We left on the 27th (Mike’s birthday) and drove a little out of our way to see Karen’s family; Karen was able to give Bethany a tour of the house and introduce her to their new dog, Bennett. The kids played a few hands of Nerts, and *Molly* was winning when we had to hit the road! (Karen maintained that Houston was unbeatable while I insisted that Bethany was "She Who Can Not Be Defeated"...and Molly proved us BOTH wrong.) :-)
(I *won’t* post the surprise photo Karen’s kids left on the digital when we accidentally left it at their house. We were almost out of their little town when the call came saying that we'd left the camera, and while we were U-turning and heading back to retrieve it, those scamps left us a digital token of their affection. Good taste prevents me from displaying it, but I will say that I named the picture "Never leave your camera BEHIND.") :-)
Next, we stopped in Fort Worth to have lunch at Uncle Julio’s with Falisha. We also exchanged presents, and one of Falisha’s presents to me was an ‘80s mix CD that made the Dallas-Shreveport leg of the trip a lot more enjoyable. The bad news? I was sick to my stomach after Dallas so poor Bethany had to drive the whole day. We stopped at a truck stop and bought me some Mylanta, but Monroe, Louisiana smelled so bad that we were BOTH gagging. Bethany, driving with her left hand and keeping her nose plugged with her right, forbid me to throw up in the car, telling me it was simply “bind over batter.”
Then we stayed in the world’s worst La Quinta (ever!) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Even though Karen booked us a non-smoking room AND CONFIRMED IT WITH MY CREDIT CARD, we were greeted at the desk with the news that they only had smoking rooms left. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that news nugget and kept trying to give the lady at the counter my confirmation number…for our NON-smoking room. Because it was RESERVED. With a RESERVATION. Complete with a CONFIRMATION NUMBER. Which means you are out of non-smoking rooms for *other* people--but NOT for those with RESERVATIONS, like us. (Am I in Crazy Land? What does the word “reservation” mean here? WHAT?)
So we asked if we could go smell it first. When we first opened the door, Bethany said the reek hit her like a punch, but we eventually got used to it. It was late, we were exhausted, and so we took it, determined to make the best of things.
After trying unsuccessfully to get on their “high-speed wireless Internet” for thirty minutes, we gave up; Bethany slipped under our nicotine-soaked comforter decorated with CIGARETTE BURNS and BURN HOLES. At one point, when I was plugging the laptop into an electrical socket to charge overnight (a socket which didn’t work, btw, and we woke the next day to a stone-dead computer!), I looked up at the ceiling. The beam that separated the Rings of Hell in the room (Smelly Sofa Ring from Reeking Bed Ring) was coming away from the ceiling. And not just sagging away cleanly, but sporting a growth of black mold in the crevasse where the wallpaper had torn in two.
“Um, Bethany? Did you happen to look up at…?”
“Yeah, I saw it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t look at it. Just come get in bed.”
All was redeemed the next morning (despite the lackluster breakfast AND the fact that Front Desk Guy told me that Room 226 can’t even get ON the Internet, wirelessly or otherwise!) because of the view from our balcony…the mighty Mississippi River running RIGHT BESIDE our black mold/ashtray cell. I do NOT plan to dash off a zinging missive to La Quinta or complain on their toll-free phone line because the view was so pretty. (Yes, we smelled like longshoremen the rest of the day, and yes, Taylor laughed and recoiled when she smelled my pajamas when we finally got to Charlotte, but it’s okay.)
Bethany continued the drive the next morning, and with the exception of the three-hour traffic jam they call “Atlanta,” it was beautiful. Great weather, fun conversation, lots of music, and yummy food all the way to Charlotte. We were so glad to finally arrive, and Russell and Amanda Faye and Taylor couldn’t have been more hospitable.
We met them for lunch the next day and then took Taylor on a hike in Renaissance Park. She led us in stretches before we began (to say that they were *unusual* calisthenics is putting it mildly), and she also wanted us to role-play as we hiked. (And hiked. And hiked. Three miles of twisty-turny fun…SIX if you do both trails!) Bethany was Queen Babushka, Taylor was The Princess, and I was Old, Fat Nurse. (After we went for another walk in Virginia a few days later, they started calling me “Old, Fat, DEAF Nurse” because I couldn’t hear the high-pitched deer repellent screeching machine one guy put in his yard.)
She's not heavy. She's my cousin.
Mom and Dad came in that night, and the next day was filled with manicures, pedicures, shopping, golf (for the boys), and dinner with family and friends at the Azteca Mexican restaurant.
Everyone kept saying how much Karen would have loved it, and we all couldn’t stop commenting on how our joy would be have been complete if Karen could have been there. OTOH, keeping a straight face during the wedding ceremony would have been impossible with Karen around because she gets the giggles at inappropriate times; the first time the preacher said the word “marriage,” Karen would have lost it, remembering the clergyman from The Princess Bride.
After The Wedding, it was off to dinner at Frankie’s. Delicious food, great service, nostalgic music, flattering lighting, wonderful company, and a terrific atmosphere…whoever picked Frankie’s picked well!
Then it was time for New Year's Eve, celebrated in our hotel room with chocolate milk and Coke, in front of Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve in Times Square!
Margaret’s home is lovely, Belle is a delight, and we had tons of fun! My shins still ache from Margaret’s leisurely 5:30 a.m. “stroll,” up and down the hills of Chatham. (I’ve met my match in Lanier Street’s vertical climb! Poor Margaret, probably wondering if she should dial 9-1-1, had to wait as I huffed and puffed my way to the crest.)
Thank you to everyone who made this vacation so wonderful. After all the traveling I've been doing in the last three months (Pennsylvania! Michigan! NC! Virginia!), being a homebody for a while sounds so restful. One quick trip next month to Austin for a technology convention, and then I'm nailing my feet to the floor of The Barracks...