16 July 2007

Home and dry

Eventually, I will laugh about it. That's the way it usually goes, and I can't claim there was any tragedy, just a lot of work.

Vacation isn't supposed to be work. Vacation isn't supposed to entail lying awake all night wondering if there are bedbugs crawling all over your body (yes, one of the motels we stayed at was that bad). Vacation should not entail dressing your teenager.

The trouble started on 4th of July. The son successfully dislocated his patella (again) taking a swing at a pinata. Fortunately, we weren't far from home and we stuck him in the immobilization brace and gave him his crutches. Got him home and slapped some ice on the offending knee and tried not to worry. A call from his doctor the next morning confirmed that yes, it was the brace for the next two weeks, and I was to call for a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon when we got home from the trip, just to be on the safe side.

I tried not to tell his doctor that we had intended to be caving in two days.

Because the spouse's schedule is loopy at best and because this is one of my summers to meet friends in odd places and see concerts, trying to schedule a vacation was a bit of a challenge. We finally figured out that we could carve out a week in July. The spouse neglected to mention that the way he had it planned, we would be flying home on Friday the 13th, a plan I nixed immediately upon realizing that was what he intended. It's not that I'm so worried about Friday the 13th, but I'm not a happy flyer at the best of times, and somehow, that was just tempting fate.

So I organized it such that we would leave on a Saturday and return on a Saturday.

Fate, of course, had other plans.

On Friday, the son, already limping about in the immobilizer, suddenly announced that he had a sore throat. I took his temp and it was hovering around 99, so I wasn't terribly worried. But before bed, he told me he was feeling terrible, and suddenly his temperature was at 102.5.

The spouse and I quickly conferred. Someone obviously didn't want us on the plane that was leaving at 6:45 the next morning, and we cancelled our flight out and the first night's hotel, hoping that whatever the kid had, it would quickly go away and we'd be able to salvage some of our time away.

The fever slowly abated throughout the next day, and the sore throat lessened somewhat. I waited for the next family member to fall to whatever the son had, but that didn't happen. He seemed sufficiently better that we took a chance on rescheduling our flight out and got the last 4 tickets on a flight that would get us into Texas with a reasonable chance of salvaging a good part of our trip.

But there was airport security to get through. With a kid wearing a thigh to calf brace loaded with metal and hollow aluminum crutches.

I am not known for saying anything nice about government employees EVER. But I have to say that on this entire trip, TSA came through with flying colors and I will, with pleasure, endorse those security agents at the airports through which we traveled on this trip for their kindness, courtesy and sensitivity to the son's predicament and the fact that he was setting off alarms all over the place. To a man and woman, at the height of summer nightmare travel, they were admirable. So TSA SNA and ABQ, thank you.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

We finally arrived in El Paso, the son triumphant in a wheelchair while I rescued luggage and the spouse requisitioned the rental car. Naturally, we were all ravenous and the spouse had gotten a recommendation for a place called The Cattleman's Steak House. A bit tough to find, but we did eventually, and sat down to steak and beans and mushy corn on the cob. One thing I can say about those Texans: it's easy being green because you won't be eaten. Was there a salad on the menu? Nope. Anything green? Well, I guess the cole slaw drowned in mayonnaise dressing almost qualified, though the kitchen had done its best to eliminate the greenest cabbage leaves.

Then we were off through the Texas desert, New Mexico bound, hoping we'd get to Carlsbad Caverns before dark.

The spouse is extremely fond of wandering off the beaten track, generally as far as is humanly possible. Usually I'm game because I prefer back roads and the unusual things one finds there. The unusual things this time were a dead snake and a hailstorm, as well as the Guadelupe Mountains (the spouse will happily go on about its Permian origins, but I've got space limitations here); the drive was quite attractive, and the sun was setting as we crossed the border.

The spouse put the pedal to the metal up a not very friendly road, and it was quite dark by the time we got to the caverns. I took heart from the fact that I hadn't seen any cars coming down the road, and we eventually figured out (no thanks to the temporary signs erected all over because the visitor center was closed for renovation) where the cave's natural entrance was.

As we arrived at the amphitheater, the ranger was just ending his talk. Everyone sat quietly and in under five minutes, not quite drowned by the din of the insects, we heard a low whir. From the mouth of the cave issued a misty black ribbon that rapidly turned itself into a spinning vortex spiraling upward like chimney smoke that then blew in a stream off to the south.

Bats, thousands and thousands of bats, exiting the caverns to spend the night feeding.

They were eerily beautiful and their numbers were extraordinary. A ranger told us the next day that that evening's flight had been "a really good one." And it was. The bats just kept coming and coming, spiraling up and then off. Exiting the cave, they almost seemed to shimmer. It was truly an awe inspiring sight.

And the next day, the caverns themselves did not fail to inspire awe. We've visited a lot of caves and these were pretty phenomenal, even though physical limitations prevented us from doing the more extensive exploration we'd planned.

The less said about Carlsbad proper, the better. That was were I spent the night awake worrying about bedbugs, with good reason. Worse, the place turned out to be the same motel we'd stayed at 13 years earlier and gotten our license plate stolen, even though it had, to its peril, changed hands in the interim.

The remainder of the day was spent at the International UFO Museum and Research Center. The less said about THAT, the better. Let's just say that in this debate, I'm Scully. The Alien Green Chile Pecan Brittle was good, though. And green.


Go listen to some good music: "Home and Dry" from the album City to City by Gerry Rafferty.