Thursday, June 24, 2010

I’ve Got To Pick Up a Pick-up

“So when are you going to pick up your pick-up?” my children kept asking. I’m not sure, but they said this so many times, I think they just liked to hear how it sounded.

It is an amazing thing, that when you are eagerly anticipating an event, time seems to crawl. But when you are not looking forward to something, time has the disobliging habit of proceeding quickly. When I finally made the decision to purchase the truck, it would be about 4-5 weeks before I would actually get to Denver to buy it. I can’t remember time ever passing so slowly, even waiting for Christmas as a child. It didn’t help that my children, as well as everyone at work, kept asking me when the big day would arrive. I imagine this is how expectant mothers feel when they tire of hearing, “So, when is the baby due?”

Finally, the day did in fact arrive. I got an amazing deal through on a plane ticket to Denver. I would have a 40 minute layover in Salt Lake City, but that would be just about perfect since they usually board 30 minutes before take-off. Plus, I had never been to the Great Salt Lake, which you fly over as you come in for a landing. I also got to see the Olympic stadium from somewhere between 15-20 thousand feet. I always think about taking pictures days after the opportunity occurs, so no photos, sorry. It was really something though. I was not the least disappointed in my layover.

I will tell you right now, I am a card-carrying cheap-skate. Everything I do, every day of my life, is in as inexpensive a manner as possible. Sometimes this causes me more expense and trouble in the long run, but as a general rule, I save money whenever and wherever I can. My original plan was to fly out of Bismarck, ND, as early as possible, make the deal on the truck, and drive back that night. Ambitious, I know, but I’ve succeeded at more ambitious endeavors than that and thought I could manage.

My other shortcoming is that I hate to impose on people. I didn’t want to ask Bob and Judy, the people I would be purchasing the vehicle from, to provide me with a bed. My brother Jeremy also lives in the Denver area, but too far away to be feasible. Lois and Rick, my aunt and uncle, are closer geographically, but like I said, I hate to impose. Deanna talked to me at length about how long a day I would have and to drive 12 hours back from Denver was probably not a good idea. So I made reservations at the Motel 6 in Belle Fourche, SD. This is the cleanest and cheapest lodgings I’ve found, at a good halfway point between ND and CO.

In the meantime, my dear father is extremely concerned this deal goes down smoothly, since he was basically the one who got the party started. Unbeknownst to me, he was making calls on my behalf. When I finally got wind of this, the revised plan was for me to cancel my Motel reservation immediately. When I got to the Denver airport, I was to take an $8 skyRide bus to the Wagon Road Park ‘n Ride bus stop. Bob would pick me up there, we would sign the deal on the truck and enjoy a fantastic dinner at the Rib House in Longmont, CO. Rick and Lois, who are good friends with Bob and Judy would be joining us for the festivities.

My dad sent me an email, and at the same time, Bob actually called me and told me that fathers do know best and, if I knew what was good for me, I should do what he says. I’m still in shock as my mouth is slowly falling open and saliva is starting to drip out because I’m thinking of ribs. I kept thinking at some point I will get pinched and wake up from this fantasy.

Then Bob said I had a decision to make. After dinner, I would have the privilege of driving the truck to Rick and Lois’s house, spending the night and leaving the next morning from there, or I was extremely welcome to spend the night at Bob and Judy’s and leave from their house instead. I did pinch myself at this point just to make sure this was not a dream.

It wasn’t. Follow-up emails and phone calls confirmed this was going to happen. So I canceled the Motel reservation and looked up the procedure for using the airport bus service. It was a very tough decision as to where to spend the night. I would have liked to spend some more time visiting with my aunt and uncle, however, I had already committed to playing the trumpet in a brass group that was performing for a celebration Mass to dedicate a new sanctuary at one of our local Catholic churches. I was supposed to play the night I was driving back from Denver. It was important that I left as early as possible the following morning. As much as I appreciated Rick and Lois’s hospitality, I thought it would be quickest to stay at Bob and Judy’s.

The plans were made and all I had to do was await the departure date. After a few days, the first change in plans occurred, but it was a great change. I would not have to take the bus, because my saintly Aunt Lois would be picking me up at the airport instead. We would then go to visit my cousin Paul, Rick & Lois’s son, at his place of employment, the National Center For Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO. We would take a tour of their facility and have lunch with Paul. He has a computer related job like myself, so I was very interested in seeing the NCAR super computers. Plus, not only would I get to visit Rick and Lois, but I would get to see Paul as well.

