Until now it has only been a fleeting shadow living in the edge of the lights cast by the Love Boat. (A term we have given our back porch, since it is lit up like the deck of a cruise ship.) We’d seen it occasionally darting in and out of the chicken shack, sneaking food and water before returning to its home, which was a burrowed out hole leading under the concrete step off the back of the garage. I’d held to the belief that it was a rabbit, and we were providing safe haven for a growing family of cute little bunnies.
The hole grew bigger, yet we were not blessed with the joy of baby bunnies running around the backyard. But we saw the shadow more often under the safe cover of darkness at night. It grew bolder and came closer to the Love Boat when we were relaxing. Then our tomatoes began to disappear, and I found half-eaten tomato carcasses at the mouth of the hole. This unwanted guest began to dominate our discussions, and unable to sustain the burden of curiosity any more, we decided on a plan of action. We would flood the hole and see what came out.
It was a rat. A very big, very wet, rat. Robert saw it in it’s entirety, I rushed to the window just in time to see it’s skinny little tail as it ran back into its flooded home. All I could think about was the cartoon version of rats—any rats. Glowing red eyes, long sharp fangs, hissing and generally looking for trouble. The rat clearly had to go. We could not cohabitate. We hatched a plan to pour a bag of concrete down into the wet hole and seal its destiny forever.
We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to do that immediately, I don’t know why. I have no problem catching mice in traps, but suddenly the thought of taking a life wasn’t so easy. We debated a new plan of action, which included setting a live trap to see if we could get it to give up peacefully. We loaded it with cheese and pepperoni, and hoped it would do the right thing.
The trap was empty the next morning as I headed out for Longmont, via public transit. I had mixed emotions about the rat as I sat waiting for my bus in Union Station. I was relieved to not have seen the rat, as the thought of it just creeps me out. But I was also disappointed, as I knew the absence of the rat’s voluntary surrender, forced the showdown closer to a deadly conclusion. I don’t know why I was suddenly worried about killing a rat. I was raised in the country and death of rodents and animals were not uncommon events, and I certainly didn’t have any feelings of affection for the rat.
Conflicted, I sat in the station and watched the people go by. I distracted myself by focusing on the sounds of the station, specifically those of footsteps. I tried to guess who was passing from behind before I saw them, based on their footfalls. There was the click click of high heels, the clomp clomp of work boots, and the occasional squeaky loafer.
I heard small footsteps approaching from behind, and guessed it must be a child, which is always a pleasure in the station because of their joy and wonder of trains and buses. I waited for the child to come into sight, and when it walked past me so I could see it, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I honestly thought for a moment I had experienced a psychotic break, or a stroke, or just lost my mind.
The owner of the small steps was a woman, about five feet tall. She wore hard-soled boots and was taking tiny steps, almost like a shuffle. She clutched a yellow stuffed bird to her chest, and she was wearing a full, furry, one-pieced rat outfit. Yup. A rat outfit. The legs of her onesie were tucked into her boots, and there was a tail dangling from her bottom. The gray fur covered her chest and ended with a hood, topped with ears. She quickly shuffled, or scurried, across the terminal and stopped to look at a schedule. A moment later she scurried back across the terminal and checked out another schedule. She scurried her way down the terminal as I stared in disbelief.
I wanted to shake my head to get the picture out of my mind, but was afraid if I’d had a stroke shaking might make the damage worse. I just watched her. What was the universe telling me? Was this really happening? What the hell?
I guess I’ve seen stranger things in downtown Denver, but really? A rat?
I decided then and there that our rat could stay for a few more days. We would bait the trap with tastier treats, and I vowed to find a way to get it to leave peacefully. Clearly my killer instincts were not strong, and I wasn’t prepared to take a chance on doing something I would regret. So, as of this writing, the rat lives.
P.S. Turns out there is a sexual fetish genre called “Furries,” where people dress in full animal costumes for physical gratification.Hmmm…
I must admit Robert and I had a wonderful time at the Little Big Town concert. From the minute we hit the gates at the opening of the facility, the people working the venue were incredibly nice. It started with our first line, where everyone was being wanded with a metal detector. All of the workers were well into middle-aged, with some teetering on the edge of old. An elderly gent was standing at the end of the line of gates, and with nobody bothering to venture all the way down, he was obviously feeling useless. He jumped up and down, waving his arms and wand, and shouted “pick me, pick me!” Of course we went through his line.
