Saturday, July 4, 2015

The happiest time of year, now with duct tape

Coco's a preschool graduate.  Now that I've successfully launched my youngest child into Kindergarten, I believe my parenting here is done.  It's time to relax, learn to oil paint, maybe retire to Boca Raton.

It may be cynical but I think the concept of preschool graduation is akin to congratulating the tadpole on becoming a frog.  The frog didn't really do anything to earn the advancement, just kind of lived a little bit more and got older and aged out of his little tadpole body.

But sure, it was sweet and admittedly eye-watering to see Coco sitting there proudly in her self-decorated paper graduation cap.  I dabbed my eyes and blew my nose loudly, then apologized to everyone around me -- "I'm sorry for being so emotional, it's just she's the first in our family to graduate from preschool."

Lucien "graduated" from 3rd grade but there was no ceremony so I guess no one gives a rip about that achievement.  It's an unfair world, son.  Struggle with fractions for a year and no one bats an eye but survive "playtime" a dozen times a day and voila, here's a diploma and a gift bag.

The kids and I are in the wind right now, bumming around the Western U.S. on our annual road trip.  I cannot adequately express the joy this trip brings me every year.  I fly down the open road, usually alone and surrounded by breathtaking landscapes.  My favorite music plays loudly in the front and my kids laugh in the back and count cows, horses and train cars.  There's a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos in my lap and an iced coffee in my cup holder. It's magical.

I've done this trip enough times to know the roads and anticipate what's around the corner.  I love it when I hit the rolling hills of I-84 in Washington and Oregon, love it more when I see the craggy mountains of Utah in the distance while still driving through Idaho.  I'm always amazed they're all still there, right where I left them a year ago.

We meet again, Utah

Being on the road give me an overwhelming sense of peace.  It strips life down to its most important parts, takes it back to the basics.  Life in Seattle is big and busy and detailed and complicated but when I hit the road I realize it's so simple, that everything I need to be truly happy is right there in the car with me. We're a self-contained happiness package hurtling through the Rocky Mountains.

That's not to say our trips go without a hitch.  I would be disappointed if they did; hitches are the spice of life.  Hitches make you feel alive, like when you're flying around a bend in central Idaho at 80 mph and you suddenly realize everyone in front of you is stopped cold.  There's a wildfire burning uncontrollably at the side of the road and the highway upon which you are driving has been closed.

I screeched to a stop (there was screeching both from the tires and my mouth) just in time, as did everyone behind me, but what followed was an uncomfortable "very trapped" feeling as I realized there was a wildfire burning ahead and bumper-to-bumper traffic behind.  All you can do in that situation is hope for favorable breezes and well rested firefighters.

Tiny figures in the distance battled the fire successfully and the highway eventually reopened.  As we rolled past the smoldering devastation, the kids and I had a chat about the terrifying nature of nature and how road trips can turn on a dime.

Get us out of here

I mentioned awhile back my run-in with the landscaping truck at Lucien's school that left a small piece of my car loose and wiggly.  It wasn't an alteration that bothered me so I quickly forgot about it and never took the car to be fixed.

That small cosmetic issue became a larger issue at 80 mph on the highway.  The piece of loose car caught the breeze and bent backwards.  As it bent back further and further, helpless against high wind velocity, the length of the piece grew longer and longer and I thought, "Holy hell, the force of the wind is going to peel the entire panel off the car,"

I pulled up in front of a convenience store in Jerome, ID and ran inside to buy duct tape.  A couple pieces of duct tape were applied to the problem area and I hit the road again, confident in my Macgyver-like vehicle repair abilities.

Half an hour later I looked in the side view mirror to see the piece of plastic had returned, flapping in the wind without a care in the world, two pieces of duct tape fluttering from the end of it.  F*ck that.  I pulled into a hotel parking lot and applied SIX pieces of duct tape and once again felt naively confident the problem was solved.

An hour later, the piece of plastic was back, this time trailing six pieces of duct tape like a squid joyfully waving its tentacles.  It seemed to be enjoying our road trip to the fullest.  My fellow travelers squinted with concern at my car as I passed them.

It's hard to enjoy your road trip when you're worried a part of your car is fixing to blow off.   I pulled into a truck stop and dispensed the rest of the roll of duct tape, applying it in a criss-cross pattern in several layers.  I attracted some attention at that truck stop because I was wearing my favorite bright blue tie-dyed maxi skirt and ripping off pieces of duct tape with my teeth while kneeling on the ground and muttering.  The truckers stared and stared but gave me wide berth so we cool.

