Nice Visit With Parents

Part I: Going With the Flow

Three weeks ago my dad emailed me and asked if we were free the next weekend for a visit.  This was exciting because my parents live in Colorado and the kids and I don’t get to see them in person that often.  Our last visit was in Colorado during “spring” break of 2009.  (I say spring in quotes because it ended up hailing and snowing there the last two days and we barely made it out before the airport shut down, but that’s another story.)

[Ed.: for those that are confused thinking that my parents live in Michigan, understand that I have a couple sets of parents—my mom and step-dad in Michigan and my dad and step-mom in Colorado.  I just don’t usually use the “step” moniker as to me they’re all my parents.]

The kids and I had originally planned to meet my parents for a few days in Chicago in August, but the job my dad was supposed to be quitting convinced him to stay on a few more months and he couldn’t get away.  He finally left the company and although not retired, his new job as an independent contractor affords him more flexibility with his work schedule.  Unfortunately our schedule is not as open now with school in session and other commitments, se we had to meet in Michigan and over a weekend.

My step-mother doesn’t like to fly, so the plan was for them to take the train into Chicago arriving Friday afternoon and I’d drive them into Michigan.  They could have taken the train into Ann Arbor, but there was a long lay-over in Chicago and I thought it would be nice to leave the kids with the grandparents and have some “us” time on the drive back.  Plus I like hitting the open road and haven’t done that in a long time.

Thursday night at 11:45 my dad calls saying that some bridge along their route had caught on fire (??) and they were stuck in the middle of nowhere while Amtrak figured out what to do.  The next morning when I was supposed to be heading out to Chicago, Amtrak still hadn’t figured things out.  My dad told me that all passengers not going to Chicago were transferred to busses in the middle of the night, and the train was slowly making its way along another route stopping frequently to allow trains going the other way through.  No one had an estimated arrival time, so I figured I’d stick around the house until there was some official word.  Besides, I needed to start planning the Thanksgiving meal for 11 – 15 family and friends, and it was probably better to do that at my desk instead of while driving.

Around noon Michigan time Amtrak finally gave an estimated arrival time of 7:45 Chicago time.  As I found out later, the person handling my dad’s car, (not sure of the correct term—porter maybe?), found that hard to believe, but hey, Amtrak central should know, right?  Since the last train to Ann Arbor was supposed to leave at 6 I had to make the drive if we’re to have a full weekend with my parents.

Even though they seem to be in the middle of nowhere, my parents thankfully still have phone coverage.  (As I hear later, the “porter” told my parents that he “lived around here” but had “no idea” where they were.  I’m not sure what to make of that.)  Anyway, my parents and I work out a plan: we’ll spend the night in Chicago and drive back early in the morning.

So far things are going well…until I find out that I have to pick up the kids by 10.  This would make for a *really* early departure from Chicago.  So it’s back to the phone to come up with a Plan B.  We decide to cancel the Chicago hotel reservations and drive out of the city until we can’t take it anymore—I was thinking Michigan City or maybe even Kalamazoo.  Really at this point, I’m just ready to do *something*, so get in the car and head toward Chicago.  The GPS gives a 7:20 arrival time at Union Station and Amtrak still says a 7:45 arrival.  All’s good.

Part II: The Windy City

I make it to Union Station and the streets are a madhouse.  After circling around a bit passing on the outrageously-priced parking, I notice someone pulling out of a spot on the street.  I don’t seem to be the only one noticing this and may have broken some traffic laws getting there first, but hey, this is “city rules” driving, right?  Not bad for Chicago—$5.40 for as long as I want as the meters cut off at 9, (there aren’t actual meters—you go to a box on the block, give it a credit card as they don’t even take physical money, and get some sticker to put on your dashboard).  I thought about just paying for an hour, but splurged the extra $2.40 just in case.

The parking space is pretty good as I’m just a block down from the business end of Union Station.  I wanted to see the “historical” part of it and take some pictures, but it was closed for a private party complete with a red carpet, several photographers acting as paparazzi, limos and $25 valet parking.  Oh, well.  I enter the working part of the station and the sign says 7:45 arrival—guess Amtrak was right.  I wander around the gate area while automated voices announce the gate numbers every few seconds, (Gate 14…Gate 12…Gate 16…) It’s really weird and noisy…sensory overload!