We passed the wanding and advanced ten feet to the next person, who cheerfully asked how we were doing.
“Good. We’ve never done this before, so I hope it works,” Robert stated, as he handed over his phone.
“That’s why I’m here.” The woman said nicely. “I’ll make sure it all goes smoothly.” She tapped his phone to her machine, and it spit out two tickets, which she handed to us with a smile.
“There, that was pretty painless, wasn’t it?” Her sidekick said to me. I had to admit it was, and some of my previous anger started to seem a bit silly.
We advanced to the next person, about ten feet ahead again, and they took our tickets and granted us access to the venue. It was a typical country concert, with lots of boots, denim, plaid and beer. The evening was really cold, with a wind that made it worse, and I watched as many of the young women pranced around in short-shorts, skimpy tank-tops, cowboy boots and goosebumps. It is times like these that I am glad to be middle-aged, as we were all covered in boots, jeans and bulky sweaters.
We circled the stadium, got dinner and a beer, found our seats and enjoyed the first act. We headed to the restroom along with everyone else as stagehands went to work to prepare the stage for Little Big Town. We had eaten in a bar earlier, and I smartly directed Robert back to the bar, as I had noticed bathrooms near the rear, and was pretty sure they wouldn’t be as crowded as the general restrooms. I was mostly right, but there was still a line when we arrived.
There was one closed door with a sign for both a male and a female bathroom on it. Having been in the bathroom already, I inquired from those at the front of the line if they knew there were two bathrooms in there, and if they were both in use. Being women, being country and being a little bit tipsy, the ladies at the front of the line threw open the door and marched into the small hallway to investigate. The remaining ladies spilled into the newly opened hallway, forming a line that went down the hall to the men’s room and back along the other wall to the ladies room. Word from the front was that there was both a urinal and a stall in the men’s room. A cry went up as the first woman in line headed for the men’s room. A man came out of the bathroom with a shocked look on his face, head down and hustling through the line of ladies.
Robert was the next male in line. The ladies were getting restless and a little bit crazy, and as Robert headed through the gauntlet, the ladies demanded payment for entrance.
“Dance. Dance. Dance.” They chanted as Robert advanced.
And I am very proud to say, that not only did Robert dance his way through the line, he shook his money-maker so hard there was whooping and hollering heard all through the stadium. That’s my man!
While the $11.20 convenience fee still annoys me, watching Robert dance his way to king of the restroom was priceless.
I begrudgingly admit that technology has made a few things in my life easier. Specifically, I no longer have to pick up the phone, dial the number to my bank, then enter my twelve digit account number to get my balance. I simply pull it up online.
And over the past two days I have learned about this thing called a “convenience” fee, which implies our lives will be easier because of it. Or so I thought.
So years ago, if I wanted to attend a concert I was forced to leave my home and go to the local Smithtix, which was the service center at Smith’s grocery store, which here in Denver is King Soopers. If the ticket cost $30, I gave them $30. I took the tickets home and put them someplace safe until the night of the concert.
If it was a band I really liked, and wanted great seats, I could suffer the inconvenience of lining up at the record store at midnight the day the tickets went on sale. It was brutal standing in line with other fans, usually the band’s music blasting from a number of boom boxes. Eating and dancing and chatting about how exciting the concert would be. Oh, the horrible experience and inconvenience.
Then there was the worst possible inconvenience. I would be sitting home with a full weekend of boredom planned. Nothing to do and no money to spend. When horror of horrors, a friend would call. “My wife/husband/kid is sick and I can’t go to this concert. Do you want the tickets?” It was so inconvenient to drive over to their house and pick up the tickets.
Those days are gone now though, thanks to the concept that computers are the easiest way to do things. Here I must apologize for the length and detail of this post, but I want to make sure every single establishment that has made my life “convenient” over the last two days gets their due recognition. So here we go.
Robert and I decided to go to the Luke Bryan concert at Dicks Sporting Goods Park. We’re not really Luke Bryan fans, but we are Little Big Town fans and they are his guests. So I go to the Dicks Sporting Goods Park website. Click on tickets. Purchase. So far pretty convenient. I am redirected to a web page for Altitude Tickets, and see that each ticket, which costs $39.50, will be assessed an $11.20 “convenience fee.” Oh hell no. I search the website for box office information, hoping I might just go down and pick some up after work. This is verbatim what I found.
“Tickets may be purchased for all events at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park through Altitude Tickets. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Box Office, by calling Altitude Tickets at 1.866.461.6556, or by visiting AltitudeTickets.com.”