The good news is the tape didn't come loose for the rest of my trip.  The even better news is people give you lots of room on the road when there's duct tape on the side of your car.

You jealous of my ride?

The kids are cheerful the majority of our time in the car but Lucien was in a sour mood by the end of Day One due to a Kindle malfunction.  Sometimes when Lucien is crabby I like to annoy him even further.  I lobbed a few "Turn that frown upside down, son!"at him and played "Don't Stop Believing" at high volume, singing along and inserting his name into the lyrics.  Don't stop believing, Lucien. Hold onto that feeling, Lucien.

He scowled in response and threw a piece of wadded paper from his sketchpad at the back of my head.  I yelled at him then because that was not cool; you don't distract the driver when she's doing 80 mph in a car held together by duct tape, even if she is being kind of a d*ck.

Coco got carsick as we headed through the mountains of Utah on Day Two.  Lucien scrambled for plastic bags in the back and reported there were none left so I pulled into a strip mall parking lot to assess the situation.  A woman dressed in a fashionable tennis ensemble pulled up next to me and I blurted, "I'm sorry I parked so crooked, I just pulled in here for a minute to deal with a carsick kid."

When she heard that, Fashionable Lady sprung into action. "The same thing happened to me on a road trip to California with my son last month.  Don't worry, I got you."  She took off jogging (so sporty!) across the parking lot and rounded up several more plastic bags from a bagel shop.  She delivered them along with some wet paper towels, wished me luck, told me to hang in there.  She waved goodbye as I drove off.  That's your daily reminder that people, when you really need them, can be awesome.

Coco made it through the mountains and we made it to Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah. The quarry there features hundreds of fossilized dinosaur bones still embedded in rock.  It's not crowded, the landscape is stunning and there are petroglyphs visible from the main road.  The place is so great I don't have anything to make fun of, which in my world is quite a disappointment in itself.

you jealous of my ride?

Now we find ourselves at my parents' house in Denver.  Big things have happened here, such as Coco's dream of meeting a unicorn finally coming true --

We made an error and went out to dinner one evening at an old Denver establishment called Casa Bonita.  Casa Bonita is the only Mexican restaurant I've visited that seats 1000 people (seriously) but none of those 1000 patrons are Latino.  That is always a glaring sign you've made a terrible mistake.

Have you ever tasted salsa that has absolutely no flavor?  I didn't know that was possible but apparently anything's possible at Casa Bonita.  The food was cafeteria style in that you had to grab a tray to go pick up the food and drinks you'd already ordered, then balance them carefully as you wound through 1000 non-Latino people to your table.  It's a bad scene.

The "good" news is there's a full schedule of dinner entertainment.  Casa Bonita has a real waterfall in the middle of the restaurant and a show that involves cliff divers as well as a staged gunfight between what we think was a cowboy and a pirate.  This picture of my parents may best summarize our reaction to the show --

It's blurry but it still makes me laugh

Here's a cliff diver --

Is he OK? 

We had no idea what the hell was going on at any given moment at Casa Bonita and left the restaurant traumatized and unwilling to discuss the experience further.  If you ask, we will deny having been there.

My parents drove us to Golden, Colorado yesterday to ride the alpine slides.  Alpine slides feature prominently in my childhood memories; my family could never turn down an alpine slide even if we didn't plan on riding one that day. "Is that an alpine slide over there on that hill?  Screw that visit to Grandma today, let's go!"

What a treat to finally share this beloved family activity with my children.

Coco on the chairlift

Upon viewing the track snaking up the side of the mountain, Lucien expressed some trepidation but agreed to try.  Coco and I went down first and enjoyed our ride immensely but as we waited....and waited....and the bottom of the slide for Lucien, who had been in line right behind us, I grew increasingly nervous. Where was he?  Had he gotten scared and refused to come down?  Had he tipped over somewhere along the track?  Was he hurt or maimed in some way?  I was desperate to catch a glimpse of him as the minutes dragged on and on and on.

