Monday, October 29, 2007

Good Idea: Go to the Gym

A couple of days ago—maybe it was yesterday; frankly, I don’t remember—Kara opened the door to the garage and Elsa made her escape into the big wide-open neighborhood. To her, the breakout was probably a stellar and crafty move she had been planning all day, but it was quite unremarkable: the door was merely open too wide and nobody was paying attention to her, as usual.

Years ago, when this happened, I usually worried about her running into traffic and getting hit by a car (which happened) or running away and getting lost (which almost happened). I would chase her down, corral her in some neighbor’s yard and drag her back to captivity by the scruff of her neck, much to her complaining. I’ve even driven down the street to find her, as she always jumped in the truck as soon as the door was opened, and as much as I’ve said that I wish she never existed, ala It’s a Wonderful Life, I know I’d miss the fur ball.

On the other hand, I really don’t care if she gets out or not anymore. She’s going to come back, and I’m tired of chasing her. She always comes back, so there’s no sense in being too concerned…unless she starts to wander too far from the house. Usually, she just goes across the street and sniffs around and comes running back as soon as I pretend I’m not paying attention to her or go into the backyard or into the house. Then she comes running, as if she’s going to miss out on something fun that I’m doing, and I learned that if I ignore her, it’s not as much fun being out… but “My God! What’s he doing in the house without me! I must run there as fast as possible and greet him with my tongue until he gives me that loving smack on the head!”

This time, she made it half way down the street before I decided to go after her. Long story short, I ended up running back to the house, hoping that she would chase me. Instead, she sprinted on ahead and beat me there with plenty of time to spare (she can never pass up a good run).

Me? I was winded, which doesn’t describe the level of out-of-shapeness I am in. I ran the distance of three houses, approximately 250 feet at most, and I felt as though I climbed 40 stories of stairs with an anvil in my pocket.

What happened to me? Sure, I know that I’m getting older, but for God’s sake, it was 250 feet and I wasn’t running that hard because I was in sandals. And I had to sit down and catch my breath.

In high school—yes, I understand that was nearing 20 years ago—I ran. That’s what I did. I ran cross country in the fall and track in the spring. For three years, I did nothing but run for a couple of hours after school, every day. Miles and miles of streets, every day. In college and soon thereafter, Kara and I would exercise. We belonged to 24-hour fitness then and would meet every day after work to exercise together, and if we weren’t doing that, we could be found at Mt. Sac running the stairs of the stadium or at Cal Poly’s track, doing laps. Even later, we went for nightly walks around the neighborhood of our old house in Glendora, always choosing between the big loop, the really big loop or the really, really big loop which included a stop at the library and the added luggage of carrying books home.

I was fit. Granted, I weighed probably 30 or 40 pounds less than I do now (which explains the anvil feeling in my back pocket), but I was in great shape…not Mr. Universe great shape, but running a couple of miles wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities for me.

The more I thought about my run down the street the other day, the less I could remember the last time I actually ran…or had the reason to run. Maybe it was when Matthew started down the driveway toward the street before he realized he hadn’t learned the abilty to stop himself yet. I’m sure I ran then, all of 15 feet.

Then I thought about the gym, and last night before I hopped into the shower, I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “Why not? You’re currently more marshmallow than man and gym couldn’t hurt, right?” Kara and I have a membership to LA Fitness; we’ve had it for a number of years, and before the kids, we used to go a lot. Kara was a daily fixture there, and I would show up a few times a week to run and lift some weights in a half-assed attempt at looking good naked, but what’s worse: a 150-pound naked guy or a 210-pound naked guy? Moot point, I know. Then, things changed in my life and looking good naked wasn’t the top priority anymore; in fact, it was the reason things changed! Natalie came along and then Matthew, and I haven’t been to the gym in probably two years, if not more. Yet, I’m still paying for it, like an idiot.

So, today I decided to return to the gym for two reasons: 1) I’d like to be in better shape, have more energy and be better able to focus my attention on things, to prioritize my life somewhat better than it is now; and 2) I paying for this so I might as well use it or cancel it. So, this is my last chance to once again look good naked… Yes, I want to see how many times I can say the word “naked” in this blog before my mother calls to tell me to knock it off.


Back to the story. I flung open the door of the gym with determination and confidence and took in a deep breath of stale fetid air, rank with the sweat of 100 people, each with their own goals and dreams and motives. Seriously, the place stinks, and I instantly think it might be me, but how could it, I just got there!

It was the most expensive day at the gym for me since I started there, figuring that I hadn’t been in two years (at the least) and each month is $22, totaling $528 in one day. I am LA Fitness’s dream client. I pay my dues and never show up, like probably 90 percent of its members, all of us with good intentions and lofty objectives.

They say that good health means that you’re taking the longest time possible to die, and here I am, at a place that will either help me or kill me. I opened the compartment in my wallet that has held hostage my yellow membership card all these years, moths fluttered out, and as the woman behind the counter swiped it, she gave it a second glance, like I was trying to pass foreign money.

“Does it [the computer, I meant] tell when the last time I’ve been in?” I asked, hoping to better quantify my absence.

“No, has it been a while?” she asked.

“I don’t even think you guys issue these types of cards anymore, it’s been that long.”

She replied: “There’s still a couple of them floating around. Welcome back.” She said that like I was 100 years old, coming back from space to an Earth I don't remember.

I went upstairs to the treadmills, like I always have in the past, and belted out three miles before my body knew what I was doing to it and tried to stop me. After about 10 minutes of running at six miles per hour, my left knee started to hurt, which didn’t surprise me because my left knee always starts to hurt when I run (or walk quickly for a while)…it has for years. It is one of those pains that people have had for so long, you don’t know what it is like not to feel it. Predictably, the pain went away at about 15 minutes into my run, and I got to forget about it and take a look around and what kind of people come to the gym at 4:30 on a Monday afternoon.

As it turns out, it is the same kind of people that come into the gym on any afternoon, and it felt as though I had never left. Gazing over the railing of the loft that the treadmills are on, I have a command of the whole place, and it is easy to see the comings and goings of everyone below, a much better form of entertainment than the blowhards on CNN or whatever news is on the six TVs hanging over our heads (as a side comment, I really feel sorry for deaf people that have to read closed captioning, because it is the worst typing imaginable. There were sentences I couldn’t even make out because of the errors, omissions of words and just plain random string of letters. I don’t pretend to know the technology, but it is horribly ineffective at conveying the dialogue, and my favorite is when they’re playing music, they type in little musical notes, as if that should suffice).

Anyway, looking down there, I realized that I would have trouble being friends with most everyone in the gym, as it seemed filled with a collection of hopeless Type-A individuals bent more on vanity than good health, and with the exception of the guys playing basketball and those trying their best at racket ball, I don’t think I have much in common with any of them (not that I play basketball or racket ball, but at least they’re at the gym for an honest reason).

Generalizing, there are four types of people at the gym:

1. Old People: These are the grey-haired people that I would never expect to be in a gym, especially in the condition most of them start with. I would have to guess that their main motivation is to lose weight, because most all of them are overweight, and it’s a noble goal, but they’re probably doing it wrong. I expect most of them, once they get back in their cars and head for home, they veer toward the drive-thru at KFC or go home and scramble up some eggs in lard.

Most of them, I noticed, don’t stay very long and don’t do much while they’re there, aside from a couple of machines and maybe they’ll flop their legs around on the lifecycles, out for a Sunday ride by the beach while reading a magazine (does AARP have a publication?) instead of making an effort. And they drink a lot of water.

Some of them, I applaud. Good for them. They’re trying, and that’s what’s important, but most of them—like most of the people at the gym—are merely there to placate their conscious into acquiescing the Twinkies later or the Double-Double for dinner. That's not health; it's just diluting yourself. They think the gym has some magical properties like a Fountain of Youth that will keep them alive if they merely stop in for a visit twice a week after Bingo. The Baby Boomers are the last generation that really worked hard at everything they did and they’re the last generation that was wise with money, and the ones that would pay good money for a gym membership and not use it are neither wise nor hard working. Hence my contempt.

2. Strippers and Attention Whores: Look at me, look at me! What can I do to make you look at me? Some guy I met in a bar one time said I was hot… so that’s confirmation and my self-judged hotness masks both my ability and desire to achieve and my overly inflated self-esteem (why try when things are handed to me?). There weren’t that many of this category in the gym this afternoon, but usually there are a number of women prancing around, trying to see just how many muscle-bound jocks will look at them…. just like in junior high school. They’re the meat-market exercisers, only there because someone suggested that it was a good place to met men, and the less you wear, the more that will fawn over you, in turn pumping up their self-worth. For the most part, they wear skin-tight spandex, some cutesy leotard and a sweatshirt around their emaciated waist so nobody stares at their butt (but they secretly want people to which is why the sweatshirts never stay on that well).

They rarely touch any of the machines or do any actual exercising, which in part is funny, but instead settle into lavish, complicated stretches, lunges and anything that involves the display of as much cleavage as possible to as many people as possible. It is the equivalent of opening up the shop for business, and usually these kind of women know everybody and spend most of the time talking with the trainers. A favorite apparatus is the giant medicine ball (which is just an inflatable ball you’re supposed to contort yourself over)…and these activities only take place near the free weights, where category three usually hangs out.

3. Muscle-Bound Blockheads: They are there for the weights, pure and simple, build up as much muscle as humanly possible and put it on display. They drive big trucks, have a boat at The River and pride themselves on how they knew who was going to win the NFL Championship before the season began. And the muscles they focus on are never the muscles that are the slightest bit useful in real life, they’re just for show, making them all look like they’d topple over if they had to balance their disproportioned bodies with their feet together. Impressive? Sure. Elephantitis of the testicles is impressive too, but I wouldn’t want them either.