Tickets can NOT actually be purchased in person. I could however buy the tickets online, and pick them up in person at the will call booth, for a small fee of $25. I carried on through the website, resigned to paying the $11.20 fee.
Turns out I had exactly three minutes to complete this transaction before the computer signed me out. This process involved answering two questions to prove I wasn’t a robot. Then entering all my personal information, then all of the credit card information and three more personal security questions. I failed miserably. Twice. Even with Robert sitting next to me and prompting me as we went, there was no possible way we could get it done in three minutes.
We realized that in order to get our tickets, Altitude was forcing us to a website called Flash Seats. So, being the relatively smart people we are, we venture into the Flash Seats website and created an account there. Then went back to Altitude and started the process all over again. Finally success!
The emails started pouring in that we now had an account with Altitude, and Flash Seats, and we had purchased tickets. And both sites had all of our personal and credit card information. None of the emails gave us an option to print our tickets. Finally we found in small writing that we now had to download the Flash Seats app on Robert’s phone in order to have access to our tickets. We followed the link they sent us, and could see our account and that we had purchased the tickets, but no bar code or option to print tickets.
Exhausted and frustrated, we went to bed. I wrote down three service numbers, a physical address and several confirmation numbers, and assured Robert I would return at the end of the day with tickets in hand.
I will spare you the gory details of my multiple calls to service centers. The end result was this: we either download the app and hope our phone has service at the venue, or bring the credit card we bought them with to be swiped, yet again, at the venue, or pay the $25 and pick them up at Will Call. There was absolutely, positively no way to print tickets. Simply couldn’t be done they said.
I get home and deliver the news to Robert, who is holding two pages of printed material explaining how and where to park, how to get there, and how if we use our new accounts we get $5 off on parking. But nowhere could they have printed a freakin’ little barcode for us to get in. And there was no sign of the app we thought we downloaded.
We clearly needed vodka. Several drinks later and unsure if we had downloaded the app, I did find a details screen about the Flash Seats service we had been forced to sign up for. There were pages and pages of how to bid on tickets, buy tickets, trade tickets, transfer tickets, search for tickets, and confirmation that no tickets were refundable, however we could certainly give the tickets to someone else, after, of course, they sign up for the service, download the app and for a fee. Finally, ten pages down, I found how to use our tickets at the venue.
So after more than two hours of work online and on the phone, this is what the convenience fee has gotten us: We arrive at the venue, look for the line that says Flash Seats. Show our phone, credit card and ID to whoever. After they have verified that we are indeed the people who purchased the tickets, they will reach down to their little portable machine and guess what?
They will spit out two ticket stubs for us.
Which we will then take to an usher and be shown to our seats.
Convenience my ASS!
Bus Family II
The O bus is always full of characters. It travels the length of Broadway, which is a major North/South road that runs from downtown to Highlands Ranch, and is full of Mom and Pop stores, bars, restaurants, antique stores and marijuana dispensaries.
I was on the last leg of my journey home, and watched as the regulars boarded the O at the Englewood station. First came the young man I call the Thug. He’s about 25 and wears baggy shorts, a funky ball cap askew on his head and walks the gangsta walk. Actually he has a legitimate reason for the walk, since he wears a knee brace that actually hinders his stride.
Next came a middle-aged man who walks with a cane. I call him Grimace, because he always has a look of pain on his face. I can’t tell if he’s genuinely in pain or just has a scowl about him. They both took a seat at the front of the bus.
Then Construction Guy got on the bus. He’s tall and about my age, and always has his orange construction vest on, shorts and dirty work boots that come just high enough up his ankles to allow room for his electronic monitoring anklet. He never smiles or acknowledges anyone when he gets on, and heads directly to the back of the bus.
We all settled into our usual seats, and politely ignored each other. A few stops down the road a young man got on, early twenties I’d say, and very, very buff. The kind of buff that not only shows muscles, but muscles on top of those muscles. He was carrying a case of water and as the bus began to move he grabbed onto the bar by the front seats, dropping his water and bumping into Grimace. He didn’t apologize, and as the bus went down the road he opted to keep standing right in front of Grimace, periodically bumping his legs. Grimace finally asked him to take a seat, and the young man bent down and got right in his face and placed one finger in front of his lips and made the “Shhhhhh…” motion to Grimace.
