Over the Mountain

November 13, 2007 at 1:39 pm (On the road again...)

After five and a half hours squeezed into a plane seat, it felt good to stand. After a bathroom break, I looked around. There was a floor-to-ceiling display about bears, and what to do if you got up close and personal with one. I snapped a picture of it for future reference. It was there for a reason.

I made my way out of the secured area, where two cops were watching one old man read a book. Yep. I was in Idaho.

I took the escalator down toward baggage pick-up and arrivals. I looked for Uncle. He was nowhere in sight, but my cousin was there, sitting near the exit. I hadn’t seen him in almost a decade, but there was no mistaking. He stood long enough to give me a hug, and sat back down. He was carrying a portable oxygen tank, and had gone blind. Times had been tough for this former fire chief. But he had a new wife, and his laugh was infectious as ever. It was good to see him.

But where was Uncle?

The Fire Chief called Uncle’s cell phone. “Where are you?” Pause. “What are you doing over there?” Pause. “Just find the name of a business and stay there. We’ll come to you.” Pause. “Shit.”

“What happened?” I wanted to know.

“He threw the phone across the car, it sounded like. Said he couldn’t drive and talk to me at the same time. I guess we wait.”

We did. After half an hour, I called his cell phone, and got no answer. So we waited some more. Another half hour past, and then a new bright white Cadillac pulled up outside the airport.

My ride’s here.

I gave Uncle a big bear hug. He apologized for being late. Seems he’d bought me a Shepherd’s Pie at a diner earlier in the day, forgot it, so he went back to retrieve it. Then he got sidetracked, and ended up getting lost in traffic. “It’s a bitch when you get lost in your own hometown…”

The Shepherd’s Pie was probably cold by now, he said, but I could eat it if I wanted. I politely declined, opting for a Cherry Pepsi instead. I put the pie under the driver’s seat, and prepared for liftoff.

And what a chariot it was! It was midsize, with 12,000 miles on it. I moved the seat, messed with the mirrors, learned which buttons did what. Chief and his wife escorted us to the freeway, and we were off!

The cushy seats and new car smell were a treat after being stuck on a tiny airplane all day. We made small talk for a while, then he said, “You can play the radio if you want.” I started messing with knobs. I passed the mariachi channel, skipped over a hip-hop station, and found a song I liked.

Tool’s Stinkfist. This oughta be interesting.

Uncle listened to the whole thing, arms crossed. The song ended, and Welcome to the Jungle started playing. He barely tolerated the musings of Maynard; Axl’s screeching made him apoplectic. He switched it to his favorite, a political talk channel.

After listening to Fred Thompson pontificate about health care for an hour, I was ready to drift off. We pulled into a rest area, and while Uncle was in the bathroom I clicked off the radio. Maybe he won’t notice when we start up again.

He reminded me again of the Shepherd’s pie. Nah, I said. I’d wait until we were ready to call it a night…

We drove for about five hours, and I was starting to feel the weight of the day. We booked a room at Comfort Suites in Boise through OnStar. “How cool is this?” I asked Uncle. “The car is telling us where to go!”

The night guy at the hotel was about eighteen, and he was discussing water quality with the only person of color I saw my whole time in Idaho. A middle-aged Latino was wondering if tap water was safe to drink. “Tap water sucks in my neighborhood,” he confided. He wandered off, and the young ‘un took Uncle’s credit card. We had a room for the night.

“Are you hungry?” I asked Uncle.

I hadn’t ate all day, which is normal, but he was aghast. “I never eat right before bed. There’s still that Shepherd’s Pie…”

“Would you mind if I went and found a store or a late-night diner? We have a microwave in the room, and I could warm up the pie there.” I’m such a liar. I had a plan for that Salmonella Souffle.

“You go do what you want. I’m going to bed!” He started undressing, and I headed for the car.

Unintentional Traditions

Ah, the night life in Boise. We were just a few blocks from the airport, as I soon discovered. The only cop I saw was talking to probable truants. I scooted around him, and drove carefully up the street. The credibility of me driving such a car without Uncle along would be thin. Cops in my neighborhood would find probable cause to pull me over. And I had no idea where to find proof of insurance. Mellow… Steady…

After ten minutes of aimless cruising, I resigned to my fate.

Denny’s.

Every time I’ve met Uncle on an out-of-town excursion, I’ve ended up having a post-midnight dinner at a Denny’s. First in Dallas, Texas, then Colorado Springs. Now Boise. The first two were full of colorful characters. Boise? Except for the obligatory pair of teenage girls drinking endless cups of coffee, it looked like the cast of To Catch a Predator. I got my chicken strips to go and got the fuck outta there.

I returned to the hotel, parked the Caddy and retrieved the Shepherd’s Pie from the back seat. Shudder! It had been out seven hours that I knew of. Maybe my uncle got to be so old by developing antibodies from all that potential food poisoning? I took it and my bag of Denny’s munchies back to the room, and stuffed the pie into the hotel mini-fridge.

