Where Am I?

Where am I?

That’s the question I’ve asked myself on waking this past year.

That probably happens to us as we get older, but I’m not that old. Yet.

“Where am I” came as a result of what seemed like constant traveling since June 2016.

IMG_8829A funeral, a birth, a reunion, a contract, another birth, an illness, a visit, more visits, a hospital stay, a conference or two, grandbaby sitting, visits, a 60th anniversary celebration, more visits, oh, and an eclipse. That briefly sums up most of the reasons for my going and going and going. A few times I stayed put. Six weeks were the longest I stayed anywhere and even there I left and returned on short stints.

At least half, or more, of every month our house sat empty, except for the occasional scorpion wandering through or a random spider spinning lies.  I was gone so much that we debated moving, on a permanent basis, out-of-state. But the stars didn’t align and it never felt right.

When I was away from home I missed my bed, my friends, my routine. But when I rfullsizeoutput_5eeturned I was anxious to leave again. The emptiness of a vacant house can wear on a person. And by vacant, I mean empty of people, not things.

I got in a bunch of amazing hikes though and a couple of campouts. I hiked in the snow as well as in the heat, but most importantly, in the mountains.

I experienced winter, which I haven’t done in decades. It’s a fun novelty when you know you don’t have to endure the full six months of it. Well, it’s fun unless your flight gets cancelled due to the weather and it’s nearly Christmas and company is due at your house that day while you’re in another state. Good times. But then, that resulted in a side trip to see my cousin, which was an unexpected bonus.

Through it all I learned to relish my personal space. Airplanes don’t lend themselves to emotional comfort if you’re an introvert with a fairly expansive personal bubble. (And an expansive backside.) And yet, on the other hand, I learned to cherish hugs and physical touch and actually being in the same room with the people you love. Phone calls and texts and video chats are great, but none of that compensates for the real thing.

IMG_8997I drove a few times to my far off destination. A debate still runs in my head if road trip or air trip is more comfortable, emotionally and physically. Eleven hours in a car can race by if you have an engaging audio book to keep your mind occupied.

Those people who travel as part of their job are troopers. Kudos to them for waking up in a different hotel, city, country, or hovel.

MSH has traveled for work most of our married life. I thought he had the kushy part of that deal, since he left me with the kids and went off to work (and sleep) without constant interruptions and demands. He’d fly home every few weekends to visit us. Until this year I didn’t realize what a drag air travel can become. Until this year I didn’t appreciate all he’d gone through living alone, living away, living out of a suitcase.

I love that man more than ever before after this year’s experiences. I’d prefer keeping our traveling to trips we take together.

fullsizeoutput_5eOf course, I’ve got to book a flight today for a trip next month. It’s definitely one I’m looking forward to as it involves some of the grands. So when I told a friend I was done traveling, I guess I only meant temporarily.

If home is where my heart is, then I’ve been home this entire past year. My heart is always with MSH. My heart is with my children and grandchildren. My heart is with my parents and siblings. My heart pounds right here in my chest reminding me to live and love life where I stand. No matter where that is.

So, where am I?

I am home.


“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ~ Ursula Le Guin

Categories: Family, Relationships, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Open Letter to That Motorcycle Dude In the Hotel Laundry Room

Dear Motorcycle Dude in the hotel laundry room,

It’s been over a month since I ran into you at that hotel a couple hours outside Yellowstone Park and you’re still on my mind. I thought perhaps if I wrote you a letter it might clear my head, or at least sort out my thoughts.

I don’t normally wash laundry at hotels, in fact, this is the first time ever. I didn’t even know hotels had a laundry room that guests could use. Pretty handy.

Clearly I startled you more than you surprised me. I was just standing there with my laundry bag of whites waiting for the single washing machine to finish its cycle, wondering who else in the fully booked hotel needed to throw in a load. I figured whoever it was would be in shortly and I’d just wait rather than wandering back to the room. You walked in just as the cycle on the washer ended, which was dang good timing, if you ask me.

When you walked in with your face turned away from me and toward the washer I thought you were a woman with your long wavy hair. But I was wrong. When I caught a glimpse of your face the beard gave it away.

I said something dumb like, “Wow, good timing there.” And you about jumped out of your shorts. Obviously you hadn’t seen me when you walked in. If the situation had been reversed I’d have probably fainted.

800px-yamaha_fzs600_fazer_rj02“Oh, hey,” you said, sounding all cool and collected, as you gathered up your clean wet clothes and tossed them into the only dryer. You threw out a conversation starter with,  “I road my bike up from Cali. There’s a bunch of us. Been up in Yellowstone.” You reached into the washer a little further.  “Man it’s crowded up there.”

“Yeah,” I said, trying to sound cool myself. “I’ve been wanting to get back up to Yellowstone but I figure I’d try to go after the crowds settle out, maybe after Labor Day, in September.” In my head I knew it’d be pretty dang cold already in September, but that’d be the best time to go for someone who doesn’t like traffic and crowds like me. I don’t like the cold either, but it’s the lesser of the three evils.

