Remember The Alamo

The following is the third installment in a recap of a recent road trip I took with my two sons. For part 1, Click Here. For part 2, Click Here. To not read any of them, click on the X in the upper right hand corner.

When I was little, at least once a week (generally Fridays) my family and I would spend the evening at my grandparents’ house. These visits were in the days before television remote controls, and so what would often happen is that we would come in, greet each other, and then settle in to watch whatever it was my grandparents had been watching on TV before we arrived. I know what you’re thinking, why didn’t we just turn it off, or…turn it off? In answer to that I would say…I don’t know. I was between three and six years old and held very little sway in the world of Rapier family dynamics. And why would I have argued for that anyway? So I could listen to adults blather on regarding topics I cared nothing about? I think not. But regardless, my Granny loved TV, and if we wanted to visit her and my Grandad, we were gonna watch TV. End of discussion. And so, over the course these visits, I saw many an episode of Dukes of Hazzard, Love Boat, Dallas, and One Day At A Time. I also saw a lot movies.

And it was because of one movie in particular I remember watching in my grandparents’ living room that I was so taken aback when my boys and I came around a street corner in downtown San Antonio and I laid eyes on the Alamo for the first time. It was so…small. As a child, I had sat mesmerized as I watched John Wayne fight for the survival of Texas in The Alamo. And it was in those moments that the church where these men had fought the Mexican army back in 18whatever had been forever immortalized in my young brain as being huge. How could it not be? The fate of Texas had rested on the outcome of what happened there. It was larger than life.

Now, seeing the actual building in person, I was faced with the reality that it was anything but. In contrast, the Ripley’s Believe it Not complex across the street was ten times the size. I don’t know what that says about American culture and its approach to history, but I’m sure there’s some kind of message there somewhere.

But anyway, small or not, it was still cool. This was the place where a handful of legendary American heroes had fought and died at the hands of a Mexican army led by General Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, or as he was more commonly know, Santa Anna.  I was in historical heaven.

Unfortunately, my two boys do not share my fascination with history. Also, they had not had the youthful experience of watching John Wayne swagger around in a coon skin cap to inspire them. I suppose that’s my bad. To them, the Alamo was a courtesy they were granting their father. Not that they were obnoxious about it, they just weren’t that interested. They didn’t understand the significance. To them it was the site of a battle in a war between Mexico and the United States over Texas. People had died. Very sad. Let’s move on.

So we did.

Alamo

However, before we left, we did stop in at the Alamo gift shop. I’m not sure if there is a store that is more stereotypical Texas than the Alamo gift shop. I’m not going to elaborate, I’m just going to leave that thought out there and let it be my final word on the subject.

Once we stepped away from the Alamo, I asked the boys what we were going to do next. Braden immediately pointed to a space needle looking building off in the distance.

“I want to go there.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, I just do.”

I can act like I was mystified, but the truth is, I knew why. Braden is drawn to any and all tall buildings that he can go to the top of. I don’t know why, but he is. Of all the places we could have gone in Las Vegas, he wanted to go to the top of the Stratosphere. The problem with this tower in San Antonio is that it was not really all that close to our current location and we had limited time. I personally wanted to explore the Riverwalk, but…this wasn’t necessarily my trip so we set off for the as of yet unnamed tower in the distance.

Did I mention it was humid? The other downside of walking to the tower was that the entire distance was outside. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for my nice bald head to develop a sheen that quickly evolved into a miniature planet of waterfalls. Good gosh it was hot. Except it wasn’t that hot, it just was so…wet. I hate humidity! Good thing New Orleans wouldn’t be anything like this. (Sarcasm intended.)

Finally, we arrived at the tower. By this time I was half praying it was a community shower tower, because in a place like this those had to be common right? Sadly, it was not. But we did discover it was the Tower of the Americas, built in 1968 for the World’s Fair, and yes, we could go to the top. For a price.

Great, I could pay for the opportunity to ride an elevator with a bunch of other people who were perspiring as violently as we were up to the top of a tall building and then look down at all the air conditioning units of every other building in town for miles in any direction. Fortunately, an older couple walked up to us in the ticket line and handed us there tickets/wrist bands. They had decided not to go, but didn’t want to go through the hassle of turning the wrist bands back in.

Sold! Best deal of the day. Well, except for the Alamo which was free. So…that was actually the best deal of the day, but this one was pretty good.

