The Long Way to Erie, Part 2

We left Niagara Falls – an oddly quiet and yet noisy town, and drove through the fog toward Buffalo. We took 190 to North Street through a quiet area of historical buildings and more churches in a 3 block radius than I’ve ever seen in my life. North Street took us to the corner of Main, and the infamous birthplace of the original Buffalo chicken wings: The Anchor Bar.

Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY

The Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY Taraka, 2019

That’s right – we went to Buffalo for one thing and one thing only. The Anchor Bar, on approach, looks like a small, old house. Until you drive around to the left, where the entrance is and ample parking. The walls in the bar area are plastered with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada. I loved the atmosphere – betcha it’s a fun place on the weekends too. We were seated at a small table against the outside wall that felt a bit like we were sitting uphill (old flooring = uneven flooring?) The menu is newspaper-format, with lots of options for stuffing yourself. The waitress was about our age and warm and welcoming.

We ordered the original wings, which are “medium” and absolutely delicious. According to the website, they will ship wings anywhere in the U.S., which sounds like a fantastic idea. I also ordered a Caesar salad, you know, for balance, and it was huge! Definitely big enough to share. SO glad we put this on our itinerary – if you’re a fan of hot wings, you must make the pilgrimage. Or even if you just like checking off bucket list things, like me.

There’s a small gift shop inside and so Todd stopped there while I used the bathroom. He bought a f@#%ing t-shirt, so that ups his collection to 84. But he also bought a bottle of the Buffalo sauce and a pint glass for the bar we don’t have. Woot! And then we were off to Erie.

I booked the Holiday Inn Express because we’ve always had good experiences there. It was right off the highway and, it turned out, was a few miles out from downtown Erie. Todd didn’t exactly complain, but when someone mentions more than four times that it would’ve been nice if we were closer to the bowling alleys….well…I guess I should’ve looked at a map.

We had a room at the end of the hall on the third floor overlooking the highway, and I really tried to hide my hysteria when Todd noted the noise from the trucks going by. I really did. But the room was nice and comfy! And ice cold. I’m assuming they save energy until someone checks in. There’s also an indoor pool which is really quite nice, if you’re not surrounded by thirty kids under 12 who are splashing and screaming like howler monkeys. Too bad I forgot to pack our suits. This time there was a Keurig in the room, so we could use our own coffee in reusable k-cups.

We rested a bit and decided to head out to the Brewerie at Union Station for a bite. Erie’s Union Station opened in 1927 and saw many travelers over the decades that followed, from WWII soldiers to FDR and Harry Truman, to Babe Ruth. There’s some really interesting history there, like underground tunnels, if you visit their website. The restaurant opened in 2006 as part of a revitalization campaign in Downtown Erie.

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The Brewerie at Union Station Taraka, 2019

We sat in a back booth and ordered an Erie Brewery’s Railbender Ale for Todd and the Misery Bay IPA for me. We liked them both so much, we brought three cases home (can’t get it here). We shared pulled pork bbq nachos and fried pierogies – both equally delicious. One can also purchase beer to go – including their own craft beer in crawler or growler size. The Brewerie at Union Station’s own HopMonster IPA is excellent and, sadly, I didn’t get to bring any home and they don’t currently distribute. (Side note if you visit: they are not open Sundays.)

The next day, Saturday, we got up early, visited the complimentary breakfast bar downstairs (why are scrambled eggs on a buffet always watery?) and hit the road to Cleveland. When I told my mom that I was excited to add another state to my list of states I’ve been to, she said flatly, “Ohio looks just like Pennsylvania,” which is kind of a pessimistic thing to say to someone.

In keeping with the ongoing theme of haunting fog, the skyline of Cleveland was shrouded in an eerie haze. The museum was easy to get to, and parking was also remarkably easy, overlooking Lake Erie. We walked the short distance to the museum and were approached directly by a homeless man and “former Vietnam Vet” who wanted us to buy a paper to help him support his wife and kids. Okay, so I felt a combination of annoyance and compassion, since I remember the homeless selling papers on the subway in New York and it was generally accepted as a legitimate occupation. But, as Todd said, we didn’t drive 300 miles to be solicited outside a museum for money. He also called bullshit on the sob story.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, Taraka, 2019

So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know where to start. The place was crowded, but nothing like the Majestic Theatre so I didn’t complain. Most of the exhibits were comprised of some iconic article of clothing, and other artifacts. I was completely enthralled by the clothes. It sparked something in me I cannot explain yet. There were art posters from the 60s. Tickets from Woodstock. (My mom and dad had tickets to Woodstock. But they decided at the last minute that this was no place for a two-month old, and so dad gave the tickets away.)

Some of the more memorable things: Jimi Hendrix’s brown suede jacket, Janet Jackson’s jacket from the “Control” video, a hand-painted guitar owned by Springsteen, a pair of Ziggy Stardust suits, one of Michael Jackson’s gloves (I’m not so naive to think that’s the only glove), ZZ Tops’ furry drums, Biggie’s Poppa jersey, and a disturbingly small shirt worn by Keith Richards. There was a disappointingly small case of items from Prince – featuring a set list from the only tour I saw and those lace gloves. And then all of a sudden I was fighting back tears. And of course there was little else, because it wasn’t what he was about.

The way out is through the gift shop, of course, and while there were some cool items there, we weren’t even the least bit tempted by the overpriced kitchsy merch … ie… a Woodstock t-shirt for $59. There was a good deal of vinyl for sale: one album I have owned for over 30 years they were selling for $49.99.

We returned to the hotel for some down time before the tournament, which started at 6 p.m. at a BYOB bowling alley. After, five of us went back to the Brewerie at Union Station for snacks and beer. Chris tried a Clarion River Pineapple Under the Sea, rumored to be very sour, but he said it tasted like pee. I don’t often pass up the opportunity to at least taste a new beer, but … no thanks. I didn’t ask how he knew what pee tasted like.

Sunday morning the previous three days of excitement finally caught up with me, about a half hour into the 8 a.m. tournament. I was finishing up The Night Bird (great thriller – should be a movie) and nodding off. I wandered out to the car, started the engine for a few, and then curled up under a blanket until the sound of car doors and voices woke me. The rain returned as we drove the long way home, making road conditions dicey along with monstrous traffic of no particular origin. 6-1/2 hours to home.

 

From top and left to right: Springsteen’s guitar, Keith Richards’ shirt (compare size to the album), The $59 shirt, Cleveland’s skyline

On the Road Again: The Long Way to Erie

It’s PA State Bowling Tournament season again.  Todd and I took a long weekend, originally planning a side trip to Niagara Falls Canada, but the procrastinators in us didn’t get the passport situation handled so we opted for a 4-day tour through five states instead. Starting with our first stop – New York City. (This girl needed to “go home” for a day.)

We had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera, which I’ve never seen. I haven’t been in the city since I brought Veruca for her birthday six years ago. Todd asked me to drive, since he’s not familiar and/or not comfortable driving in the city. I made him promise me you won’t yell at me while I’m driving. Because truly, driving in Manhattan is not for the weak.

I tried to drive around Washington Square Park, which turned out to be partially blocked due to construction and now all I can think is they better move fast because graduation is coming up soon. In fact, there was construction everywhere in the village, making navigation tricky and frustrating and eventually Todd “gently” mentioned finding a parking garage. Forty five minutes later, as his voice creeped up to an edge where he threatened to get out of the car, I circled the theatre district trying to locate the garage.*

And then we sat there waiting to turn into the garage as 400 people continued to walk directly in front of my car halfway into the turn, without so much as a glance at us. AND THEN two girls stopped, right in front of my car, to take a picture. Todd was beside himself. Some things never change, but I curbed my natural instinct to roll down my window and start screaming.