“It was nice. Glad I went.” You settled your quarters into the coin slots and pushed in the lever, and started up the dryer. “All yours,” you said with a smile.

“Thanks. Nice meeting ya,” I replied.

“Same here,” you replied. And you were out the door and down the hall.

I started my load of washing, adding the miniature box of laundry powder MSH had gotten at the front desk, pushed in my own quarters and levers, and set my phone timer.

Half an hour later, when I went back to the tiny laundry room the washer hadn’t finished its cycle yet. So, once again I stood there waiting. The dryer was still tumbling a load dry, too. A couple minutes later you walked in and said, “hey!” like we were old friends.

“Hey there,” I said back.

electric_clothes_dryerAs you were pulling out your dried clothes you offered up this surprisingly personal information, “I have a couple twenty year old boys. One of em has a baby, dang kid. “

“Sweet!” I said.

“Yeah,” you answered, stopping with your laundry gathering for a moment. Then you added this gem, “I can be standing there at work getting yelled at by some plumber and my phone will ding with a text. “ Then you held your hand up like you’re telling a guy to hold that thought a second. Then you go on. “I’ll look at my text on the phone,” and here you held up an imaginary cell phone, ” and there’s a picture of the baby. Just then I could care less what I’m getting yelled at for. My face breaks into a smile. Man!” And your eyes lit up like how I feel when I’m with my own grand babies.

“Grandkids are the best, aren’t they?” I answered. “Makes it all worthwhile.”

“No kidding!” you said as you gathered your laundry into both arms. I grabbed the door handle and pulled it open for you. “Thanks!” you said as you made your way down the hall.

I gathered my wet laundry from the washer and tossed it into the dryer wondering why you chose to tell me about your sons and a grand baby. I don’t think you mentioned if it was a girl or boy. I wish I’d asked to see a picture. Dang it!

I felt lucky to have heard about this small joy in your life. I have no idea even what your name is or what part of California you’re from. I think the juxtaposition of a “motorcycle dude” as a softhearted dad and grandpa just caught me off guard. It shouldn’t have. After all, my son rides a motorcycle, and he’s one of the nicest guys I know.

I definitely have a tendency of putting people in categories, not as a judgmental thing, just as a way of simplifying life. If I think of every single person as a complicated, intricate puzzle of relationships and feelings I might get overwhelmed by worry, or love or responsibility or concern, but maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I’d just be happier and more open to possibilities.

Thank you for sharing that tiny bit of information about a huge part of your life. You opened my eyes and heart. Every time I see someone on a motorcycle now, I smile. And I wonder how they are and who they are.

From now on, when I see a motorcyclist, I’d like it to remind me not to box people into categories so quickly. Sure, people can be messy and complicated, but they can also bring such sweetness and light.

motorcycle-safety-signHey, you stay safe out there, especially on those California highways. I wish people in cars would be more careful, y’know, look twice, pay better attention. I’d hate to have anything bad happen to you.


With affection,

The lady in the laundry room,








Categories: Being Human, People, Transportation, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dream, Dream, Dream

When I have a dream that I’m sleeping and dreaming, then I invariably wake up disoriented and discombobulated.

I visit a recurring place in some of my dreams; a distinct and definite building and architecture that molds itself to what the dream wants to show me. I recognize hallways, passages, doors, exterior landscapes. Although new rooms and wings appear frequently, it’s all the same place. Whatever goes on there I find myself thinking through it for the entire day, sometimes two days. It’s a shadow of a real place I once belonged in, a place of unfinished business and unresolved issues. I wake knowing my brain wants desperately to make sense of something. What that something is, often remains a mystery, no matter how much pondering I engage in.

Trying to go two directions as once. Like trying to be in two places at the same time?

Trying to go two directions at once. Like trying to be in two places at the same time?

Waking from those particular dreams takes more time than usual. The gauzy strings of a cobweb have draped themselves around me. I pull and peel layers away for an hour or two until I’m fully conscious, fully me again.

Traveling feels a bit like that. I’ve lived in and inhabited a place, a world, a new daily paradigm. I’ve settled in, somehow brought and left the old me and routines behind. A few days, a week, or longer, being somewhere else changes things, changes the chemistry of me. Then a long drive or the processing from one airport to another, like a dream, lands me waking and dazed in my same old world.

I’m hesitant to take up normal. Reluctant to engage in the daily usual. I no longer fit in neatly because something interior and exterior has changed and no longer quite belongs.

I spend a day in limbo. Between where I’ve been and where I am lies reality. Neither There nor Here feels right.

I need a way station. A temporary place to process the changes, the newness, the experiences of the past week.

Perhaps that’s what my dreams are.

A debriefing, is that the term they use? Yes, that sounds right.