I wonder if it’s still there…

I consumed chicken strips, and the six for $1.99 faux-shrimp. For entertainment I clicked around on the tube. South Park! It was the episode with Sexual Harassment Panda. I giggled over greasy food, and when it was over, I switched to HBO. Bikini Women From Outer Space was on. I watched for a while, but it was too weird watching soft-core porn with my uncle sleeping a few feet away. I killed the TV and went to sleep.

I’m glad I didn’t see the bill for the hotel. The bed was awful. Hospital beds were more comfortable. The pillows were tiny, and I couldn’t get comfortable. When I awoke at 7 AM, Uncle was already showered and ready for breakfast. I sent him ahead, while I showered and packed up everything. (Except the Shepherd’s Pie. RIP.)

While packing, I turned on the TV and caught the local news. The headlines? The football rivalry between Boise State and Utah. They spent five minutes discussing that, then the second story? A tweaker and his mom had moved into Boise, and a rash of car prowls followed. “You could tell they wasn’t from ’round here,” a neighbor said. Hell, they look like my neighbors!

I thought it odd that nobody found the fact that they had a rotting elk corpse in their garage unusual.

It *is* hunting season, I guess.

I switched the channel, and heard, “And don’t forget to see Billy Joel at Taco Bell Arena!” I laughed out loud, and decided it was time to find my uncle. He was in the cafeteria/dining room, along with a few others. CNN was on, and real news was happening. Norman Mailer had died.

We rolled out, gassed up, noting that the car’s mileage was exactly 12,500. I pumped my own gas for the first time in thirty years. Yet another reason to love Oregon.

I couldn’t find a mutually satisfying radio station, so we rode in silence. After a bit, Uncle reclined his car seat and took a nap. I set the cruise control for four miles per hour over the speed limit, zigging between semis and slow drivers.

It was amazing how the landscape changed when we crossed into Oregon. All of a sudden things got greener, the roads were curvier. The roadkill was more interesting. I saw opossums, raccoons, at least one deer, and several unidentifiable spots. As I ran over one, I got a laugh from Uncle. “Well, he won’t have the guts to do that again!”

Uncle wanted breakfast, so I took an exit. “How about Denny’s?” He was game, so what the hell. They had endless cups of coffee.

Uncle ordered steak and eggs, and I had the Lumberjack Slam. (“I’m a lumberjack, yes I am!”) I thought of ThatGirl when I saw Moon Over My Hammy. (“I would never order a pun for breakfast!”) The waitress was a sweetheart, doting over Uncle and keeping my coffee full. It reminded me of my youth, where I had lots of breakfasts in redneck cafes. Lots of truckers and blue-collar types. It was a comfortable scene.

I called cousin Misty, Uncle’s granddaughter. I got the answering machine. “This is Cadillac Charlie, and I’m sitting in a Denny’s in LaGrande Oregon, ogling waitresses and keeping your grandpa amused. All is well. Tell your friends.” I called the Fire Chief, let him know we were okay. I slipped the waitress a couple of extra bucks on the sly, for treating Uncle so nicely. She reminded me of ThatGirl, which reminded me that, at this rate, I’d be home in time for my bimonthly Saturday night date.

“Let’s get going!” We dodged raindrops to the car. On the road again.

The raindrops eased off, then went away all together. As we drove along the Columbia River, sun started getting in my eyes. We made small talk. Uncle called the assisted living center, which was our final destination. My older sister called, and I had a nice chat with her, doing 68 MPH through The Dalles. The signal broke up, or we’d probably still be talking.

We passed Multnomah Falls, which meant home wasn’t far off. We stopped in Troutdale to refill on gas. Mileage? Exactly 12,900. “How do you do that?” Uncle wanted to know. Even numbers just follow me around, I guess.

The next question. How to get me home from Vancouver after dropping him and the Caddy off. I pulled up in front of my house, and said, “I have an idea.”

I called ThatGirl. “Hi there,” in my best baritone.

“Hey! Where are you?”

“Sitting in front of my house in the Mormon pimpmobile, showing off to my neighbors.” Both next-door neighbors were doing lawn stuff. “Want to give me a ride home from Vancouver?” I explained my predicament.

“Sure.” I promised to e-mail addresses and instructions, and we would meet her there in about an hour.

My next call was home. My sister answered. “What’s going on?”

“I’m fixing dinner. Where are you?” she asked.

“Would you tell the kids to come outside?”

Soon a fast-growing teenager and a cute nine-year-old were all over us and the Caddy. My nephew climbed into the driver’s seat, which inspired my niece to shove him out of the way so she could ‘drive’. For the first time, I noticed the ‘Get Behind Me, Satan’ bumper sticker. (I should get one for Grinder, but it would have a totally different meaning with him, heh.) Somehow in the process, I set off the car alarm. If the neighbors hadn’t noticed us before, they did now.

We went inside for a bit. I e-mailed instructions to ThatGirl, showered quickly, grabbed some cerebral amusements and told everybody I would see them tomorrow. I would be staying at ThatGirl’s, and going to work from there.

If I played my cards right, that is.

We climbed back into the Cadillac. Destination? Uncle’s new home…

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