Saturday, September 10, 2011

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 1

“UNCLE!”   You might have heard this being screamed last week around seven-thirty on Tuesday morning.  That was me.   Sorry if I disturbed you.  That was officially the moment I finally cracked under the heat.  We had been hanging in there pretty well, but August, with its near-constant 110 degree days, aggravating humidity and complete lack of rain did me in.  We spent every single scorching second of the summer in the Valley this year.  Well, technically that’s not true.  Elizabeth’s cousin scored us free comp vouchers to stay for two nights at the Harrah’s in Laughlin, Nevada, so in June we took a trip to one of the few places on Earth that regularly beats our heat island inferno in the daily mercury velocity competition.  But it was a change of scenery, sort of, and the Colorado River was cool, even if the hotel pool wasn’t, and besides, did I mention it didn’t cost anything to stay there?  That’s an important consideration when your family’s income has taken a substantial hit, thanks to a certain freelance writer, who’s great at the free department, but not so good at lancing yet.  

We finally decided we had to get out of town, and restore our faith in the existence of weather where you don’t have to check the labels of your clothes to make sure they’re flame-retardant before you step outside.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, sparked, no pun intended, when we saw a stray cat spontaneously combust, feet first, as it attempted to cross the street in front of our house last Tuesday (alright, the pun was intended).  That was when you would have heard me scream “Uncle,” not because of what happened to that ill-fated cat, but because it was only seven-thirty in the morning.  Cats don’t usually spontaneously combust until eleven, sometimes noon.  “That’s it,” Elizabeth and I said to each other, watching the ash drift the rest of the way across the street. “We gotta get out of here.”

Being just a few days before Labor Day weekend, we knew our options for accommodations would be limited.   We just hoped that they weren’t so limited that we’d have to take up my second cousins on their standing offer to sleep in the converted tack shed on their double-wide “ranch” in Heber.  I’m sorry, but a mattress of questionable structural integrity (let’s face it, any kind of integrity) thrown down on the floor in the middle of a bunch of saddles, brushes, and hay does not a Radisson make.  Not that I could afford to rule it out completely.  As it happened, however, such desperate measures were not needed. I started searching Hotwire, and was able to secure us a perfectly adequate set of four walls (did you hear that, cousins? four walls), two beds and a bathroom in a nationally known and lightly regarded chain hotel located on Flagstaff’s east side, wedged into a narrow strip between the I-40 and the Santa Fe railroad for $49 on Sunday night, $65 with taxes and fees.  If that doesn’t fit your definition of heaven, you must have missed the part where I mentioned it’s in Flagstaff

We had our ticket out.  Sure, it was only one night, but in comparison to the alternative, we were ecstatic.  This could be the best Labor Day weekend ever.  Wait, check that.  Labor is work, and work equals sweat.  Sweating was exactly what we were hoping to avoid.  So, with all due respect to labor and laborers everywhere, this year and this year only, by order of executive proclamation, this particular holiday weekend would be known in the Thorson family as Uncle Day weekend.

The next task we faced was how to leverage this asset for maximum efficiency.  In other words, how do we get the most high-country bang for our 65 bucks?  We could do what most heat-crazed people do, and drive as fast as we can up the I-17 to Flagstaff, ignoring all rules of the road and common courtesy, propelled by a monomaniacal desire to simply “get it off me,” as though the summer heat was a big, ugly bug clinging to your back, and 140 miles of panicked flight a perfectly natural response.  Conventional wisdom says that the sooner you get there, the more time you have not being hot, and taking the I-17 is undeniably the fastest way to get to Flagstaff.  But the sheer volume of idiot drivers, each one believing they deserve to get there first, can turn what should be a stress-relieving drive up the hill into a post-apocalyptic nightmare.  Contending with the constant criss-crossing of cars hurtling from lane to lane, into and out of oncoming traffic, drivers double-crossing each other at every opportunity, giving all opponents the finger in victory and defeat alike, makes the sign of the cross quite a common sight among the remainder of us who are still afraid to die.  That, plus the fact that it only takes two idiots making a mistake at the same time (and these are idiots we’re taking about, so mistakes come fast and frequent) to turn the entire highway into the equivalent of one massive drive-through lane at Pete’s Fish and Chips on a Friday night during Lent.  This is why we typically don’t leave town on Labor Day weekend, or any Day weekend for that matter.   Life is frustrating enough.  If I got stuck behind a traffic accident on the 17 for three hours around Dead Horse Wash, I don’t think there would be enough alcohol and narcotics within a 50-mile radius to ease the pain.  Not that there wouldn’t be a whole lot going around, with this crowd.     
What to do?  Preserving our sanity was the whole point.  Losing it on the way to saving it would be heart-breaking, although ironic.  As I mentioned, conventional wisdom says taking the I-17 is the best way to go, but sometimes we must acknowledge the oxymoronic nature of the term “conventional wisdom.” Besides, if that’s where all the idiots are, my limited math skills told me that anywhere else should be virtually idiot-free.  Were there other ways to get to Flagstaff that didn’t include the I-17, or driving 300 hundred miles out of our way?  I had never tried before, but it had to be possible.  I consulted Google maps and several of the oversized map books from the Thorson Family Library; yes, it looked like it could be done.  Theoretically, we should be able to make it to Flagstaff and back without placing a single tire on the 17, and without spending eight hours at one time cooped up in the car with a notoriously impatient pair of kids, including a two-year-old with a bone piercing scream and a liberal attitude about using it. I checked the maps again, and checked online for any show-stopping obstacles along the projected route. None found.  We would try it.  And, just to add giggles to grins, we would double the challenge by taking different ways up and back.  Going up, I decided, we would take roads east of the I-17, and we’d come back down to the west.  Being west-siders ourselves, I figured if it got late on Monday afternoon, we’d have less traffic to fight if we were already coming in on that side of town.  See, this brain never stops working.  Well, I’m sure it does, but the nice thing is that I never know about it. 