Maybe a whole day of debriefing, of writing and thinking, then more writing, will help me process, file, assimilate, settle in. Maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll continue to hover between two worlds, with a third world calling to me.

For now, I think I’ll just go back to sleep. After all, a little nap couldn’t hurt anything.

The hands of this "timepiece" move both directions, forward and backward. Hmmm, could be handy.

The hands of this “timepiece” move both directions, forward and backward. Hmmm, could be handy.



Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Sainted Mechanic of Rio Caballo

In recent news: “Pope Francis cleared two of the 20th century’s most influential popes to become saints, approving a miracle needed to canonize Pope John Paul II and waiving Vatican rules to honor Pope John XXIII.”-By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

Saint Bonaventure Window

With such generosity and goodwill wafting about I’ve come up with my own candidate for Sainthood. Whether or not he receives approval by the Pope or anyone else for that matter, is of little consequence. In fact, he isn’t Catholic, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be off the list on the first round. To me, this man is a true Saint by any measure.

He has performed miracles, uses his great gifts to bless the lives of many, brought the dead back to life, and brought hope to countless numbers whose hope wavered, flickered and nearly flamed out.

Who is this man and why haven’t we read about him in the news? Ah, for two good reasons.

1) he is humble and unassuming

2) he is my mechanic

Yes, you’re reading this correctly. I’m praising the man who repairs my vehicles. He deserves high praise, in fact.

How often does a mechanic receive such accolades? Rarely, I can tell you that. We’ve had some doozies when it comes to car repairs. A few mechanics in the past obviously thought we owned a money-tree orchard. If that were true we wouldn’t be driving fifteen-year old cars around, would we? I suppose desperation drives (cough) people to do ridiculous things and spend food and rent money to keep a car running. Unlike some shysters we have encountered in the past, our mechanic is honest, direct and helpful with reason and sanity.

This guy is amazing.

  • He makes house calls.
  • If the problem with the truck or car is something that MSH or my son can reasonably repair, saving us the cost of labor, he’s happy to explain the process, suggest places to find the parts needed at a decent price and answer questions if they come up.
  • More times than I care to count, he has resurrected a car past the “stinketh” stage.
  • He has taken mercy on us on occasion and moved our sole working car to the head of the line of cars outside his backyard shop.
  • Widows often have repairs done at little or no cost, because he can. What a good guy!
  • If it isn’t repairable, he’ll say so, flat-out. “Dude, you need to get a different car. Sorry to have to break it to you.”
  • Car repair isn’t his first job. It’s a kind of hobby/second job/good Samaritan thing he does.
mechanic with car

(Photo credit: anyjazz65)

Alas, I looked up the requirements for canonization (i.e. becoming a saint) here and it doesn’t look good so far. Candidates must be deceased and my mechanic remains very much alive and rolling. Thank goodness, ’cause we’d be lost without him.

On the other hand, he has led an exemplary life, blesses others daily and has no skeletons in his closet or his tool chest, which are other requirements he clearly meets astoundingly well. He is a man of integrity and generosity and knowledge, a perfect combination in a businessman and a gentleman.

Countless car miracles have occurred to which we and others will gladly bear witness. Lame, maimed, nearly dead, completely dead, gasping, choking, smoking, he has dealt with and cured or at least temporarily revived many a sad car in its day. Surely a few minor rules could slide to allow a non-Catholic some well-deserved Sainthood.

Personally I’d love to reside where I could get by without a car. But for where we live and what we do, it isn’t terribly realistic. Maybe someday we’ll live in a tiny town where I can ride a bike everywhere I need to go. Or a big town where public transportation is convenient, on-time and reliable.

In the meantime, our mechanic will remain, anonymously, The Sainted Mechanic of Rio Caballo.

Categories: Humor, Transportation, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In the Clutches of Independence

Nearly sixteen.


That meant getting a driver’s license. Which meant learning to drive.

Which meant learning to drive the vehicles my parent’s owned.

Dually or Van?

Parked in our driveway was a dual-wheel Clydesdale of a truck that had, in its former life, been a flatbed hay-hauling workhorse. Dad painstakingly and lovingly sculpted that behemoth into a very useful vehicle with a bed that contained the dual wheels within it, not jutting out like most trucks with four back tires. It was brown and big and serious.

Then there was the VW van. Classic. Red, with a skiff of white along the roofline, it was like driving a putt-putt car. Lots of room for all us kids, cold in the winter, probably got great mileage. The heater on it was pretty much useless in the snowy below-zero temperatures we had all winter long, so Dad had installed a small gas heater that vented to the outside, just behind the driver’s seat. Clever, that Dad of mine.

The Sweet Spot

English: Diagram of a Manual gear layout (4-sp...

Both vehicles had one thing in common. A stick shift, also known as a manual transmission. That meant understanding the workings of the combustible engine just enough to know when to push in the clutch with my left foot as I eased up on the gas with my right foot, wrangled the long shaft into the mystically correct position for the next gear up or down, and miraculously moved forward. Reverse, ironically, was the easiest gear to find. Finding the sweet spot of the gear I needed was usually an exercise in frustration.

