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Oscar’s Travelogue

Oscar has been kinda absent the past few weeks. Here’s why.

Oscar's Travelogue

June 2

I got word a few weeks ago, through a friend, that my Dad wasn’t doing well.  COPD and congestive heart failure were catching up with him (being severely overweight and a heavy smoker for most of your life will do that to a person).  I had a work trip to Detroit coming up, and my boss signed off on me taking a flight through Milwaukee on my way home.  The additional cost for an 8 hour layover in Milwaukee was minimal and the company would eat it, as long as I didn’t charge them for meals or rental cars for the day.  Fair enough in my book.  Landed at 0830, got to spend breakfast with an old friend (the one who told me Dad wasn’t doing well) and her fiancee’, then drove the hour north to Plymouth to see my dad.

It was bittersweet.  Happy to see each other, but both knowing this was likely the last time we’d be doing so.  He could barely keep enough O2 in his system to stay awake for more than a couple of hours, and talking made him use up what he had even faster.  The visit lasted 4 hours, with him taking a half hour nap in the middle.  I left when his next nap was coming on, as I had a flight to catch.  I took a drive through Plymouth, a town I had largely grown up in, and then through Sheboygan, making note of what had changed, and what hadn’t.  I knew that after Dad passed, my reasons for returning here would be greatly diminished.

June 9

Packing things up for storage, and getting small things fixed and ready for a tenant.  Also, some friends coming over tonight for dinner.  Except the dog is acting awful lethargic.  Then he collapsed on his way outside and peed himself.


Off to the emergency vet.  Luckily, the emergency vet is also his regular vet, and the doctor on duty is his regular doctor (who very much loves the pup).  Got him re-hydrated, and drew blood, and tried to do an ultrasound. Found a pocket of blood in the abdomen, but can’t find the source.  Dr. E. is not the best with the ultrasound, but the next doctor on duty is quite good (for not being a radiologist), and will be on shift in a few hours.  So I make sure the pup is comfortable at the vet and head home (no point in being in the way in a busy vet office, and everyone there loves the pup, so he’s in good hands).

Got a call that he had a seizure, but it was over, and he didn’t hurt himself.  Dr. E. crawled into his kennel and held him until it was over.

Got a call from the next doctor.  He did the ultrasound, and the pup has tumors, one of which is on his spleen and has caused the spleen to rupture.  They can repair it with surgery but they don’t have any canine blood on hand, and I would have to get some from the blood bank in Seattle and bring it back to them.  And even if the pup survived the surgery (he was going on 12 years old), he’d still have the cancer, which was going to kill him pretty soon regardless (the multiple tumors suggested it was pretty advanced).  I’d lived through treating one dog with cancer, and it was hard on everyone for only an extra year of life.  And that dog was much more emotionally stable than this pup.

So at 2030, I cried my eyes out and said goodbye to my furry friend and held him as he died.

Then I went home and explained to the 6 year old that the pup had died, and held him as he cried himself to sleep.

June 16

A busy day.  The movers were coming on June 21 to pack us up for the move to Arizona, so today was the “Going Away” party.  Friends and family coming by so everyone could say goodbye and promise to visit when winter got to be too much.  The shindig started at 1700, and at 1430 my phone ran.  It was my father’s wife, who was visiting her sister.  She’d gotten a call from the home health nurse that my father had passed away during the night.  I made sure she was OK and asked if she needed anything, then began making phone calls.  Kay probably wouldn’t have all the phone numbers for my father’s family, or my mother’s, so I’d be making calls and sending notices.  My sister called a few minutes later, and we agreed she’d handle mom’s side of the family.  Neither of us was surprised by the news, or overly emotional.  She’d been to see him recently as well, and knew this day was fast approaching.  We’d had time to compartmentalize this, and we did.

