OUR FIRST HAUL by MARK PAULSON

Alarms were set for 1:00 a.m. and we awoke to a sense of excitement and adventure. We awoke with the burning question of what are we doing up at 1 am?  Never the less we pressed on.  Jane Fahringer, my wife, Lisa, and I headed to 1st Out to meet Chris Lioi. As we pulled up we saw the Victory Lap Greyhound Transport bus idling underneath a sodium vapor light. A pale-yellow light cast against it's silhouette as smoke gently floated up from the exhaust pipe.  Chris was already working feverishly prepping the bus. We quickly loaded our supplies, water, pillows, snacks and sandwiches (can’t travel without the essentials).  We clamored into the bus and we headed out. A couple of turns, a few red lights and we found ourselves on interstate 79 heading south. Our destination…Mardi Gras Race Track in West Virginia.                                                

Driving through the hills of West Virginia we quickly settled in.  As the bus rode along Jane, Lisa and myself continued to prep the bus for our soon-to-be ‘guests’. We put bedding into each crate and we arranged the cargo so we could access it readily.                  

As Chris drove we could barely make out the outlines of the many hills and mountains that frame West Virginia. I didn’t recognize how dark it was until I realized I was straining to see out the window of the bus. The hills all blended together in darkness as if they were one single black line illuminated by a sky that was only slightly brighter. We chugged along going up and down hills as if we were on a roller coaster. Time gave way to a slowly emerging sunrise and we could begin to see the beautiful scenery that surrounded us.  As the sun came up we realized how beautiful the landscape of West Virginia is.                                                                                                                              

Chris pressed on and made quick work of the highway and we all started to gain an air of excitement as we started seeing signs pointing us to Mardi Gras Race Track and Casino. Our passengers were waiting for us and we didn’t want to keep them waiting! Around 7:00 a.m. August 5th we pulled into a gravel parking lot and were greeted by Ray.  Ray informed us that he had been in the retired greyhound business for over 30 years.  He couldn’t have been more kind and patient with us as we began all the introductions and exchanged laughs and smiles. With his help, we began loading 14 passengers, 14 long nosed, long tailed, long legged passengers.  After 7 months of planning, meeting, organizing, fundraising, countless phone calls and sleepless nights, it was official. Victory Lap Greyhound Transport was beginning its inaugural haul! 14 retired racers were going to adoption groups on the east coast to find their forever homes and we couldn’t be happier.                                                                                                           

We greeted each of our guests with ‘oohs and aahs’ as they made their way on to our bus. These were guests of ours and we provided them with the finest in accommodations.  When one guest, Lou, complained about her roommate Hazel, we quickly moved Hazel to another suite.  We gave Lou a delightful young lady named Athena. It became apparent to us that Athena had drawn the short straw.  Lou sometimes had a lot to say. Never the less, we assigned everyone their cabin and prepared our departure. We thanked Ray and moved as quickly as we could. Unfortunately, we were already running over an hour behind schedule and needed to move on. I traded places with Chris and pointed the bus north east and began heading to Audubon, New Jersey, just outside of Camden.

By now the sun fully engulfed the sky and everything was visible for all to see. Several of our guests watched out the window as the road went by. Some others just laid down and relaxed and still others sang the song of their people…that would be Lou. She serenaded us many times and we never tired of hearing the same song over and over again or about the time she was bumped out of the lead by Scarface and finished third (yes…she told us that). She couldn’t let that one go.  We made all our guests as comfortable as we could and visited with them often.  Both Lisa and Jane made their way up and down the aisle checking on the likes of Kal and Witt, and the others, to make sure everything was okay. We motored down the highway with a big fat smile on our faces - we were hauling dogs!       

After 300 miles Lisa climbed into the driver’s seat. The 32-foot International Victory Lap Greyhound Transport bus was no match for Lisa. She wielded it through turnpike and highway traffic as if she had been driving the big rigs from her early childhood. She breezed through traffic and quickly made up time. The GPS said we were 168 miles away from our first stop and should be arriving at about 3:15 p.m. Things were moving very smoothly when Lou decide to tell us…again…about how Scarface had nudged her out in that last race. Let it go Lou, let it go.

