Well, almost Kansas. That was the last part of the trip. This started at the end of March, when Ranger and I went to Kansas City to see his kids and retrieve the last of his stuff, still in storage there.
We arrived at our home airport at 5:15 AM, to catch a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, where we had a layover before our flight to Kansas City. Checking in, they offered us a deal on first-class seats between Dallas and KC. So, we treated ourselves to a little more leg room and boarding first. Which I like.
I'm what you might call a competitive boarder. I hate Southwest Airlines because I actually have to sweat my place in line to get the seat I want. And I want close to the front because I hate that "trapped" feeling when you land and people just won't get out of the way to let you off. Yeah, I'm that person you see at the gate an hour before boarding time, sitting on the floor at the little passenger corral, staking out her pole position. And I set my bags so that no one can step in front of me.
On other airlines, I have an assigned seat, which I've checked and rechecked online to see if I can move closer to the front. You'd think I'd feel better about that. No. Then, I sweat getting room for my bag in the overhead bin.
So, boarding first makes me happy. And Ranger likes it a lot when I'm happy.
The flight to DFW was smooth. On time and all. I looked in the pocket in front of my seat and pulled out the paper barf bag. "Dang," I said. "Not the nice plastic ones. I needed more little gift bags."
Ranger laughed. He was there when I actually used one of the plastic ones for a gift for my dad. Then took great delight in telling him how the airlines were giving away those bags to passengers when I last traveled. Yep, right in the pocket for each seat.
I have a sick sense of humor sometimes.
At DFW, we had time to waste. I looked at my phone clock and saw we had another two hours until our flight. We browsed shops. We took our sweet time getting to the next gate. We found a restaurant where we could get something to drink and wait. As we sat down, Ranger lookied at his own phone.
"What time did you say it was?" he asked. I told him.
His eyes went a little wide. "No," he said, showing me his phone. His had updated to the current time zone. It said we had 30 minutes until our flight.
"What?!" I grabbed my phone. Sure enough, it had not updated the time. I was an hour off. Later, I found the setting to change that.
We left the restaurant quickly and crossed over to our gate, which was thankfully close by. I went straight to the Priority Seating queue. Where I was first. We stood there for about two minutes before they called us to board.
Sitting in first class together was special for us. Snuggled into the big seats, with the new travel pillow I bought and Ranger tucking a blanket under my chin. He was like a big kid, playing with all the trays that slid out from everywhere on his seat. Getting the "special" snacks and real glasses instead of plastic cups. He felt doted on, treated to something he never got otherwise. It was fun to watch him.
Besides, he was so excited to be seeing his kids again. It had been nearly two years since he'd been able to afford to travel to see them. And this time, as he put it, he was going to see the most precious people in his life together. I'd met his son before, but not his daughter. Sure, she calls me a lot, but we haven't spent face-time together yet. He could hardly stand the anticipation.
And we were about to spend a whole week with each other. We'd never had a whole week before, and I was looking forward to it.
Ranger's son Jerry picked us up at the airport. When my bag came off the carousel, though, I was a little upset. It was almost new - this was the second time I'd traveled with it. It's bright pink, and I had a carry-on to match. It came off the carousel absolutely filthy and with a hole ripped in the back of it.
I marched it over to the airline baggage office, which was about two feet away. I waited as the poor man behind the counter finished dealing with a man who spoke little English and was looking for a camera he'd left on a plane. Five weeks before. This wasn't going well.
Finally, the man looked at my bag, went to his computer, and printed up a form for me. "Here," he said. "Take this to the counter at your home airport, and they'll get it fixed."
"That's all I need?" I asked.
"Yep, that's it."
I put it in my bag and we were off. Jerry's air conditioning didn't work, so it was a long little drive. We got settled at our hotel and waited for Ranger's daughter Chelsea to call and say she was ready. She was with a tutor.
Picking her up was going to be an event. We had to go to her mom's boyfriend's house to get her, which meant an awkward meeting for both Ranger and me. Ranger has been designing an ecommerce Web site for the boyfriend, and the guy is an impatient ass. And I got to meet the ex. The one who tells her kids my religion is a cult and tries to yank Ranger's chain all the time.
She's been pissed since he met me because he reacts less and less to her yanking. And I have to admit to some fear over this meeting. He hasn't seen her since he left when their divorce was final. He's been nervous about how to handle the situation if she wants a hug from him. He doesn't want to hug her, and I wondered why. I wondered how he would feel, looking at her face-to-face again and touching her. It's easy to emotionally separate from someone when they are far away. What would happen when the woman he was married to for 19 years is right in front of him?
