I had decided two years ago to spend this last Christmas with family in Reno at Billy and Brooke’s house. As the season approached I was watching gas prices go down and down. Everything I was reading said they were going to continue to go down on the strength of Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical strategies. It would be 850 to fly for both of us and due to new environmental regulations concerning jet fuel the reduced oil prices would not affect airline prices. So I announced to Joan that we would be driving out there from Sparta in Southern Illinois.
After calculating spent time in car verses spent time with grandchildren she, weeping, agreed. Corey set us up with some modern science fiction (Emperor Mollusk verses the Sinister Brain) and even a Peter Wimsey, Unnatural Death. We had bought ourselves a Christmas present of JBL Flip2 to run with our devices in the car. We left Monday morning at 3 after a good Sunday church day, arriving in Laramie, WY around 5pm their time gaining an hour, about 15 hours of driving with only the last stretch with ice and snow. Good thing we made it that far; the highway was closed down behind us between Laramie and Cheyenne the next day. A cheap hotel and an early start got us into another stretch of ice and snow as we made our way up through the passes on the easiest route through the Rockies on Hwy. 80. We spent some extra time in Salt Lake City where we got $1.95 gas (already this seems high now). We arrived without mishap that night about 8 their time gaining another hour for about a 28 hour trip. Total gas cost $160. I let everyone in church know that 2015 is the year to take a road trip.
The glory of grandchildren consumed our life from arrival to departure. Julia is becoming more and more articulate and also more and more observant. We brought our presents in and as we had picked names this year so you only needed to buy one gift (excluding grandchildren) I had a very large wrapped present for Billy. Julia and Roman were immediately attracted to the large present and let everyone know that it was their Daddy’s. Roman is all boy and we would have it no other way. Interacting with Julia and wrestling with Roman took tag team wrestling strategies for Joan and me.
Christmas Eve included attending church with Billy and Brooke. Laura Michelle and Joe would be flying in later that night. We were going to have them meet us at a casino buffet that we were sharing with Billy’s family that night. Their flight was delayed but joined us at Billy’s sister and Brother in law after dinner. Mexican tradition seems to be to stay up late on Christmas Eve, shoot off fireworks and open presents at Midnight. Billy couldn’t wait for his nephews to open their presents from him. BB handguns. Well it was shooting time until we all left together with the arrival of Laura Michelle and Joe.
Christmas day was a slow unwinding affair. My Mom and sisters would join us around noon. It was nice since neither Julia nor Roman had any preconceived notions on how the morning would unfold. We were able to open stockings with some goodies and wait to open the presents under the tree later. Laura Michelle had brought lots of goodies. I had brought some Russian salamis and candies that I had bought in the international district of Chicago just for this time together. Joan had brought a prime rib for the day after Christmas. The most special present was a letter from Laura Michelle’s doctor telling her the sex of the baby in her tummy. She happily opened the note with news of their first baby being a boy. Joe said all the proper things about health and it not mattering but we think he was inwardly pleased. Billy’s big present was a drone. I saw an advertising for a deeply discounted drone (includes camera with video capabilities). I called Brooke to see what she thought and she said go for it. Billy’s first flight would end up in a tree, too much wind, but what was nice was he was able to power it up and out of the tree from down below. Laura Michelle had drawn my name and was able to complete my Harold Lamb library.
Roman was doing fine opening presents until he opened his first of several nerf guns. No need of presents after that. He was set although he did dutifully open the rest of his presents, but really there was no contest. We shared an enchilada dinner together, my Mom and sisters went home and we settled in for the evening.
There was one missing element. That was my daughter Audra Lea and her husband Jesus. They had been planning showing up Saturday morning with a special surprise for Joan. The surprise was a little white puppy similar to the one that was Joan’s little man in Zambia. The puppy had gotten sick enough for the breeder to return their money. They decided to make the trip anyway. So we spent Saturday with Joan and I, our three daughters, their husbands and our 3 grandchildren with a 4th listening in from Laura Michelle’s tummy.
