Sunday, August 24, 2014

Grand Junction, Colorado (part 3)

A Surprise Christmas on the Uncompahgre Plateau

Saturday, August 9th

(Be a good Time Lord and travel back to PART 1 and/or PART 2.)

My morning appointment was on the other end of the Grand Valley at a lake, where I was to meet some friends of my Mothers. Sounded good.

I was early off the mountain, but my search for a decent diner in 'Junction had been pretty fruitless so far, so I pushed on, sweaty and dirty, all the way to Fruita, where my phone directed me to a coffee shop downtown.

No pancakes, but they had breakfast burritos! Close enough. Afterwards I wandered around downtown Fruita, and when those 5 minutes were up I found a Farmers Market and bought some plums.
Highline Lake

Highline Lake turned out to be a small reservoir that was packed from shore to shore with water skiers and jet-skiers. The resulting din made conversation difficult, but I eventually got the updates out to Fawn and her two friends.

And after 8 days in this community it did not surprise me to see that all three women were smoking.

1pm had me back at my room at "Our Lady of the Perpetual 'No'" for a well-deserved nap.

5pm found me at Pantuso's Italian restaurant (inside the Clarion Inn) to get going on the other part of my '2nd week strategy': making some friends.

Always a good view. Shady nap.
I attended a 'food and wine pairing' via MeetUp, which remains a great way for people to just make friends without all of the 'dating site' weirdnesses.

The food was good, (I passed on the wine) and I met Brenda the Trucker and Jody the Computer Teacher. After the official 'MeetUp' was over I got invited to go along to another bar where a band was playing.

The Alehouse was HUGE and boasted an outdoor stage where an above-average blues band was working hard. I found myself on a corner of a blanket on a grassy knoll watching the Full Moon rise between two cedar trees.

And not a cigarette in sight! Nope, with this group it was strictly cigars.

Oh, Jesus.

Brenda and Jody and I stayed up talking until 11:30pm at the Alehouse and made plans to meet up (not MeetUp) again the next night, when the National Monument was having a Full Moon program up on the Mesa.
Its a town full of irrigation canals.

So the day that started out as a dangerous failure turned into a sublime gabfest with new friends. Sweet.

Sunday, August 10th

My second Sunday in this strange, exotic land. Hopefully it would be my last.

Up early, I wrote 1,000 words on the Amtrak story, before doing a reconnaissance run on the Laundromat next door to Our Lady of the Perpetual 'No'.

At the hospital there was good news. Carolyn was mostly breathing on her own with the ventilator acting only as a back-up. Plus, they had lightened her sedation considerably, so now she was just barely asleep. I could see her eyes flickering now, and her hands and feet twitched now and then. The nurses said she even responded to commands when they were turning her or changing her linens.

Maybe tomorrow for the ventilator tube extraction. (You'll be reading this sentence a few more times.)

Super Moon rise over the Monument.
(Lightened considerably in iPhoto)
My afternoon amusement was a BBQ back at the Ridges condos. This was supposed to be Mom's "Welcome Home" celebration, which she had been planned according to a wildly optimistic scenario she had been carrying around in her head before the operation. A few neighbors and friends gathered for excellent ribs and to catch up on the latest updates. I was glad to have some good news to share.

From there I picked up Jody the Computer Teacher (Brenda the Trucker canceled), and we went on up to the Colorado National Monument to see the Full Moon. This turned out to be a full two-hour program of Information and Silliness as Ranger Bruce James lead us on an extensive hike (in the dark!) along the edge of the 500 foot cliff behind the visitor center, in the dark, so we could be in a prime position when the moon rose over the mesa.

Did I mention that this was in the dark?
Uncorrected (but with flash!)
It looked more like this.

40 of us learned a lot about Geology, Astrophysics, and the Cold War along the way. We also engaged in competitive howling and were lead in a sing-along of "That's Amore".

Bruce also invited anyone to step up and tell about their moon, or NASA, or whatever. So I mentioned how my first memory, when I was 4, was seeing Apollo 11 blast off.

And my second memory, 4 days later, was standing in my driveway and squinting up at the moon and trying to see the lunar lander up there.

