Logo, part 1
Logo, part 2
Welcome To Hell
  Monday   September 22, 1997




The Usual Suspects

They say you can't go home again. Thank God they're wrong, because practically from the moment I left the ground at LAX I couldn't wait to get back again.

This may well have been the worst weekend of my life. Well, no, that's not true. The two-month-long drunk driving work furlough sentence I did where I spent the weekends sharing a cell with 15 other drunks -- they were the worst. Barely. If the jail breakfasts had been even slightly warm it would have been a push. Let's say this was the worst trip I've ever taken. That's accurate.

It was bad on several levels: I was travelling alone with a baby, my itinerary included changing planes and then driving for two hours, I was sharing a trailer home with a 75-year old man and two young girls, I was in a farm town that made every farm town I lived in before moving to LA look like...well, LA. My stress meter went into the red about an hour into the trip and is only now beginning to fall.

This is shaping up to be quite a bitchfest, so let's take a moment to hit the high points and give them the credit they deserve. It was good seeing my dad. I haven't seen him in a little more than a year, and it had been a year before and a year before that, etc. the last several times I'd seen him. We got to spend a lot of time talking, which was important to me because he's old and not in the best of health and you see where this is going. It was good to see the happiness he felt with Zoe, holding her and watching her play and getting kisses goodnight. She's his first grandchild and while he tries to act nonchalant about it I know he misses seeing her. I can't say it was good seeing my half-sisters since they're such pains in the ass, but Zoe had a lot of fun playing with them, so that counts for something. All in all, I accomplished what I wanted to with the trip. I don't regret going, but I also don't plan on doing it again.

With that out of the way, let the bitching begin.

Let's start with Southwest Airlines, with whom I will never be flying again. They have a fun little policy I'd never encountered before because I'd never used them as a connecting flight: Southwest doesn't transfer baggage to or from other airlines. If you're flying one Southwest flight to another your bags will effortlessly follow, but if you're changing airlines you have to pick your luggage up at their baggage claim and drag it to the other airline's ticket counter and check it there. Try doing this with a baby, a stroller, a car seat, a diaper bag, and a large, heavy suitcase with a broken wheel. It's not fun. On the flight out I had a one hour layover in Albequerque, which gave me time to do the luggage dance and feed and diaper Zoe. On the way back, however, I had 25 minutes to get all this done and had to deal with a 24-minute long line at the Southwest ticket counter and then sprint across the airport carrying Zoe, the carseat and the diaper bag to barely make the flight. I seriously thought I was going to have a heart attack. Zoe went hungry and dirty.

Mesa Airlines, the little commuter airline I took between Albequerque and Farmington, NM, was just fine if you don't mind riding on prop planes no wider than a Cadillac that bounce around in turbulence like a paddleball being smacked by an epileptic having a grand mal seizure. Fortunately, Zoe rides in the back of my Land Cruiser so she's used to bouncy rides, but it was the worst turbulence I've ever been through -- we flew through a storm coming back -- and my heart was in my throat a couple of times.

After the two-hour drive through Indian country (past the world famous Ute Casino: "Not Just Slots!") we arrived in Dove Creek, known by the locals as Pigeon River. Even they don't like it there. It's a tiny little farm community in the Southwest corner of Colorado, famous for its pinto beans, a place so small the locals have to drive 35 miles to get to the nearest supermarket. This is where my dad lives.

Dove Creek is a town of mobile homes. It's not a mobile home park, though. It's just that instead of building a traditional house on their property, everyone parks a mobile home on it and dolls it up to look like a house. My dad's place looks like it started out as a double-wide that has been built up to a double double-wide -- but poorly. Right down the middle, running the length of the house, there's a ridge where the mobile home ends and the construction begins with the floor and ceiling sloping down on either side. Walking across it is a bit like walking the deck of a ship.

I stayed in my dad's room while he took the couch, me in the bed and Zoe on the floor. I tried sleeping with her in bed with me one night but that didn't work at all. I moved, Zoe moved, I moved, Zoe moved, etc. It kept me up for quite awhile. I finally put her back on the floor when she crawled right off the bed -- twice -- and I caught her by the leg just before she landed on her head. Even with her on the floor, though, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep.

Our company was less than stellar. My dad's two daughters -- my half sisters -- could hardly be bothered with us. They had a parade of friends coming through so they could show off Zoe, but aside from that we were persona non grata, especially me. I don't think either of them spoke more than five complete sentences to me the whole time there. On our last night, one of the girls slept at a friend's house while the other had one of her friends over to spend the night. At dinnertime, she and her friend took their plates to her room to eat. I'm normally the last person to get up in arms about bad manners, but I was surprised by this. It's definitely not how I was raised, and their dad -- who's raising them -- did some of the raising with me. When I was a kid, all leave was cancelled when we had company -- we ate dinner together, visited with the guests, didn't have friends over and didn't go anywhere, and if we didn't like it we had the belt to answer to. If I had acted that way at their age, I wouldn't have been able to sit for a week.

And then there's my dad... He usually uses these visits to prevail upon me to do something for him, usually something dramatic and (perhaps) calculated to have some sort of emotional impact. Once he asked me to get him a copy of my parents' divorce decree, another time he gave me a card to deliver to my sister at her wedding, which he wasn't invited to. This time he informed me that he'd named me executor of his estate and wanted me to handle his funeral arrangements "when the time comes." As always, I gave no reaction and agreed to do it. I'm not an emotional type, so if he was looking for something more from me he was disappointed. Again.

As I said, I enjoyed talking with my dad, but to a point. He's 75 now, and he's developed that endearing habit of the aged: nonstop talking. He talked my ear off from dawn to dusk and beyond. World War II stories, politics, religion, brushes with the law, his Air Force days, college memories, on and on. I wouldn't have minded so much -- hell, I wouldn't have minded at all -- if I could have gotten five minutes to myself. I was so stressed with taking care of Zoe by myself the whole time that I desperately needed a little quiet time so I could sit down and decompress -- but I never got it. He started talking the minute I walked out of my room in the morning and didn't stop until I closed the door at night. He talked while I was feeding Zoe even though it was obvious he was distracting her, he talked while I gave her a bath, he talked while I was reading the paper... He didn't stop talking even when we were watching TV. It started driving me crazy after a while. And, of course, I feel like an ingrate for feeling that way, but there it is.

I probably would have dealt with all of this much better if I'd been on my own, but I had Zoe with me. When I'm at home, on familiar turf, I have plenty of help. I have Beth and the nanny to spell me when I need a break, which I often do. Taking care of a 18-month old baby is a lot of work. This trip was the longest I've been her sole caretaker and it really took it out of me. The stress of it made everything around me that much more irritating, which stressed me out more, which made things more irritating... It was a vicious cycle. Without Zoe it would have been just a bad trip that I could have shrugged off, but having her put me close to the breaking point. I probably would have changed my flights and left on Saturday if I could have done it without being rude or feeling guilty.

When Sunday finally came and I got back to LA, I almost kissed the ground when I got off the plane. Instead, I handed Zoe to Beth and ran away.





Copyright 1997
Chuck Atkins