Add in that we lived in the foothills, so that nearly every road was at an incline and learning to drive was adventurous, to say the least.

The Ins and Outs and Ups and Downs

Geared so low, I had to start that truck out out in second gear, even on hills. Memorizing the position of the gears, what pattern they lay in was not easy. Then manipulating that long stick into place to actually be in a gear was another trick. The truck required less finesse than the van. In fact, it almost needed a kick, like a horse to get it to settle into the correct gear. I sat at more than one intersection, engaged in a fight with that stick shift, often nearly in tears.

The van seemed easier to get the stick into place, but required more gas and quicker left foot action to get the clutch to engage. I was more confident driving that van. More certain of being able to get to where I was going without killing the engine, without grinding the gears, without embarrassment. It was a much easier car to drive. Sometimes too easy.

T2a Early Bay

(Photo credit: kenjonbro)

Not long after getting my license I was bringing a couple of  “Icee” slushes home from the Seven-eleven when one tipped over on the floor. (No cup holders back then.) I leaned over to pick up the spilled cup, while the van was still in motion.  Not a smart move, ever.

When I looked up a mailbox was coming at me. I swerved, just clipping the mailbox pole and ended up, luckily, settling the two-thousand pound hunk of metal I was driving into a bushy fir-tree, thick to the ground with soft branches and needles. I had knocked the mailbox off the pole. I got out, set the miraculously undamaged box on top of the pole, checked for damage to the van, and seeing none, drove home. I was lucky. Never told anyone about that. Until now.

I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has passed by now

After that I was a fully engaged, eyes-on-the-road-at-all-times driver. Careful, aware of the scary amount of weight and potential destruction I sat perched on.

Since those two vehicles, I haven’t had the chance to drive many other manual transmissions. It’s a skill that’s extremely handy. I can drive either automatic or manual and I’m proud of it. Relatively few people know how to do that anymore.

There’s something very freeing, controlling the rate and timing of the gears shifting in a car you’re driving. It’s a race-car kind of sensation. The sense of control, speed, and power is exhilarating. That car sound little kids make when they play with their toy trucks is the sound of a car shifting gears. RRRRRRRRRR….rrrrrrr….RRRrrrrr. That’s the sound you’ll hear on a race track.

To a sixteen-year-old driver that’s the sound of freedom.

Categories: Memory Lane, Traffic, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Guest Post: Can You Say Stranded with a Country-Western Drawl? (#2)

Song lyrics often have unusual roots.  One of my daughter’s penciled the lyrics to a song once, while we were stranded, after another one of our infamous car breakdowns. She even put the lyrics to music, which our family and a few of our friends have been privileged to hear over and over again. Unfortunately,  it’s never been recorded.  You’ll have to imagine your own tune to go with the delightful word stylings of this charming child.

As her perspective is unique, quirky and more entertaining than mine., I naturally, I asked my daughter to guest post this particular tale of being stranded. She’s available for interviews, guest appearances and autographs every other Thursday.

Please enjoy Leanne LeCheminant’s version of Another Stranded Tale of Insanity, Silliness, and Misery:

“If you are a devoted reader of Kami’s blog (or MeeMa, as I affectionately call her), then you are well acquainted with the fact that my family has no shortage of car trips.  We also have had more than our share of crappy cars.

Crappy cars + lots of car trips = lots of crappy car trip stories.

Blessedly, most unfortunately, since I have been married, I haven’t been able to participate in nearly as many memorable family car trips, which may explain why all of my car trip memories are kind of blurred together; it’s been so long.  Or maybe it’s because most of them occurred along the same route between Arizona and Utah.  Or maybe it’s because there’s just been so many of them, and they’ve all been so endless, insane, and 97% of the time they involve being stranded.

English: view of the Monument Valley, Between ...

View of the Monument Valley, Between Arizona and Utah. We don’t really drive through here ever, but some parts of our trip look similar to this dry, arid landscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(It’s funny: when discussing car trips with my family, one of us will inevitably ask, “Wait, was that the trip where we were stranded in (insert remote location in the vast desert of northern AZ/southern UT) or (insert other remote location in the vast desert of northern AZ/southern UT)?”)

There is one trip in particular however, that will be forever seared in my brain, maybe because we actually WEREN’T making the exodus between Arizona and Utah.  No, this car trip was much more local.  It was a camping trip just outside Payson, Arizona.  From our humble abode in the suburban east valley of Arizona, Payson is only about two hours away, a breeze compared to the 11 to 15 hour journey to Utah.

I was probably around ten or twelve, and  I’m pretty sure it was the middle of summer.  My dad, being the wilderness man that he is and always-eager to escape the 115 frillion degree heat of an Arizona summer, announced that he was going camping, and whoever wanted to come was welcome.  My mom of course joined in, craving the familiar smell of pine and fresh mountain air, as well as myself and my younger sister.