I called my cousin Em, and she agreed to blast the news to everyone in the Chicago area (I’m related to a scary number of people in the north suburbs of Chicago).  Dad was the eldest of 5 kids and had a big family, but Em knew the phone numbers of the key players, and got the phone chain rolling.  Then I had to notify the friends that I kept in touch with (one of the more useful feature of Facebook, to be honest).  Then I shoved it all into a mental compartment and got ready to have a houseful of friends whom I did not wish to burden with this news.  It was to be a day of celebrating, not tiptoeing around my grief.

June 17

Time to open that compartment.  Grief is such a funny thing, because you can never really get used to it.  Every relationship you have with another is unique, so the grief you feel when that relationship ends is also unique.  My mother and I had a very close relationship, so when she passed, it was simple, and powerful, and precise.  My father and I… had a very complicated, complex relationship, and the grief is likewise.  It’s almost as if it’s an unwinding of all the emotions you have.  The grief I have for him is subtle, and conflicted, and diffuse.  I mean, I cried for him, but not as deeply, as soul wrackingly, as I had for my mother.  And that grief is tinged with a sense of regret, that damage done can now never be repaired.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my father, and growing up, our relationship was very close, and loving.  He taught me so many things, and I am grateful for every lesson, most of which have served me well.  But my father was a prideful person, and that pride got in his way through the whole of his life.  Once I left home, and began to make my way in life, and be very successful at it, that pride of his began to rear it’s ugly head.  He was proud of me, I knew, but also jealous.  Not envious, but jealous that I was doing better than he was at the same age.  That jealously gnawed away at how proud he was of me and poisoned our relationship.  It started as simple things, like how, when I earned honors in my Navy ‘A’ school, he couldn’t just express how proud he was, he had to add in a dig that Navy ‘A’ schools were geared to the lowest common denominator.  As time went on, he got worse.  Chipping away at my success in the Navy, at my recovery from the motorcycle accident, my marriage, my work in college, etc.

That was how it was, pride and jealousy.  By the time he managed to bring that jealousy under control, the damage was well and truly done.

There is also the grief of knowing that both your parents are gone from this world.  Which is something that unsettles your foundations for a bit.

June 22

Loaders are here, time to hit the road!  The plan was for me1 to be on the road by 0730!  I only missed that target by three and a half hours.  Oh well.  Cancel the hotel reservation in Salt Lake City, make a new one in, oh, let’s just stop in Twin Falls, Idaho.

1100, ON THE ROAD!  I-90 East to Ellensberg, then I-82 towards Yakima.  Interesting that on I-82, as you come off the ridge into the Yakima valley, you can see two snowy peaks in the distance, which are obviously two of our local strato-volcanoes, but which ones?  And just as you are thinking about opening up a map app to figure out which ones, you see a brown sign on the road that says, “In the distance: Mt. Rainer (with an arrow pointing up and to the right) Mt. Adams (with an arrow pointing up and to the left)”.  Very handy, that.

Yakima valley is a very pretty fertile valley with farms and orchards everywhere.  At the southern end of the valley are the Rattlesnake Hills, of which the section next to I-82 is currently undergoing a slow motion landslide.  Which is very exciting, if you are a geologist, or an Ent, or an earth elemental.

From there on, it’s some arid landscape until you hit the Oregon border, which is also the Columbia River, and you cross the river just to the west of the McNary hydroelectric dam.  McNary is a Run-of-the-River dam, which doesn’t materially alter the river landscape (no storage lake, so the dam output can fluctuate with seasonal river flows),  It also has a navigational lock to allow boat traffic through.  A bit south of the border, I jump on I-84, which in my opinion is something of an understated treasure when it comes to scenic beauty.

A half hour after you get on I-84 heading east, you hit Pendleton, and then you climb out of the arid landscape and into the Umatilla National Forest and the Blue Mountains.  It happens fast.  There is a little scenic pullout where you can take one last look at the valley to the west, and then it’s all mountains and trees.  It’s a gorgeous drive and if you have time, it’s worth stopping every now and again, just for fun.  There is a spot, at the south end of Durkee, OR, as the highway enters a cut between cliff faces, where there sits a campus of dusty buildings.  If you’ve been around industrial sites enough, it’s obviously a cement plant, but if you haven’t, it’s purpose is rather vague, and sitting at the mouth of the cut, it evokes a sense of “Villain Lair”.  Then you notice the cross road is ‘Cement Plant Rd’, and the mystery is gone.

