When my mother puts on make-up, she says she is putting on her face. I usually find it easier just to go with whatever face I happen to wake up in, but sometimes that doesn’t feel quite … enough.
So when I was packing for the road trip Himself and I are currently enjoying, I crammed my supply of face paint into a small bag and shoved it into my suitcase. Day 2 found us rolling into Reno just barely in time for the start of the Hubbit’s 50th school reunion festivities. Getting there was good – a leisurely two days with an overnight stop at a comfortable Best Western. And while Nevada appears to be mainly a whole helluva lot of not a whole helluva lot, it has a certain stark visual appeal.
Arriving was a whole other matter. Tell this South African girl she’s staying at a “resort”, and she expects to see trees, grass, some chalets scattered around a rustic but luxurious lodge, a pool, maybe a miniature golf course – you get the idea. Quite apart from the fact that it hadn’t occurred to me that we were going to a casino (yeah, I know, call me stupid) the word “resort” had me expecting some sort of desert oasis. The reality of a high rise city center hotel, with a crowded lobby that was all marble and mirrors leading to bleak little rooms failed to enchant.
As for the casino, it was creepy and depressing. A (presumably fake but I think full scale) mine headgear loomed in the gloomy arch of the domed ceiling. Arrayed around it were machines lit in lurid colors, silently waiting to swallow your money – and, with it, your hopes and dreams – but the alleys between the machines were dark. The hotel surrounding the gambling area was loud with voices and piped music, but the casino seemed clouded in a dull hush. It used to be fun to play the fruit machines – you carried your money in a paper cup and fumbled it out to push it into the coin slot, and after a while your arm would ache from pulling the lever, but you kept pulling because the sound of money clattering into the catch tray when you won was so seductive you had to keep trying for more, until you were left with nothing but the stink of money on your hands, and an empty cup, and sleepy daydreams of what might have been if you’d stopped just 15 minutes sooner. But now it’s all done with smart cards and buttons. Bells don’t ring, lights don’t flash, and winnings don’t clatter. I don’t know why anyone would bother.
So anyway, we checked in with just minutes to spare, and the Hubbit was all antsy to get upstairs to reconnect with the Good Old Days Of Yore, and I was rattled and discombobulated by finding myself in a crowded and alien world. I yanked my make-up bag (actually it’s a small linen bag that pillowcases came in and that I kept because I was sure it would come in handy some day – I don’t actually own a make-up bag) out of my suitcase, peered into the mirror, thought “Stuff it”, splashed cold water on my face, and followed Himself up to the hospitality suite.
It was full of happy old people clutching alcoholic drinks. I didn’t know anyone. Himself introduced me to Bob and reminded me that we’d met. (Poor Hubbit had no idea that Bob and I had been conspiring for weeks via email to make him feel conspicuous on his birthday, which happened to be the next day.) Bob called his wife over, and although
she clearly had no idea who I was and no memory of ever having met me, she informed me that I did indeed look familiar because I reminded her of an actress, only she couldn’t remember which one. I snaffled a bottle of water and snuck away into a corner. People introduced themselves and told me where they were from and asked me where I was from, and at intervals Bob’s wife wandered past and said she was still trying to remember which actress it was, but my smile definitely reminded her of someone. Eventually everyone decided to go out to dinner together, and as we were leaving Bob’s wife found me again and apologized, because she’d realized I didn’t remind her of an actress, but rather of one of Bob’s cousins, who was a very sweet woman.
The next evening was The First Dinner (the one on Tuesday didn’t count because it was spontaneous). I blinged up a bit, peered into my makeup bag, and said “Stuff it” again. Earrings and a malachite bead necklace was as far as I felt able to go. And it was just fine, because no one was paying attention to me while Himself got royally roasted (two bottles of “viagra” – Bob’s wife told me she had to eat her way through a terrifyingly large number of M&Ms to find enough blue ones – and a gift certificate for a Happy Ending, whatever that might be – pretty much what I expected after telling one of the Hubbit’s peers to “be as juvenile as you like” in celebrating his birthday).
Last night was the Big Event. We have left Reno and are now in Vallejo, and last night’s banquet was hosted by an Admiral, no less. (The Hubbit is a Cal Maritime Academy boy.) Getting myself ready, I blinged to the max, and dumped my supply of warpaint on the sink counter.
