Dateline: somewhere between neglect and insanity.
Yes, it has been a long time since I’ve posted. In fact, it’s been months. A lot has happened since then, particularly lately, so I thought I’d write something of an update post. My last post, “Living in Ecstasy,” about my landlord’s Rolls Royce was meant to have a follow-up post, and perhaps I’ll write that some day. But for now, here’s what I’ve been up to.
In early May, just after being more-or-less dumped by Cupcake Boy, I met a real man (>35 y/o), “Luis,” who I’ve been seeing ever since. On our first date, we hit it off. Without prompting, he announced he doesn’t own a TV, loves NPR, especially Terry Gross’ “Fresh Air,” which he knows from having lived in Phoenix for a few years, and is also doing “A Course in Miracles,” something I’m inching through myself. Though younger than me, Luis is at least within shooting distance. If you use a twelve-gauge, that is. We’ve been dating since we met, exclusively, and things are going well, though we’ve had a few ups and downs, as is normal.
Luis is an architect, a Chilango, though not by birth. When I met him, he was working on a complex public works project. At the end of August, his contract was through, and he decided to come with me to Boston, just to help me celebrate my birthday, get a chance to see the place, and generally hang out. As for me, I needed to return to my native soil to do various errands around the house, pay certain bills, and generally look after the place.
After a few weeks, Luis decided he loved Boston and wanted to find a job there. It’s not a tough sell. We can live together in my house, the city has a ton to offer, and with the collapse of the peso, even a crappy job in the USA pays literally multiples of what he could make in Mexico. And unusually for a Mexican, he claims to love cold weather. Add to that his eligibility for an easy-to-get “TN” visa under NAFTA for qualified professionals such as architects, and it’s something of a no-brainer. He hasn’t found a job yet, but we’ll see what happens. So I’ve basically been in Boston since late August, though still renting my apartment in Roma Sur, CDMX.
Soon enough, the holidays rolled around, time for my annual trip to Northern California to see my parents, siblings, and old friends. Since it was no longer just me, the calculus of the trip, where to stay, and a bunch of other things changed. What to do? I defaulted to my normal first-order decision-making process: procrastination. So we spent a lot of time talking about flights, whether we should fly to SFO then to Mexico City, or go back to Boston. Luis was also starting to waver about the wisdom of working in Boston, so that added yet another element of uncertainty. Meanwhile, airline tickets were rising in price and starting to sell out. Rental car rates also had approximately doubled from last year.
What if we drive? Compared with a trip to Mérida on a variety of Mexican highways and byways, a coast-to-coast drive on US interstates didn’t seem all that challenging. And on a cost basis, it compared very favorably to flying two people and renting a car. On the other hand, it also seemed a smidgen insane. While we would not have to contend with narco-gangs, we faced a much more certain danger: snow. The default Google map directions would have taken us through Kansas City, Denver, then west along Highway 80, through southern Wyoming, then into northern Nevada, before having us cross Donner Pass by Lake Tahoe and then descending into the Sacramento Valley. My initial thought was that this would be doable for a few seemingly-good reasons. It’s still early in the season. In Boston, at least, snow is rare before Christmas. The places along the way get plenty of snow, so they’re prepared to deal with it. I had images of hourly plowing and salt application, with messy, but passable roads.
Our Trusty but Tiny Steed, Parked in New Mexico Snow
As it turns out, all these reasons were pretty harebrained. A friend confirmed that west of Denver, there’re often debilitating blizzards that close the interstates. Some quick internet research confirmed this. I would also have been required to carry chains, something that I don’t own. Nor would they have fit. We decided to drive across country in my 230SLK, something the size of a Miata. As it turns out, every single square inch of trunk space was accounted for, and even then we had to gently force the trunk closed. Nope. I didn’t want to deal with chains. Or snow.
The Sensible Southern Route
So we decided to drive the sensible, southern route. We left the morning of Wednesday the fourteenth, and over the course of a few days, passed through Hartford, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and through the Texas Panhandle. We then spent the night in Shamrock, Texas, about 100 miles east of Amarillo.
Art Deco Gas Station, Shamrock, TX. Photo Courtesy of Luis
From there, we drove west, hoping to pass through Albuquerque. Alas, the Goddess of the Road didn’t like that plan. As we reached Tucumcari, NM around 10:30 AM, we encountered a gate across the interstate. The highway was closed. No one seemed to know anything as to why, or when it might reopen.
Tucumcari, Gateway to Amarillo. Or to Albuquerque. Or maybe to nowhere
Fortunately, it was early in the day, and we had come upon the gate probably less than a half hour before it was closed. So we turned around and went into Tumcumcari, had lunch, and tried to figure out what to do. At lunch, Yolanda, our waitress informed us that there was a 40-car pile-up beyond the gate. Given that the snow had been very light (less than 2″), and that we hadn’t seen a single cop in the entire state, we figured the road could be closed for a long time. We immediately booked a motel.