I was honest with him about my misgivings. He understood. He was nervous that she'd pull something while we were there, to disrupt either his time with his kids or his relationship with me. He said he was glad I'd be there, though. He'd also feel better once his storage stuff was out of there. As long as it was there, he felt she had something to hang over him, something she could gain access to and cause a problem for him.
As we drove to the boyfriend's house to get Chelsea, Ranger chatted nervously with Jerry. We turned into the neighborhood. Ranger remarked that it looked nice. One of those cookie-cutter neighborhoods. His ex had bragged about this boyfriend's home, job, and possessions. Funny, we couldn't tell you anything about what the guy was like from what she said, but could tell you all about what he has. What does that say to you?
She opened the front door, and I was struck by her gauntness. She'd had that stomach-band surgery years ago and lost 160 pounds. It was part of the downfall of their marriage. As she became thinner and attracted more male attention, she realized she liked all the male attention and being married became very inconvenient. When Ranger balked at threesomes, she lost interest in including him in extramarital relations.
Okay, that's one thing I can tell you about the boyfriend that isn't about his possessions. He lets her have threesomes, and even finds the other guy to participate. She likes to tell Ranger these things.
"You must be Blogget," the ex said as she opened the door. She shook my hand as I stepped inside. Ranger came up behind me.
"Is a hand shake or a hug appropriate?" she asked him. She had that Cheshire Cat grin, as she reached for a hug. He did the one-arm-sideways hug. He blouse fell off her shoulder, draping almost to her elbow. It was about three sizes too big.
Ranger warned me that she likes to wear clothes that are too big because she likes to draw attention to her weight loss. It's part of her identity, it seems, and she makes it a conversation piece. But I noticed how her collarbone jutted out, like the edges of her shoulder bones, and her sunken cheeks. The weight loss looked like it had gone too far.
We met the boyfriend, who looks like a doughier version of Mr. Clean. Then, Chelsea came at us in a rush. She flung her arms around her dad and squeezed for all it was worth. She was wearing a t-shirt we'd given her. Then, she flung her arms around me and squeezed me for all it was worth. I thought Ranger was going to cry for a moment.
I gave the ex a book she'd mentioned wanting. It was one I'd read and loved. It broke the ice a little, as I hoped.
As Chelsea finished her math homework, we sat in the living room, opposite the ex and her boyfriend. Ranger was uncomfortable. He sat close, but leaned away as he talked to his son. I talked to the ex. She asked about our travels and my kids. She's seen them on Facebook. She kept bringing up "remember when...." things to Ranger, which excluded me and her boyfriend from the conversation.
Suddenly, Ranger wasn't leaning away. He held my hand tight. She looked at her boyfriend and took his hand. They talked a little about his business.
Then, Chelsea was finished and we were off to dinner at a burger place that Jerry loved. It was a great place, I had to admit. We bumped into some of Jerry's friends, who were among those coming to help load the storage into the truck over the next two days.
Something we noticed immediately was that Jerry and Chelsea had lots to say. It was like we'd released a dam or something. They would talk over each other, at times. They were completely starved for attention, for someone to actually listen and care what they had to say. Jerry talked about video games and his tech support job. Chelsea talked about....everything. As a teenage girl is supposed to.
I noticed that Chelsea talked a lot about being bisexual. She talked about her crushes, male and female. Ranger and I have known this about her for months. It's something she only recently decided to risk telling her mother. She fears judgement, and understandably so, but talked openly with us. Ranger commented on that later, being thankful she had an outlet to talk about this part of herself with us.
I got up to get refills for Chelsea and me. "She's a keeper," she said to Ranger, who was beyond delighted.
We returned to the hotel. Chelsea and Ranger went swimming. Jerry and I talked. Well, Jerry talked. About computers, games, our cell phones, and the apps we can get for them.
Jerry, Chelsea, and I have new Palm phones. Ranger is waiting for the time when he can upgrade his. So, the three of us are constantly checking in wherever we go, using GoWalla.com. Which makes Ranger's Twitter feeds for us go off on his phone. He rolls his eyes. "Gee, I wonder what that could be," he says, laughing at us. Back home, he's still rolling his eyes when he gets a GoWalla message!
