A Millie and Sven road trip and slide show.
The first night of our trip to California, my sweet Sven and I dropped our bags inside a Days Inn, walked next door to The Red Eye, bellied up to the bar and ordered burgers and a couple beers from a waitress wearing fishnet stockings underneath her cut off shorts.
We were in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Bill, the truck driving mother fucker seated on our left began explaining life as we inhaled our fries.
During his whiskey induced dissertation he mentioned something about the interstate being closed on account of the recent three tornadoes and twelve inches of rain.
"Global warming my ass!" he says. "Oh. And, you're gonna wanna take the highway north from here. All the way up to Madison before you head west."
He stepped outside for a smoke.
I was in charge of saving his stool.
After a while I figured he was dead.
But Sven thought he was talking innocent smokers into comas out there.
He came huffing and puffing back inside, sat down and ordered another double.
"Good night," we said. "Nice meeting ya."
Bill may have been annoying, but he did have a point.
You see, the next morning we drove north to avoid the flooding like he'd said. But not all the way to Madison. We drove thirty miles and then we took a left.
And sure enough.
After another twenty miles we ran into a road block.
We drove south.
And we took several right turns, which all ended in road blocks.
We finally gave up and took Bill's advice.
Considering it took us four hours to travel forty miles west, we were pleasantly surprised that we made it as far as Wall, South Dakota for our second night of lodging.
On our third night we slept in Columbus, Montana, after a full day of badlands and big horn mountains.
Thank you Ken Burns for your documentary on country music. You were the right ticket for two old, bitchy, folks.
Sven was down, three out of three in the battle with his gum.
Every time he was settled in our room.
That gum of his was out in the car.
Road trips are a lot like camping.
It is very important to pay close attention to where you put all your little details.
So, you do pay attention.
And then, when you go to get that little detail.
It is not where you put it.
The following morning we drove to Livingston, Montana. We ate a hearty breakfast before turning onto Highway 89 South.
This is when the butterflies woke up and fluttered inside me, through Paradise Valley, past Chico Hot Springs and into Yankee Jim Canyon. With the Yellowstone River jumping from side to side.
We were booked in Gardiner, the little town on the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, for two nights, in the very motel I had once been an employee of Pinky's.
I couldn't wait to show Sven my past life.
The one with cowboys.
When I was nineteen and I was married to Jason and we had the bakery, and....
Sven was super excited.
"And this is The K-Bar, the first place I worked. And this is the bridge. And this is where Bear Creek Trail used to start. And the Twin Bar used to be right here. And I think this was the ice factory. And that was the place we lived before everyone moved in, so we moved out. And that is where we parked to walk down to the hot pots. And this is Jardine Mountain, where Louisa and Cowboy Gene were on their stolen horses and the helicopter was searching for them. And this is where the grocery store used to be. And this is the Blue Goose Saloon, where all the blood was after the rodeo. And this is where our house was on this side of the river. And here is Mammoth Hot Springs. And here is Old Faithful. Well, he used to be faithful. He used too shoot up every hour. And this is where our bakery was. Or, maybe it was in that building. Or maybe it was this one. It was haunted you know. And The Pit Stop Café was right over there. And the phone booth we called home every Sunday, was right behind it. And that damn dog of theirs. He was an ugly little Brillo Pad with stick legs. And this is where they drew their guns and told Deputy Don to get the hell out of town. And see that elk eating the bush at our motel?
That is just like it always was.
In Gardiner, people don't throw everything away.
They shove old stuff to the side.
And that would be the reason I found myself standing next to my own history in the backroom of a gift shop. I was like a forester studying time through the rings on a tree.
Our Rocky Mountain Pastries work table and showcase that we'd purchased in Billings, in 1976, were sitting right there.
In spite of it all Sven lived to see another dawn.
We left Gardiner on a crisp and clear Wednesday morning.
"I'm okay," I said, as we drove into the park.
"The cowboys are all gone anyway."
Through Yellowstone National Park we drove.
We passed the amazing Tetons.
And drove into and out of The Cache National Forest.
There was a magnificent body of water called Bear Lake.
It began in Idaho.
It ended in Utah.
With three hundred and some bugs splattered on our windshield and the blinding sun shining between their carcasses, it's amazing we even noticed Salt Lake City coming up on the horizon.
We stopped for the night.
In the morning with fresh, hot, coffee, we feasted our eyes on the Salt Flats before winding our way up and into a barrage of orange barrels, road construction and a torrential downpour.
That is when Sven said it.
"I hope it's not raining in Reno."
And then that orange barreled downpour turned into an orange barreled snowstorm.
Well, it wasn't raining in Reno.
And we immediately lost sixty dollars before obediently heading to the buffet.
Early the next day we stood in awe, inside a shop in, Lovelock, Nevada.
Wisconsin is behind the times, you see.
"This place was not easy to find," said Sven to the girl behind a glass showcase.
And then a glassy-eyed guy, with a perpetual grin on his face and golden wavy locks hanging out of his stocking hat, grinned.
Did you know you have to pass through the border patrol when entering California?
A uniformed woman stepped out of her booth.
"Good afternoon, Sir. Do you have any fruit or vegetables in your vehicle today?"
"You may proceed."
And the arm went up.