A bit further on, you pass through Lime and get treated to some modern ruins alongside the highway.  Some kind of industrial facility that has seen much better days.  Silos and stacks and walls all in various states of decay.  The site was a former Lime plant that was shuttered in 1980, and nature has not seen fit to leave it stand.  Keep going and you pass along Farewell Bend recreational area, a wide spot in the Snake River2 that, if you are paying attention to the map, serves as the border between Oregon and Idaho, but you aren’t crossing that border yet.  It’s a pretty spot, and a place I would love to spend a lazy afternoon at, and maybe camp for the night.  Finally you pass through Ontario and cross into Idaho.  Your first miles of Idaho along I-84 east are a large (hundreds of square miles), fertile valley, with farms as far as the eye can see, with Ontario at the northwest end, and Boise at the southeast.

Past Boise, you are in plateau land, driving on top of them at times, and driving below the rim at others.  One thing you can see an awful lot of is Wind Turbines.  It sure seems like a smart place to put them (winds coming down the mountains have a pretty straight run, so even if they aren’t super strong, the are probably pretty constant).  The USGS agrees, and has a handy map.  See the field of dots just southeast of Mountain Home?  You get to look at those turbines for a very long time.

Soon enough, you are out of the plateaus and into another large fertile valley, and an introduction to something the rivers do in the area besides cut river valleys.  They also cut gorges.  You cross over the Malad Gorge and it’s a damn surprise.  You see the sign for Malad Gorge State Park, and then, without any warning, the land beneath you dramatically drops away and you are quite a ways above the river.  And as suddenly as it was gone, the land is back, and there is nothing in your mirror to indicate that there was a canyon and a river there.  I saw this again as I pulled into Twin Falls, Idaho.  A straight, level road, and suddenly the land falls away with a river maybe a hundred feet below, then the land comes back, and it’s all flat again.

June 23

After a quick stop for coffee and some pics of the gorge at the north end of Twin Falls, it was back onto I-84 heading to Salt Lake City.  North and east of Twin Falls is Craters of the Moon National Monument, a vast area of rather recent volcanic activity not related to the Pacific Ring of Fire.  I didn’t have time to detour up there, but my wife an I are already talking about sending Bug home with his aunties when we make the return trip, and having ourselves a sightseeing tour back to the Pacific northwest.

The drive south is a constant refrain of large farming valley, followed by a ridge to crest over, or a cut or gap to pass through, into another large, fertile valley.  It’s all gorgeous to see in it’s vastness, but the highway stays to the center of each valley, so it’s not terribly interesting except at the transitions.  Then you hit the Salt Lake City metro area.

I always like visiting Salt Lake City.  It’s just gorgeous, tucked between the Wasatch Mountains to the east, and it’s namesake to the west, it’s a long, narrow metro area, much like Puget Sound.  I’m sure it has it’s share of problems, but it’s always struck me as a well run, well put together metro area.  At least for the casual visitor.  Efficient highways in good repair, public transit, and many of the amenities a modern metro area is expected to have.  However, aside from stopping for lunch at Culver’s (mmmm, Butter Burgers!  Cheese Curds!  Root Beer!) and hitting Teton Toys for a few things for Bug to play with until the stuff arrives, I couldn’t linger.

Heading south on I-15, as you leave the metro area, you start to get a feel for the Great Basin you are passing through.  More of the valleys and cuts, valleys and ridges.  You can’t see it from the highway, but there is an awful lot of very visible evidence of recent volcanic activity in that part of the country.  Places such as Phavant Butte, The Cinders, Meadow Lava Tubes, and the Tabernacle Crater.  There is also a National Park out there, way off the beaten path.