We had activated our Glympse app and were having the adoption group in Camden follow us. Jane was in the navigator’s seat and continued to text them about how well we were progressing. We should have known better. We were suddenly made aware of how much traffic there is on a Saturday in and around the Philadelphia/ New York area.  Don’t worry, Lisa kept us safe. We continued to bob and weave our way, much like a prize fighter, through the highways pushing on to our first destination.

Lisa worked her magic and got us safely through traffic and toll booths while commanding respect and never losing her dignity even while conversing with a fellow driver at the New Jersey toll booth, where they both exchanged pleasantries, finishing up with a “so’s your mother”.   She’s always looking to make new friends. Now on to Jersey. Nothing could stop us now…well, that is, except a bridge. Turns out Lisa doesn’t like big high bridges that go over expansive bodies of water, and that’s what this one did. She sucked in a big gulp of air, pulled up her big girl pants and motored on. Jane spun in her seat saying: “I didn’t know Lisa was afraid of bridges”. To which I replied “yeah, I kinda forgot about that”. And then Jane calmly reassured her by saying “suck it up sister. Show them how V- Lap Rolls”. And roll we did. In no time at all, the bridge was a distant memory hanging in our rearview mirror. The color in Chris face returned as I wondered if we had brought any beer.           

There is a WalMart in the little town of Audubon New Jersey where kind folks from Greyhound Angels Adoption of New Jersey were gathered to receive their wonderful gifts of retired greyhounds. As we pulled in and located our group of eager gift recipients a kind and soft-spoken gentleman named Ira approached our bus, we had just turned into the parking lot and were occupying the driving lane when he whispered in the most reassuring and Jersey way “just park the bus there, anybody asks tells ‘am Ira said its fine, let’s get those dogs off. Geez where you been? Just park it there, sister”. Ira was on the bus in a flash wasting no time in small talk and got to work. In less than 12 minutes he had unloaded 7 of our guests and placed them into 2 vehicles and thanked us in no small way for what we had done.  There were several hugs between Ira and the Victory Lap crew.  He let us know that he had been moving dogs for many, many, years and how great these dogs were. We couldn’t agree more. So, with our big bus resting in a WalMart in New Jersey, Ira thanked us, took all his paperwork, and bid farewell…. but not before assuring us again that the bus parked right there would be fine. I felt a little more at ease as a police officer drove around our bus and continued on her way. She must have known that Ira said it was fine right there.  

We took all the remaining pups off the bus for a pee break. Almost all participated in the “I’m gone piss myself if I don’t get off this bus soon” contest.  Only one dog, after over 9 hours on the bus, took it to a new level with “Outs my way…I’ve got blow out diarrhea” for the win.  Stats are in:  9 hours, 14 dogs, not 1 accident. I’d rather be lucky than good.                                                                                                                       

Chris climbed back into the driver’s seat and proceeded to smile a smile like I’ve never seen before. “We did it, we did it” he proudly boasted.  5 retired dogs were moving on to forever homes.  What began as a thought, a hope, and even a prayer, 7 months ago was now an accomplishment shared by all and not just those on the bus this day. We high fived each other, laughed and cheered, and moved on. There were 7 more passengers waiting for their chance. We weren’t going to disappoint them. Chris steered us north.  It was 5:00 p.m. and the GPS said 1 hour and 40 minutes to our next destination in Lodi, New Jersey.  We decided that Lou would upgrade to her own suite.   Lou suddenly decided she would sing to us some more…this time it was a happy tune.  A few more pups joined in the chorus. It was truly a beautiful song and we all sang along.      

The bus cruised effortlessly up the highway as we watched Audubon slowly disappear. On my right New York city appeared off in the distance. It got closer and larger as we eased up the road and our crew and passengers all seemed to bask in their accomplishments. Just as quickly as NYC appeared, it began to disappear. We were getting closer to the next stop.  With less than a quarter tank and less Making good time as we jockeyed through the traffic and all the while noting, with concern, that the newly purchased EZ pass might not be working properly. Now a toll booth sign read “toll not paid”.  I looked at Chris and told him not to worry, this was Dave Kost’s problem when we got home. Always thinking about you Dave.