There’s only one reason to have aggrandizing biceps that force you to walk like Godzilla with a severe underarm rash and that is to pick up chicks, especially the ones with the fake racks whose sweatshirts keeps “accidentally” slipping off their waists showing off her lower-back tattoos, aka “Tijuana License Plates.” These particular guys come equipped with cut-off sweats that are in dire need of washing, sweatshirts advertising “tough guy” gyms (most typically Gold’s or Bulldog’s, neither of which have they been to) with the sleeves ripped off, giving the impression he didn’t tear them off or cut them with his mother’s sewing scissors, but instead they burst into threads under the immense pressure of his arms. The hands are usually covered with supple leather Isotoner gloves with the fingers cut off, and a brown leather weight belt keeps his hernia from poking out again. They grunt, sweat and leer. You don’t look at them or engage them in any way, much like caged rabid monkeys, lest you want to spot them on the bench or have them cut into your workout, where you’re forced to share their space and possibly their sweat.

4. The People That Shouldn’t Be At the Gym: I rather feel that I fall into this category, as I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. All the machines look like different forms of cold cut slicers in the deli and most times I can’t make heads or tails of the instructions. Plus, I don’t want to be that guy that has to look at how to use a machine.

Upstairs, the attitude and clientele is slightly different. People are friendly on the cardio machines, almost light hearted, as we all know that running a few miles on a treadmill won’t put us in any better shape than taking the stairs at the office. Who are we kidding? We’re a bunch of hamsters and we all seem to know it. However, down the floor, why that’s man’s land. You straighten up when you’re down near the free weights and the mirrors and the excess testosterone; there’s no screwing around, no smiling unless someone told a joke or you’re making fun of the guy who just tore out his ACL trying to bench 250 with one arm tied behind his back. When you’re on the machines and you’re a guy, you look straight ahead and only look at anyone if they walk into your field of vision, and the only conversation you have with someone you don’t know is: “Are you done with that?” or “Can I cut into your workout?”

And I’m not alone.

While I was upstairs on the treadmill, I watched a guy walk around the rows of machines with his towel and bottle of water, stopping in front of a machine to look at the directions. He passed on a couple and I could tell that he wasn’t working out for the sake of his body because he had no plan of attack, but he was working out for the sake of working out, thinking that it makes him more healthy. Which, incidentally, is how I tricked myself into going to the gym today. So he stops at some contraption that I myself probably wouldn’t have attempted because it looked like some Tower of London torture device, and he scrutinizes the directions. The big sign on his back that says, “I don’t know what I’m doing” is evident to anyone who looked at him. He pauses for a moment, looks around with some apprehension and then sits down on it… facing the wrong way. After realizing the seat didn’t feel all that comfortable, he adjusts it lower, then higher, then takes the peg out of the weights and puts it at the lowest possible amount, probably 10 pounds… or a gallon of milk. Then he tries to lift the bar, and since he’s facing the wrong way, he’s lifting the wrong way, which is impossible to do.

At this point, I started to feel bad for him and I cursed LA Fitness for not having a program for all new members that takes you around to each machine to show you how they work. Instead you sign a wavier saying that if you rip off a leg because you were doing it wrong, they’re not libel. I also hoped that I was the only one that noticed him, with everyone else absorbed in their own workout, but that was not to be. A trainer—usually the most useless and overpaid person in any gym—stopped to show him the right way. He did five reps for a show of good faith and left, probably never to return. It’s too bad, but most people don’t belong there. They don’t know what they’re doing on the machines and they especially don’t know what they’re doing to themselves.

Not like I do either. Which is why I like to run, because I used to be really good at it and I know how to do it right. So why then, you ask, do I have a gym membership when I can run anywhere? Good question. And I’ll add this: If I had canceled my membership (and Kara’s) two years ago, I could have taken that $1056 and bought a really nice treadmill.

But I didn’t and here I am, justifying a membership to a fitness club I have no business going to with people I loath to be around in a building that smells like gym socks, sour milk and mostly the stench of failure.

Then again, maybe I should let Elsa out more often and, when I do, tie a leash to her and get in shape the old fashioned way. But then I’d have to find another way to make fun of people and inflate my own sense of superiority.

Either way, I’m going to feel this in the morning.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Have Trailer, Will Travel

We’re officially the owners of a 2008 Tango Model 299 travel trailer, 30-feet, six-inches of train to tug around the country in search of excitement and adventure.

This afternoon, we went out to the dealer to sign the paperwork and make it official. Of course, we got there in plenty of time, but they were backed up so it took an hour for us to get into the finance office. During that time, we wandered around the lot and checked out a bunch of trailers, which was nice to look at a bunch of other trailers I’m glad we didn’t get, including the uber-expensive posh Airstreams (which I love, but don’t not enough for the price tag). We also came across our Tango, sitting by the repair bay, waiting for its turn to get upgraded to our specifications.

The first Tango trailer I saw when we rounded the corner of the sales office was huge, a giant monstrosity taking up nearly my entire field of vision. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but it was extremely long and endlessly tall. Seeing it, my heart fluttered a little, thinking that there was no way we were going to be able to navigate that thing down the street much less across the country. It was huge, but it turned out to be another model, the 35-foot 311. I felt relief to actually see my own trailer sitting there, a few feet shorter and not so… looming.

It still looked pretty big though, and I don’t know how the hell I’m going to be able to put my truck in reverse with that thing attached to the back. I’ve never been good at backing up with a trailer attached, but perhaps I haven’t had enough practice; it’s the whole left-right, opposite directions thing that gets me. In the back of my mind, I heard the words of Desi Arnez from “Long, Long Trailer” saying, “I wasn’t sure if I was pulling it, or it was pushing me…” I’ve been hearing a lot of Desi Arnez in my mind lately.

A few days ago, I marked out 30 feet in chalk in the street in front of our house just to get an idea of how much space it will take up when we bring it home for a couple of weeks before our first grand outing. If it sticks out in front of our driveway by a few feet, the tail end still reaches the mailboxes. Plus, the 20-feet eight-inches of the truck makes for one long rig, 51 feet, two inches. And it’s roughly six tons of vacation rolling down the highway. Lookout!

In the long run, I’m glad we had the extra hour to wait. Kara was bored silly and the kids were getting a little impatient, understandably, but it gave me a little time to go over the trailer. Since we take delivery on it next Saturday, I was glad to find a couple of flaws that needed to be fixed (there was a paint chip and some bubbling on the wallpaper where it meets the window and a piece of window rubber was loose). They were nothing big, but it would have bugged me endlessly if I had to live with them for any short amount of time. Plus, I don’t want to have to go back.

Once we were called upstairs, I got out my pen and was able to practice my signature about 40 times. It was like buying a house and a car at the same time.

With any new “big ticket” item, the finance guy, just like at a car dealership, urged me to buy the extended warranty. It would have added five extra years onto the regular warranty but only covered the appliances and the mechanics of the trailer, the things that will probably outlive the life of the whole thing. I said no, of course, because if there is nothing worse than taxes, fees, upgrades, fines or extra charges, it’s extended warranties. In my experiences, it’s a crock, a scam to eek more money out of you. If something going to break, it’s going to do it within the first year or after the sixth, never in between, and if it was for the good of the customer, it would be a 10-year extended warranty, during the timeframe when things actually fail. It was over two grand, plus interest. If the fridge breaks, then I’d rather pay to have it fixed, instead of paying for something to be fixed and have it never break. After I said no he tried to cater to my sensitivities by telling me that it is transferable to the next owner, but what do I care about the next owner, I asked myself. I’m selling him something I no longer want, and I no longer want it for a specific set of reasons; therefore, I obviously don’t much care about him. Why should he get a warranty for “free” that I so dearly paid for?

To celebrate, we went out to dinner—yes, Chili’s—and had to wait there too, over a half hour. Criminy! Doesn’t anyone eat at home anymore? We never wait at Chili’s. We have our own table there, with our names on it, and all the servers come by to say hello. Actually, for a while there, Natalie and I were after-dance-class regulars on Friday, so much so, that we hardly ever had to officially order. I got to actually say, “We’ll have the usual” and have it mean something.

Anyway, we are the official owners of our trailer today… now we need a place to go. We were going to go to Carpentaria with our friends Scott, Melanie and Grant, but it was booked solid for the three-day weekend coming up. We may just wait a week and go somewhere more local and not so crowded… after all, it is our first time and we want it to be gentle.

Any ideas?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bed Bugs

In the small hours of the morning, while I’m peacefully cherishing the last remaining bits of my sleep, I’m half-awakened by Natalie, navigating the laundry piles and the sprawled-out dog, as her feet quietly pad their way into our bedroom, sometimes with a pillow dragging behind her and a couple stuffed animals tucked under her arm, and always with imagined stories of strange spidery dreams or visions of ants crawling on her bedposts. I usually don’t even hear her come in, and lately it has been a nightly thing. When I wake up in the morning, she’s just there, and there’s not much I can do about it. A couple of nights ago, she came in soon after I did, about 1am, and I spent the next couple of hours playing tug of war with the covers—she doesn’t like them on her and I don’t like them off of me—and a few rounds of kickboxing from her restlessly tossing and turning all night. She has as much trouble sleeping as I do.

I peel myself from the bed in the morning and stand droopy eyed in front of the mirror, wondering why I don’t boot her out of bed when she keeps me up all night, swearing that it was her last night sleeping in our bed. “No more,” I hoarsely wheeze, full well knowing that she usually climbs up into our bed when I’m fast asleep.

For a while, she was doing pretty good, and we could get all-nighters out of her on a regular basis in her own bed, maybe stowing away in ours only a couple nights a week at most (including the official Friday-night sleepovers). Then we went on vacation for 10 days, and each night, Kara and Natalie shared one of the queen beds, leaving the other one solely to me, and to me only.

I have to admit, I rather liked it. I got all the pillows. No parts of the covers had to remain tucked in, and I could cocoon myself into a tight blanket burrito without short-sheeting anyone else. I could put one foot on one corner of the bed and the other on the other, and nobody would accuse me of hogging anything. I could lay on either side of it, all sides of it and roll over and over and over without fear of breathing my bad breath into anyone’s face, nor squirming too much that Kara thinks she’s sleeping on a ship in a storm. Also, for 10 days, there were no cold feet to worry about, no sudden jerking knees to protect myself from and no surprise attacks as a result of ninja dreams to fear of. I was completely by myself, my own little soft island of slumber and it was great.

For 10 days, I slept like a married bachelor.