We had a beautiful day in the city. The weather was perfect. Did some walking, got some pizza before the show. Stood in a monstrously long line at the Majestic, and then stood shoulder to shoulder with a hundred people inside waiting for the doors to our seats to open and I couldn’t help but wonder what the fire code was. A little girl ran in front of me and nearly knocked me down the flight of stairs I was standing on. Her mother grabbed her and… not so much as an apology. And then the two of them were behind us on our way to our seats, mom pushing against us with her bag until she could push past us to go to their seats. Which is when Todd finally snapped.

We had orchestra seats in row E, THIS CLOSE to the stage and it was fantastic. I was amazed by the way the stage and props move, and by how incredibly loud the music was. I’ve been to Broadway shows before but was still in awe of the production. We were also feet away from the closed-captioning/hearing impaired section and I was distracted by the closed-caption screen and the ASL interpreters who were literally acting out the scenes.

Afterward, we went to some non-descript pub for some light fare before hitting the road to Syracuse. I miss the city. I mean, I really miss it. Every time I go back, I tell myself I need to come back more often. For me. Todd, on the other hand, appreciates the city in small doses. It’s too densely populated with people. He’d go nuts here. He asked if I would move back. Most definitely. But I remember how easy it is to get burned out.

So we started on the long journey, but not before yelling at each other over changing “lanes” in the city to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. Todd was yelling at me to get over! And I’m yelling back, I can’t get over if there are cars already there! And don’t yell at me – I know what I’m doing! We had a great time.

I did the drive to Syracuse. It wasn’t planned, but once we were out of the city I just kept driving. It’s a long, lonely road, route 81. The route takes us back down into PA and then up into New York state. Did you know there’s a town in PA called Scotrun? If you glance at it quickly, it looks like scrotum.

Why did we go to Syracuse, you ask? We were there last year (see this post). It seemed a good stopping point from NYC to our eventual destination of Erie, PA. We thought we might make it to Kitty Hoynes – but we did not. We stayed at the Genesee Grand Hotel again, in a king suite which was lovely and cozy – which I only paid $7 and change for thanks to Hotels.com rewards. It’s under new management so no more complimentary coffee in the lobby. (We did attempt the coffeemaker in the room, but those are just terrible.) We ended up at a rest stop for Dunkin coffee a few miles out.

Next stop: Niagara Falls. Todd plugged it into the GPS but spelled it, Niagra – like VIAGRA. I found a single Oliver hair on my hoodie that morning – a hoodie that’s been washed several times since he’s been gone. It made my heart smile.

Niagara Falls was breathtaking. And crowded. It was chilly and overcast, and a little misty. The river is intense. You never think about the body that feeds the falls. I saw a black squirrel! I’ve never seen one before, and there were several, communing with the seagulls (or whatever they are – “rats with wings”). A black lab took off across the grass after a squirrel, and then doubled back to chase a grounded flock of geese. He was running with this big-ass smile only a dog can have, trailing his leash, as the geese took flight. Unbridled joy.

I took a dozen photos of the falls, marveling at the cloudy landscape that was Canada. Another bucket list item checked off.

We walked back to the car and I thanked Todd for bringing me here and for tolerating me lately. He gently stated that he noticed I’ve been edgy and grumpy lately. I told him to buckle up because the ride was just beginning. Welcome to Menopause! I said, I bet you never thought of this when we were 17. And he said, no, I just thought it’d be all sex, all the time.

We talked about bucket lists and doing things we’ve always wanted to do. I mentioned that meme: Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting Holy shit, what a ride! Which reminded Todd of that song from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Death by Misadventure…  face down in some dude’s pool. I prefer the former meme to this possibility.

Next stop: Buffalo.

 

*The Lincoln Tunnel is the way in if you’re going to the theatre district. I prefer the Holland Tunnel. It was always my point of entry, since I lived in the Village. And yes, it’s a thousand miles away from where we needed to park, but I wanted to go through the Village first.

**If you’ve ever driven in the city, you’ll notice that “lanes” are arbitrary.

***You wouldn’t have to pee so bad if you didn’t drink coffee all the way to New York. Just sayin’.

 

Photos copyright Taraka 2019

What Silverfox Calls a Clusterf*ck

The day after my bilateral nerve blocks, we had our “snow event.” We were extremely low on propane and the guy couldn’t get the gate open the week before. He was scheduled to come out again so I was watching for him. Todd had fixed the gate and closed it again even though I told him to just leave it propped open so there’d be NO problem.

Well, propane man couldn’t open the gate again because the bottom part was somehow stuck on the outside of the fence. I have no idea WTF happened or how, but I trudged out there with a screwdriver, in the falling snow, slipped and damn-near fell on my ass (already tender from the day before) and unscrewed the plate that holds the door in place at the bottom so it could be opened, all the while cursing the gods and my dear husband the fix-it man who couldn’t just leave well enough alone until after the propane was delivered. (And yes, we have a drill – but God only knows where Todd left it.)

Todd was at a conference in Long Beach, so I roused Opac from his bed midway through the day and told him to start clearing the driveway. So he goes out and fires up the snow blower and gets to work. I sent V out to shovel. It must be noted: there was barely a complaint from either of them all day. I looked out the window at one point and the two shovels were lying on the driveway and no one to be seen anywhere.

Suddenly the two of them came thundering across the back deck… engaged in a wicked snowball fight and both of them soaking wet. Stop the press! They were having fun with each other. I made them hot chocolate and fed them French toast for dinner.

Friday night Opac had friends over and I drove Veruca to her dad’s. When I got home I changed out of my work clothes and decided to take a shower. Our master bath has a [somewhat opaque] glass door that opens out to the deck, which is on the second story. This sounds weird but it’s in a corner and so – private. But it overlooks the side yard and that gate I mentioned above. I was toweling off when I saw a shadow on the fence below – I assumed to be O and his friends. I walked closer to the door, pulled the curtain aside and looked out. That’s when I saw him.

There was a man bent over, creeping up to the door. My first reaction was – Ted! What the fuck! So I banged on the glass and he started to back away. I rushed out of my bedroom and yelled for Opac, who came running from downstairs with all three friends behind him like a herd of elephants. They ran out through the living room sliders and Ted came out of the garage apartment wondering what all the commotion was about.

So. It wasn’t Ted. Some creeper lurking in our backyard, who had been in our detached garage out back. Ted found the garage door half open and tools spread around the table saw. But what’s really alarming is that this person had the balls to cross the yard where he could clearly see O and his friends through the sliders to the family room, creep up the adjacent stairs to do what? Look in my windows? I still don’t know why I’m not having a nervous breakdown.

(Yes, I called the police. Yes, we have taken further measures to protect ourselves and our property.)

The neurotomy went well. It was very nearly painless, though there were a few moments where I think I stopped breathing. When it was over and he asked me if I was doing okay, I told him I was very disappointed because he promised me bacon and I didn’t smell any bacon.

The next day I returned my car to the dealer. While they had the car for two weeks, they were supposed to address a number of issues – most importantly, the grinding, humming noise coming from the front driver’s side wheel. Well. They fixed the anti-freeze leak, replaced some thingy that prevents oil from leaking, and replaced a broken splash plate they said was causing the rattling we hear on the passenger side. Never addressed the most important part we brought it in for.

They gave me a loaner – guess what? The same fucking Taurus, which Veruca had nicknamed “Rosa.” When I picked her up at the bus stop that day, she laughed her little ass off. By the weekend, they said they had fixed the car and so Todd and I drove down Saturday morning. I forget what it was they fixed, but it had something to do with the axle or whatever – I don’t know, I’m not a mechanic.

