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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dogs and Pistols (Welcome to Arizona)

I've been writing bits and pieces on Twitter (Pain_N_The_Cass) about what I've been seeing between Las Vegas, NV and where I am tonight, Memphis, TN. To make sure we're all on the same page, here are bits of what I've posted:
Small Chapel Outside a Gas Station in AZ

MAY 21st: "Seeing a man with a not-so-concealed weapon at the Arizona gas station didn't shock me; reminded me to actually have my stun gun on me."

I had pulled off to get a top off of gas and stop at one of the few places I could to get something to eat since I have Tater, our Australian Shepherd/Labrador mix, with me. I parked in the shade of the gas station awning and went inside, snatching up rice crackers and sesame sticks and loads of Mountain Dew. The line was out the door, but there was only one cashier. I take that back. There was a second cashier, but she was inside the office, typing away on her cell phone. Likely, she thought she couldn't be seen on our side because of the tinted glass, however, we could see perfectly.

The gentleman in front of me was hunched over, wearing long shorts and even longer tube socks with his sneakers. He fumbled with his purchases, and then his pocket change. That was when I noticed his holstered-but-not-strapped-in pistol on his right hip. As I stared at it, I thought, "Gee, how easy would it be for me to just reach over and grab it from him." In fact, a whole scenario played out in my head in the two seconds it took for him to finish his transaction, where I swiped the gun, brandished it about, and made my way out with my $4.67 worth of goods, cackling like they did in the old westerns. Then a reminding twinge went through my two fingers, tamping my Miranda Lambert spirit down. The reality is that had I reached for it, Grandpa there would have probably have startled a bit, and then giggled when I couldn't quite close my arthritic hand around the gun. He probably would have pushed me a little like a kid on a playground, just enough for me to take a sidestep, and then paid for my purchases just to keep the humiliation going strong.

"Well," I thought, "at least I have my stun gun to protect me and Tater." I reached into my left pocket, only to find it empty.

NOTE TO SELF: Stun guns only work if you actually have them on you.

Yeah...what she said.

House In Chloride, AZ (So, how are they getting down once they open the 2nd floor sliding doors?)

May 22nd: "At the El Tovar veranda alone w/Tater. Asked to be served out here. I can't come in & I can't leave her in the car. "No," they say 3 times."

Yikers, what a morning. I barely slept, having been on the road for more than 7 hours, having to stop to let Tater out and to let me out. My body is not used to sitting sedentary for hours on end. I've spent the last few weeks packing, rebuilding the gardens, going through papers, arranging repair people, and generally pulling out hair I spent a good long time growing back. The Red Feather Lodge allows animals (as I found out through - a great site that will not only tell you where pet-friendly hotels are in a particular city, it will also allow you to map out your route and then see all the hotels along the way that allow pets, along with their most recent pet policy {it doesn't show availability. You have to click on the links to find what's open. SIDE NOTE: La Quinta has an open pet policy that allows you to keep a pet in your room WITHOUT a pet charge or an extra deposit. Since some places charge up to $150 in a [oxymoron alert!] non-refundable deposit on top of a pet fee, this can be refreshing. But, double back and check out the hotels on before committing - that's just my opinion.})

The Red Feather Lodge and I go back to when Olivia and I stayed there when she was barely 18 months old. Even though I had travelled all night and had barely slept, I had been told to try to catch the sunrise in the Grand Canyon. So, dutifully, I got up, loaded said child into vehicle, and tootled down the road. I was so early, there was no guard at the Grand Canyon gate, so I got in for free (a savings of $20 at the time, now $25.)

After only a mile or so, the car in front of me stopped. I was too groggy to tell what was going on until I was much closer. It was then I saw a gigantic elk with an even more gigantic rack (save your giggles) standing next to the stopped car. The fog was still creeping in around us, light mist rolling in off the field, out onto the asphalt, pooling around the elk's feet. He backed up a bit, and cocked his head like a puppy. He stared for a good long, long minute, then backed up a little more. It looked as if he might back away entirely, back into the meadow from where he emerged. But just as suddenly, he leapt, up and over, completely clearing the whole of the car - not just the engine hood, the roof and width of the car.

He came down deftly, first on his front hooves, then quietly on his back ones, walking away as if that's what he had been doing all along. Casually, he sauntered to the field on the other side, joining his mate and their baby, and nudging his love's neck, then eating with them. It seems the car had gotten in the way of him crossing the street to meet his family and rather than beat his head against the obstacle, he simply leapt over it and continued with what he was doing.

Later, I was lucky enough to be on the greens in front of the El Tovar Hotel when the sun began to rise. A doe and her fawn came on the lawn, picking at the grass and some leaves. In a singular moment, both the doe and her baby raised up on their hind legs and both ate from the same dangling leaves, the sun bursting through the breaks in the trees. I managed to get one picture, which I will post if I find it again.

El Tovar Hotel and Restaurant, Grand Canyon, AZ

So, obviously, I advocate for those who are capable - get up early and see what lurks about in the early mornings in the Grand Canyon when all the tourists are asleep.