And that got me thinking about the act of sharing a bed with Kara at all…which leds me to question the whole motive of anyone sharing a bed with their spouses. What’s the point? To be close to them? To talk? To cuddle? To feel their body heat? Frankly those are four things I don’t want to do while I’m trying to sleep.

Sure, the point of having a giant king sized bed, the centerpiece of our bedroom, is to celebrate the sanctuary of marital bliss. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that little celebration as much as anyone, but let’s be honest. We’ve been married for 10 years and I’m sure she’d be the first agree with me on this: We’ve got two kids, two jobs, a messy house, a mountain of laundry, weird working hours, a nosy dog, so the best form of bliss that happens in that bed happens when we’re both happily fast asleep in it. There’s time for romance during the commercials, and time for pillow talk between the chapters of Kara’s book.

Other than that, what is a big bed for and why do we as a society feel it is necessary to share a bed with our spouses? For intimacy? Truthfully, I’m not a cuddler and I don’t like to be touched while I’m sleeping. I wouldn’t be able to stand more than 30 seconds of sleeping in a big tangled mess of arms and legs for the sake of intimacy, and if someone’s leg is randomly touching mine while I’m trying to sleep, it makes me feel like there’s a hot poker on my leg. Stay on your side and keep your 98.6-degree parts off of my 98.6-degree parts and I’ll be just fine. Kara sleeps higher in the covers than I do, as I like to tuck way down, pulling the blankets up over my shoulder and part of my head… and I have to have one leg sticking out. I can’t explain why, but it’s just comfortable that way.

And it never fails that, at some point in the night, I’m fighting for covers, fighting for space and fighting for air. I’ll make the mistake of rolling over counter-clockwise (toward the center of the bed), while at the same time, coincidentally, Kara rolls over away from the center of the bed. My mistake is that I’ve given up control of my share of the blankets by allowing them to untuck out from under me. At the same time, Kara rolls away from the center of the bed, taking a swath of real estate with her and leaving me out in the cold… quite literally. Other times, Kara’s pillow creeps over to my side of the bed, for inexplicable reasons, and I wake up feeling like a giant marshmallow is attacking my head. Or I’ll just randomly get kicked in the middle of the night, for whatever reason, it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just a reaction to something, but I’m on the boot-end of it… and sometimes it really hurts.

Now, these are just my problems, and I’m sure I provide a host of things that aren’t ideal for Kara too, as I’m sure I can be a bed hog, a cover hog and a pillow-space hog too. My constant pillow flipping (I like the cool side of the pillow, so I flip it over probably every time I wake up in the middle of the night) must be annoying, and the fact that it takes me nearly two hours every night to fall asleep, during which time I toss and turn endlessly, probably drives her crazy. Not to mention that I come to bed at irregular times and all hours of the night. Oh, and I read in bed with the lights on or I’ll have the TV on… and the lights on… and I’m reading, all at the same time.

So, I’m no bed picnic either. Plus, I am not a morning person, not by any stretch of the imagination… and who really wants to wake up next to someone who resembles of fuming volcano?

Figure it this way, before we were married, Kara and I spent the first 25 years of our lives sleeping alone in a bed all to ourselves. Now suddenly we’re thrown into one bed and we’re expected to share it? It’s been 10 years and I’m still not use to it. Of course, before the kids, it was nice to have one bed just for the two of us… but that was before the kids, and that’s what the big bed was for.

Oh well, I’m off to bed. Let me get on my shin guards and staple gun the sheets to my side of the mattress so they don’t creep away in the middle of the night. Teehee.

Of course, after this, I’ll probably end up sleeping on the couch, so this will be a lesson in being careful of what you wish for.

Interestingly enough, I’ll leave you with a trivia question: What is the first sit-com couple to share a bed on TV? If you say Ricky and Lucy, you’re wrong. Nope, not Mike and Carol. Not Herman and Lily either. Fred and Wilma shared a bed in 1960, but that was a cartoon… plus, the correct answer is earlier than 1960 (believe it or not).

The winner gets the satisfaction of being able to Google quicker than anyone else.

Monday, October 22, 2007

“Trailer Brakes First!”

An unofficial dream of Kara and mine is, after we win the lottery, of course, to buy a big motor home—one of those house-priced bus kind—and tour the country for a couple of years. It goes without saying that this particular dream discounts the fact that we have kids and they will need to go to school sometime during this fantasy and that we have a dog that craves vast amounts of attention…and food… oh yeah, and the most important hurdle of this dream is the eleventy-million-to-one shot at picking the right numbers. It doesn’t stop me from dreaming, and a subset of this dream is to get an RV to vacation in.

The other day in the mail, I got the American Express bill that covered our trip to Yellowstone, and besides sponsoring a dozen South American kids for most of their lives or making more than a few payments on a really nice BMW, there’s no excuse for spending that much money on a vacation to anywhere.

Before that, the notion of owning an RV was always in the back of our minds, having the freedom to camp, see the country and go at our own pace was important, not to mention that it would be a little less expensive than staying at a hotel, in strange sheets, impossibly uncomfortable pillows and questionable cleanliness.

However, we still thought they were expensive, and without doing a lick of research into the topic, I made the assumption that a trailer that would be small enough to easily pull with my truck but big enough to fit our family’s needs, was out of the realms of affordability. Sure, our budget can allow for a certain amount of stretch, but I’ve been quite happy with the fact that we don’t have any revolving-debt credit cards, car payments or anything that would constitute debt (besides the house, of course). And I wanted to keep it that way.

While sifting through the mountain of mail we got while we were gone on our trip (where 99 percent of it was trash), I came across a small card inviting me to visit the Winnebago booth at the 55th Annual RV show at the Pomona Fairgrounds. The invitation was a hold-over from a few years ago when we borrowed a motorhome from Winnebago because it was built on a VW Eurovan chassis and I worked at the magazine. They must not update their list very often.

Anyway, why not go? What else are we doing on Friday? Nothing, so let’s go to the RV show and look at some trailers, you know, just to get an idea of what’s out there, how much they are and what kind of features we would want on our list.

Always being one to get exciting about looking through model homes when we get the chance, I was looking forward to the show because you get to tour brand new RVs and check out their amenities and all of the cool contraptions and innovations contained therein.

Since the parking lot and the RV show were on opposite sides of the fairgrounds, almost not in the same city, we had to take a tram across the entire grounds to the other side where the show was. When we rounded the corner, the wind was just right, and the air was filled with the intense smell of “new car,” that wonderful odor of rubber, plastic, and glue. It was certainly a mood enhancer.

Once we were knee-deep in the show, they all started to look the same. There were nearly 1000 examples to look at, anything from three-quarter-million dollar motorhomes to under $10,000 small trailers. And everyone was trying to sell me something. It was as if I had walked into a used car lot, I was the last guy in town without a car, and three salesmen’s ability to feed their families that day depended on whether or not I bought an RV or not. I probably said, “Just looking” a dozen times to one guy, and I ran out of creative ways to explain how I’m not buying an RV but merely seeing what was out there. Most of the salesmen were nice guys, and a couple were quite helpful, even after I said I wasn’t buying, but you could see the gentle hope in their eyes, that urgent “what if.”

We were looking for something in the 25-foot range, a trailer that wasn’t too big for my truck to haul or for me to park (and store) but big enough to have everything we wanted in a trailer: bunk beds for the kids, lots of storage, a dining table that you didn’t have to break down and a big bed that you could walk completely around for Kara and I.

The kids loved looking through the RVs. Natalie would scamper up the metal stairs and make sure to look into every closet and behind every door. Matthew would head right for either the big bed or the bunk beds, scramble up onto it and roll around full of giggles. He would only voluntarily get down if a visit to another RV was promised (and delivered; he remembers slights against promises).

In the end, we got overwhelmed pretty easy and quickly—it only took three hours—as there were many trailers that all looked the same: some flowery patterned seats, light particleboard cupboards, linoleum floors and aluminum sides. A tin can if ever there was one. We did find a couple that we felt would make the grade, but what did we know? Plainly, nothing.

I desperately wanted a beer at this point, make that six beers, but at eight dollars a beer (that’s right, eight bucks for a lousy beer) I settled on an Orange Julius, which tasted terrible and was disappointing… maybe it was all the flies buzzing around inside the vendor’s Plexiglas shack or the fact that it looked as though she last washed her hands a couple of days earlier.

We visited a booth where they were selling the Tango line of RVs from Pacific Coachworks. I had never heard of them. I didn’t like the one we looked in, for starters. It had some funky bed setup that didn’t do it for me. It was creative and unique, but it pushed the couch out into the middle of the floor and made the sides around the rest of the bed completely useless. Plus, it was more expensive than the others of the same size. I didn’t give it much consideration, because I didn’t like the only one within my size limits and price range.

We gave up, somewhat defeated and overcome by the choices, and decided to go to Red Robin, regroup and consider other options for the future. Maybe we should wait until the show at Angeles Stadium or maybe we should do some research into these various travel trailers so we be better informed. Over dinner, we made plans to return to the show on Sunday; they gave two-for-one “return” tickets so you can come back a second day…that’s a courtesy to get away and make a decision, plus they take away the one obstacle people have left, the 20 bucks it costs to park and get it.

Instead of going it alone, we conscripted my folks, who have owned and operated a number of RVs in their years and are well-versed in what amenities work and which ones are there for fluff, to go along with us on Sunday to help make heads or tails of what we considered our choices.

We toured them through a couple of our first choices, and they turned up their nose at them. Pioneer by Fleetwood (we discovered that several of the trailers on our list were all made by Fleetwood) was our number one choice of the morning. They had a floor plan that we found acceptable and it was priced in our neighborhood, though Dad kept suggesting something bigger and Kara and the kids were gravitating to the larger coaches. I was keeping to what I thought were my limits. I didn’t want to overtax the truck and most of the bigger ones was coming close to the 9500-pound limit my truck could tow. The last thing I want to do is fry the transmission in the middle of nowhere.

Dad came out of the Pioneer, shaking he head. “This one’s no good,” he said. “It’s not made very well. It’s cheap.” He showed me a couple of things that I would soon-than-later have to replace, like the molding and some of the trim pieces. Still, it was our best option so far, but we had yet to visit Holiday Rambler and any other that we may have come across on our way… Dutchman, Keystone, Mallard, et al.

