Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Great Escape

It probably began with the Iliad, the Odyssey, and other Greek tales of adventure. History tells us that Homer wrote about one of these first epic journeys. As a budding writer of western novels, I was aware of the fact that in western fiction, there are only three or four main story lines. One of these is the epic journey or the great trek. Hollywood captured these formula stories with two classic westerns: ‘Red River’ and ‘The Searchers.’

Later on, there were movies like ‘Escape from New York’ and ‘Road Warrior’ that followed this same story formula. Sharon and I recently lived our own epic journey ripe with a deadly virus trailing us cross-country, closed or seemingly haunted motels, nearly empty roadways and miles upon miles of late winter drabness. It was a forced road trip for two very asphalt-allergic folks.

Like the rest of the world, Palm Springs experienced the COVID-19 epidemic/pandemic recently. Rumors exploded along with misinformation, misunderstanding, and panic in the toilet paper aisle. All the OMG folks were going crazy and driving those around them in the same direction. Hotels, motels, restaurants, and worse yet, nightclubs were all ordered closed down.

Our situation on the home front was tempered by the fact that over a four-week period, Sharon had experienced three bouts of a serious sinus infection that she just couldn’t shake. With every new round of antibiotics came an upset stomach and digestive interruptions. She was tired and her immune system compromised. It wasn’t safe for us to board an airplane and go anywhere. Yet I wasn’t about to stay in Palm Springs until May 1st as we had originally planned to do.

Compounding the situation was a ‘lock-down’ and ‘Stay in place’ order from city government in Palm Springs. That was quickly followed by a similar ‘stay in place’ order for the city of Los Angeles and finally on March 19th, a statewide ‘lock down’ for all of California.

Just about everything was closed down. Coffee shops, retail shops, golf courses, any and all gathering spots, were now out of reach. The Canadians, probably 30-40 percent of our winter population, were rushing to get back north before their borders closed. Snowbirds were leaving early and Palm Springs was fast becoming a ghost town.

The last straw for me was when they closed the library and then my exercise room at the Saguaro, our local hip hotel. By mid-afternoon, waves of flotsam would sweep over the berm where I walked every day. These interlopers had discovered my treasured walk along the wash. Dog walkers, bikers, sightseers and other newbies to outdoor exercise were crowding the gravel pathway. I had to resort to walking early in the morning before the crowds arrived.  It was time to go home.

In the past, we would have jumped on a plane and flown home. Now our options were to drive our own car home or get a rental. Truth be told, I’m not a road warrior. Driving to the end of the block is about far enough for me. Now we were facing the prospect of driving almost two thousand miles to get home. We opted for a one-way rental, got an SUV on steroids, secured a date in April, and prepared to hunker down until it was time to leave.

What we quickly realized is that while in the past we had been limited with our luggage by the astronomical airline charges and UPS fees to ship things home, now we were limited only by the storage capacity of our Greyhound bus. Sharon was in seventh heaven. All those estate sale goodies she had collected over the years could now be taken home at no additional cost.

Our cargo load was impressive even by Walmart standards:
            Four boxes of oranges
            Six boxes of lemons
            Ten boxes of food
            Six bottles of wine for Brian and Amy in Denver
            Water and snacks to last us well beyond our senior years
            Four boxes of my writing files
            Five novels and several writing reference books
            A new Bose/clock/alarm radio
            Tons of magazines (for summer reading on my porch)
            A complete set of Time/Life History of the Civil War (for Sharon’s brother)
            Ten newly recorded CDs of my favorite music in the desert
            Dell laptop, Macbook Pro laptop, two Amazon tablets, iPad, Kindle, Verizon tablet
Lots of Sharon’s art work
Sharon’s paints
Select clothing & shoes
Two twenty-five pound weights (what the heck, we had the room)

Fortunately there was still room in the Titanic for Sharon and me in steerage so we were good to go. I had promised the grandchildren in Colorado and Minnesota that if I could catch a coyote or two or some Jack Rabbits, I’d bring them along. I never did but they (and I) thought it was a great idea.

We had two basic routes to follow, the Northern route and the Southern route. The first leg of both routes began in Palm Springs and ended in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From there, the Northern route went north toward Colorado while the Southern route went east toward Oklahoma and Kansas. Weather determined that we ultimately took the Northern route. The scenery alternated between spectacular and drab as hell.

Since neither Sharon nor I are road trippers, we were totally unprepared for our existence day upon day on the road with nothing to listen to except the hum of our new tires. Neither one of us is a techno-geek. We don’t have a blue tooth between us, few apps and Sharon has only recently started to Zoom. So we ended up listening to a lot of religious radio stations and reflecting.

But that’s another story entirely; reflections of my relationship with the Catholic faith.  I’ve entitled it ‘God as My Co-Pilot’ and it will appear as a new blog in the near future.

If I were to break our trek down in simplistic terms I’d say that parts of the country between Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado were barren and bleak. It was miles upon miles of nothingness.

Once we left Eastern Colorado and hit the Nebraska – Iowa corridor, the trucks started to bunch up, filling the right hand lane. Civilization had returned. I stayed in the left hand lane and continued flying at near mock-one speed. God and country music filled my ears with distractions from the long road ahead.

Brian insisted we stop by to see the Colorado kids and pick up the Rat Pack. Therefore, after twelve hours on the road, we arrived with lemons, oranges, and special gifts from California to give our grandkids.

We had a wonderful SD (socially distant) gourmet dinner that night. Then we loaded up the ‘Rat Pack’ and left the next morning for Minnesota.

When we left Palm Springs, our cactus were in full bloom, the roads ahead mostly empty and when we got home, snow had fallen on our front lawn.

After ‘six hours’ of dancing over asphalt the first day, then’ twelve’ the second and finally ‘fifteen’ the third day, we finally arrived home late Wednesday night; Rat Pack en tow.

It’s a worn cliché, tired but true. There is no place like home.

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