It’s also common to see dust devils crossing the landscape out there, and occasionally crossing the road.  I actually got hit by one, and while it wasn’t dangerous, it did give the car a good shake.

Finally you pass through Zion National Park (you can get a taste of it from the highway, but just a taste) and St. George, and enter the Virgin River Gorge, which is actually in Arizona, as I-15 cuts across the northwest corner of the state.  This is a short stretch of highway passing through gorges and canyons.  It’s twisty, and subject to some serious crosswinds.  It can be a touch treacherous.  Last time I drove this stretch of highway, I was on post deployment leave and heading to Wisconsin, it was 0200, and I was on my motorcycle.  I was pretty sure I was going to die, if the crosswinds didn’t pitch me into a gorge or rock face, one of the cars or trucks on the road was.  Through some combination of luck and skill, I survived.  This time, it wasn’t so terrifying, but it was still rather exciting.

After maybe another hour through the desert, I hit Vegas, and spent the night at a hotel in Henderson.

June 24

Last day of the trip and honestly not too much to tell.  I did get to cross an item of my engineering geek bucket list, and visited Hoover Dam.  This has long been a place I’ve wanted to lay my eyes on, just because of the engineering it represents.  Since then, we’ve done greater things, but at the time, this was a feat.  I was also interested to see the art deco styling that adorns the dam, and that is kept up by the staff.  It’s a nice touch.  Here you can see the intakes, and the white stone marks the deepest Lake Mead has ever gotten (and the last time the spillways saw any use). Looking down on the power house.  And across the face of the dam.  Taking it all in!

After I finally got done walking around the dam, it was time to head down US-93 to Kingman (which is a very empty stretch).  There I got on I-40 to Flagstaff and went through more of the valley, pass, valley, crest kind of territory, although with more vegetation (low, green shrubs and trees, nothing very tall) and more landscape to see in the form of ridge lines and mesas.  When you get to Ash Fork, it starts to go up and turn into forested mountain terrain, until you hit Flagstaff.

In Flagstaff, I turned south onto I-17, and quickly left the mountains for the desert to the south.  Here the heat really hit, and around Cordes Lakes, I had to pull over for lunch, and gas, and to see why my tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) was freaking out.  Turns out I was up to 40 psi in the tires.  Makes sense, since they were filled in a climate that rarely got above 80.  So I let out some air until it was happy again.

After that, the run to the Phoenix Metro was pretty vanilla, and I got to the rental house in the early afternoon.  I was greeted with this when I arrived, which I took as a good sign for the next year.

Commentary for the trip and about AZ

I have developed a list I call, “You Might Be An Interstate Ash-hole If:”

…You are getting passed on the right, repeatedly, and refuse to change lanes to the right.
…You are passing on the left with a delta V measured in the low single digits.
…You pass someone, move right, and decide to slow down, a lot.
…You are being passed on the left and suddenly decide now that you want to go faster.
…You have decided to take it upon yourself to make sure everyone obeys the speed limit by parking in the left lane and keeping pace with a large truck.

Feel free to add your own.

Regarding Arizona:

It’s hot.  Damn hot.  I haven’t been this hot since Somalia.  But, the dry heat does make a difference (Somalia was humid and 108F in the shade).  The heat still annoys my TPMS.  But, I have a pool, which makes the heat not so terrible.

Not only is it hot, we get monsoons.  Usually preceded by a dust storm.  It’s called a Haboob.  Nothing that makes that much of a mess should ever have the word ‘boob’ in the name, it belies the seriousness of the event.

