Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Grand Junction, Colorado (part 1)

Part 1: Feeling at home in the land of smoking corn syrup-laced styrofoam 

Sometimes you get to go on vacation. Sometimes you have to take a trip. There’s a difference.

Seeing your elderly Mother through a life-threatening operation is definitely a reason to drop everything and “take a trip.”

What was wrong with Carolyn? Oh, nothing much. Her intestines decided they needed more ‘lebensraum’ and so pushed her stomach up through her diaphragm, to a point where it was nestled, noodle-like, between her lungs. The medical term for this is ‘hiatal hernia’, which is pronounced “hoe-lee / shee-ie-t”.

This got her doctors very excited, which is the LAST thing you want a doctor to be. And a holyshit hernia is not the kind of thing that can be “treated with medication.” So, emergency surgery it was!

But it wasn’t so much of an emergency that I needed to fly, which is good, because Grand Junction is a 19th Century town built around 19th Century concepts like railroads and rivers. (Hence the city’s name.) So, since flying is 3 times as expensive and taking the bus always means I am stuck sitting next to The Stinky Guy, Amtrak it was!

(And that particular adventure is chronicled, in butt-numbing detail, HERE.)

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014:

Mom and her best buddy Jan met me at the Train Station on Friday afternoon, and whisked me away to sample the local delicacies and vintage bubbly at the most popular restaurant in the city. Sigh. I had the Grand Slam breakfast and they ordered off the $2, $4, $6, $8 senior menu. Plus AARP discount!

Mom, filling up Mountie, yet again.
Mom was way too skinny and very weak, the result of having a working stomach the size of a peach. But she was chipper and game and still very much herself.

We dropped off Jan and went to Mom’s condo in The Ridges*, a golf community across the Colorado River and right under the spectacular mesas of the Colorado National Monument. First order of business was cleaning off the futon in the spare bedroom and taking a vitally important nap. (You don’t get much sleep on the train when you are down in Steerage.)

Later we drove to dinner at another word-of-mouth bistro that delights in pairing the regional cuisine with local spices and presents it with √©lan and rustic good charm: “Ummm, yes. I’ll have a Chalupa Supreme and she’s gonna go with whatever the hell a 'Gordita crunchwrap' is. And a large Sierra Mist. No, not a coke - a Sierra Mist.”
The road up to the Ridges, and Mom's condo

I was able to show my Mother the DVD of my last Pantheacon Presentation, which my video guy had finished and mastered about 10 minutes before I got on the train.

Mom was out like a light at 9pm, and I was left to my own electronic devices for the rest of the evening. Most of it though was spent fighting my eventual bed. I mean, I don’t ask for much. I had spent the previous night lying on the metal floor of a rollicking train car with only a hoodie for pillow and blanket.

But this, this. Ay-yi-yi. First off, two of the most uncomfortable words in the English language are “fold-out” and “futon”. Put together they are more than the sum of their individual lumpinesses. But futons are malleable, right? Could I use my wits, charm and a rubber mallet to make this thing even vaguely flat?

The view from out of Mom's backyard.
I eventually wrestled it into a shape resembling a topographical map of Arizona, and slept on the Southern half, away from the Grand Canyon. Well ‘slept’ may be too generous a term: between Phoenix and Tempe digging into my thigh and kidneys, a smell like downtown Tucson, Stubby the cat trying to dig under the door all night, and heat like Scottsdale because the air conditioning was outside of that door, I awoke feeling like I wanted to secede from the Union too.

Sunday, August 3rd

Over a breakfast of a Clif Bar and flat Sierra Mist I informed Mom that I was moving out. She took it well.
Mom and Jan in Whitewater Cemetery.
Quite the garden spot, eh?

After breakfast, we sat down in the living room and had The Talk. No, not THAT talk. Not the one about  the beginning of my adult life - the one about the end of hers. Just in case. 

So we went through the insurance papers and she talked about her wishes and instructions. I recorded all of this on my phone. Thank you, 21st century technology!

Inspired she got out the old photo albums and I recorded her reminiscing about her first, brief Marriage. Her thought going down the aisle: “Oh well. I can always get a divorce.”

Me and Grandma, chillin'.
Our activity on this Sunday was too visit Grandma. Well, specifically, her headstone. This is located at the Whitewater Cemetery, which is miles and miles away from any sort of water, white or no. This is a hilltop cemetery, with exactly none trees inhibiting its view of dust, dust and more dust.

You step out of your car at the gate down the road and by the time you walk to the graves and markers, you are now wearing a black duster, a pinch-front cowboy hat and a shootin’ iron dangling from your waist.

The theme music from “Hell on Wheels” and “Deadwood” plays constantly here. But Frances now has a nice grave stone of marble and it was good to visit with her Spirit again. Always did like Grandma. But, Lordy, I could sure use a shot of rockgut whiskey right now, dagnabit.
Everybody's dyin' to get in

Mom had some serious trouble traversing 200 yards of gravel. I was worried about her, and glad the Operation was happening on Tuesday.

