Day Five + 1
Keep Going 'til You Hit Water
A Stupid Blowup at the Hospital.
Riding through the L.A. night.
I got up a little early so I could eat breakfast before I took the bike across the street to Motorsports of New Mexico. The Quality Inn free breakfast was worth every penny. I went back to my room, emptied all my luggage and repacked everything. This is necessary on a long trip – day by day, it all gets jumbled as you pull things out, and your neatly packed bag degenerates into an aggravating mess. Doing this reminded me of a 9-month backpacking trip I took through Asia in 1995. I can’t recommend an Asian backpacking trip highly enough, especially for young people.
I had enough experience with car and motorcycle repair to know that “we’ll call you when it’s ready” means “call us periodically to see if it’s ready.” Also, “I think the mechanic is finishing it up” means “we’re just now getting to it.” I checked out, tossed my luggage behind the manager’s desk in the lobby and walked over to sit on bikes and putter around the showroom.
Motorsports of New Mexico has a great showroom and quite a knowledgeable staff, but the real kicker is the gun store in the showroom.
That’s right, you can buy yourself a Glock or maybe a nice 1911 while waiting for them to bring your bike around. If they sold old military rifles and set up a barbecue joint in the back I’d move in next door.
They got a little more air out of the brake line than I did, but the lever still came closer to the grip than I wanted. They shared my surprise at how little it improved. I paid them for their work, around 75 bucks for fluid and labor, and hit the road for Tucson.
Beaten by the Wind, Again
The general desolation of the area forced me onto the Interstate. Even if I found another way from Las Cruces to Tucson, it would be so convoluted, remote and gas station-free that there would be no point.
The wind reminded me a lot of the hell-day I had between Dallas and Snyder. I engaged the throttle lock and leaned as far over as far as I could, dangling my hands over the handlebars. It didn’t matter, I still got beaten like a gong. The desert scenery was stark and beautiful though, and dust-whirlwinds hundreds of feet high danced in the distance. I rode past Deming, where my grandfather was stationed before he left for France in World War I. He and my grandmother were married there September 24, 1918. They remained so for 72 years, until my grandfather’s death. My grandmother followed him six years later. It was interesting to think of them as a teenage girl and a twenty year old guy, tying the knot and quickly saying goodbye as my grandfather went to war.
To the Hospital
I knew the hospital address so I rode directly there when I got to Tucson. My mother was one month out from back surgery, yet still in the hospital with complications. I hadn’t seen her lately (I live in Philadelphia) so her appearance was a bit of a shock. Who is this ancient woman? My mom is a sharp redhead around 35 years old, drives a ’64 Buick Wildcat. At least that’s how she is in my mind. Dad was there too, and he hugged me hello. After some chitchat he decided to go back to the house and let me watch mom for the rest of the day. The hospital provided a bed for me to sleep on. He said he’d be back in the morning.
While I was in school to be a surgical technician, I worked part-time in a hospital as a patient sitter. I would watch over senile or detoxing patients and prevent them from getting out of bed, or pulling out their IV’s and catheters. So I had plenty of experience with elder care. I didn’t realize until later that this was going to be a problem.
The pattern for the next few days was, I stayed at the hospital from five in the afternoon until nine or ten the next morning, when dad came in and spent the day with mom, leaving around five.
My job as I saw it was to move Mom toward independence so she could get the hell out of the hospital. My sister, who had gone back home, waited on mom hand and foot, even pouring water into her mouth at night when she needed a drink and so on. I knew this was impeding her progress toward independence and recovery, and I planned to make some changes.
Could You Please Leave?
Mom would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, saying she couldn’t breathe. I would remind her that if she could talk, she could breathe. Then she would say her tongue was swollen in her mouth, and that she needed water. I pointed to the glass of water about five inches from her hand, and reminded her that she was perfectly capable of giving herself a drink two hours earlier while she was watching TV. She didn’t like this, but I had been down this road many times with other patients. I wasn’t in the business of making friends here, I was trying to help her get better.
The next morning I woke up a little grumpy. Something about spending 17 hours a day in a hospital will do that to you. Dad woke me up from a sound sleep and asked if I wanted a donut. I said no thanks and turned back over for a little more shuteye. About ten minutes later he woke me up again and asked me if I wanted a donut. I snapped at him, saying he had just asked me that a few minutes ago and could I please sleep a little more. I didn’t think until later that he probably didn’t remember doing it the first time.
Once dad saw that mom was sporting an IV in her arm (the docs thought she was a little dehydrated) he freaked out.