Oh, and there are scorpions.  They are small, and creepy as hell, and if they sting you, while it’s not fatal except for infants and people with compromised health, it’s not fun and it can take a few days for the poison to run it’s course.  They don’t normally want to come inside, but they will to chase prey or get out of bad weather, so you have to be vigilant about them.  Keep the house sealed up, and I go hunting every night.  Turns out, they glow green under black light, so I have an LED black light flash light, and every evening, after the sun goes down, I grab a can of poison and the flash light, and sweep the yard.  Usually I find one or two.  Some nights it’s clear, but the other night, I found a momma and her 25+ babies on the edge of the house.  I was merciless and wiped them all out, and I don’t feel even a little bit bad about it.  I also spread diatomaceous earth around the house and doorways, which is interesting stuff.  It’s not fast acting, but it does help to keep the populations under control.  At least until the next Haboob and monsoon blow all the powder away and blow a few more scorpions into the yard from the nearby desert.

At least they hibernate once the temp starts hitting 40 at night.

Finally, the movers didn’t arrive with our stuff until July 9th.  This took us by surprise, as most of my wife’s co-workers reported that their stuff arrived much faster than that.  Add to that the fact that the moving company was not very communicative about where or why and just told us that July 9th was still within the delivery window (it was the last day of the delivery window, but yes, still technically within the window).  So while we were glad to see our stuff, we were still annoyed at the time it took.  We don’t have a lot of stuff.  Then the VP of the local office stopped by and explained the why.  Turns out, not having a lot of stuff meant we couldn’t fill a truck, so our stuff waited until they had enough other stuff heading south-ish to fill a truck.  Ya know, I understand logistics enough to get that, but damn it would have been nice if someone clued us in at the start about that, we could have planned better.  Sleeping on cheap, thin IKEA mattresses on the floor is not the way to have restful sleep.

Anyway, that what I’ve been up to the past few weeks.  I promise to restart my normal Tech Tuesdays in a week or two.

Photo by squeaks2569 Oscar's Travelogue

  1. I was going to be taking the pup, but, well, now it’s just me and a car full of stuff we don’t trust to the movers []
  2. I’ve noticed that either the Snake River runs everywhere in the Western US, or there are an awful lot of Snake River’s out here []


A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget. ...more →

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25 thoughts on “Oscar’s Travelogue

  1. I’m sorry about your losses, and that they both happened during such a tumultuous month. May you and Bug and Mz. Gordon settle in well and easily, and survive the heat with aplomb until the lovely fall coolth sets in …

    I really enjoyed reading this. It was very evocative.

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  2. Very sorry for your losses, but am thankful that you shared it all with us. You have my prayers and hopes that you, your wife, and Bug find comfort in the turmoil and this new chapter brings years of happiness and fulfillment. Wonderful writing thank you for sharing it.

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  3. Sorry to hear about your losses.

    Moving is stressful even without dealing with all of that.

    And yes, have experienced the interstate a-holes. Around here there’s also the tiny old rancher in a big old pickup truck who gets on and goes 45 the whole way and snarls traffic. Maybe he isn’t an a-hole, but he really shouldn’t be on the interstate….

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    • My sympathies on your losses and wishing you the best of luck on the move. I agree 100% that writing about this stuff is good for the soul. We’re here to read it if you ever need to do it again. My dad has been gone 22 years and I’m still trying to figure out what it all meant.

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      • For me it’s just that regret, wishing that our relationship did not have to fall apart. The whole time growing up, my father espoused the belief that a parents job is to not only prepare a child to survive, but to thrive and succeed. It’s just sad that when faced with one of his children actually thriving and succeeding (my sister never graduated college and lives in a ramshackle house in BFE Montana, largely because IMHO she adopted my father’s pride), a part of him had to take it as an affront.

        That kind of pride is such an ugly thing.

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  4. That’s a really tough month. Condolences.

    Welcome to the North American Monsoon, one of the most interesting — and least known — weather patterns on the continent.

    Idaho is one of two of the 11 contiguous western states that doesn’t have a renewable power mandate of some sort. Of course, in 2017 81.6% of their in-state generation was from renewable sources.

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    • Thank you.

      Half of Idaho’s power is hydro (17 dams). I was surprised to see so many turbines, but once I thought about the topography and weather patterns, not having the turbines in that area seemed like leaving money on the table, so yeah, field as many as you can, and plan to field more (currently they get 10% from wind).