On this trip, I did see some things I hadn't before. For one, I accidentally flip flopped through and found a radio station that told more details about the area and buildings. One interesting tidbit is that for the longest time, there really were no photos of the Grand Canyon because the public didn't know about it and there was no real access. The photos that do exist came from the government projects, documenting what was there and what progress was being made.

The Kolb brothers took on the personal project of documenting and archiving not just the clinical side of the canyon, but also the beauty. They went so far as to take the building materials from a demolished Williams, AZ, store, truck the remnants all the way out (some 60 miles when at the time there was almost no access and certainly no consistent way to bring the materials up.), and built a three-story building into the side of the canyon. More information on the Kolb brothers and the building of this phenomenal house, check out:

From my tweet, it's obvious something went on while I was there. Since I had left Las Vegas, NV, I had found only one restaurant that was accommodating of my situation - travelling alone with a dog. Cracker Barrel allowed me to come in, guilt free, order my food, pay for it, then I could get Tater and sit with her on their front porch while both of us enjoyed a meal together (and it didn't hurt Tater's feelings to be loved up on by so many kids, either.) However, once in the canyon, things became more difficult. Going into a store or cafe, meant leaving Tater in the car (illegal in many states) and generally unwise (even though it was incredibly early and therefore very cool, especially with the high winds, it just isn't a terribly great idea.)

After our walk at Mather Point and then around the South Rim near the hotel, both of us were pooped and wanted to eat. I asked the hostess at the El Tovar's restaurant if I could order something to go, but she said that they didn't do that. That seemed curious since surely the hotel guests ordered room service or box lunches for day trips. Well, okay, I'll try to find an outdoor cafe then. But there weren't any tat would allow me to come in with her to order.

On our way back to the car, we came across a long, narrow porch on the El Tovar that overlooked the canyon. I took Tate up there and we sat for a bit. I looked around and saw a caddy full of silverware, dishes, and napkins. Obviously, I was at some extension of the restaurant. So, I looked up the number and called the restaurant inside to a) let them know I was sitting out on the porch, alone and with my dog and b) to ask them if they would be willing to serve me since no one else was there and I wasn't allowed to come in. The person on the phone said, "No."

At this point, I sort of gave up and resigned myself to my day-old rice crackers and flat Mountain Dew. However, just as I was thinking of getting up, a young lady emerged from the restaurant. She proceeded to tell me that, even though there was no one even near the porch but me and Tater was laying on the floor, that we couldn't stay up there. I asked her about being served out there since no one was near and we couldn't go inside anywhere. She also said, "No."

Maybe it was hunger or the situation or a combination of the both, but I was becoming livid at this point. I know taking my dog into a restaurant isn't possible, but what int he world could possibly be wrong with serving me on a completely empty porch? I gather Tater and my things and starting walking down the stairs to the grass. The young lady called out to me and said she could serve me if I left Tater tied up somewhere on the grass.

Now, Tater was likely just as hungry and worn out as I was. Her gray snout gives her age away much as my uncolored-gray hairs do. The thought of tying her up to watch me eat while she was still hungry and thirsty just seemed cruel. So, I turned to the young lady and said, "No, I've heard you all quite clearly. You don't want to serve us. This is the third time I've heard this today. I get it. Your message is received." It just infuriated me that the restaurant sat almost completely empty, the porch WAS completely empty, and yet they would not serve us or let me get anything to go unless I tied Tater up .

I'm not a radical animal lover. I love my animals, yes, but I am a common sense lover. I know when things are reasonable and when they are not. I've been known to say, I didn't have to fight lions for my dinner, I didn't have to haul water, and the roof over my head keeps out the rain - I'm all good. Every day above ground is a pretty good one.
Cave on Path Near El Tovar and Kolb Studio

(VIDEO) Grand Canyon video

(VIDEO) Mather Point

(VIDEO) Mather Point (2nd view)

Grand Canyon

Little Colorado Overlook

I'll continue on in a little bit.

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I mean it. I have horribly mean cats; don't make me use them.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On The Road Again...

I'm generally a private person. There are few people on the planet that know my secrets and I don't have an overwhelming desire to get online and discuss them in detail. I don't keep a diary that someone might stumble upon. I don't have files filled with my pouring out my heart. 

Part of that is because I grew up in a time before it was possible to shout from the mountain top while sitting in your pajamas and listening to Spongebob Squarepants. Part of it is something I feel compelled to explain.

From an early age, I was constantly reminded that whatever I wrote was for public display, could be read by anyone, and was a permanent marker that, no matter how your mind might change about the situation later, left the reader with a definite and static impression of who you were. I correct that. It made them believe that you continued to be exactly like what you had written. Whatever opinion you expressed, you held it continuously in their minds because why else would you commit it to paper?

In particular, an incident occurred when I was about 7 or 8 that sits in the back of my being and reminds me constantly of the consequences.

It began in the summer. Our family would often travel together once every two or three years by car and camper to the panhandle of Florida, where we would vacation on an RV beach in Destin for two weeks. Generally, the whole family would go - my parents, my sisters, my grandparents, and my uncle and my soon-to-be aunt. 