A very fun night all in all, and seeing the Super Moon rise over the Monument mesas was pure LUNACY.

The setting of the Super Moon, from a hidden
meadow on the slopes of Mt. Garfield
Monday, August 11th

And just a few hours later I was taking my second crack at climbing Mt. Garfield, so I got to see the Super Moon rise over one side of the Grand Valley, and then set over the other.

Bookending, on the Bookcliffs.

This time I was on the proper erosion finger (Thanks, Swedish Ice Queen!) and made it all the way to the summit. Go, old guy!

But that was such an epic morning, and since I have a bazillion photos and videos of the surprises that met me, I made a separate post just about that climb. Includes video of me singing a Carpenters song. Check it out.
View from the top: shadow of the summit on the
right, Monument mesas across the Grand Valley.

And hey, this post is getting pretty epic all by itself. And you probably had other things to do today besides reading about Wal-Mart, Sierra Mist and Jesus, right? So let's press on.

After I got down off of the mountain, bruised, filthy and giggling, I showered at the Hospitality House and then visited Mom across the street.

"Maybe tomorrow for the ventilator tube extraction."

Now it was 11am and I was FAMISHED. And maybe it was that purge and exertion that finally had me thinking clearly:

Mt. Garfield from I-70
There really IS only one place to get a guaranteed decent pancake in any town: IHOP. Duh. I ordered page one on the menu and downed it with an entire pitcher of water.

At Noon I fell on top of my unmade bed at Our Lady of the Perpetual 'No'.
When I woke up at 2pm I wrote the middle 1,000 words on the Amtrak story. 

Brenda the Trucker texted me at 4pm, and I spent Happy Hour with her and two of her friends at LaRouge downtown. Two out of four of us were non-smokers, so I didn't feel so flippin' pure this time.

6pm: Hangin’ with Stubby, and his World of Super Stinky Poops.

Dusk had me on the road again to pick up Jody the Computer Teacher so she could direct me to the next MeetUp activity. We were meeting Brenda the Trucker at a full moon weenie roast on the Colorado River. Yay!
Fire, river and moon. I love the
moons reflection in the river.

40 people attended this and most of them were couples. There were a lot of sticks and long forks held by the fire, holding hot dogs and marshmallows. Why do we insist on using the oldest, most natural form of heat and light to roast the two most unnatural food items on the planet?

Anyhoo, between the wet, greenwood fire and the fact that both the host and the hostess were smoking cigars as they were directing people to the mustard and the buns, I took a smoke break myself.

I spent some time upstream a-ways, just feeling the beauty of the river and groovin' on its insistent pull and quiet diligence as it went about its business. Great energy.

Back at the fire the crowd had thinned and the surviving weenies had been stored away. The night ended with a Cowboy Poetry recital, which wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Tuesday, August 12th

By this point in the trip I felt like I was in a time warp loop. Sure, I was having fun with my morning hikes and my evenings with my new friends, but my middle parts, the important stuff, the reason I was stuck in this smoky town to begin with, that stuff wasn't going forward.

My train was due to leave at 4pm on Thursday, and I really wanted to speak with my Mother again before I left. She was going to be so disoriented anyway, having literally slept for a week (at least!), and I felt like I should be there when she woke up. Finally.

And yeah, I felt guilty about being frustrated at her lack of gettingwellness. I
This is what passes for entertainment in this town.
Lord knows how long this doofus had been
entranced by his clothes drying before I noticed him.
Did you know that pot is legal around here?
mean, I wasn't the one with 14 tubes coming out of me right now, so what was I bitching about?

I did more laundry in the morning, because I kept getting my short pants filthy with the hikes, and I posted the Amtrak story from the Laundromat. I felt proud that I was able to do all that remotely, from my laptop, even emailing myself the photos from my phone.

At 9am I was in position to snag myself a white coat, and sure enough I ensnared one of Leading Man Surgeon's partners, who was taking over Mom's case as she entered the 2nd week of recovery.

