Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Square Peg -Ain’t it Grand?

The Square Peg -Ain’t it Grand?
© S. Bradley Stoner

I’m going to be honest with you. I avoid grand openings like the plague. Why? Because they’re a complete madhouse and shoppers get just a little bit crazy. You might even say the cheese slid off their crackers. You have the Mario Andrettis who think their shopping cart is a Formula One racer. Then there are the sticky-fingered product peekers who have to pick up everything they see. How about the aisle hogs? You know, the ones with the big carts that park in the middle of the aisle while they wander up and down perusing the shelves. Oh, and the cart crashers… those hyperactive, impatient knot heads who don’t have time to wait for you to move and ram the old cart right into your butt. And that’s not even to mention the folks who stand with glazed eyes staring into space like lost children in an amusement park. Geez, it’s enough to drive a sane man crazy.

How do I know all this? Easy, I went to a few grand openings when I was young and stupid. I’m older and wiser now… or so I thought. It wasn’t up to me. I was duped. After twenty some years, you’d think I’d learn. Sneaky women. “I need to pick up a few things… want to go with me?” Well heck, why not? It was Saturday and I wasn’t doing much, so off we went. I got suspicious the minute we turned left instead of right. This wasn’t the direction of our usual “pick up a few things” store.

“Um… where are we going?” I asked with more than a little trepidation.

“That new HEB super store… they have a bunch of grand opening specials. It’s time to stock up.”

I groaned… and I got the look. Every guy out there knows what I’m talking about.

“Did I complain when you spent half a day in the Bass Pro Shop?”

“Well, um… no. Gee whiz, Sweetie, there’s nothing I like better than going grocery shopping with you.” Hey, I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my voice… you gotta give me credit for that.

“Watch it, bub.”

I raised my palms and tried to look like an innocent, injured party. It didn’t work… it never does. You’d think I’d learn.

Well, we made it to the shiny new store. The parking lot was a madhouse, not to mention jam-packed full. I was hoping for a miracle… no space, no shopping. No such luck. As usual, she arrived in a row just as another patron was making his escape in a big pickup and slid into his space only two spots in, putting us really close to the entrance. I don’t know how she does that. I think it’s some kind of dark magic.

“See, we were meant to be here,” she chirped cheerfully.

I followed her in, looking like every other guy who’d been conned into going to the grand opening… a condemned man on his final walk. You’ve seen the look, I know you have. And we were all following women who looked like they’d died and gone to heaven. Right until they saw the crowds… and suddenly they turned into hawk-eyed birds of prey bent on snatching the goodies before the other birds of prey spotted them. I guess that’s what makes women such good shoppers. Unfortunately, these birds have a habit of stopping suddenly in mid-flight when they spot what they’re after. My Sweetie is no exception. Navigating the aisles with such a creature requires a great deal of skill and lightning-fast reflexes to avoid rear-ending the love of your life.

Unfortunately, there are others who are less predictable… there’s the gray-headed sale darter, the blond-crested sample taster, and the starry-eyed skirt shorter (the one who causes the thirty-something guy behind you to crash his cart into your butt). I swear, you have to have perfect peripheral vision and a sixth sense to navigate the mad migration without incident. I have perfect peripheral vision, but unfortunately my sixth sense tends to malfunction in crowds. I barely avoided a gray-headed sale darter and smacked directly into a blond-headed sample taster. She was not amused… especially with that salsa sample dripping down her impeccable yellow blouse. I mumbled an apology and disappeared quickly into the crowd.

Well, we finally finished our aisle ambling with a shopping cart full of specially priced goodies, found an aisle that wasn’t wall-to-wall shoppers, and made our way to the check-out stands. I was dreading it. I could just picture the long lines and waiting for Molly Moptop to scan articles as slowly as possible while shooting the breeze with all the other double-breasted chats. I was pleasantly surprised, however. Every check-out stand was open and there was no more than one customer in line on each one… and the clerks were fast. Woohoo! We’d get out in jig time. There is a shopping God after all.

“See? That wasn’t so bad,” my Sweetie crooned, leaving the three cars vying for her parking spot to fight it out behind us.

“It could’ve been worse,” I admitted.

She smiled at me and said, “You’re such a duck.”

I’m not sure where she got that, but it’s been a kind of pet comment to me since we met. Maybe it’s because she drives me quackers.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Square Peg -Ain’t It Just Grand?

The Square Peg -Ain’t It Just Grand?
© S. Bradley Stoner

Yeah, I know, I’ve been gone a while. So, sue me. I was on an adventure. Actually, it’s kind of our annual adventure. Yep… road trip! Heck, going on a road trip in our family is always an adventure. You know how some folks have to have an itinerary? Got to get to point A by such and such a time, then point B, and so on and so on. Not us. Sometimes we have a general idea of what we want to see, but most times not. Usually we just pack up, wet a finger, stick it in the air, and go whichever way the wind is blowing. This time it was blowing northwest. (I didn’t want to tell my Sweetie, but that’s the direction the wind blows most of the time in San Antonio). I’ve got to tell you, I was happy as a clam in mud. The mountains are northwest of here, and I’m a mountain boy at heart.