I decided to surprise the rest of the family with this mission.  There were several reasons for this, not the least of which was criticism I knew would be leveled at the plan, and not just from Elizabeth.  I expected full participation in the cross-examination chair, if I was lucky enough to sit down, from Jessica, and, oh yes, Maria too.  There were too many unknowns associated with this plot, and if I let it out prior to leaving, I would be faced with a barrage of questions that I couldn’t answer, and which might crush my resolve.  Besides, I felt that I had banked a sufficient amount of street cred (literally in this case) to deserve the benefit of the doubt.  I’m not saying that not discussing it in advance was the right thing to do, but when you’re surrounded by women, as I am, the survivalist sometimes instinctively takes over. 

Another advantage to taking an alternate route to Flagstaff and back was avoiding the inevitable result of reaching our destination too soon.  If we took the I-17, and things went well, we’d be up there by ten in the morning, and then we’d have to figure out what to do with the rest of the day.  This would lead to one predictable outcome:  shopping.  Lots of shopping.  And that could be catastrophic to our budget.  Now, you might assume that I’m referring to Elizabeth and her spendthrift ways, but actually I was worried more about myself.  You see, I am famously known for being a tightwad at home, but for some reason, get me out in the open, and I turn into Sally Shopsalot.  I must get caught up in the moment or something, because when we hit the shops on vacation, at some point I will hold up an object that’s both ridiculously overpriced and, if it were seen within the context of our house’s interior, would immediately inspire fits of vomiting due to its outrageously gaudy or inappropriate appearance, and say something like, “Hey, honey!  Check this out! It’s a painted armadillo clock.  It’s on sale.  Wouldn’t this look great above the toaster?  It’s only $250 bucks.”  I can’t explain it; I just lose all control. I can be counted on to say two things no matter where we go when traveling around the state.  They are, “Hey, how about a four-foot dreamcatcher for the front door?” and “I’ve always wanted a giant scorpion paperweight for my desk.”  In our relationship, when Elizabeth is the one who has to say, “We really can’t afford that, can we?” it’s a sure sign one of two things is happening:  either it’s Ragnarok, or we’re on vacation.   

So, I had devised a plan that appeared to cover all the bases:  it kept us off the Idiot-17 (I just renamed it), it gave us the best chance of not getting snarled in return traffic if we came back late on Monday, it would minimize our retail exposure time, and most importantly, it had the advantage of surprise.  A perfect plan, if ever I crafted one. 

So, you tell me, where would you put the odds that everything would work out according to plan?  Well, to find out, you’ll have to read part 2 of Uncle Day Weekend, coming this Wednesday . . .

What? TV shows do this all the time, and they will make you wait over summer hiatus to find out what happens. Now stop complaining, and come back on Wednesday, or check out some of the other fine offerings available for your reading pleasure here at thunderstrokes. 


  1. Kevin - as always i enjoy your sense of humor and your way with words. Can't wait to read part 2 aftet I make breakfast for me and Big D. Keep 'em coming!

  2. Hope McK: Sorry for not responding to this comment sooner. By now you know that there have been 5 successive parts published thus far and at least one more to follow. Well, you said to keep 'em coming!