Recounting a vacation to celebrate a wedding anniversary, Yolanda Adele shares her mixed feelings about the location and time of the year. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.
By Yolanda Adele
As we drive farther away from the city lights pulling our twenty-five foot travel trailer behind us, I begin to relax. I no longer worry or care that I may have forgotten to unplug the coffee maker, curling iron, blow dryer, or turned off the stove. I’m free from chauffeuring obligations, homework, yard work, marketing, cooking, housework, and care- giving!
I turn to look at my husband who is whistling a Willy Nelson western tune, “On the Road Again.” Everything seems perfect. If only I didn’t hate Arizona.
We are headed for Desert Paradise in Camp Verde, Arizona, where we will celebrate our wedding anniversary by camping and sight-seeing before we continue on to Yuma, Arizona for my in-laws’ family reunion.
The location does not seem as desirable as one I might find in a travel brochure. But I vowed to myself that I would not complain. Until now, I have always been the one to choose where and how we would commemorate our anniversaries. We have cruised the Caribbean, toured historical southern plantations, and stayed at a luxurious Las Vegas hotel suite with in-room Jacuzzi. Then there’s the pilgrimage I insisted on to Graceland so we could attend the candlelight vigil and place flowers on Elvis’s grave.
So on this wedding anniversary, I thought Honey should have a turn to plan our romantic celebration. I want to feel as rootless as the tumbleweed that occasionally skips across the seemingly endless road ahead of us.
The sun begins to peak out from the mountains, splattering them with a purple tint that makes them appear to be sketched across the pinkish-blue sky. I want to record the memory of this sunrise in my mind’s-eye so I can play it back whenever I visit that place inside myself that keeps me sane and safe. As I rest my head on my husband’s shoulder, I think maybe this vacation in “cactus land” just might turn out to be worth the arduous ride.
A little later, I’m not so sure. Nine o’clock and it is already 108 degrees! The truck’s air-conditioner is turned off temporarily so the transmission won’t overheat.
“Honey, I’m not complaining, but isn’t it unusually hot?”
“No, not for this part of the country. Heck, it’s not even high noon yet.”
“Of course, I. should have known,” I answer him in my most pleasant voice. Some of the town names on the Arizona map should have given me a clue: Tombstone, Furnace Creek, and Devil’s Gorge.
My eyes cross as I stare out at the zigzag lines created by the hot vapor on the pavement ahead of us. I faintly hear Honey talking to me about the importance of the sun’s natural vitamin D. Then he turns on the air-conditioner. He suspects that I may not be a “happy camper.”
Hours later we pull in to a diesel station with two pumps. The self-serve pump is out of order. Honey pours himself out of the truck into the blistering heat, and signals to the attendant in a shady booth. The attendant motions to my husband to pump the gas himself.
I roll down the window and ask, “Honey, This is the full service pump! I don’t see why you should be the one cleaning the bugs off the windows and pumping the gas.”
“Let it be, Babe, the poor guy is probably hot.”
“And what? Are you at a Popsicle Convention?”
“Don’t be cute. Besides, I want to walk around to the back of the trailer and make sure everything is all right. I need to stretch my legs any way.” After Honey finishes pumping thirty gallons of diesel, the station attendant finally ventures outside. He moseys towards us, walking like John Wayne with a heat rash.
“Good looking truck, Partner. That have a ‘93 Cummins Engine in it?”
“Yes, it does. Can you tell us how to get to Desert Paradise in Camp Verde?” The attendant doesn’t answer right away and I hear him ask Honey about auxiliary transmission, compression ratios, blah, blah, blah.
“Excuse me, Partner,” I shout, “but we are on a mission of mercy. We are transporting badly needed blood to a blood bank in Camp Verde.”
“What?” ask both my husband and the attendant.
“We are out of dry ice too. So unless you have someone to give us a hand, we can’t stay and chat. This plasma is already at a boiling point. I might just have to throw it out here before it smells up the truck.”
“You don’t want to do that, little lady,” the attendant answers, and he calls out a co-worker. Honey looks at me with eyes that appear to be whirling like a couple of florescent pin-wheels. I quickly look away from him. The three men discuss the directions, and Honey pays for the fuel, and thanks them.
Back in the truck, he tells me, “Yolanda, sweetheart, do you remember that I’ve asked you to warn me before you get dramatic in front of strangers?” He almost grins, and I put my head on his shoulder.
