Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 4

We rediscovered our favorite chicken place on the opposite side of town from where it had been a few years earlier. Sayulita is magical like that–things open and close, move with no warning, change and evolve in ways peculiar to Sayulita. Like the recently paved road, which has been masterfully poured but ends dramatically with exposed re-bar threatening every tire that passes, restaurants and shops seem to work outside the rules of normal business practice. I turned a corner and there it was: La Pechuga. I marched right up, whipped out my meager Spanish, chatted briefly with the very nice man wrapping up my bird, and paid for a feast: a whole chicken with rice, fresh tortillas, and homemade salsa (85 pesos), and roast potatoes (15 pesos). I carried my quarry back to the den, proud to offer up such an unexpected delight to my family. We ate like kings (sorry Punta Sayulita, maybe dukes), rounded out by a couple Mexican Cokes (no corn syrup, but real cane sugar as the sweetener) and a vast appreciation for the simple pleasures of Mexican pollo.

We were so happy to rediscover our chicken place, which consisted of nothing more than an enormous rotisserie oven and a bunch of plastic bags to wrap up the birds, that we had to share this gem of intelligence with the new friends we had made in our housing complex. We planned a dinner for all of us, and we bought two chickens with all the trimmings. We sat down to our shared pollo meal on their rented patio overlooking the sea, amazed at our good fortune. And they too became enamored of the chicken place.

Our last night in Sayulita also happened to be the birthday of one of our new friends, so we agreed that getting a La Pechuga chicken was the best way to celebrate Brian’s birthday and cap our perfect vacation. At about four-thirty the men-folk mounted up and set out for the glory of the hunt. We women and children remained behind, with our sage leader, my father, rounding out the tribe.

We waited. We waited and waited. We wondered where they could be; had they come to harm along the peaceful Sayulita streets? Had they ended up in a bar doing shots with young surfers for Brian’s birthday, leaving us to our over-active fantastical imagination? Had they in fact found the chicken so irresistible they ate it all before they got back to the house, and now, having realized their folly, needed to acquire more fodder for the tribe? We toddled down to the beach at dusk to look for baby sea turtles. We toddled back. Our husbands were still not there.

The sun had left Sayulita, and a blue half-light covered the town. The ocean was roaring in the distance, now invisible as night had fallen.

They arrived at last, chicken in hand, weary, travel worn, but in one piece.

“The chicken place was gone,” Brian said. “They moved to Guadalajara.”

This was unexpected.

We had walked by the day before, planning with our stomachs how many chickens to buy for our celebration. There, La Pechuga’s long line, its rotisserie turning out perfect chicken, its staff of two helping its devoted customers, had beguiled us with a future that was not to be. It had faded overnight, gone, like a mirage. An oasis of chicken disappearing into the mists of Sayulita businesses gone by.

But our husbands had brought chicken, a mystery yet to be revealed.

“We didn’t know what to do now that there was no chicken place, so we just started walking through the town, hoping we could find an alternative.”

This was not ideal, as my husband is rather inflexible when it comes to his stomach and its cravings. He had been banking on La Pechuga, and now that it had disappeared overnight, he was at a loss. Brian and Lars wandered into the little downtown across the tiny river, looking up dirt roads and down little avenues for dinner alternatives to be revealed. They came upon a dry erase board with a hand-written name “Yolanda” on it, an arrow pointing them up a dry dirt road to their next best chicken hope.

They came up empty-handed–Yolanda’s chicken place had also closed up shop, making them wonder if there was a dire chicken shortage that had befallen Sayulita, the Great Pollo Disaster of 2010.

Finally, perhaps because she took pity upon the strangers staring at the place Yolanda’s once stood, or maybe noting that they had walked past in some circular, confused route, a woman sitting in front of her house asked them what they were looking for.

“Yolanda?” my husband asked.

“Yolanda is gone,” she replied.

“Closed?” they asked.

“Just gone,” she said, in a way that made them wonder if Yolanda had slipped the yoke on this mortal coil. “What are you looking for?” she asked.

Pollo, chicken. We’re looking for chicken for dinner,” they said.

She shrugged, “I’ll make you a chicken.”

They looked at each other. She had a grill in front of her house, and its coals were hot. Why not?

“How many chickens you want?” she asked.

Dos,” they requested.

“Half an hour, you come back,” she said.

So our husbands wandered off into town again. They covered the whole downtown and doubled back, meandering through alleys and streets, with potholes the size of small ponds. The town is small enough that they re-traced their path many times before the half hour ran out and they ambled back to the woman’s house.

“Fifteen more minutes,” she said.

They set out again, taking spurs and side streets they hadn’t yet investigated. They had covered most of the town by the time fifteen minutes past.