A few hours later our brakes noisily ground their way to a halt in front of the home of our youngest son, Rene and our daughter-in-law, RZ.
And the next four days flew.
Each sunny morning began with crunchy-passion-fruit-filled-smoothies, out on the back patio.
As tradition has it, at the end of the third quarter of the Badger football game, we jumped around in our red attire, in a downtown San FranWisco bar. We ate a seafood feast, seaside, on a restaurant deck in, Sausalito. Rode on the ferry. Took a trip to Santa Cruz via highway One and the seventeen mile drive through Pebble Beach. We visited Carmel by the Sea. Hiked around Lake Chabot Regional Park. And Rene planted a hibiscus bush in honor of Grandma Jan.
We even gave sushi a try.
And sometimes we sat around shooting the shit.
We laughed with Jim Gaffigan. Were awed by Queen on the flat screen. And we stared through our glassy eyes at Dead Pool II.
Sven made a friend.
"He isn't a friend," said Sven.
"Then why does he keep calling you?"
"Because the price keeps going up."
Metal on metal brakes are irritating.
I don't care how loud you turn up the volume on your blue tooth radio station.
You can still hear it.
You can also feel it.
So, no matter how Sven felt about Larry and all his cousins and all his phone calls.
I liked the guy.
It was a brilliant, blue-skied California morning, when we bid our farewell to Rene and RZ.
I was feeling gloomy as we headed east.
So, I was ready to put an end to a miserable day when we pulled into a little town, somewhere in Nevada, several hours later.
"A smoking room works," said Sven.
Shit, I thought.
I got nothing against smoking rooms.
When I was a top notch maid at The Wilson Motel in Gardiner, Montana, there was no such thing as a smoking or a non smoking room. They were just called rooms. And the last thing we maids did after our Triple AAA cleaning ritual, was to turn around when we got to the door and spray an aerosol ozone killer out of a can.
It neutralized the aroma with the scent of a lemon.
It's not like that today.
Depending where you are there often isn't even a choice for a smoking room.
But sometimes there is.
Sven would prefer not to step outside all the time.
"It is a handicap room," said the pale faced man with greased black hair. "Number 108. But you guys can have it."
"Thanks," says Sven.
I handed him our card.
"That will be sixty-three dollars and forty-five cents, with tax," he says, printing off a paper to sign.
"What about triple AAA?" says Sven. "Do we get a discount?"
"I wish my boss would let us accept triple AAA," said the man.
Between you and me.
Why in the hell would anybody ask for a discount on a sixty-three dollar room?
And that black haired albino behind that counter had no idea that a motel has to qualify to become a Tripe AAA motel.
I should know.
Pinky was real proud of his Wilson Motel.
And its Triple AAA status.
Well, at least our guy was nice enough to drop by room 108 with a remote control for our TV, since there wasn't one in the room.
And he did program it for us.
And it wasn't his fault that we decided to walk past rows and rows of parked and running semis with who knows how much sex trafficking going on inside them, to get to the Iron Skillet, in order to grab some grub. Or that I chose to sleep in a sweatshirt and long flannel pajama pants. Or that when Sven said, "Well, how do you like the bed?" I said, "It's creepy." Or that I felt like I was curled up inside an ashtray that hadn't been emptied since the early eighties. Or that I turned my snobby little nose up at the shower the next morning because the tile in there was freaking me out. I didn't like the way the grout matched the yellowed plastic bench set up for someone who might need to take a seat. Or that I couldn't stop picturing big icky naked asses sitting on that chair, all night long. And perhaps it was a blessing there wasn't a plastic cup in room 108 to fill with water to set on the night stand, since there wasn't a night stand anyway.
"Yes, Millie. We will get a nice room tonight. I promise," said Sven at the wheel.
And we did.
We drove all the way to Kimball, Nebraska the next day.
And we ate sub sandwiches while trapped inside room 107 at a Super 8, where a weird guy sat in his truck facing our window, which was right next to our door.
"What is he doing?" I said.
"I don't know. He's just sitting in there."
"He must be getting cold," said Sven.
"Is he still there?"
Sven peeked through the curtains.
"I can't look anymore. He sees me peeking. You look."
"I'm not looking."
Sven went through the lobby and out the front door to have a smoke.
Ken Burns carried us through another evening.
The weird dude and his truck were gone in the morning when we pulled out.
We spent our last night on our two week road trip in Coralville, Iowa, after a long day on the road.
We watched the Packer game.
The Packers lost.
The following morning we got up and we gassed up the car one more time.
I successfully plugged in Radio Heartland on Bluetooth ignoring for like the millionth time all those notices about data and tiers and such.
I patted my back for my technological superiority as we sipped our coffee, munched on our almonds and let the car navigator guide us through a bunch of cornfields in the pouring rain, while I worked on a song for Rosanne Cash, all the way home.
I hope it's not raining in Reno when I get there
It would be kinda weird
Since it lives out in the desert
On top of the sand in between the rocks
Not that it matters anyway
I got almonds in my pocket and a coffee in my lap
I got sunshine on my windshield and a rainbow in my mirror
"Wait a minute," interrupted Sven, "Why is she telling me to turn here?"
"Oh shit. I typed in 111 Mills Street."
"It's a long story, Sven. Maybe you want to be in charge of the navigator next time."
"Why is our cell phone bill so big?"