The thug sat up a little straighter and Grimace’s eyes squinted. I could feel the level of testosterone quickly rising. Grimace stared at Buff Guy, and the driver encouraged him to sit down. Without breaking eye contact, he took the seat across from Grimace, and again made the “shhhh..” motion. I was already sitting two rows back from the two, but at this point two other women sitting in the front got up and moved to the back, and a couple with a young child got off at the next stop. I checked both of them out to see if there was any sign of a gun, and was pretty sure they didn’t have one, so I rode it out.
The tension continued for another couple of stops, then Grimace pulled the cord signaling he needed the next stop. As soon as he pulled the cord, Buff Guy stood up as if he were also exiting the bus, and stood in front of the door waiting to get off. But when the bus stopped and Grimace got up to leave, Buff Guy just stood in front of the doorway, blocking his exit. Of course Grimace just pushed into him, trying to force him down the stairs of the bus. Buff Guy braced himself and didn’t budge. The Thug got up and threw his weight into Buff Guy as well, and a full on scuffle began. Buff Guy against the two handicapped men.
The bus driver stood up to help, and suddenly Construction Guy came running from the back of the bus to offer his assistance. He realized Buff Guy couldn’t be reached from there, so he came to the back door of the bus and got off, then went around to the front and pulled Buff Guy down the stairs and out of the bus. Of course Buff Guy tried to run back onto the bus, and as Grimace and the Thug made it off the bus, it looked as if they were going to go to blows.
But the bus driver and Construction Guy held them apart, and the driver pointed out that Buff Guy probably didn’t want to go to jail for assaulting two guys with handicaps. Buff Guy argued, but Construction Guy got in his face and reinforced the bus driver’s sentiment. “They’re handicapped for hell’s sake! He wears a cane and he has a leg brace!” That seemed to snap Buff Guy out of it a bit, and reluctantly he hung his head and got back onto the bus. The driver and Construction Guy made sure Grimace and the Thug were okay, then they got back on the bus. Construction Guy sat next to Buff Guy and made sure he minded his manners until he got off the bus a few stops down.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when he left, and the bus driver apologized to us ladies for having had to see such a spectacle. I don’t understand male ways, but it seemed to me that this group had created the best possible outcome for this situation.
So here’s the kicker. Buff Guy was wearing a T-shirt from some anti-violence youth campaign with a slogan printed on the back.
“Hearts not Hands. Make good choices.”
One of the great benefits of riding the bus is the chance to read a book, daydream, listen to music or just generally get inside your head. The regional buses are pretty good for napping as well, which I usually do as I listen to music on the way to Longmont every Monday to see Jessica and Petra. The humming of the tires and the swaying of the bus can have a hypnotic effect, and it’s not uncommon to be so engrossed in relaxing that you miss your stop. It’s not a matter of if this will happen, but a matter of when.
There’s a physical reaction that occurs when a stop is missed, and it’s pretty easy to spot the symptoms before the rider actually speaks out, which they always do, usually in the form of some kind of curse words. It must be some kind of muscle memory, because our bodies sense that we have traveled too far, and sends a message to our brain. The first sign a rider has missed their stop is the look of confusion as they lift their head from their book or take their earphones out. They look around the bus, then they lean over to look through the windows at the surroundings passing by. They they look to the front of the bus at the bus number and the next stop that is displayed on a lighted screen. It ultimately ends with a desperate look to fellow passengers, and the question of “where are we?”
At that point, the bus comes alive with suggestions of back-up plans. Which bus to take at the next stop, whether to ride on and wait for a turnaround, or sometimes the bus driver just stops at an unauthorized spot to let the traveler off. I once had a driver on the 27 bus who knew we would be going through a detour, but none of us did. When she left the station and turned the wrong direction, all of us reacted the same way, and as she looked in her mirror at her bus full of panicked faces, she laughed and laughed.
Last week as we were nearing my stop on the L bus in Longmont, I noticed the driver was not in the left-hand turning lane, which took us the two blocks over to my stop. I figured he was taking a detour, as he had done earlier to get us through some construction. As we traveled through the light, all the passengers looked up and took notice. We looked at each other questioningly as the driver drove farther from our stop. “Aren’t we supposed to turn here?” One asked. “I thought so, maybe we’re on a detour.” Offered another. We went another several blocks before the lady in front of me finally spoke out.
“Driver, weren’t we supposed to turn there?” Halfway through her sentence the driver let fly a cuss word. The look on his face was the same, well known look of passengers who had gotten so absorbed in their thoughts they forgot to get off the bus. He quickly pulled into the left turn lane and headed back toward our stop, apologizing all the way.