“Not done yet,” she announced, so they chatted politely in front of her grill while she puttered about. The sun had pretty much set behind the future Punta Sayulita community, and the dusky blue wrapped them in cool light when she finally held out the bag with two chickens in it.

“Wow,” we said, back at the house. “She just made you two chickens? Just because?” We were stunned and moved. Her two chickens cost 170 pesos, about 12 dollars, but completely priceless. They were different from La Pechuga chickens, but delicious just the same. It was a meal worth waiting for.

•   •   •

My husband, bless him, thinks that Punta Sayulita is a pipe dream that will come to nothing. They supposedly broke ground in February, 2009, and looking at their website I see that out of their future plans for “just 62 exotic and handcrafted homes” only three plots are noted as sales “pending.” The rest are “available” or marked as “future releases” which gives me hope.

On the other hand the “unspoiled 33-acre peninsula of lush and tranquil shoreline” has been purchased by someone, or some consortium, and ownership implies development, even if Punta Sayulita fails in its mission of creating a luxury hideaway for Americans who only want to see other Americans. But what a loss. What a loss for the people who purchase their stake in an Intimate Kingdom; no random chicken stories for them in their tightly modulated experience of luxury.

And what a loss for the residents of Sayulita, who deserve better than more people like Mr. and Mrs. Walrus washing up on their shores, demanding service they have no right to demand in ways that give a bad name to all travelers who arrive there. We have tried hard to be good, if fleeting, citizens of Sayulita; to honor the spirit of the town’s easy-going and casual atmosphere, even if we know that there is still a level of hypocrisy in our sucking up the best beachfront real estate for our brief visits. But we are open to the experience of Sayulita, not Club Med.

And what of the “unspoiled 33-acre peninsula”? It will be spoiled. By the very act of breaking ground, the spoiling has begun. How can anyone read such base descriptions of pristine shoreline and the “new ocean sanctuary...set to rise” without feeling bile tickle the back of their throats just a little? We shouldn’t aspire to being royalty in our intimate kingdoms, especially in someone else’s country. Best to aspire to being good neighbors, equal in the desire for good stewardship of such a precious jewel.

Sayulita, and all its residents, tamarindos, iguanas, and mangoes, deserves no less.

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 2

As a private residential community of just 62 exotic and handcrafted homes, this serene Mexican hideaway will also offer its residents a stunning Beach and Surf Club designed by de Reus Architects with an engaging beach bar, lounge, Jungle Pool and stylish restaurant. There will be a modern fitness center and spa facilities and Concierge services, outdoor yoga pavilions, community watercraft and a casual Surf Club boasting an array of ocean activities for the entire family.

--Brochure for Punta Sayulita

The mythology of Sayulita is this: it was discovered in the 70's by two surfers who came through on a lark and stayed for the easy life. From them, Sayulita has grown up from an isolated fishing village to a recreation destination for both Mexicans on vacation and Northerners looking to escape their chilly climes. And now, having grown up through several generational shifts, the children who are residents have known no other town than the one with a transient tourist population, swinging through in weekly migrations. Many of them benefit from this peculiar migrant population as restaurants and shops have grown up to support the tides of travelers.

And many of them still do not speak English, which makes me easy, somehow. Even though their town is at any given time probably a third to half foreigners, they have retained their cultural heritage and their language. Or at least the language of the earlier, more violent colonial invaders; it seems that many of the locals are in some part descended from the Huichols who still maintain a vivid and brightly decorated presence there.

We discovered Sayulita several years ago, well after it had already been established as a hidden jewel of Nayarit. But the problem with hidden jewels is no-one seems to be able to keep the secret. I share responsibility and some of blame for this: several of our friends have also made the trip to Sayulita based upon our ringing endorsement, and I'm sure that they in turn have passed on the secret as well. And they told two friends, and they told two friends...

But Sayulita is at a crossroads. It's a 45-minute ride down a winding two lane highway from Puerto Vallarta in whatever taxi or bus you find to take you. There were no paved streets in the town itself save the highway until recently; now there are paved roads. Granted, they don't really qualify as "improved" since they start and stop abruptly, one of them actually ending in tire-destroying re-bar which juts out, threatening every vehicle willing to take the risk with a flat. But just the same, paved. And it's no surprise that they needed some paved roads in town, as the development around little Sayulita is rocketing along at a tidy clip.

We got a taste of its pace at breakfast time as we walked to ChocoBanana, a weird little restaurant that seems to anchor the Norteños and the locals together in some funny unsettled way. And at eight in the morning, the streets are rumbling with the engines of countless trucks all going to the new construction sites throughout the town. There are many trucks going to many sites.

Development is no new thing here. The entire beachfront seems to have been swallowed up by larger and larger complexes of houses, each one boasting more amenities and greater size than the ones before. We have availed ourselves of this extreme decadence, though we do it with a touch of sheepishness and a little confusion about our intersection with the lifestyles of the residents of the town. But we, being part and parcel with the Northwest, are always looking for new ways to flee the weather, and Sayulita has become the point on our radar upon which we focus.

