Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Road Untraveled

Or, "How Our Trip to Texas Became a Vacation in Tucson."

Alternate (and alliterative!) title: "The Diary of Direful Disasters that Derailed our Dallas Destination into a Different Domain."

Here we go! What an adventure we have had!

This year we decided to bite the bullet and make the long road trip out to visit DH's grandmother (who is the most adorable woman in the world - I wish you all could know her!) and associated family. We have wanted to go for a long time, but the 18-hours-each-way car trip has discouraged us from it (yes, yes, I know you all do twice the distance regularly without complaining). We did consider flying out, but the fact that flying would quadruple the price made us decide that the car would be best.

We set our departure date for this past Saturday. But then, due to some health issues of DH's grandmother, we were asked to delay our trip a week - so we reset our departure date to this coming Saturday. Then, last Thursday, they asked us to reset our date back to the original time - meaning that we had less than 36 hours to prepare for a 10-day trip, with all the associated shopping, packing, cat-sitting arrangements, yard care, irrigation plans, etc. YIKES! But we succeeded. After a crazy day of preparation, and working till 10 a.m. on our departure date, we finally set out - only 3 hours late!

So we started out! With only half of our worldly possessions packed into the car! Almost immediately we were hit with the fabled "Are we there yet?" - in multiple forms! I hadn't yet experienced that parental legend, so that was amusing - apparently it's an inborn trait in all children. I handed out stapled bags with little surprises in them at intervals, and that helped a lot (thank you, Laura!).

We stopped for lunch in Marana, which is just north of Tucson. It was blisteringly hot!

After lunch (by which time both DH and I had decided that we thoroughly despised long car trips), we headed back out and got on the freeway.

About 3 miles down the freeway, our car sputtered. And then sputtered again. And again. After a moment of shocked silence, I shouted "Quick! Get off the freeway!" while DH cut across three lanes of traffic to catch the off-ramp we had nearly missed. The car cut out completely on the off-ramp, and we glided silently to the bottom of it.

After five minutes of unsuccessfully trying to restart the car, three people from the gas station kindly came down and helped us push the car around the corner and into the gas station.

At this point, things were interesting. DH (by now a stress-case) was feverishly looking under the hood while I poured water into and over the kids to keep them cool (it was brutally hot). DH wondered if it could be vapor lock, although he thought our car was too new for that. He undid the gas cap, and coincidentally, the car restarted, so he wondered if we had found the problem.

We drove out of the gas station and drove up a street so that we could talk. Should we continue to Texas? Stop and find a mechanic? Was this a one-time thing?

After about 4 minutes of driving, the car sputtered again. And again. "Quickly!" quoth I - "Get over! Now!" So DH did - but for some reason, he got over into the left-turn lane (on a major street) and the car promptly died. We were now stuck again.

DH tried to start the car while we waved people around us. This time, a man so kindly stopped his car across the street and ran over to help DH push the car while I steered through the intersection into a bus stop.

At this point, we knew that we needed a mechanic. The car restarted after 10 minutes or so, so we kept going.

(If you keep in mind that my DH lives on adrenaline-overdose in any stressful situation, and the fact that our 4yo degenerated into panicked hysterics every time the car quit - he told me later that he thought the car was going to sink into the road when it quit - you will get an idea of what was going on.)

This time the car conveniently quit just in time for us to slide into a gas station. Hurray!

We unloaded everyone into the mini-mart in order to cool off, and for DH to ask for the whereabouts of a mechanic (and one, moreover, that would be open on Saturday). We also bought ice creams (my first time ever in a mini-mart!) for DS and myself.

By this time, to be honest, I was really enjoying myself. I had been positively dreading the trip to Texas (due to the travel time), and by this time it seemed like there was a good chance it would be called off. Additionally, I found it quite easy to assume an amused, detached attitude that looked on the day's occurrences as an adventure. I was along for the ride and having fun, though it was quite stressful at the same time - kind of a "Let's see what on earth is going to happen next!" sort of thing.

We hopped back in the car, and it (of course!) started up again. We got a mile or so down the road and saw an open Midas, so we pulled in and DH asked if they could help.

They could, so Joe told them he would bring the car back after getting us unloaded into a hotel room.

We headed off down the road. This time (#4) the car quit, again conveniently, in front of another gas station, so we again slid in, parked, and unpacked everyone to head inside (it was too hot to wait 15 minutes in the car).

