Enough time has passed that I can now write about our family vacation to Arizona. So come with me on a journey. A tale of confusion, tedium, and inertia told in several chapters.
It started out as a disaster. But I would eventually learn that it was a brilliantly planned disaster.
Back in January:
“Hey Jeff, Laura told me about some REALLY cheap fares! Wanna go to Arizona in April?”
“What the hell for?”
Because Hell is supposed to be hot.
And so she booked it, telling me that it would be a great opportunity to see and maybe stay with her childhood friend, Chrissy.
As the days passed, I’d check in, asking: “So did you talk to Chrissy? Maybe line up some things to do?”
“What the hell for?”
And so a week before the trip, Jill was near panic because we had air travel to Phoenix but absolutely no other arrangements. How could that happen when you make airline reservations and nothing else??
For my part, I kept checking the weather and pointing out to everyone that it was going to be 99 degrees on our first day in Phoenix.
She booked us on Spirit Airlines, the one discount carrier intent on ruining all the joy of scrounging and scratching for discounts. I had heard nothing but horror stories:
“They cram people in like sardines.”
“They charge you for any and all beverages.”
“Those knees in your back? Spirit considers that lumbar support—and it’s not free!”
“They charge you $100 for any carry-on bigger than a dime.”
“They charge you for the oxygen you breathe—you can only get it from the drop down masks and it’s totally legal if you die because you didn’t pay for the oxygen!”
“They charge you for that thing you did that one time that you thought no one saw you do.”
Don’t ask me whose voices those are.
Oh and just to make things extra inconvenient, the plane was departing O’Hare at 9:25pm and landing in Phoenix at 10:30.
So of course we got to the airport by 6. I wanted to be sure that the kids had enough time to be completely bored and restless—hopefully also out of their little goddamned minds in sugar frenzies—before we put them on their very first 3-hour flight at a time when they’re normally going to bed.
But the flight was smooth. We weren’t charged $500 for the backpacks, the plane didn’t crash, and we weren’t completely taken up by aliens in an enormous, mind-bending mother ship—all things I was sure would happen.
No, friends and neighbors, the problems were waiting for us at Extended Stay America.
I sort of stretched the truth earlier when I said that Jill made no other plans. Because it was funny to do that. Days before the trip, Jill actually made reservations for our first two nights through Priceline. Knowing that we would need a place to stay as soon as we got in, and we were getting in so late, she wanted to be sure we weren’t sleeping in the rental car. But the car would have been better.
We arrived exhausted. And walked right into the 4th circle of Hell. It was dark. The air was stale. It smelled of crime. There was a small kitchen area where meats may have been stored and cooked at one time. There were two full-sized beds that may or may not have served as operating beds for mafia doctors. There was a bathroom with a fist-sized hole in the door.
As soon as we were all in this on-again, off-again crime scene, I locked all the locks and stacked all of the bags against the door. Without saying a word to each other, Jill and I resolved to check out in the morning and never return.
We were getting ready to settle in and feed some bed bugs when Ian and Elsa spotted the grinning demon. Drawn with some fluid where a drawer was supposed to be, was this guy:
Elsa was especially freaked out because she is part-demon so she knows what they’re thinking. We calmed them as best we could with promises of swimming in the morning—fully anticipating that they would be orphans by daybreak.
That was Tuesday.
On Wednesday, we woke up ready to put the worst behind us. The fact that this vacation had just begun and we already had bad memories to put behind us didn’t matter. Nothing but 100% full-throttle awesome ahead!
In the light, I saw the stain.
And I realized why they call it “Extended Stay.” Because some people never leave.
I took the kids to the pool and was shocked to see that it was vomit-free. Jill sat at a table, looking up places to flee to.
We settled on the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. It was about 40 minutes away in Apache Junction. They had a restaurant. I drove while the kids screamed about their Constitutional right to swim and Jill argued with Priceline:
“So if someone died in the room, we’d get a refund?! Someone would have to die?!” Looking at me, ever so discretely.
We ate at the Mining Camp restaurant—much nicer than it sounds—served by a waitress who grew up in Chicago. Everywhere I travel, I always meet several people with some kind of connection to Chicagoland. It’s no longer shocking or even interesting to me:
“I grew up in Crestwood.”
“I ran out of shits to give.”
We finished when the kids decided on murder for dessert. Our Chicagoland waitress suggested we visit a nearby ghost town. So that’s exactly what we did—because we had no goddamn clue what we were even doing in Arizona. We probably would have bought her delicious blue meth cookies if she told us that it was a traditional Arizonian pastime.
“Eat the cookies. Chase the lizards. Beeeeee the lizards!”
The bustling ghost town tourist trap had a zipline ride that Ian needed to experience. And that was fun. But $40 and ten minutes later we needed more distraction. So we bought overpriced, shitty-tasting ice cream from a jerk. It almost melted before it could turn our kids into demons. Almost.
The kids found a bird to terrify in the steadily sweltering early afternoon. I was sitting at a picnic table with ice cream flowing over my knuckles when I saw Jill’s distracted scowl. And I remembered that we had nowhere to sleep for the next 3 nights.
What the hell did we do after that?! Well, you’ll just have to stay tuned, won’t you? And hope that I don’t die before I get the chance to upchuck the rest of this tale.