The big day finally arrived. I cannot describe the excitement I was feeling when Deanna was driving me to the airport. I really enjoy flying, I would get to see relatives I don’t see nearly enough, tour some new sights, and drive a new vehicle home. I got on the plane almost without a hitch. Since I was only staying one night I really didn’t need to check any luggage so I fit all my overnight stuff in a backpack. Evidently my spray can of antiperspirant was too large to be allowed. I had no choice but to dispose of it and hope I could buy something driving out the next morning.

The flights went as scheduled and actually took off a few minutes early. I don’t believe I’ve ever had that happen to me. I was on Delta Airlines going into Salt Lake City and then would pick up the connecting flight to Denver. I’d never been to Salt Lake City so I was kind of excited about that. I chose orange juice and some cookies for my complimentary refreshment.

The Great Salt lake is pretty impressive. As I was looking at the lake the Olympic stadium passed by my window. I always request a window seat if I can. I didn’t expect to see that, so that was pretty neat. The SLC airport was about like other airports. I grabbed a venti (large) Latte at a Starbucks and followed the signs to my gate.

The 40 minute layover was just about perfect. I found a seat, and called Lois to tell her everything was on schedule and when I should be arriving. Then I checked in with Deanna to let her know I didn’t crash, yet. “Ha ha, that’s not funny,” she would say. I drink coffee like water so I did manage to finish my drink just when they were calling for boarding. I got on and we were off to Denver. The crunchy cookies were kind of tasty on the previous flight so I chose those again with a Ginger Ale for my refreshment.

After getting off the plane things started to get more exciting. The Denver airport makes you take a subway-like train to the baggage/passenger pick up area. As I got to the bottom of an escalator, a woman was frantically reaching her arm in the gap between the up and down sections. She had accidentally dropped her dad’s wedding ring and it was lying in the gap. I tried, but my arms just weren’t quite long enough. Not to mention the escalators were moving so when you reached in, they wanted to rip your arm off. Needless to say, she was borderline hysterical at this point.

I couldn’t think of any way to help her. I did look at the emergency shut-off button for the escalator. I considered pushing that and probably would have, had I been sure I would have been able to push the button to get it started again. I also had no idea how quickly the emergency shut-off stopped the stairs moving and I had visions of people falling down. I just wasn’t ready to shut-off an escalator at a busy airport. I breathed a sigh of relief when two airport personnel showed up. I wished her good luck and awaited the next train.

Just as I got on the train, my cell phone went off. These trains are super fast and this one decided to take off just as I was reaching into my pocket for the phone. I wasn’t holding on to anything and just about fell on my face. I just barely managed to wrap my arm around a pole. I wrenched it in the process, but stayed on my feet. The backpack hit the floor but thankfully didn’t go flying across the car. Slightly out of breath, I answered the call. It was the director of the brass group making sure I would be at the church on time for Mass the following day. I assured her I would do my best to make it.

I managed to pick my backpack up, put the cell phone away, and calm down just as the train slid to a stop. The trains stop just as fast as they take off. When you see signs demanding you hold on to something. It is in your best interest to do what they say. I walked off and headed towards the baggage claim carousels. I wasn’t picking up any baggage but that was where the exits were. I called Lois to let her know I had arrived in one piece, barely, after that train ride.

Denver has two terminals, East and West, depending on which airline you are flying. It is important to know which terminal you are at when arranging for someone to pick you up. I had done my homework on this and knew I was at the East terminal because I was flying Delta Airlines. What I didn’t know was that public transportation is on a different level than private transportation. Public transportation is conveniently located on the 4th level where the baggage claim is.

There are all kinds of signs directing you to the baggage pick-up area as well as where the bus and taxi services are. There are very few, if any signs, directing you to go down to the 3rd level for private transportation. Evidently, they feel if you’ve got private transportation, either the flyer or the driver knows what’s going on and there’s no need for signs. In my case, my wise aunt Lois knew all about this and asked what terminal and what level I was on.

I said the East terminal but had no idea the level. To the uninformed, such as myself, it’s just like you are walking outside. Again, wise Lois directed me to look at the numbers on the doors. They all said things like, 402, 403, 404, etc… She said I needed to go down one level to the 3rd floor. Thank goodness for cell phones, that could have been messy if I didn’t have any way to communicate with someone. I made my way down and walked out, on the 3rd level this time, right underneath the Delta Airline sign and awaited Lois to come and get me.