Sweeping around the show again, we followed a similar path as Friday, and we again stopped by Tango to show them the funky bed, and Natalie wanted to make sure we visited it again so she could find the big soft pillow. On Friday, she had declared that she wanted us to get the Tango because of the big soft red pillow; she was insistent.

So, while I’m sitting inside the Tango, talking with my Mom, who’s enjoying the funky couch and the A/C, Kara, the kids and Dad wander across the booth to another coach, the Tango 299, a 30-foot trailer completely out of our price range.

I don’t need to tell you the rest of this story, do I?

It had everything we wanted in a trailer, from the bunk beds in the back to the slide-out living room and the walk-around queen bed in the front. It had amble storage, a great warrantee and many of the accessories that have actual use and value. However, it was overpriced and, in my opinion, too big (not overweight though). I was willing to settle on a 27-foot trailer, but a 30-foot trailer was just too big. Where would I park it? How would I navigate this thing around a corner? Forget about backing it up. But then again, what’s three more feet? It’s a yardstick, and funny thing is that the 27-foot trailer we had on our maybe list was, in fact a 30-foot trailer when you add the three feet for the tongue. The Tango is 30 feet six inches from spare tire to tongue.

But the most important aspect was the quality. It looked and felt like it was built solid. You stepped in it and it didn’t rattle or squeak or sound hollow, tinny or thin. The colors are rich dark woods with funky patterned seats but tastefully done.

The one big downside, besides my constant hand-wringing over the length and the size and how it was bigger than I had planned on, was the price. It was five thousand dollars over our planned budget to spend, and that included the special show price, which was already five thousand dollars off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

I met the owner of the company that builds them, Tom Powell. Then I met the CEO of the company that builds them, Dane Found. Then I met the head of the finance department, Peter. Then the guy from the parts department. And this was after talking with the salesman. We haggled. They tried to get the best price for them, and I tried to get the best price for me. I told them how much I was going to pay, what my offer was, and if I got what I wanted, I would put down nearly 25 percent up front. It was fun. Haggling is always exciting and more so when I’m not desperate for what they’re offering. It wasn’t like a new car dealership where I drove onto the lot in a car with one smoking cylinder, three bald tires and no brakes. I didn’t have an RV on Saturday, so what makes me think I must have one on Monday. Plus, it was Sunday and the show grounds was bare empty, so they must have been hurting for business.

I got it for about six hundred dollars over the price I wanted, and we insisted that they throw in a few things that were only offered on a higher package, including a fancy entry way handle. They brought in a couple of people to see if it was possible to make some of the adjustments we wanted, like adding “end tables” to the slide-out couch and cupboard doors to underneath the dining room seats. Which I knew they could, but the fact that they wanted to showed me that they wanted to make a sale.

After an hour or so of the back and forth and filling out the forms, it was ours.

Now where to put it? It was obviously too big for my parents’ backyard, which was the original intent, so I dug around today and found a nice RV storage place that was very affordable and secure. Insurance was cheap, only $200 a year, and when I came home from the AAA office, a message was waiting for me to come pick it up.

So, if you’re visiting me Saturday after next and you can’t quite see my house because of this giant trailer parked out front, don’t worry, that’s just my new RV! Yeehaw!

**The lead shot is what our new rig looks like (though technically, I think I'd have to include the truck in order to call it a rig, but you get the idea).

*The floorplan above is the, uh, floorplan. I guess I didn't need to caption it.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, while talking with Tom Powell, the president of the company, he started to complain to that the owner's manual, written by his wife, a chemist, (whom he deicded was the "only person he knew who could put together a complete sentence") needed to be completely overhauled.

Owner's manual, huh? Writing and editing, huh? Guess what I do for a living, Tom?

So, Tom and I may have both gained some business yesterday.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Anxious Author

There is always an empty feeling inside me after I finish writing a book or complete a big and involved project. So far this year, this is my second book and third big project that I’ve nailed the coffin lid shut on, and the feeling is always the same: What now? What shall I ever do with myself these next couple of days before I gear up for something new (or a continuation of the old, as is frequently the case)?

I return to my office upstairs and clean off my desk of all the resource materials, the source books, pamphlets and pages I’ve become intimately attached to, whose words and phrases I’ve memorized, so much so, that I can read something so many times I can picture it in the book, what side of the page it’s one and where key words are in the sentence. A map that has been a place mat on the desk for a few weeks now almost makes the red-colored wood seem naked and glaring…and empty.

I borderline on lacking purpose. It's a letdown, like a deflated balloon, as if you suddenly ran off of a cliff and there's nothing left to support you. The resistance of the deadline is gone and you're free falling.

There is no longer a pressing weight of the deadline, the excitement of the craft, of joining letters and words and sentences into something that maybe, quite possibly, somebody else may enjoy or at least find useful or remotely interesting.

I sat here and stared at the wall for a little while this evening, thinking about all the things I could be doing and what all the near future holds. My freelance job board is rather sparse, which is nice for a change. It let’s me focus on my main client for a while, something I’m sure I’ve taken for granted, but more importantly, it allows me to breath a little.

I finished writing my fourth book tonight, which has a nice sound to it, like I’m some important author, but it is more of a stepping stone to other projects, more books. Regardless, I’m feeling a little thin as a result. What next? What now? It is as if I sent my child out into the world to be judged, and that seems to be the most difficult part of the whole process. Sculpting a boy into a man takes patience and practice and years of work, work that can be torn down in no time if he wasn’t prepared properly, and a book or an article or a painting is very much the same way.

And therein lies the doubt.

The first book I wrote this year is hardly worth mentioning, and you’d be hard pressed to find it discussed in any literary circles because it’s an automotive manual best used in the fight against insomnia. Three pages into it and you’re a coma patient, unless your car’s computer is broken and then my book’s the Holy Bible, bathing you in good light of salvation. The Pulitzer Prize will have to wait on that one, though, and even though I penned 90 percent of the text, I have to share the byline even. Well, the other guy did some work—he covered one manufacturer to my six—so he deserves credit, but did they have to put his name above mine? Alphabetically, it’s the correct thing to do… that and he’s my editor’s editor, essentially two steps above me on the chain of command, as I’m just a freelancer, so my seniority counts exactly for squat. It’s akin to being an “also ran.”

After all that, I’ll still claim it on my list of literary accolades, though my biographer, long after I’m dead and dusty, will probably choose to gloss over that little gem adorning my career and focus instead upon my rampant alcoholism and my propensity for self-defamating blogs. However, finishing that monster (nearly 700 pages of mind-numbing statistics, values, calculations and charts) left me more relieved than anything else. Certainly not empty or devoid of self-worth, more as if a giant burden of responsibility had been lifted and I was finally able to see the light of day again, free from the chains. That afternoon, after hitting the final send button on the email containing the last of the Word files, I put all of my books away, the manuals, charts, page after page of notes that littered the office, and I was most delighted to see a naked red-colored desk. I had sure as hell earned it.

This time, and like the two books before the last, it’s different. I feel at a loss, like after the death of a family member or after a good friend has moved away, and I always seem to feel like that after I have invested personal energy into something that is close to me, a vest emotional interest. I hit the send button, the 18,000-word document with 186 attached images zapped from my control and into the hands of an editor, the most devilish of fiend to any writer, and I was left with a helpless feeling. I almost wanted to reach out through the wires and collect all of my things together again, coddling them, like they needed protecting from the cruel world.

It sounds silly, you’re right, but maybe mothers might understand how I feel. You see something grow and then you have to eventually let it go. I know. That didn’t help make it sound any less silly.

What’s all the fuss anyway? It isn’t really that big of a book, only around 130 pages, and I’m afraid that spot on the mantle for my Pulitzer again will have to sit empty (that, and I don’t have a mantle to begin with). But it is more the idea of accomplishment than anything, the exhilaration of risk and the chance at failure that really gets to me.

Now it’s out there. My book, in digital form, is sitting in my editor’s in-box, waiting to be slashed, evaluated, read, critiqued and then printed, written in stone…forever. The typos glaring in capital letters for everyone to see, and what’s on the line? Perhaps my confidence in myself and my abilities to do this for the rest of my life. Printing errors become the fault of the writer, and a reversed image, a transposed caption, a missing folio, reflects more on the author than anyone else in the whole process. And wait until people start to read it. What if I got something wrong? A little fact missed or I put faith in an untrustworthy source? What then?

It is a nervous time for me, probably not unlike an actor soon after the curtain drops, the stage lights go out and the applause subsides. He put a piece of himself out there and there’s no taking it back now and all he can do is ride it out, always hoping for approval but forever self-evaluating the value of his performance. Busy minds go away and review, critique and judge, analyze and find fault, and that’s what kind of society we’ve created for ourselves, isn’t it? We referee our tastes and opinions and subject them onto others as fact, and the facts always start with fault.

It must be really difficult to be a modern abstract impressionist (or whatever they call those people that break an egg on a light bulb and call it art) and still keep your wits about you, because the art they create is mostly thought of by the majority of people in this world as crap. It takes no talent to break an egg on a light bulb, but how many people can paint the Mona Lisa? How stressful to constantly be barraged by such harsh evaluation, especially over something for which you have discovered such a passion.

At any rate, I wrote a book based on a collection of postcards of my hometown, Glendora, the little town where I grew up many, many moons ago. It wasn’t a very big project, like I said only 130 pages, but it was satisfying to write. The actual writing part took much longer than I anticipated, four whole weeks, as each little piece of the puzzle had to be carefully analyzed and proven before being included into the final mosaic. The funny thing about history, especially history that is older than anyone currently alive, is that it is strife with ambiguities, little facts and figures slightly askew, that end up being anomalies shared with no other source: One person says one thing about something, and another says something completely different.

The upside to writing history is that you get the chance to change it. There was a house in Glendora that everyone has agreed to the fact that it gained a second story sometime in the 1930s, a suggestion that has been taken as law in several published books and other materials. However, by merely studying the details of a single photograph taken in 1912, I was able to discover that it was a two-story house its entire existence.