There is a pleasantness here to describe that is known the world over but really words cannot do justice. Even now it just feels good. We played tabu from an I-phone that night with Oliver and Brenda and all of us with only a little blood spilled. I was ready for Sunday in which I would preach in the Reno church. I had an experiment with end times thoughts that I tried out Sunday morning and a sermon I made from reading a book I had given Joe at Christmas called “The Five Rings” by the Japanese samurai Musashi. Joe had trained as a MMA fighter before salvation but was still looking like he was ready to rumble at a moment’s notice. My favorite insight for the sermon that I got from the book was Musashi’s view about fighting stances. He believed you should know them all but believed that every stance has a weak point. Therefore, he trained to fight in the same fluid movements of everyday life. If you have even a touch of evangelism fire in you; you should be able to see how that would preach.
I had given Jesus a Bank of America hand book that was filled with maps of the entire world, data and currency info as well as blank pages to make notes on your world travel. It looked like a small leather bible from the outside. I had given Billy a book, Eagle Blue, chronicling the season of a small village of Alaskan natives who field a winning basketball team year after year. Did I say that Billy was the best Guatemalan basketball player I have ever seen? The day after Christmas he had to work but after work he dragged Joe and I down to the gym where he played. There were church guys there as well as some ringers that he had met on a downtown outreach. I can’t even remember the last time I played play, but it was fun.
Joan bought a basketball to give him for Christmas. Brooke, being a basketball widow, handled it all well. Billy wanted to play again Tuesday. I ended up being teamed up with Billy and we were winning the games when the ringers from Reno showed up to play. We were playing 3 on 3. It would be one 59 year old white guy, a wrestler from Guatemala and a Mexican transplant who had just got off of work against the three black guys. I am not sure I am allowed to take notice that on a general level black guys seem to be better basketball players than white or brown guys. Allow me to insert a recent substitution adventure. I had a very unruly, talkative class. The most unruly and talkative seemed to be the black kids. I know we are not allowed to notice these things yet actually say them but I did what I have always wanted to do in this situation. I asked the class if there were differences between the black students and the white students. They let me know that it was prejudice to ask them that. While they were still in a state of shock I asked specifically the black kids if they were noisier than the white kids. The roar of the answer to which they all joyfully affirmed was very, very true put an end to all of that prejudice talk. After that as I was teaching the math class using the board; I would turn around when there was talking and ask everyone to point to the person or persons who were talking and it seemed to always be the black kids and we had a fun time with the insight into living moment. Back to the game. They would field two teams and we beat them one after another both times by a 7 to 6 score. I am proud to be on Billy’s team.
Joan and I would have to eventually leave. Julia was sleeping with us when we slept in the living room. I played hide and seek as a monster looking for them until I almost lost my voice. Joe and Laura Michelle had left Monday morning. Jesus and Audra had left Sunday morning. I was monitoring the highway conditions for the trip home and had decided to leave early New Year’s Day (around 3 in the morning) to make as much time as possible that first day. The same icy spots that we traveled over coming seemed to be the same icy spots we would return over on the way home.
Audra called and let me know that the puppy was not as sick as the owner had thought. We made the decision to leave for Las Vegas New Year’s Eve mid-morning to get to Audra’s and pick up the puppy that night. We arrived at Audra’s church where a Jewish man who had gotten saved had preached a New Year’s Eve centering on his salvation experience and his admonition to have faith. That night Joan was given a box, and as she opened the lid she screamed because something was moving in it; it was her puppy, named Poochini in honor of a Amy Tan book she had been reading.
The next morning we took Jesus, Audra and his sister and her kids to a small casino that was their favorite place to go for one of those cheap breakfasts that are fit for a king. I thought about heading back up to Salt Lake City, but the snow that was supposed to hit Las Vegas of all places failed to land and I figured since we were getting a late start there was plenty of time for any snow to be plowed along highway 40. We crossed the new bridge for the first time south of Boulder Dam and made our way to Kingman. To my amazement there were some slippery iced spots along the highway. Highway 40 would be closed. The highway to Wickenburg and Phoenix would be closed also. We were in Starbucks, where Joan and I would both amass 20 bonus stars on this trip since it coincided with a Starbucks reward special program, checking out the possibilities. We decided to go south along the Colorado River through Lake Havasu and then east on 10 to Phoenix where we check out conditions around Flagstaff to go north. It was a beautiful day for a drive away from the icy snowy conditions between Kingman and Flagstaff. We had honeymooned along the Colorado River in January of 1984, London Bridge and all. Well, we could barely recognize the area. It seems that every cash rich, public employee of the great state of California had built their dream mansion along this desert stretch centering on the transplanted London Bridge. Excuse the “cash rich, public employee” comment, it is just as I saw all of those new houses I knew the majority were from California and I remembered a program I saw where the owners of some fancy boats on a lake were being interviewed and the interviewer was shocked to find out that they were not millionaires but just well taken care of public employees of California.