The residents to date seem to be placid about the massive transient population that has washed up there. There have been great entrepreneurial possibilities opening for those willing to suck up the foreign cash, which is in abundance. Still, just the same, I can't help but sense that we have, by swallowing up the choicest sections of beachfront properties and then hiring the Mexicans from Sayulita to build them, clean them and manage them, imported our inequitable treatment of the residents with us from the Northern reaches. Even though we are in effect the migrants.

•   •   •

The best thing about a place like Sayulita is that one is forced, by the very nature of its inaccessibility and sleepiness, to take it slow. The greatest challenge that faced us each day was what to eat and where to eat it. Tacos? Fresh fish pulled from the sea? Maybe a little tamale from the Señora that wandered through the complex?

Anyone who has been there knows the Muffin Lady by reputation; she sells freshly baked pies and muffins every morning along the beachfront houses on the North side of town. Breakfast while rubbing our eyes free of the night's humid descent was always a non-issue as our son would cram cheese pies in his face and we adults would drink stiff coffee with our orange muffins baked in old tin cans. If one chose, you could not move from under your palapa on your rented terracotta patio for the entire day: muffins in the morning, tamales for lunch, grab some shrimp from the fish trucks that drive through town shouting the catch of the day from the back. Throw them on a grill and you've had yourself a good day.

But the benefits of moving off the patio are great: if you like surfing, or just smelling the ocean you've got it made. The jungle rises up behind you on steep hills, and there are horses to ride through them, led by the enterprising locals. Boat rides, beers on the beach, simple basking in the sun, weighed down by nothing heavier than the tropical humidity. Everything is slow.

There is a sort of friction between old and new Sayulita as it becomes more popular. Just to absorb the huge influx of tourists, the roads have to be improved. The demands for accessible health care have risen from the potential drowning victims who wallow in the deceptively placid ocean and an unfortunate outbreak of dengue fever, and tidy new clinics have resulted. There is a necessity for efficient waste management, and a bunch of little recycling bins have spread throughout the town. The new sewage treatment plant is a huge improvement in the quality of life there; the smell on funky days was pretty punishing. The tiny rivulet that separates North from South Sayulita seems wholesome again, though I wouldn't drink the water on a bet.

Many of the features that we travelers find so intimately alluring must be an unendurable pain in the ass for people who live there. The potholes in the unpaved roads are so enormous and voluminous that cars and trucks must go through fabulous numbers of shocks and repairs. So while we Norteños wander through on foot, wearing our flip flops and beach pareos on our way to discover some other quaint delight, the more respectably attired locals on their way to work on new constructions or to open their shops, or unloading their goods from the back of trucks battered from crappy roads, must wish for a nice route through the town.

But convenience for them will mean the loss of charm for us. It's an uneasy moment in Sayulita, and the ex pat community is cognizant of the need for and awareness of growth regulation. The very active foreign community encourages the involvement of Mexicans in their own destiny, which is good but may overtake all of them no matter how well-managed their growth.

And as the foreign presence swells, so does modernity. It is impossible at this point to get much work done if you're from the north; the internet is too spotty. But even this is changing, and cafes and restaurants all tout their Wi-Fi connections. Speed is not aces, but then, who would want it to be? Not when you could toddle down to the beach with a beer and watch the pelicans diving. The last day we were there, high speed internet was being installed in the complex we were leaving. It's only a matter of time, really, before everything is wired, even the odd chicken roticerias. And who am I to complain? It will probably ease the annoyance of many there. And yet, I'm grieved by the addition.

The charm of Sayulita has been it's laid back, timeless quality. In this, change is in the air. There is a stylish convenience store right in the center of town now, looking flashy and modern standing next to the rather less well-put-together farmacia/tienda next door. They are both populated with all the same passers-by, but I can't help but feel that the Oxxo has put the farmacia on notice: evolve or die.

And then there is the newest addition to Sayulita: Punta Sayulita, a gated community developing on the once pristine ocean point just outside of town.

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 1

A stone's throw from the allure of Sayulita, there is an unspoiled 33-acre peninsula of lush and tranquil shoreline. Upon this romantic sweep of coast, amidst a tropical jungle thick with wild orchids, mangoes, tamarindos and pelicans soaring overhead, a new ocean sanctuary is set to rise. --Brochure for Punta Sayulita, a development in Mexico on the Nayarit Coast

The speed with which our taxi driver raced into the complex to drive us to the airport was contradictory to all our other experiences in Sayulita, Mexico. Certainly it was contrary to our experience with the same driver only seven days earlier, who picked us up in a Chevy Suburban with a cooler of Tecate which we swilled with impish delight on the winding highway through the jungle to Sayulita. We drank with some part "fuck you" to the rules and regulations of the United States, and some part ablutions to the lords of vacation.

