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Archive for October 14th, 2010

Where were we?

We had just left Hardin, Montana – Little Bighorn territory – meaning that we had escaped the wary and watchful eye of Cruel Wife’s grandmother behind us.  This part of the trip was different since all we had in terms of familial relations between us and Michigan was Silver d’Cat.

Silver was getting by in a stoic manner.  He wasn’t happy and really was about as stiff as if we’d spitted him on a long chunk of rebar, but he was a cat – how relaxed could 99.9% of cats be when driving for long distances away from anything remotely familiar?   He was mellowed out relatively speaking, when measured against his response to the beginning of the trip.  I firmly believe his little cat meows were saying “Fine, I’ll behave, just don’t pill me again.”

We were heading south on I-90 towards Wyoming when it hit me (as it has done many times since)… “Settlers killed indians for this? ” It was just one long expanse of pretty country, but what comes with that territory is extremely harsh winters, hot summers, no A/C, no CVS pharmacy, and no coffee shops.  How did they survive in those primitive conditions?  One wonders.  Staying in character, the Shadow People said nothing and shared nothing with me that was enlightening.

Another side note:  Cruel Wife wasn’t exactly pleased that I was experiencing these little “sensory enhancements”, i.e. The Shadow People, and I don’t think I was, either, but it was better than sneezing twelve times in a row (truly “A River Ran Through It” was occurring in my sinuses) and doing spontaneous four-wheel drive sessions.

We hung a huge left at Buffalo, Wyoming and beelined east, stopping for an extremely hot and windy break in Gilette – a roadside turnout where there was no one to hold our camera and take a picture.  The cat didn’t have opposable  thumbs and wasn’t interested in photography anyway.  It was much too hot that day so we walked around but never too far from the truck just to make sure the cat was resting peacefully.  He didn’t seem to mind it.

This was the part of the trip where I was watching the cat closely.  I checked his leash for signs of being chewed through and I could not find stockpiles of squirreled-away food, but I felt that he required close observation anyway.  I did not want to have to track a Himalayan through the wildlands of Wyoming.

Satisfied that all was as it should be we got in the truck and continued down the road.  Again, I said to myself “They killed indians for this?

We consulted with the cat and then unanimously decided that we should swing north and go by the Devil’s Tower.  I distinctly remember being so excited to see it that I was about to pee myself (I don’t get out much).  We got closer and it kept getting bigger and bigger.  The cat wasn’t impressed but we were in awe of the sheer size of the thing.  Close Encounters of the Third kind did not do it justice even on the big screen.

Earnest Question:  What are Close Encounters of the First and Second Kind like?  Is this similar to dating?  I’ve never really understood the logic here.

It was shortly after this that Silver licked his paws clean of what he considered to be a total farce and meowed that from here on out we should not even bother to ask him what he thought about our route.  This made life simpler as you can imagine.

New Rule #6: Keep the cat out of trip planning.  It saves time and is far less annoying to not hear “Well, you can count me out, man” all the time.

Mount Rushmore was neat.  If you want to read all about it, go look it up or even better, go see it for yourself, but I just don’t have the energy to wax eloquent about it.  It was big.  How is that?  It was big.  Four big guys.  Four big stone guys.  There, my duty is fulfilled.

Let me be absolutely clear:  If you don’t drive across this country at least once, you will have no idea how freaking big it is.  We were seeing signs for Wall Drug(store) for many many miles before actually getting to Wall, SD.  I had no appreciation for how little we’d actually come.  Yes, we were about halfway, but we’d been driving for a long time over the last few days and… it just kept going and made the Energizer Bunny™ look like an amateur.  Soon we were driving through the northern part of the Badlands and it was kind of forbidding.  Forbidding is not a warm fluffy blanket – forbidding is a bed of nails, a bad section of town, the promise of splintered bones grating against each other, or the angry glare of a furious wife.

Wall Drug in Wall, SD.  How shall I describe it?  Shall I be gracious?  Shall I be caustic?   Dry and objective?   I think I shall break with tradition and tell the truth.