After loading our older white Mazda Van with gear, we piled in and headed out.  We blasted the air conditioner and slowly cooled down as we left the greater Phoenix area.  After about a half hour though, Dad switched off the AC.

Yet again the Land Rover overheats in the desert

A familiar scene on our road trips. (Photo credit: Steve & Jemma Copley)

“Hey, why’d you turn it off?” I complained.

“The car’s starting to overheat.  We’re going to give it a break.”

I groaned.  I knew (still know) approximately 0.4% about cars, but I had had plenty of experience with the word “overheat.”  I said a silent prayer that our trusty Van would carry us through.

My prayer must have bounced off the drooping fabric ceiling though, because one very miserable and  sweaty hour later, we had to stop at a gas station in Payson.  The car was smoking, the engine was completely overheated, and there was no way we’d be able to trek up the ever-steepening inclined roads to our desired remote camping location, probably another half hour to an hour away.  Conveniently, there was an auto shop right next to the gas station.

“Kami, why don’t you take the girls inside where it’s cool and get some drinks,” my dad said.  “I’ll take it next door to get it checked out.”

English: Texaco Petrol Station in Poá (São Pau...

NOT the actual Texaco we stopped at. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The three of us eagerly jumped out of the car and collectively sighed in relief as the wave of cool air washed over us as we walked in.  When the door opened it let out an electronic signal, sounding like a door bell: “Ding-dong.”

We got a couple of bottles of soda and sat down at a table in the snack area, cooling off and watching the heat undulate off the asphalt outside.

My sister and I, being as young as we were, quickly got bored.  The gas station was pretty busy, customers in and out, and the door kept ringing, “Ding dong” every time it opened.  Every time it would “ding-dong” I would respond by singing the corresponding part of a song from the movie, The Wizard of Oz: “The witch is dead!”  Now, the gas station was pretty busy, so the number of my responses of “The witch is dead!” piled up quick.  So did my younger sister’s annoyance.

“Arrrrrrgh, Leanne, shut UP!”

Of course this just egged me on, and I would laugh and then whisper it, but still loud enough for her to hear:


ME (whispering): The witch is dead! *giggle giggle*

LITTLE SISTER: Leanne, shut UP!

I think it was my Mom’s brilliant idea to distract me by suggesting I write a song about our adventure.  She pulled a paper napkin out of the dispenser, slapped it in front of me with a pencil and said, “I’m going to go see how the car’s doing.  You two stay here.”

My sister gave her a look as if to say, “Really, you’re going to leave me here with her?!?!?” but I just grinned.  My wheels were already turning.

The ONE AND ONLY ORIGINAL someday-worth-millions NAPKIN.

The ONE AND ONLY ORIGINAL someday-worth-millions NAPKIN.

Over the next hour or so, I penned my one and only undiscovered top-of-the-charts, platinum-award-winning country song, on a napkin, with a pencil, at a gas station:

STRANDED IN PAYSON (copyrighted 2001 ish)
Stranded in Payson in a Texaco, by the side of the road.
Five thirty on a Friday afternoon.
And every time a customer walks into the store
the door rings ding dong.
So I say:
Ding dong the witch is dead
ding dong the witch is dead
ding dong the car is dead toooooo
and I wish that I was dead
just like the witch and the car.
Yes, ding dong the witch is dead.
Ma ‘n Pa went to go check on the car,
but I’m pretty sure that it’s still dead.
My sis and I are so bored we’re playing with bottle caps
and a customer just walked in through the door.
So I sing:
Ding dong the witch is dead,
ding dong the witch is dead!
Ding dong the car is dead tooooo.
And I wish that I was dead
just like the witch and the car.
Yes, ding dong the witch is dead.
Cuz bein’ dead would be much better 
than bein’ stranded
in Payson
in a Texacoooooooo-oh-woah-woah
ding dong the witch is dead!
Ding dong the car is dead toooooo!
And I wish that I was dead,
just like the witch and the car.
Yes, ding dong the witch is dead.
Stranded in Payson in a Texaco
by the siiiiiiiiide of
the roooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooad.

[Definitely an award winning song, don’t ya’ think?]

After a couple of hours at the car shop, our little Van was ready and rarin’ to go.

Looking up at the Mogollon Rim east of Payson ...

Looking up at the Mogollon Rim east of Payson Arizona (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Napkin in hand, song completed, my future stardom in country music ensured, we hopped in. I bid a fond farewell to my beloved Texaco, and miraculously, we even made it to a camping spot before it got dark.

Camping was relaxing and enjoyable, and we got home okay, as I recall, so of course we all said, “We’ll have to do this again sometime!”

(Oh and yes, I know I totally could have been the next Taylor Swift.  But I wisely decided to forego the celebrity lifestyle.  Just way too much riches and fame for me).”