On our next attempt, we made it to the hotel! It took us about 30 minutes to get settled in before DH could set off back to the Midas. Our adventure, from first-stutter to hotel, had taken about 3 hours. Our youngest was so exhausted that he fell asleep on my shoulder. Our eldest was just happy to have somewhere to play with his new train (his big "trip toy").

DH made it back to Midas and was shuttled back. The Midas people got back to us shortly to tell us that our fuel pump was out, and that they could fix it but not until Monday. We were stranded for 48 hours!

At this point, I was shocked but also in seventh heaven. We were ON VACATION!

I should explain. In my family growing up, "vacation" meant hopping in our trailer and traveling the country to see the sites, hike, camp, eat outside, see new places, etc. etc. In DH's family growing up, "vacation" meant driving to stay with family and visit with family. Period. Now, while I love visiting with family, that is not "vacation" to me - it's "visiting family." During our entire marriage (7 years) we have NEVER once been on vacation as I define it - that is, traveling together as a family (or even as a pre-kids couple) to see sites and spend time together. I have been longing for it, but we have never been able to afford it (couldn't now either, but thankfully it was forced upon us!). So I was absolutely delighted to be stranded.

We had a wonderful 48 hours. We swam in the pool both nights, spent time hanging out in the hotel room, had ice cream at Dairy Queen, etc. The first night we walked to a darling little plaza:

We also walked down to a golf course near the hotel and watched bunnies on the green, as well as the most curious lizards that had banded tails which they curled up over their backs as scorpions do (looked it up; I think it was the zebra-tailed lizard).

We also had a fun experience at the pool. When we were wheeling our stroller around it, two girls in the pool shouted out "Stop! Don't roll over the bat!" They had found a little bat drowning in the pool and had pulled it out and plopped it on the side. We thought it was dead, poor little thing, but as we swam it started to lift up its wee head and look around. We decided that we didn't want to leave it to get doused and stepped on, so we put a washcloth in a basket and took it with us by scooping it in (it was 3-4 inches long). However, we decided on second thought that to have a panicked bat in our hotel room would not be good, plus the fact that the hotel was cold, so we put the basket (with some fruit) under a bush to conceal it (by which time said bat was crawling about quite smartly). DH went to check on it later, and it was gone. Farewell, sweet bat! May you live a long life, quite unassociated with future bouts in the pool! (I love bats - they are beyond cute.)

On Monday our car was finally ready, so we got it, jumped in, and went site-seeing (we'd decided to stay another day and then head home). We went to the Mission San Xavier del Bac (the "White Dove of the Dessert" mission), about 16 miles away - lovely! We stayed about 30 minutes and saw most of what was there - it is still an active church. DS did quite well, though his only comment was "I want to go back to the hotel room." Clearly a connoisseur.

We also brought home our one and only souvenir of our trip - two empty (used) candle jars - they give them away for free (I'm cheap!).

On our way back, we decided to stop along the road and take pictures of the places we'd broken down (hence the pics). DH decided that he wanted Chick Fil-A for lunch, so we pulled into the drive-through.

And then the car stuttered. And stuttered again. DH and I glanced at each other with a "You've GOT to be kidding" look, and then the car died. Joe gave it one push with his foot out the door, and managed to push us onto the slope so that we could pull into a parking space. Since I conveniently still had the camera out, I was able to turn around and take a picture of breakdown location #5.

We went inside, ate lunch, nursed the baby, and let DS play in the play area. Then DH dropped us off at the hotel so that he could take the car back to Midas. So much for our planned site-seeing! We were stranded for another 24 hours.

Midas discovered that the true villain was the feeder pump, which, being broken itself, had killed our original fuel pump and then the new fuel pump just installed. Now we needed a new fuel pump (again!) and a new feeder pump.

So we went for more walks, swam, walked to get dinner out (at Las Margaritas, now one of DH's favorite restaurants) and enjoyed the time.

Tuesday afternoon, we got the car back. After nap time, we headed out to a local historic cemetery. We started with the Protestant side, and enjoyed looking at names and dates. I know it's weird, but I do enjoy cemeteries - the older the better. It's a melancholy experience, but very peaceful. It always reminds me of the verse in Ecclesiastes: "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart." (v. 7:2) We saw some graves that were very sad (babies, teens) and some that were very sweet - of old couples who were married for 50 years and had loving inscriptions or Scripture verses on their tombstones.