So we drove to the Costco next door – and once we left there and got the car up to 50 mph, there was the grinding noise at the left front wheel and rattling in the passenger door. BACK to the dealer and oh! your loaner is still parked outside and I’m STILL driving Rosa. Long story short – Todd spoke to the manager yesterday who said the mechanic drove it and didn’t hear anything. I cannot tell you how angry I am. This whole time I think no one ever actually drove the car. Now this mechanic is either not the brightest crayon in the box, or he’s deaf, or needs a new career.

My car has literally been in the dealership for a month, and they can’t diagnose the problem. We’ve had the car for two years. I know what’s next, and I’m ready. I’ve had enough. And, (V says not to say it in front of her), I’m sick of driving Rosa.

V and I went to the high school information night, which was a total waste of time for me since I’ve already done this with #1 and V didn’t get to tour the school anyway. But she did get to meet her Chinese teacher for next year and the night was probably more for the kids anyway. I personally didn’t need to hear all the statistics on retention and attendance. It reminded me of the days in PA schools where we parents sat and listened to the principal preach about the legal ramifications of truancy. Every principal has their “campaign promise.”

Opac has officially confirmed his acceptance. The check was sent and we’re going up soon to visit again. I am cautiously optimistic since he still needs to secure a student loan for the difference that he will owe, and I don’t earn enough to co-sign. His dad does, but he had previously suggested that he couldn’t co-sign either. I don’t know where that’s going, but suffice it to say that nothing is ever not difficult with him, when he chooses to make an issue out of something. We had an issue a few weeks ago that had absolutely nothing to do with me and he turned on me like a rattlesnake, and I – like the fool I am – was actually blindsided by the degree of ugliness he can hurl at me.

Meanwhile…Eighty days to 50. And the dog and cat have taken their relationship to the next level.

Valentine’s Day and 100 Days to Go

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I read an article about all the things you should and shouldn’t do when you’re over 40. Exercise every day, but not too much. Don’t eat the junk food that sustained you in your 20s. Your body doesn’t like it. Don’t drink too much. Apparently your body doesn’t like that either. Make sure you get enough rest, but not too much. Don’t stare at your cell phone before bed… it affects melatonin. Sex is important. Spend time with your friends. But not while having sex. Well, unless that’s how you roll, but that’s none of my business.

Let’s see how we’re doing so far in 2019: Um, 1) not so good 2) reasonable food choices 3) failed 4) mostly 5) failed 6) none of your business and 7) yes. I can’t speak for Todd.

The T ~n~ T house hosted two parties the last weekend in January. The first was Opac’s… a crowd of about 17 downstairs playing pool, poker, and darts, and standing around the firepit outside. I stayed upstairs in the living room, stone cold sober, and watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey because I’m a classy bitch. Todd left the house for his usual bowling night. I finally broke out the wine around 11:30 as most of them were dispersing.

The following night was our quarterly poker party that in its infancy began as a group of about 6 guys, with beer and brats, pulled pork, and buffalo chicken dip. It has grown to a mixed crowd of about 22 including spouses and children, only a handful in the poker game and the rest playing pool and darts. Because I grew up “in the business,” I put out a spread I slaved and worried over all day and felt was adequate, and then was surprised that anyone was impressed.

Side note: Cards Against Humanity – Funniest. Game. Ever. Make sure you are properly sauced and have emptied your bladder. This is not for the faint of heart and definitely NOT for children. Shout out to Jonathan for knowing exactly how to entertain me.

Got my first round of injections in my L4-5 and L5-S1 which, I later learned, was a “test run.” WTF?? I woke up 5 days after with pain topping a seven, and Todd said, oh yeah, it’s been five days, right? That’s good – that means it worked. And I said, what do you MEAN, “it worked?” I repeat, W.T.F.

I’m going back next week to repeat it bilaterally, and then the week after to burn the nerves. Injections in the spine must be horrible, you say? Not so much. No one is more surprised than I am, that I have willingly submitted myself for injections ANYWHERE. No one likes needles, but when I was young I took it to a new level.

I’ve stopped wearing heeled shoes/boots. I’ve been wearing flat shoes or sneakers in an effort to curb some of the more intense pain. This new development for me is temporary, I assure you. My love affair with a chunky heel will not be curbed by back pain, numb toes, or my husband’s height.

Social life continues. Todd overbooked us last weekend and I spent the better part of Friday at work trying not to resent him focus on the lack of rest I was staring down over the next two days.

Friday night is always bowling night. It depends on my work schedule and my level of fatigue, whether I go with him. Last week I did. Friday morning he had “reminded” me of the tournament Saturday night that he’d never told me about. Saturday afternoon was a long-planned meetup with friends in Federal Hill to watch the Bayern soccer game. Which was great. We ate Schnitzel fingers and drank Stiegl Grapefruit Radler (light, refreshing, 2% alcohol).

We came home and rested a whole twenty minutes before we had to leave to meet friends for dinner an hour and a half away, before the tournament. Which, by the way, is roughly an hour and 45 minutes from home. The tournament is held in a firehouse bowling alley that has to be the only place north of Alabama that still allows smoking in the bar. But the drinks are cheap and the bartenders friendly. I was everybody’s drink bitch, since I was only spectating. We got home sometime around 12:30 a.m.

Sunday was a Dean-and-Mrs day; the college had an afternoon of music and fine arts presented by the faculty in Todd’s division. The music was great, but I was thoroughly distracted by the musicians’ shoes. Have you ever looked at musicians’ shoes? This led me down the rabbit hole of my thoughts until I was snapped out of my reverie by a lingering, and particularly foul, fart. What is WRONG with people?

Another weekend is approaching and there is a fundraiser that involves bowling and so here we go again. Somehow bowling has become my life and I don’t even bowl. Years ago I tried to make it fun, hanging out with the other bowlers and drinking, and cheering when they’d strike, which apparently is not something you do so I’ve learned to curb my enthusiasm and just stick to drinking.

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Meanwhile, today – 100 days before my 50th birthday – is Valentine’s Day. Veruca was buzzing last night with the glow only a 13-year-old can have… hoping her crush would finally ask her out today. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d bet my life he isn’t going to be thinking, it’s Valentine’s Day, I think I finally have the balls to ask her out.

Back in school I remember Valentine’s Day carnations… white, pink, or red… available to buy and send to whoever you wanted… and the hoping against hope that you’d get one. And I’m not talking about Todd. Valentine’s 1986 – I filled his VW bug with balloons that blew all over the school parking lot when he opened the door. I gave him cards. He gave me cards, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a tiny bottle of his cologne, and a pink gold heart necklace. I tried to give him something else but – relax Dad – he didn’t take it.

I’m refocusing my energies on goals in the coming year. Not the least of which is writing that damn novel. There – I said it. Accountability is a thing, right?

 

Miscellaneous:

There is no vaccine for the stomach virus. (Oh yes, they did.)

If you’ve ever wondered if your hippie parents still smoke grass, the answer is yes. Also, if you walk into their house at the right moment, expect to be accosted with pleas to “just smell” this peanut butter cracker.

Leopards don’t change their spots. Shame on you for believing those days might finally be over. (Those unfamiliar: I’ll elaborate in another post, once I recover from the whiplash.)

 

 

 

Where I’ve Been: December, By the Weeks

Week 1

The second week of Secret Santa, and my person is someone with whom I work closely. So I had a small poinsettia for her. It’s kinda hard to hide a plant. So I arrived purposely early, parked the car, and saw her pulling in. Shiiiittt!!! I jumped out of my car and made a run for the door, hoping she didn’t see me. A half hour later she said to me, why were you running across the parking lot? I simply said, I had to pee. End of story.