And this is why I liked driving around in
Mountie's air-conditioning so much.
His prognosis was good, but the timetable wasn't going to be speedy. He verified that the most important thing going on with Mom right now was the fact that she was getting all the nutrition she needed. (She ended up gaining 20 pounds in 10 days!) But she still wasn't strong enough to breathe on her own, even though she was getting better every day.

They didn't want to have to put the ventilator tube back in, once they took it out. And I could see the wisdom in that.

Windshield diffractions are fun.
What was the schedule? Well, they might try again on Thursday, but realistically they were looking at the weekend for possible tube removal.

And I've worked in hospitals before, and I know that nothing gets done on the weekends if it can possibly be delayed until the next weekday.

Which means if I wanted to see her awake again, I would have to stay over another week.

And I just lost it. I couldn't take any more. All of these delays, all of this uncertainty, all of the biding time, all of this living in a strange desert environment in High Summer, all of this bad food, all of this Styrofoam! All of it - it was just too much. I didn't know how much stress I was really under until that moment.

I staggered out of the ICU, completely defeated.
People here schedule their fried chicken.

And I bumped into Jan, just as she arrived. And her take on the situation: “You’ve paid your dues. Go home.” Her perspective was that Carolyn would feel bad if she woke up and learned that I had been hanging at her bedside for two weeks, just waiting, putting my life on hold. She wouldn't want that.

Mom had plenty of capable friends around her - she always had - and they could take over from here. “You’ve paid your dues. Go home.”

But what about being there when she woke up? Jan smiled. "I'll print out a smiling picture of you and tape it above her bed. You'll be the first thing she sees."

I smiled at that. And it was like a great weight had been lifted.

The top of my dresser at Rose Hill. I lifted the
pic of Admiral Karen and I from Mom's condo.
I snuck Arby's back into my room at Our Lady of the Perpetual 'No', noting that all of my fellow dorm mates also sported bulging satchels when they entered their rooms. Hmmm......

I called Karen after lunch and Admiral Earthsign was equally pragmatic. Get on that train. There is nothing more I can do here. Okay then. I'm going home in two days.

After the afternoon nap I was off to take care of the Stubby. The Stubmeister! Stubbysaurus! Who was likewise being pragmatic about the situation: "Feed me, so I can poop some more. Thanks. Meow."

The afternoon was nice, not too hot, not raining, with just a little breeze. I hung out on the grassy knoll behind Mom's back porch, doing the final edits on the Amtrak Post (there's always some clean up once I post something), and watching Stubby stalk and kill falling leaves. 
Stubby, hunting, I guess.

I felt better than I had in days, and that was good, because I had a big assignment coming up in a couple of hours: I was going to be a guest on a friends podcast; "Raise the Horns". 

I would need to get dinner and review my notes and pick something to read aloud, but the show didn't start till 9pm and it was only 7pm now, so let the kitty play for awhile longer.

At 7:45pm I picked up Weinershnitzel for dinner (Remember: peach shakes,) and I expertly snuck the whole thing into my cell. I was super hungry, but needed to use the potty first.

So at 8:07 I dialed up Facebook to pass the quality time. And it looked like I had been tagged in a post. From Jason, the host of the show. And it said: 'Tune in at 7pm and hear me talk with Angus McMahan!'

More of Mom's neighborhood. Plus, cloud porn.
And it hit me. I was on Mountain Standard Time. 8pm here was 7pm on the West Coast - the show had already started!

I frantically dialed the number for the show and heard Jason smoothly filling time in my absence. He then adroitly segued into my segment, since he could see that I was finally online with him.

So I started the interview while I was literally sitting on the toilet with my pants around my ankles.

Shit, as they say.

(Listening back to the show now I can see how those first few minutes with me are a bit echoey, because I was talking loudly in a tiled bathroom.)
A better place to hold a phone interview.

I finished up my business and made it to the table in the room without too much trouble, joking with Jason that it felt odd to be discussing Witchcraft while sitting in a Catholic Hospitality House. I expected the door to burst in and a crack exorcism team to appear at any moment.

I did the rest of the hour fine, even though I was completely unprepared and I spent the rest of the show staring at my dinner getting colder and colder.

Guess I pulled that one out of my ass, eh?

