August 26, 2019
Today is our wedding anniversary: 41 years. We are spending the day and night in Richmond, Va., exotic city of mystery and romance. Who doesn’t go to Richmond for anniversaries?
Well, no one I know goes there. But we thought we should go somewhere since, beside our Road Trip Across America, little trips here and there has been a theme of the past year for us. We didn’t get to Paris, London, or New York. We didn’t get to Nashville, which we’ve hit many times to see friends and family.
We did get to Seattle, then, a little further down the scale, to Greenville, S.C., Greeneville, Tenn., and Staunton, Va. That’s about it.
The Road Trip is our second anniversary of the month. It was on August 17, 2018, a Friday, that we finished loading the van and set out, getting on U.S. 50 near Winchester, Va., and pushing into West Virginia.
That also was the day I started this blog, now 67 posts ago.
The day started for me with an MRI at a local imaging facility, squeezed in before departure. At the time it was just another annoying procedure the urology practice demanded after the doctor looked at my first-ever CT scan. I recall telling the admin person on Wednesday, the 15th, that we’re leaving Friday no matter what. By then I was seriously thinking they liked putting me through pointless tests.
The hospital couldn’t get me in that quickly, so I went to a place that accepted our insurance—the cheaper place. Turns out the MRI wasn’t pointless.
Anyway, once on 50 we wound through Winchester, then got a photo of the West Virginia welcome sign. In my first post, at our campsite at North Bend State Park near Cairo, W.Va., that evening, I wrote, “we stopped for a sandwich in Burlington and ice cream at McDonald’s in Grafton.”
The turning point: a call from the urologist as we arrived in St. Louis on the 20th. I needed a biopsy. It could wait—one week. We talked to our son Michael, a medical physicist who works in cancer oncology. He advised pushing on to Las Vegas and leaving the van with our daughter Kathleen, who then lived there, and flying home for the procedure. Leaving the van would force us to return to retrieve it.
“You’ll never drive out there again if you drive all the way home now,” he said.
I put the blog on hold after we reached Vegas on the evening of the 25th. We left the van and flew home. The doc couldn’t complete the biopsy on his first try, so I ended up with a stent and waited two weeks to give him a second shot at it. We flew back to Vegas Sept. 13 and picked up the van. The next day we got back on the road.
We junked our original, way-too-ambitious itinerary. I picked up the blog and traced our exhausting, interstate-only route home. We hit a few neat stops: the Grand Canyon, El Paso, New Orleans to see daughter Laura, and Greer S.C., to see our second daughter, Marie, son-in-law Mike, and grandsons Noah and Patrick. We got home Sept. 24th and got the word: cancer. I dropped the blog again, this time for a month as we sorted things out, then resumed posting in late October.
Today, it’s impossible not to look back. That crazy day before our 2018 anniversary, Aug. 25th, sticks with me. We started at a KOA in Flagstaff, Ariz., and made a quick side trip to Sedona. We then shot back to Flagstaff on I-17, switched to old U.S. 66, and headed to Vegas.
The last 200-plus miles is mostly desert, the dash thermometer touched 105F. After a stop in Seligman we left the Mother Road and jumped on I-40. In Kingman we found that U.S. 93, the direct route to Vegas, was closed at the Hoover Dam, forcing a 60-mile detour (at least). We left civilization behind after Bullhead City—for the next 40 or 50 miles we drove at low speed, seeing only a few empty mobile homes reflecting the blazing sun. We got nervous about the radiator, so we drove without air conditioning, preferring sweltering to overheating.
Showcasing my planning skills, we didn’t have a place to stay in Vegas. I had guessed we could camp. I must have been imagining an air-conditioned state park.
On the outskirts of Vegas around 6 P.M., we pulled into a church parking lot and started calling hotels. Only one, the Excalibur, had a room left—one room, and they were not negotiating. No specials for seniors. It was way more than we budgeted for, which was zero. We took it.
We hiked what seemed like a mile through the packed casino and collapsed in the room. When we recovered we walked slowly up the Strip, ending up at the Rainforest Café. The air-conditioning alone was worth it. For a mid-priced chain the dinner was okay.
As we sat, dazed among the fake jungle noises, we felt better. We were celebrating our anniversary, in baking Las Vegas.
All through that day, despite the 100-degree highways and rattled nerves, we felt we accomplished something, maybe validating our staying power. It had been 40 years since we tied the knot in a small church in Nashville, on a day nearly as hot. Then three kids, the crazy move from Nashville to Jersey, the fourth one, Kathleen, the migration to northern Virginia. We lived through a blurring rush of anniversaries as the kids grew up. I published a couple of defense-industry newsletters, wrote lots of free-lance stuff, worked as a contractor, then got out. Sandy did accounting for CACI Inc., until the company moved the work to Oklahoma. She was laid off just before we left.
On Sunday, anniversary day, we were still wiped out. We went to a noon Mass, trudging the three blocks to the church at the sun’s peak. But we knew we had much to be thankful for.
I took a dip in the pool then ran from the heat. Later we had dinner at Battista’s, the famous tourist trap. I had been watching our expenses, but gave up. Hopeless. That evening we met Kathleen, handed over the van, and said goodbye. Next morning: a shuttle to the airport for the first day of our 41st year. It felt good. Today, looking forward to 42, it still does.