I stop most Fridays at Gelson's for a challah. Now that the kids are gone I get an itty bitty one which we share with the dog. The bakery counter is crowded with the JCC nursery school crowd buying challah and flowers for the weekly Shabbat celebration. Tiny kids, with parents who sport more tattoos and ironic headwear than fifteen years ago when I was a nursery school mom. I remember the chronic exhaustion but also the exultant sense of self righteousness. Child rearing was the most important thing I'd ever done or will ever do. And now it is pretty much mission accomplished. The spawn are smart and decent and it is appropriate that my involvement in their lives becomes more peripheral. I've gone on now ad infinitum about the resultant lack of sense of purpose. Maybe I'm getting so sick of hearing myself whine that I'll finally figure out how to meaningfully navigate life's next phase.
We are at the annual Irish studies conference, this year in Santa Fe, where Himself has just presented an excellent paper on the letters of J.F. Powers. We attend these conferences every year on his employer's dime. I listen to a few papers, attend some performances and mooch from the hospitality table. I ask Himself to remind me of names of the usual suspects before the event and then chat everyone up like they're old pals. With few exceptions, no one seems to have aged all that much from the previous year. This and the abundance of free snacks reassures me.
We were last in Santa Fe when Joe College was about six months old. I land at the airport in Albuquerque and have no memory of having been there before. We must have been encumbered with a car seat and a stroller and heaps of baby gear. We would have had to take the shuttle from the airport to the car rental lot but nothing seems familiar. Coincidentally, the conference is at the same, not very good, hotel we stay in two decades ago but it is disconcerting that my memories are so hazy. We ate fry bread and something with prunes at an Indian Reservation and changed a diaper in the trunk. Snow fell lightly in the Plaza as we pushed the stroller. We ate breakfast at the famous Pasqual's. I return there this morning along with oodles of other tourists. The service is snippy and the food not remarkable.
Santa Fe is immaculate. There is no litter anywhere. There is even something pristine about a dead mouse lying in the gutter. I am immediately struck by the aroma of pinion, one thing still familiar after over twenty years. Tony stores with expensive Southwestern-ish fashion and Native Americans sitting on blankets arrayed with silver and craft gimcrack surround the square. The hotel pushes wildly expensive spa treatments, like a $120 Sacred Ground Body Wrap, aggressively. The tourist magazines in the room highlight million dollar real estate and mediocre paintings. Last year we are in Bar Harbor, equally meticulous and offering costly souvenirs and fashions, nearly identical to Santa Fe, except New England-ish, pine scented incense, moose and lighthouses instead of coyotes, ristras and pinion.
On the airplane two strangers converse through the whole flight. They talk about family problems and new age medicine. At the restaurant a mother and daughter chat about traveling and gossip about friends and relatives. I am annoyed by the banality of this incessant chatter. In my mind's eye I achieve a higher level of discourse. We talk about ideas and tell stories. I realize though that I do have a propensity for filling the emptiness with inane blather but it is Himself who has no patience for chit chat and has taught me to appreciate the silence of my own thoughts. When I see an older couple dining at a restaurant and not exchanging a word I would presume that they are bitter and miserable. Perhaps though it is the comfort of a marriage so ancient that it is almost telepathic. Often we laugh at things that no one else laughs at, like we have transmogrified into the same perverse individual.
This marks the beginning of Himself's annual teaching break and our time, along with others, mainly the long of tooth and no longer bound by a traditional school year, to travel. There are lots of electric scooters. A couple checks out of the hotel, toting a portable oxygen tank and a shower chair. I guess we are in the very brief traveling window where we don't have to tote a lot of kid crap or medical supplies. I am encumbered only by a befuddling array of electronics that enable me to run my business and probably more shoes than I need.
From Santa Fe we are spending a night in Albuquerque. We have a rental car for four weeks and no itinerary. For me, the open road is more comforting than the empty house. Last year we explore the East Coast, this year the middle. Our route will depend on whim and weather but we hope to see the Badlands and cruise Route 66 and visit friends along the way. We have a GoPro camera, smaller than a cigarette pack, that we can mount on the windshield and if it doesn't fly off and we can figure it out, we'll shoot some footage for the library. We'll stay at cheap motels or rent rooms through Air B&B. We haven't explored this part of the country. I suspect there won't be many gluten free options or parking lots overflowing with Prius. We'll see fall color and cruise the backroads and amass experiences I likely won't remember. Navigating the country without an itinerary might restore some purposefulness and meaning. It's not as important as raising two kids but we're going to take it slow tand make sure that it's not as tiring.