Monday, October 31, 2011
Senior Road Trip!
Adventures in Real Life:
WE HAVE FUN. I've been away from the site for more than a few days, which doesn't normally occur, and I feel obliged to offer an explanation to assure you it's not going to be a trend.
Lady Laird and I have been to Pittsburgh for a long weekend. We were on a mission. Our granddaughter Pippa attends college there and it became necessary for us to say "Hi, Andy" to a portrait of Andrew Mellon so his ghost wouldn't trip her when she passed through the lobby of the administration building on her way to class. All the underclassmen swear this is a constant threat.
We were happy to assist. My helpmeet made the hotel reservations, arranged for the rental vehicle, scoped out the route via the GPS function on her iPhone, and conducted the intense negotiations required to get a veterinary clinic to house all three of our dogs for nigh on 72 hours. (People think Hillary is a tough bargainer. At the end they weren't even surly when they agreed to the king's ransom times two she had kept as her diplomatic ace in the hole.)
I did my part as well. I fell ill with a severe respiratory complaint that should have made it impossible to leave my computer for any reason whatsoever, barring the noble altruism of a man who also prefers not to live in total spousal silence for the next three months, and when tears, tantrums, special pleadings, and brilliantly ingenious excuses by the dozen availed nought, I went out to the TrueValue and purchased two timers to fool the burglars prepared to pounce on our house when the sighthounds and I were no longer sleeping on our sentinel couches. Then I somehow managed to extract the high tech timer devices from their senior-proof packaging and, with the aid of my immense intellect and a magnifying glass, deciphered the instructions on their installation and activation. Several false starts later, they actually worked. You know. Man stuff.
It's easy for you youngsters to say, "So what? You got in a car, drove there and back, and now you want a medal?" Of course I want a medal. This one will do:
With an "Escape" cluster
and a "Hi, Andy" chevron.
You have no idea what it's like for a civilized homebody to burst suddenly out of his small world into the wild west that exists slightly left of the Main Line. There be horses and buggies out yonder, starting as early as the Lancaster exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Amishers. At every mile marker afterward you wonder, will the roads be paved? Will we fall headfirst into a godawful Kevin Costner movie involving deerskins and subliminal native symbols?
Thus, Friday morning found me piloting a bright red Ford Escape stuffed with dogs and luggage to the first checkpoint, where Lady Laird began the intricate process of canine-ransom exchange by leading a 13-pound pug into the office of the commissar, who like all communist apparatchiks everywhere, had no record of the intended transaction and needed all new paperwork. When she returned, hours later, to give me the okay to bring the other two, I was filled with admiration -- until I beheld the face of the functionary in charge when she saw a greyhound and a deerhound.
"I thought you meant three pugs," she said. "This changes everything."
To this day, people -- generally younger, dumber people -- ask me why I hang onto my grandfather's WWI .45 sidearm and why I added the 16-bullet clip. What can you say to such people? The dogs got their due digs.
Then the great odyssey got truly underway. I drove all 12,000 miles of it, because the alternative would have been to surrender the steering wheel to women who were fighting over which channel of eighties music was going to prevail on the radio until we fell off the western edge of the earth. No thank you. And, yes, there was more than one woman on board. Do you begin to understand my medal claim?
I know I've tested your narrative patience past its limit. Permit me to share the observations of a couch potato dynamited out of his happy zone into the realities of life on the 21st century road. The following are non sequiturs, but I'm convinced that epigrammatists like Pascal and La Rochefoucauld would approve, perhaps even with some envy:
Why do they call it the Ford "Escape"? You can't get away from a bleak and barren landscape. Somebody said, during the 6,000 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, "I love it. This looks just like Canada." All I could think was, "Exactly. Why I never go there. Eighty billion square miles of barren nothingness. And no way out."
I'd like to (want to) buy a Ford. But I don't. I grew up in the days when we fell in love with cars. Nobody falls in love with a thing that aims for passing grades and achieves exactly that. The kindest thing I can say is that I didn't get a back-ache. Probably not what Romeo said about Juliet.
