12:20:2003 Entry: "Ann : Tripping Dogs"
It is the autumnal equinox. It is dark. We've brought all the plants in from outside; now they're cramming up all the windows, blocking out any light that might find its way inside. On the vernal equinox, the trees outside don't have their leaves yet, so at the same position of the sun in the spring, it is light in the house. But now it is dark. The plants are screaming for light.
I am antsy. We take a vacation in two weeks. I can't concentrate. All I can think about is travelling. I love leaving the house early in the morning on the first day, saying goodbye to the cats, hoping I didn't forget anything, packing up the car with the dogs. This will be Lucifer Sam's first long trip, and Plato's first trip without Hieronymus. Those two were such good travel buddies. We'd take them out at interstate rest stops and Hieronymus would pee on the commissioned concrete "art" sculptures. There's something so comforting about travelling early in the morning on a cold, crisp fall day, I feel like it's something I should've had when I was a kid, but didn't. Not that any kid had a vacation on a fall day--we were all in school. Maybe it's not the fall, maybe it's something about being in a car with your family and going for an adventure. I didn't have many of those as the big vacation I would get would be with my mom only, and then it was on a plane or train. The "family" vacations I would get with my dad and mom weren't all that fun or comfortable. But I won't get into that now. I'm travellng with my dogs.
Stan is driving, as that is what he does best. He doesn't like being a passenger...it gives him nausea. I don't like driving because interstates freak me out. I don't see as well as him. I like being the passenger. It's such a typical "dad in charge" family. Kid are in the back seat, mom's in the passenger seat, looking around her shoulder, making sure they're ok. We're in our minivan. It's like a cliche out of suburbia, except the kids are dogs. And it's not a summer vacation--it's in the fall. There are no kids, they're all in school. We're in our early 40s...what are we doing on vacation in the fall? Only the elderly vacation in the fall. Where are our kids? There are no kids, they are dogs.
It is morning, greyish blue, and the sun isn't out yet. We stop in Mount Horeb or Dodgeville to get a couple Breakfast Burritos for the road. We travel through all the little southwestern Wisconsin towns, so quaint and foreign, old frame farm homes with strange raingutter constructions, PDQs where the local farmers stop to get coffee and talk about the weather, old brick buildings in the downtown sections with broken barber shop poles, and the enevitable rotting, collapsing barns. This is a strange country that I do not live in. I live in a city, in an old house in a city that commands us to "keep up the property" or face fines. These small towns have nothing like that, they know nothing about "The Big Bad City of Madison" and strict property codes. I drive by and wonder what it would be like to live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, to have lived there all my life, with dozens of family members around me, and to have no desire to leave. I cannot imagine what a life like that would be like, but millions of people live that way. They cannot imagine my solitary life with no family members other than my husband, 1000 miles away from my nearest relative. They cannot imagine the liberal city of Madison, living alone and no kids, just dogs.
We get to an area outside of Platteville, a low-lying valley with rolling hills turning color. The sun is starting to rise and the valley is filled with mist and fog. It is so perfect, that if I could have everything I have now, my house, my animals, art, plants and music, and Stan, of course, Stan, I would like to have it all here, in this little valley, forever and ever. The terrain changes, and we roll steeply down cutout limestone hills. One last stop in Wisconsin, the reststop at the border. Once, Hieronymus jumped out of the van before we could put his leash on him. He headed for the meadow to pee. We weren't too worried...it was Hieronymus...he never ran away. He was just so eager to be on a trip again, he knew where he was, he'd seen it before.
We get back in the car. My shoes are soaked with dew. We drive some more. We cross the Mississippi. We've left Wisconsin.
Just as the drive along US Highway 151 from Madison to the border is the most interesting part of the trip, the same US highway in Iowa from Dubuque to Cedar Rapids is easily the most boring, save for the entire western 2/3 of Nebraska, perhaps. It is at this point that the excitement and adrenaline that easily got me up at 5 am is now wearing off, and I decide to nod off. The dogs, after having emptied their bladders, are feeling the same way.
Because of the way Stan's job is, he simply can't sign up for vacation time in the summer...everyone else is ahead of him. I think if we did have kids, this would be most unfortunate. It would be a repeat of my own childhood...my dad didn't take time off in the summer to be with my mom and I to see my grandmother. I don't know if it was an in-law thing, or if he really had a hard time taking time off in the summer. Probably a little of both. It would be most unfortunate if Stan wasn't able to take off in the summer to be with the kids on vacation. But there are no kids...there are dogs. And if this is the silver lining to the cloudy fall vacation...the dogs are short nose dogs, and being in a car in summer with short nose dogs is not good for their health. One time, before Stan worked at the place he does now, we took a vacation with Tim to Colorado in the summer. This was before we had Plato, but we had Hieronymus. One of us had to be in the car at all times so that we could keep a window open and stay with the Pug. One time in Lincoln, Nebraska, at our favorite coffee shop, Tim stayed with the dog while Stan and I got coffee. Hieronymus was breathing loudly with that throaty "happa happa" asthmatic voice of his. A woman walked by the car and heard the noise, looked at Tim, and Tim pretended that the noise was coming from him as he did a mouthbreather immitation.
