Friday, March 17, 2006

Pilgrims Progress

When I was a young teenager, I read the John Bunyan classic The Pilgrim's Progress out of some misguided belief that it would inspire me or enrich my life somehow. Even then, the most memorable thing about the whole experience was how unutterably, intensely, and excruciatingly boring it was. But my point (and I do have one) is that this past weekend was so non-boring as to possibly rate as the pinnacle of non-boringness. It was, in fact, an interesting time.

Road to Nowhere
Well, mostly interesting. Actually, it was quite boring driving 10 mph through the lower part of the Rocky Mountains. For more than an hour. For no reason that we could discern. There were some bloody great semi trucks along the side of the road getting tire chains put on, sure. But hey, they were well off the road and besides, the sign said that chains were mandatory. OK, not a great beginning, but sometimes these things happen. I figured our trip was going to be a little longer than usual, but we could probably make up the time later. Pah.

The snow got heavier, and the roads got slushy. No sweat; that happens every time we travel that route in the winter. It never takes us too long to get through. Sigh.

Actually, I was very cheerful and positive, even as the visibility fell to maybe 20 feet ahead, so I was going probably faster than I should have been when suddenly the fog lifted and there, maybe 50 feet ahead of me, was a line of cars nearly a mile long. Stopped. Dead. And those were the words that occurred to me, sort of: "If I can't stop, we're dead." As I thought this, and as I pressed gently on the brake, I knew for a certainty that I wouldn't be able to stop. With my precious babies in the car, I began to feel terrified even as I considered my options. My car slid sideways as the brakes failed (they didn't lock; we have ABS-- they just felt like they were locking), and I realized what I needed to do.

I plunged over the embankment into a ditch full of snow and slid (eventually) to a halt in front of a large, vicious-looking bush. I took a deep breath and looked over at The Man. I smiled. "We're alive." Our little guys were still playing happily in the back seat (#1 Son was riding in the second car with his cousins; we waved to them a few minutes later when they passed). Then I had a heart attack. Well, maybe it wasn't, but it sure felt like what I expect one to feel like. At the same time, my sciatic nerve went all twangy on me. I clutched the armrests for a few minutes until things subsided, then gave The Man another (slightly shakier) smile. "Still alive."

We held hands for a while and watched the cars pass us. Eventually, a trucker called out an offer to call a tow truck for us, and we waved gratefully. There seemed to be a large tanker blocking part of the road up ahead, and when I noticed the flow of traffic seemed to have stopped, I guessed (correctly) that the material in it was hazardous. OK. So, stop and evaluate situation. No traffic coming: Does that mean no tow truck? Well, we had 3 hours to wonder, as we sat there in the snow-- comfortably warm, I must add, because I kept the engine running and the heater on.

Eventually, Pirate Boy looked up from his coloring. "Are we in Utah?" he asked. "No, honey." He looked puzzled. "Where are we, then?" "In a ditch." "A ditch?" But he didn't ask why. He sat and did his homework, then decorated it for a his teacher. We had snacks and sang songs. Eventually, I introduced him to the concept of roadside "bathrooms." It gave him quite a kick to make yellow snow, and I was glad, momentarily, that I had only boys. I don't know how a daughter would have taken this.

Spanish Lesson
Throughout all of this, I wasn't particularly frightened or worried. My husband has the strongest and largest reserve of faith I've ever encountered, and he was calm and assured that we'd make it through just fine. I've learned to trust that. Besides, we were on a pilgrimage. More about that later. For now, you can peruse The Man's version of the story for a lot funnier take on it. He goes into detail about what happened once we got to our destination. I hate to even mention it, because I don't want to give La Quinta (slogan: "Spanish for... whatever we want it to be") more press than they deserve.

But then I realized, there is such a thing as bad press for service-based companies. (Of course, in this case, I'm using the term "service" in the loosest possible definition.) So let the slaughter begin. First read this gem from my dear sister in spirit, Surrender Dorothy. Her dear husband was driving the second car in our caravan, and she was riding along bravely, trying so hard not to give in to the stress. And to cope with 3 children of pre-adolescent age, which I didn't try to do. She's my hero, and not just because she gave up her chance to pass out at 3 a.m. instead of 6.
She's my hero in part because she didn't rip off the head of the manager of the La Quinta (Spanish for "your problems are none of our concern") at which we had 3 rooms reserved, prepaid, and with our names on but somehow which weren't available when we got there, despite our having called ahead earlier that night to tell them "We'll be there in a little while; please keep our rooms." Oh yes, they had said. We will.

Well, technically they still had the rooms. They just didn't have them available and ready for us to sleep in. In fact, they were occupied by people who were shortly to join us in being very put out with the management of La Quinta (Spanish for "I'm sure there's no one in that room; OK, this one"). I don't know how many people they called at 3-something in the freaking morning (yes, the "freaking" is necessary there)-- one room they actually broke into at something closer to 4 a.m. because they wouldn't believe that anyone was really inside, despite the security bar being across the door. Hello? Anybody seen a brain around here?