At 6:45 pm we pulled into the Home Depot of Lodi, New Jersey.  Waving and filming as we pulled in were Lisa and her husband Chris of Gemini Pampered Greyhounds of Massachusetts.  With them was one of their volunteers, Sydney.  Also, waiting for us to arrive was Dawn from Connecticut Greyhound Adoption/GPA.  Dawn was taking our opera singer Lou as well as our special little girl named Witt.  Witt was recovering from a broken leg. That’s right, our first haul included not one, but two, broken leg dogs. They arrived in great spirits and great condition. We got the little girl off first and got her safely into Dawn’s car and proceeded to move the remaining dogs off.  Two were going to Connecticut and 5 to Massachusetts.

We had successfully moved 14 dogs to adoption groups!  After many laughs, hugs, and smiles there was only one thing left to do…get fuel and find a restroom where Jane, Chris, and Lisa proceeded to powder their noses and grab a snack.  Now we turned westward.  It was time to go home. With a collective sigh of relief and a lot of well-deserved pats on the back, we began to settle in.  As I drove everyone seemed to become quiet in their own thoughts. A million questions and thoughts spun through our heads. Just 24 hours earlier we were all prepping and wondering do I have everything? Will the dogs be okay, will they bark much, will Mark and Lisa get in a fight, will the bus be road worthy, will we break down, will the adoption groups show up, did Jane pack enough food, how much fuel will we use, will the dogs have accidents? The questions continued to roam through our heads as we motored down the road.

I was brought back to reality after about 3 hours when Chris asked me if I wanted him to drive. “I got this” he said and I knew that he did. He ‘had this’ 7 months ago when we introduced this idea to a room full of potential volunteers in our kitchen.  That night, after he left, he called us and said I have a place to store the bus and have it professionally worked on. We didn’t even have a bus at that time…it was merely a hope and a desire. I knew he had it and he had us.  You might think that sleep comes easy after such a long day but, it defiantly eludes you, the exhaustion doesn’t but the sleep does. I nodded off and on, grateful for Lisa riding shotgun talking with Chris and helping him get through the dark night. Lisa’s head bobbed a few times as she struggled to stay awake.  It occurred to me we were ending as we had begun, tired and in the dark. One more stop for fuel and a pee break. Lisa walked about and breathed in some much-needed fresh night air while Jane paced about the bus trying to find that comfortable spot (I don’t think she found it yet). I leaned against the bus as I fueled it up as if I was the only thing holding it up. Chris reappeared and I could see the delight in his eyes and the tiredness at the same time. We all stumbled back on the bus and took off at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, August 6th.  Chris, back in the driver’s seat, and with the same enthusiasm as he started the trip said, “I got this.”  Thank you, Chris, for getting us home safely. We rolled into 1st Out at about 3:00 a.m.

The same sodium vapor light let off the same pale-yellow glow it had the night before. Chris did a loop in the yard and brought the bus to the exact spot we had seen it the morning before. We moved a little slower this time, but proceeded to move our personal items off the bus. Throwing everything into our cars, vowing to sort it out tomorrow. We said our goodbyes, gave hugs and kudos for a job well done. The time on the dashboard clock was 3:05 a.m. We headed home.

We drove 1,225 miles in 25 hours, took 14 dogs to 2 locations and 3 adoption groups.  We felt like we had driven 1,225 miles in 25 hours and IT FELT GREAT. With so many questions that we began asking ourselves 7 months ago, there was only one question left…when is our next haul?

From the Victory Lap Greyhound Transport board of directors, our profound thanks and gratitude goes out to all our volunteers and donors who made this possible. Without your help, dedication and assistance this would not have happened. We are blessed to know and work with such fine people and will strive to be an example that you can be proud of. We are extremely proud of you.                                                                       

As our motto says “WE HAUL TAIL“…and we did! Can’t wait for the next one!

 

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