The pick up went off without a hitch. Lois drove up and I got in. The first words she said were, “there’s been a change of plans. The first thing you need to know about spending time with us is the schedule is always subject to change.” I couldn’t help but laugh. This sounds exactly like my schedule at home. Besides, I knew this was going to be a grand adventure and it was shaping up to not disappoint me.

Instead of meeting my cousin Paul at work, we would be going to the eye doctor where my uncle Rick had an appointment. My other cousin, Kara, works there. So after the eye appointment was done, the four of us would go to lunch and then get Paul at his house. Their nanny was ill and he was at home taking care of the kids. Paul’s wife, Jaime (hopefully I spelled that right), would be done with her work by the time we got there, so Paul could come with us to the NCAR building and we’d still get our tour. I thought this was fantastic, as now I’d get to see my cousin Kara as well as Paul. I don’t see either of them very often.

We got to the eye doctors' office. This particular establishment provides eye-care services to the Colorado Avalanche hockey team so there were jerseys displayed on most of the walls. I thought that was pretty cool. I have and have had quite a bit of family living in the Denver area so I’ve become somewhat of an Avalanche, Rockies, and Broncos fan. I’ve never really been into pro basketball so I can take or leave the Denver Nuggets. Rick was sitting in the waiting area. He hadn’t had his appointment yet.

It’s a good thing he was at the eye doctor as I must have stood in front of him for 10 minutes before Lois gently reminded him I was here. Then the lights went on and he crushed me in one of his trademark bear hugs. We had an enjoyable time chatting and catching up on family news. Kara came out and said hello.

After the appointment, Rick, Lois, Kara, and I went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. One thing Bismarck/Mandan is lacking is a good Mexican restaurant. We have some, and the food is good, but it just doesn’t taste like authentic Mexican cuisine. As you get further south, this changes. I was really spoiled when I went to visit my dad in Tucson, AZ. We went to Las Cazuelitas De Tucson. Their burritos are absolutely amazing, plus they had a live mariachi band when we were there. As a trumpet player, I was sorely tempted to join in.

I can’t remember what the Denver restaurant was called, but I was not disappointed. The burrito I had was very good. I’m partial to the green vs. the red chile sauce, so I really like it when I’m given the choice. I also like it when the salsa doesn’t come from a jar and tastes like the vegetables were just chopped up that day. It was a fabulous lunch and was great visiting with Rick, Lois, and Kara.

After we finished eating, Kara went back to work, Rick went home, and Lois and I went to get Paul. One thing about driving in Denver is that it takes 1-2 hours to get just about anywhere. I’m sure I dozed off on the drive to Paul’s house. I really appreciated Lois providing transportation all over. She put in a fair share of driving that day.

We got Paul, said hello to his adorable children who were focused in on the FernGully movie, having been chased indoors by a recent rain shower, and drove to the NCARS building. The architecture of this place is amazing, set into the foothills of Boulder, CO, it makes for a very scenic place to work. There are scads of things to see here. It is designed to accommodate groups of school children on field trips. There are all kinds of little stations relating to weather and space exploration. I’m extremely interested in these subjects so I was fascinated. I wanted to read everything, but we would have been there several hours longer and we needed to meet Bob and Judy.

I especially liked a tornado simulator that is constructed with jets, a vacuum, and mist. You have a real live miniature tornado on display and the signs encourage you to stick your hand in and observe how that changes the shape and direction of the funnel. If you really get your hand in there, you can temporarily dissipate the mist only to have it re-form when you take your hand away. I had to laugh when a small group of kids came up to the display. I very cautiously put my fingertips into the funnel and then my hand for just a little bit. These kids went for the full body experience and dove into it like junior versions of Superman. Paul said kids will do that all the time. The funnel scattered and reformed as soon as the kids got off. I experienced a brief flashback of my own childhood. There was a time I would have dived in just like those kids.

But there are also advantages to being an adult and cousin to someone that works there. We got access into the computer room where the super computers are housed. To most people, this probably wouldn’t be very interesting. On the outside they just look like a lot of cabinets with blinking lights on them. But when you think of the sheer processing power, storage, and cooling systems of these computers, for a computer geek like myself it was awe inspiring. I worked at the computer center when I was in college but that was one mainframe which just isn’t in the same class as a super computer. The college mainframe was cooled with liquid nitrogen which was kind of neat to see at the time.