At the top of the tower, I learned a few things. 1. From over 700 feet in the air, Las Vegas and San Antonio looked remarkably similar. 2. In the 1800s, the Mexican government was constantly trying to pass laws that would keep United States citizens from immigrating to Mexico, (Ok, specifically Texas, but it was Mexico at the time.) As anyone can imagine, I found this fact incredibly ironic. 3. Oh look, the home of the San Antonio Spurs! I had no idea we were so close. Or that Kawhi Leonard was so far away. (Spurs joke there, ha ha.)

tower-top.jpg

Anyway, there’s only so much you can do at the top of a tall tower, so after about 15 minutes we headed back down. I truly have a much greater appreciation for the hardships Rapunzel experienced. That can’t have been an easy gig.

Tower Bottom

With the tower behind us, quite literally a this point, it was time to find something to eat and then probably head back to our hotel. As much as we may have wanted to explore more, the truth was, we had to be back on the road at 6:00 a.m. local time (4:00 a.m. internal clock time.) I needed to go to bed fairly soon.

Our food search, and my insistence, led us to the Riverwalk, and I gotta say, that place is pretty cool. Before long, we came upon a restaurant named Casa Rio. Once I verified that it was in no way affiliated with Cafe Rio we took a vote. We agreed it looked good, smelled good and appeared highly unlikely to force anything on us that would resemble Utah Mexican cuisine. It was unanimous. We put our name on the list and parked it.

My risk taker son, Braden (cough, splutter, choke) predictably had a bean burrito with rice and beans. Thankfully, Logan was feeling more adventurous and ordered the most amazing shrimp tacos. In fact, once we were served, I suddenly wished I had ordered what he had instead of my own dish, although the stuffed poblano chili was also very good.

Food

By dinner’s end, dark had fallen and we had missed the last shuttle to our hotel. So after I did the required souvenir shopping (magnet for Shannon and a license plate for our family room wall) we set off on the walk back to our hotel. Unfortunately, much like Phoenix, it doesn’t get cooler with nightfall. Also unfortunately, the humidity didn’t slacken under the cover of darkness either. By the time we arrived back at our hotel, it was safe to say that certain portions of the day’s wardrobe would require an immediate quarantine.

Following some quick showers, we grudgingly set our alarms, turned out the lights, and for the first time in years, I fell instantly asleep in a hotel bed. And I only had to pee in the middle of the night once. Is it sad that I remember that fact as one the great highlights of the day? On second thought, don’t answer that.

Part 4 of The Rapier Guys Road Trip will appear later this week.

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On The Road Again

This is the second installment of a series recounting a recent road trip I took with my two sons. To read the first installment, click here

I knew exactly what I was hearing the second it pierced my subconscious. It wasn’t loud, but since I’d been dreading it from the moment I’d allowed my finger to press the SET button on my phone the night before, it didn’t take much for the soft sonar-like dinging of my alarm to cut through the haze of my horrified brain and bring me to full consciousness.

And yet I still didn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t. It would just be too painful.

I mean, who in their right mind would voluntarily open their eyes at 3 o’clock in the morning? Now admittedly, there might be the occasional (or with each passing year, more than occasional) late night/early morning trip to the bathroom, or the living nightmare that accompanies the soft whisper from your small child, “Daddy, I puked,” but this was different. I was making a conscious choice here to wake up on my own. It felt like I was violating nature at its very core.

Finally, as the gentle pulsing started to increase in volume and insistence, I cracked an eyelid and reached down to shut the phone off.

Crap! I was awake…and I was doing this.

I got up, slipped into a tee shirt and basketball shorts that I had designated as my official traveling clothes and slipped quietly through my dark house to wake up my boys. We’d packed and said goodbye to our other family members the night before so it didn’t take long before we were all firmly seated in our family mini-van and ready to go. Following a quick stop at a convenience store where I picked up a Diet Dr. Pepper and multiple packages of mini-donuts that would serve as our pre-breakfast snack, we were officially on our way by 3:25 in the morning. Unofficially, we kicked off our, “Don’t you dare tell your mother how crappy I’m feeding you” portion of the adventure as well.

As we left the lights of Safford behind, I encouraged both boys to try and get some sleep while it was still dark. We’ve all driven the road to Duncan before and I assured them it wasn’t going to get any more interesting this time around just because we’d decided to leave at a time even Downton Abbey housemaids would consider aggregious. In response, Braden plugged in his iPad and started a tradition that would play out every time we pulled back onto the road following a stop. He played Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Let me be clear. After Every Stop! EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!

We all sang along.

