Saturday, July 30, 2016

Taking Care of Business

When my ex-husband Perry (and father of my daughter Kelly)  passed away, we had to make some quick decisions. Since he had lived 1400 miles away in Rapid City, South Dakota (we live in California), planning was needed for travel and other details. I had been in communication with the Deputy Coroner of Rapid City, and also with the least expensive crematorium near Rapid City, which happened to be in Sturgis. I paid in advance for the cremation and death certificates, but we still needed a week to prepare for the trip.
It is lucky for us that our family pitched in, with money and favors. My sister-in-law Georgia bought and arranged the airfare. Other family members donated money. My sister Susan offered to go with my daughter Kelly and I to South Dakota, to help with expenses - food and car rental, in addition to driving. She also was also a welcome, calming presence, in a time of high emotion. We were missing Perry, Kelly's father. I cried at the drop of a hat.
My job was to pay for and arrange accommodations along the way. Since I am the only senior of our trio, this made perfect sense. It boiled down to two words: Senior Discount. When it came to our hotels, two more words: Continental Breakfast! 

June 16, 2016: The first place that we stayed on our trip was the Best Western Legacy & Suites in Mesa, AZ. That was a layover, so we didn't stay long. We had to be up early. This was the view out of our hotel room:

The arrangement for each room we rented was for two queen beds, one for me, and one for Kelly & Susan. I brought earplugs for us all, which was a good idea, considering that we all sawed enough logs on our trip to build at least 3 cabins!

Our shuttle drivers were great. I forgot to tip the first one - a man from the Bay Area, in California - but remembered to tip the second driver, a woman who worked several jobs to make ends meet. She was also from the Bay Area.

Once we landed in Rapid City, we were relieved to finally rent a SUV.
I had paid extra for us to add a piece of carry-on luggage on our flights, but the downside of that is that lugging it around got to be a hassle. Here is a cool statue, entitled "Siouxper Boy" at the Rapid City Regional Airport, that Susan asked me to take pictures of for our brother Tom, who is a pilot:

As soon as we rented the car, we made a bee-line to the Funeral Home, to pick up the ashes at the Black Hills Funeral Home & Crematorium in Sturgis. Known for its annual motorcycle rally in August of each year, Sturgis was a sleepy little town when we arrived on June 17. The funeral home itself is a modest, white building.

Kelly & I went in and spoke with a nice young lady. She put a box on the table, the remains of the man I had known for 48 years, my daughter's father. There's no way to get around the enormity of that realization. But we had to carry on - we had a mission, and business to do. I had ordered several death certificates, which would be required with some of our business.  But first......we were in Sturgis! We might never return. So, we drove around the area.

We looked around the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame, which was fun. Sue and I got some souvenirs for our husbands, both of whom ride.


Then, we drove back to Rapid City. We decided that since time was of the essence, we would go through Perry's apartment that day to look for some insurance papers (never found). I had paid for Merry Maids to come through the week before, on the advice of Richard, the landlord. I'm glad I did, but there was still a great deal to go through. I found two long lists of the medicines that Perry had to take, medical bills piled high in one closet, and also filling up two garbage bags. It was clear that Perry had been ill for a long time.

We did find some mementos and other things, which filled the back of the SUV. It was hot in the apartment, and it took a few hours to go through everything. I filled a few boxes with things that either had sentimental value, or which could be sold on eBay, to go towards expenses. I was a bit taken aback at looking in his closet, and finding his old sweater hanging up. What was funny is that when we were in our 20s, I washed the sweater and put it in the dryer, so that it shrunk to child-size dimensions. He KEPT IT. One of the things he liked to remind me about was how I had shrunk his beloved sweater (the other was when I lost his class ring while doing laundry, in 1968). Perry never let go of ANYthing. I was guilty on many charges, with him. 
Hmmmm...maybe laundry is not my thing? In any event, that sweater was in his closet, hanging with the rest of his stuff. 

 Kelly was able to deal with the car dealership for Perry's car - when I spoke to them, my emotions ran too high - and she had that taken care of. I gave Richard the car key to give to the Repo man, so that was squared away. Once that was done, we checked into the Comfort Inn and Suites in Rapid City., to rest up. 

The next morning, before checking out of the hotel room, I filled three baggies with Perry's ashes. These were to be spread at Mount Rushmore, where he had requested they be spread. There were a lot more, but I thought this was enough for a symbolic scattering. Kelly wanted some left for Perry's family, just in case they wanted a ceremony of some kind.

Since we left before the hotel's breakfast was served, we dined at the iHop in Rapid City.    

After breakfast, Kelly drove us to Perry's bank, and cashed out his account, which paid for all but $300. of the cremation expenses. 

Then, she methodically went over a list that the bank had given her, to close out all direct-deposit accounts. I was quite proud of her organizational skills, getting everything done. We also went to the U-Haul company where Perry had kept a few other things, but they required a $50. fee to open the unit, which we decided not to do (the company later sent Kelly the photos and a few personal items, at no charge; I wrote them up a positive YELP).

