep this hamster alive from Seattle to St. Paul, maybe I know what I'm doing in some way. Maybe I can handle things a little. It's kind of crazy that it's come to that, but that's what it's come to.

The adventure, the novelty. Taking a risk! But a risk is... a risk. It was terrifying. We had sold our home in Seattle and we couldn't go back. The kids didn't know a soul. Was I leading an adventure or ruining lives? When we reached the hotel, I doted upon Fuzzy.

Well we made it to the room, Fuzzy. Room 307, the Fairfield Inn, Billings, Mont. All right, you got your water, let's give you some food. How are you doing? You feeling okay? (chomp chomp) You're eating the mic again.

Day two was much colder. By the time we were west of Fargo, minus 20. I didn't dare stop the car. I feared that if I opened the door, the rush of cold air would kill Fuzzy on the spot. And the roads and the desolation and the snow and ice might kill me. How did your husband die, Mrs. Moe? Well, we had this hamster, you see.

I'm probably not going to give her a lot of outdoor time, 'cause of all the dying she would do.

This trip was supposed to give me a break from my anxieties. Instead, the anxieties got condensed into one hamster. Night fell. I drove white-knuckle style, hunched over the steering wheel, terrified. And then... I looked down at Fuzzy. She was awake, running on her exercise wheel. Finally, we reached Fergus Falls, Minn., and stopped for the night. I rested. And talked to my hamster.

That was a long day. It's about 12:30. We're in the hotel. And you're in your exercise ball. And you're doing fine. Your continued living makes me feel like a more capable human being, Fuzzy.

I slept. She stayed up all night running on the wheel. Healthy as could be. It's a bad idea to let an animal as fragile as a hamster symbolize the fate of your family. But as we pulled into the Twin Cities, I felt triumphant. I had taken care of my hamster. I had taken care of my family. I could do this. This move would be okay.

Okay, Fuzzy. Minneapolis. Time for your foster home. Let's get the hamster inside.

Our friends took the hamster, I flew back to Seattle, we hopped a train and came to St. Paul, and my son was reunited with Fuzzy. Then my daughter wanted a hamster. So we bought her one.


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  • By Lisa Foster

    From Seattle, WA, 04/27/2008

    This story really touched my heart! I may be moving cross-country (back to the Midwest) soon myself with my cat. Story in Sunday's Seattle Times (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2004371152_moeletter27.html) was also good, but the radio version was far superior. Welcome to the Midwest, John! You'll be glad you did and not miss the rain of Seattle (though you may miss the coffee!).

    By Rhea Borja

    From Pasadena, CA, 04/26/2008

    Great story. We drove our dog cross-country multiple times, and for better or worse, our dog let us know exactly when he wanted a drink of water, food, a walk, a favorite toy, etc.

    By Pat Peterson

    From MN, 04/26/2008

    I took 3 small kids, a hampster in a jar and a bag of tropical fish in small carry on from Texas to Minneapolis - All made it OK.

    By Wendy Solberg

    From MN, 04/26/2008

    The only way this could have been funnier is if you'd made the trip with a weasel. Maybe next time... Thank you for cheering me up on a day a person could pack up and move to Seattle--land of relentless rain, to get away from Minnesota, land of relentless winter.

    By arthur hoehn

    From St.P, 04/26/2008

    Why would a nice, Mr. Science-sounds-alike want to abandon Seattle (half-way decent pro sports teams, abundant coffee houses and no state taxes) for MN? This is supposed to be the age of being able to do radio from almost anywhere. Well welcome to the twin cities...I hope there's no truth to the rumor that you WA people will be here only through the GOP convention. --Arthur Thanks to WA's better half for having discovered that only a handful of folks in SE Kansas might be confused by simply saying "This is Linda Lovely in St. Paul..." See what you can do to persuade my erstwhile colleagues that most of us listening in the upper Midwest know which Fargo, Grand Forks, Superior and, especially Sioux Falls they are talking about without feeling compelled to add a state to the address.

    By Gretchen Hagen

    From St. Paul, MN, 04/26/2008

    Thank you, John, and glad to have you and your family in St. Paul. A man who will drive his hamster across country is welcome indeed!

    By c lee

    From mpls, MN, 04/26/2008

    Thank you for the wonderful story and congratulations on your 'survival'.

    By Brian Chow

    From University Heights, OH, 04/26/2008

    Twenty years ago, my family also moved a hamster from Ottawa, Canada, to Atlanta, Georgia. For some reason, a poor befuddled phone representative with Eastern Airlines told us it was OK to bring him on the plane, and of course the airport people were completely confused as to why we were told that.

    Ultimately they let him on the plane in the cargo hold. The Customs officers in New York were a little amused with our importing a hamster, but he did meet us safe and sound (and thirsty) at the baggage claim area of Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport.

    Your kids will thank you someday.

    By Tamara Mayer

    From St. Peter, MN, 04/26/2008

    Welcome to Minnesota, John ! Thank you for sharing your story, you are a great representative of MPR & we are lucky to have you. Your family is blessed to have you as a father and husband.

    By Julie Echols

    From St. Louis, MO, 04/26/2008

    Having moved my young family (two little boys) and two fuzzy hamsters in sub-zero weather from South Dakota to Fergus Falls Minnesota, your wonderful hamster story brought back sweet (albeit frigid) memories. The plants died on the trip, but the hamsters (and the rest of us) survived. Thanks for reminding me of the adventure, anxiety, and angst that surrounds moving.

    By Jessica Kennedy

    From Lincoln, NE, 04/26/2008

    What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing.

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