As we head toward Cedar Rapids, I remember that this is the area of the trip that is the most painful when returning. I feel very depressed at this location in Iowa on the way back as the vacation is over. But no, this is the beginning of the vacation. I don't get to feel that way for another two weeks. I can be happy now, I lower the back of my carseat some and go back to sleep.
This will be a strange Colorado trip for us, as this is the first time we're not going to see my parents, not this year, not enough time. When you have three weeks, it's easy to see both family and friends along the Front Range as well as Stan's mom on the Western slope. But Stan's vacation time was a bit fragmented this year, as well as last year. Last year we didn't make it to Montrose. This year we won't make it to Fort Collins. That's OK--I feel like I've experienced that city enough already on Labor Day. Don't ask.
This journey along I-80 is a familiar one that we've taken many years before: several times in 1989, the year we moved to Wisconsin, 1993, 1994, 1996 (with Tim), 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002. There are some years missing, 1990, 1991 and 1992 I was in graduate school and life was too difficult to think about vacations. In 1995 Stan was finishing up with graduate school and it was quite a trying time for him. Although we travelled out in 1997, it was not exactly a vacation, as it was for Stan's dad's funeral in early February. We did not go back in the summer or fall that year. And in 1998 we took a northern route on our way there, travelling through the Badlands on I-90. And we missed it again in 2000, as Hieronymus had fallen down a flight of stairs that Labor Day and our lives were filled with Emergency Vet bills and concern for getting our Pug healed and healthy. We took a short 2-3 day vacation in the Michigan UP instead.
It's sort of strange to think about your favorite rest stops, but you do have favorites, as strange as it may sound. The best rest stop on the trip is at the Iowa Travel Center near a park in Council Bluffs. It is on a prairie with places to hike in the field. Grasshoppers, crickets and the occasionaly straggling late season butterflies greet us as we get out of the car. The bathrooms are roomy and luxurious in marble and dark colors. There's a small museum about Iowa Prairie life with a gift shop selling expensive locally-made honeys and fragrant handmade soaps. It's our last outpost in the gentle rolling hills and golden prairies of the midwest heartland, our last outpost before we cross the Missouri, before we hit...Nebraska.
Omaha is OK. It's a fairly big city. And Lincoln is OK because it is a college town. You can actually get sushi in Lincoln, although we never have. We get coffee--in the late afternoon when we arrive, and if we stay overnight, again in the morning. And when we pass through on the way back, that's another four punches on our coffee card, eight total for the trip. If I was forced at gunpoint to live in Nebraska, I could live in Lincoln. It has the best coffee shop in the world.
We usually stay overnight at an inexpensive hotel like Comfort Inn. It's a big, fun adventure for the dogs...they sniff every corner of the room. The last time we stayed, they were having a big dog show in town. People wondered if we were in town for the event. They were probably just being polite, they could most likely tell our pet-quality Pug and Boston didn't have the necessary intact "fixings" to make it to the show arena.
After we leave Lincoln, the land really opens up. You can now literally see for miles. There's something that changes in the personality, too. Midwestern friendliness is replaced by Western suspiciousness. I can sense it. I don't like it. I'm thankful the speed limit is 75 because it helps the boring pass sooner. The sun is behind our backs, but it nonetheless shows through the strange cloud formations in front of us...pink rays, fog, and aborted light. Pretty soon as the sun reaches for its highest spot in the sky, a strange formation of monumental proportions looms out of the plains below. It's:
The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. I've never been in it, I've only driven underneath it. It didn't exist until a few years ago, but each time we go past, I'm hypnotized by the colors on the bridge that go from purple to red to yellow in a seemingly changing, yet immitation iridescent spectrum. I've never been in it, but looking at the website and the price of admission, maybe I should just continue to appreciate it as an outsider.
We've now hit Nebraska's doldrums. I cannot imagine myself being a pioneer, seeing this seemingly neverending wasteland for the first time. I would surely think I had gone to hell. A desert can be appreciated for its hot austereness and fascinating rock forms. A forest can be appreciated for its comforting shading tree homes that give shelter to millions of creatues. A prairie is a sunny smorgasbord of dancing color and insect and floral activity. But what is the land in Nebraska and eastern Colorado? Even the word that was chosen doesn't delight the tongue in syllables of two like forest, prairie or desert. Instead, it is a solitary, monosyllabic word, the wallflower without another syllable as its dance partner. It is a plain. It goes on forever and ever which makes us detest it even more. I think about this land when I was ten and we moved to Colorado from New York. It was the end of October in 1971 and it was snowing. We were travelling in a 1960 Mercedes with holes in the floor from all its eastern rust. It was cold and I was snuggling in the back seat. My mom was in the back too; she didn't like the passenger's seat for some reason. Or maybe she didn't like my dad. Probably a little of both. I think that if we had kids, it wouldn't be as traumatic for them as it was for me and my first viewing. For we have a CD player, and the radio, something we didn't have in the old Mercedes. But then again, we don't have kids...we have dogs.