It turns out that was the smart move. As the day wore on, the town filled with trucks, truckers, trailers, and hapless automobile travelers such as ourselves. Motels sold out, and that evening (with the highway still closed) we found it almost impossible to get out of the Denny’s parking lot due to the enormous trucks everywhere we looked. In fact, it seemed like the entire town was full of big rigs.
The Truck Traffic Jam Within an Hour of Closure
The next morning dawned bitterly cold (-2°F/-19°C), but clear. Luis was happy that I had forced him to pack gloves and a hat. The highway had been reopened, but the traffic remained. But after we had packed and eaten breakfast, the worst of the jam was gone. So we continued on.
As we drove, we saw mangled trucks, crumpled cars, skid marks, and all the signs of past disaster. I was astonished that the authorities had allowed such mayhem to occur. Very little snow had fallen, but if the streets in the city were any gauge, someone was scrimping on salt and plowing. In all of Massachusetts, such a dusting would have hardly caused a fender bender. There, the authorities put down salt before snow even starts to fall, and then follow up every couple of hours as needed. But in New Mexico, laisser faire became a disaster.
Worse for me, while in New Mexico, I learned that my 88 year old stepfather was in the hospital, with a very vague diagnosis. His heart was weak, he wasn’t eating, and had swelling in his legs. Though it wasn’t shocking, the timing was a little surprising. He had sounded fine when I called on his birthday two weeks prior, and my mother had not mentioned anything unusual. His health had certainly been slowly failing for some years though. Tied to an oxygen tank, he suffered a constellation of problems common to some older folks: COPD; blood pressure issues; weak heart; several pacemakers; and the like. Indeed the fact that he had made it to 88 at all was something of a miracle. Suddenly, the need to get to California quickly became my dominant concern, and we pushed it, driving 700 miles or more a day.
After five days on the road, we made it to Redding, CA, where my mother and stepfather live. That was Monday the nineteenth. We hightailed it to the hospital. My stepdad didn’t look good, but he was happy to see me. I finally got to talk to his doctor. The prognosis wasn’t good. He had heart failure, which basically means the heart doesn’t pump enough blood. This leads to edema (swelling) of the legs, weakness, fatigue, and related symptoms. The doctor also said he likely had bladder cancer, definitely had internal bleeding, and the cancer had probably started to migrate to his pancreas. Not good.
Over the following days, various decisions were made. Surgery was out, as stepdad was too weak to survive it. Nor did he want any extreme measures to keep him alive. No fool, he had realized his time was coming, and he had put his affairs in order. After consultation with his own children, we all decided that he should come home, but under hospice care. We would try to make him comfortable, but would not treat him beyond that.
Friday morning, the 23rd, we took delivery of a hospital bed, and various other paraphernalia associated with home care. For lack of any other good place, the bed got set up in the living room. Stepdad came home a few hours later, but wanted to sit in his favorite armchair instead of being in the bed. His son came up from the Bay Area, and neighbors dropped by to visit. He even ate some ice cream, a small victory for us. Things looked like he’d have a few weeks to a couple months at home to slowly die and say good bye. Only days before, the doctor had given him 4-6 weeks of expected remaining life.
But the fates had their own plans. And maybe they were better than ours. Within six hours, stepdad had managed to slip out of his chair and onto the floor a couple of times. It was surprisingly difficult to get him back, as he had no strength of his own. He pulled out his oxygen line a couple times too. By 10:45, Luis and I were watching television with him when I noticed that he was unusually quiet. I went to look at him. His hands were cool. No pulse. No detectable breathing. Six hours after getting home, he was dead.
The next few hours involved various phone calls, a nurse visit to certify a natural death, and then a pair of creepy undertakers an hour later. My mother, who typically falls asleep in front of the TV by 8:00 PM was up until 1:30, utterly exhausted. We too were a little frayed, still recovering from the 5-day drive.
Now we’re all trying to deal with the new reality. I’ve told my mother that I’ll stay here at least six weeks. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what works for everyone. My mother is elderly too, 86, and I question how much sense it makes for her to live alone. For now, though, we are just grieving and recouping our strength. I’m fine, but my mother caught a bad cold and is still recovering. I’m doing my best to pamper her, cooking and cleaning, running errands, etc.
As for what the future holds, we’ll see. For now, we can thank the mysterious forces that conspired to make me drive here, leaving me with a car, flexibility, and an open-ended return.
Saludos and thanks for stopping by.
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!
P.S. If you comment, please keep in mind that my mother reads this blog.