One stop that Kelly told us that we had to visit was Laundry World, in Rapid City. She had gone there with Perry when she visited him a couple of years earlier. She said that the coffee was great, and the detergent was free. When she visited back then, that was one of the highlights of her trip. We brought our laundry, to check it out.

Once there, Kelly noticed that the detergent was no longer free, but they still had coffee. We did our laundry there, before leaving for Mount Rushmore, to fulfill that last request.

On the way, we stopped at the Holy Terror Coffee Co., in Keystone, South Dakota,  for pastries and coffee.

At Rushmore, we found underground parking, then walked up to the entrance.   Sue stayed behind to look around in the shops, while Kelly & I walked up to the viewing area.  I pulled two baggies from my bag, and spread the ashes where there is a perfect view of the monument. Kelly gave me the baggie of ashes that she had, and I spread those, as well (Kelly thought it looked like someone had had a barbecue there in the bushes).   

We then looked around a bit, taking enough pictures for our memories, before heading out for home.


Scenes from the Back Seat

RETURN HOME:  Our mission accomplished, we headed for home.   Our drivers were my heroes.  Sue and Kelly put in a lot of miles from South Dakota, after miles in and around Sturgis and Rapid City.  Though our country is a beautiful place, it can also seem tedious when driving straight back to California on HWY 80. 

Pit stops included Starbuck's, which were seemingly plentiful and easy to find.  After loading up and bathroom breaks, the radio serial "Cabin Pressure" kept our minds occupied, and along the way, some much-needed laughs, as well, on our journey.

I don't drive.  Don't ask.  I just don't, we'll leave it there.  So, I had the back seat to myself the whole trip.  I got to hang with the food and drinks, to pass to the front, when needed.   Scenes from my windows were from the sides, mostly.

Well, you get the idea!

 Highlights for me on any trip, vacation or otherwise are the meals!   It's easy to junk-food it across the nation, but if you can occasionally find a restaurant with a salad bar, your body will thank you.   

We needed to get back by Sunday of that week, and we made our goal.  What this meant was: no side roads, no out-of-the way destinations, etc. The good news is that you can always find places to stay when you take that highway. You also get glimpses of the scenery, and you get quick impressions of each state, to take with you. 

These were MY impressions:

 South Dakota: clean, statues on every corner, modest housing on tree-lined neighborhoods, slightly quirky, casual dress, friendly folks (a plus), bikers (Sturgis), religious (also Sturgis), Native American influence (Lakota), mixed with patriotism.  I saw several men walking around who could have been mistaken for Perry.  I could see why he was comfortable here.  

Wyoming: Polite Cowboys who always open the door for you, plates loaded with beef, and lots of open space.  

Utah: clean, salt flats, distant, snow-flecked peaks, but  not much else.   Of course, in that part of Utah, we didn't see much; southern Utah is one of my favorite destinations for its magnificent landscape. We just didn't see that on our trip.  

In Utah, they use the silent "R"
Salt Flats, for miles
Nevada: casinos, desert, billboards, "brownscape", smoking, casual. 

On June 17, we stayed at the Best Western Pioneer in Lusk, Wyoming. 
The man at the front desk was very friendly. He mentioned a covered wagon on the premises, where their special scrambled eggs were served for breakfast.  True enough, even though we decided to eat in the diner. That was packed.  Lots of cowboys.  They had biscuits and gravy, among a lot of other choices.  A very pleasant stay. 

 Wyoming seemed to go on forever.  We found a nice Starbuck's along the way.  

That hotel had a large lot, so the distance between the front office and our room was more than most, so it felt like a mini-hike to & from the hotel's restaurant, which had a salad bar.  Kelly & Sue were talking, and something struck me about the loss of Perry, and I started crying.  I left early for our room, letting them finish their meal, so I could sob it out in our room. I did sleep well there. 

On June 19, we stayed at the Winnemucca Inn & Casino in Nevada. We were making time,  so this was our last hotel stay, on the way. Got a good night's rest, before our final push home. 

The road trip was perfect, as far as I am concerned.  Great company.  Sue and Kelly had everything worked out, no fold-out maps, just cell phones with GPS. We did enjoy a few stops along the stops are oasis in the vastness of major highway-land.  The Sinclair gas station Dinosaur was one of the stops, and worth a visit.

If anything was happening, it was generally at a gas station or rest stop. At the junction of Hwy 80 and 93, there was a bagpiper. Yep...a guy in a kilt, playing the bag at the top of its pipes. Rather fun.

And then, there was the well-stocked restroom in Lovelock, Nevada.

Back in California, there was a field of sunflowers across from a gas station in Vacaville that I had to shoot, while the girls were filling the car for the rest of the trip home.

Once home, it was a time to reflect, mourn, and remember. Returned to work, and our routines. All in all, we could all be proud that we accomplished everything we set out to do.