Wall Drug was a letdown.  After the string of signs for a hundred miles designed to work me up into a lather I expected everyone to have wings on, big pearly gates, and the sound of harps strumming from every corner.  Instead it was crowded, touristy, amazingly huge, and not even a teeny-tiny bit interesting to me.  I don’t care for crowded places.  Smells and the obnoxious people that went with them, most with a total lack of situational awareness, and lots of rude maladjusted kids running around wasn’t blowing up my skirt.  This was Wall Drug in all it’s gaudy and flashy glory.  Yah.  Hoo.  Cruel Wife liked it but my skin was crawling.  I’m sorry, I wish I could say nicer things about it.   Actually, I don’t.  It was what it was.

Ok, moving right along, folks – nothing more to see here – keep moving.

Cruel Wife was getting pretty tired by this point.  It had been nine hours not counting stops from when we left Hardin, roughly.  Nine long hours in a Jeep (they don’t drive themselves, you have to constantly watch them as if they were rebellious teens) and our butts were developing bedsores.  The cat was getting pissy(er) than he had been and I was thinking I’d either give him Drixoral™ or another kitty downer but then thought better of it.  I took the Drixoral™ instead and I decided I wanted to press on after we ate some dinner and so we drove another three or four hours.  I was Captain Robo-Dex, master of the known universe, and a milepost-eating god.

I finally had to throw in the towel when we came to Mitchell, SD because my vision had slipped back and forth between double and treble (which is an important symptom, I’m told).  Everyone was happy to stop, and the cat even squealed and clapped his paws in sincere rejoicing.  We found a rather unremarkable hotel and crashed there for the night. I might be the only one but I find that hotels the world over (except for The Lennox in Boston) have this atmosphere of bone-weary exhaustion that isn’t all that much less pervasive than the mood at a funeral home.  Cheerier than a funeral home, granted, but a pervasive stillness always settles over the building.

I might not have mentioned this, but my large red toolbox came in with us at night, and it weighed whatever a quadruple hernia weighs.  Two or three suitcases, a cat carrier, a kitty litterbox, kitty food, the royal kitty water bowl, a kitty, a quad-hernia toolbox, and Cruel Wife’s Special Pillow came in and out with us when we stopped.  Going in and out of the hotel may not have risen to the level of an Augean Stables task but it was a real hassle and again my Shadow Folk were nowhere to be found.  Less than zero when you’re in a bind, those Shadow People.  The only thing that stayed in the truck was the recliner.

New Rule #7: Do not travel with a toolbox that weighs enough to give you quadruple hernias unless you like the idea of surgical procedures designed to keep your innards from falling out.

And we were off the next morning a few hours before the crack of noon.

South Dakota is a very nice place, full of nice people to be sure, but I was so glad to be over the state line.  It was a mental hurdle, a huge milestone to overcome.  We consulted our AAA map (provided by my employer) and saw that we had a long way to go still and that thought effectively catapulted my milestone off in the direction of the Badlands.

Minnesota was pretty uneventful up to the halfway point when we went through a dust-storm kind of thing where the sky and air all around us was tinted an eerie red color.  It wasn’t right and honestly it made us Northwesters a bit nervous.  The cat was already nervous so we didn’t see any noticeable change in his behavior.

We fell in love with Wisconsin though.  Crossed over the Mississippi River (God what a miserably long and redundant name that is) and came into LaCrosse.  We screamed by Sparta and did a power slide into I-94 on the way to Madison.  What was beautiful about Wisconsin?  Gosh, all of it.  For me the memorable features were parts of it that looked like certain sections of the Cascades in Oregon (Hwy 138 on the way to Diamond Lake from Roseburg, if you care) and it had hills and stuff that South Dakota was lacking in places.

We ended up in Madison that evening.  We had a hotel room all ready, I moved all of our stuff inside, and we decided to get some food.  Silver d’Cat demurred, meowing simply “You can count me out, man.”