But upon vacation's end, the driver Antonio was in a frenzy. He threw our bags in the back while being verbally assaulted by the source of his excitement, an overgrown walrus of an American telling Antonio there wasn't room for our family, that he needed the taxi for himself. Antonio was trying to explain to him through obvious strain and his thick Spanish accent that my family had arranged for the taxi days before; the walrus was an interloper injecting himself into a car that wasn't available. The walrus neither heard nor cared, and harrumphed into the seat in front of the other object of Antonio's distress, the walrus's girlfriend.

Having come late to the party, we were confused. We had arranged with Antonio for a round trip to and from the airport; sharing the taxi was not a part of negotiations so we were similarly miffed. Plus I had no idea we were to share a taxi with Princess Grace's lesser sibling. Through her Midwestern twang she barked at Antonio, "There's not enough room for them, we need this taxi FOR US." Antonio got in the Suburban and started to drive. He called someone on his cell while navigating the potholes and crevasses that opened up in Sayulita's completely unimproved streets, speaking frantically while avoiding skinny dogs and surfers clogging up the road. "He wants to talk to you," Antonio said to Princess Walrus, handing her his cell phone.

She berated the voice on the other end. "We need to be at the airport AT FIVE; I want YOU to PICK ME UP. We're in a van with other people; there's no room for other people. You meet me and drive me YOURSELF. We're going to our hotel NOW. Twenty-five minutes, I want you THERE." She handed the phone back to Antonio who was quietly seething in the driver's seat. "Just take us to our fucking hotel," Princess Walrus complained. Over staggering potholes of dirt road we jumbled together, our six-year-old the only one laughing at the absurdity of the thing, the van's shocks failing us over every bump, making it better than any amusement park ride.

I turned to my husband. "This is like the West Bank," I explained. I've always tried to describe it to him--the Middle East Relations major who never got the chance to visit the Middle East--and this was it: bad roads, insane Americans bitching at people, taxis bottoming out every five feet, dust covering everything. Sometimes the Third World seems universal: one dusty road populated by a bitchy American woman assaulting a local is as good as another. Princess and Master Walrus tumbled out of the van at their swank hotel on the spectacular Nayarit shore, apparently more inclined to miss their plane than to share a taxi they were never welcome to in the first place. The last I saw of the Walrus Tribe was Princess Walrus yelling at anyone who would listen how unfairly she had been treated.

Antonio was puce with fury as he drove back down the impassable narrow dirt path to the main highway. "Pendejo" featured prominently in the tumble of Spanish that fell from his spluttering lips as we pulled away. He spat out words to explain what had happened, between gesticulations at the truck that almost backed into us, which we pieced together however we could: The Walruses had jumped in his taxi when he dropped another fare, and he, both because they were too stupid to listen and too belligerent to care, couldn't eject them. They wanted his taxi, and damn it, they were going to take it. That there were other arrangements did not enter the equation, even when he picked us up, the totally mystified family who had scheduled ahead of time.

"They had another taxi, but they didn't wait for it--they just took this one. No pay, no nada! And she's yelling at me! I drive them to their hotel, I call the other company for them..." He dissolved into a tirade of Spanglish so thick we couldn't parse any more, other than that his hatred for the Walruses knew no bounds. I was completely sympathetic. She was the stereotype of horrific American tourist: nasal, bitchy, entitled. We hated her even before she humiliated Antonio, with her insouciant freshly-fucked hair-style, expensive yoga pants and high heeled flip flops. It was all façade; the small blunderbuss rammed up her ass was evidence of no true human contact in more than a decade. Though I despised him, I also pitied Mr. Walrus; it was an unbearable trip to go across an idyllic village in Mexico with this piece of work; a trip across the country in a plane with her would qualify as torture under Geneva.

•  •  •

Going on Safari With the Wildebeests of Long Beach

It was about the time that I began critiquing the fashion choices of our fellow passengers in the Long Beach Airport that I realized I may have reached my limit for what the brain could tolerate on "vacation." Completely mean-spirited, I was watching the passers-by stuck in the same predicament as me, crammed like cattle waiting for their damned flight crew to arrive so their plane could take off, now three and a half hours late. "That woman should never wear stretch pants," I would spew in my head. "She looks like a naked mole rat rolled in purple icing." I'd turn in another direction, only to face someone else worthy of my skewering. "Jesus Christ, dude. Have a little dignity. Leave the acid wash at home in the bins," I'd scowl. But this was just an indication of the fragility of my own state of mind, since I am a great slob myself, rarely bothering to put my clothes together in any discernibly fashionable way. I am, in general, sympathetic to my fellow American slobs. Sometimes it can just be too much bother to put on clothes that look more interesting than thrift store cast-offs, when one knows that the outfit's only future is one with spots of ketchup and paint splatters on it.