Saw a urologist for what appears to be an ongoing issue with no obvious etiology. I gave up some bodily fluids at the appointment and he ordered a CT urogram. Two days later I went for an MRI and x-rays of my lower spine for the ongoing back and SI joint pain.

Veruca’s Christmas concert. A dreaded event held in the gym/auditorium where the air is stagnant and we’re all squashed in there like sardines. At least this time the only male leg touching mine belonged to my husband. This poor kid got the solo – Elvis’ Blue Christmas – complete with leather jacket and hair slicked back, and heaven help me I tried like hell to suppress my laughter, which is no easy task. It was awful, and I felt sorry for him to be singled out that way at this age.

Todd’s 50th birthday party. I did this thing, and ran like a maniac picking up food/supplies and texting guests and it was a huge success even though I bagged one of the main courses 15 minutes after the first guests arrived because I’d run out of time. Roughly 40 people came to celebrate Todd’s half-century and no one missed the chicken dish.

Week 2

Work Christmas party/brunch. Same location and the food was fabulous. This is Southern Chester County, Pennsylvania, known for its mushrooms, and the mushroom soup was velvety smooth with bits of mushrooms and killer. We started the Secret Santa reveal and the person I was sure had me didn’t. And then my second guess was wrong too. Eventually we got down to the last two, and the last two standing were ME and MY person. We had a great laugh over that.

Back to the neurosurgeon’s office to review the MRI. Mild degenerative changes with stenosis at L4-5; no nerve root impingement. Minimal disc bulge at L3-4. I don’t know what any of this means other than that it’s likely to get worse, if it’s anything like what happened in my neck. I also found out I have levoscoliosis from the x-ray. Sounds awful, but I don’t believe this is a new condition, just one that was never diagnosed.

Saturday morning I went for the CT urogram which was no big deal until the needle wasn’t placed well and slipped when I raised my arms over my head, and then my arm started filling with contrast. The technician checked it out, asked if I was okay, and then went to get the radiologist to check it. In the two minutes it took for him to come in, I had a lump the size of a tangerine in my right arm and excruciating pain. As in, I don’t want to breath, painful. Wouldn’t expect that to be painful but, damn.

Week 3

Uneventful, except for Opac finally taking and passing his driver’s test. He’s now a licensed driver and I’m officially in need of more anxiety meds. He took the truck out to literally drive up the street to his friend’s (who’s home from boot camp), but he was excited and anxious and it was cute.

Week 4

Sunday we celebrated my father-in-law’s birthday – just the kids and us, Neph, and Nephtoo. Brunch at their house and we picked up a cake at Costco on the way, and Todd bought me the Snoopy book. Sqweee!!

Worked a half-day Christmas Eve, and it wasn’t terrible. I went to the grocery store which was a Really. Bad. Idea. I was so overwhelmed by the zoo in there I bought everything BUT what I’d originally gone in for.

Christmas dinner with mom at her house. Stuffed pork chops and steamed veg and a wedge salad. My mom can cook, yo. We prepared in the restaurant kitchen. I made the wedge salad. It looked so bad I’d have been fired the first night. But it tasted great, and that’s all that matters.

Went to see Jason Momoa – er, I mean, Aquaman. I liked it. All you 80s kids – Dolph Lundgren is in it too, though I didn’t know it until the credits rolled. Amber Heard played the love interest… who I’d never heard of before she was embroiled in that ugly divorce with Johnny Depp. She’s very pretty, of course. I’ve decided I want to color my hair that orange.

District Court. Finally the Mustang killer had her day in court, gambling on getting off because most likely the cop who gave her the citation wouldn’t show up, which he didn’t. But I DID. When the judge asked her what happened, she said, “I didn’t see them.” THEM. I’m a them, ya’ll. She pleaded guilty, and I walked out of there with tears in my eyes. And then Todd took me out for sushi and Pad Thai and all was well with the world again.

Friday night I had the house to myself, so I watched The Book Club and Ellen’s stand-up on Netflix, and cracked open a bottle of wine. Oliver kept refilling my glass and so I say it’s his fault I finished the bottle.

The rest of the weekend was a rollercoaster of high and low… dinner out with friends, and the next morning I was on my way to PA to say goodbye to my grandmother. Not the best way to go out, but she lived to 93 and has wanted to die for the last 10 years. She passed a few hours after we left.

New Year’s Eve. Worked a full day where I became convinced “they” were trying to kill me. There’s no way to count the number of calls I answered, but I can tell you by the end of the day the cartilage in my ears was sore from my headset (WHICH I only put on to answer calls, mind you). There’s a lot of sick kids out there, ya’ll. This week’s special: bad cough, ear aches, and vomiting.

NYE dinner at home with Todd and a bottle of Wente Cabernet, asleep FIFTEEN minutes to midnight.

Miscellaneous:

Jason Momoa was Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. Like so many others, it was a short-lived role but one that left an indelible mark on many women. He’s married to Lisa Bonet (of Cosby Show fame); he once told his mother while watching her on TV as a child, “I’m going to marry her.” He’s 39, just 9 years older than his stepdaughter, Zoe Kravitz. Dolph Lundgren is 61.

For what you might consider obvious reasons, Veruca and I were discussing cremation today. I was telling her I don’t know that I’d really want anyone’s ashes. I mean really, WHY? I don’t associate the ashes with the person I knew. Same goes for pets. When we discussed where we’d have our ashes spread, I thought of blue ocean and warm air and sunshine. Somewhere in the Caribbean! I said it’d be cool if she could spread my ashes in Disney – one of my favorite places – but she’d probably get arrested. Although… I’d blend right in at the Haunted Mansion.

And, to that end, I already knew that cast members spread fake dust regularly inside the mansion. What I didn’t know was that several times a year people have been caught for trying to spread loved ones’ ashes inside the mansion. Of course! Who wouldn’t try? I find this hilariously funny.

And speaking of Disney, our own Mickey is either dead or moved on. Oliver has stopped sleeping in front of the stove, so I’m guessing that’s a good sign.

 

 

 

The New Adventures of Dean and Mrs

Early in the semester we were invited to a private viewing of a documentary produced and directed by one of Todd’s faculty members about pirate radio in Britain in the 1960s. Briefly, these were unlicensed radio “stations” broadcasting from ships anchored in international waters; however “legal” the broadcast from outside the territorial limits, it was considered illegal to listen to these “unauthorized” broadcasts. There is so much more to the history that I won’t go into, mostly because I have a terrible memory and don’t want to do Wayne a disservice for his beautifully done documentary.

The event was hosted by a couple well known to the college at The Vineyard in Havre de Grace, a lovely little two-room wine bar with a delightful array of tapas, flatbreads, and charcuterie. Todd and I were among a group of maybe 15, including the president and vice president of the college and a handful of other (I perceived) important people.

We met our hosts outside as we arrived; she is a French ex-pat who had just received her US citizenship mere days before and he a retired man of politics who in casual conversation shared a memory of his time in Reagan’s White House. My jaw almost dropped before I remembered to pretend I met people like this all the time. She was a beautiful, petite woman with an open face and a smile that lit up a room, and we discovered we had the restaurant blood in common as she used to own a restaurant in France for about ten years. It was a bit more difficult to find things in common with a man who served in Reagan’s White House, but I was enthralled by his stories. He was unpretentious and kind.

Next up: Todd decided he wanted to have a “casual” faculty meeting. At our home. I repeat, AT. OUR. HOME. I tried to talk him out of it. I tried to encourage him to have it in a neutral location. I suggested it was “too soon” to have his faculty to his home, as many of them were still getting to know him. What better reason to do it then? was his response.