Now to give some background to all this … My friend Wonder Woman decided, for my birthday in February, to make a woman of me, and she took me shopping for Face Stuff. Ignoring my mutters, winces and rolling eyes, she selected some kind of tinted face cream (for covering wrinkled and freckles), face powder (for covering the cream), eyebrow pencil (for revealing brows that might have vanished under a layer of cream and powder), brown eye shadow, and lipstick. And I used it faithfully every day for weeks, right up until Argos ate my lipstick and I ran out of tinted face cream.
Well, as part of preparing for this road trip, I betook myself to Walgreens and replenished my supply. I couldn’t remember what she’d bought, but how hard could it be to buy lipstick and face cream?
Yeah … maybe I need to put more work into this process… It turns out that Jergens Natural Glow is not so much a tinted moisturizer as a fake tanning lotion. I’d already covered my face before it occurred to me to read the directions. Then I hastily scrubbed it off … slathered on cold cream that I got at the Dollar Store … patted powder over that … touched up eyelids (brown), eyebrows (browner), and lipstick (brownish). I have no idea how it turned out, because I suspect that when I look in the mirror I don’t see what the rest of the world sees – and the Hubbit is no help, since he doesn’t ever comment on my appearance and, for all I know, doesn’t notice whether I look like a clown or a queen.
I dunno … I guess I’m just not that good at being a girl, y’all. On the other hand, I’m not bad at happy endings…
One aspect of being both a mother and a daughter is, sometimes you hear your mother’s voice coming out of your mouth, and sometimes you hear your voice coming out of your daughter’s mouth. Your life is a channel, and flowing through it are all the rich juices of the savvy young woman slurping at the world’s oyster, the fuck-with-me-and-die queen bitch, and the sweet but bewildered little old lady.
And the great thing about that amorphous period called “middle age” – you know, the age you admit to having reached around the middle of your first century, and refuse to leave until you pass three score and ten – the very best thing about that phase of a woman’s life is, you get to channel all three of these gals at will.
So much for context. Now, background: Himself and I are planning a little trip to California in a few weeks to celebrate his 50th school reunion. Savvy and the Queen have been working on him pretty much nonstop to hire a car rather than adding 4,000 or more miles to our already overburdened odometer. Savvy has nattered on about how much pleasanter the trip will be in a car that’s big enough for him to stretch his legs, and for the two of us to sit side-by-side without constantly rubbing elbows. The Queen has warned of direful consequences if she has to spend any time at all sitting on the side of the road while Himself fixes the car. Even the Li’l Ol’ Lady got involved – she joined AARP to take advantage of their car hire specials, ignoring Himself’s vocal disapproval. (He doesn’t like their politics. We know nothing about their politics and care less, so long as we get a Deal. We’re principled that way.)
Yesterday, after weeks of poking about online comparing options, I decided it was time to put pedal to metal, choose a car, and reserve the bloody thing. I presented Himself with the options I had found on the AARP website. He spent several hours puttering about the interwebs, and presented me with … this.
Last night, although tired, I was determined not to go to bed and leave this job unfinished. I plunked myself down at my computer and prepared to book the vehicle of his choice.
It didn’t go well.
So this morning I channeled the Queen Bitch and called Avis to insist, with icily businesslike courtesy, that they cancel a car hire contract that I didn’t want because their fees wereexcessive and their habit of keeping said fees a dark secret until the last possible minute was unethical. Further, the Queen demanded that they accomplish said cancellation without spanking her with an unreasonable and unwarranted $25 cancellation fee.
The Queen, bless her heart, completely intimidated the young man who took her call, so he referred her to his supervisor. This turned out to be a young woman whose warm, sympathetic voice brought the Li’l Ol’ Lady scurrying to the phone. It can be a little tricky when this happens, because Queen Bitch doesn’t really like giving way to the other two. There was a momentary struggle, during which I merely gibbered a bit, and then the Avis rep gently said, “Why don’t you tell me how I can help you?” Her voice was as potent as an intravenous tea infusion. The Li’l Ol’ Lady whomped the Bitch over the head with her beaded handbag and took control of the conversation.
“Oh, I hope you can, dear – thank you so much!” Li’l Ol’ Lady said gratefully. “My husband and I don’t have a lot of experience with hiring cars but I thought it would be wise this time, because we’re driving an awfully long way and I found such a good deal from Avis. I found it through the AARP, you know.”