We had endured an amazing number of obstacles to what anyone might call "fun," and we were now stuck in Long Beach, in one of the most dismal little airports I've ever seen, trying to get home. We had already spent the morning in Los Angeles fighting a cloudburst of epic proportions and forging through rivers of water to get to the Museum of Natural History. We had been soaked, grumpy and hungry when we got in the doors of the museum, where it turns out there is no restaurant. We took one look at the T. Rex just past the door and turned around to slog through L.A.'s new rivers again, looking for crappy food in a crummy part of town.

We returned to the museum, ever mindful of our flight a few hours hence. We carved a neat path through the exhibits and it was enjoyable enough, but we were happy to get our soggy asses to the airport, the first step in our trip back home. We arrived with a picture-perfect finish at the airport, just enough time to pick up a magazine and get on the plane.

This is a small airport. It was built in the 1950's and perhaps updated most recently in the late 80's or early 90's. It has a grungy institutional lack of charm, made worse by its lack of amenities. So when we arrived, thrilled at our speedy dodging through L.A. rush hour traffic, we were dismayed that we would be spending a rather long stretch here. Ours was the only delayed flight in the whole damned airport.

When we checked a bag (a decision based solely upon our unwillingness to drag our bags, along with our son, through the airport for our long delay), my husband asked if there was anywhere to wait it out. "You could either go to your gate, which is basically a big room, or the restaurant." That was it.

Restaurant it is! We parked ourselves in the booth, and whiled away the time as best we could; eventually we could no longer tolerate the nice but useless waitress or drink more beer and get thrown out for public drunkenness, or cited for child endangerment: our son was flopping into the aisle, and we needed to remove him before he tripped someone and sent food raining down on his head. So despite having several more hours to wait, we gave up our plush digs in the ugly paneled restaurant and opted to go to the big room.

Big room is right. At the entrance there was a "bar," separated from the main room with a barrier rope; they apparently couldn't be bothered with walls. There were 4 or 5 seats, two of which were occupied by bozos hitting on the female bartender. At the other corner of the room was a snack bar, similar to what one might find in the lobby of a hospital, with blue plush bears no-one wants and bags of popcorn and licorice, some aspirin and bottles of water. We found seats in the remarkably quiet room in front of the only other amenity, the magazine kiosk, manned by a pimply overweight young man who looked ready to kill himself. There were four gates and rows upon rows of Trailways-era institutional seating. That was it.

But at least it was empty, and our son could burn off a little extra energy by climbing the seats and running through the aisles. Which was fine, but only good for so long. So we gave him our phones to play with. That palled after a while, so we went to the bathroom. A brief distraction, but at least we got to see what the fluorescents looked like in the there.

The only art in the whole big room was parked between the men's and women's restrooms, a fitting place if ever there was. My husband encouraged me to go look at it, and since I wasn't encumbered by distractions, I walked up to it.

It struck my husband and I both with foreboding and curiosity about the artist's intent. A rank, yellow heavy sky hangs in the background, the Washington Monument shooting up violently behind a single skeletal tree, while two children flee in the foreground. Or is one fleeing and the other pursuing? Their backs are turned to the viewer, making the viewer a party to the action, either pursuing, which is creepy, or being pursued, which is creepier. A girl is looking over her shoulder to see if the unidentified threat is gaining upon her. A plane shoots diagonally overhead, its jet trail leaving the viewer questioning if it were the culprit in making the sky yellow, a villain leaving behind clouds of mustard gas or sulphurous evil intent.

It did not soothe the uneasy traveler into a sense of calm about their impending journey. And it didn't matter that upon further examination I discovered the kids were not fleeing but ice-skating; it remained jarring merely by its composition. The artist pulled a fast one, even if they themselves didn't know it. They had a lark at the expense of poor hapless purchasers of bland institutional art.

My husband took a photo he was so charmed.

The room was beginning to fill up. The passengers were all similarly travel-frumpy, most recently having come from Disneyland and god knows what horrors there. Most of them were dressed in Classic American Tourist: pale shapeless blue jeans or Dockers for the gents, often with a cell phone clip on their belt. A well worn t-shirt from some other tourist destination they visited long ago, now soft and faded from washing, or a shirt with sequins, glitter or some unholy combination of the two. An impossible number of stretch pants under too-large t-shirts, a look I sported when I was 15 and gave up realizing that no-one wants to look at a sad-sack Olivia Newton-John facsimile. Sandals, though it was not warm. There were perms.

