As if we didn’t have things booked out well enough, my 20-year high school reunion came up this year. (Whoever decided that August in Houston was a bonny time for a social event, should be strung up.) We decided to make a trip of it, so that Cathy could see the place I grew up in, and I myself hadn’t been back in some 15 years.
In spite of the heat, it was a real hoot. Cathy tolerated and was even amused by my incessant gaping and pointing at things that had changed in the area, and also things that hadn’t. (You know the kind of logic I’m talking about here.) We ended up walking by my old house, having dinner in an old classic Clear Lake City restaurant (The Colosseum, still there), and doing a goodly amount of driving around. We even took in some time at NASA–sorry, it’s “Space Center Houston” now–and the sense of ambivalence was palpable. A few things were genuinely interesting, after the initial shock…most notably, the Saturn V rocket is now in a building. This is just wrong, in the aesthetic sense, but the preservation angle was actually reasonably compelling, and I thought they did pretty well with it. The main center is of course truly Disney-fied now, with very little real that you can still walk up and touch, but we were expecting that. What just about got me to start huckin’ rocks, though, was the shuttle tour, which featured the full-on airport “government-issued photo ID” and metal detector treatment, plus an additional insult not even the airports are arrogant enough to impose: for the ubiquitous “security reasons”, you must submit to having your picture taken–and nein, nein mit ze sunglasses, damen und herren–and, wait for it, you may even purchase this extorted photo for an additional fee if you want a souvenir. Suffice it to say that the steam coming out of my ears could have powered the bus in its entirety. And, after you have, ah, “voluntarily” suspended your rights under the Constitution, what do you get in return? You get a shuttle ride along a fixed path (concrete bollards along the route), bypassing all the buildings we just drove up and walked into in my youth, stopping only at the rockets and at the “new” Mission Control, which now features two redundant instances, neither of which is the historic room. In the end, there was much there that I’m glad Cathy got to see, but she’ll never really understand what it was like for a kid to grow up there and have the kind of access that I did at the time. When we left, I distinctly felt both wistful and dirty.
By complete contrast, we also ended up at the San Jacinto monument on that trip, to which we simply drove up, walked in, looked around, and left with no hassle whatever. People can say whatever they want about Texas, but I submit the contrast between NASA and San Jacinto as a self-evident study in comparative human dignity and trust.
Then there was the reunion itself, which was fantastic in a most unexpected way. As I imagine is pretty common at such things, I had a list of people that I was specifically hoping to run into after all these years…and I saw almost nobody on that list. Oh well. However…what I was not expecting was to see so many people that I knew not just from high school, but from elementary school–we’re talkin’ all the way back here. I ran into Chris Koontz (who, it turns out, actually knows about Guitar Craft!), Kate (Katie) Ramsey, Wendy Sutterby, Robin Campbell, Rachel Breeding, Irwin Stewart…names I hadn’t thought about in a really long time. The absolute “made my evening” award, though, must go to Simone Campbell, who tried so hard to place me without looking at the name tag…when she finally looked, the expression on her face was literally priceless. (And I’m not sure Cathy stopped giggling at me the whole night.)
It was great to run into Liesa Sava and Karyn Erickson, as well, catching up on spouses and family stories (and of course with Cathy and I taking notes for our own impending adventure); how each one had somehow become even more beautiful than they were twenty years ago, I cannot explain, but sometimes life just seems to better itself for the heck of it. It was really good to see so many people doing so well.
The next morning, we had breakfast with Judy Switzer, a good friend of my family who has been a teacher in the area for a long while. It was a delight to be able to discuss education with her from the standpoint of an educator; she seems to share the same general attitudes towards teaching and learning that I have developed in my own career, and we definitely seemed to have to work a little to keep from going on all day. Cathy, of course, simply laughed at us both. Marvelous.
Recall that one of the more quaint ideas we’d had, when planning out the concept of a move Up North, was that we’d use the planned August trip to Seattle, for Cathy’s cousin’s wedding, as a launching point for our personal transportation to Alaska. We’d arrange to have our stuff picked up in Denver, drive to Seattle, attend the wedding, and then drive onto one of the Blue Canoes for a little cruise to the new digs. Great idea, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, we ended up with planes, trains and automobiles. Seriously, and literally.