“Oh wonderful! Yes, we value our senior customers very much,” the warm voice responded, coaxing her to continue.
The Li’l Ol’ Lady chuckled, allowing just the tiniest hint of a quaver to enter her voice. “Well, I’m not exactly a senior, myself, but my husband’s a lot older than I am, of course.”
“Oh – but of course I didn’t mean to imply you were old!” the warm voice reassured her. “But did you have a problem with your reservation?”
“Well, yes, dear! It turned out to be not a good deal at all! I’ve been researching hire cars online, you know, and I’ve learned that the only way to know for sure how much one will cost is to go all the way to the point of actually ordering it. Because you car hire people are naughty, you know – you don’t tell us all the fees upfront!”
“I know,” she sympathized. “I wish they wouldn’t do that.”
“Oh, well, I know it’s not your fault, dear. But the thing is, the extra charges on this AARP deal were really, really high! I was so shocked I accidentally clicked on the wrong place and suddenly I got a message that I’d made a reservation!”
“Yes! And when I tried to cancel it – which I did right away dear – I got a message saying it would cost $25 to cancel! So I decided to make the best of it, but I had to show it to my husband, of course…” The Li’l Ol’ Lady’s voice became a little tremulous.
“And he wasn’t very pleased. Especially when he found out that a lot of the fees were because I’d booked to pick it up at the airport – I just thought that would be a convenient place to get it, but there’s an extra $50 in fees for airport cars!”
“Oh dear! Yes, our airport locations do have extra costs, I’m afraid.”
“Well, I can’t imagine what they are, dear,” the Li’l Ol’ Lady said, with an edge to her tone that suggested the Queen Bitch might be leaning over her shoulder. “Anyway, while my husband was looking at all these extra fees and working out what they were for, he accidentally clicked on something and suddenly we got a notification that our reservation had been modified, and the cost had gone up nearly $100! I changed what he’d done but I didn’t get any notification that it had been modified back so … Anyway, I just need this whole thing to go away. I need to not hire this car, and I really don’t think it’s reasonable to make me pay $25, do you?”
There was a pause, and then she spoke. “Well, this isn’t a prepaid reservation. You can just cancel it.”
The Li’l Ol’ Lady was bewildered. “Really? And the $25?”
“Nope, there’s no penalty. I’ll cancel it for you right now.” Some keyboard noises followed, and a cancellation notice popped up in the inbox.
“Well … my goodness … that was a lot easier than I expected! Thank you very much, dear! I do feel rather foolish!”
The voice was warmer than ever. “Not at all ma’am. I understand – things can be very confusing these days!” She hung up.
‘These days.’ Holy cow … ‘These days’??? That young snippety … Argh! I wonder what century she thought I was born in? Well, the last one, obviously – but it was during the second half, okay?
Huffing to myself, I dived back into Google and quickly, efficiently found my way to Enterprise, where I booked the exact same car for a substantially lower price with no help at all from AARP.
‘These days’. Hmph!
Now it’s your turn! Tell me what you think of alternate personas, car hire companies, and growing old…
I was so afraid it would be a disaster. I was afraid we’d be trapped in unresolved conflicts and mutual misunderstanding. I was desperately afraid that, after more than a decade apart (but for a few days here and there separated by years of absence) there would simply be nothing left of our relationship.
In the tearing pain of goodbye I’m trying to focus on how glad I am that I was wrong. It still hurts, though … and although I love my life with Himself on our farmlet in a crook of the Columbia River, getting back to normal seems a dreary affair. Smoke from the fires raging across the Pacific Northwest casts a pall that is entirely in keeping with my mood.
The Girl Child left on Thursday. I gave myself a couple days to catch up on sleep and get my mope done, and now I’m picking up my life … and if it seems a tad mundane, and if I miss the vibrant intensity of our conversations, and if I ache a little sometimes for hugs and back rubs and other touches that say “I See You” … well, for all that, this is a good life, and I chose it, and I continue to choose it daily.
I want to tell you about the last few days of her visit, because they were too good not to be recorded.