There's nothing like an old, small, women-only college. Too bad the [redacted] academics have to [redacted] it up with [redacted] [redacted] like [redacted], [redacted], [redacted], and especially [redacted], which actually makes me [redacted]. But the campus, the buildings, and the trees and gardens were astonishingly beautiful. These alone make me hopeful. The warm light of the past may yet outshine the politically correct haz-mat lightbulbs of the present.
If you're a couple who loves the Olive Garden, like Lady Laird and me, you don't have to wait in line for a great meal. You can wait for two seats to open up at the bar and eat there. The menu is the same, the service is swift, and you feel like you've won the lottery. Kewl.
In the hands of a master (er, missus), the iPhone can do anything. Find the way to the hotel, find the weather back home, remind you not to call the pet gulag to check on Eloise, and tell you where the nearest restaurant is that's serving food in a snowstorm when your own hotel keeps boutique hours for continental breakfast and early supper.
Granddaughters are lovely, touching beings. You want to protect them from all the things that would enable them to have adult human conversations with you. And when they've finally suffered enough to have adult human conversations with, you wish -- like a maiden aunt fixated on Tinkerbelle -- that they might remember all the way back to who they were then and unravel some of its mystery for you.
McDonald's does a pretty good job with its Bacon, Egg & Cheese Bagel. I'm old enough to have some authority on this point. But it's pernicious the way they put the loose change on top of the bills and the slippery receipt. And evil the way they say "Sorry" when it cascades to the pavement after your one-handed balancing act fails.
Starbucks has entirely ruined the coffee industry. Even on the Turnpike you can't get a plain cup of coffee that isn't overpriced, overcooked, syrupy with yuppie pretension, and not (no way) drinkable to the end of a good cigarette.
Pittsburgh is a fine fine city. Like so many American cities are. Unique in history, architecture, cultural riches (Pippa has already studied Faberge treaures at the Frick), neighborhoods, and ethnic identity. I love this country. Wherever you go, there is beauty, stores of knowledge and art, and the people make you welcome and proud to be American. Even in the appalling moral cesspool that is the headquarters of Stiller (Steeler) fans.
The ghost of Andy can be placated with a certain firmness. I did so, protecting Pippa in her hour of need and narrowly averting a tripping incident with my lefthanded wife as she was taking his photograph, she who sometimes trips even in the absence of a starchy autocrat wraith. The secret? I didn't say, "Hi, Andy." I said, "How do you do, Andrew. You look exactly like my own holier-than-thou great-grandfather. Be a gentlemen to the women of of my family or I'll horsewhip you on the steps of your club." He didn't say a word. The carpet edge reaching for my wife's shoe summarily retreated. Breeding will tell.
If you ever do suddenly leave home, you won't get away with it scot-free. For example, you could take a nice fall trip to see the pretty leaves and learn on the news channels that your home has been instantaneously inundated with a monstrous snowstorm that has plunged your friends and neighbors into darkness. When this happens to you, remember not to panic while you're panicking and putting cold cloths on your head and texting all the people who don't have electricity anyway. It's pretty much the way life is. Get used to it.
Even seniors can survive road trips. We're home. The house is fine, thanks to my timers. The cats survived their three day Cat Party. The dogs are home. (Molly has stopped shaking.) The Ford has escaped back to Hertz. And all is right with the world.
No way I'm not feeling proud of myself. This morning, just one day after the 18,000 mile round-trip, I superintended the return of electrical power to our manse (well, I woke up when the lights came back on), then I organized and managed the return of the Escape, the rescue of the dogs, and the replacement of a flat tire on Lady Laird's chariot of fire.
I confidently await the awarding of my medal. Because I'm an old-fashioned hero, nothing if not a legend in his own mind. And after a weekend of higher learning, I'm sold on the self-esteem thing. Bring it on. Back on my couch, I'm entirely comfortable with the idea of being celebrated just for showing up. Maybe it's the progessive in me.
Or maybe I already have my medal. Pippa hugged me when we left and Lady Laird laughed when I read her this post. She's already planning a repeat trip next year. I'm not afraid. I'll drive the whole 24,000 miles. Man stuff.