Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Like the aisles can't hold us

Lord Huron is a necessary soundtrack for blog posts about trips across the American Southwest

Let's go.

Life post-roadtrip is depressing.  Last week we were waking up to the stunning scenery of Monument Valley.  This week I'm waking up to the equally imposing yet not as inspiring monolith of laundry piled halfway up my closet wall.  That thing is insurmountable.  I'm considering leaving it there as a plaything for the kids, a soft yet slightly crunchy jungle gym emitting the faint aroma of sweat and desert and fun times past.

I am not spontaneous in my daily life.  On the contrary, since becoming adult-ish I like things planned, like to know what's coming around the corner.  I keep a Calendar That Must Be Obeyed and don't care for surprises. If you surprise me, my immediate impulse is to karate chop to the eye socket.

But I undergo a personality transformation on the road.  The planned itinerary says Canyonlands National Park but I'll wake up that morning and think, "not feeling that today, let's go to Monument Valley**."  It's a good feeling to wake up and know an infinite number of things are possible.  It's also good to know that spontaneous part of myself still exists, the part that can switch it up, listen to the inner stirrings that are telling her to f*ck that plan and bail.

**The Monument Valley-for-Canyonlands substitution really happened this time around and it was a fortuitous change of plans for a certain small dog.  More on her in a minute.

After our time in Denver, my parents joined us for a couple days at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The Great Sand Dunes are nature at its most confused.  Nature went and built itself some giant sand dunes in between some mountains and some wetlands.  Nature, go home, you're drunk!

The plan was to sled the dunes but we soon discovered the snow sleds I'd hauled from Seattle were useless on soft sand.  You could make it to the bottom but it was at a pace slower than Lucien on an alpine slide.  And that is pretty damn slow.

It looks thrilling.  It wasn't. 

A nearby shop rented "sand sleds" and that's when the fun really began --

Giving Grandma a shove on a heavily waxed sand sled.
Grandma flew then wiped out.  It was glorious.

The fun began, that is, until the fun ended, which is about the time Coco got sand in her eye.  The wind kicked up and began blowing sand around our legs, which felt to Coco like little sand knives stabbing her skin and rendering her life impossible to bear.  There was some crying, some blubbering, some sitting on the sand refusing to move.

We now say about the sand dunes, "they were really really fun until they weren't fun at all."

That's Coco, the little windbreaker-covered ball, refusing to live any longer until we made the wind stop.

We said goodbye to my sand-covered parents and drove onward to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Santa Fe is a special place, a favorite of my family for decades. It's full of art galleries, old adobe buildings and quirky characters -- like the guy who stood in front of the automatic doors of the grocery store and said, "OPEN SESAME" in a booming baritone whenever someone exited.  We also encountered a woman playing guitar and singing in the park.  She followed people as they walked past and sang more loudly if they didn't acknowledge her. Some tried to run but she ran after them with her guitar and sang even more loudly. She was very aggressive with her songs.

One thing I've never understood about Santa Fe is how a city centered around art and artists can be so expensive to live in.  Artists are not known for having millions of dollars on hand to buy a small adobe casita.  Are the rich people housing the artists in their garages?  Are artists living in caves just outside the city limits?  I hope the artists are getting enough to eat living on the fringes of the vibrant community they helped create.

An artist cannot afford this house.  
Actually, the vast majority of people cannot afford this house.

I spent a significant amount of time browsing the galleries of Santa Fe.  I was pegged as a serious buyer in every gallery I entered and schmoozed mercilessly, a rare occurrence.  I think it was because I was wearing a hat.

I love browsing art galleries but I hate talking to gallery employees about the art therein. When you're a serious hat-wearing art buyer, however, they want to talk to you a lot.  I rarely have the "right" words to discuss the art.  I often sound like an idiot.

If a gallery worker asks my opinion of a piece of art I'll usually conjure some gem like, "It's so blue and gloppy."  Or I'll say, "It looks like bubbles, so very whimsical" and the gallery person will respond, "He was actually commenting on the physical pain he feels taking his first breath each morning in a world full of bombs and starvation." and then I'm like, "Well, shit."

I would like to browse art galleries without being approached by people.  I only disappoint them.  Next time, I will not wear a hat.  I will wear denim overalls and Crocs.  That should buy me some gallery alone time for sure.

This is not a gallery.
It's Lucien at the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe.
Which I also love very much but don't wish to discuss.

"It's so blue and hole-y"

Alex met us in Santa Fe for the week.  We drove to the airport to pick him up in the middle of a hailstorm definitely sent from God to punish me for my earthly sins.  I stayed outwardly calm for the benefit of the kids but I was freaking out.  It sounded like an angry mob attacking with baseball bats.  The road was obscured by the mess of rain and hail pelting our car (which still bears hundreds of dents as a souvenir).  I was sure the windshield was about to shatter, causing me to drive off the road. We'd end up in a ditch with a bunch of artists who live there because they can't afford to live in Santa Fe.

We made it to the airport but not without getting reacquainted with God a few times.

After Alex arrived we did an overnight trip to Taos, New Mexico. I visited the Taos Pueblo 24 years ago on a family vacation.  It was one of the most formative experiences of my young life and led me to care deeply about the issues affecting today's Native Americans.  This early interest in social justice led me to Seattle after college to care for adults with developmental disabilities.

this place, man, this place

It's therefore not too far-fetched to say my visit to the Taos Pueblo at age 16 led me to this very day, this life, this exact chair I'm sitting in now while stuffing my face with yogurt covered raisins.  If I hadn't visited the pueblo back when I was young, I'd probably be stuffing my face with yogurt-covered people right now because I wouldn't care as much about them.

My kids were not as profoundly moved by the pueblo as I was but I'm going to fault their age and not their characters for that.  I will make them return year after year until they understand just how badly the Native Americans got screwed.

Coco, get back here and care

I have more to say about Taos.  I also said I would talk about the dog in Monument Valley but this post is getting long.  A three week road trip does not boil down nicely into one blog post.  Or, apparently, two.  It probably won't even work in three.  Regardless,  I'll return to finish the road tale soon.

In the meantime, I will return to a boring life full of drudgery.

False.  These people would never let that happen.  

This is us attending a Macklemore concert a few nights ago.  That's me on the left.  We got yelled at by stadium staff for standing in the aisle up next to the stage.  So we left that aisle and stood in a different aisle.  They found us there and yelled again but there were lots of aisles and we stood in them ALL.

Being aisle outlaws was, frankly, more entertaining than watching the show.  Macklemore, you lost us when you donned a David Bowie wig and sequined cape.  What the hell were you thinking.

We'll put our hands up like the aisles can't hold us.
Literally, the aisles can't hold you.
Get out of the aisles. You're a fire hazard.

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 waited.....at 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.