My subtle suggestions went over his head. He will himself admit to being oblivious and I – the wife – can attest to that on a much more intimate level. But we’re not talking about that right now. In any case, one day I noticed that he had posted the date and time on our refrigerator, and it was clearly a done deal. He wanted me to take off from work that day. I took a half day and spent the two days before cleaning the house like Cinderella before the ball, scrutinizing every corner of the house.

It’s funny, the things you’re willing to overlook in your daily life when no one is coming over. And then a party is planned and suddenly the gray cobwebs in the cathedral ceiling that have been here since we moved in are looming large, and you see every chip in the paint, ruminate over the downstairs bathroom that has needed a renovation since time began, and rethink every décor decision you’ve ever made. I was stressed.

BUT. They came, they introduced themselves (I’d only met Wayne and an English professor I’d introduced myself to at Wayne’s event), brought wine, and graciously thanked me for opening up MY “beautiful” home to them. It wasn’t a particularly large turnout, but the folks that came were quite comfortable sitting around my kitchen island and outside on the deck, which was swarming with honey bees like we’ve never seen before. For the first time in a long time I fell back into my old shy habits, standing back and taking in their conversations from an outsider view. I was in my own home so I wasn’t uncomfortable, but I just found myself slipping into caterer mode, watching and working silently around them.

Todd’s assistant introduced herself and I said, “I’m so sorry,” and she laughed out loud, asking me if I wanted to kill him for having this event here and I laughed with her. She brought me a bottle of rose, since Todd had told her I’d become recently very fond of them. I sat outside with the group batting away bees, listening to them and realizing with surprise that some of them didn’t even know if the others had children. All told, Todd’s intent was a success.

About a week after my accident, we were invited to the President’s Circle Dinner at a nearby county club. This dinner was for all the donors to the college, and Todd was invited to be one of the speakers – presumably because he is the inaugural dean of a newly re-formed division and, as I teased him, I think the president wanted to show him off.

We arrived in a downpour and were greeted at the entry with name tags to put on and advised that seating was open. Translation: sit anywhere you want. Former shy girl doesn’t do well with this arrangement, and I was eager to find a table before everyone else sat down. We met a lovely couple at the table we chose, had lively conversation, and exchanged business cards by dinner’s end.

This was, believe it or not, the first time I’ve seen Todd speak to a large crowd. At the risk of sounding all gushy, he amazes me. He’s so good at public speaking. I was so proud, and he was not just a little bit humble when he returned to the table and asked me if it sounded okay. This is the same boy I fell in love with – the one with the earring and the leather motorcycle jacket – the quiet artist with the simmering temper, the longhaired motorhead who fixed his own cars and drove fast, and loved me intensely. And that night he stood before a crowd of 100 donors in his suit and tie and spoke like a college dean. I’m sure no one in high school would have ever predicted this outcome.

As for me, these new experiences bring my life to light, as the people we meet on these occasions are politely interested in what I do. I’ve spent more than half my life in the restaurant business desperately trying to escape. I tell them I grew up in the business and, while I don’t tell them I know I’m good at it, I say I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s time-consuming and steals precious time away from loved ones.

I’ve recognized and without shame can say that I don’t have any aspirations of some grand career – I never have, really – and it took me until the last year or so to acknowledge it without feeling like it’s wrong. I was a stay-at-home mom for a very long time. I enjoyed that. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, and the restaurant gave me the freedom to continue that after the divorce. But today I work a day job, which I love. I get to interact with people, love the people I work with, and leave the job where it belongs – in the office.

I also tell them I’m practicing a bit of old-fashioned wifery – I am here to support my husband’s new direction and look forward to the down time we get to spend together. I even have the fancy apron.

Joy Among the Chaos

I remember sitting in Chemistry class, at my desk by the windows overlooking the courtyard, and I could see the reflection of the trees on the surface of my ring. And then a squirrel would catch my attention, and Mr. Garman would snap me out of my reverie to ask me what was so fascinating outside. He then regaled the class with his squirrel pot pie recipe.

This is how my mind works most days. I start with one idea and something (squirrel!) distracts me. I’m so busy right now that it’s difficult to imagine how I sleep at night when there are still too many tabs open in the brain. I worry about the things I’ve forgotten.

Busy weekend last weekend that included a funeral an hour away at a Baptist church where I burst into tears at the sight of the open casket, and the family entered the sanctuary wailing. The music was uplifting, but the preacher screamed at us through a microphone that left my ears ringing, sermonizing the path to heaven and leaving out any prayers for the deceased. I am certain he saw me wincing at him every time he looked my way. But really. I’m hard of hearing folks, and MY ears were bleeding.

So on the ride home I posted a quote: that we should love the people that God gave us, because one day He will want them back. I got an IM from a friend who wanted to know if I posted it “because of Pittsburgh,” and my reply was like, What? And that’s how we heard that news. And then five minutes after we got home, Todd got a text that a former colleague had passed from his battle with cancer.

I snapped into auto-pilot at that point, and the next 36 hours were filled with company and celebrating Opac’s birthday, several trips to the grocery store, some tomfoolery, and more stress.

This past week was filled with work, a typical Monday from hell, trying not to drown in the pool of work that has to get done between 68 phone calls and an endless stream of patients and parents who need school letters and eleventh-hour PIAA forms (state sports forms), kids who have to have their driver’s permit form signed today, small children running circles on top of the waiting room chairs, referral requests missing diagnosis and procedure codes, people trying to get sick appointments today who aren’t our patients, and one IRATE dad who wanted to know who does the research on these HPV vaccines that we’re pushing and did I know how dangerous this vaccine is??? Some days it really is a blessing to NOT be clinical. Sorry, I can have a nurse call you.

After work, home to make dinner and then go to PT, which I really don’t want to do because it’s painful and I just really don’t want to. Home by 8. Fall asleep on the couch before 10. Up again the next morning, off to work the long day. Home by 6:30. Try to make the kids eat something, but they mostly handled it themselves before I got home.

Wednesday. Halloween. Annual doctor’s appointment and mammogram, an hour and half away, because I happen to love my doctor and as long as there are no health issues I’ll keep going. It was also Senior Skip Day, so Opac took advantage and jumped at the chance to be my chauffeur. I wore my Star Trek blue doctor’s dress. He drove like a boss on three major highways of my youth; struggled a bit on a very short merge on one of them that’s also under construction, and some asshole in a big white Audi behind us laid on his horn for a full minute. Wish I had a sign with me that I could hold up for times like these.

We drove through the King of Prussia mall complex which has evolved into an unrecognizable mass of multi-level garages. I was all – wow – and, wow – and O was like, Mom! Help me get the hell out of here. Because he swears like his momma and he was so not impressed.

Anyway, the appointment went quick and, as he was armed with a brand new Five Guys gift card from my mom for his birthday, I suggested we go to another mall a little closer to home where I KNOW where the Five Guys is and I can also get a salad. We popped into the Spirit Halloween store there for a last minute mask – surprise, he likes Deadpool. But not before Don-ning a rubber Trump mask (see what I did there?) just so I could say, Hell. No.

It was a great day that was totally unexpected. He drove a total of 3-1/2 hours round trip, and after we got home I went to PT. I finished my DIY floating Harry Potter candles because I love to put extra pressure on myself, and Veruca hung them on the tree out front. We lit up the firepit in the front yard and my neighbor came down to hang with us and hand out candy. This year was unseasonably warm and probably has nothing to do with the fact that we had less than 10 kids come. Last year there were at least two dozen kids at my door. It was nonstop, which is why I thought a firepit would be better than opening and closing my front door seventeen hundred times.