The first blessing: Woo and Her Boy
Woo is the Girl Child’s oldest friend. Her father and uncle and I were playmates as young children, and she and the Girl Child became instant friends when they were toddlers. Over the years she visited often and even lived with us a few times, and then we lost contact. She lives in Florida now, and has a 13-year-old son, and when she heard about the Girl Child’s visit she announced that she was coming to visit too, and bringing her son to meet us.
They were here for only two days, bracketed by two full days of travel. On the second day we ran away from the smoke and drove to Mt Rainier to see the flowers in the sub-alpine meadows. I don’t know whether the flowers came early this year, or whether the person who told me August was the best month to see them was mistaken, but most of them were gone. It was okay, though – we had blue sky and forests and ancient trees, and a picnic, and conversation. At the end there was a cheap airport hotel that wasn’t too bad, and by the time Woo and her boy left they were talking seriously of moving to Washington. I want that to happen so much I don’t dare speak about it here!
The second blessing: A whole extra day
The Girl Child and I both misread her travel itinerary and thought she would have to check in for her flight quite early on Thursday morning. At the last minute – after we’d already made all our plans around her early departure – we realized that she wasn’t flying out until late afternoon. The joy of a whole extra day for just us!
We spent it at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. How in the world do I tell you what that was like? We walked through a series of rooms dedicated to different exhibits. The first was one of his early works – interesting and nice to look at. Then there was one inspired by Native American blankets and baskets – also worth seeing. And then … oh my word. A dark room with a blaze of color and shapes. Another room, still more intense. A ceiling – I couldn’t help myself; I had to lie down and stare at it. (I don’t understand why everyone wasn’t lying down!) There followed a gradual descent in intensity until we thought it was over – but no, after that came the garden – a lavish mix of greenery, flowers and glass.
The third blessing: Priorities
I’ve always been the one to waft along not worrying about the clock, Living In The Moment. The Girl Child, by contrast, is entirely Type A. So after Chihuly, when it dawned on me that I was still short one of the gifts I wanted to send back to South Africa with her, it was entirely in character for me to suggest just “popping over” to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, where we were guaranteed to find something that would appeal to a teenage boy. And, of course, it was equally in character for her to hyperventilate a little because this was Seattle. You don’t “pop over” Seattle. There is traffic!
But then we switched. We drove there. We puttered. We had lunch – clam chowder with the seagulls at Ivar’s. And every time I fidgeted about the time, she told me to relax. Eventually she said, “Chill, Mom. I won’t miss my plane. And if I’m too late to get a seat in the emergency aisle it doesn’t matter – I’d rather have lunch with you.”
Such a small thing to say … but after all those years, and all that worry and preparation and “what if we just don’t like each other” … well, it meant the world to me.
She’s back home now and so am I, but we’ve built a bridge this summer.
There is a moment in every woman’s life when she knows that she will never camp again. For me, that moment came last Saturday morning, somewhere between dragging my protesting bones off a thin foam mattress and across wet grass to a porta-potty, and realizing that I’d forgotten to bring a cup and therefore had to rinse my contact lenses and brush my teeth in Argos’ water bowl.
Not that I’m complaining. Self-knowledge is a good thing. Also, my road trip with the Girl Child has been … what word works best? Delightful. Healing. Rejuvenating. Joyous.
A gift from God.
This is true even of the itchy bits: A couple days without showering. My snoring, Argos’ licking of parts best ignored, her acute sensitivity to annoying noises. Conversations about subjects previously skirted – God (I am a grateful believer in One who gives with a lavish hand; she calls herself an atheist and speaks of “putting things out to the Universe”), love, sex and dating (Himself is irredeemably male; she is in love with a young woman she met on Tinder, and while telling me about Tinder she mentioned the “fake lesbians” who hunt there for thrills – but, she told me, you can tell them by their talons. I did the blank stare, and she waved her beautifully polished but short fingernails at me. More blank. She rolled her eyes. “Mom. Please don’t make me explain why lesbians don’t grow long fingernails.” Comprehension smacked me upside the head and I squeaked “Oh my word, TMI!” and blushed like a virgin). Conversations about the past – sad and happy memories, regrets and forgiveness, perceptions and assumptions and explanations – and about politics, books, ethics, the meaning of life, and, naturally, family gossip.