“On Hell. I’m so sorry. I totally spaced that turn.”
“No worries.” We told him. “It happens all the time. Thinking about something good?”
“Music.” He named a specific song that I was not familiar with. “I played it for my teenager the other night and he wasn’t impressed. I was trying to figure out if I played it wrong, or if I could do it better.” He apologized again as we neared our stop.
We all reassured the driver as we exited the bus that it was no big deal, it had happened to all of us, and jokingly told the remaining passengers to keep an eye on him to keep him on the right track.
Bus family, they always have your back.
It was another exciting Grammy day with Petra, and the playland at McDonalds was hoppin’ with activity. Most of the older kids had gone back to school, so the place was full of grandparents and smaller children. My little charge was sporting a new dress, compliments of her Aunt Mihyun and Uncle Nathan. Unable to decide which pair of flip-flops best completed the ensemble, she was wearing two different flip-flops, and was adamant about placing them neatly in the shoe bin.There was another young girl with an equally puffy dress, and she and Petra took turns jumping off the step and watching their dresses fly up. I think they believed they were flying. A trio of older children showed up, and the girl, about seven or so, immediately took to Petra and the other young one, and as happens with little and big girls, they quickly formed the dynamic of the older girl helping the younger ones scale the slide, crawl over the fences, and generally being at their beck and call.
I relaxed and sipped my diet Coke and took the chance to do some people watching. The older girl had two brothers, pretty close in age, with the older boy being around eight or nine. I think they were involved in a child exchange, as the mom sat in the lobby and the father came in to have lunch with the kids. After eating, the man stood up and announced he had to get back to work, and the kids hugged him and he left the playland.
A few seconds later there was an incredibly loud wailing sound coming from the back of the playland. Myself, and several other Grammies, instinctively covered our ears as we realized someone had breached the security of the playland doors, and the increasingly loud sound was that of the emergency alarm, letting us know someone had tried to escape. The kids scattered like rats, each one running to their guardian with scared looks on their faces. Petra immediately took a seat next to me, and looked at me with eyes that said “I didn’t do it.”
None of the kids seemed afraid, but they all seemed to naturally know that someone had done something wrong, and it was important to them that it be known they hadn’t done it. They looked at each other wide-eyed and accusingly. I noticed the young boy I had seen with his father earlier stood nervously by the door. His cheeks were red with embarrassment, but he didn’t flee. His eyes darted around to all of us, probably looking for whoever was in charge. I expected him to split as soon as no one addressed him, but he nervously paced back and forth in front of the door. I finally made eye contact with him, and he seemed relieved to confess his sin. He was clearly afraid of whatever consequences came with opening a security door.
“I did that. That was me.” He said, on the verge of tears.
“Aw, well, it was bound to happen. No worries,” I tried to make him feel better.
“I was saying good bye to my dad,” He explained as the alarm continued to blare. He stood his ground even as he looked around, waiting for the authorities to come take him away for committing such a horrendous crime. Finally, the lobby guy who cleans the playland, an elderly gent, sauntered into the playland and slowly worked his way across the room to the door. He inserted a key, turned it and the alarm ended. It clearly wasn’t the first time someone had opened the forbidden door, and I don’t think he even cared who did it.
But that young boy did. He was adamant about owning up to his mistake, and equally adamant about taking any punishment that came with it. He stood directly in front of the older man and confessed again.
“That was me. I did that. I was trying to say good bye to my dad.” He waited silently for his punishment.
“Well, don’t touch the security doors.” And with that, the old man went back to work and the young man breathed a sigh of relief and a big grin spread over his face. He had owned his crime, confessed to his sin, and was let off with a warning. He had to feel pretty good about himself. He had done the right thing.
Our country’s leaders, celebrities and athletes could learn a thing or two about maturity and integrity from this young fellow. And he wasn’t even ten years old yet.
I don’t remember how old I was the first time my parents took me and my siblings camping at Spirit Lake. I do know I can’t remember ever not going to Spirit Lake in the summer when I was a kid. So I’m going to say it’s been about 40 years that I have been participating in this family tradition. For the past 20 years I have been taking my own daughter,Jessica, and the past two years have included the attendance of my granddaughter, Petra.