Thursday morning I took V for her blood tests at the hospital where they are repaving the lot and so we had to walk across the sticky freshly laid side and it was just generally a clusterfuck because everyone else coming and going had no idea where to go either. I dropped her at school and had two conversations there before excusing myself to go to the bank. Then went to the EZ Pass administration because my transmitter wasn’t working. By this time I was like, hell no, I am NOT going to one.more.place. today. So I called in sick to PT and I’d like to say I’m sorry but I’m not. I needed to go home and rest. Because O’s last drive time was that evening at 5:30. I was already toast.

So today I woke up with a nasty sinus headache and decided to skip the college tour. A) because I know he’s not going to go there, B) because he’s not going to go there.

Todd and I went shopping for clothes where there was a ridiculous sale going on and people everywhere. He found some sweaters and more dress shirts and insisted he needed ties to match the one shirt, and I insisted that I could find him a tie to match it in his closet right now. This went on for a bit before I decided I needed a bathroom break, so I boarded the escalator to the second floor. I wandered around looking for it, noting the candy counter and all the displays of holiday gift crap (because Halloween is over and Christmas shopping has commenced), and the lone salesman in the furniture department standing sentinel at the convergence of three aisles.

I came out of the restroom and squirrel! A display of serving pieces and Christmas decorations and ornaments and I got lost looking at everything before remembering I had a husband downstairs. I walked down the down-escalator which wasn’t moving. Found Todd and told him I needed to get that other hateful job known as bra shopping done, and he disappeared into the shoe department where the sale was buy one pair, get second pair for $1.99. What in the actual f—? The place looked like a going out of business sale.

By the time I was done he’d gone upstairs on the elevator, because you can’t take carts on the escalator, DUH. He was busy shopping in tabletop and I found him next to a display of ceramic owl canisters, and so we now have an owl canister and four owl mugs. And I got my Lennox ornaments too, but not before backing directly into a display in the middle of the aisle and all I could think of was thank God I didn’t back into it full force, or I’d have toppled a thousand dollars’ worth of Yankee candles.

Todd wisely took over the cart and I warned him to stay away from the furniture department because – I shit you not – the same guy was still in the exact same spot, and nobody was buying furniture when they could get crocs for $1.99. By now the down escalator was completely blocked off while one man worked to repair it, and all I could think was, Why NOW? It’s 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon and there are 300 people in this store and some of them are trying to get downstairs and there’s ONE ELEVATOR. And a line twelve people long. Not very good planning folks.

I will take my leave here – with me coming home to find my dog’s ass covered in shit and guess who got to wash it off? Because there will never be enough shit.

I’m Okay, But I’m Not

At 12 weeks post-op, I was back to normal. I was feeling great.

There’s been a lot going on in our lives lately. A lot. I’m now officially working more hours and I’m grateful. Work is where I can be normal, and not think about my personal life. I’m making more money and I’m grateful for that too. The kids are busy and back in school. Opac is a senior now, and has this thing called senior option where he goes in late some days and leaves early on others. He still doesn’t have his license, but we’re one behind-the-wheel lesson away from being allowed to take the driver’s exam.

I’ve been working on letting him go in the ways a normal parent would. Like going with friends to places and trying really hard not to worry about him until he walks back in the front door. He’s good – he texts me regularly to let me know what’s going on. I’m grateful for that. I know that will one day have its end too.

On workdays, I count on him to see Veruca home safely from the bus. In the first few weeks, it caused me significant anxiety. They both text me when they’re home so I can stop worrying. Surprisingly, I am not worrying about my type 1 daughter being home without me. But then when I think about it, I have anxiety about whether I should be worried.

I’ve been letting Veruca go too – with friends after school, walking to nearby food and coffee joints so she can hang out for an hour like a teenager. I worry a bit, but I’ve exhausted the lectures about sticking together, not walking alone, and never, ever approaching a stranger in a car who might beckon. She’s crystal clear on this. Maybe a little too much.

In case you missed the clues, I have anxiety. I can conjure up just about anything to fray my nerves and raise my blood pressure. I’ve forgotten how to pray and leave it all to God. And THIS causes me anxiety too. I take medication for anxiety. I know that anxiety is chemical and biological and that it is also genetic, so I come by it honestly and [abnormally proudly] from a beloved relative who is no longer with me.

Nevertheless, I was feeling good. The lingering post-surgical stuff was gone and I was returning to life feeling confident that surgery can be a good thing, and that I’m ready to start running again.

Until September 19th.

It was a beautiful day after 40 days and 40 nights of rain in most of our region. The sun was bright and the air was warm. You should take the convertible out, he said. The 2001 Mustang GT convertible hadn’t been out on the road for a while and I was weary of driving to my mom’s an hour away and back. Instead, I took the 2012 Mustang (nicknamed the V6), so I could do a little stick-driving on the beautiful back roads in my hometown area. I learned to drive stick at 16, and there is nothing more satisfying than shifting gears and letting go that clutch and letting the car do what it was made to do.

It was a great ride, but my spidey senses were tingling all the way – people were driving recklessly all around me. It made me hyper-alert and I took my time on the ride. I got back to our area shortly after 1 and drove directly to the high school to pick up Opac.

I’d just turned onto the main roadway a half-mile from the school. The speed limit is 50, there were a lot of cars traveling in both directions. I saw this car begin to make a left turn right in front of me – I mean, RIGHT in front of me, and there was no time for me to do anything other than brake as hard as I could. I was trying to avoid hitting her and realized she was following through on her turn anyway. I veered right, sort of into the road she was heading into, in an effort to avoid her hitting me.

She kept going and slammed into my driver’s side door, hard, spinning me around until my rear bumper on the passenger side hit the guard rail, effectively stopping the car. My driver’s side airbag deployed. I don’t remember turning the car off and removing the key from the ignition. I sat there stunned a moment, and looked through my window at her in her car and she was looking back at me – and I was trembling and raging inside. Did you know that when airbags deploy the ignitor emits a smoky smell? Neither did I. I panicked, tried to open my door, and then moved the seat back enough to climb out and over the gear shift and opened the passenger door.

At this point I had no idea how old this girl was, or the condition of the driver’s side of my car. First instinct was to flip out on her for causing this accident, but by the time I’d actually gotten myself out of the car, I’d lost the desire. Todd would’ve been so proud.

I looked directly at this 17-year-old child who accused me of speeding, and bit my tongue for all the things I wanted to say – because I’m 49 and I know waaaay better, and also that less is more. Hysterical, screaming people are generally viewed as just that. So I said to her, you need to step away from me right now. I repeated myself twice.

The state trooper arrived. The ambulance arrived. One of the drivers insisted I sit down. Apparently people in accidents act normal all the time and then boom, they go down? I called Todd, who said, you ARE going to the hospital, right? I honestly thought the car was just going to get towed to our auto-body shop and I was just going to go home. But the EMTs said, you’re going. And the trooper said my car was most likely totaled.

Todd: Well, at least you had the dash cam. Which made me want to cry, but I guess some people in shock don’t cry – because …. I’m not driving the Edge.

Oh, he said. Which car were you driving? But he didn’t care which car it was.

I’ve since seen the neurosurgeon, had a repeat MRI and x-rays (hardware is still well-positioned and I have no acute changes to my spinal cord or surrounding discs). The pain in my neck has returned, depending on my activity and/or work, and it travels down my right arm and encircles my shoulder, just like before my surgery. It’s uncomfortable and I’m upset about it. All providers are in agreement that my pain is muscular, and the efforts now are pain relief and return to normal function without this pain. I’m in PT three days a week now. I’ve had two rounds of trigger point injections at neuro and considering going back again.