I know what you’re saying, and no, I’m sure Scotland Yard won’t be calling anytime soon begging for my help, but little victories such as those (and I enjoyed a few more during the research process for this book) chip away at the ambiguities that fester in the history of anything. Sure, you won’t thank me, but I’m sure someone out there will…maybe the person living in that house today. Who knows?

Most importantly, the project served a much grander purpose for me, as it laid the groundwork for two other books I have planned to write about Glendora, one later this year and another probably a couple of years in the future. This book gets my name out there, and like a man standing on a tight wire, no matter what happens to him, whether he falls or not, at least everyone’s going to look up and see what he’s doing.

I guess I’m just afraid of falling.

But who isn’t?

**The image at the top of the page is the front and back cover spread for my book, due out in a month or two. Start saving your nickels. I only get a couple of free copies.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Great Family Vacation, Part Five

Day Seven: This was our last day in Yellowstone. Because we stayed up late, it took a while to get started. We had breakfast in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room again, took a picture in front of the fireplace, and I go the truck loaded up. It took four trips, but I was surprised that I was able to remember how I had everything placed; each thing had a specific place, and if any one thing was out of place, it would mess up the whole jigsaw puzzle. We made a new two-day bag (so we would only have to take out one bag for all of us instead of all the bags), restocked the cooler for inside the truck, and got ready to check out.

We took a couple of family pictures in front of the Inn and in front of Old Faithful, and as I was walking back to the truck, I stopped by to talk to some of the workers outside the Inn. While we were there, they were redoing the roof of the Old House (what they call the original 1904 Inn before the 1913 East addition and the later West addition), and being the scrounger of history’s artifacts, I asked if they had any of the original building they were going to throw away. He asked how big a piece did I want, showing me a rather large log that used to support the roof overhang. It was perfect for me, so I found a place in the truck for it. He also gave me one of the original nails they used when they built the Inn.

We got gas and said good bye to Yellowstone, taking the East Entrance toward Cody. Since we got such a late start and it took quite a long time to reach Cody, the day slipped away quicker than I had planned. Along the way, we stopped at William F. Cody’s hunting lodge just outside the park (now the Pahaska Tepee gift shop and gas station) to use the bathroom, and we then took a small detour at Newton’s Creek, a small campground that we used to stay at many years ago. Site 18 hadn’t changed much from how I remember, and we took a family picture near the spot where an old tree stump had been, a site of many family pictures.

Finally reaching Cody, we pulled into Trail Town, which had closed for the season. We still could have walked around the “town,” but it misses some of its allure if you can’t look into any of the buildings and also when it feels like you’re trespassing.

By the time we pulled into the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, it was almost 3pm, giving us just two short hours to tour five museums under one roof. It was nearly impossible, but unfortunately, we scurried around to do it. The kids best liked the newest museum, the Draper Museum of Natural History; it was Wyoming-centric, but one of the best interactive natural history museums I’ve ever been to, hands down.

The museum closed at 5pm, and when we visited the gift shop (I love gift shops), I noticed that they were also selling the Bierstadt Old Faithful painting—after all, the original was hanging in their gallery—but the kicker was that it was on sale for only $7.50. Oh well.

We drove through town and since we didn’t have enough time at the museum, decided to stay in town for the night, so we could go to the museum again the following morning. The woman at the front counter told us that it was good for two days, which was convenient. Driving down Highway 20/14/16 through Cody, we contemplated staying at the Irma Hotel, a turn-of-the-century place that was built by Buffalo Bill, but we guessed that it was expensive and that it lacked private bathrooms, so we found a Holiday Inn down the road and checked in. Our room, though non-smoking, still reeked of smoke, so we left the window open and the air on full blast and went out in search for a place to eat. The front desk suggested a couple of family restaurants that were good for children…one was Granny’s across the street, and she mentioned the Irma but suggested that it was fine dining.

With Natalie on my shoulders, we decided to walk down to the Irma and check it out, at least getting to see the hotel, if not eat there, and if it didn’t look like something we’d enjoy, we could always see what Granny had cooking up. The Irma seemed just fine, and they put us at a big table next to the original bar, underneath one of the buffalo heads that Buffalo Bill himself probably shot. Our waitress was this gravelly voiced old lady who was probably Irma herself. She had a rhinestone belt, a semi-sleeveless Irma Hotel shirt that she probably shouldn’t have been wearing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, after work, we would have found her at the local watering hole with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other looking for a cowboy to rope. She was funny, and certainly gave the place a western, kick your boots up on the bar, kind of atmosphere, suggesting that the women get some whiskey instead of sasparilla, and chided Jason because he couldn’t think of the name of the beer that had the beer on it from the day before. She even gathered around a couple of other waitresses for their opinion. We ended up getting something from Alaska that was good. The kids had spaghetti and meatballs, while Jason and I had buffalo steak. Kara had something called a chuck wagon; it was all pretty good, and when you got used to the smoke in the air, you didn’t mind it too much.

I got up and checked on the room rates for the hotel, and they were about 40 dollars cheaper than the crappy Holiday Inn room we were staying in, and each room had a bathroom. So we kicked ourselves for not checking first, as we could have stayed in Buffalo Bill’s private room, which we all agreed would have been pretty cool.

A gift shop was still open on the main street as we walked back, and Jason found a photo album that would be perfect for our pictures, so we bought one too. Again, I slept terrible, waking up with a back ache and a pain in my neck.

Day Eight: We were back again to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, where we toured the firearms museum. A sign said that it was the first time they had all of the collection on display, and they weren’t kidding. It was two floors, containing nearly 3000 guns, everything you could imagine from a hand cannon from the 1300s to modern commemorative rifles produced only a few years ago. The kids wanted to do the Natural History museum again, and Natalie wanted to see the Indian museum. We went outside to see Buffalo Bill’s boyhood home that was moved to the museum site, and we had a snack in the Mustang Grill.

Back on the road, we had a long day ahead of us. Wyoming is a big state. On the map, it doesn’t look big, but it most certainly is. Our destination for the day was Independence Rock, a giant rock mountain jutting out of the plains that Oregon Trail travelers of the 1850s stopped at to carve their names. It was about 300 miles away, but along the way we drove through a couple of nice towns. Thermopolis was quaint, but as we got more to the south, the towns were becoming less so and more like a truck stop. We paused in Casper for lunch at Wendy’s drive thru and were at Independence Rock by 3:45pm. We walked around about 50 percent of it, trying to find an easy place that we could climb with the kids in tow. The women-folk decided that it wasn’t safe for us to climb, although Jason and I was sure that it would be easy. Well, guess who won? Jason and I climbed up the side of it to the summit by ourselves, and the view was spectacular. The sun was setting, and you could see to every horizon. We took some pictures and some video of some of the older names… some yahoos in the 70s and 80s carved their names in the rock too, and we decided, going back down, that it would have been treacherous for the kids. Gloating and told-you-sos were enjoyed by Kara and Raquel when we got down to the ground.

After that, around the corner, we stopped at Devil’s Gate, and kept our eyes open for some of the Oregon Trail wagon ruts, but couldn’t find any. The sun was going down so we headed for the next big town for the night, which happened to be Rawlings at the intersection of Highway 287 and I-80. It seemed Podunk the moment we entered… and got worse before it got better. Kara found us a place, the Oak Tree Inn, and when we pulled in, I circled around the whole building without finding an official entrance. It was just a big block of rooms, and it wasn’t until I got out and read a sign that says you check in at Penny’s Diner, a Route 66-inspired diner that looked like it had promise. That was quickly changed as soon as we walked through the door. We were meet by three lackadaisical people behind a counter who gawked at us with indifference, led by a guy who had what could only be described as Summer Teeth… some are here, some are there… and he told us, through the holes where most of his front teeth should have been, that the hotel was “full up” and “good luck finding a place in town” because of the truckers, the oil rig workers and the fact that this one intersection Wyoming was the cosmopolitan hub of the state, a place where people come, far and wide, to visit. His tidings of luck seemed rather sarcastic, so we drove across the road and saw a vacancy sign on a Holiday Inn Express.

Given the Holiday Inn experience we shared the night before, we had some apprehension about staying there. Plus, they tend to run a little expensive. Jason and I went to check in and we met the General Manager Sara, a bubbly woman, whom we charmed into giving us an excellent rate. Apparently, she admitted, all she needed was a good laugh, which we handily provided her. Instead of the regular rate of nearly $130, we paid about $110, but were upgraded from a normal room to a corner suite. And sweet it was. The room was extra big, with a fridge, microwave, flat-panel TV, couch, dining room set, desk with an executive chair and a nice big bathroom. Plus, there was a full breakfast waiting for us in the morning.

Natalie invited Jason, Raquel and Alex down to our room (they had the suite in 302 right above us…which we had him jump up and down so we could hear him) for a pizza party. We ordered Pizza Hut, which took over an hour to get there, and the kids played with the Play-Dough and Natalie and Jason told jokes…which were so funny, Natalie didn’t even wait for the punch line before laughing hysterically. We watched some normal TV for a change (no local high school football reports) and went to bed, though I ended up sleeping on the couch because the bed was way too small for me to be comfortable.

Day Nine: The next morning we gorged on breakfast, loaded up the car and said good bye to Jason, Raquel and Alex. Kara wanted to head down Highway 13 into Colorado so we could go to the Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado on our way home. However, figuring it would add a couple of days on our trip we changed our minds in route and decided to take the I-80 to the I-15 and head home.

We drove and drove and drove, through Rock Springs, Green River and Lyman. We stopped at Fort Bridger just east of Evanston and walked around the grounds a little. They charge $4 to use the facilities, but since it was Friday, the museum and the buildings were closed… and since there was nowhere to put the money, we didn’t pay (hey, it wasn’t open!). We used the bathrooms and headed back to the freeway toward Utah.

It was part of our new plan to stop at the Wheeler Historic Farm in Salt Lake City because we thought the kids would enjoy seeing a “working” farm, and it took us forever to find it… nice directions AAA. But finally, we stumbled across it, and it was pretty fun seeing the pigs and chickens and feeding this giant drought horse some grass. Since we were in a big city, we found a Chili’s to eat at to give us some semblances of home, and if there was a bookstore and a Target nearby, it would have been a typical weekend night for us.