Inevitably, our road trip got off to a chaotic start. Between a big deadline and the need to transform a black hole of doom into a comfortable spare bedroom, I’d had no time to worry about trivia like grocery shopping in advance for a trip that wouldn’t happen until days after her arrival. Suddenly it was time to meet her at the airport, followed by much running around and visiting with people, in between firing increasingly irate messages at Emirates Air demanding to know what they’d done with her luggage. (It arrived on a late flight the night before we left town.)
We picked up our hire car from Budget at about the time I’d planned to get on the road. (That’s when we learned that a second driver added around 70% to the cost of the hire. For the same amount of car. No, it makes no sense to me either.) Then we rushed home to pack, but first I insisted on spring-cleaning the house in an effort to assuage my guilt over abandoning Himself to the care of seven dogs and a horde of other critters, while the Girl Child flung things into the car more or less at random. (Actually, that’s not true – she packs as though she’s solving a tetris puzzle. So what in fact happened was, I flung random suggestions at her and she gathered things together and stowed them neatly away, and it was therefore entirely my fault that we left without eating or cooking utensils or, come to think of it, food.)
The plan was to get to our cottage in central Oregon, about four hours drive away, at lunch time. As noon approached, the Girl Child became restive and I said “Stuff it, this is clean enough” and hurled my mop at the bucket. We loaded ourselves and Argos into the car, and headed for the hills.
There are many beautiful places to see in Central Oregon. I’d whittled the list down to four … but in fact all we managed were the Painted Hills. We had to go twice, to see what they looked like in the evening and again by the fresh light of morning.
We spent the night at a cottage in Mitchell. It was clean, spacious and comfortable. The only downside to our stay was the inevitable toilet mishap – and it was almost a relief to get that done and out of the way early. (My relationship with toilets is a whole other blog post, which I will write one day … enough to say that although I love to travel, my bowels do not.)
Now that I think of it, the other downside was the absence of anywhere to eat in Mitchell. Everything closes at 7.00PM. Dinner was a couple of blueberry muffins and a glass of milk that we’d picked up en route for breakfast.
Our next destination was Crater Lake. It was late afternoon by the time we got there. We drove through forest tunnels that were veiled with heavy smoke from the fire at Medford, but the lake was dazzling in the low light. Of course, we had to go back again the next morning so she could see the incredible blue of the water and to putter around taking pictures of flowers and trees and weird rock formations. (See how self-controlled I’m being? I’m making you look at hardly any of them!)
Day three had us heading for the Oregon Coast, a stay at one of my favorite places and Argos’ first encounter with the sea. Moolack Shores Motel is a couple miles north of Newport, and the couple who own it have so much fun doing it up all arty and interesting and fun. When we walked into our suite (“the hunting lodge”, complete with rifles and rods, a deer head mounted over the bedroom door, and wood carvings by local artists) the view of the Pacific blazed through the big picture windows at us. I expected Argos to be at least a little fazed by the hugeness of the ocean, but no – he knew right away that sand was for running and waves for dancing and friends for making.
By then, we were tired of the road, and packing up to leave the next morning was hard. Lesson learned: road trips are better if you drive only every second day.
It took us more than 12 hours to get from Newport to Neah Bay, because of course we took a detour to look at some or other scenic something, and around midday we stopped at Safeway to stock up on food and got sucked into a time warp. (While in the time warp I temporarily lost control of my faculties and bought a leg of lamb and mushrooms and baby potatoes, and a couple of aluminum roasting thingummies and insisted that I was going to fix something delicious on the barbecue for dinner. More about this later.)
On the other hand, we found a town called Humptulips. Yes, really – google it if you don’t believe me. The only public loo is a porta-potty on the side of the road (Girl Child’s review: “It’s clean enough – just don’t look down.” There is a general store with an alarm that shrieks long and hard every time the door opens, and a young woman behind the counter who looks as though she’s waiting for someone to rescue her. I hope they don’t keep her waiting too long!
Neah Bay is on the Olympic Peninsula, which just happens to be one of the wettest places on earth. Seriously, parts of it get 10 feet of precipitation every year. So, of course, we had to camp there. We spent the whole long day’s drive wondering whether we’d packed the rain cover for the tent, and also whether we’d be able to inflate the air mattress, which we bought en route in the trusting but false assumption that it came with some sort of blower upper. It was dark when we arrived and we were all three of us grumpy and fed up with this whole road trip nonsense, and although the tent went up more-or-less waterproof and a fellow camper provided a bed inflator, I didn’t sleep well because the Girl Child kept waking me up to accuse me of snoring.