Categories: Family, Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s Gratituesday! Thank Goodness for Trusty Dusty

For the past three years I’ve driven a Toyota extended cab pickup truck. I don’t know the name of the model, or even the year. Here’s a photo of it. That should give you an idea of the year. Ish.

Trusty Dusty

As you can see, it’s not a newer model vehicle.

In fact, I was recently transporting several teenage girls one evening in it. As we pulled into traffic I rolled my window down, meaning, I turned the crank handle to open the window.

“What they heck did you just do?” one of the twelve-year olds said in disbelief.  “Did you just open the window by turning something?”

“This is a really, really old car isn’t it?” another one said.

Stunned into momentary silence I shook my head. I suppose the truck is probably older than those girls are. Strange thought.

I considered referring to the Flintstone’s foot-powered vehicles, but knew they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

But wait, there’s more!

My truck also has a cassette-tape player that works!  Luckily, the teens in my car didn’t notice that bit of antique hardware. I might have to show them next time we go somewhere. Won’t they be overwhelmed with awe! More likely they’ll be completely convinced of my total lack of coolness.

There’s also a back seat that holds three people with smallish legs. It’s only a two-door truck though, so getting back there takes some maneuvering and flexibility.

When I start the engine on this vehicle, you can hear it!  How’s that for amazing?

Sometimes when I drive my best buddy Kathy somewhere in her van, I inadvertently try to start it when it’s already running!  Oops. If I can’t hear the engine I assume I need to start it. That’s how mine works.

Her van, a newish one with power windows, power locks, powertrain warranty, and some get up and go is a delight to drive. In her van I can make left hand turns with ease and speed. In her van I merge onto the freeway without any puffs of smoke coming out the exhaust pipe.

My truck drives more like its get up and go has got up and went.  It wants to think about picking up speed. There’s some hesitation in its idling. If the AC is running while I’m stopped at a light, the cool air will stop and warm air will blow instead. Kind of temperamental, wouldn’t you say?

Is it wise to name your vehicle?

Kathy has named my little truck ‘Trusty Dusty.’ She named her van  ‘Chocolate.’  I’m a little jealous. But both names fit. Hers is smooth and delightful. Mine looks like it needs a wash all the time. In spite of its slowness and well-used looks, it gets me where I need to go.

I don’t usually take Kathy anywhere in Trusty Dusty because the shocks aren’t very absorbent, or whatever they need  to provide a smooth ride. Her bones can’t take hits from bumpy roads like my truck offers. So if her van is available, we drive that. (Well, I drive, she rides, let’s be clear about that, since as I wrote about in this past blog post, she shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car.)

We do own another car, but it decided to give out last week. It’s been on the brink for a while. In fact the mechanic had said, “don’t take it out-of-town, always have a cell phone with you and just drive it until it drops, then buy something else.” Three drivers, three work schedules, one vehicle makes for tricky math, but we manage. We have before.

I like my little truck. It’s handy. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve hauled stuff in it. Beds, appliances, camping gear, wedding decorations, food, top soil, bikes, plants, potting soil, water barrels, rocks, college kid supplies, moving boxes, even catering supplies and meals. It’s been ‘worth its weight in gold’ on many occasions. (I suppose if that cliché were really true I’d own some spiffy newer model year kicking it into high gear dual wheel truck with shiny all over it.)

Yup, that's over 200,000 miles your reading.

Yup, that’s over 200,000 miles your reading.

We thought last year that it was time to retire Trusty. I was sad and forlorn about it. Then my son decided he might be able to perform surgery on it and bring it back to life.  Our driveway looked a bit like Frankenstein’s laboratory for a few weeks. (Much to the HOA’s chagrin.) A spider took up residence between a wheel and the edge of the driveway. It thought it had found a permanent home, no doubt. But tools, skills, the internet, perseverance and desperation won out and Trusty revived for another 15,000 miles or more.

Sure I’d like to drive something sleek and shiny with a state of the art sound system, and all the bells and whistles. But that’s not really in the budget, nor has it ever been.  We paid cash for Trusty, so no monthly payments. That’s a nice bonus. Maybe someday I’ll drive something admirable and more reliable. Or maybe not. I’m just glad I have some means of transportation with AC for the desert heat.

Luckily, I can simply keep on keeping on! For the time being.

Categories: Humor, Traffic, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watch for Wolves, Or Cows

Long road trips seem to bring out the weirdness in our family. Things that we wouldn’t normally laugh at take on humor of epic proportions. I blame it on the monotony and the weird snack combinations that we bring along.

We left extra early one morning, and by extra early I don’t mean planning to leave by six and actually leaving by ten. I mean early, like the car is already packed and gassed up and all we have to do is stumble out to the car with our pillows and make sure to lock the front door . It was so early the garbage trucks hadn’t started their rounds. It was so early we could tell North by the stars for three or four hours. I wanted to arrive before dark, so that meant leaving while it was still dark.