We finally pull up to a sign that reads “Welcome to Desert Paradise, Camp Verde,” and Honey and I look into each other’s sweat- streamed faces before driving in. It is a hundred and twelve degrees in the shade. Our camp-ground looks like it could have been the back-drop to Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath. That may explain why the camp manager told us over the phone that reservations were not a problem.
I want to scream, but in a calm tone I say, “And Lucifer is not even minding the gate waiting to give us the grand tour!”
“It’s still early,” retorts Honey. “Maybe he’s on a break.”
I want to tell Honey I feel nauseous and disappointed. But then he gives me that disarming, boyish smile of his and says, “As long as we are healthy, safe, and together, isn’t that all that counts?”
“You are right, Honey.” I manage a weak smile.
There are a few rigs, motor homes, Winnebago’s, and fifth wheels, all of them sitting with their doors shut. Sounds from their swamp-coolers and air-conditioners pierce the sweltering atmosphere. Campers are usually very helpful and social, exchanging invaluable R.V information and travel experiences. But this place is like a ghost-town.
Honey announces that it is time to “Set up Camp.” This includes stabilizing and leveling the trailer, which is crucial to the water and sewer flow lines and vital to the refrigerator and freezer’s operation in keeping food cold.
Boards are put under the wheels as necessary and the wheels are locked into place with what’s called tire-chocks. Now the trailer can be detached from the truck. I once put the tire-chocks on the wrong side of the tires while unhitching, only to have the trailer roll forward and down onto the ground stopping just short of our truck’s tail-gate.
After helping with the set-up and hook-up, I sink into a lawn chair and anticipate the cool, wet splash I’m going to make when I jump into a pool that I saw not far from our site. I didn’t see any people around it, in it, or near it. Gosh! I hope it’s not a mirage!
I know it will be a while before Honey stops tinkering with things that really could wait. But it’s futile to tell him that. I watch him toil as he rolls out the awning and then attaches our ornamental ice-cream cone lights. He puts a cloth on the picnic table and, lays out the synthetic green grass carpet in front of the door. He hooks up the butane for the stove\oven. He makes sure there are no spiders in the heater line that heats our shower water. I know that he is finished setting up when I hear the sound of the mallet which he uses to put up our heart-shape sign he made bearing our names.
“How’s it look?” he asks, with that smile that I adore. I don’t trust myself to answer, because I’m afraid I’ll tell him that I already hate it here. In fact, I detest the whole inferno state of Arizona. There is but one good thing about Arizona, and that is that his parents dwell here! So I grin broadly, nodding in approval even as a lizard scurries across my open sandals.
“I’ll be right back,” he says, “I have to give our camp site number to the camp office in case the kids want to reach us. Just sit there and relax. I’ll bring you back an ice cream from the snack-mart at the office.”
I get up and kick some rocks. Then I notice that there is a sign on the door of our trailer. It reads, “Please do not disturb: Honeymooners on Board.” It’s decorated with little red heart stickers. I can’t stop laughing. Who is going to disturb us in this seething cemetery?
Suddenly I don’t feel disappointed anymore, and I remember why I adore him. I look in the trailer window and see flowers on the table along with a large, beautifully gift-wrapped box. I hurry back to the lawn chair to wait. I’d rather be here with him than anywhere in the world with anybody else.
“You look cheerful,” I say to him on his return.
“I am. Look, I found the ice-cream you like so much.” He hands me a cookies and cream ice-cream sandwich.
“And look. They had these Elvis C.D’s at the mart.”
“But I don’t have a C.D player.”
“You might get one sooner than you think.” (That must be a clue of what is in the gift box.) “And that’s not all of the surprises I have. They said at the desk that the Montezuma Cliff dwelling is not too far from here. It’s a landmark dating back to 1400 A.D. Also, there’s a little theater up the road. I bet we could find a lot of interesting things to do here.”
“That really sounds great, Honey.” He looks at me like an over-indulgent parent might look at a child he is trying to appease.
“Babe, I put some of your clean underwear in the Tupperware lettuce crisper in the fridge; that should help you to feel cool in these warm days,” he said with a hint of irony. “Why don’t you go for a swim? It will refresh you.”
I look around the camp-ground. It resembles a giant-size still photograph. “Naw, let’s nap first. By the way, I love the Honeymoon sign you made.”
“We are so lucky,” he says, giving me his signature magical, smile. “After all, it’s not every day that a couple gets to Honeymoon in Paradise.” And of course Honey is right.