And there were more and more of them coming. Our son was being squeezed into smaller areas of territory, and like a cheetah losing habitat he was becoming more brave and more ornery. Climbing up and over the bucket seats right next to whoever was there, placing an unwelcome foot dangerously close to a pissed commuter; sitting on the tables bolted between them and twitching and fidgeting, throwing elbows out too close to grumpy seatmates; distracting people from their only respite: reading People magazine or looking at their phones.

Our plane was now four hours late. The natives were getting restless. There was a sense in the room of static electricity as people swapped stories and bonded over their stranding; I overheard conversations full of intimate details of other failed vacations between complete strangers who had become their new best friends in the dreary Long Beach Airport. Parents were desperate to keep their children from exciting a riot, which in this fevered climate would not be too difficult.

Like streaming tides of wildebeests the stranded passengers began to crowd towards the gate. Had someone seen something? Did someone know that the crew was here? Where was everyone going? The hive mind had spoken, and all passengers uniformly wove their way to where our plane was supposed to have departed, so long ago. We too followed, a rash decision as we had staked out our territorial claim early on. To leave it was a hopeful, but ultimately senseless act of optimism.

The wildebeests had not seen the crew, nor gleaned some greater intelligence about our flights status; the airline, choosing wisely to placate the beasts with symbolic gifts had left out water and soda and some bags of fodder in the form of mini pretzels and cashews. The herd had gone to the wallow, and we, proper dupes that we are, had given up our prime section of grassland for an utterly craptastic booby prize.

I don't know if we cheered when the crew arrived, or simply tasted blood in our mouths from the anxiety and waiting. I know that we finally got on the plane two and a half hours past our son's bedtime, and he was running on fumes and nervous excitement. We were relieved that the plane would lull him to sleep, the drone of the engines knocking him out like a sedative.

Alas, that is not our son. He is the perpetual motion machine, always enraptured and engaged by anything new. So while our fellow wildebeests slept, we were stuck with a playful calf, jumping into the aisles and jostling the flight crew, playing peek-a-boo with the toddler seated behind him. They would have been cute had everyone around them not been trying to sleep.

Predictably, just as the plane was descending toward our blessed Portland home, our son passed out cold, the fatigue overcoming him in our last ten minutes in the air. Our journey not quite complete despite our tantalizing proximity to our home, we now had to get our checked luggage and a dead weight through the airport past midnight, to curbside and a taxi.

We struggled in the aisle with our belongings, the other passengers laughing at our impossible task: our son was so asleep that we couldn't put his coat on, couldn't move him, couldn't figure out how to negotiate this last obstacle to free ourselves from the belly of the plane. With no small amount of help from the herd, we somehow stumbled free.

It is some sort of divine joke when you've reached this point and step off the plane into a completely deserted concourse only to discover that you are at the very furthest end of it. Unlike Long Beach Airport which is the size of a gymnasium and just as unattractive, this concourse was long. But if adversity is the spark of ingenuity, I discovered that I was ready for a wheelchair. With my son weighing a metric ton in my arms, and my husband burdened with the rest of the carry-on, I sat down in the first airport wheelchair I saw, right at the end of the ramp leading off the plane.

Wildebeests laughed at our choice but applauded and then raced themselves to the luggage carousel: whoever got their luggage first got the taxi first too. Realizing the desperate race against the clock had begun in earnest, my husband, a wheeled bag in one hand and another across his shoulder, our son's car seat wedged between his body and the handles of the wheelchair, began to push the wheelchair as fast as he could. I was buried in impossibly heavy child, trying to keep his limbs from getting caught in the wheels as he flopped around. My husband found it so ridiculous that despite his carrying two bags, a car seat and 170 pounds of human cargo he took out his camera to document our final journey down the long hallway home.

•  •  •  •  •

We're home now--this was weeks ago--and we made it back in one piece. Even though we did not beat the clock for our luggage, and no kindly soul offered us to cut in line for a taxi, despite it being 22 degrees and carrying a boy utterly insensate to the bitter elements despite us being unable to put his coat on, we were finally ushered into a cab where Rasputin himself was at the wheel. It was a fitting end.

Since then some crazed dumb-ass wanna-be terrorist lit explosives on a plane to Detroit, not serving his ultimate goal of bringing it down, but certainly serving the lesser goal of making it even more unpleasant to travel.

And we just booked our flight to Mexico.

The Quarter and the Charitable Spirit

My son and I went to New Orleans last January to visit his papa while he was working there for an extended period. The day before our flight, our son spiked with a fever of about 102. So I was left with the decision: cancel the trip and have my son never forgive me for making him miss the only week he would see his pop for two and a half months, or get on a two-legged flight with a miserably sick child to stay in a foreign strange room far, far from the comforts of home. Clearly I had to suck it up and go, so I doped the boy up on Motrin, loaded our luggage with baubles and fripperies and doobobs, and packed him, fever and all, onto a plane (coincidentally the day before the US Airways plane went into the Hudson in NYC. I guess things can always be worse) to go to the Big Easy.