Here are some pics (yes, that is our Midas in the background):

This was definitely not DS's favorite place. We didn't really want to get into what cemeteries are (haven't had to deal in depth with the death issue yet), so we were a bit cloudy on information - and it was again extremely hot. His main concern was how soon we were leaving.

This was one of my favorite stones - you can't read the bottom inscription, but it says "A True Woman of God." That is my life-goal! I had to get a picture with it.

We then did a drive-through of historic downtown, but by that time it was rush hour and pretty much a hopeless endeavor. Maybe next time!

Wednesday morning we did the other cemetery - the Catholic cemetery (they also had a Jewish cemetery that we drove through). The Catholic cemetery had the loveliest statuary - quite beautiful:

We then went back and checked out, and drove through the University of Arizona on our way out. What a beautiful place! And BIG! At my college one could walk to all of one's classes, but definitely not here:

After lunch, we were off home! The kids slept most of the way home, and we were able to talk and relax.

Our conclusions:

- We loved Tucson. We want to go back to see more! There is SO much more to see! (DH loved it so much that he spent part of our trip trying to convince me that it would make a great place to live.)

- We want to make family vacations a yearly reality. We're working on the budget issue.

- If we want to make vacations a reality, we can't eat all our vacation meals out! Yikes!

- We had a lovely time, made wonderful memories, grew closer as a couple and as a family, and have unforgettable memories.

- More than anything, we are and were blessed beyond measure. God blessed us so much on this trip - by letting us break down in town, and not in the stretch of dessert between Phoenix and Tucson.... by sending wonderful people to help us move the cars and give us advice.... by helping us to break down in convenient locations.... by helping us to find a mechanic open on Saturday.... by keeping the kids from suffering any ill effects from the heat.... by gifting us with the vacation we have been needing so badly.... in so many ways, we were blessed.

And with the trip and the car combined, we spent more money than if we had just bitten the bullet and flown to Texas! :) Of course, our car would have gone out sooner or later.

We still have our trip to Texas to do, but we will have to wait for fall for more vacation time - and we will most likely fly out, despite the cost. DH and I have decided that we are simply not cut out for long car trips with kids - we both despise them like poison (the trips, not the kids!).

And there ends our first family vacation!


  1. Wow! Quite an adventure! Glad you guys had a good time in spite of the car issues.

    It cracks me up that you love Tucson. We HATE Tucson. It's got to be one of the ugliest cities on the planet. But I'm glad you enjoyed it. Be sure to take Joe and C sometime to the Titan Missile Museum-it's one of only two Titan Missile silos still standing, left over from the Cold War. It's packed with history and so very cool.

    I'm concerned about the bat. They can bite you without you even realizing it. I read on one of my message boards about people who contracted rabies and died after coming in contact with a bat. Is it possible for you and whomever else touched the bat to get a rabies shot?

  2. Hi, Jen! :) No worries about the bat! I was aware of the rabies issue, so I was very careful to make sure that none of us touched the bat. We scooped him up with a cup into our basket and were strictly hands-off - neither Joe nor I even laid a finger on him, and everything that did touch him (basket, wash cloth) went straight into the wash. Thanks for thinking of us, though! :) Hope that you are feeling better very soon - how's the Reglan going?

  3. P.S. It is so funny that you don't like Tucson, because you were our main inspiration to enjoy Tucson - being that you guys had been there and had taken such gorgeous pics. When we were there, we said, "Hey! The Wrights had a great vacation here - let's do the same!" :) Yes, it's definitely an ugly city, though we loved the countryside, the university, and the historic district.

  4. "my DH lives on adrenaline-overdose in any stressful situation"

    This sounds just like my husband, and this (Additionally, I found it quite easy to assume an amused, detached attitude that looked on the day's occurrences as an adventure. ) sounds just like me.

    Hmm, maybe it's a guy thing? Or maybe there's something to that blood type thing after all. :-)


  5. That's true--we really DID have a nice vacation there when we went a couple years ago. That was our first time there. I guess the bazillion trips there since then sort of changed our opinion :) Thanks for reminding us of the great time we did have.

    So glad to hear about the bat stuff. I had never heard any of that before so it totally freaked me out.


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