Finally, the kids headed home, and we crashed. The day had been exhausting. We laid in bed and talked about the kids and how the day had gone. Spending time with them had been delightful, and they had so much they wanted to talk about. Jerry was quieter than Chelsea, but we saw him opening up more already.
"By the way," Ranger said. "I'm not sure my ex knows what to make of you."
"What do you mean," I asked.
"Well, to her, being thin is the be-all and end-all to beauty," he said.
Let me say that here that we are both well aware that I'm not a Skinny Mini. I never will be. I'm not built for it. I've lost 60 pounds since moving here, which has served to deepen my curves. Much to Ranger's delight. He finds "skinny" to be repulsive. He's a big guy. He wants a woman he isn't afraid he's going to break.
I'm what you might call buxom. Simply put, I've often had the problem of having to say, "I'm up here," to guys when they talk to me because they focus on my chest.
Which is apparently what the ex's boyfriend was doing while we were visiting that afternoon.
"I'm afraid she's going to do something to get that attention back on her," he said. "It's not enough to have just his attention, but she'll want mine, too." He's right. This is the yanking-the-chain thing she does, to see what she has to do to get a reaction from him.
The next morning, that shoe dropped.
A muddled call from Chelsea, saying she wasn't going to school because her brother couldn't take her. Because he was on the way to the hospital. To see why their mom was at the ER.
The story goes that she felt faint during the night. The boyfriend thought her blood pressure dropped. He called her dad to ask what to do and was told to take her to the hospital. Soon, Ranger got a call from his ex.
"It's a pulmonary embolism," she said, calling Ranger while she was alone in her hospital room. "But I don't want to alarm the kids. Just go on with your regular plans. I'll call later and we can tell them when you are all together. That way, you're with them when they freak out."
She went on to say that the doctors were going to do tests all day to find the blockage and decide how to fix it. Now, I'm fully aware of how serious and deadly this condition can be. So, I was completely willing to put off our plans so the kids could be with their mom, if need be. But she said no, so we went along our way.
They picked us up, and we headed into the city. We went to the city market area, which is filled with vendors on weekends for a farmer's market. I love those, but this was a weekday. Our goal was a museum that the kids picked out. I couldn't believe they actually picked a museum! It's a very specific one surrounding an old steamboat, which hit a snag and sank into the Missouri River in 1856. It stayed there for 132 years, until some excavators dug it out of the mud beneath what had become a farmer's field.
You can check it out at the Steamboat Arabia Museum page. This museum was impressive. The boat had to be massive. They brought forth the aft portion of the boat, including the rudder (see right), and thousands of artifacts from the ship's cargo. This cargo was intended for 52 general stores at 17 stops along the ship's route, in addition to the personal artifacts of the boat's pioneer passengers.
This place is miraculous. The things they recovered from the mud, in perfectly preserved condition, are nothing short of amazing. Literally thousands, as you can see below (you can click on these to make them larger). This is just one room of many, behind glass, with items recovered from the cargo hold.
Some of the most amazing artifacts were food stuffs. The excavators actually opened a jar of pickles and tried them. Still sweet and crunchy. After 132 years. This picture includes just a few of these items, including ketchup!
The only casualty was a mule. In the sinking, they didn't have time to save the mule. He died with his proverbial boots on. His skeleton (below) was found with the tack still on it. Kinda spooky, isn't it?
I just love this image of the big paddle wheel. It's at the end of the tour and puts off a beautiful, cool breeze.
Apparently, a bunch of the pioneers on board were Mormon pioneers, headed for Salt Lake City. So, the museum includes a display explaining the Mormons and their trek. This gave me the golden opportunity to explain my ancestors - and that we're not cultists. Thankyouverymuch.
They also have part of their preservation lab open to the public. So, you can watch them working on the artifacts. Which is ultimately cool to a techno-dork like me.
The ex finally called while we were having dinner. She talked to each of them, but she didn't mention the phrase "pulmonary embolism." In fact, she just said they were running tests, and it was nothing to worry about. Later, she told Ranger that they couldn't locate the blockage, so she'd be in the hospital another night.
The next day, we picked up a 26-foot moving truck and the guys started loading up Ranger's storage. The storage room was 10' x 10' and was stuffed to the gills. Wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor. Solid.