In our travels through Madison we found the Red Pepper restaurant and had some General Tso’s that makes me weep to think of it even this day a decade and a half later.   I remember a crispy egg roll that was stuffed with love and manna.  And we experienced a hot and sour soup that defies description beyond saying that it too has made the remainder of my life seem as wispy and ephemeral as a fading daydream in comparison.

Perhaps it was because I was freaking starving.

Perhaps the trauma of the Chinese food in Montana was reaching through the heavily roped-off sections of our subconscious and we simply looked for healing there, without knowing what it was that we did. Perhaps the reality was that it wasn’t good food.  I honestly don’t know.  What I can find online says that it is permanently closed, which makes me a bit sad.

Outside this restaurant we got our first exposure to The Onion in printed form – it was in a little newspaper box next to the “alternate lifestyles” flyers.  I’ll try to post it if I can find it.  It is lying around here somewhere.  My favorite article ever is the that first one that I saw: “Doritos Celebrates it’s One Millionth Ingredient”.

We laughed and read The Onion that night at the hotel and skritched our sulky kitty until it was time to turn out the lights.  There was a big day ahead of us, and we had no idea how ill-prepared we were for the adrenaline-pumping experiences that were to come.

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Note:  Cruel Wife will undoubtedly remember things a bit differently so this story may evolve a bit as I am corrected.  Some of this is embellished a bit, yes.  The places and people are the same.

Cruel Wife and I lived in Washington. We met, we dated, my life was over before I knew it. I proposed, we killed time, and we got married.

The End.

Not really, no.

Just after we got back from our honeymoon I got word that I was in a last round of layoffs. It was not an auspicious beginning.

After looking for work for months – and I mean months – I found a job in Michigan. I flew out to begin my new job while Cruel Wife finished her degree (she analyzes failures for a living, mostly mine), and then a month later I flew to Washington to meet up with her and then move the last few items “back east”.

For a Northwest person, anything east of Boise is “back east”. To a Northwester, moving within 100 miles of Detroit is a death sentence or consignment to Hell, whichever seems worse. It varies from individual to individual.

We loaded up my truck with what little was left to move and set off from Pullman, Washington (Cruel Wife is a Cougar – no, not that kind of Cougar). It wasn’t easy. We knew we’d be leaving behind good coffee, friends, family, good coffee, the beautiful Northwest, good coffee, Taco Time™, and real seafood.

For my part I was going to miss Taco Time™ the most.

For Pete’s sake, you didn’t believe that, did you, Faithful Reader? It was coffee. And seafood. Again, you believed that? Okay, okay, friends and family.

We had suitcases, my toolbox, a big medium-sized recliner, and a cat carrier. With a cat.

Let’s focus on the cat for a moment.

Silver d’Cat was a Himalayan, which is cat fancier-speak for “cat with a really flat face”. When Cruel Wife and I were dating early on, Silver (short for Silver Streak) d’Kitten would nap on my chest when I napped on the couch. It was an equitable trade. He used me and I got points with the girlfriend. He was a pretty cat, never really a big cat, and one of the kindest little kitty hearts you can imagine.

Silver d’Cat two years later, with a new name and identity, now an unhappy cat in a cat carrier on the seat between us, in a jeep. Not one of us was happy, and Silver and I were competing to see who could be the most annoying in voicing our annoyance. The vet had given us a bottle of pills to give to Silver, ostensibly as a mild sedative, but there was one teensy problem, and at first blush you might not think it was a problem and your mind would move on to other matters, oblivious to certain realities.

The pills were about one inch in diameter. The cat’s throat was about 3/16 of an inch in diameter, less if you were trying to give him a pill. This was a problem. This is the rough equivalent of fitting a hippo into a VW bug. It’s also a good deal noisier. With every limb straight out, every hair on his body standing on end, his claws fully extended, and his eyes the size of dinner plates we would tackle him and force this giant pill down the Maw of Death, my pet name for the beginning of Silver d’Cat’s alimentary system.

