Quite a few years ago, I lived in Denver, and I was miserable. I quit my job on a Friday, sold my furniture and picked my mom up at the airport on Saturday, and on a cold and snowy Sunday, we headed for Florida. I had had enough of being so far away from home in such an alien land with a shitty job and shitty weather. If that wasn’t enough motivation, my 4-year-old nephew learned how to dial the phone so he could call me any time he wanted with a plaintive, “Did you move away because you don’t love me anymore?” Guilt is a great motivator.
Mom and I headed out the next moning towards Santa Fe, taking the scenic route home. We were escorted off the road by State Troopers in Raton, NM due to blizzard conditions, blowing snow, and minimum visibility. We made screwdrivers with some canned OJ from an ancient vending machine and a bottle of vodka from a box in the truck, and watched the snow fly from the warmth of a hotel with wonky heating, and crappy t.v.
The next afternoon were met by even more drastic weather. The wind was blowing rattlesnakes across the road as we drove. Tumbleweeds were flying like alien space ships down the middle of the road. The wind whipped up brush fires all up and down I-25, and they closed the road in places due to smoke and poor visibility. In some places we could see the flames jumping from one side of the road to the other. Mom navigated me with comments like, “STAY LEFT, NOW,” or “INCOMING.”
We visited Santa Fe in the freezing cold, snow, and wind, and couldn’t wait to get back on the road to Florida, of course taking another bypass, this time to Albuquerque. When we finally got to Albuquerque, we couldn’t get out and do too much sightseeing because the smoke from the fires made both mom and me sneeze and hack.
I took mom for lunch at La Placita in Old Town Albuquerque. It was probably the first time she ever had Mexican food, and way back then, La Placita was “the” place to eat in Old Town. We were standing in line to enter, behind an older Mexican man who was holding his grandaughter’s hand. He chatted with my mother, who found out from that they lived outside of Albuquerque, that he had a small farm where he raised something I can’t remember, and that the little girl had earned all A’s on her report card. Their lunch was a celebration.
When the hostess came to seat the next party in line (the old man and his granddaughter), she looked through them like they were invisible, and zeroed in on us, offering menus and telling us our table was ready. I looked at my mom, and I could tell her Irish was about to show. I remember taking a step back in case she got really really mad. I will never forget my mother’s body language, the crook of her left eyebrow, and the tone of her voice. Seriously, if looks could kill someone, that lady would have dropped stone dead.
It was at that point that the old man put his hand on my mom’s arm and told us to go ahead and be seated. My mother smiled at him, looked at the hostess and said “This gentleman and his granddaughter were here before us, and you are being very rude to push them aside to seat us ahead of them.” The hostess had the balls to say to my mother, “I’m sure they won’t mind.” Stupid woman just didn’t read my mother’s signals very well. I remember standing there in awe of my mom and her righteousness. She stood stock still and glared down on that woman. After what seemed to be forever, the hostess turned to the old man and his granddaughter, mumbled something, and she seated them at a table for two. When the two were seated, the old man nodded to my mom, and the little girl beamed as she ordered her special lunch.
We (me, and the people standing behind us in line) took a deep breath, gave my mom a mental pat on the back, perused the menu as we stood there waiting. When they were leaving, the old man and his granddaughter passed by the table and wished us a good day. The meal was good, the atmosphere fun, but that damned hostess kept my mom pissed off for the rest of the day.
After Albuquerque, we hit the road for Florida again heading east on I-40. We got as far as Witchita Falls, Texas that night and checked into a hotel near the local hospital. The weather had turned bad, and there were warnings all over for tornadoes. We lost electricity for a while, and heard sirens all night long. Mom sat by the window all night watching for tornadoes. It was kind of creepy when I woke up one time, and saw her sitting in the dark by the window outlined by the flash of lightning outside.
I think we spent a forgettable night at a forgettable hotel somewhere near Shreveport the next night.
New Orleans. I had been there a couple of times, but it was mom’s first visit. We stayed at the Holiday Inn on Royal Street in the French Quarter mainly because I had been there before and knew that they had a pretty secure car park. I had to protect my junk in the truck, especially that half bottle of vodka!
My mom and I spent two days in New Orleans doing all the tourist stuff. We had good food, walked around the French Quarter, took the trolley up and down St. Charles, and had a great time. We were going to stay another day, but my dad was worried about the weather as South Florida was about to get hit with a tropical storm, and he wanted us home before the weather got really bad. (Hah!) I don’t think I ever told anyone how drunk my mother got on Hurricanes from Pat O’Briens our second night there. Yep. Sat with her head in the wastepaper basket all night cursing me out for letting her drink that second hurricane. Lightweight.
When we were leaving the hotel, my mom took care of the bill and checked us out, while I dealt with the valet and got the truck. I pulled up with the truck just as she finished at the front desk, she hopped in the truck, and we headed home. The four or five boxes of pralines that we bought to bring home fueled us all the way to South Florida. The truck was comfortable, but miserable in its own right without a/c or defroster, no radio either. Mom and I chatted a lot on that trip, interspersed with lots and lots of quiet time.
Two days later, we arrived home, having fought our way through a blizzard, a wind storm, flying snakes, brush fires, smoke, zero visibility, tornadoes, a heat wave, and a tropical storm.
A couple of weeks after we got home, my grandmother called from New York to ask if we had stayed at the Holiday Inn when we were in New Orleans. My mom told her yes, and asked why, thinking maybe grandma was having a psychic moment or something. Well. It seems that my grandmother’s brother John and his wife Birdie were in New Orleans at the same hotel as us. Birdie saw us in the lobby, and went back to the room to get John to come down and surprise us. She thought we were checking in.
This trip is just one of many mom and I have taken together, but its the only one where plague and pestilence would have felt right at home.