About a 1/3rd of the way down. Good morning!
Wednesday, August 13th

Okay. Time for one more epic hike. And whereas I went UP Mt. Garfield on Monday, on this day I would go DOWN, into the Colorado National Monument.

I loved the views and taking pictures from the rim, but I wanted more. Something more.....intimate.

Very few folks ever descend the trail down into the canyons. Even the crazy rock climbers who climb Independence Monument often just repel straight down the canyon walls for the shortest route to the spire.

But me, oh no, not the easy way for me. 6am had me at the trailhead, waiting for the sun to rise enough for me to see the 'trail'.

How was the hike? It was......too big an adventure for the confines of this
They don't call it "Colorful Colorado" for nothing.
bloated blog post. And here IT IS.

The rain came down as I headed back down from the Monument, but the drive-thru at Taco Bell had an awning over it: "Chalupa Supreme, Nachos Bell Grande and a Sierra Mist. No, NOT a coke - you guys don't even serve Coke! - SIERRA MIST!"

Did I sneak it into my room at Our Lady of the Perpetual 'No'? You know I did. Nap before noon? I think I've earned that.

When I awoke I was just.......blech. Sore, from all of the accumulated exertions, emotionally wrung out from 'catch and release' tensions of the last 10 days, anxious about my upcoming return train trip the next day, and still sad about my poor Mother, and the long road she has to a full recovery.

This is what I wanted: To be with Nature.
And also, I felt like I had completed this assignment. I did everything I could for my Mom, from praying at her bedside to scooping her cats litter box. I also checked off several items on my personal bucket list, from spending time with this amazing river to climbing the biggest mountain in sight.

So, I then did something I rarely ever do: I did nothing. I stayed in bed, and watched a movie on my computer. And, it was good.

After that I had a good, long shower - no call to conserve water here in the Wild West! - and I felt like a million bucks.

A text was waiting for me when I toweled off, and soon I was enjoying happy
Climbing back out of the dark hole.
Take that metaphorically if you like.
hour with Brenda the Trucker and two more of her seemingly endless supply of friends.

All of them smokers, in case you were keeping score. We were seated outside

La Rouge, under the awning, and it was a good thing we were, because right in the middle of the second glass of wine a torrential downpour suddenly hit downtown.

We watched the wait staff running around, battening down all the hatches, as the thunder and lightning boomed and crackled. But you're not going to intimidate a rock climber and a truck driver easily, so we just moved our tables closer to the wall and watched the weather show. Great fun.

Um, no. Unless we're talking river trout, aint
none of your Seafood gonna be fresh.
Had dinner at a pretty good Chinese restaurant that boasted above average Mongolian BBQ. A pleasant surprise. I made it an early night though, as tomorrow I had a train to catch.......!

Thursday, August 14th

I was up early and writing the first auxiliary post: The one about the bike ride down Glenwood Canyon, which now seemed like it was months ago, and not a single week.

At 9am I was laying out all of my clothes and luggage for the Big Pack, when my phone rang. It was Jan, and she was babbling. I eventually got the words "sitting up" and "talking" and I was out the door like a shot.
Mom and me at my Pirate Handfasting.

Sure enough - the ventilator tube was out and Mom was awake and sitting up in a chair and talking and everything. Man, this was like Surprise Christmas or something.

She had been asleep for 8 continuous days, but not in her world. In her mind she had a whole Alternate Reality going on, where Admiral Karen got laid off, I crashed a white car, I had left on the train days ago, all my cousins visited but they were sopping wet and slept on the floor, I had an operation on my leg, and on and on and on. Pretty wild stuff.

She looked better than when I first saw her 12 days ago, but she was very sore and cranky and I sat there for an hour and just listened to her complain and I couldn't have been happier.

At 10am they put her back in bed and she was asleep again like someone had flipped a switch. Natural sleep this time, and breathing on her own.

View out my window at Rose Hill.
I went back to the Rose Hill Hospitality House and showered again, just for the hell of it. Then I packed up everything and checked out.