Big, I suppose; Easy not so much.

Now I'm in a weird city with a sick kid, but at least my son can hold onto his papa while he sweats it out, which all things being equal was quite a lot, really. By day two we were all pretty content with the whole feverish visit, so we decided to take the plunge out into the wider world: breakfast in NOLA. Grits, pancakes, andouille, a hot chocolate overflowing with whipped cream for the boy. All was perfect, including the lippy service from the little old waitresses smacking around their customers for ordering toast instead of biscuits.

And then our son started to turn a new shade of puce. In all of our organizational prowess in keeping the boy occupied and entertained, we had forgotten to time the breakfast for the height of Motrin-o'clock. It was wearing off, and he was slowly turning that blueish peaked color reserved for people with Nordic pasty complexions who come down with the crud. Shivers set in. We scooped him onto Papa's lap with my scarf around him, then piled on my coat. Breakfast had just been ordered and we were starving but our son's teeth were chattering like a marimba.

It was not ideal.

Finally our food arrived and we scarfed it, me shoveling as fast as I could so my husband could eat without trying to catch drive-by mouthfuls around the shaking, shivering heap on his lap. Our son, who was looking fit to keel over then tells me between chattering teeth he wants to go outside to sit in the sun. And though it is in fact sunny out, it's also about 38 degrees. But out we go, across the street from the restaurant to sit against a wall in the French Quarter.

I hovered slightly over our boy, providing a partial wind screen while I wrapped him like a mummy in my wool coat and draped him with my cashmere scarf as a blanket, while he goggled into the half-distance with a murky fevered gaze.

I began to feel eyes on me as I sat there, protecting my son as best I could from the cold while we waited for my husband to pay up. Tourists like ourselves walked by in the bright cold and glanced with curiosity at our little tableau before they avoided my direct gaze. Locals walked by, making a wide arc around our small, violently bio-toxic patch of concrete in the sun.

I suppose one does not sit on the sidewalk in the French Quarter unless one absolutely has no choice or dies there on the spot. I suppose that this was one of those moments. What else can I do? I'm waiting for my husband who's now confronting the busboy who had pilfered our son's travel toy case (the first of two times locals tried to bilk us in a most casual way; the price of doing business in NOLA) to make his way from the restaurant. So we wait, helpless, huddled on the sidewalk in the French Quarter hoping the next dose of Motrin kicks in any ol' time. I try to look casual.

I was staring at a group of tourists staring at me when a little black fist clutched with dollars caught my peripheral vision, imploring me to take the wad of bills. It was only then that I realized that no-one thinks we're sick, they think we're homeless. And then in a remarkable shift I see the mise en scéne unfold from the perspective of NOLA's fair tourists and citizens: mother exhausted by poverty and lack of housing, and the grinding bureaucracy of post-Katrina New Orleans finally has no other choice but to take the horrid step of having to bring her poor son out begging for money in a city already racked by crushing problems. So we sit in the Quarter. Hoping for help.

The man who so kindly tried to be charitable to us was embarrassed when I graciously declined his money. He disappeared like smoke it was so quick.

I thought, "Boy, that sure is your Southern Charitable Spirit right there."

Followed immediately by, "I can't possibly look THAT desperate, can I?"

I tried to shake it. My shallowness, that is.

"What about the cashmere scarf? C'mon! Dead giveaway, people! Right? RIGHT? I mean, I don't actually look like a street person, right?



The Small Naked Drunk Man in the Bottom of My Bag

When my husband and I were footloose and fancy-free, we took a belated honeymoon to Italy. It was several years after we were married but no less sweet, and we embraced all the pleasures Italia had to offer. Not least of which were the ruins at the base of Mount Vesuvius, magnificently petrified in a violent hail of ashes and mud. We went to both Pompeii and Herculaneum, and because we were doing our best to shed American dollars to the tourist industry, we purchased a few doobobs and trinkets to bring back for the folks at home.

My personal favorite was a keychain of a statue unearthed in Herculaneum of the god Hercules. Apparently freshly returned from hunting (or playing cricket), his club is swung over one shoulder and he's got a nice animal skin to show for his prowess. The statue is remarkable for it's realism: you can practically smell the fumes of wine leaching from Herc's pores as he teeters back with his Johnson in his hand to take a whiz. He's been celebrating, it seems.

I loved it so much I bought a bunch of them and gave them away to slightly quizzical friends and family. I'm the only one who actually used Herc for a keychain; everyone else quietly tucked him away in the bottom of their junk drawers and promptly forgot that a god was taking a leak in them.

Hercules has been dangling drunkenly from my keys until a few months ago when his little metal ring broke and he began swimming unmoored amongst the receipts and lip balms in my handbag. Every now and then I find him, linty but no less loaded, and think about affixing him again to my lonely keys who miss the endless party. But I never do, and Hercules has been pissing unfettered in my purse ever since.