She handed me the keys to Mountie 2, so it looks like I’m driving from here. Mountie 2 is a Mercury Mountaineer Land Yacht that Moms been driving ever since she ran the wheels off of Mountie 1 many years ago.

Mountie is equipped with 8 wheel drive, 4 V8 engines, and is large enough to hold summit talks in. A great vehicle for the winter snows around here, and a ridiculous excess of car for the hot summers. But it has good air conditioning!

On the way back to Grand Junction we stopped off at the Mesa Inn, which I had researched online ahead of time (Ahem): Pool, free Wifi, Fitness Center, fridge and microwave in room, continental breakfast, near the Hospital, and all for $40.00 a night. Also no cats, Arizonans or fold out futons in sight. I’ll take it. Sign me up for a week.

Mountie, the Boat of Car.
Leaving the Mesa Inn I dropped off Jan, and then Mom for her nap. I packed up my two bags at the condo and a surprise loaner bicycle from her neighbor, Greg, which was darned decent of him.

How big is Mountie? I just tossed the bike in one of the many back seats and it fit fine, crossways. And the air conditioner goes down to 60 degrees. Crank!

I attended luncheon at yet another amusing, quaint rotisserie: “I’ll have the Beef ’N’ Cheddar, potato cakes, an apple turnover and a Sierra Mist. No, not a coke - jeez these things sound nothing alike - SIERRA MIST. Theenks.”

Check in, including bicycle, check for fridge coldness, no state landmarks in the
No, I was never once tempted to turn on the TV.
bed and the strength of the Wifi. Hmmm….weak, but serviceable.

This was a recurring problem all over the Grand Valley during my time there: ‘Junction is surrounded on three sides by enormous (and geologically unique) mesas and this makes 21st Century communications problematic, at best. The bars on my iPhone would come and go with maddening frequency and unpredictability, and the wifi signals on my laptop were equally elusive.

You've got to be SUPER FAST
to take a picture of your phone
with your phone.
But the signal was better here than at the black hole of Mom’s condo, and equally free. Sold. 

I walked down to Safeway, after foolishly attempting to find ‘Organic Foods’ on the iPhone, and it was - yes indeedy - 90 degrees outside. I picked up Clif Bars, shampoo, raspberries (which spoiled instantly) and a 12 pack of diet Sierra Mist. Woo-hoo! Par-tay!

Back in the room I set the air conditioning to ’60’ and fell into the clean, flat bed. Heaven.

Dinner that night was at a Texas Roadhouse, with Mom and Jan and Greg. Finally some real, decent, tasty food. This town might have some possibility after all.

Greg took Mom home, which means I guess I get the Boat of Car to drive around. Score. Well, not to nitpick or anything but it gets half the mileage of Hymie the Hybrid and it costs $75.00 to fill it up, which I did, 3 times. Ugh.

Anyhoo, having dinner with a 74 year old means I am on my own at 7:30pm.
Wide-eyed selfie at this bit of horror.
Oookay. What kind of fun can a married man scare up on a Sunday night?

Not much, as it turns out. The bar across the street, Cruisers (heh-heh), didn't even have an employee visible. Just 3 drunk people playing bocci ball outside, with no idea of the rules. So, a little bit billiards, a little bit Quidditch. And a lot of blithery arguments while waving around spheroids.

The Rockies game was on inside, but playing to an empty house. Sports bars around here only fill up when the Broncos are playing. The whole Western Slope is in denial that there is a major league baseball team in this state. I saw as many Giants jerseys in Grand Junction as I did Rockies T-shirts: One apiece.

The Mesa Inn, with the Bookcliffs in the background.
I moved on to the Kannah Creek Brewing Company, which I remembered from my last visit here, and I gleefully ‘check-in’ on Facebook touting their awesome waffle fries. Oops. Jumped the gun on that. No more of those. Haven’t had ‘em for years. Dagnabit.

So I did a tarot reading via text message with a friend who was in a rehab clinic back in Santa Cruz. And back at the Mesa Inn I edited another friends 10,000 word manuscript.

And THAT'S the kind of fun you can have around here on a Sunday night. Woo-hoo!

Monday, August 4th

I believe there are about 12 Word
Crimes in 12 words here. Impressive!
I called Mom early in the morning but she wasn’t up for breakfast. Hadn’t slept well. Okay. So I check out the offerings at my new home, the Mesa Inn. 

The Continental Breakfast is basic no-nonsense offerings. I missed the make-it-yourself waffle iron, but the Holiday Inn Express is 3 times the cost per night, so I'll do just fine with a small pastry, dixie cup of formerly concentrated OJ, and a hard-boiled egg.

