Here’s the itinerary for the trip as I planned it before departure. I have friends who live in most of these places. They had already been warned, pretty far in advance, that I might be coming their way. The schedule was set up around their availability, to accommodate a short visit and/or to help me with the driving. I’d also asked their advice for places I might consider in their vicinities for retirement living if I discovered after a year that Kalamazoo was too cold for this California weather wimp to live year-round!
|6/16/22||Thurs||los alamos||2 hrs||Brenda||leaves 8:34|
|6/17/22||Fri||oklahoma city||8 hrs|
|6/19/22||Sun||st. louis||6 hrs|
I got a late start on my very first very long solo leg. This was the break-in leg in which I’d hoped to acclimate myself to the nuances of my new vehicle. The drive was tedious enough to accommodate this, but my reflexes and reactions were too slow to do it safely! I also made it longer than it needed to be based on my outdated knowledge and sentimental desires to make one last drive on the “new” Orange County Toll Road and the “old” San Diego Freeway almost all the way to the Mexican border. Due to this Taurean’s stubbornness, I got bogged down in traffic that was heavier than I’d anticipated before joining the very less traveled Interstate 8. Over 500 miles and 8 hours, I traveled this very barren (after leaving the San Diego area) and very long stretch, stopping only once to fill up (first time for the vehicle since I’d owned it and first time for me on the trip!) before finally getting to where I was going!
I’d visited my oldest friend Brenda’s Tucson home once or twice before, back when I was (happily?) married. Even then, though, I’d started to complain about my now (idiot) ex to her and she’d also started to complain to me about her spouse at the same time! This visit was special, though, in more ways than one. I got to meet her kids and grandkids that I’d heard so much about and confirmed they had been well-raised, as I’d expected. I also got to spend some time with her recently retired spouse which confirmed that he may not be as bad as I’d expected, either! (We like to complain about our kids and our spouses, who of course look different to other people than they do to us, right?)
Brenda showed me her favorite walking trails, both in her neighborhood and in nearby Saguaro National Park. She’s lived in Tucson for so long that she could be a tour guide, if only they hadn’t been doing road work on and closed some of her favorite alternate routes! She also took me to AZ State U’s new vet school, nearly at the opposite corner of the now sprawling Tucson metro area from her home. Devil Child’s boyfriend, now fiancé, was planning to attend there, and they’d already rented an apartment in the area. (After their visit she’d told me it looked to her just like her native Orange County, where her memories were not the happiest! I’d also saved Mom’s old car in CA for DC to drive to AZ when she moved. Happily for all, that move didn’t happen because boyfriend now fiancé got last minute acceptance to MI State vet school!)
My other Tucson stop was a dinner date with a former coworker from very long ago. Jean was a cost analyst when I was a buyer at Rockwell International in Downey, CA. She and our mutual friend Erica (more about her later) were “there” when I got married and when I had my first child! Jean retired to Tucson, where her kids and grandkids (and maybe even great grandkids?) lived, and in the intervening 30 years the only time we’d seen each other was at Erica’s son’s bar mitzvah! In all the time I’d known (and known of) her, Jean was always the gorgeous and lively life of the party. She’d even acquired a new boyfriend at the same time as she’d acquired her house in Tucson. They’d met at the clubhouse bar in the retirement community where they both lived. Their houses were across the street from each other, so clearly that meeting was fate! Jean and Royce traveled the world together, until recently, when old age began to catch up with them in their 80’s. If I could live the rest of my post-retirement life as Jean did, I’d be more than satisfied!
Now that her spouse has (finally) retired, Brenda was and is eager to get away from him! (Retirement is definitely an adjustment for anyone, including those they live with.) She was more than happy to make the drive from Tucson to Albuquerque with me, and of course I was very glad for the company. There we met up with my friend Ann. Ann and I met when we were both students at UCLA GSM. (That’s the Graduate School of Management which is now AGSM after it was endowed by an Anderson.) Ann and one of my friends from USC were roommates at UCLA. (Ann and I are still buddies but neither of us hears anymore from the person who brought us together. How strange is that?) Ann moved to San Francisco after graduation. We all thought that was a strange choice given her raging arthritis, but it was great to visit her there.
Maybe 4-5 years ago (I don’t remember exactly), Ann moved back to her hometown of St. Louis. The hills of San Francisco and the stairs of her Victorian townhouse had finally become too steep for her joints to handle. Either before or after that move, and again I don’t remember the sequence of events, she and I had met up in Washington, D.C. where we visited some of the “newer” museums and the Secret City exhibit on display at the time at the National Building Museum. Getting someone to accompany me to the latter had been the main impetus for this trip. We had a great time, comparing the city to when we had each lived there at different times in our lives – me for a semester as an undergraduate, Ann as a fledgling reporter who’d just earned her degree in Journalism.
