The Last Hoorah
The photos shown below were created by Dave Niblack of imagebase.net. These photos are not related to the story. Dave's photos are here to add some much needed color to my gray text: Thanks for your support, Dave!
May 24, 2001. Midnight.
I returned home to Mom's place at 11 a.m. Sun City was hotter than hell, but I was glad to be back to familiar territory. Mother had some things that needed to be done. Most important was studying for the renewal of her driver’s test. We drove out to AAA to get the guide to the driver’s test, and I quizzed her extensively. She failed about half the questions at first, but now she’s ready, and I suspect she will ace it. We’ll see.
The next challenge was a huge one. Mother is quite unhappy about the fact that her combination refrigerator/sink/stove is too high for her. Since the unit could not be lowered, I figured that she had to be made higher. I thought that buying one of those aerobic steppers might be the solution, but the price was prohibitive and the availability of such a unit was almost non-existent. I decided that the best possible solution was to build her a “step” myself, which I accomplished by duck taping about five moving boxes tightly, thus raising her about five inches above the floor. This seemed to solve her height problem and gave her easy access the sink knobs. It also prevented stress on her weak back. The total cost of this project was $7.50.
It doesn’t sound like much, but let me tell you that it is the tiny details that really make life livable. Whether it is a brand new showerhead, a doorknocker, or a “step,” it is these tiny things that make all the difference in a person’s happiness. I am proud and delighted to have been instrumental in solving all of these problems for Mom.
Sunday, May 27, 2001, San Bernardino Train Station
Mother did not pass her driver’s license test. She didn’t even come close to passing, failing more than half of the questions. This really freaked her out, since she only had two more chances and considering she studied the AAA manual for hours. But I would not have passed it either. The rules of the road have either changed, or they are different in New Mexico. Also, the AAA manual was not the best study guide. The California Motor Vehicle Department gave her a much better manual to study after she failed, and she is confident that she will be able to ace it on the next attempt.
Later I learned that it was true she had only two more attempts, but she could have three more chances if she paid another $12 fee. She was very relieved to learn this. We also learned that she could get a one-year extension on her permit even if she chose not to take the test at all, which is great because her birthday is in only one week. So, a great burden was lifted from her shoulders. We made another appointment for her next week and I suspect she will pass. When Mom sets her mind to doing something, she does it, even if she fails a few times and driving is one thing she will never give up.
Mom is a much better driver since she had her cataracts removed. She drives very cautiously, perhaps too cautiously, but she’s always driven with a heavy foot on the brake.
So Mom and I had dinner in the dining room, and I got to know her lovely dinner companions, Helen, Myrtle, and Bobbie. I’m starting to feel very comfortable with Sun City Gardens and no longer feel sad about hanging out there. As a matter of fact, since they repaired the hot tub, I just love the place, and I got a good patch of fungus between my fingers and toes to prove it. The temperature was just right and the courtyard with its swaying palm trees and lush green grass makes for a quiet, contemplative space.
Now I wait for the train to arrive in this dump of a station. Mom has left, and I am confident that she will be able to find her way back to the freeway because I wrote down directions and we made a few practice runs to the on ramp. I was appalled that the street signs leading to the freeway were totally unreadable and I understood why she hated picking me up and dropping me off here. Next time she wants me to take the Metroliner to the airport, but I’d just as soon take the bus to her place having mastered the route.
The train arrived in time, and I boarded it without incident. I met a freelance reporter at the platform who writes for a small weekly in Flagstaff, an alternative paper that deals with New Age crap. He said he wrote a now out of print book called “Panama Red,” which I will look into when I get to Albuquerque. He said he quit smoking grass a week ago for good. I suppose I should have been supportive, but I just smirked and said, “We’ll see how long this lasts,” as if everybody has the same lack of resolve I do.
The guy looked like an old salt and encouraged me to write up the story about my cruise. The story would be about baby boomers who take their mothers out on a cruise. He claimed that if I kept a positive angle, it would probably sell. I seem to have lost him when I got on the train, but maybe he lost me. There’s something about people in the newspaper trade. We pick each other’s brains, dissect each other’s stories and grow tired of each other. Maybe he was my muse with an angle.
The first thing I did upon entering the train was to eat a few of those Babybel cheeses I brought along at the beginning of the trip. The crackers were stale and the carob almonds tasted funny, so I didn’t finish them in hopes that the cheese wouldn’t make me sick. I then washed it all down with a bit of water and took one of the sleeping pills that the doctor had prescribed.
Made myself real comfortable to catch some shuteye.
May 28, 2001, Gallup, New Mexico
It did not take long for the sleeping pill to kick in. Once I had found a comfortable position, I became very relaxed and felt sleep summon me. I pulled the shade down because I found the lights of the depot distracting and then I was gone. I must have gotten a good seven hours sleep, which is unprecedented. I awoke refreshed and ready to take on a new day.
I do feel somewhat exhausted from all my travels, however. It’s been a long three weeks, and another week of vacation just puttering around the house would be nice. That’s not going to happen, though. It’s off to work tomorrow, bright and early in the morning.
Hopefully, I will still have a job when I get back to work tomorrow. If I do, I’ll probably be swamped. If I know my customers, they’re saving it up for me. It’s not that some other copy center can’t do the work as well as me. I think I represent to them what those funky little local newspapers meant to me. I’m like the last of the Good Humor trucks selling their ice cream bars by the Skokie Lagoons in Chicago. I’m like the old barber shop with the candy cane pole and the antique chair. I’m like this swaying Amtrak.
We all hang on the balance between extinction and survival at the mercy of our managers and fickle customers. We could all disappear tomorrow in order to placate the accountants and their obsession with the bottom line.
Observation Deck, 9:30 a.m.
I’m sitting in the observation car of the Southwest Chief listening to an Indian guide narrate the history and describe the landscape of the vast Navajo territory where 275,000 people live in over 17,000,000 sq. miles of land. It’s a bitter story of the unjust treatment his people have received from the White man.
We’re climbing, climbing, climbing, pulled by four huge diesel engines to the top of the Continental Divide where the waters flow either to the east or west.
Iron oxide makes these rocks red, and everything was once underwater.
It’s good to be going home, but we all require a vacation to remember where our true home is. So long as Mother is alive, I know that I will have two homes, one in Albuquerque with Frida and Molly. I also have a home with Mother whether it is in a mansion, a mobile home, or a retirement facility. Just give me a few square feet to put down my bedroll, and I am happy.
Something deep inside me tells me this will not be our last cruise.
This marks the end of the FIFTH installment of "The Last Hoorah." A new episode has been added to this work. Please click this sentence to read it!
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