Trips of these lengths were difficult. Though not talked about, it was pretty well known amongst our family members that any jaunt over one week was inviting trouble. My stepfather was quite maniacal, but could manage to keep up appearances for 6-7 days, tops. Past that, and you were inviting fates and furies.

My mother always began these trips with great hope and optimism. She always started out very generously with everyone and would give each of us girls a running account of about $5 at the beginning of our trip to spend on what we liked. I had learned early on that it was best to use up that account at the beginning of the trip for several reasons, the first two being 1) my parents were horrible with budgets and always ran at a deficit, particularly at the end of a trip, so it was best to get your souvenirs in early or you risk getting nothing (as my frugal sister often learned), and 2) my mother was forgetful and had a hard time remembering which child spent how much, so it was likely you'd get more than your $5 share if you spent early and quickly. 

On the particular trip, I had followed my own learned advice and bought a colored and scented notepad, one that the first 25 sheets were lemon yellow, followed by 25 sheets of grape purple, then 25 sheets of orangey orange, and then my favorite, a bright cherry red. I had taken to writing tidbits in my notepad, hoping to use up the sheets and eventually get to my cherry red ones. Why I didn't go directly to the ones I loved, I don't know. I felt compelled to use what I had in the order it was given to me and denied myself until I had used all the pages I deemed less than worthy. To this day, this baffles me since quite obviously I had become at least acquainted with manipulating my mother for extra souvenir money, yet I could not make myself go beyond the confines of a pre-arranged notepad.

Anyway, as the furies had it, the second week of our trip we all went into without notice, mainly because my stepfather had not even the slightest inkling of an explosion. Usually, it was like a storm brewing in his mind and we had all become weather forecasters. My mother had become quite deft at predicting when funnel clouds might descend upon us and could usually redirect his seething rage before it damaged everyone. I had already in my two to three years around him learned to feel the shift of the ground below me, the slight tilt when everything was about to slide and crash into each other. However, this particular summer we were lulled into a hazy happiness, brought on by sea wind and salty water.

I don't remember the actual incident that caused all the ruckus. It might have been me not washing my feet in the plastic bin my grandmother left outside the camper for everyone to use to prevent sand being tracked into her camper (which resulted in each of us getting the life shocked out of us when we touched the camper's steel door knob), or it could have been I didn't lay out my bathing suit to dry, or any number of things that had been forgotten as necessary that previous, glorious week where we all believed it was possible to be normal.

I don't even remember the yelling because that happened so often and the act(s) simply merges with other similar memories, marinating with each other and flavoring them all the same. I do remember being furious, myself. I remember laying on the bottom bunk in the camper after he was done, writing so hard and furiously that I was tearing through my precious pages. I wrote everything I felt in that moment and every line and word was dipped in deep red hatred.

The rest of the trip is a blur of coconut dark tanning oil, flips flops that made blisters between my toes, and a strange, undulating tree that grew in the center of the campground. Nothing unusual, yet nothing to reestablish the sense of normalcy we had tricked ourselves into believing was accessible.

Weeks later, I came home from school. The house was gray quiet; the heat holding the temperatures in a head lock, emerging from the wood work as you'd move past. I thought I was alone in the house until I heard my mother calling for me from upstairs in my sisters' and my shared bedroom. Another lecture on room cleaning, no doubt, is what I thought. Instead my mother was sitting on the floor next to my bed, a white garbage bag beside her, her eyes buried in the pages of my colored and scented notepad. As I learned later, the bag contained all our leftover things from the camper that my mother had quickly gathered up upon our arrival home. My notepad was one of those items.

Honestly, since I had lost the notepad somewhere during the trip, I had forgotten about it and wasn't particularly disturbed when I saw her reading it. Then she looked up and me and I remembered.

She asked me to sit down beside her on the floor. She took a long time to talk to me, but when she finally did, she asked me, "Is this the way you feel about him?" In the moment, I wanted to be wholly truthful with her and say, "Yes," but even at that point, I knew the truth was useless. It wouldn't change anything if I had said, "Yes." It would only make things harder. We wouldn't leave. She wouldn't let go. And I would have to live in a house where my truth would make it easier for him to have an excuse to correct me, because if I had bothered to write it down, then it was indelibly written in my soul.

So, I said, "No," with little conviction. Curiously, my mother asked me the question again. I looked straight at her. There was a reason for the second question. Even then, it was a warning. I knew this, and suddenly the world blossomed in front of me, the disgustingly vivid and horridly colorful world that would await me had he read it first, or even at all. She was not asking me to understand my truth. She was standing in front of me and warning me.

As if to confirm my thoughts, she said, "You're lucky I found it."

And I was.

Now, since that day, I've had people stumble across things I wrote believing they were private, and it has only reminded me to keep my personal, personal and my private, private.

With that understanding, I will continue writing here, not as some public diary, but rather as an account or interpretation of what I've seen and experienced. The rest wouldn't be nearly as interesting as you'd like to think it would be, so don't feel as if you'd missed out on something juicy or spectacular. 

For the next few days, I'l be chronicling my journey from Las Vegas, NV, to Nashville, TN. I hope you enjoy.

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I mean it. I have horribly mean cats; don't make me use them.