The most fun part was looking at the automated tape library. There was a two-story library filled with tape cartridges and tape drives. There were several little robots on rails that were responsible for retrieving tapes, inserting them in the drives, and putting them back when they were no longer needed. The whole thing was enclosed and you had to watch through windows, but I was still startled and jumped back when a little robot came zooming out of nowhere, flying right at me, and stopped just short of the window. It’s little arm grabbed a tape, zoomed over to the drives, and put it in. Absolutely fascinating how that works. We sat and watched the robots work for awhile.

After the tour, we took Paul home and went to pick up Kara’s son Tyler from school. He plays baseball, and usually hangs out with his grandparents or walks to a friends house before the game starts. Lois is a quilter and has several masterpieces hanging up in their beautiful house. Another uncle, Dave, living in MN, is a brick layer and had done their fireplace. Rick also took me on their deck where you can see their bird feeders and a water feature complete with fish. We relaxed and chatted a bit more until it was time to go to Bob and Judy’s house.

I started getting butterflies in my stomach as I was about to come face to face with the pick-up I’d only seen in pictures until then. Bob and Judy also have a beautiful house and greeted me as if they’d known me their whole life. We’d never met, but they are very good friends with my dad and stepmom, and doubtless had heard countless stories about my brother and me. After our greetings, I was introduced to the pick-up I was going to buy.

Their garage was spotless and the pickup did not have a speck of dust or dirt on it. You would thought it had just come off a show room floor. Everything was so clean I was afraid to touch it, but Bob encouraged me to open the doors and climb in. The inside was just as immaculate as the outside. It was almost surreal, I really felt like I was dreaming. I’d never in my life had a vehicle like this. Bob gave me a brief walk around and then it was time for dinner. I started it up. It even sounded beautiful. The truck has twin Magnaflo pipes in the back and rumbles. Loud vehicles do tend to annoy me, but this was different. It wasn’t loud enough to be obnoxious, just a soft deep-throated sound that makes you want to growl back in return.

I drove the pick-up to the restaurant to get a feel for it. I can’t remember being so nervous driving something. I backed inch by inch out of the garage. Almost in a daze, I drove Bob to the Rib House. The restaurant was every bit as good as it was claimed to be. The ribs fell off the bone and melted when they hit your mouth. My only regret was my choice of sauce. I’m kind of weird and choose spicy things just to see how hot they really are. I went for Jessica’s Fire sauce which is supposed to be sweet and spicy.

This is generally my favorite, but this variety had more emphasis on the spicy and not enough on the sweet. It was good, I just needed something to put out the flames afterwards. I’d probably try the mild or medium sauces if I ever get there again. I highly recommend this joint if you like ribs and ever find yourself in the Denver area.

After a very enjoyable dinner, I hugged Rick and Lois goodbye. It’s really tough when family members get sprawled across the country. I believe everyone that reads this blog can relate to that. You never get to visit as often as you’d like. Bob and I drove back to his house and I got a more detailed tour of the truck. We opened the hood, went over some of features, and talked about maintenance and the products Bob uses. Then we had to have a moment of silence just to stand there and look at it. Bob was probably saying goodbye to the truck and I was still trying to figure out if it was dream and at some point I would wake up. After awhile we went inside to sign the papers.

We looked over everything very carefully. The last thing I wanted was to drive all the way back to ND only to have the Department of Transportation tell me I didn’t have this form or the other and I couldn’t get the title transferred. As we were reading, writing, and signing, my dad called.

As I said, my dad was very concerned that things went smoothly. Living in Tucson, he couldn’t be on site at the time of sale. He was also probably a little nervous I wouldn’t like something or any other number of things our minds tend to dream up that would throw a wrench into our carefully made plans. He needn’t have worried, everything was going great. I was having a wonderful time, I loved the truck, and got it for a very reasonable price. I visited with dad for awhile and then called Deanna to let her know how everything was going. Then Bob showed me my choice of suites. They had two guest bedrooms. One of them had a waterbed and I’ve only slept on a waterbed twice in my life and found it to be a very comfortable experience, so I went with that.