So off we headed on I-10 West. If y’all haven’t been to Texas, it’s a BIG state. From Houston to El Paso its roughly 745 miles. That’s about 50 miles less than from El Paso to Los Angeles. No matter which way we go from San Antonio, it takes about a day to get out of Texas. And our highways have 80 mph speed limits. You can see why. Of course, being a Texan I go a bit… um no, I’m not going there. You never know who might be peeking at this blog.

Anyway, we made Las Cruces, New Mexico the first night. From there… well, if I gave you a blow by blow, it’d take forever. Suffice it to say we wandered toward Arizona, exploring along the way. I should have taken my hiking boots… I damn near wore out my good pair of cross trainers. Of course, it would have helped if some of the trails were marked better. We turned one one-mile round trip jaunt into a two-mile round-trip jaunt. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except it was hotter than lizard’s butt and we didn’t take water with us. Heck, it was only a short hike. By the time we got back, we were both drier than the desert we just traversed.

We did find a beautiful scenic byway between Clifton and Springerville, AZ… I don’t recommend it for the squeamish. Let’s just say it’s steep (more than 8% grade in a lot of places) with more switchbacks than a sidewinder. Recommended speed in most places… 15 mph. Of course, being a Texan… oh, never mind. But what a refreshing change, at 11:30 local time it was 59°. Oh, and it’s in the AZ mountains! Gotta love that! Spent the night in Holcomb, AZ, and boy did we need the rest.

Early the next morning, we grabbed breakfast and headed west, aimed at the Grand Canyon. Of course, traveling with my Sweetie is a guarantee that the route will never be direct. Nope, there was a sign for Sunset Volcano… right in the middle of a sprawling volcanic field that was active as recently as 1,000 years ago. Yep… took a turn and went to look that over. An hour and a half later, we were back on the road to the Grand Canyon. We spent dang near the whole day there. We didn’t have to pay a dime to get into the park… I bought a senior lifetime pass two years ago, and man did it pay for itself on this trip. I had three cameras with me… one digital and two 35mm film cameras. I burned a lot of film that I need to get developed.

From Grand Canyon, we headed for Utah. FYI, there aren’t a lot of hotels on the Navajo Trail (U.S. 160), so we had to make Kayenta, AZ before we found a Hampton Inn… it was nice and they had a great restaurant. Navajo tacos… yum! The next morning on to Utah. Wandered around a bit, and went over to Natural Bridges National Monument, wandered back to 191 and made a brief stop at Arches NP near Moab (we’d been there a few times, but wanted to get some new pictures. The roads are under construction and everybody has to be out of the park by 7:00 p.m. We got into the park at 5:00 p.m. after waiting in a looooong line and made Green River that night.

We wanted to see the petroglyphs in Nine-mile Canyon, so off we went up U.S. 191 to Wellington to find it. BTW, Nine-mile Canyon is some 60 miles long, dirt road part of the way, and the petroglyphs had been vandalized except in one location. It was a pretty drive through the canyon, but what a disappointment on the petroglyphs. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Sego Canyon is much better… and shorter. After toiling our way through the Canyon and coming out at Myton, we stopped for a late lunch in Roosevelt, then wound our way up to Vernal and spent the night there.

Dinosaur National Monument was next. Went right past the road to the Utah Visitors Center where the exposed dig area is and trundled on the Colorado Visitor’s Center. Oops. Had to backtrack about 24 miles to go see the bones. We had been there when the boys were young and had planned to visit it on our twentieth anniversary, but it was closed for rebuilding. The buildings were built on bentonite and had sunk to the point of being unsafe. It didn’t reopen until a couple of years ago. Did some shopping there and brought home a few trinkets and a cast of an Allosaurus skull to add to our collection. (For our anniversary last June, I got my Sweetie a life-size resin replica of a Saber-toothed Cat. What else would you get for the woman who doesn’t wear jewelry?).

From Dinosaur we headed for Cortez, CO for a little rest before hitting Mesa Verde the next day. That’s another park we had been to years ago, but wanted to revisit it since there were some hikes I couldn’t do last time we were there. I did ‘em this time. We spent most of the day there, then headed to Durango and south on CO 139 to I-70 back into Utah for a brief stop at Sego Canyon where I burned more film, and then back to Green River for the night.

By this time our vacation time was winding down, so we headed south again and went to Canyonlands National Park. Another one we had not been to. It was spectacular! In fact, I thought it was better than Grand Canyon (of course, fewer people may have had something to do with that). Made it to Albuquerque around 8:00 p.m. and stopped at a Best Western to see if they had a room. Nope, they were full up. It seems Alabama was in town for a concert that night. Disappointed (hey, I was road weary by this time) I started the car and was about to head out when the desk clerk came running out shouting to my wife, “Ma’am, ma’am! Wait! We just had a cancellation…” It’s uncanny. The same thing happened to us in Gunnison, CO on our trip last year. Grateful, we got it the room and zonked out.

Only two days left until we needed to be home. We headed southeast to Socorro for what seems to be an annual visit to the Very Large Array (VLA) in the New Mexico high desert, and arrived in Las Cruces for our last night on the road, before heading home the next day. Well, that’s about it. We’re home safe and sound now. We did lasso a storm in New Mexico and dragged it back with us. You’re welcome San Antonio!