Unfortunately, that didn’t get us very far so we had to have something else. I had downloaded a couple of books on tape and I had my iPod for music, but to begin with, we opted to try a podcast suggested by a friend called This American Life. Each episode is an hour long and focuses on a topic specific to that episode. It was a life saver. All three of us were instantly mesmerized by the stories being told and it really did make the time fly.

A story about a progressive socialist fighting against the Democratic machine in an effort to get on the primary Congressional ballot in New York got us to Lordsburg. The story of a Somali refugee in Kenya trying to get to America after winning our country’s visa lottery carried us to Las Cruces. Somewhere just outside of Deming, NM, the sun broke over the hills just as we were about to learn the fate of Abdi, the Somali refugee. In the moment, it kinda felt symbolic. Anyway, for me, it was totally cool. We were almost to Texas and neither one of my boys had retreated to their headphones or earbuds to escape the prevaling activity of the car. We were legitimately enjoying a guys road trip together.

(As an aside, throughout most of my youth and early adult years, I had always believed Lordsburg to be, without doubt, the most depressing place in the entire United States. Having seen it again after more than a decade or two, I realize now that I was right.)

About 8 a.m. (we’d been on the road for about 3 1/2 hours, but we’d already lost one additional hour to that cursed Daylight Savings Time when we crossed into New Mexico) we hit the outskirts of El Paso and pulled off for gas and a proper breakfast at McDonalds, or to be quite frank, a different kind of gas. Just 20 minutes later (a Rapier family record for a gas tank fill-up and a meal, such as it is) we were back on the road. Braden started up On The Road Aga…no wait, we hit a traffic jam and so he turned it off. It just didn’t quite feel right to be singing On The Road Again while not actually moving. Instead, I made them listen to the classic Marty Robbins’ song El Paso. Losing about half an hour in stand still traffic with approximately 9 hours of driving still in front of us, it seemed only fitting that we listen to a song about a guy bleeding out in his lover’s arms due to a mess of his own making.

Finally, we made it through the traffic snag, got our Willie Nelson fix and continued down the road. Suddenly, off to our right we saw a vast number of buildings painted in colors you just don’t see…anywhere. And that’s when we realized we were right next to the Mexican border and what we were seeing was Juarez. It was humbling. That we could see such a stark difference in the way people lived just a couple hundred yards away from our freeway overpass was extremely sobering. And what had those of us in our little van done to earn such a clear advantage in life over those just down the way? We happened to get born on the right side of a meandering little river that looked significantly more like a stream. We talked about it. I hope my boys appreciate what they’ve been blessed with. I hope I do. Because in that moment, “blessed” hardly seemed an adequate description.

The night before left, Braden (our family’s personal map and weather guru) had printed up an itinerary that broke our trip up into digestible pieces. The first day’s trek consisted of eight legs. The first four were designed to make us really feel like we were making progress. Safford to Lordsburg, 90 miles. Lordsburg to Deming, 60 miles. (I should point out for Braden’s sake that I am rounding/estimating on the distances while his itinerary did not. It was very specific. I’m just too lazy to do the same research he did, for a blog entry.) Deming to Las Cruces, 60 miles. Las Cruces to El Paso, 40 miles. See how you could get caught up in how quickly the trip is going. I mean, there are only eight legs and we’ve knocked out four of them in three and a half hours. Then came leg 5…El Paso to Van Horn.

It’s not like Braden was going out of his way to throw our distance expectations into shock, it’s just that…well, West Texas is not proportionally populated in comparison to the rest of the world. Antarctica? Maybe. But anywhere else? Not even close. Nevertheless, we were men on a mission and we met the challenge head on. Two and a half hours after leaving El Paso, we finally happened upon civilization once again in the form of Van Horn, TX. And by the way, I believe Van Horn is the Texan translation for Lordsburg.

As we came upon the first exit to Van Horn we made several decisions. We each decided we were men. And as men, we decided we each had bladders of steel. And finally, we each decided that too much of Willie Nelson is not a good thing. I pressed on the gas and we kept on driving.

One hundred and twenty miles or so later, we descended on a poor unsuspecting convenience store bathroom in Ft. Stockton, TX like it was a fire hydrant accidentally placed in the middle of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Of course, after using the bathroom, I bought a Diet Dr. Pepper and we continued on our way, Mr. Nelson providing our theme music as we picked up speed.