Instead, we needed to get on the road. We wanted to be back home by Saturday afternoon, so that meant we had one more night out. Natalie was insistent that we stay in another “home-tel” as she was calling them, and that’s exactly what we had planned.

Of course, it being Friday night on Interstate 15, lots of other people were doing the same thing. We stopped in Nephi at a really sketchy looking Best Western, where the parking lot was filled with trucks and the second floor walkway was littered with yelling kids and cigarette smoking cowboy hat wearing truckers. To my relief, they were booked. We then drove down toward the next “big” town, Filmore, and about 10 miles out of town, Jason calls to tell me that his gas light was on, but we just made it into Filmore and to a Chevron station. The hotel next door only had one room left, a king-size bed, smoking. I’d rather sleep in the truck.

The kids were getting cranking, and our babysitter, the DVD player, had quit working for some reason. On top of which, the computer I had brought to do some work on, didn’t get a full charge the night before and only had about 25 percent of its power left, which was dissipated rather quickly. We drove on south to Beaver, where we finally found a Best Western (called Paradise Inn… must have been someone’s joke).

As the days and night wore on, we became more tired. The kids’ excitement for a new city and a new hotel seemed to wane, and after a beer on the second floor walkway (without the cowboy hats, of course), we went to sleep.

Day 10: The last day. Absolutely nothing happened the entire ride home. It was that boring monotony a traveler must suffer through in order to get home, the final reward after a long trip. We all stopped in Las Vegas because we wanted to go to the M&M store and tour the Coca-Cola museum and taste some sodas from other countries. I remember it being fun… well, my memory is all I have because they no longer have the museum and the M&M store was mobbed with tourists (being Saturday in Vegas, everything was crowded and they wanted $9 a pound for M&M!). We went into the Coke store and bought a Taste of the World, a 16-cup taste test of different sodas from around the world. It was enough for all of us to share, but Natalie, who doesn’t like to try new things, would only smell one of them, only after we promised that it smelled good. At the end, I mixed all 16 of the sodas together (even the horrifically hideous Beverly from Italy) into one and drank it… dubbing it the “International Terrorist” in the same vein as the Suicide. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either.

We saw the Tigers in the MGM and then went over to the New York, New York and ate some pizza.

Jason stopped for gas and I waved good bye as we headed for home.

Elsa was glad to see us. The house was still as we left it, and it feels good to sleep in my own bed for a change.

On this trip, we went 2,414.5 miles (probably more because of my odometer/tires), visiting six states, staying out for 10 days, using 171.5 gallons of gas, costing us $514.95, for an average fuel economy of 13.02 miles to the gallon or 4.6 cents a mile, not including hotels (which averaged about $110 a night) or food (which was about $10 a meal on average) or souvenirs (about $200).

It was fun, but expensive, so next year, we’re getting a trailer to save some money…which probably won’t be too likely.

The Great Family Vacation, Part Four

Day Six: The majority of the day consisted of a wild goose chase, where we came within one or two miles of finding what we were looking fore… but we turned around just short of the goal, not realizing how close we were.

We started with breakfast at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, and it was an added bonus to have the server only charge us for three plates for the buffet instead of four (saved nine bucks!).

I had a couple of things I wanted to see on my trip to Yellowstone, one of which was mud pots and the other was the Roosevelt Arch, the arch structure that Teddy Roosevelt dedicated when the park was created. I’ve been to Yellowstone numerous times in my life, but I never remembered seeing this arch or any of the other little towns around the park. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I have only seen the Old Faithful section and really nothing else (that I remember, anyway), so we were bound to do something different. Since Jason, Raquel and Alex were also looking to do some sightseeing, we formed the caravan and set out in search of the Roosevelt Arch. Kara kept her eye out for a moose, her ultimate goal, and she also wanted to go to Montana, if not just to set foot in another state on our trip. We headed north through Madison and Norris, around the bend toward Indian Creek and Mammoth Hot Springs. We stopped at Gibbon Falls again so Jason and Raquel could see the falls, and it was extra nice this time because nobody was there. It was just us.

At Mammoth Hot Springs we visited the Grand Terraces, a calcium carbonate formation that looks like stair steps up the side of the hill. I expected them to have water in them, but they were dry. After having a few days of clouds, rain, snow and fog, it was nice to see clear blue skies. The view from atop the Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs was nice, and below looked like a nice village to live in. Natalie got a little crabby about having her picture taken (she was hungry), and Alex decided to taking a flying leap off of the walkway and into the dirt below. He was unharmed and didn’t cry a peep, so it was pretty funny. At Mammoth Hot Springs, we parked in front of Fort Yellowstone’s officers’ quarters and sat at the picnic tables for lunch. We were surrounded by lazing Elk, as they bellowed at each other and munched on the grass; across the road, a couple of buffalo wandered around looking for something to eat.

Jason and I took the kids into a little general store/gift shop to look around, and we ended up buying a couple of bottles of local beer, Old Faithful Ale and Yellowstone Beer. Jason bought another one, and for the life of either of us, we can’t remember what it is called, only that it has a bear on it and it was made in Idaho.

The visitor’s center had a nice display about the history of the fort and upstairs were some of the animals found in the area. Kara mailed a postcard at the unusually large post office building and we pushed on, mistakenly down the wrong road, a windy one toward Gardiner, Montana. This was fine for Kara because she wanted to visit Montana, and incidentally, we passed by a sign that told us we were halfway to the North Pole, which was strange to see (it was the 45th parallel line). We pulled out at a turnout and took Kara’s picture next to Gardner River (no, that’s not a typo; the town’s Gardiner and the river’s Gardner…for whatever reason) and headed back toward the circle, toward a place called Tower-Roosevelt, which we assumed would lead us to Roosevelt’s Arch. It seemed logical.

All the while, Jason and I talked back and forth on the radios. I brought with us hand-held radios so that we could stay in communication, and we spent much of the radio’s power (they lasted nearly until we got home, dying just after leaving Wyoming) making jokes, exchanging funny movie lines and giving each other funny handles (like Smelly Moose, Stinking Buffalo, etc.). It made the drive more fun, and it served a good purpose to keep us connected so we knew what each of us was doing. Of course, with a speed limit of only 45mph, it wasn’t like we were going to lose each other.

Once we arrived at the Tower-Roosevelt, there was no Arch. We drove until the road closed, and still no Arch. However, we saw the Tower Falls, which seemed to make sense that it was there. Unfortunately, we surmised that we had driven 18 miles for nothing… well, nothing except for the Tower Falls. On the way back, we stopped at the Petrified Tree, and the adage holds true: If you’ve seen on petrified tree, you’ve seen them all. It’s a tree that’s a rock, and since they had an old cemetery fence surrounding it, you couldn’t even get near it to begin with. Jason and I took the kids up to see and take a picture, while Kara and Raquel stayed by the cars with Alex.

Since Chittenden Road was closed for the season, we had no choice but to return to Old Faithful via Mammoth Hot Springs and Madison, so along the way, we stopped at a few things. On a chance, we returned to the road to Montana above Mammoth Hot Springs in the guess that the Roosevelt Arch was there, and after five miles of driving down the windy road into Montana (and only about a mile past where we turned around the first time), we rounded a corner, and there, standing tall and surrounded by yellow grasses, blue sky and snow-capped mountains, was the Roosevelt Arch.

We went through it to Gardiner, Montana, and poked around in a few shops along what appeared to be the main street. I bought a print of a Old Faithful by Albert Bierstadt for $20.00 (more on this later), something to hang over the fireplace, an updated picture of our latest trip… the one that hangs there now is from Oceanside, California, when we stayed there three years ago.

Our day’s trip was taking longer than we expected, and since the next day, Wednesday, was our last, we had reservations at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room for a big farewell dinner, but there was no way we were going to make it back on time. Raquel called to change our reservations, but they only had something at 8:30, much too late for the kids. Instead, when we reached Mammoth Hot Springs again, we decided to eat at the Terrace Grill, a seemingly nice place to eat dinner. It was five minutes after 5pm, and they had just closed for the night. What kind of place that serves dinner closes at 5pm? Admittedly, I was getting irritable. I hadn’t eaten all day and it was starting to wear on me, so I popped my head in and asked if they were still closes; I knew they were, but the outcome was what I had hoped. They said they were, but if we’d like, they’d sill prepare us something.

Instead of taking up their time—there’s nothing worse than eating food around grousing restaurant staff tapping their feet, waiting for you to leave—we decided to take it to go and eat across the street. Of course, we forgot the napkins and the moment we left, they locked the doors.

We stopped again at the Artists Paintpots, so Jason and Raquel could see the mud pots, something they had on their list. It was very nice, not as cold as our previous visit.

All the while we were driving, there was nothing but animal sightings, buffalo, elk, deer, pronghorn (sorry, no moose), but we were excited to finally see a bear. It was wandering down the road to Norris, looking for some food and trying to keep away from the three or four cars that had stopped to take some pictures. It was a brown bear, and looked rather perturbed for being the center of attention, and I couldn’t imagine having it come up to the car for a treat like I had seen in so many of the old pictures.

It was dark by the time we got near Old Faithful Inn. Jason kept reminding me on the radio to watch out for animals, and we would point them out by the side of the road (in the lights of the truck) as we drove by. Kara and I were ironically discussing the fact that we were more concerned with deer and pronghorn than elk or buffalo, because deer and pronghorn seem to be able to dart onto the road, while buffalo and elk rather lumbered slowly. We weren’t speeding; in fact, we were probably going only about 40mph. Just then, in my headlights, loomed two giant buffalo, and I kid you not, they darted up the embankment and onto the road before I could react. I slammed on my brakes, everything in the truck lurched forward as the nose buried down toward the blacktop. I’m sure I swore. Meanwhile, the headlights were full of brown fur, and I lurched the truck to the right to avoid the two buffalo as they dashed across the road.