I’m sad and angry some days. I’m sad that I can never drive that car again. I’m sad that it all changed in an instant, and I’m angry that it could’ve ended so differently. Todd told me the reason he bought that car is for this very reason, that it’s solid and designed to protect you. And protect me, she did. No part of the other car touched me, and no part of my door touched me. It was intact on the inside, and the only thing different in an otherwise pristine cockpit was the telltale airbag.

I’m an emotional person. I feel things. I think sometimes it’s over the top and that most normal people don’t react to things like I do. I want my car back. When we went to the lot to clean it out, I couldn’t sit in it. Todd went with me and I ran my hands over the hood and felt its warmth and the smoothness of the metal, and stood there thanking her for what she did for me that day with tears in my eyes. It’s been a month. I won’t get in Todd’s other Mustang, or drive it.

It’s been a month. The girl has a new car already. This makes me so angry. Did she learn anything? I want justice in some way that I cannot articulate. Maybe I just want her to tell me she’s sorry, and mean it. But, Todd told me to let it go. I can only live My life, and keep moving forward. But I don’t want to let go of it yet. In a 10-second decision, she destroyed a 2012 Ford Mustang, somebody’s beloved car that cannot be easily replaced, and she’s already driving around in a new car.

Meanwhile, I’m alternately angry and sad. I have moments behind the wheel where I panic, especially when there are other cars around. I’ve seen my counselor. We’re working through this. And then last week a minor infraction by the truck in front of me…I was nowhere near having an accident, but the thoughts racing through my head brought spots before my eyes and I pulled over until the lightheadedness passed.

We’ve begun the college touring with Opac, which also makes me emotional. He’s already been accepted at his first choice, which is thrilling but we need to see that financial package soon. He turns 18 tomorrow, and I’m feeling the acuteness of that milestone.

There’s more. But I think this is enough for now.

Todd and Me in OCMD

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Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

 

Labor Day weekend went too fast and the kids went back to school on Tuesday. I feel like we’ve just boarded Roaring Rapids, without all the water because of course I have plants on the deck that are in various stages of dead. Not to discount all the rain my friends north have been dealing with and all the flooding that shut down amusement parks across the state of Pennsylvania.

It’s been a heavy rain season this summer, though unfortunately even that couldn’t save my plants. I really think only divine intervention can spare my plants from myself. Case in point: beautiful basil plant given by my mother. Weeks later: leaves are turning yellow and falling off. I have watered it regularly, but maybe it’s disheartened by the condition of the others around it?

Meanwhile, against my best judgement, Todd is hosting his faculty at our home next week and I’m about three home projects from a complete breakdown. I don’t know why I care, but I do – about the need for fresh paint, the black cobwebs in the cathedral ceilings that cannot be reached without a 20-foot ladder, the basement bathroom that needs a complete reno, not to mention the green algae on the deck that desperately needs to be power washed. I’ve spent the bulk of my summer unable to attend to this stuff, thanks to previously mentioned surgery.

Anyway, I’ll save that drama for another post. Todd and I took off for Ocean City, Maryland for the weekend – the only real vacation we got together this year due to his new job. We stayed at the lovely Dunes Manor Hotel – a Victorian-style hotel that’s been there since 1987. It’s always been my favorite but Todd hadn’t stayed there before. We only had two days – so we spent it relaxing outside, walking the boardwalk, eating at some of our favorite haunts, and drinking frozen cocktails.

We walked 8 miles on Saturday. By the time we got halfway back on the boardwalk, I could barely walk. And I was wearing flip flops – so I had a blister on my right foot, and both legs were an aching mess of jelly. I am so out of shape. Yeah – cleared, my ass. Return to normal activities slowly, they said. Listen to your body, they said. Well, my body was saying, kill me now, and my brain was saying, alcohol aint gonna save us.

Sunday we walked another seven miles – some of which was back from breakfast at Dumser’s, roughly 90 blocks away. We didn’t walk the whole way, but far enough to color my neck and chest a lovely shade of red and I got a blister on my other foot (different sandals). We took the bus the rest of the way back and rested a bit in the room. I was just about to get in the shower when the fire alarm went off – and the entire hotel was evacuated. We stayed on the seventh floor, so the walk down probably added another quarter mile. We no sooner got to the parking lot and they were letting us back in… and it was tea time! Bonus.

Todd and I grabbed some tea and scones and sat down by the grand piano, where a guest had sat down and was playing some beautiful music that made me feel suddenly like we were on the Titanic. But in a good way. His wife called him a dork and told him she was going back to the room and we all laughed.

A few minutes later he was upstaged by a teenage boy who was there to perform during tea time – playing the most beautiful renditions of Ed Sheeran’s music and onto some classic Disney tunes. I sat there thinking about time, the inevitable changes that lie ahead, and some recent news we’re still processing, and my eyes welled up.

We went to one of our favorites, Bull on the Beach at 94th street, where we bypassed the line like celebrities and headed straight to the bar and luckily found the last two empty seats. Some hot wings, a pit beef sandwich, onion rings, and two beers later and we found ourselves chatting with a couple that bought us a round when they sat down next to us. They were a bit older than us, but retired, and living in Florida. They own a house in Ocean City they rent out and come up to stay occasionally.

They were a lovely couple, and he was making friendly jokes that bordered on a little too friendly and, given the proximity to which we were sitting next to each other, my paranoid little mind began to wonder if we’d just been targeted by a pair of swingers and then I couldn’t unthink it. And Todd, clearly oblivious to the inner workings of my mind, kept up the conversation like any normal person would. And then – just as suddenly as they arrived – they finished up their food and cocktails and bid us goodnight and wished us well and… they left. And I realized how lovely they truly were – and how I need to stop thinking dirty little things about people’s intentions. (If I said this has happened to me in the past – would that exonerate me?)

We never went in the ocean. Not only did it not interest us, but there was some terrible article circulating about sea lice and the rashes it caused dozens of people. In most cases minor, but one guy had to go to hospital. They’re calling the condition Sea Bather’s Eruption but I don’t care what it is – if they’re saying that little crab larvae are just floating along with the waves and can end up INSIDE your swimsuit, well… NO THANK YOU. I made it this far in life without crabs, and I’m not about to change that…. I don’t care what kind of crabs they are.

All in all, it was a short but sweet weekend trip that we needed together. It’s all we got this summer, thanks to circumstances that were both out of our control and choices we made. I missed seeing my long-time bestie, and we didn’t take our bikes this year. There will be other weekends, other trips. Instead, we left the SUV at home and drove the “baby” GT, and hit the road like rock stars.

 

Sunrise on our last day.

Live life like you’re dying. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Every day is a gift. Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

Exit Zero: Last Days in Cape May

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Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

Tuesday Morning. Veruca picked Uncle Bill’s Pancake House for breakfast and then she was pissed when she realized we were walking there because it’s so far. We were seated immediately at a booth by the window facing the street and beach.

V had the waffle and woofed that thing down before I’d eaten half of my Denver omelet. By the way, did ya’ll know that a Denver omelet is just a Western omelet with cheese? How I lived this long and had never even heard of a Denver omelet was quite a revelation at 9:00 in the morning. And, also noteworthy, is the fact that a Western omelet in Cape May does not have tomatoes. (At the Dough Roller in OCMD they do contain tomatoes and you can’t order it without.*)

We landed the same spots by the pool as yesterday, and it wasn’t long before my bad influence of a mom was offering up cocktails before noon. Since I am my mother’s daughter, I ordered a piña colada. V had a virgin colada. Mom went with the Bloody Mary.