In Ft. Stockton, I forced my boys to switch seats. Now my younger son, Logan was up front with me and Braden was relegated to the back. Logan had finally reached his limit on continuous podcasts and asked if we could listen to a book. I agreed. He chose an Agatha Christie novel. We started it up and I immediately realized this was going to be rough. The reader had a pretty strong English accent that didn’t mix well with the hum of our tires rolling along at 80 mph. At best I was catching every third word and if you’re trying to solve a murder mystery, being partially deaf is not ideal. Apparently Logan was having the same struggles because rather than try to decipher the silly natterings of Ms. Abigail Chatterly Smythe, or whatever the main woman’s name was, he fell asleep. A few more miles later, I gave up.

I switched over to the other book I had downloaded which, coincidentally, also had a male reader with a British accent (although much more understandable to an American ear). One of my favorite memories of the entire trip was seeing Logan wake up, tune back into the story, and then sit silently with a seriously confused look on his face as he tried to figure out how an American businessman ripping off four English blokes to the tune of $1 million played into the story he’d been listening to earlier about a murder of a wealthy English noblewoman. He gave it his best effort for about 10 minutes before he finally gave up and asked me what the heck he’d missed. It was awesome!

One more stop in Ozona, TX for lunch at a Subway, one more rendition of On The Road Again, several more uneventful hours of driving and suddenly we were in the outskirts of San Antonio. I’m not certain if my butt had ever been happier. Thanks to almost flawless navigation by my elder son, we pulled into our hotel near downtown and practically leapt from our van in anticipation of our trip’s first official adventure. What met us was an oppressive curtain of humidity that stopped us almost dead in our tracks. And that’s when it hit us. We, a bunch of “it’s a dry heat” Arizona boys had headed toward the Gulf of Mexico in the dead of summer. Maybe it was possible we hadn’t completely thought this adventure of ours all the way through.

Look for the next installment of The Rapier Guys Road Trip to be posted later this week.

The Very Definition of Crazy

For my Mormon friends, please understand that I am not comparing myself to Nephi. I get it. He and I do not belong in the same sentence. No, all I am suggesting is that in this one moment, I believe I can relate to this scriptural icon in a way I never have before. He claimed at one point, that he felt inspired to record certain things that he didn’t see much purpose in writing down. The following events I describe happened three weeks ago. On their own, there is nothing all that exciting about them. Over the course of my life, I’ve had a lot of things happen to me. I’ve created many memories in my life, many of which I have never chronicled in written form. But for reasons that I admittedly don’t understand, since the day we arrived home, I have felt an overwhelming need to record the experiences I shared with my sons on a recent road trip. There is nothing awe inspiring or momentous about our trip. In many ways, I can’t see how the entire experience will mean anything to anyone beyond the three of us. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe someday, what I share will mean a great deal to one or more of us who experienced it, and as I don’t keep a journal, it’s possible this electronic record will be all there is. Regardless, if you feel so inclined, you are welcome to read on and learn about what happened to the men of the Ryan and Shannon Rapier family during the week of July 2-6. If  you don’t feel so inclined…I get it. If it weren’t about me, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t either.

What is crazy?

The older I get, I realize how difficult it is to define that word. Crazy is all around us. We use it to describe behavior we don’t understand. We apply it to people who have fewer inhibitions than we possess ourselves. We bestow it upon anyone with a differing world view from our own. The truth is, I think everyone is crazy in their own way. What makes us crazy are the very things that makes us unique.

However, it seems that we rarely see craziness in ourselves. It generally doesn’t happen until we veer dramatically from whatever patterns we’ve established for ourselves that make us comfortable. You are most likely to hear someone say, “This is crazy!” when they take that plunge and step out of their comfort zone.

And on the morning of July 2nd, 2018, at three o’clock in the morning, I think I muttered to myself, “This is crazy” at least 50 times.

But before we get to that point in our story, let me go back two days to the morning of June 30th, because that is where this story truly begins.

Every summer, my wife forces my children by any means necessary to go through every item in their respective rooms and get rid of those things that are no longer used. Following this exercise, we host a yard sale. Yard sale day is one of my least favorite days of the year. Why? Because pretty much any day that isn’t standard, typical, or…well…ordinary, is one of my least favorite days of the year.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy family vacations or days where fun things are planned. They just have to be excruciatingly planned. And by planned, I pretty much mean planned by me. It’s one of my own personal brands of craziness. I don’t like what I can’t control. And when hordes of complete strangers are wandering around my driveway looking at items that used to be somewhat personal to me, I feel the very opposite of in control.