Ann flew into Albuquerque and met Brenda and me at the hotel I’d booked for the two of us that became three after Brenda joined me on the drive. I like to try to put people together based on shared interests. I don’t usually have much success in this but these two bonded over their shared ailments which, at our advanced ages, is maybe more common than I’d like to think! The next morning, I put Brenda on a plane back to AZ then Ann and I made the drive into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Los Alamos, NM. This second site of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park had been on my very short bucket list for a while. It was quite different than my prior happy place/home of Oak Ridge but fascinating nonetheless and well worth a potential return visit, maybe even as soon as this spring when I’ve already signed up for a writers workshop in nearby Taos.
The main reason I’d scheduled a New Mexico stop was to visit my aforementioned friend Erica who now lives in Albuquerque where she and her husband Ron have finally realized their joint vision and dream of owning their own business. Ron and Erica married when I was pregnant with the Devil Child, though our “familial connection” extends farther back than that as she had referred me to her own Long Beach, CA, ob/gyn when I’d discovered my unexpected pregnancy with Mini-Me, way back in 1989! These two have moved all over the country in pursuit of this dream, though our paths have not crossed as often as I would have liked over the years. My kids seem to barely remember the day we went with them and their kids to the Strawberry Festival in Garden Grove. (Since their kids are younger than mine/ours, I wouldn’t even ask if they remember, though I have photos of one of the very few times idiot ex actually participated in an outing of this sort.) The last time I’d seen them in their native/home habitat, including the home they lived in then, was at the bar mitzvah of their eldest, in Frisco, TX. Since that time (more years ago now than his age then), I missed the opportunity to see where they lived in Columbus, OH (I don’t think they ever bought a house there, that’s how much Erica didn’t like it), or the (pre) retirement home they’d designed and built in Austin, TX (though that town is still on my bucket list).
This time I “hit the jackpot!” I not only got to see both Ron and Erica but as an added bonus I got to see the business they bought and now operated (though just the outside of the building) and the new house they bought and finally moved into (after a few delays caused by pandemic-related supply shortages) in Albuquerque. All of these positive experiences provided further areas for exploration and consideration of a future winter home in “The Land of Enchantment.”
Following this “action packed” two-day stopover, Ann and I got back on the road headed east and deeper into near hillbilly country. As fellow progressive civil rights history aficionados, we had previously considered, obviously pre-pandemic, an extended trip to see and learn from the recently erected monuments and restored sites dedicated to this story. In lieu of that, Ann suggested a quick stopover along Interstate 40 to check out the in process of being resurrected Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had considered the suggestion but put another one to her that would better fit into the semi-rigid driving schedule I had set up for myself. After not a lot of discussion, especially after being on the flat and boring and seemingly interminable drive across as little of Texas as we could, we agreed to spend the night in Oklahoma City to visit the National Memorial dedicated to telling the story of the first major incident of domestic terrorism that happened there in 1995.
The final stopover I had planned was the longest. I spent four days in Ann’s St. Louis home where, over several visits with her and a few more with Mini-Me, who had also lived off and on in the area before finally settling into married life in MI, I had come to appreciate what the city and the area had to offer as a potential place to put down new retirement roots. With the benefit of foresight, and based on what I’d seen of the places Mom’s friends and relatives had occupied in their old ages and often single lives, I was already considering what type of housing I would want in the future. (I have already done quite a bit of research through which I have discovered, like most decisions that will be necessary in my future, this one is best delayed till the time I will really NEED to make one!) Ann has already given this some thought as well, so she was happy to join me in a tour of a nearby senior living facility. We were both favorably impressed with this particular one though, like most places these days that house seniors, we had to mask up because they had experienced some recent Covid infections.
After scoping out some of the nearby suburban retail options (including my usual Great Clips haircut plus the unique and local Dearberg’s grocery), as well as the trendy revitalized historical suburb (with Ann’s favorite farmer’s market plus an Amtrak station) in Kirkwood. While, based on my successive periods of concern caused by tornados and other malicious weather patterns, like snow in winter and stickiness in summer, that I’d suffered vicariously while MM lived there, I had already ruled out moving to St. Louis, these other happy and comfortable for me “finds” confirmed these all as parameters for my next, and probably nearly final, place of residence.
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