Thoughts from the ammo line


So Max and I were sitting around together in our medium-sized house that I could swear felt bigger when we bought it. And we wondered aloud, “Is there anything we could think of that would confine us together in a yet smaller space?” We thought maybe we could catch on in a road revival of Das Boot and spend all our time together in a submarine. (I would last upwards of 30 seconds before going completely mental.) And then we remembered that we love to go on long road trips where we spend thousands of miles in a small metal tube that at least has Sirius, a yard cleanup-sized snack bag, and is not below water.

So by this time next week, famous novelist Max Cossack, your Ammo Grrrll and both pairs of my jeans that still fit will be On The Road Again! We are going to visit my Papa in Minnesota. Daddy, COVID survivor at 95, is now closer to 96 than 95. Huzzah! We will be staying in all our favorite haunts along the way and taking a “longcut” back to Arizona to visit several commenter friends (only one of whom we’ve ever met) in Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. It will be epic. It’s not even the 4th of July yet where Papa Joe Xiden has promised we can (maybe, probably) “gather” with 3 people total. How festive!

How do I know it will be a spectacular trip? Because of the PEOPLE we are likely to encounter, both the ones we know about and the serendipitous encounters. My favorite part of travel is meeting and chatting with my fellow Americans. It has already begun…

When I made reservations at the hotels for our trip TO Minnesota every single person who took my reservation was chatty. In Winslow, AZ, where we will soon be “standin’ on the corner” by the statue of Don Henley and a flatbed Ford, the lovely staff at La Posada Inn had a record of all the previous rooms we had stayed in and reserved our favorite while saying, “Welcome back!” Then she switched me to the dining room to make our dinner reservations. I feel like a kid on a car trip: “Are we THERE yet? How many more hours till we eat at the Turquoise Room?” If there is a better meal in all of America, I haven’t experienced it.

Now, obviously, we COULD go much further than 185 miles the first day; heck, I’ve driven 1,000 miles in one wretched blizzardy day. But this is a combination Quest to see Daddy after 17 months AND a Meandering Pleasure Trip. We have vague memories of both “freedom” and “fun” – and want to see if they were as life-affirming as we remember.

Besides, we have set a goal of no more than 400-450 miles in any one day to save our elderly joints and bones and also to get to take a walk every day and just enjoy the journey. In this case, it really IS about both the journey and the destination. Sometimes when you are trying to outrun a sleet storm, it is JUST about the destination…

The next reservation I made was for Tucumcari, NM. After the sweet young lady completed the reservation, I told her about the last time I was there when I had asked the front desk whether or not there would be a problem with rush hour getting out early onto Hwy 40. The clerk had struggled mightily to stop laughing. “Ma’am, there are 4,000 people in our entire COUNTY. If they all headed for the 40 at the same time, they couldn’t form a decent rush hour.” The young lady appreciated the story and added, “We have a motto in Tucumcari – however late you leave, you’re gonna be early.”

On I dialed to Edmond, Oklahoma. Courteous woman, briskly efficient, and then I asked if she thought we would need reservations at Zarate’s Latin American Café and she was just delighted that we knew of the place. “Ooh! That is my favorite, too. No, you should be able to get in just fine. And if not, I know the owner…”

Ah, it reminded me of stories people shared of living in Israel 40 or 50 years ago. A friend whose sister had made aliyah there said she would call a number and the operator would say, “Oh, they’ve moved to Herzliyah. Shall I connect you there?” Everybody knew everybody else – and their business! The biggest small town in the world.

The young woman at the Sioux Falls hotel must have been having a particularly slow day. When she took my address for the reservation and heard “Arizona,” she wanted to tell me about her wild 3 day round trip from South Dakota to Arizona with a friend who was trying to say goodbye to her beloved Grandpa before he passed away from brain cancer. She said they drove from Sioux Falls to Scottsdale on a Friday, taking turns driving and sleeping, saw Grandpa, took a brief gander at the Canyon, and drove back in time for work on Monday! Okay, hon, you win! May I say in my defense, that they were in their 20s, not 70s.

Joe/Max is not as keen on chatting up random people as I am. Oh, not from any kind of snobbishness – he’s just a busy fellow always trying to cram 10 lbs. of activities and hobbies into a 5 lb. bag. But you miss a lot of human contact that way, a lot of great stories. Comics dine out on stories borrowed from other people’s lives! Plus, it’s genetic: Mama was famous for being the last to leave any restaurant, PTA meeting or church service.

Sometimes, listening to someone is the kindest thing you can do that day. People complain about the slow service at the Post Office, but I used to observe the front-line personnel at my Post Office in Minnesota. They all patiently spoke to every single person, no matter the race, creed, color, language or age, and I know that for some of those elderly shut-ins, that visit to the Post Office was the highlight of their day. And that was decades before year-plus lockdowns. I never dreamed that I would one day be an involuntary elderly shut-in.

Most of us are terribly impatient, and I definitely include myself. Get me behind a wheel or in a slow-moving line and I can become a borderline lunatic who has been known to cross that border faster than a Honduran child-trafficker in a Biden t-shirt. I cured myself of it (for the most part) by looking at my watch once as I took my place at the end of the long line – convinced that it would take at LEAST half an hour! – and then again when exiting, and learned with a large shock that it had taken 8 whole minutes out of my busy day of retirement! How much did I raise my blood pressure for an 8-minute wait? Heck, now I no longer even wear a watch.

On this trip, we do have a few deadlines, people to see at a particular time, but the whole trip home was GOING to be an exercise in spontaneity. Until I realized it will be Memorial Day Weekend. Reservations will be important lest we end up sleeping in the car like my sister and husband did once when they failed to reserve a hotel on a 4th of July weekend in northern Minnesota! Impulse is attractive, but planning definitely has an up-side.