I realized right away that he and I could not share these pills – they damn near killed the cat, so why would I want to subject myself to that? Instead, since my allergies were really bad, I stuck with Drixoral™, which causes me to see Shadow People and that made the drive much more interesting when I was behind the wheel. If one were to glance at the instructions on the package and actually read them for comprehension, one would see:

Warning: Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medication.

This was no problem since the Jeep classifies as a light truck. So went my reasoning.

Fifteen minutes after the first pill, Silver stopped yowling in a screeching tone and more in a druggy-screeching tone. Cruel Wife informed me that she’d take a look and see how the little guy was doing.

“HE’S FOAMING AT THE MOUTH!!!” blasted into my right ear, shredded the already spongy-matter that comprises the greater share of my brain, out of my my left ear, and left stuff that was really hard to clean off splattered against the driver’s side window. The Jeep screeched to a halt as I locked up the brakes and stopped on the side of the road. The journey of thousands of miles starts with but a single panic attack.

We drug druggy-yowling Silver d’Cat out of his carrier (getting him in was like putting toothpaste back in the tube) and decided that he wasn’t happy outside the carrier now.

It was early on in our relationship and I had not learned that most of the time you’ll do a whole lot better if you never say anything. “Oh yes, he’s foamy all right. Hey, you could use this stuff as shaving cream – it’s got body to it. What? What’d I say?” Or something unintelligent like that. That was the first look Cruel Wife had ever given me. It was awful. I felt my flesh being stripped from my bones, my marrow crumbled to dust, and my testicles blackened and fell off. It was readily apparent that this was her baby. She had no sense of humor or tolerance in this area.

New Rule #1: Do Not Mock Cruel Wife’s Baby Even if It is Furry.

We decided as a couple (ahem) that he did not need to ride in a carrier but would have a leash and ride on the seat between us. Carrier went in back and we drove on.

Olfactorily I am the canary in the coal mine. After a while I said “What’s that smell​​?” The smell was enough to peel the paint off the inside of the cab and Cruel Wife knew it was there as soon as I did. It was all the grittier smells of a tannery, a pulp mill, and a chicken farm with chicken-poo lagoons and they were emanating from the cat in little kitty burps (Cat Burp Bombs – CBB’s) that came out with the froth running down his chin. Make no mistake: Our cat was stoned and he passed David Bowie, Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious, and Jimi Hendrix on his way out of the solar system. I thought perhaps that I could chew up little bits of one of his pills at a time but then figured my drooling/foaming and CBB’s might tip off Cruel Wife. Well, I still had my Drixoral and my Shadow People friends.

Silver’s effluent also had this inorganic chemistry smell to it – sharp, unfeeling, lead-pipe cruel – and after a while we’d made it through Couer d’Alene, across Idaho in no time at all, then Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot mountain range. By the time we came out of the mountains we’d had enough of trying to sneak bits of fresh air and avoiding CBB’s so we made the command decision.

New Rule #2: No Drugs For Himalayans Riding in Jeeps.

Silver was in full agreement with this rule. In fact he co-authored that bill and you can still see his foamy little footprints all over it.

Montana was pretty big, pretty, and incredibly boring after a while. I said “Well, I know what will help pass the time.”

New Rule #3: No Beer in the Truck No Matter How Boring it Gets. Even if You are Passenger.

Mumbling “I don’t see how ‘happily ever after’ is even going to happen…” Cruel Wife gave me the look again and said sharply “WHAT?” as we swerved almost imperceptibly. My Shadow People friends all screamed “SHUT… UP!” Wise people, those Shadow Folk.

We spent the first night in Livingston, Montana with her relatives. I drank some beers and tried to stay out of the way. I did get a tour of a local laser manufacturer, which was pretty cool. I was itching to get going though so we said our goodbyes and took off, bound for Hardin, Montana to see Grandma. Cruel Wife’s grandma.

Update:  In Cruel Wife’s words…

Only one correction of note. We stayed in Livingston, MT the first night. Can’t forget that. My cousin tried to pawn her son’s iguana off on us. Now LK and I both think iguanas are cool critters (which had led to the offer since she was trying to find it a new home), but two (semi) adults, one unhappy cat, AND an iguana in the cab of a Jeep would have upset the balance of the universe. Global warming a decade early. Meltdown of the global economy. Dog and cats living together in sin. You get the idea. Seeing all these ghastly ramifications, we politely, but firmly refused.