The TV in the breakfast room was blaring CNN, which means me and every other guest left as soon as our toast was done. Pop-Poof!-gone. CNN is the Depression Enabling Channel, and its just exactly the last thing you want to watch during your vacation. Ugh. (On another morning I stole the remote from the un-staffed front desk and MUTED the damned TV, and voila! Suddenly there were 8 people having breakfast at the tables. Ta-da!)

The FITNESS CENTER. No, really.
The rest of the Mesa Inn was likewise half-assed and amusing. The pool never opened during the week I was there. The 4 postcards on the rack in the office were free, because nobody seemed to know where they had came from. 

The "Fitness Center" was a treadmill, a stationary bike, and a yoga mat on the floor of an empty room. But, to be honest I got a pretty good cardio workout just laughing at this every time I walked by it.

But I had a real bicycle! I didn't have gloves, a helmet, clip in shoes for the special pedals, and the bike hadn't been fitted for me, but whatever: It rolls. I took it up the Motel Row I was on, up by the Regional Airport (A/K/A "Walker FIELD"), and down some country roads. I even got sprinkled on, which was welcome and exotic for this parched California boy.
Selfie with sprinkles. Felt good.

The lack of helmet took some getting used to, but Colorado is one of those "Darwin Eventually Wins" states, where motorcycle helmets are strictly for wussies. And, it should be pointed out, the biggest building in this small city was the colossal 10 story Hospital. Just sayin'.

I then drove down to the Colorado river to pay my respects. The pulse of Grand Junction is the railroad, but the heartbeat of the valley comes from the reason this valley exists. River energy is very different from Ocean energy, and I promised myself to find more reasons to hang out next to this beautiful and majestic repository of magic.

The Well-thumbed pagan books, at
the bottom of the display bay.
Feeling witchy I next headed downtown to the two 'new age' stores I could find on my phone. One was mostly selling homemade peach jam, and the other was a classic White Light emporium where everything Eastern is good, Everything western is bad, and everything Native American is good - if its okay with them.

The pagan books were there (they sell, so they're always somewhere) but they were down at the bottom of the shelf marked "Other Cultures", below the speculation volumes about alien ships manned by zombies that transported the Egyptian Pyramids by using whale songs.
"Other" for this whitest of white towns
means "Egypt", and down there,
somewhere, near the floor, "Europe".

The sweet little old lady running this store completely ignored me. I guess I didn't fit her paradigm. Oh well, guess I'll spend my disposable income on some peach jam.

Mom called. She was still tired. Gonna try for a nap. I thought that was a great idea, so I headed back to my own little room for a nap of my own.

Dinner that night was at Fiesta Guadalajara, where I had a chimichanga that hadn't been deep fried. So, its an enchilada then. Not the first time that I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

Mom looked better than she had the night before. Greg drove her to the restaurant and the stories flowed all through dinner. Nice. Wish I had recorded that. But all that wore her out, and she did have a big day tomorrow, so again I was left at loose ends at 7:30pm.

Plus, it was soft and said it would
be my friend.
I went back to the Kannah Creek Brewing company, but alas, the waffle fries had not yet returned. I drowned my sorrows in a root beer float and caught up on my email correspondence (By stealing the WiFi from the business across the street).

Tuesday, August 5th

Operation day, and I was on the road at 8am, looking for a travel pillow and a mascot. The former was for the train trip home in a few days, and the latter was to keep me company in the mean time.

Because what was becoming obvious was that I was hurtin' for company. And waiters and drive-thru McWageslaves weren't cutting it. But some of my best friends have been plush toys, so that would do until I found a way to make some real live friends here.
Repositors of static electricity.......??

I found the travel pillow at Rite-Aid, but no luck on the roadtrip mascot. So, defeated and fearful I headed for the lint trap at the edge of every American city: WalMart. My first time. And I thought CostCo was scary. Ha! CostCo has nothing on the People of Walmart.

This particular WallyWorld sported an inhouse McDonalds. (And the largest building in town is the 10 story hospital. Just Sayin'!) I didn't find a mascot though - just a bunch of SHINYSHINY fruit that had been assembled in China.

By 9am I was at Mom's and she was surprisingly upbeat on her Big Day. I recorded her some more as she prattled on about her Will and all of the accompanying paperwork and I thanked the Gods again that I was blessed with someone so clear-eyed about their Last Wishes.

At 10am Jan arrived and by 11am we had commenced the traditional Surgery Day Scrabble Fest. And wouldn't you know it, but Hernia Girl won every single game. Pwned by my own Mother!

I mean, I knew the Rockies were a young
mountain range.....but wow.
1pm found us at the tallest building in town, St. Mary's Medical Omniverse, doing the check-in dance. This dance only has two steps to it:

1) Hurry up, and
2) Wait.