“That’s going to keep her from getting out of here!” he said.
“Dad, that’s no big deal at all. It’s only saline, it is not going to keep her from leaving.”
He turned to me, his face full of confusion and anger. My opinion was born from experience, while his was based on fear of the unknown. He was unaccustomed to me knowing more about a situation than he did, and he absolutely couldn’t stand it.
“How do you know, do you know the rules?” he said.
“I know enough about hospitals to know that a saline IV makes no difference.”
He went down the hall and harangued the charge nurse about it, to the point where they finally said they would turn it off for ten minutes (but not remove it) just to shut him up.
Then things got weird.
Dad asked me to leave the hospital.
He said it was because of my “negative attitude” toward him. In my family, this is long-established dad-speak for not agreeing with everything he says. I was definitely guilty as charged. Unlike the rest of the family, over the years I didn’t cork up and stare at my shoes if I disagreed with dad.
Tossing me out and insisting that the IV be removed were patently ridiculous -- a bewildered old control freak’s desperate bid to control a situation he did not and could not understand.
Getting me out of the picture would mean no one would contradict him. No one, that is, except for the entire medical staff.
I was furious, not just at being asked to leave, but at a million other similar instances of jackassery, capricious douchebaggery and truculent abuse left unaddressed over the decades, not just in childhood but far beyond. At the age of 51, I had finally had it. So rather than just leave the hospital, I loaded up the Bonneville and left Tucson.
The wind was crazy. I leaned as far over as far as I could. It didn’t matter, I still got beaten like a gong. The desert scenery was stark and beautiful though, and dust-whirlwinds hundreds of feet high danced in the distance.
Motorsports of New Mexico has a gun store right in the showroom. They would not mount a pistol grip shotgun to my bike though. I was a little disappointed.
I hadn’t seen my mom lately so her appearance at the hospital was a bit of a shock. Who is this ancient woman? My mom is a sharp redhead around 35 years old who drives a ’64 Buick Wildcat. At least that’s how she is in my mind.
If you're in Tucson in the summer, take a ride up Mount Lemmon. It's much cooler up there, and the ride is a curvy blast.
Once Tucson was a good 100 miles behind me, the anger-adrenalin rushes faded and I stopped cursing, muttering and thinking of what I should have said. I hit Phoenix just in time for early rush-hour traffic.
Yeah, I know. I was wrong. I should have said “Dad, I’m here to take care of mom and I’m not particularly interested in how you perceive my actions.” But I didn’t. I called my wife and explained the situation, which did not surprise her in the least. I sat in the shade of an overpass for awhile, trying to cool down before I hit the road. I couldn’t go back, only forward. I edged into the I-10 traffic, pointed toward the sun and Los Angeles.
Desert? There was a Desert?
Once Tucson was a good 100 miles to the rear, the anger-adrenalin rushes faded and I stopped cursing, muttering and thinking of what I should have said. I hit Phoenix just in time for early rush-hour traffic. The HOV lane sign didn’t say motorcycles were OK, but I took it anyway. I avoided the speedo clock – I didn’t want to know what time it was because then I’d probably just feel tired and not try for Los Angeles. Once out of Phoenix I was on autopilot. I remember nothing from there to the California
border. The agricultural checkpoint was unmanned so I coasted through, half-expecting a shouted order to come back and worrying a little about the setting sun and navigating Los Angeles at night.
I stopped somewhere in the desert and slipped on my reflective vest, which I like to wear at night and in rain and fog. This plus my hi-viz green helmet gave me a little confidence that sleep-deprived truck drivers would be less likely to swat me over the guardrail into a cactus field.
In the 25 years since I last traveled this stretch, greater Los Angeles undoubtedly began a lot farther out than it used to. From thinking “OK, I’m in Los Angeles” to checking into the Best Western Plus in Santa Monica felt like a couple of hours. Riding through L.A. to Santa Monica was event-free, more so than urban expressways in the East. Traffic was medium-heavy but not insane. No one crawled up my rear fender or crowded my lane space. Maybe I just got lucky, but L.A. compared quite favorably to, say, I-95 between New York and Philadelphia.
Even after a long hot shower I was still wound up from the 500-mile ride, not to mention the day’s earlier events. Whatever. I called my wife, who had to hear me recount the whole thing again. I was in Los Angeles, just a couple miles from the Pacific Ocean, both the destination and midpoint of my journey.
I'm fairly sure I've never seen this taped to a gas pump in Philadelphia.