After getting a feel for the place, I still have 20 minutes to kill, so decide to hit the streets.  I head towards the skyscrapers and find a river (canal?) cutting through the city.  That was pretty cool.  But as soon as I cross over, I realize why they call it the windy city as I seriously had trouble walking!  After a couple blocks, I cut over a block and head back to Union Station.  I get there right around 7:45, but the arrival time on the monitor had been advanced to 7:55.  Oh, well, I sit and play solitaire on my phone for a bit zoning out to the “Gate 14…Gate 16…Gate 12” voices.  After a while I notice that the arrival time had been updated again to 8.  As I think about it later I think my mind was playing tricks on me.  You see, I decided to walk around a little and when I came back the sign clearly said 9 as the arrival time.  Then again, how do you get from 7:55 to 9 in the space of about 5 minutes?  I was planning to wait on dinner until my parents arrived, but was pretty hungry at this point and now had no faith in the “estimated arrival time” figure, so it’s back to the streets to find food.

Unfortunately most modestly-priced establishments seem to be closed and the others have long waits.  I end up grabbing something at one of the few open vendors at the station’s food court along with a coffee as it’s looking to be a late night…

They finally give up giving estimates on arrival.  In fact, the train totally disappears from the arrival board.  But my dad calls and says they’re supposed to almost be there, so I hang out with some other folks waiting for the same train chatting about bridge fires, how long they’ve been around and who’s arriving.  Finally they start peeling off as their husbands and kids, friends, fathers, and others make their way out of the gate.  And then I peel off as my parents arrive…

Part III: The Drive

I don’t know if it was the caffeine, the brisk walks, a combination of the two or something else, but as soon as we got on the road I was ready to drive all night if necessary.  The GPS said we’d arrive at 3:32.  It was pretty much spot on except for a slight detour.

Around the 1:30 hour, we came upon a car that was swerving all over the road.  I’ve heard about drunk drivers, but never really saw something like this in person.  Frankly it was scary.  What does one do in this case?  The freeway is far from empty and this person is obviously a threat to others and themselves.  It was hard to comprehend.  In my mind this person needs to get off the road before someone gets hurt, but how to do that?  My mom starts looking up the phone number for the Michigan State Police when I see a traffic stop.  We had the license plate and a basic description of the car, (but not detailed as I didn’t want to get too close).  So we pulled up behind the trooper and I got out to talk to him.  He was obviously involved with the people in the car and I didn’t want to surprise him, so made a lot of noise and tried to make myself visible.  Finally we connected and I told him what we had seen.  He told me that he’d call it in, but had to deal with “this” now.  I didn’t get the impression that he’d “call it in” as it seemed like there was a bit going on with this stop.  But I did the right thing, right?

A little bit later we caught up with the same car.  I’m truly thankful that we hadn’t come across an accident scene and felt that this time I had to do something more active.  Besides, the car was still swerving all over the place and there was no way I was going to risk trying to get around it and leave the whole thing for someone else to handle.  I’d feel guilty about that anyway.  So I pulled up pretty close, (and think scared my parents in the process), started flashing my high beams and generally being an annoyance.  This got almost instant results as they took the next exit ramp off the freeway.  I hope it wasn’t just to get back on after I went by…

(I told this account to the kids later and we prayed for this person.  I’ve done a lot of driving, but have never seen anything like that before.)

We reach Kalamazoo, but I’m not fatigued so we decide to press on.  At that point I figure there’s no sense in stopping anyway and knew we’d make a night of it.  At 3:45, I drop my parents off at a hotel nearby.  I offer my house, but it’s not especially wheelchair friendly and the master bedroom where I’d put my parents doesn’t have a working toilet, (something I really have to fix).  They decided to use my offer as a last resort.  As it turned out, there was still room for them where they had originally planned to stay that night, so everything was good.  By 4 I’m in my bed and dead to the world.

Part IV: The Visit

I thought that I couldn’t sleep past the sunrise, but did.  It was a good thing that I set my alarm.  The kids were picked up at 9:30 and the parents at 10.  Breakfast was buffet style and Ann and I had fun making it.  After that, what are we to do?  Well, Ann has dance class at 11:45 and I leave Liam and my parents to their own devices at the house while I take Ann to that.  Afterward is lunch and just hanging out.  Dinner is Chinese out then we head down to see the Wayne County Light Festival.  It doesn’t really change, but I love driving though there every year listening to Christmas songs on the radio, (two stations this year).

We’re all tired, so it’s an early night.  Sunday morning is church then off to the Imagination Station in Toledo.  That’s really a great place.  Although the kids have been there before, (and William and me just a month ago on a school field-trip), they weren’t finished exploring when it closed.  We walked along the river a bit then headed back to Canton for dinner.  Then, because I need to get my parents to the Ann Arbor train station by 7:30 and the kids have to be at school at the same time, I drop the kids off with their grandparents to handle that, (the grandmother teaches at the school, so it’s not an imposition).  As for my parents, well, all I can say now is that the train out of Ann Arbor was right on time…

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