Spirit Lake is not for everyone, as the air is thin, there is no running water and cooking breakfast can be a morning-long event. Coffee is made over Coleman stoves or an open fire, dinner often involves a stick and some sort of processed meat, and the main source of entertainment is a trip to the lodge to see what everyone else is up to. There is no reason to rush at Spirit Lake, and the altitude has been blamed for killing brain cells, thus removing any thoughts of stress, angst or irritation of everyday life. Life is good there, and sometime in my life Spirit Lake became “my” place. All of my friends have made the trip with me to experience the magic, at least once, although apparently not everyone is as enchanted with the place as I am.
This year’s trip began with some mild drama, as Jess and I vehemently argued with the navigational app lady who sent us circling the I-70 on ramp rather than just getting us on our way. After a little cursing, wondering and a few blocks, we turned her off and relied on Jess’s atlas. We had a relaxing drive across Colorado, en route to pick up my childhood friend Kathy. Kathy is one of my trusted “Grand Council” members, and has had a great influence on Jessica’s life. I knew this trip would not only be entertaining, it would be epic.
This trip was a “girls only,” at least for the first four days. After which time Robert and Jess’s significant other would be joining us. After stopping in Vernal for food and provisions, we headed to Spirit Lake in separate cars. I had Petra in tow in hopes she would nap along the way, and Kathy and Jess tied up some loose ends in town. As soon as I turned off Highway 191 onto the road to Spirit Lake, I rolled down the windows and inhaled the fresh air.
The next few days were pretty much the ultimate Hen party, full of hours sitting around the fire, hiking through the woods, cooking, cleaning up and generally doing a whole lot of nothing. Petra made friends with the little girl whose parents were running and living at the lodge, and we made friends with just about anybody who passed our campfire. We took our annual boat ride, which involves me protesting loudly and adamantly about my fears and the lack of safety of boats. Jessica won, as usual, and I found myself with a death grip on Petra as the four of us rowed about the lake. Naturally Petra was not okay with me holding onto her life jacket, and insisted I “move away” so she could sit by her mom and be a big girl.
People from all over the world come to Spirit Lake, and most of them begin their conversations with “last time I was here.” One morning I was taking a short cut along the stream toward the lodge to get some water, and as I came around a corner I came within about ten yards of a giant male moose. Moose are a common sighting at Spirit Lake, and my family has had several run-ins with them, but this was my first up-close encounter. I slowly backed away and headed up another trail, which took me directly through another camp. As I reached the edge of the camp I came upon two young boys, about eight or nine I would guess.
“Sorry,” I said. “But there’s a moose in my path so I have to go around.” The oldest of the two got a scared look on his face, his eyes got big and he looked toward where I had just come from.
“When I was here last year there were 50 mooses.” He said enthusiastically.
“Oh wow, that’s a lot,” I said.
“Yeah, and I wasn’t scared at all.” He said proudly. “But this year, I asked Siri about moose,” He paused and blew out a breath dramatically as he ran his fingers through his hair. “And Sheeeesh. Sheeeesh.” It was clear Siri had taught him about his previously unknown dangers of moose. He quickly went the other direction, back toward his camp and the safety of his father’s supervision.
The trip gave me plenty of time to ponder. Mostly about my life. My life now, my life when I was younger, and my life when I was young. There was a moment when Jessica and Petra were standing out on the dock looking into the lake, that it was clear to me each phase of my life, at least vicariously, was present at Spirit Lake this year. I remembered being there as a child, then as a young mother in charge of a child, and now as a grandmother in charge of a young mother who is in charge of a young child. The dynamic kind of blew my mind, and brought tears to my eyes. It’s long been said that “the minute we are born we begin dying,” and naturally as I grow older I can’t help but fear my ultimate future, which, like everyone else, ends with death.
But watching those two–my child and my grandchild–standing on the dock, I was overcome with a sense of peace, almost joy, as I realized that ultimately I will never be completely dead. I caught a glimpse into the future, and saw generations upon generations standing on that dock. Parents holding their children’s hands, and the little one saying “Mommy, tell me again about Grammy Deans…”
Every time I take the 66 bus I can’t help but ponder the meaning of courage. Or, more specifically, my lack of courage.
The 66 serves a route that is heavily populated by blind people. (Or visually impaired for the PC Nazis.) Nearly every stop from where I board on Broadway to the Littleton downtown light rail station involves a blind person getting on the bus. They all seem to know each other, and which stops they get on, because they greet each other and take seats in the front as they discuss their plans for the day, politics, tell jokes or even trade friendly insults with each other. When we arrive at the station, they all pile off the bus, thrust their white canes in front of them, and march across the busy street to get to the light rail. I used to be frightened for them, now I am just in awe of them.