And so ends an absolutely fantastic, fun-filled day. Thanks hugely to the efforts of Rick and Lois, and my now very good friends, Bob and Judy. If you look in your bible to Matthew 5:13, you will read Jesus talking about us being the “salt of the earth”. If you had a picture bible, you would probably see photos of these 4 wonderful people as perfect examples of what Jesus means. I am truly blessed to have Lois and Rick for an aunt and uncle, as well as Godparents. Bob and Judy are also two of the nicest people you could ever have occasion to meet. My gratitude to their generosity and hospitality simply cannot be put into words. I thank them from the depths of my heart.

Stay tuned for the ride home…

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A New Addition In the Meissner Family

Yes, the Meissner family is pleased to announce the latest addition to our family. However, instead of two legs, it has four very impressive wheels!

My good ‘ole reliable green bomber (or blue, or possibly teal, depending on your level of color blindness) just turned over 210,000 miles. It is a 1993 Olds Cutlass Supreme that we got in 1995. It’s had some expensive repairs over the years but I have never owned a more reliable vehicle. Our 2001 minivan that we got in 2003 turned over 100,000 miles and is working on it’s 2nd transmission and probably has cost us the same amount of money in maintenance as the car we’ve had twice as long. This car has seen the birth of both our children, now ages 11 and 14, has gotten us to Colorado and Minnesota several times and last year made the journey to Canada and back. It's also still running strong after at least one severe vehicle collision and a deer collision you can read about here.

Add to the fact our teenage daughter got her driver’s permit last week. So she needs a vehicle to practice on. The green bomber is tailor-made for her. Incidentally, I’m soliciting volunteers (I may even pay you) to teach driving lessons because my wife just got fired for causing too much stress and I REALLY don’t want to do it. I’m also not the best teacher as my driving skills are, shall we say, not exactly above board? We'll just leave it at that, but I may be violating some obscure law if I attempt driver's education. I need to be a student, not a teacher.

Here it is. Hopefully we can still coax a few more years out of it. The picture actually makes the car look pretty good. You can’t see the 6 cracks running horizontally and vertically across the windshield, nor are the massive dirt smudges all along the bottom or any of the more massive scratches and bug and tar marks visible. I would have washed it before taking the picture had I not just gotten done spending 3 hours washing and cleaning the new vehicle for it's photo op coming up.

We purchased a 2005 Dodge Dakota Pick-up. I’ve wanted one a long time, but they just have never been in our price range. When we lived in town and had a small lawn we really didn’t need a pick-up other than just to say we had one. That's not a good reason to invest in anything.

A few years ago we purchased an acre outside of town and now have lots of grass and tree branches to haul away every year, and we get less than adequate snow removal services available in the Winter. I’ve been hauling the grass and tree branches in the back of our minivan but that just doesn’t work very well, and having a 4X4 vehicle will be nice in the Winter.

This year fortune finally smiled on our family. My dad was well aware of our vehicle concerns having to ride in the back of my green bomber all the way to Winnipeg, Canada and return. He lives in Tucson, AZ and was driving back by way of Denver where he stopped to visit with a long-time very close friend who just happened to have a Dodge Dakota he was thinking about selling but hadn’t quite reached that decision yet. The fact that it was a 2005 model put the truck closer to our price range, but what really put icing on the cake was the fact that it only had 8,600 miles at the time of purchase!

Back then, it was still just outside what we could afford, fast forward one year, and after quite a bit of vehicle shopping, I really could not pass this opportunity up. Regular vehicles with low mileage are not cheap and pick-ups were still completely out of the question. Everything I looked at that even came close to the price we wanted had more than 60,000 miles on it.

So here it is, just look at this baby! Flame red with every option that was available in 2005. Sport exterior package, fancy wheels, 6-disc CD changer, heated leather seats. (Should make for a nice toasty bottom during the cold winter drives.) 4X4 with a complete towing package. I can tow with electrical hook-ups just about any type of hitch inside the weight limit of the truck.

The one problem was that the truck was in Denver. I live in the middle of North Dakota. Somehow I had to get down there so I could make the purchase and drive it back home. Again, God has a way of just making things happen. With a lot of help from my family and the now, very dear to my heart, previous owners of the vehicle, a plan was hatched to get me a one-way ticket to fly into Denver, spend the night, and drive back the next morning. This truly was a grand adventure and deserves to be told in another blog. I will try not to keep you waiting too long.

So this is just our birth announcement. I will tell you about the journey in the very near future. Stay tuned, you won't want to miss the ride.