Sunday, September 13, 2020

One Grand Birthday

The night before a recent birthday I was a pissed off old man. I’d lost half of my 78th year to a drumbeat of injuries and my back barked like a junkyard dog when we walked up and down Williams, AZ’s Main Street looking for a take-out meal worthy of a condemned man. Failing that and still unwilling to eat in a restaurant, we found ourselves sitting on our king size bed eating super market chicken wings and packaged salads accompanied by a single bottle of amber ale and a glass of the Barefoot Pinot Grigio, the world’s worst, too sweet swill. We left the rest of the bottle for some unfortunate housekeeper. Celebratory it wasn’t.

Not being able to enjoy the conviviality of a good restaurant or bar really sucks. On a birthday it's criminal. That only added to my peevishness. 

The next morning Peggy and I enjoyed a birthday brunch consisting of a supermarket yogurt parfait and a Starbucks egg, ham, and cheese muffin thingee which we ate in the car before buying groceries for our ten days at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Oddly, that was hilarious.

Peggy’s ten-day invitational painting event, The Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, is why we’re here. I piloted the much needed support vehicle. One CRV couldn’t possibly carry all her finished work, frames, canvasses, and personal gear. Plus, it was an excuse to get out of Dodge.

he icing on the cake is that our son, Garrett, and his wife, Michelle, were with us for the weekend so he and I could celebrate our birthdays together. His 53rd was September 8 and my 69th was September 11. Hey, I was 69 on September 11

Our incredible time with Garrett and Michelle included a birthday bash of microwaved dinners, salad, and a remarkably good Tuxedo Cake from the Safeway in Williams. Are we seeing a trend here? We shared that bounty in our trim little studio apartment in the Park’s Albright Training Center.

They are such thoughtful gift givers. I was truly touched. Michelle’s gift, Rick McCloskey’s photo book Van Nuys Blvd 1972 took us back to the place we lived from 1968 through 1970. That was the heady time of muscle cars, short shorts, and Wednesday’s Cruise Night on Van Nuys Boulevard. Our house was two blocks from the terminus of the Cruise at the corner of Van Nuys and Victory Boulevard. I can hear the rumble of monster V8s with glasspack mufflers to this day.

The Cruise was the place to be seen in the Valley, the place to cruise chicks and showcase your ride. Horsepower was the currency of the era. The era ended, I discovered in McCloskey’s book, by the start of the 80’s. The skyrocketing price of gas, gas shortages and complaints from the business community slowly ended, “what was once the spontaneous use of the public space by so many young people.” McCloskey’s remarkable photographs froze that tradition in time.

Cruise Night was a vital part of coming of age in the fifties for me. In Phoenix we cruised Central Avenue, the main north-south ‘boulevard’ in center of the city, before parking at Bob’s Big Boy which offered carhop service. Cruising was a right of passage for a teenager in 1958. The goal was to pick up girls though in my case it ever happened. I’ll blame it my tan 1950 Ford four door sedan with a flat head six. I’m embarrassed to this day.

I will not share the specifics of Garrett’s gift because it was so extravagant and loving that it brought lump to my throat. I am fortunate to have such a smart, caring, and principled son. I can say, “I am not worthy,” and mean every word.

The significance of his gift feels like a sea change, the one in which a father and son become peers. It’s a proud moment and an odd transition at the same time. For 50 some odd years you imagine that you need to protect your kids long after they're more competent and accomplished than you are. Then at some magic moment the pendulum swings the other way and they start worrying about you and your shallow (one hopes) decline.

And while I'm bragging about Garrett and his smart, caring and principled wife Michelle let it be known that Sunday they did a rugged nine mile hike down to and back up from Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail. Then they added a rim hike at Yaki Point for a total of 23,000 steps and 13 miles according to Michelle's Apple watch. She said her pulse averaged 148 on the uphill stretch of the Kaibab.

I'm almost glad they didn't invite me. I'd probably still be at Skeleton Point. That was a transitional moment, too. It was the first time in my life I wasn't sure that I could keep up with the youngsters.The first time I didn't just know that I could. That's a realization I have to examine closely. Can I or can't I do that physical act anymore?

I'll find out shortly.


John Ellsworth said...

Some pretty damn good writing, old friend. I was with you every shrink-wrap salad of the way. I practiced law in Flagstaff 10 years and was the "go-to" attorney for crimes committed at the GC National Park. Yes,there is a federal court at the GC and I tried many criminal cases there over the years, but could never leave the courthouse and drie back to Flag without stopping to look and marvel--and surrender--to the majesty and grandeur of that canyon. You are so lucky to have ten days there and get swallowed up in all that. Here's hoping Peggy outshines all the rest--she always does--and you get back your twenty-year-old body you so sorely miss. I'm right there with you. See you at Bob's.

Blacks Crossing said...

What an experience Peggy's Grand Canyon Celebration of Art has been for you, and it has yet to end! A great way to celebrate your birthday, despite the less than stellar food in Williams. From what you say, it is a near food desert, somewhat like west Texas. We are spoiled by the bubble that is northern New Mexico. But, hey, it is the company you keep and with whom you celebrate years on Planet Earth that is important, and Garrett and Michelle certainly did not disappoint. Mccloskey's Van Nuys Blvd. 1972 sounds like a treasure. And Garrett's gift, whatever it was, was two gifts in one if it made the two of you peers rather than parent and child. John Ellsworth is right about the pretty damn good writing. Interesting that JE practiced law in Flagstaff and was the go-to attorney for crimes committed at Grand Canyon. His knowledge must be massive. And your blog, Esteban, is uplifting. You will surprise yourself with your renewed physical prowess, and provide a wonderful example to all of us with your persistence. And Peggy will outshine the rest with her painting.