The Bun (our toddler) found him the other day. The boy has been entranced by the occult mysteries of "the handbag" of late, and I think that the discovery of my little drunk buddy didn't disappoint him in the inscrutability of the feminine purse. He held him reverently in his hands and turned him over and over again, looking at this little man peeing endlessly with sincere awe. I wondered how I would explain what he was doing there. Obviously too young to understand what being loaded is, I had no idea what he thought of him, my little idol to the carelessness of youth and revelry.

I suppose it doesn't matter. I just hope that three years from now when Herc is still floating around down there awash in those same receipts I've never chucked that the bun doesn't pick-pocket him and take him to school for show and tell.

Hercules used with permission

Things I saw in BC:

  • Dereliction.
  • My brother.
  • His new gal.
  • A man walking down the street with a baby seat in one hand and a moose antler in the other.Once you get to that "I can't pull on my undies without tipping over" stage, it is not really recommended that you travel. I was pretty miserable in the car both directions, despite foresight and planning with plenty of snacks in the car. And the husband sped the whole way to Olympia just to get us to the Farmer's Market in time to purchase a little turkey jerky, most of which I've already eaten. Now the hubbo fears that I'm salting the tyke; perhaps it really isn't the best form to eat the better part of a pound of jerky in three days, but what the hell? It's probably not recommended that one eat crepes every day either, but I did that without any guff! So step off, bub!

    Anyway, more lessons from the school of hard knockers: Don't travel when in the third trimester. If you must travel, get a hotel room that has nice beds, and even more important, nice pillows to alleviate and elevate the stress on the tum. Also, buy one of those completely absurd back-massaging car seats from Walmart; I did and it was both a cultural eye-opener (Walmart, as far as I can tell, is a universe within our universe, similar and yet...utterly strange) and great for loosening up those knots incurred while propped in the car seat for hours on end. Plus, if you don't have knots but are bored, you can probably vibrate the sneaky bits and alleviate that ennui quite readily. I didn't, but I know you could!

    And yet another new development: it seems that pregnancy makes one completely incapable of buttoning one's coat with the right holes. I stepped out of our hotel numerous times looking like Forrest Gump because I couldn't button in the correct order. Chemistry? Mind holes? Hormonal button imbalance? I don't know, but it's a disturbing phenomenon.

    [The husband would like to interrupt this entry to announce that we are officially t-minus 1 hour until the third trimester. He knows this because his little calendar told him so. He's funny like that.]\

    So we're back from Vancouver, where we visited my brother on his 26th birthday and scrutinized his new girlfriend (who stood up to the harsh light of familial cross-examination with flying colors). We've returned salted, poorly buttoned, and with fond memories of men carrying moose antlers and child seats. It was a fine trip, back-ache and crankiness be damned.

  • When the Mistress of Slumber Eludes Us

    The husband and I are taking a little road trip, so today, more than ever, I should try to sleep as much as possible. And yet, here I sit. This road trip is of great concern. Are we going to have to stop every 37 minutes to find a loo? Are my husband and I going to have to trade off driving every 20 minutes because our backs both ache (he threw his out somewhat recently; it's like Sanford and Son around here except we're both Fred Sanford, bitching about our ailments and pains all the time. Actually, now that I think about it, he doesn't really bitch. So really, I guess it's me bitching enough for the both of us)? Will I get enough turkey jerky in Olympia to last me until the Canadian border? These are all going to be answered in short order, and it could be ugly.

    And I want to carry around my new diaper bag, but you know, I just don't have any diapers to lug around yet. Or, more correctly, I don't have a baby to lug around yet, which you kind of need for the diaper bag to really work with your ensemble (a complete non sequitur: I've been writing down his name on things lately: "_____'s New Thingie," "Goofy Graphics for _______." It hasn't seemed real to me at all until last night when I reread this birth announcement I'm thinking about, and there it was: his name, written out for when he is actually here; not some strange, elusive creature that breaches like a whale in my tum and then disappears, but a little human who, when he kicks, won't be kicking my ribcage from the inside but from the outside, chomping away at the lunch counter that will be my chest. Then I realized, "Good grief, I'm going to be saying, '_____, sweetheart, you have to pee in the potty, not next to the potty.'"It all seemed very real for a brief, touching and terrifying moment).

    So I wait for the sun to arrive, writing with Max curled up next to me (he's pretending for whatever reason that he's a lap cat), daydreaming about _______, wondering what he's like, hoping that he'll take it easy on mum as she's stuck in the car driving north today.

    I should be sleeping, but this is okay too. [Edited to add: _____ is apparently awake, too. He just kicked me so hard that my laptop moved.]