The next morning I kicked the Girl Child out into the cold rain with instructions to explore Cape Flattery and the museum … and I spent the entire day in bed, snoozing and reading. Everyone else left on various errands, and even Argos seemed relieved to spend a day Doing Nothing. It was bliss! Until I noticed that the rain had soaked through the tent wall and my sleeping bag was sodden … but that didn’t happen until much later, and it led to the epiphany I mentioned right at the beginning of this post. No More Camping For Me!
Having slept, and then ambled pleasantly along the beach, I was happy to not worry about the lamb, which we didn’t cook because the friends we were camping with had planned a fish bake. I will eat someone else’s baked fish over any cooking of mine any day! And I figured the lamb would do fine for our next stop, as long as we kept topping up the ice it was packed in.
On Day six we were back on the road again, with a full bag of soaking laundry and craving a hot shower. First there was a long drive to Port Townsend, then a ferry across to another island, then the beautiful bridge at Deception Pass, seafood dinner in Anacortes, a late ferry to Orcas Island, and a slow drive down narrow and twisting roads between hedgerows and fields. I wonder if all islands try to look like England? At last we reached our destination: a resort where I had paid a bloody fortune to hire a tent. Not a wet and flappy tent that we had to erect ourselves, mind you – a permanent tent, with a solid carpeted floor and an actual bed and – or so I presumed – Conveniences.
We expected a place to cook. A small fridge. A shower!!! (Did I mention that after two days of camping, bracketed by two days of travel, we were more than a tad stinky? And itchy! Yuchh!)
Well. First there was the Stench. It assaulted our nostrils as we entered the resort, and was so bad I couldn’t even blame it on Argos. We mentioned it to the ditzy young dingleberry in reception, and she giggled and changed the subject. Then there was the tent … and it was a very nice tent, dry and clean with a fair view – only the bed was on the small side, but we had to share because there was no bedding for the futon. There was also no fridge, and nowhere to cook. (There was a place to barbecue, but it was an uncomfortable distance from our tent – and there were signs everywhere warning of a burn ban due to the hot, dry weather.)
We resigned ourselves to dining on cheese sticks and chips, and went in search of the showers, There were two showers, three toilets and four basins to serve about eight tent cabins and a full campsite. One of the showers was available, so the Girl Child went in (it was her turn to go first) and peeled off her disgusting, damp, smelly clothes. There was a pause, then I heard, “Mom? Do you have any quarters?”
Yep, it took around four quarters to have a halfway decent shower. Because everyone walks around with spare quarters in their pockets. So, kind reader, what do you think? Do you think I left her, naked, reeking and shivering, while I hurried to find my purse, which didn’t contain any quarters, so I drove to the store at reception, only to find they had closed? Or did I stick my hand into the pocket of my jeans and find a bunch of quarters that were left over after I washed the rug for her bedroom at the laundromat? I’ll give you a hint: there are several practical reasons why I believe in a God of miracles.
The resort didn’t win any stars, but Orcas Island is a delight. We took the short hike at Obstruction Pass – the Girl Child and Argos ran the mile to the beach, then ran some more while waiting for me, and eventually ran back to the car. I found the steep ups and downs quite a challenge and was relieved to learn of an easier, more level route back – but it was so worth it, to sit and look out at the islands and throw sticks for the boy.
He loves the water, And he really, really wants the stick. But swim? Nah … he’s not convinced that’s possible.
Then we went up to Mt Constitution, but I was pooped and chilled and wet through from towing a tired and recalcitrant Malinois into a freshwater lake on the way there to rinse the salt water off him.
And now here we are, approaching the end. I’m writing this in a coffee shop while the Girl Child shops her way up Eastsound and back. We have to be at the ferry by 2.00PM, and we’ll be home before midnight.
Maybe I can talk Himself into cooking the lamb…
I’ve told you here about our travels. What I haven’t quite managed to put into words, however, is the beauty of the journey we’ve started together. In just a few days, we’ve traveled all the way from rebellious 17 and anxious mommy, to two women who delight in each other’s company. So … yeah, the road trip is all but over. But the journey? That’s just beginning.