First, we caught a plane to Minneapolis-St. Paul, and attended Cathy’s cousin’s wedding in Stillwater, MN. This was a simply delightful affair which was particularly endearing to me because of Jakki’s use of the hunting theme in the wedding itself, as a gift to Ryan…the sugar trays on the tables were clay birds…camo incorporated tastefully into the men’s vests…and my favorite, the boutonnière flowers “growing” out of empty shotshell hulls. At the reception, instead of clinking glasses to get the couple to kiss, you had to come up to the head table and use the suction-dart gun to hit the picture of the deer. This was a big hit…especially with the kids, who were getting pretty good by the end of the night!
From there, we caught an Amtrak train from St. Paul to Seattle, and other than the typical absurdity of government-hijacked “security” measures (which require the peaceable to render themselves defenseless) it was a delightful trip, accompanied by Cathy’s parents, sister, nephew, and grandmother. Highlights included the route around the southern tip of Glacier National Park, meals in the dining car, and in general a marvelous slowing-down of our usual frenetic pace.
In Seattle, we attended another wedding for a Cathy cousin, which was held at a simply astonishing residence in Everett. In the back yard there were two conspicuous gaps in the trees, through which you had unobstructed views of Mount Baker to the north and Glacier Peak to the east. The day was marvelous, Jen and Steve were gracious hosts, and the whole thing just came off as fun. Around the event itself, we also managed to weave in a couple of choice meals and a quickie trip to the Olympic peninsula featuring the Washington State Ferry system, which I think was new for everyone except me. (Those silly boats should not be as cool as they are, but, well, they just are.)
And, after the plane to Minnesota and the train to Seattle, we got to drive home, courtesy of Dave & Cathy Sweeney, who had timed their West Coast driving vacation specifically to coincide with us in Seattle. This was a great road trip along a splendid scenic route, covering some territory I had not seen since I was 7 years old, and other territory that was completely new. In that latter category was Washington’s coulee country, including Grand Coulee dam. I was not prepared for how beautiful some of that country is; were it not for the consistent stories of 110-degree summers, it would have been a very tempting relocation alternative. As it is, I’ve now got yet another place in the American West I want to go back to at some point. From there, we went on through Idaho’s panhandle, including a brief glimpse of beautiful Coeur d’Alene, and into Montana enroute to Glacier National Park.
This was a trip I’d looked forward to for a long time. As a 7-year-old, I have an indelible memory of a driving vacation that culminated in Glacier and Waterton National Parks, with the clearest photo-perfect memories of Glacier that you could imagine. Many things that happened well after that I remember less or not at all, but Glacier really made an impression. And, from the time that we dropped into the Flathead Lake valley, it all started to come back. We took the Going-To-The-Sun road, of course, and even did a little diehard walking at the summit of Logan Pass (it was chilly and sleet/hailing at the top, so we limited our distance) but mostly it was all those little mental snapshots coming back, that really made it for me. There is just nothing like the Canadian Rockies!
From there, we beelined into Bozeman, staying the night with my parents, and then made off for Yellowstone, which we whirlwinded even more completely than Cathy and I had the previous time we’d been to Bozeman. The comparisons were fascinating; this trip was in high summer whereas we had been there previously in late fall, and it was interesting to see how different a face the park put on in its most popular time. From Yellowstone, we headed down the eastern canyon to Cody and–it sounds funny even to say it–managed to cover much of the famous museum complex in just the couple of hours we had available to us. (Even Cathy said she found the firearms museum interesting, mostly because she found my kid-in-a-candy-store attitude and incessant rambling on about all sort and manner of things to be interesting in and of itself. Me? Yeah, I’d go back. 🙂
From there, we pushed hard back to Colorado, and then had to face a bit of reality. We still had most of the move work to do, we were halfway through the pregnancy, and we had just lost a lovely three weeks of time farting around on vacation!