Anyway, during the course of this year’s annual community judgement of my former belongings, my son, Braden (16 years old and preparing to start his junior year of high school) came to me and informed me that Tulane University in New Orleans had sent him a personal invitation to come and visit their campus in the coming week.

Now please understand, he and I were both under no illusion. We knew the email wasn’t personal and that the same invitation had been sent out to at least 25,000 kids just like him, if not thousands more. But at the same time, they were one of the first American institutions of higher learning to personally reach out to him. He was excited. I understood. I had experienced the same feelings of exultation when similar correspondences had arrived for me. Admittedly, mine came in 1989 and required a trip to an actual mail box at the end of the driveway of my home out in the middle of the desert where more than once a rattle snake had been curled up waiting to greet me. I hate snakes. Hold on, I’m digressing. Where was I? Oh, yeah. He was excited, I understood.

Anyway, the one thing animating him more than any other was that if we were to up and go the following Monday, we could spend the 4th of July in New Orleans. And if we did that, we could view (as the invitation enticingly pointed out) the 4th of July fireworks in a way that only New Orleans could truly provide – from dueling barges in the middle of the Mississippi River.

So that the reader will understand, I should mention that Braden is always suggesting crazy scenarios like this. We could do this, we could do that, we could do this and that, all of which are things we would never do and he knows it. We both understood this as he stood there in my driveway describing this latest scenario of lunacy when he should have been setting out clothes in a way that future shoppers would find enticing. We both knew what he was suggesting was insane. And we both knew it was never going to happen.

Except for some reason, I never gave him an outright no.

Even today, I’m not sure why. I was thinking it. All through his initial sales pitch, I knew in my heart that we both understood he was just filling the air with words that ultimately would die and fall to the earth having failed to achieve a single purpose. But instead of saying no, which is what my brain…and my wife, would have undoubtedly expected me to do, I told him to figure out the logistics of the trip and we’d talk later.

Needless to say, he did.

Now what he could not have known was that Tulane was the very first university to send me an invitation to visit their campus and apply. And although he knows that I have this special affinity for New Orleans, he couldn’t possibly have known that in high school, I had dreams of driving across the country and visiting Tulane right after I graduated high school. I had talked about that possibility several times with my own mother. Who surprisingly, never told me no either. But it never happened. And I wouldn’t end up seeing the one city I wanted to visit more than any other until I was over 40 years old. It was one of those dreams I had clung to desperately for months in my youth, but eventually had let go of in the face of pragmatism and good sense.

But as my son made his case for us to go, those fanciful teenage dreams returned with a vengeance. And the truth was, as the day went along, I found myself wanting to go as badly as he did. Plus, this was my 16 year old son…let me repeat that…my teenage son, wanting to spend an entire week with me. Nobody else, just me. Well, one other person. His little brother. That’s right, his dad and his little brother. Mind boggling isn’t it? Which is why I had to take into consideration: how often does a father get that kind of opportunity? But, event then, the idea was stupid. And completely irresponsible. In short, it was crazy.

Which is how I still can’t quite piece together how I found myself that very night staring at a computer screen, my index finger hovering over the mouse, fighting an inner battle over whether I had completely taken leave of my faculties as I prepared to click and finalize our hotel reservations. I felt like a gunslinger in the old west, my trigger finger twitching expectantly knowing there was no return from that one slight little movement I was contemplating. Okay, I get it. I would have only been out about $200 as opposed to lying dead in the middle of dusty street. But seriously, thanks to my frugal upbringing, there are times when I think I would rather lie dead in the street than throw away two hundred bucks.

Nevertheless, I pulled the trigger and the plans were set. Within 30 hours we would be waking up in what basically amounted to the dead of night and setting off for San Antonio with plans to complete our journey to New Orleans the following day.

Right after I did it, I panicked. What was I thinking? I’d never in my life done anything like this without meticulously planning it out months in advance. I had gone completely insane. And when my beautiful 4 year old daughter begged me not to go, I almost kissed off the $200 without a second thought. But by this point, I was committed. I was nearing folk hero status in the eyes of my two boys and if I backed out? Well, in the paraphrased words of the immortal Muse from Hercules, I would have gone from “Hero to Zero, just like that.” The die was cast. There was no stopping our upcoming drive of…how many miles was that again, son?

WHAT?!?!?! Are you kidding??? Holy $*%#&@!!! What on earth have I agreed to?

Part 2 of The Rapier Guys Road Trip 2018 will appear later this week.