And I can’t help but wonder if I would have the courage to wander out into the world without being able to see my surroundings. I’m pretty sure I would not. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong person. I can get stuff done and I can handle a lot of situations, but I really don’t think I would prosper if I ever lost my vision.
Today I boarded the 66 bus an hour later than usual, and the blind people had already been delivered to their destinations. I sat alone on the bus, wondering about their daily lives and a little sad I’d missed them. Then we pulled up to a stop on Littleton Boulevard, and I saw the tip of a white cane come through the front door of the bus. The woman who stepped up was one I’d seen before. She was pretty and usually laughing. She carefully tapped her cane along the seats before settling in the front.
Today, there was something different about her. It struck fear in my heart, while at the same time bringing a tear to my eye at the thought of her courage. She had her usual heavy backpack on, but strapped on her stomach was a baby of about 8 or 9 months old. The baby was facing toward me, and was adorable. I noticed the woman took a little more time settling in, mindful of the precious package she was carrying. The baby had a lot of dark curly hair, and large brown eyes that seemed to take in everything around her. She was seeing everything her mother could only hear.
I immediately had mixed feelings. How safe was it to take a baby out into the world when you couldn’t see? What if they got lost? What if she stepped out in traffic? How could she possibly keep that baby safe? What if?… Well, obviously my prejudice was showing, and I reasoned with myself pretty quickly that like any other mother she was capable of taking care of her child. Perhaps she was even more aware of the goings on around them, due to a heightened sense of hearing and smell. Perhaps she was even a superior parent because she could sense dangers long before we ever would. She nuzzled her nose in her baby’s hair, and the baby smiled and cooed. Obviously they loved each other. I wondered if the mother knew she and her daughter didn’t share the same color of skin.
When we exited the bus at the station, I was worried about them crossing the street. I hung back and followed them off the bus. This time, instead of the woman sticking her cane out into the street and heading boldly into traffic, I followed her as she walked down the sidewalk to the crosswalk. She stopped, unaware that I was stalking her. Where I would look both ways for cars, she did the same, only with her ears. She tilted her head slightly toward the left, then toward the right, listening for the sound of cars. I sensed her hesitancy, and jumped at my chance to help.
“Are you crossing here?” I asked. She seemed relieved.
“Yes. Funny how the cars never seem to stop.”
“Yeah, but we’re good to go now,” I said and she followed the sound of my voice into the street. “Your baby is adorable. She’s made my day,” I said.
“Thank you,” She said as we hit the other side of the street. She was beaming like any proud mother, and I was suddenly just a little bit jealous of the adventure they would be having for the day while I reported to the office for mundane labor.
It was another scorching day in Denver. Thankfully I spent the day inside the air-conditioned donation center, and reluctantly left the cool comfort to begin my journey home for the day. The temperatures had come down a little as the clouds rolled in, and I was enjoying the change as I stood on Monaco waiting for the 65 bus. Clad in shorts and a tank top, I began to worry a little as the clouds got darker and the bus officially became late. Summer storms can roll in quickly, and I cursed myself for having switched bags and not putting my rain jacket in the bag I was now carrying. As the first rain drop fell it became a race against time. If the bus showed up immediately, I would still have time to make it to the Hampden light rail station, where there was a tunnel and shelter from the rain. A young girl with big hair joined me under the tree as we waited for the bus, and just as the rain began to really fall we saw the bus pulling up to the light.
Less than a quarter mile down the road the rain turned to hail, and within a half mile the hail was the size of my thumb. The pounding on the top of the bus sounded like the ice balls would come right through, and outside the scene was a white out, but with hail so thick we couldn’t see. The hail grew bigger and bigger, and the bus driver began pulling over to pick people up who were not waiting at the bus stop, but were just trying to get out of the brutal hail. One woman was dressed only in a small sun dress, and when we stopped for her she was crying and nearly hysterical. We stopped to pick up two women, one older and one with special needs. They had several suitcases and a rolling cart. As soon as the driver opened the doors two male passengers jumped off the bus and rushed out into the storm to help the women with their luggage.