After waiting to check in we then waited to see the check-in lady (wait - what?) who's stated job was to enter all of Mom's information into a hi-tech wrist band, so everybody who encountered her could use a Star Trek tricorder to 'beep her band', like she was a prize on a scavenger hunt.

That was the stated purpose of the check-in lady. What was really happening here was that the hospital was getting all of the insurance and payment info squared away beforehand. Fine, someone's got to pay for all of the gee-whiz tricorders around here. I say three cheers for Medicare though! It is delightful fun to get hospital bills that expand out to decimal place after decimal place after decimal place - and then contractcontractcontract all the way down to zero. Aaaaah....
Jan and Carolyn, talking gardening.

After checking in and waiting to see the check in lady we then wait to move to the prep room so we can check in with the Doctor, Nurse and Anesthesiologist. Sigh. Mom is anxious now - she had paced herself to be brave up until the scheduled start time of the operation and we were zooming past that now and she was running out of brave juice.

Our female prep nurse though was a delight. Her name was Jimi, and when asked about that she smiled and said "Dad wanted a boy." She was also the first person I had encountered in 5 days who sported a visible tattoo (A Libra glyph on the inside of one wrist). Strange that the first oddball rebel I meet in this Conservative little burg is an O.R. Nurse.

Anyway, Jimi takes Carolyn's blood pressure with a special gee-whiz-hi-tech Star Trek machine and it is literally off the charts. Her reading just made the machine shut down and brood and beep sullenly.

A little nervous, are we?

Jimi goes off to find one of those ancient, archaic 'squeeze bulb' blood pressure cuffs, and The Surgeon then sweeps in. He is tall and handsome and confident, as all surgeons are. But he is also the second fiddle here. It is the Anesthesiologist who runs the show on Surgery Boulevard, and he is not going to let his leading man operate until Mom's blood pressure comes down out of the stratosphere.
One of the many 'arrival' / 'departure' monitors.

All these delays of course are making her even more jumpy.

Finally, the guy who knocks you out comes up with a brilliant plan: He'll knock her out! They drop some happy juice into Carolyn's I.V. and therein followed the funniest minute of the entire day:

She was sitting upright, giving all and sundry an earful about all of these delays and how it was all their fault and why don't they get their act together and sheeee hazz half a miiind to repooort themmm to the authorit - the authoribiezz - the authooooorrrr.......

And Jimi nodded and smiled and gently laid her back as she continued to bitch and moan all the way to blissful unconsciousness. I wish I had recorded that!

And as soon as she was out you could see her visibly, finally, relax. And then we all followed suit and exhaled and our shoulders dropped. And then we all watched the gee-whiz-Star Trek monitor, and her blood pressure started gaily skipping downwards, taking the steps two at a time. Aaaah......

Jimi? Can Jan and I have a six-pack of that stuff to go?
My Mother, 309692.

It was go time. Jan and I took the cue and left the waiting room and went to the waiting room.

And then we went immediately to the high-tech-gee-whiz cafeteria, because both of us had been fasting alongside Carolyn on this longest of days.

Back in the waiting room we are shown the color system. Every person is assigned a number - I know; shocking, right? - and then this number is put on the big high-tech-gee-whiz monitor, which has three columns and a rainbow of colors. You follow your numberpatient as they progress through the colors and up and down the columns. This is why every patient has a smartphone app wrist band, and why hospital workers are always beeping the bands: They are making the video monitor change colors. Ooooh....Aaaaah...

One of the 14 different waiting rooms
Jan and I were in.
If this visual picture reminds you of something, you are absolutely right. Its exactly like watching the monitor board at an airport. Jan and I began to refer to Carolyn's flight number and her boarding, taxiing, and take off colors. We hoped she would be 'on time' with her 'arrival'.

In the meantime we watched a live Giants game on my laptop, because the strongest wifi in town was, surprise surprise, right here at Starfleet Academy.

4 hours later flight #309462 had landed at gate #10. Leading Man Surgeon explains that the procedure went well and all of her organs are back where they normally reside.

Fine. Great. When can we talk with her?

Well, that might be awhile. Due to her malnutrition, age and the fact that she's been smoking for 62 years, getting the ventilator out and her breathing on her own might take several days, during which she will still be out like a light.

"Hang tight".
No, there wasn't enough room between the chair
and the edge of the bed. Thanks for asking.

I took Jan home and then I drove home to the Mesa Inn. Later, while microwaving something untasteable in the room's microwave, I realized with a start that I had already been thinking of this cramped little space as 'home'.

Humans = instantly adaptable.

But I had a train ticket to go home home in a few days.

And it looked like that would be a train that I would be missing......

Onward, to PART 2!

Angus McMahan

*In case you missed it, the link for the page on the Ridges Community has a handy graph showing the proportion of which races reside there. Yes, really. In 2014.

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