I was about to jump out of my skin when I finally saw a small person turning the corner up high on the track.  Thank God, it was him.  But then.....oh no oh no oh no.  There were twenty to thirty additional heads right behind him, all in a cluster, all barely moving.  The group of them looked like a centipede snaking along the track at a snail's pace.

I cringed.  I willed my cautious son to move faster in my mind but he didn't receive my telepathic message.  Lucien continued to hold up every other rider on the track (grandma and grandpa included) as he steadfastly refused to move faster than crawl.  When he finally pulled up at the bottom, I ran forward, hugged him, then urged him to run and hide for a few years.

But on the other hand, I felt proud of him.  Lucien enjoyed that ride completely and was beaming when he finally came around the final turn.  He's always done things his own way, on his own time, regardless of what others are doing or want him to do.  It's an admirable trait, one that I have always (usually) loved about him, and hopefully one that will come in handy during adolescence.

And as Mom pointed out, "It really gave everyone a chance to check out the scenery on the way down!"  My mom is a cheerful optimist.

We took another couple rides after that first one and switched up the order so Grandma and Grandpa could also get some good fast rides down the mountain.  Coco rode with Grandpa and I rode behind The Loosh --

He got bolder, but only marginally --

No worries.  Keep on being yourself, kid.

We've still got well over two weeks left on the road.  I can't wait to see what else happens.

It's roadtrip heaven out here.


  1. Duct tape and road trips ROCK, and you are a bad*ss. Also, YOU HAVE GONE TO ALL OF MY CHILDHOOD BEST PLACES!! Woot woot! Casa Bonita food is just totally WRONG, but you cannot beat the sopapillas and honey nor the cliff diving: those things make it totally worth it. Plus, now you can feel like you are a part of an iconic South Park episode, so there's that.

    And the alpine slide I have been on several times in the decades since it was built. I think it opened when I was in Junior High, and I know it well. Also, some of my high school friends used to drive out to Heritage Square to get high (not me -- I waited for college, lol). Oh Golden. You are so memorable. :)

    I am so glad you are having fun in Denver. Too bad y'all can't move there, darnit. I know that you would miss Seattle (and have to change the blog name) but I know you would love it. :)

    Catch you during next year's road trip when you drive my way up here in NoCo. xoxo, Karin

  2. Oh my heart sank when the duct tape was not working as it would have been the first time I heard a fail duct tape story!!!!! Love your persistence. We also took the kids to Colorado on vacation years ago and Casa Bonita was a definite stop suggested by everyone that had ever been to Denver. We actually were seated almost directly across from the diver and the kids were fascinated. I also seem to remember a cave somewhere in there. I love how you and the kids just take off and fly down the road, I am kind of sad that thought never occurred to me and now it is way too late but also sad cuz I never would have been brave enough to do it. Kathy in Iowa

  3. Glad you are doing the annual roadtrip again!
    Love your post, thank you MJ!

  4. well..hello there MJ...can I just say your mom cracks me up....

    safe travels....can't believe how big the kids are getting.

    going to Paris in September...any old haunts you want me to walk by?

  5. M J I cannot wait to hear the rest of the tales....I read this a couple days ago but have been in a sh#t storm of house crap when it rains it you well know-what is the top speed the alpine cruiser attains- I would love to rip down that Mountain like nobody's busy I love that kinda have totally cool VAKAYS-enjoy the rest of life on the road!! I use telepathic messaging a lot--- it is not as reliable as I would like-I often say to people didn't get my mental telepathic message-communication at it's best!

  6. I had to tell you that this post was so well written that I read it aloud to my mom in Ikea in Seattle yesterday. You had perfect strangers laughing out loud over cups of free coffee and Swedish meatballs, while attracting the stares of grumpy looking people, frustrated in their searches items named Stornas and Snicklefoos. I am quite certain you now feel totally validated as a writer. You're welcome.
    It happens we took pretty much the same road trip over spring break with three boys in what may be the same model minivan. We covered 4000 miles in seven days and ended up in Colorado to visit my extended family. And we had similar car troubles. Ours was something flapping under the car, but instead of a happy squid, we got an angry "Fa Wump, Fa Wump, Fa Wump" every time we hit the right crosswind, which only increased in tempo if we tried to gain any speed. We also held the car together with repeated applications of duct tape. Sometimes, it's nice to know we aren't alone in the chaos that is our universe. :)

  7. Love this post! Previous commenters stole everything I was going to say, so I'll stop right here.