The sound was unlike anything I had ever heard before, and as a collective people we were all stunned and unsure of what to do as we pulled into the station. Other travelers boarded with looks of fear and dismay, and one gentleman was rubbing his shoulder where the hail had hit him. We all had a hard decision to make. Should we get off the bus? Or just stay on it and keep riding around until it stopped. Myself and another young man decided to make a run for it. We had a few yards of open space, then down two flights of stairs, and at the bottom was a tunnel where we could take refuge to wait for the train. He looked at me and I looked at him and together we ran off the bus.
And Holy Hail! The first few seconds were not that bad, but then I felt the chunks of ice hit my shoulders and the back of my legs. It was a searing hot pain where they hit, and some of them were jagged so I was sure they were tearing through my flesh. Halfway down the stairs I regretted my decision. As I hit the bottom of the stairs and the entryway to the tunnel, it was like a scene out of a horror show. Dozens of people were standing just inside the tunnel, ankle deep in water and hail. They encouraged us as we ran toward them, and the masses parted to let the newest refugees into the space of safety. Some of them had looks of sympathy for us on their faces, while others clearly thought we were fools. An older man offered me his handkerchief to dry off with, and as I wiped down my arms I noticed huge red welts where I had been hit. Others gathered around to tend to our wounds, or more accurately to see the damage.
We huddled in the tunnel as the carnage continued above us, the sound was so loud we couldn’t hear each other speak. Body language was all we had to communicate. I saw young men helping the elderly people, and business men huddling with the families and little children. Two people had taken up post at the top of the stairs, and hollered down to us below whenever a train came along. As soon as they announced the E line to Lincoln was pulling up, myself and dozens of others ran up the stairs to board the train. Once again safe and moving in the direction of home, we laughed and shared our horror stories with those on the train. Despite the welts and one small scrape on my leg, it was a great experience to see my fellow humans come together, especially after all the violence that has occurred in the world lately. There was no race, sex or age in that tunnel. There were only people. People being beaten and held hostage by hail.
Amazingly, as is common in Colorado, when I hopped off the train at the Arapahoe station to wait for Robert, the sun was shining and the only reminder of my harrowing ordeal was the sweet smell of wet earth and warm summer sun.
I saw a thriller movie many years ago about the past being erased. As it was erased, somehow people and the planet began to disappear. I don’t remember the entire plot or outcome of the movie, but I do remember it made me really think about what the past is. It was breathtaking to me to realize that the past is merely memories inside our own heads, supported only by photographs and written words. It was disconcerting to me at the time, but Jessica was still young and I lived in the constant chaos of surviving, without much free time to ponder. I buried the thoughts in my mind and carried on.
And now I find myself at an age where I probably have more past than future in my mind. Don’t get me wrong. I’m healthy and plan to live another forty years at least, but from what I understand about the mind there’s only so much room for data, so eventually memories and knowledge will be pushed out to make room for new. Are we able to determine what stays and what goes? How do we preserve our most precious memories?
On a daily basis I visit memories of Jessica throughout all stages of her life. I remember when they first laid her in my arms. I remember when she started walking and ran into the corner of the wall, giving herself a huge goose egg in the middle of her forehead. I remember when she was four and would only wear dresses, and I remember running through the mall minutes before closing time to shop for her prom dress. It seems like just last week I walked into her hospital room after she had given birth to her own daughter, Petra. As I looked into the face of my granddaughter for the first time, it was like looking at Jessica for the first time. A new lifetime of memories had begun. A lifetime that I know I will not be around to see to the end.
Now I enjoy a stable life with little chaos, but which allows me plenty of time to ponder. Which is more important, preserving my past or creating my future? Is there a way to do both? Is it a simple fact of aging and evolution that some things will be forgotten?
During my youth all of my struggles were physical, tangible things. Paying the bills, getting the car fixed, raising Jessica and dealing with whatever life threw my way. It seems my middle-age years are destined to be full of internal challenges, which in a way are much harder for me to handle. I’ve never been really comfortable dealing with myself, in my own mind, it’s easier to focus on others and their struggles. So I suppose the time has come. I can’t deny it any longer. I’m officially middle-aged. It’s time for me to start doing brain exercises and crossword puzzles.
Forever the optimist, I can think of a few positive things about entering the second stage of life. Thanks to Mi Amante I am now a card-carrying member of AARP, which gets me discounts at dozens of places. I’m also able to pull off wearing brightly colored pants. I can get away with being as contentious as I like, or eccentric as it’s called at my age. And the accessories possibilities are endless! I will be able to wear macaroni necklaces made my Petra, and funky earrings and trinkets just for fun. And let’s not forget the gaudy holiday sweaters.