US Travel


I was in a coffee shop this morning, what’s new? Well, now I’m in Helena, MT. I know, a little crazy. Seattle wasn’t working out for me at this point, so I decided to take a road trip to visit my mom. She’s consulting at a hospital in Helena. It’s a cute mountain town with streets such as Prospect Ave., Last Chance Gulch St., Horseshoe Bend Rd., Paydirt Dr., Gold Rush Ave., Hideout St., and Saddle Dr. Sounds so romantic, but I haven’t seen anyone riding horses or slinging guns. I have seen cowboys in big pick up trucks on cellphones.

People look me in the eye here . . . such a freaky thing. In Chicago, we don’t look at each other. Here they try to start up a conversation with anyone . . . figure out where you’re from and why you’re in town. Very friendly. The weather has been better than both Chicago and Seattle – in the mid-40s and sunny. I probably only wore my sunglasses once in the 2 months I spent in Seattle. I’ve been here 3 days and I’ve had to wear them twice. Feels good to be in the sun.

The coffee shop this morning had an interior that resembled the days when sidewalks were wooden and the streets, dirt. It had booths and bar stools scattered in little wooden nooks divided by walls and columns. For instance, there was a booth in the back that had it’s own room with an old rickety screen door. It’s all old grayish wood throughout the shop with mercantile such as postcards and Asian pottery for purchase. It had a cozy atmosphere and seemed a bit private. But then I overheard an interesting conversation.

“I don’t know who my father is because my mother who was a meth addict and drunk slept with many men. She died when I was four years old.” It was a female’s voice but I couldn’t see her. I kept trying to listen but I only caught a few more details. It sounded as though she had been to therapists, but didn’t like them. One even suggested she undergo hypnosis for help with post traumatic stress in which the victim has to re-live the situation in order to move on from the event. She said she had no intention of re-living her childhood. Then she was talking about fiance problems. She said that he would get into trouble when he drank – they would fight and he was mean. Her solution was to keep him busy so he wasn’t tempted by the bottle. So she set a schedule for him. He went to a bible study and was starting his own business – Quickstar – the multi-level marketing company related to Amway. She said that she was pushing him to religion and if he’s challenged with learning about god, that will solve the drinking problem. Yikes! It sounded like she was going to re-visit her childhood, but this time it wasn’t her mom who had the problem, it was her fiance.

All that from the coffee shop – people fascinate me! Then the guy who was sitting to the right of me was on his computer playing a video. I recognized the voice of Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher. He writes about how people create drama within their lives because they’re so focused on the past and future. He teaches about living in the present moment. And that you can’t fix people, you have to accept them for who they are or remove them from your life. I wanted to go grab the girl and put her in front of Eckhart – maybe then she would wake up. But then again, maybe she wouldn’t.

That’s all they’re talking about out here. It’s still snowing. I drove to Vancouver, WA (near Portland) from Seattle on Saturday and had to drive about 40 mph the last half of the trip because the roads were snowy and slick. The normal almost 3 hr trip took 4.5 hrs. It reminded me of driving in South Dakota in the winter. In Chicago, the interstates are usually pretty clear because of the plows, salt and amount of traffic. They don’t salt out here, but use gravel and have only a limited amount. There were a few trucks and SUVs in the ditch – one was even upside down. As I scanned radio stations, I noticed that even on the channels that play pop music, the DJs talk about Christianity (not in Seattle, though). It was a shock when I was in Vancouver for Thanksgiving. A bible reference would be mentioned, so I would flip the channel thinking I was on a Christian station. But no, all sorts of music channels. Not sure that it was all channels, but the ones the I was hitting. It makes me uncomfortable because there are all sorts of religions. But I guess mainly Christian in this area.

Anyway, today is bad weather again and they’re recommending no travel. My cousins came over to my aunt and uncle’s yesterday, but they had chains on their vehicles. Now I understand why there are so many big SUVs and trucks (4-wheel drive) out here – especially when going through mountain passes. It’s people versus nature. When I was on the interstate to Vancouver, at one point over halfway through my trip, all sort of cars and SUVs pulled over to the side of the road to “chain-up”. It was like a trend, once a vehicle stopped and people noticed what they were doing, everyone had to do it.

I felt the tug, but then resisted. I have a set of chains in my car, thanks to my uncle who gave them to me over Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to take the time to put them on because I knew it would take me a bit since I’d never done it before. I figured I’d drive slow. The way they work is you get two chains for either the front two or back two wheels. Since I have front-wheel drive, I’d have to put the chains on my front two tires. The maximum speed with chains on is around 40 mpg.

My uncle said that since I have a Prius, it’s probably good in the snow. I never thought of it before, but he said that because of the weight of the batteries in the engine, even distribution and the fact that I’m closer to the ground I’m good in the snow. I made it to Vancouver, but I couldn’t make it up their driveway!

Yikes – look at Chicago a couple of days ago (compliments of Stacy). She shot these photos from windows in our apartment. The red tree is in our backyard. It looks so pleasant and beautiful. I’m just glad to be looking at them through photos and not from the window – hehe!

On the trip from Chicago to Seattle, my dad and I stopped in Moorhead, MN (near Fargo, ND) to visit my grandma for a couple of days. She has recently been in declining health and moved from her apartment into a nursing home. It was difficult to visit her, not only to see her dependent on the staff and not her “normal self” but also that I am going through a big change in life. My emotions were already running high. There were points in our stay that she had trouble remembering things such as her apartment that she had moved from only a couple weeks prior to our visit. She knew that she was having trouble with her memory and mentioned that she noticed it going for the past couple months. She said at first it really bothered her, but then she learned to accept it. Her humor was still intact, thankfully. When she was talking about not remembering the apartment, she said to me in her cute, silly voice, “I lost that part of my memory, do you know where it is? Is it in your pocket?”