And I've had a lot of fun making light of all the finger-wagging rules at Our Lady of the Perpetual 'No', but they provide a good service for anyone who has a need. I felt proud that Mom and Jan had volunteered at many Rose Hills fundraisers over the years. Plus, they had one of the three recycling bins that I saw in the entire city.

On the top of my bed I left every bit of cash that I had left - and my (already fraying) Wal-Mart sneakers.

Back at the hospital Mom was awake again and a bit more tranquil and we had a nice, long visit. We made plans for her to be in California in 10 months for my 50th birthday (June 9th, 2015) - I hope she can make it!

One last trip up to the Ridges to do the cat thing. Goodbye, Stubby!

From there I called the Amtrak depot and SHOCKHORROR! The train was
Hmmm. I'm not going to comment on this one.
going to be late. No, really! I'm not making this up! The California Zephyr was going to be somewhat delayed in its arrival.

Why? “Operations”, which I think means the problem is Systemic. The “living history” rolling stock isn’t helping the situation though.

How late would it be? 3 hours? Fine. Whatever. Just get me out of here - sometime this evening, preferably.

So I now had some time to kill. Dinner was at a burger joint and then I just drove Mountie around some more in the lovely air conditioning and said farewell to 'Junction.

  • I stopped at the Colorado River and ritually bathed my hands and face in its waters. Goodbye, magnificent heart of the valley.
  • I laughed at my Wal-Mart phone charger, which had lasted almost a week before crapping out. Fliiiing!
    The Colorado River. Mt Garfield on the left.
  • I saluted the health care professionals, from the maid all the way up to the Anesthesiologist, all of whom cared for my Mother with dignity, grace and respect.
  • I smiled at all of the helmetless motorcyclists: St. Mary's Hospital is that huge building up there on the hill, guys.
  • I marveled at the vast amount of Styrofoam I had seen this fortnight. Good luck in the landfill with all that!
  • I waved at all the Marks and Greg’s in the baseball caps, smoking in their big American trucks. Note: Women like some individuality and a bit of rebellion, Gentlemen.
    Mountie, up on the Monument.
  • I bowed to both the Bookcliffs to the East, and the Colorado National Monument to the West. Equal and Opposite allies - bookends of beauty.
  • I met Jan at Mom's condo and parked Mountie for the last time. Goodbye, boat of car. You've been….....expensive. (although I could get real used to that Handicapped Parking placard....)
  • I left Noddy the rubber dinosaur on the dash - this was his country and he deserved to stay local.
Jan drove me to the train depot, and from the platform I watched the summer sun set over the Monument, setting the smooth, primeval rock afire one last time.

Goodbye, Grand Junction. You've been a trip.

Angus McMahan

P.S. I spent most of the West Bound train ride writing (and the Rite-Aid neck pillow was a god-send for sleeping.) But I did take the time to make a couple of observations:

  1. Do Amtrak employees eat better than their passengers? I hope so. For the love of Humanity, I sincerely hope so.
  2. Amtrak has no right-of-way in America. Every private freight train in the country has priority over it. But Amtrak is Federal! Can't they claim Eminent Domain or something? I think they should start equipping their trains with cannons and Gatling guns and start taking back the tracks.
  3. I'm serious about #2 (well, the first sentence, anyway.) My California Zephyr actually got stopped by a ship. A ship! A tanker at the Richmond-Martinez bridge halted my train dead until it eventually floated on by. Amtrak is so.......wimpy!
    Palm trees.......and fog!
  4. Because of all of this wussiness I missed all of my connections once I finally derailroaded in Emeryville, 4 hours behind schedule. The station people were nice and they had worked out a contingency plan for me, in which I took a cab / to a ferry / to San Francisco / to an hour and a half wait / to a bus that would take me to Diridon station / which would be closed by then so / I would have to settle down and find a job or something.
  5. But having ridden on this rodeo before I had texted the facts to Admiral Karen from Sacramento, and she had replied: "On my way to pick you up - the Giants game is 'radio-only' anyway."
  6. Amtrak gave me a refund on all of my unused connections, and we blew all of that at In-N-Out Burger on the way home, in Hymie the Hybrid, while I felt the cool, foggy air and tasted the salt air off of the ocean...........HOME.

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