The storm that was raging north of us was making the temperatures unusually cold as we made our way to Phoenix. We were just driving having fun with Poochini listening to “Have Spacesuit Will Travel”. In Phoenix we couldn’t go north to Flag so we continued on to the Rio Grande and the city of Las Cruces. There we would check out the storm between Albuquerque, north of Las Cruces on the Rio Grande and Amarillo. The beauty of smartphones. We had to keep driving passed Las Cruces and made our way to spend the night in El Paso. It was cold in El Paso. It looked like the way north to Dallas through Odessa was impossible and the storm was about to come in behind us and hit El Paso with an unusual snow. We called all of the hotels in Van Horn to try and beat the storm now following us. They were all filled. Finally we got a complete answer as to why. Ice on the road was making everyone stop their journeys. Well, I would rather slowly deal with ice rain in the daylight than night and that is why we spent the night in El Paso.
We got an early start the next morning after a comfortable Starbucks stop. We were buzzing along when we hit our first meeting with ice rain on top of an iced road. We slowed down. The rain stopped and I picked up the speed a bit, but the people behind me tried to continue on like nothing had happened. We slowly came around a big bend to see cars spun out everywhere. Many people had stopped to help. We slowly carried on. As we climbed higher onto the rising plateau it became a one lane road with all of us slowly following each other. Then we began to see the damage from the craziness of the night before. Huge semis ripped in half littered the causeway between the traffic lanes. They appeared as slain dinosaurs following a primitive hunt. Then I witnessed one of those things that at least one person will probably never forget. To lose control and go into the snow on the side of the road would be the end of our journey. Coming in my direction I saw a car spin out and fly into the causeway; he kept his tires moving in the snow as he desperately slipped and slided his way back to the highway. His chances were slim, but there was something exciting to watch him make it back to the highway as the single line of cars opened up for him to enter back in without having to stop or slow down in the snow before reentering the flow of traffic.
We made it to Ozona where we stopped for a Supersonic lunch. While there we struck up a conversation with a Ray Lambert type cowboy, the real deal. How do I know? He just wanted a black coffee. He described the state of the highways just the day before. We had missed being caught in a little hell of a trip by just a day. We went through San Antonio and continued on 10 to Houston. The snow was over but now in the darkness the monsoon rains from the cold colliding with the warm gulf air was almost enough to make me pull over for the night. I felt energized to continue on. I had Lake Charles in my mind from my old Biblesoft sales days. Joan had taken a turn driving from Ozana to the other side of San Antonio so I was ready to press on. We were listening to Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey as we decided to see how far we could go.
We made it into Lake Charles late that night, I want to say around 12 or so but I cannot really remember now. It was late and when I opened the door it was one of those nice moments of life to be feeling cold, cold and then welcomed with a rush of tropical warmth. We spent the night in Lake Charles, LA and got a late start the next day. We got our cheapest gas in Baton Rouge (1.85). We would finally have to go through the storm we had avoiding the whole trip. It wouldn’t be snow but torrential downpours as we made our way to Memphis where we ate at an Elvis restaurant. We were able to text Phillip so he could share our joy as only a true Elvis man can. We had ribs as we looked at Elvis memorabilia all around us and watched old Elvis movies on the screens that were scattered throughout the restaurant.
The last home stretch to Sparta unfolded before us after a long, long drive. We crossed the Mississippi and we hit our last danger spot in the last 8 miles of our journey. Joan had warned me about watching for deer on this last stretch. Wouldn’t want to end the trip that way. I ignored her; until there was a deer on the side of the road. It slowed me down and about a mile later there he was crossing the road in front of us. I slowed down knowing I would miss him but we both were waiting for the second one following. There he was as I came to almost a complete stop. We would make it through the last 8 miles safely. Poochini would have his first night in his new home and we would just be happy to be home.
That’s right; Sunday is coming the next morning.