We had actually left the night before, about five p.m. Not a really wise move. That’s rush hour. That’s the sun blasting holes into your retinas the entire time you’re driving west in rush hour so that you can’t read the signs and you miss your exit to turn north out of the burning laser beams. Once we reached open road we discovered that the car we were driving and the removable car top cargo box weren’t very compatible. At sixty-five MPH the thing let out a high-pitched brain-vibrating mind-numbing keening wail.

I figured we’d adjust to the noise, that after just a bit we wouldn’t even notice it. But what happened was we couldn’t carry on normal conversation. We had to yell at each other. And that was before we had even reached the irritation stage of the drive. I popped in some tunes on our cassette player and cranked the volume. The whistle and the music weren’t in the same key and we could barely hear the music. I soon saw that we’d lose our minds before we even got half way to our destination. We would either have to leave the car top cargo box on the side of the road or go home. We went home. In rush hour traffic still.

Once home, four hours after we’d started out, we repacked the car, without the bonus luggage carrier on top. It was a tight fit but it was doable. By then I was too aggravated to drive safely and it was late. We got some sleep and woke at 3:00 a.m. to leave.

Sleep deprived children are great on a drive, because they sleep or doze or star blankly at the scenery. When it’s too dark to see any scenery things stay quiet. There are no fights and no whining about who gets to sit in the front seat. Bathroom breaks are fewer and further apart. My mind is free to wander, imagine, remember, get into the flow of the driving.

Español: Lobo en el zoo de Kolmården (Suecia).

Lobo en el zoo de Kolmården (Suecia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About three hours into our drive, with only eight left, morning was beginning to stir. A paleness in the eastern sky was creeping over the landscape. Those odd pre-morning shadows were everywhere. It’s a kind of magical hour between light and dark, my favorite time of the day, even in a car. I looked over my daughter in the front seat beside me who seemed awake but mesmerized or hypnotized or maybe asleep with her eyes open. I smiled but didn’t say anything, not wanting to disturb the quiet. I looked into my rear view mirror at my other daughter but couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or closed. She was probably deep into dreamland.

My shoulders relaxed, my hands rested lightly on the steering wheel. This would turn out to be a good trip. No flats, no car problems, no road closures or detours, no major fights between the two kids.

A few minutes later, from the back seat, my youngest daughter yawned and stretched. Then she asked, “Are those wolves?”

I thought she must be dreaming. “What did you say?” I asked.

“Are those wolves?” she repeated, “in that field over there.”

I looked to the right into an open meadow dotted with a few pine trees. It was still a bit dark, but the shapes she was referring to were fairly clear.

“Those are cows,” I replied, stifling a laugh.

“Are you sure, cuz they look like wolves,” she said.

And then my other daughter chimed in, “yeah, those are wolves that say ‘moo.'” And then she laughed her slightly deranged maniacal laugh.

“Well, they look like wolves to me!” my youngest shot back!

“Moooooooooo!” the oldest howled like a wolf.


Cattle (Photo credit: CameliaTWU)

“Oh, shut up!” was the reply. She shifted in her seat, covered her head with the pillow and went back to sleep.

We kept driving.

The sun kept its schedule and rose slowly sending a basking glow of coral over the landscape. The car was silent except for the hum of the engine and the sound of the tires on the pavement.

“Look!” my oldest daughter said, pointing out the window at a herd of cattle. “Wolves!” And she laughed her maniacal laugh again.

“&#$^%&**” replied my younger daughter from under her pillow.

And thus began the longest part of the drive.

Every, single, time, that we passed some cows my oldest daughter would pipe up, “Look, Wolves!” and the youngest would reply with aggravation lacing her words, “Shut. Up!”

I had no idea there were so many herds of cows in the western United States. They’re everywhere. About every five miles, in fact. And if it isn’t a herd, it’s a single steer standing beside a fence or in a stream bed, or alongside the road.

Cows everywhere. “Wolves!”

And horses. If there were horses, the oldest daughter would yell, “Look, foxes!”

After only six hours my youngest daughter began to see the humor in her early morning mistaken identifying of cows versus wolves. But she still replied with anger and frustration in her voice. I begged the oldest to stop, but she seemed intent on milking it for all it was worth.

The last two hours of the drive, the youngest daughter would sometimes secretly laugh, but not enough to quell the oldest daughters enthusiasm for pointing out the “wolves.”

There were wolf sightings for the twelve hour return trip as well. We should have driven in the dark.

We laugh about it more now than we did then.

I think the only time we’ve ever really seen a wolf was at the zoo. And then, of course, my oldest daughter said, “Oh, look! Cows!”

Categories: Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How Many Ways Can You Say Stranded? #1

Before cell phones were commonplace, before cell phone towers dotted the country like stars dot the sky, car problems were trickier to negotiate.