Montana is a big place and we had driven a fair distance. Cat on the seat, Cruel Wife and I swapping off, and the Shadow People in the back and hanging off the sides of the truck. We got into town fairly late in the afternoon. We planned on spending the next day there and leave the following morning.

Cruel Wife’s grandma went through major depression era hardships. We’re talking NOTHING got wasted. NOTHING. “That old milk box can be chewed up for extra fiber. ”  “Toilet paper has two sides, you know!”   “Tuna cans make good candle votives as long as you use the fat rendered from roadkill.”

“Spaghetti” really means noodles with a can of tomatoes, lots of bacon grease, and whatever else is lying around – “You just scrape the mold off it and it’ll be fine. Really, Lemur, it was good last week. So what if the vegetables have split open and are moving around by themselves and eating bugs and small animals?”

New Rule #4: Eat What Grandma Provides Even if You Wouldn’t Feed it to Diseased Mutant Pigs.

The next morning dawned bright and clear and as is my usual custom I ignored it completely, opting to sleep in as long as I could. At some point the plan evolved into a “Let’s get a tour of the town.” Grandma drove and it was… it… it was traumatic. It was like being eviscerated with a grapefruit spoon.

Montana’s speed limits were pretty lax at that time and we screamed up the on-ramp and skidded onto the freeway at times topping 40 mph and averaging about 35 mph. I was in the rear seat and turned around to see a truck perilously close to us and getting closer with every beat of my now-arrhythmic heart. The grille loomed in my vision and seemed to extend for miles to each side of us. I could count and identify bugs on the front of the truck’s bumper, which was at eye level. I squeaked “Cruel Wife… Cruel Wife… Cruel Wife… Oh please oh please go faster…” While I was tapping frantically on her shoulder she turned around and said “Grandma, you’ve got to go faster!”

“We’re going to die,” I whispered quiety, unheard by a single living soul.

To Cruel Wife Grandma replied “Oh, no, I don’t like to go too fast.”

New Rule #5: Never ride with Grandma again. Ever.

We were very near the location of Custer’s Last Stand and I began to wonder if we wouldn’t be joining him soon. The semi truck lurched sideways and forward to pass us as if we were standing still (which we very nearly were). A few fear-filled miles later we pulled off the highway and visited what I believe was billed as the “Combine of Death Capitol of the World”. It was an entire museum devoted to the celebration of farming equipment specifically designed to mangle people in really scary ways. I swear half the equipment was protected from the elements not by paint but layer upon layer of dried blood.

Hardin, Montana is not a large town, a little bit over 3000 people if you count the people waiting at the bus station. We got the five minute tour and then Grandma suggested that we get Chinese food for dinner. I don’t remember what I ate but I do remember looking at it with slowly dawning horror as I realized that it probably had come from a can bought from the local grocery store. You know you’re getting authentic Chinese food when the waitress asks if you want ketchup with your meal. I choked it down and smiled wanly at Grandma, saying “Mmmm… good.”

Visiting the gathering hall we met many nice ladies there who were charming and warm which was funny to me because Grandma wasn’t exactly the most huggable lady in the world, if you get my drift. We stayed there long enough for my lips to stick to my dried-out teeth from holding a smile and for my eyes to start throbbing as I tried to at least look like I was engaged in the conversation. And then we stayed some more, probably as much as two more hours. I very nearly cried with relief when we left.

Another uneventful night passed and we were on the road by ten that morning ready to experience the rest of our trip.

(next, Part II…)

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Old News:  Oldcatman has posted a special message to me and others on his blog!  Yay!

He gave us a big finger, I heard.  He’s so cute when he gets his panties in a wad.  No, no, don’t go over there, you’ll just give him better stats.  Act casual.

If you’re known by the enemies you keep, I’m a happy camper.

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