However, I missed the break-in and the reason for strangling the manager because SD and her family had graciously given us the one room that the La Quinta (Spanish for "total incompetence") desk clerk could scare up. It was, as TM notes, the worst one in the place and probably the one they save for only the absolutely desperate, because they are the only ones who will tolerate it. Them and the ones who've been driving through a blizzard for 19 hours and just want a bed to crash on, even a straw pallet in a barn, anything. Somewhere soft to land. So we got our little ones to bed around 3 and managed to grab about 20 winks, despite the presence in the hallway of (I kid you not) most of a high-school marching band enjoying a trip away from home.

After 4 hours' sleep, I was awakened by the squeals of my little sons bouncing delightedly on the hotel bed. Ah joy. TM and #1 Son were still sound asleep, so I began to get ready for the day. The contents of my stomach having clogged up the toilet, I went to the phone to call for maintenance. Except the phone didn't work. Sigh. OK, I'll talk to them when we're down for breakfast. I'll pass over the flimsy bowls that wouldn't hold cereal and milk. The waffle irons that lacked any batter to pour on them. The other stuff.

TM in his post was outraged beyond speech that the morning desk person at La Quinta (Spanish for "do it yourself; what am I, your maid?") had simply handed me a plunger when I informed her that our toilet was stopped up. That part didn't bother me; I can deal with muck. It was the fact that the plunger she handed me was in no way capable of unclogging the toilet in our room (and possibly in any other room in the place) that really got my goat. Baah! The toilet drain was square; the plunger, of course, round. And flimsy. REALLY flimsy. It had no more chance of forming a vacuum seal on that drain than my left sock.

I admit it was unkind of me, but at this point, I woke up The Man. "Good morning, honey; hope you don't need the bathroom." The phone still being out of commission, I ventured back downstairs and informed the already-sobbing desk clerk (who was probably bearing the brunt of several guests' anger for the night shift's unbearable incompetence) that I needed something more. No problem, she said, and a while later, she and another person came up with a drain snake and eventually got things sorted out. Oh, by the way, I said, our phone doesn't work. In fact, it was in pieces. She put the pieces back together and managed to get Line 2 operative again before cheerily making her way back to her front-desk purgatory.

The next time we used the toilet, it clogged up again. I swear, we did not eat the mountains on our way through.

Oh, Give Me a Home...
Eventually, we found out what had happened to our traveling companions. After another 2 hours of waiting in the lobby of La Quinta (Spanish for "Who cares?") for the management to do the right thing, they were sent to a Quality Inn a few miles up the road. To the King suite. With grapes on the canopy and piles of fluffy cushions and a fancy jetted tub. Of course, they only got to enjoy sweet blissful oblivion for 3 hours before the incompetents at La Quinta (Spanish for "inconsiderate in the extreme") called them up and told them that their stay would be gratis. They called us, too, but at this point, I was starting to feel like they'd need to pay us to stay there another day, so wretched was our accommodation.

However, we had other things to do. Our day was packed with fun and family and such special experiences that I can barely put into words how happy I was. To see my sweet little sister and her husband finally make their baby girl part of their family forever was almost overwhelming in its sweetness. And the faces of all the family gathered around, smiling-- how wonderful. You could feel the love in that room very tangibly, and I was so grateful to be there.

Afterward, I picked up the croup medicine for #1 Son-- it was the first free hour I'd had since Thursday afternoon when I took him to the doc. The croup itself was a blessing because it made his Mommy (Spanish for "wicked witch of the South") not want to have him with her for Spring Break, so he got to come on our trip, visit with the relatives, and see his dad baptized. That was the other incredibly wonderful event that happened on this trip. I think I'll keep my feelings about it private because it was so special, but I will say that it was the best thing that had happened to me in a very long time.

The baptism was also a social event, filled with I don't know how many dozen family members and even several friends from the other side of the mountains. (One on vacation, and a family who had moved a while ago.) And in true fan-boy form, TM also invited Howard Tayler, the creator of Schlock Mercenary (one of our favorite Web comics). Howard graciously attended and witnessed the event, then presented TM with an autographed portrait of him done in Schlock style. He's a classy, intelligent guy, and we'd both like to have the opportunity to spend more time around him.

If there's anyone still reading this (hi, Jack!), thanks for listening. I just had to get it off my chest. When we were sitting in Grand Junction eating burgers and thanking God for the lack of mountains and snow, SD's Beloved Husband said, "I can't wait to see the blog entries about this trip!" Rebelliously, I thought, "Oh, I won't be blogging about this. Not even the 3 hours in a ditch." But we didn't know the horrors of La Quinta (Spanish for "It's not Hell-- but you can see it from here") yet. So here it is, in all its glory.

For SD's take on the car trip, click here. She does a great job. I like the split-level effect particularly.

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

This is why you are the fancy author, and I just have an online journal. You just tell anguish so well.