It was really, really close.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Great Family Vacation, Part 3

Day Five: Last night, I ventured out to find a cup of hot tea for Kara, and since it was too late for the Bear Deli and too late for the little Espresso cart on the second floor, I found myself in the Bear Den, the rustic bar just off the lobby, to inquire about a cup of hot tea. While I was waiting for said tea to steep, I overheard a snippet of conversation between one of the girls behind the bar and another who also works here but popped in for a libation before doing what the people that work here do when they’re not hustling tables or cleaning the rooms. The woman behind the bar asked what the other had done the night before and she replied, “We just hung out. There was a poker game in Mikes room, but other than that, nothing much.”

It suddenly seemed so exciting, a brief glimpse into the background world of Yellowstone’s numerous employees. Earlier, when I was paying for Natalie’s ViewMaster (yes, we finally got one for her…and a puzzle for Matthew), I asked the guy behind the register where they stay while they’re working, and he explained that they have dorms for the employees and how he lucked out with a good one with a private bath and free Internet.

Walking back to the room with Kara’s tea and a glass of Port for me (Fonseca, a favorite… of course, the 27-year-old tawny), I got to thinking about how much of an exciting adventure it would have been to do something like this when I was that age. Like DisneyWorld, most all of the workers here in the Park are college aged (and a bunch of white kids with various European accents), no doubt taking off a semester to spend it making some money in Yellowstone, and as much as I hate harboring regrets, it would have been fun to study abroad or work at a National Park for a quarter or two. What would I have missed? Nothing, I’m sure. I would have still graduated in five years, but I would have had more to show of it.

Today was pretty much jam-packed with a lot of Yellowstone adventure. We started the day early, as the kids rose with the break of dawn, and although the skies were overcast with a gray pall, it was considerably warmer. The icicles that had held fast to the log-beams outside our window were beginning to falter, drip by drip, and I noticed a lot of people watching the morning’s Old Faithful show hatless and without gloves. Even though we got up early, we started rather late, not making it outside until just before 10am. We cycled through several plans for the day, but because I had a meeting to attend (a teleconference), I needed to be in the room at 11:30, so we decided to stay local in the morning and then venture out in the afternoon.

We decided to walk around some of the local geysers we didn’t get to see yesterday, and it was interesting to see the different pools. The venerable old lone Buffalo I could see from my window the other day was still grazing on the grass above some of the colorful pools, and down one of the paths, was a full-racked Elk lounging in the grass, watching the people go by. Several of the geysers and springs were in full splendor as we walked by, but because I had to run on ahead to make it back on time for my meeting, I missed The Castle Geyser’s eruption, which became Natalie’s favorite. Mine was the Grotto Geyser.

After my meeting and a quick bite to eat (a sandwich from the deli… it seems as though I can’t take out my wallet without spending $10; it could be stick of gum and a post card and they’d say “ten dollars please”) we hoped into the truck to see what we could find up north.

Jason and Raquel (and Baby Alex) had finally made it in last night (after having to go back to Jackson Hole and up to the West Entrance), and since they were tired of driving, they decided to walk around the Inn and the various trails in the area.

We left the room without much of a plan. I wanted to see some mud pots and Kara wanted to see a moose, so we aimed the truck toward Madison, the next major “town” above Old Faithful, about 16 miles away. Along the route were various turnouts and side roads to stop at. We took the Firehole Lake Drive detour which led us around a quiet one-lane road only shared by a couple of other cars. We stopped at the first “attraction,” a rather placid geyser, sleepily bubbling, and surrounding it were a few dozen buffalo, now becoming quite a common site on our tours. Only a couple of them bothered to look up at us as we walked by.

We stopped by Gibbons Falls, which was an impressive waterfall carving its way through a narrow canyon. There were a surprisingly large amount of people there, and I hate to imagine what June was like. We got a parking spot in front of the viewing platform, but it seemed as though everyone decided it was time to visit Gibbons Falls all at once.

Since it would be impractical to stop the truck at every geyser and pool we came to—what with taking the kids out and putting them back in—some of them we merely looked out the window, and every time I rolled down any of the windows in the truck, Matthew exclaimed, “Matthew’s turn,” and would fuss until I rolled down his window so he could look out.

The weather was beginning to warm up, and the temperature doubled from its low a couple of days ago to an almost steamy 44 degrees. Most times, I left my jacket in the car and just wore a sweatshirt over my two other layers. There was one time we had walked back from seeing one of the waterfalls, because I was carrying Natalie, that I found myself sweating.

After completing the Firehole Lake Drive loop, we came across Artist’s Paintpots, where we stopped and got out for the one-third-mile walk to the geysers and springs. It was a beautiful trail, wide and gravely, flanked on either side by new pines, replacing those that burned in 1988 (when a good percentage of the Park caught fire). Natalie enjoyed hopping over the puddles, but about halfway to the geysers on that trail, Natalie looked at me and said that she had to go to the bathroom. Well, we couldn’t be farther from a bathroom at that spot, so it was either hold it or we’ll have to use a tree. She opted to hold it until we found a bathroom. “When I’m camping,” she explained, “Then I will use a tree but now I think I’ll wait until we get home.” It was a beautiful little alcove cut into the hillside, holding several bubbly springs, and we took a small trail that wrapped up the side of the mountain, through pine trees and clumps of snow, up some log steps and across a small hill to a crescent-shaped mud pot, three actually. They hissed gas like a broken oven, while several other places plopped out mud in gooey glops. Certainly my favorite. I took a few pictures of the others and a nice family shot with the valley below, and we made it back to the truck with only one incident of Matthew tripping face-first into the dirt…. certainly 14 less than I expected.

Once in Madison, we turned east toward Norris, deciding not to stop again until we reached the waterfalls, which turned out to be our final destination for the day. After another 26 miles, we were in Canyon Village, a mostly buttoned up hamlet of closed-for-the-season buildings and a very nice Visitor’s Center devoted to volcanoes and earthquakes. We grabbed a half-gallon of milk for just over three dollars (which beats paying $1.50 for a pint here in the Inn) and made our way to the waterfalls.

We stopped at the Lower Falls, at the upper observation level, and it was an great site to behold, a giant waterfall, perhaps two miles away, crashing down into the Yellowstone Grand Canyon below. The trail was covered by ice and snow and it was perceptively colder on this side of the loop than the other. We took some pictures and video, of course, and decided that everyone was tired of getting in and out of the car. The kid hadn’t had a nap yet, and since we had some time, we decided to swing around the whole loop, passed Yellowstone Lake and back to Old Faithful, about 50 miles.

Along the way, we had to stop three times for herds of buffalo making their way down the road or directly across it. The first instance, they were walking down the middle of the road, directly at us, and it wasn’t until they were right in front of the truck, that they decided to part ways and plod along on either side of the truck.

The rest of the way, we followed behind a brand new Ferrari, without license plates even, who decided that he was going to go only 45 miles per hour maximum and slow down to around 20 an the turns. Now granted, it was new and 45 is the speed limit in the park, and I don’t blame him for wanting to keep the shiny side up in case he were to come across some ice, but come on! That car was made for roads like this, and though it had dropped to about 36 degrees, we only saw one patch of ice the whole way.

When we got close to the Inn, we called Jason and Raquel to meet them at the Obsidian Dining Room in the Snow Lodge for dinner. I had the buffalo ribs, a salad and Antelope sausages (for an appetizer), which were really good. I can’t say that for the service, however.

They came back to our room for a drink, and then we went out to look at the stars. Tonight was the first night that the sky wasn’t shrouded in clouds, so the billons and billons of stars up there were clearly visible, something you certainly don’t get in the city. To add to it, right when we walked out there, Old Faithful made a spectacular appearance, bursting clouds of white steam against the black sky.

A few faint lights from the Inn were all there was to guide us back to our rooms and to bed. Finally, after a long day, it’s 10:30, and the room is quiet.

The Great Family Vacation, Part Two

Day Three, October 6: In Jackson Hole, it rained all night, but waited until we were up and walking to the car before it started to hail… or sleet… or snow, whatever it was that Mother Nature was doing. I’m from Southern California; if there is frozen stuff coming from the sky, it’s snowing, but Kara was consistent in her assessment of which kind of frozen water was falling, sometimes it was sleet and sometimes it was snow while other times just hail. It was all snow to me.

We packed up the car and again headed North through the rain into Teton National Park. The rain was intermittent, so I constantly had to adjust the windshield wipers on the truck. Clouds obscured the Teton Mountains, one of the things I was looking forward to seeing, but by the time we made it up to the Moose Junction Visitor’s Center, some of the peaks had peaked out to pique our excitement (sorry). The Visitor’s Center was really nice, seemingly new, and it was our first experience with the cold climates of Wyoming in October, only around 45 degrees outside. There were nicely appointed displays showing the various experiences around the Park, from climbing to hiking to animal site-seeing… and that’s what we really wanted to find, some wild animals. They had some examples of the fur various animals have, which the kids enjoyed feeling. We visited the gift shop area and poked around at the stuffed animals. Natalie found a View-Master she wanted, but we didn’t get it because it as about $15. She got a postcard instead and a couple of Yellowstone-themed coloring books, which they are working on right now.

The Park Ranger at the information desk informed us that the road to Yellowstone, through the South Gate, was closed because of the snow, and to make it worse, the pass from West Thumb to Old Faithful was closed at Craig Pass (8261 feet), so we’d have to drive all the way around the lower circle to get to Old Faithful, about a 100 mile drive. Or worst case scenario, we’d have to return to Jackson Hole and come up through Idaho and in the West Entrance. That would add about three hours onto the trip for the day, something I wasn’t looking forward to, but then again, it would have added to the adventure this trip is turning out to be. On top of which, the Ranger said that snow tires were required on the South Entrance Road and suggested throughout other areas of the park. What are snow tires? Do I have snow tires? Can I get snow tires? Out in the parking lot, I looked at my tires, all-terrain mud tires, but would they hold up in snow?

Let the worrying begin, and let me preface my trepidation with the fact that I have never driven in the snow before. I’ve driven around snow and I’ve seen snow on the side of the road while driving, but never has it fallen around the car while I’ve been driving in it. But, let’s not put the cart before the horse, because we can’t even get through on the roads, much less have the pleasure of driving through the snow. Instead, we decided to explore the back roads of the Teton Park to see what it has to offer.

And boy did we.