My grandma is a soft personable minister’s wife (she grew up a minister’s daughter and then married two ministers) who reserves certain comments for behind closed doors. But she does love baseball and football.

Her roommate was a stitch – I can’t remember her name so I’ll call her Hen. Hen came back from bingo one afternoon and said that of course, she won again. My feeble grandma, lying in her bed looked over at Hen and said, “That’s why I’m trying to get better, so I can beat you.” Hen scowled, “you could try.”

Hen and her husband had owned some farming or implement dealership in a small town in ND. As she ran her long fingers over her white, balding head, I wondered if she, too, had worked on the equipment. Her thick body and big work hands were reminiscent of farm-life. She seemed to be a tough broad who was looking for conversation. A nice, shy, old lady came to visit my grandma and as soon as she left we got her whole story. Hen said that the lady’s brother had lived in her small town so she had known her. The lady moved to S. California and had lived there decades up until a couple of years ago. Her family had convinced her to move back because she had been living on her own and had been attacked twice on the street. The most recent time, she had gone to her mailbox when she was hit on the head, her purse stolen and ended up in the hospital. Hen shook her head in disapproval, “she had a long-time boyfriend who she lived with and never married!” He had passed away and the lady was on her own.

Hen was going to be leaving the nursing home soon, she had gone through treatment for arthritis. She said that her house in small town ND had been custom built with the kitchen near the front door (instead of the typical living/family room) so she could see out the front window. Hen monitored the street and knew EVERYTHING that went on in front of her house. I’m sure she told parents when kids were misbehaving and others when families didn’t meet her approval. I didn’t dare bring up the recent election with her.

Hen seemed innocent enough to me, it was just her way. When I told her that I was on my way to Seattle that I might be moving there, she smirked. “I’d send a sympathy card to anyone who would move there,” she muttered. What? I about died laughing. Why? “It’s depressing there,” Hen said as if trying to help me. I shook my head and smiled. Behind my smile, I pictured Hen snowbound in her kitchen trying to peer over snowbanks. I mean really, the frigid cold? To each his own.

This was at a rest stop at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Clean up after your dogs AND horses! I left my horse at home.

The valley is rugged like the Bad Lands – it’s pretty in a desolate sort of way. No where to hide if someone had a gun. Maybe behind a pile of horse poo droppings.

So weird, I have the TV on, listening to the news and they just did a feature on bio-degrable dog poo bags. They’re watching me!

I know it’s not right, but I love my car. From Chicago all the way to Seattle, the trip only cost about $120 – wow! It’s a Prius and gets about 45 miles per gallon, but I have to say that I got lucky because the price of gas went down right before my dad and I left. In Chicago, I think it was close to three bucks a gallon the day I left. In North Dakota and in Montana it was about $2.20 or so. The other day, I filled up for a buck-eighty!

It was treacherous going across North Dakota when my we did because they had a blizzard a couple days before. It wasn’t so much the snow, but the ice. I was going about 75 miles/hr and I hit a small ice patch on the interstate. It threw the car into the lane beside us but recovered quickly when it hit the dry road – phewww! And we were lucky that there were no other cars around. For a second, I thought we’d end up in the ditch because we had passed vehicles that were being pulled out.

We stopped at a gas station, on the lonely interstate through the tundra. Small town, nothing around. The pump wouldn’t pump – it kept shutting off as if my tank was full. I went in and the guy said, something about a dollar-fifty on my credit card like I was a moron who didn’t know how to work the pump. Probably saw my shiny red car (the lone car in truck-land) and Illinois license plate, and shook his head and thought, city-folk. I told him that the pump wasn’t working and then it dawned on him. He looked out across the blustery landscape and told me that the pump must have been frozen. Nice! He said that the one on the other side worked because it wasn’t getting hit by the freezing cold wind. All I could think was get me out of here! It’s too cold! So, in my fluffy not-so-warm coat, I hurried to “get her done” and got back on the road.

I was just looking a few blogs below which triggered a campfire memory. The day we were headed from Seattle to Lakebay, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up s’more fixn’s. I told Brian (Jodi was with us, too – we had gone to Pike Place Market that morning) that I wanted to go to Whole Foods because I had just spoken to Larissa. She had stopped at Whole Foods for a Jamba Juice for lunch – that sounded yummy! But the Whole Foods that we stopped at didn’t have one attached to it – suck. We were there, so to save time I said let’s just pick up groceries. I couldn’t find the graham crackers, so a store clerk led me to them. I grabbed the box and asked him for marshmallows. He said they were out of the pre-packaged type but I could go to the bakery and get homemade ones. What? How do you make marshmallows? That’s ridiculous – I wanted the processed ones in a plastic bag. I told Brian that we’d have to pick them on the way back to Larissa’s because I couldn’t imagine them being cheap at Whole Foods.

Later that night, in front of a raging campfire, black sky filled with stars above our heads, Larissa opened the box of graham crackers. She took a bite and exclaimed, “these are stale, yuck!” They better not be, I paid double for them at Whole Foods. Then she looked at the box, they were all-natural whole wheat good-for-you graham crackers. Turned out that they weren’t stale at all, just healthy. I didn’t mind them once I lathered my golden processed marshmallow and hunk of chocolate in between them!

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