"I don't remember doing this," Ranger said, staring at the wall of boxes. He'd packed it while reeling from what was happening with his ex. It had been Christmas time. She was suddenly being very loving to him. Was she regretting filing for divorce? Was a reconciliation on the horizon? Finally, they fell into bed again. He was elated. Until she promptly kicked him to the couch after she was done. Then, she informed him of her New Year's date with her mystery boyfriend (his pal), and that he'd have to be home with the kids. He was in an emotional tailspin when he packed his things into storage.
The vast majority was his rock shop inventory. Which is why we needed the big truck, for the weight of the rocks.
We had lunch with Chelsea and Jerry, and Jerry's friends. Chelsea and I spent most of our time running to Walmart for new storage bins (some of Ranger's had collapsed)and water for the fellas, and a good long time at a big bookstore, looking at books and games. At one point, we sat together on a bench, reading books and showing the good parts to each other.
"This is really fun," she said, looking up at me. "Sitting together and reading. This is so great." On her recommendation, I bought a game for us all to play at the hotel.
She spent a lot of time chatting on the phone with my daughter, too. They started making a list of the things they have in common, which is eerily long. We talked a lot about boys and relationships, school, marching band, step-siblings, and siblings. We didn't talk much about her mother because I didn't think that would be fair.
It was painfully obvious that neither of the kids talked to her much anymore, mostly because she had separated herself from them, spending all of her time with her boyfriend. I feel bad for her. Someday, she'll see the chasm that's formed and that regret will be very painful.
The kids went to see their mom in the hospital. Chelsea read "Romeo and Juliet" to her, and Jerry sat by. She told them she'd be released the next day, and she'd go to her boyfriend's so he could take care of her. She still didn't say what was wrong with her.
The next day, we went to the ex's house with the big truck, so Ranger could pick up a cabinet that was in her garage. "I want my father there when you get the cabinet," she said to Ranger on the phone. "So that I'm sure you just get what's yours. You can use the handtruck, but that's mine, so leave it there." It actually wasn't hers, according to the divorce papers, but Ranger left that alone.
As they loaded the truck, Chelsea took me in the house to introduce me to her cat. She gave me the grand tour of all that was important to her. It was really very nice. I enjoyed each moment, and she loved involving me in her inner circle, so to speak.
Before we left, we chatted with the ex's father. He was a nice man, obviously in an awkward position, having to watch Ranger. The conversation turned to the ex's health trouble.
"Did they find the blockage?" Ranger asked.
His former father-in-law gave him a strange look. "Blockage? No, it's not a blockage. She's anemic. Bad enough that her blood isn't carrying the oxygen to her brain and heart right. That's why she's been having so many memory problems. They finally got it righted, though, and she should be able to take care of it."
Ranger knew about the memory problems, which was why he liked to deal with her in email, so it's all in writing. But anemia? And not a blockage? Hmmm.
That night, we played the game I'd bought. At one point, Jerry put his head down and his whole body was shaking with laughter. Chelsea said she's never seen him laugh so hard. We had a spectacular time together. As they left, she commented, "That was really good family time." It brought tears to Ranger's eyes, having us all together like that.
We were leaving on Easter Sunday. I put together little Easter baskets for them. Chelsea got a stuffed bunny and Jerry got a big egg, with Nerds candy in it. She hugged her bunny, while he looked at the Nerds egg and said, "If I eat this, is it cannibalism?"
We hit the road with 9,000 pounds of rocks in the truck. No kidding. And tears on Ranger's face, having to say goodbye to his children again. I promised him we'd make it back sooner rather than later, or bring them to see us.
We had the better part of three days in the truck ahead of us. Because my spine is still healing, we broke the trip into shorter trips, allowing for lots of stops for me. I can tell you this, though, if you're crossing Kansas and Colorado. The Days Inn in Colby, Kansas, looks nice on the outside and is rotten on the inside. And they really don't care. And the Quality Inn in Glenwood Springs, CO, is glorious.
We woke on our last morning together, in Glenwood Springs, to a blanket of snow across everything. It always snows when we travel in the winter. And it always makes me want to make love all morning.
It should be noted here that Ranger's ex hasn't spoken to him since the trip. She's made snarky comments in the background of his conversations with his kids, but she won't speak directly to him. She's mad. He is convinced that he was expected to rush to her side at the hospital, leaving me in the dust. But he didn't. We proceeded through our plans, together.
In other words, she yanked the chain, and he didn't jump.
Normally, this would worry him. He'd fear percussions. But somehow that spell has been broken. She's lost some of her leverage. And the rest he figures we can deal with. Together.
11 hours ago