I spent more time on my current read – The Woman in Cabin 10 – a great fast read, by the way. More kids in the Jacuzzi and one boy climbed out the pool crying because “she pushed me in!” And I was reminded that no matter how sad I may become about my kids being teenagers, at least I can lie by the pool without dealing with this shit anymore.

At one point V hands me her colada so she can apply more sunscreen, and it slips through my fingers just as I was placing it on the table next to me. It crashes down, knocking my piña colada down too, piña coladas flying everywhere, spilling onto the ground under the table, all over mom’s necklace on the table, and into her bag… it was a piña colada explosion, and not in a good way. So mom sits up and helps with the cleanup effort, which quickly becomes another emergency after she accidentally bumps her own cocktail over and now there are THREE spilled cocktails by the pool and we’re laughing like seagulls and I swear we’re not drunk.

Anyway, the afternoon ended with lunch at the Barefoot Bar, part of the hotel and overlooking the pool. V had – surprise! – chicken fingers and fries, I had a Caesar salad, and mom had fried calamari….which she thought we’d eat too and I don’t know who she thought “we” were but I don’t eat fried rubber. I have my limits. V took her cue from me because I’m an excellent example (see Piña Colada) and wouldn’t even try it.

Tuesday evening we had decided we’d go see a movie – in a nearby town called Rio Grande, which sounds really glamorous but I didn’t see anything more glamorous than a Wawa and a couple of Wendy’s buildings impersonating sushi joints. We left two hours before the movie time to buy tickets in this ramshackle looking movie theatre in an old shopping center that looked scheduled for demolition – mom came out in shock that 3 tickets were $18.

We literally drove through the first traffic light and happened upon Rio Station – which appeared to be a locals place. It felt like a Mexican restaurant but was definitely a seafood joint with other offerings. Veruca left her go-bag* in the car, so I had to go out and get it. While I was walking back inside, my senses were accosted by the LOUDEST Latino music EVER… one, because you couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from and two, as the car got closer and closer, the decibels made your eyes water. The food was quite good. Mom shared a filet with V, and I had crab cakes over a bed of mesculin tossed in a lemon vinaigrette – which was delicious.

After, mom suggested we “drive around” a bit before the movie; I ignored her and drove straight to the movie because it was 15 minutes to show time. There was a line about 20 people long just to enter the movie we were seeing, Crazy Rich Asians. And it turned out to be “Tightwad Tuesday,” which explains the cheap tickets but 3 boxes of candy and ONE water still cost me $28. The movie was great! And contrary to outward appearances, the theatre had modern reclining seats. But I sat next to some woman who not only threw her handbag into the seat next to me like she was slam-dunking a basketball, but laughed loudly at every single thing that was funny and I remembered why I hate going to the movies.

We drove all the way back to the hotel and parked the car a block away (because there’s limited parking) and realized that V left her go-bag in the movie theatre twenty minutes away. I read her the riot act in the parking lot, and drove all the way back, in the rain, to retrieve it.

The only good thing to come out of it was that when we got back, there was an open parking spot right in front of the hotel. Which a seagull decided to shit on, on the day we left. And before you tell me it could’ve been worse, like mom did, I direct you to last summer’s air strike in OCMD. You’re not helping.

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Last day… Wednesday. Breakfast at the hotel again. Different cook – decided to gamble on the omelet and it was cooked to perfection. We revisited the pool, had more piña coladas that did not spill this time, ate leftovers for lunch, and went back to the room for a nap. V slept briefly; mom was out cold about an hour in; I was wide awake. I don’t DO naps. I started Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain and sat out on the balcony (my favorite thing), listening to the ac unit kick on and off and the dog two floors below us that barked at every dog that walked by.

V and I took a walk on the beach around 5:30, listened to the sounds of the Beach Bumz’ free concert drifting over the breeze and crashing waves, and I snapped some gorgeous photos of her in that beautiful late afternoon light. I started this tradition with her a few years back of taking that walk at sunrise, but this year we both agreed we didn’t “need” to see the sun rise.

We collected some shells and talked about stuff that’s really important when you’re 13, and I counted every minute as a blessing. To say that I am acutely aware of the preciousness of time with my kids right now, is an understatement. At some point, as we stood by the water looking back at the hotel, I saw mom on the balcony so we waved our arms like we were at a Jimmy Buffett concert and she waved back.

The three of us decided to walk to the end of Beach Avenue* for the sunset, which was (insert Veruca) a really long walk. The two of them stopped in the restroom along the way, while I sat on the bench and sent Todd a selfie. A minute later mom popped her head out the door and waved a black handbag at me she said someone had left in there. What should she do?

This is MY MOM asking ME what she should do with a found handbag. I don’t know! Leave it there – the person may retrace her steps to find it again. Like, how are you asking me this? You’re my mom. Moms are supposed to already know the answer.

So we began walking again and she told me it was filled with tampons, and all I could think of was that someone must be having a really bad day about now, until it dawned on me that she’d looked inside and why did she do that? Looking for ID, natch.

And then we finally get to the end of the street where people are already gathered to watch the sunset when a strange man approached V and me…and when I turned toward him I must’ve looked like I was going to kill him because he put his hands up sheepishly and then I felt like a real asshole when he told me he was from Cape May’s Kiwanis Club and wanted to know if V wanted to participate in lowering and folding the flag at sunset.

These are the moments when you know you’ve raised your kids right. If I had asked her to do this, she’d have hissed at me and given me the Italian look of death. But she smiled angelically at this man and said, sure! I won’t bore you with the details, only to mention that she was one of four chosen – the others were a sweet girl with Down’s who knew this routine better than the Kiwanis guys, and 6-year-old twin boys who were clearly in over their head (and so was the man who picked them).

This whole thing delayed dinner by an hour and a half, but V got a certificate and a flag pin and I texted my dad to share the event (he used to be in Kiwanis). He was proud to know kids are still learning about the value of our flag, and then sent me a video/sound clip of the smoky herb-y drum circle he was hearing from his hotel room somewhere in upstate New York. Sometimes he has all the fun.

V chose the restaurant – YB – a very small, darkened but chic little restaurant on Beach Avenue between Perry and Jackson Streets. She saw the Mac & Cheese Poppers and was sold. And, I will say, they were the best I’ve ever had, hands down. Made fresh with jalapeños, fried and then baked with stewed tomatoes. I had a chicken dish that was delicious, though it was so dark in there it was hard to know exactly what I was eating (though at 9:00 it hardly mattered). Mom had a stuffed pepper (also delicious) and the Greek salad – a real Greek salad, not some American knock-off with lettuce.**

*******

*The famous Dough Roller in Ocean City, Maryland serves western omelets with tomatoes. You cannot order the western omelet without tomatoes, because it’s premixed. Therefore, you must order each of the ingredients of said omelet a la carte, which costs more than the western omelet (with one less ingredient).

*The Go-Bag is a must for Type 1s to carry: inside you will find a glucose meter, extra test strips, glucose tabs, pump supplies and extra batteries for pump and meter, glucagon, and snacks/candy.

*The best known destination for sunsets in Cape May is Sunset Beach, and the view is every bit spectacular. However, you have to drive there, and try to park, and every other time I’ve gone it felt like a race against time.

** Y.B. – short for Younger Brother – is helmed by the younger brother of John, who owns George’s Place up the street. However, despite the subordinate implication, Pete has had quite a decorated career for a “young” chef:  he worked at Buddakan, Le Bec Fin, and Prive, and was executive chef of Brasserie Perrier. He’s also appeared on the Food Network’s Chopped and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. (We knew none of this when we dined there.)

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The missing Do Not Disturb sign?   Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018