From the Visitor’s Center, we took a right on Antelope Flats Road and drove toward Gros Ventre (pronounced grow vant… I don’t know why either) and Kelly Camp, making another right turn back toward the 89 and the Visitor Center, so far about 15 miles, with no animals to be seen. A while later, we spotted a herd of around 100 buffalo lounging around by the side of the road, so we stopped and took some pictures at the lazy beasts, chewing cud and perhaps contemplating their existence and the coming winter (where one-fourth of them won’t see Spring). A ways down the road, we saw a few buffalo much closer to the road, so we turned down a seemingly innocent looking road called Mormon Row to catch up with them to get a closer look. Mormon Row was named for a Mormon settlement from the 1860s and some of the houses are still there. Also what was there was mud, lots of mud; the whole road was basically alternating between mud and giant puddles. By the time I was in the middle of it, it was too late; plus, there was no turning around. My truck sank down into it and as I drove out if it, the mud sprayed, splattered and drenched both sides of my entire truck. The truck in front of me and the minivan in front of it, were perfectly fine, but thanks to my big tires that stick out from the wheel wells, mud splattered all over the windows, sides, door handles and bed cover. There was nothing to do but to continue through it, and I figured if a minivan can make it, so can I. The difference is that they came out the other side completely clean. Us? Out of every window, it looked as though there hundreds of little brown buffalo on the distant horizon. Matthew kept looking at his window, saying “poop!” Other than that, we couldn’t see a thing (and I almost pulled out in front of another car because of it), and seeing the sites was the whole point of the trip.

I had to do something, but what? If only I had stolen the hotel towels in Jackson Hole, like I planned to do, I could wipe the windows down and continue. Instead, our only other option was to return to Jackson Hole, find a car wash and clean off the truck. When we stopped at the gas station at the edge of town, the rustic looking girl behind the counter, glanced at the truck and remarked, “Looks like someone had some fun.” There was a self-serve car wash back on Broadway, just on the outskirts of town (across from the Taco Bell).

We headed that way with a dirty truck, and I’m sure we added some worry to those driving up through the Teton Park, passing this mud covered truck, wondering what kind of weather was in store for them, especially if the cars are coming back looking like that poor fellow!

Then it really began to hail, and you wouldn’t think that during a hailstorm there wouldn’t be anyone interested in washing their truck, but lo and behold, we were fifth in line for the self-serve pressure washer. Of those five cars, mine was hands down the worse, but there was only one other that looked as though it needed any kind of washing. It took about 45 minutes to wait for our turn, but finally I was able to clean off the truck with a pressure washer and a scrub brush. Note: squeeze down on the little handle so the water comes out faster—a fact I didn’t discover until the second round of quarters. Total cost of mud excursion down Mormon Row: $3.00.

We parked in front of the antler arches around Jackson Hole’s park and called mom and dad so they could look at us on Jackson Hole’s webcam. It was pouring rain, so we didn’t get out, and the second before I was going to take a picture of the front of the famous Million Dollar Bar, a big truck pulls up in front of it. Just my luck. Oh well.

Just outside of town was another Visitor’s Center, so we stopped to check the condition of the roads again and to look around at the various animal displays they had to offer (a really nice realistic herd of Elk was the centerpiece). The South Gate was open again and so was the road to West Thumb, but the road to Old Faithful was still closed. It looked as though we were destined to drive around. Again, the guy at the counter recommended snow tires, and by the time we reached the entrance gate to Teton National Park (the gate where you have to pay the $25 to get in), the Ranger there summed up the conditions of the road as “not good.”

My confidence level was fast declining, and instead of further adventurous journeys around the Teton Park, like we had planned, we felt it best to get moving up into Yellowstone, just in case it takes a while. No sense in driving on snow-covered roads in the dark. And, by this time, I’m thinking this is going to end up akin to a trip with the Donner Party, and that the snow is going to be tire deep and we’re going to get buried in some kind of snow drift, not discovered until the Spring thaw. Or I’ll be out in front of the truck pulling it with a rope through the snow, like Humphrey Bogart in the swamps in “The African Queen.” I was just glad that I brought a shovel.

With both hands sweaty on the wheel and the truck creeping along at 45 miles per hour, we reached the South Gate Entrance to Yellowstone. The whole time I’m thinking that they’re not going to let us through and that we’re destined to make the big loop around to the lower-elevation West Entrance.

The ground turned from green and brown to white, as the land around the road slowly turned white with snow. It looked like a Christmas card, like all of the pine trees were dusted with a white powder, really beautiful. I began to picture the road ahead, and since it was described by a Park Ranger, an official representative of the National Park system, as “not good,” I figured we were bound for an adventurous drive….if they would even let us through the gate.

We pull up to the gate behind a Toyota Prius, and there’s just no way they’re going to let that guy through. It’s a Prius with 13-inch wheels and skinny tires. Maybe they’re snow tires; after all, he was from Colorado, so he might know about snow tires, but I couldn’t get over the fact that it was a Prius. I’m driving an F-150 with big tires on it and I was worried that I wouldn’t make it through.

The Prius pulled away and we followed. The Ranger at the gate informed us that Craig’s Pass was finally open, which would cut down significantly our trip to Old Faithful. That was some good news. The temperature started to fall, from a toasty 45 degrees down to the high 20s (27 was the lowest I noticed on my gauge). We stopped a couple of times along the way to take some pictures, though nobody but me got out of the car, and we passed over the Continental Divide twice before reaching Old Faithful. The scenery on the drive was beautiful.

There was no problems at all, and it seemed as though I was worried for nothing. The truck didn’t so much as spin a tire. Sure, the ground was covered in snow, but the road was clean and clear, a little wet, but hardly “not good.” I pictured “The Great Blizzard of 74.” The next thing we knew, we were turning down the road to the Old Faithful Inn, passing buffalo along the side of the road.

After nearly 1000 miles, we had finally made it. Outside, it was 28 degrees.

We checked in, went up to the room and I made four trips to the truck with all of our stuff, as if we were staying a couple of months, much less four days. The Inn was sort of how I remembered, but smaller. I remembered the fire place being in the middle of the lobby instead of off to the side, and everything has an updated feel to it from what I remembered. However, the last time I was here was nearly 20 years ago, so I imagine some things are bound to change.

We are staying in Room 3024, on the third floor of the East Wing, part of the Inn that was built in 1913, so the floors squeak with the quaintness of an old lodge and there is a delightful musty smell in the air of old heated-water radiators, gas lamps and thick coats of cream-colored paint on the walls. The doors stick, the glass in the windows have that melted look and the mattress springs are spongy. According to Natalie, there are 11 tiles in the bathroom that have animals painted on them, buffalo, bear, elk, etc., and the shower is a rather hit-or-miss operation. If you stand there long enough, you’re going to get scalded, as the temperature fluctuated from the temperature you set it to and as hot as it can possibly go. After a while, you can feel it coming, so you know when to get out of the way.

Outside our window, directly outside our window, perfectly situated between two stands of trees, is the Old Faithful geyser, which erupted just after we arrived. We can watch it any time we want, like having balcony seats at the big show. Beyond it are the local hills, across the way is the closed-for-the-season Old Faithful Lodge and between them is the circular walkway that the hoards stand on to watch the geyser blow. A buffalo is grazing off in the distance, a brown lump of fur in the white snow. We ate dinner in the main dining hall in the Inn, where I had roast buffalo (sorry old fellow), Kara had chicken and the kids had the standard macaroni and cheese. With two glasses of wine for Kara and I and the tip, it tipped the scales at $75. Yikes. After that, we ventured out into the cold and played in the snow for a while until Old Faithful spouted off again. Natalie made snow angles (she said she learned how to do it from TV…good for her), and it didn’t take the kids long to discover that chucking snowballs at each other (and us) is hilarious fun.

We discovered that darkness crashes down onto everything in the mountains, and when the sun goes down, especially since the sun didn’t actually come out from behind the clouds for most of the day, it gets completely dark. Hand-in-front-of-the-face dark, and they don’t even light Old Faithful at night like I expected they would.
We were asleep by 10pm, and while we slept, Mother Nature dumped about three inches of snow onto everything.

Day Four: We had breakfast in our room and discovered that the roads again were closed, and we discovered it the hard way, by driving out on them to a sign that said “Local Traffic Only.” The truck took a while to get warmed up, which gave us time to dust off the snow on the windows and the doors, and the lock to the bed cover seemed to be frozen stuck.

Instead we decided to walk around the local geysers and springs; the boardwalks were covered in ice and everything had a white blanket on it. It was bitingly cold, and just on the other side of Old Faithful, a group of elk were peacefully grazing, about 10 yards off of the path. We circled around the boardwalks and the various springs, watched as Sawmill geyser and Tardy geyser exploded right in front of us. I got it on video. Steam blew all around us, and I took some temperature measurements with my laser thermometer (they’re around 180 degrees if you’re curious); meanwhile, Matthew fell asleep in the stroller, so we bundled up the blanket around him. Natalie didn’t want to go near the geysers, but when she finally warmed up to them, she held her breath so she wouldn’t have to smell the sulfur. Twenty or so yards away, along the boardwalk a buffalo stood eating grass around the warm springs, and there were a dozen or more standing near the path next to the parking lot of the Inn, some on one side of the path and some on the other. We had to walk between them, and all I could think of was how fast those animals can run and how screwed we’d be if they decided to give chase; however, with the exception of one or two, they were all laying down.

The kids were getting tired of walking around and Natalie was getting a little crabby, so we returned to the room and had some snacks and a little rest before we headed out to dinner. Exploring further from the Inn, we ventured through the snow to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, just south of the geyser, and decided to eat at the Grizzly Grill. It was more our speed: hamburgers, chicken nuggets, cokes and an old grizzled guy walking around asking us where we were from and how we liked the weather.

Looking out the window of our room, Old Faithful just erupted. Nice view.

The kids just had their bath for the night (it’s nearly 8pm and still no word from Jason and Raquel…last I heard they were at the West Entrance, having had to go around because of the snow, so I hope everything is okay). In the bathtub, the kids each had a piece of soap shaped like a bear, so fun was had even though there wasn’t a toy to be found.

Kara’s reading a new book and I’m ready to go to sleep.

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