Nowadays, if you have car issues, you whip out your trusty phone, call AAA or whatever service you pay for towing and flat tires, and within hours you’re on your way again.

Not that many years ago, it wasn’t that simple.

Driving North with two of my young daughters we crossed the Reservation, enjoying the strange and changing scenery, when the Honda van we were in started hesitating. That particular stretch of road was only two lanes, with a narrow shoulder. I pushed down the panicky feeling and watched for a pullout area, which was usually only the size of a car and just inches from the roaring traffic.

Vermilion Cliffs from Kaibab Plateau overlook ...

Vermilion Cliffs from Kaibab Plateau overlook  (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

As the van sputtered and lurched forward, I put on my emergency flashers, hoping there’d be time for the cars behind me to slow down before plowing into our backside. Fortunately, the next pullout we chugged up to was actually one of those spots built to accommodate sales of Native American trinkets, jewelry and fry bread. There were no people, and no cars, just us, the wind, and an occasional scuttle of clouds overhead.

I popped the hood and looked inside. I checked out the parts I knew about. Oil levels. Coolant levels. Loose belts. Battery terminals. We had plenty of gas since I’d filled up in Flagstaff. All appeared as it should.

Maybe the car just needed a bit of rest. We got out the snacks, had some water, explored the nearby sagebrush and torn up barbed wire fencing. Half an hour later, we all climbed back into the van and I started it back up. Everything sounded fine. So off we went. Ten minutes later, the chugging and spluttering began again only worse. Again I looked for a pullout.

This time we rolled into a large pullout with a Semi truck and trailer parked. I felt lucky thinking I could simply ask the trucker for help. Or at the very least, he could put out a call on his CB radio and send a tow truck. But as far as my knocking could tell, there was no one in there. More than likely, the trucker had crawled into the sleeping nook and was catching some Zz’s.

My next option was a quarter-mile hike to what looked like a tiny settlement, a small church, some kind of housing structures, a dirt path between them. And best of all, a thick wire hanging from the church to one of the buildings, indicating electricity or phone service. What I found was a solitary, ancient grandmotherly figure inside the open doorway of one of the huts who didn’t speak English. I did my best sign language for indicating the need for a telephone and she did her best to let me know I was up a creek without a paddle.

I hiked back to the van. We had plenty of water and food in our ice chest. So the heat wouldn’t be a problem. But what to do?

The girls were coloring on some paper they’d brought for getting through the boredom of the long drive. I decided to make a sign. “Please call AAA” it said in large block letters. Then I taped it, using their stickers, to the back of the van. Forty five minutes later a couple of women in a red convertible stopped to get our story, check on our status and offer to call a tow truck for us when they got to Flagstaff.

Hours later a tow truck lumbered into the pullout where we sat bored beyond all reason. It was nearing evening and I was relieved to not have to spend the night on the side of the road.

English: A car being loaded onto a flatbed tow...

A car being loaded onto a flatbed tow truck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The driver filled out some paperwork and then proceeded to hook our van up with a thick chain. Then he lowered the back-end of his truck at an angle and was ready to pull it up on the bed of the truck, which would then level out. He looked at the three of us and said, “you’ll have to ride in the van, I don’t have room in my truck up front.”

My heart nearly stopped. Surely that wasn’t safe. Or legal.

“Are you sure? I could hold one of the girls on my lap,” I replied, desperation in my voice.

“We do it this way all the time,” was his only reply. Conversation over.

Next thing we knew we found ourselves perched high atop the back of a tow truck, a stellar view of the sunset, the reddening cliffs and the heart stopping path ahead. A winding road barely clinging to the side of the cliffs.

As we proceeded up the cliff, the tow truck sputtered, the driver down shifted, the gears made a horrific grinding sound, and I was sure we would plummet in a fiery mass down to the bottom.

It was all too terribly reminiscent of another cliff side drive I had endured.

All the way up the mountain the gears ground and roared and argued with the driver. I told the girls to pray. I prayed like I’d never prayed in my life. Being stranded overnight on the side of the road seemed like a better alternative at that point.

After the longest ride I’d ever endured in a vehicle, we finally, miraculously made it to the closest town for hundreds of miles. The driver dropped us off at one of dozens of motels, our suitcases dragging pitifully behind us. He dropped the van off in the parking lot at the back. I was on my own to find a mechanic the next morning.

Oddly, the mechanic could find nothing wrong. We drove it around town, out on the open highway and back to the motel and it behaved perfectly.

“Probably some bad gas you got in Flagstaff,” he concluded. He was kind enough not to charge me for his time or his opinion.

For the rest of the drive to and from our destination, the van performed as if nothing had ever been wrong. Perhaps the precarious ride up the side of the mountain had scared it into submission.

Nowadays, the Reservation has some of the best cell phone reception in the western United States if I should need my trusty cell phone. But I’d rather not have to use it to call a tow truck.

Never again.

Categories: Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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