      Just one of those things you don’t think about until you see it, and then it’s ‘duh!’.

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    • As for the monsoons, I grew up around Midwest thunderstorms, so rumbling doesn’t bother me. Neither does torrential downpours (T-storms can deliver, and in the PNW, a Pineapple Express can dump so much water…). But the sand storm, that’s new.

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    • Summer ain’t over yet…

      The aquarium near my house has a shark tank, and the bathrooms near the entrance, instead of having mirrors over the sinks, have a view into the shark tank. The kind of joy such a thing brings to a six year old boy can wash away all sorts of bad.

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  5. I join our colleagues in expressing condolences. I too lost a parent with whom I had a complex relationship and a beloved pet in close temporal proximity (not quite as close as yours). And I will be moving soon, too (I hope!) so again there is a parallel.

    There are things you choose to do in life, and then there are things life chooses for you. While not always pleasant, these sorts of things are the moments of consequence. You’ve acquitted yourself well, and the stress shall end soon.

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  6. Thank you for sharing Oscar, this was great. You paint wonderful mental pictures!
    I’m sorry for the loss of your dad, and your pup.
    I can relate to the pride/jealousy thing. My dad seems to have absolutely no pride in me, and my mother insists it is because in me, he sees his lost potential. It’s complicated (especially being a daughter and never being “daddy’s girl”).
    In any event, I’m glad the move is over and you are settling in. I’ve only been to Arizona once, but I loved it. (I also loved Palm Springs. Maybe I was a desert dweller in a past life?)

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    • The irony is, my parents placed all their hopes in my sister. The straight ‘A’ student with a near photographic memory. Everyone figured she’d breeze through college. I was merely an above average student who struggled with math. I was the lost potential.

      Turns out, learning how to struggle is a good thing. Makes you get back on the horse when you fail. I never told my parents that I failed Calc II the first time through. A big, fat, 5 credit F on my transcript. I did much better the second time through, but I knew a lot of people who got an F like that and just dropped out. Including my sister.

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  7. Sorry to hear about the hard time you have had.

    The road trip sounds fun, i always like those. Good luck and full speed ahead on smushing every scorpion.

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  8. I am so, so sorry . I too know the feeling of having massively conflicting emotions with a parent. My mother just left this morning after her yearly drive-by visit, and the wife is still trying to calm down. So many unresolved issues from my parents divorce 34 years ago.

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    • The worst of it is, it was a private thing. He only acted that way towards me and only in private. The rest of the world saw a very different person (mom saw it, but she kept it private, and has been gone ten years now). So all our family and friends would get mad at me for not wanting to visit him every chance I had, because why wouldn’t I, he was so awesome.

      It’s impossible to explain that kind of thing to people without them rationalizing it away as an over-reaction on my part. The whole, ‘Is it really that bad?’. Especially when all they ever heard from him was how proud he was of me.

      There is more than one utility to living 2000 miles away from home.

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  9. My condolences Oscaron your losses. I lost my dad suddenly and unexpectedly five years ago. I hope eventually your last meeting will bring you some closure.

    Thank you for the evocative recounting of your road trip. One of our favorite things is to find new things on each trip. Friends of mine moved to Phoenix from Denver and recounted having to push down asphault divots made by their car in the parking lot. Of course I also spent one of the coldest nights of my life camping outside of Phoenix got to love the high Desert. It is beautiful there I wish you amazing new experiences in your time there.

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    • We are waiting for things to cool down a touch, then I think we’ll be doing a lot of hiking. There are all sorts of canyons and craters I keep hearing about that I want to take Bug to see.

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    • I didn’t actually take the internal tour of the facility. I’ve toured quite a few dams in my day (Bonneville on the Columbia was the last one), so the guts are no mystery. I just wanted to take in the uniqueness of the Hoover. Its aesthetic, if you will.

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