My son, John, joined the Navy. Good Lord. He graduated from boot on February 6th from the Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, and he was hoping I would come for the ceremony, along with his wife and his father. Fly? Me? Sigh.....

Not to bore you, but my flying experience is rather limited at best. The first trip, mid 1970's, was in a big plane from San Francisco to Chicago, then in a tiny prop to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the big air show. I KNEW we were all going to die. The return home was in a two seat Cessna 277, and that story will put hair on your chest. It was grand. Scary at one point, but grand. Next came a fast fly from Los Angeles to San Diego. Up and down, John Norton held my clinched fists all the way. A third flight took me to the Boomer party in Gatlinburg. The flight home was horrific in that all flights were cancelled from Augusta, Georgia, for hours, and I ended up on this monster (six seats, an aisle, six seats, another aisle and six more seats) but I got to watch lightning from 40,000 feet.

So, here we go again. Ignore the flight that went down in the Hudson. You are really safer in a plane than a car. Honest.

Buy luggage and an ipod, plan, panic, research, emails to my boomer buddies on the right coast about what to wear, orders from Winter Silks, crochet a new scarf and hat, plan, panic, trade the luggage for a smaller version, thin silk socks, life savors and patches for the flight, pack a Christmas quilt in my carry on. A 'go phone' and 400 minutes since our phones are California only. Can I take a crochet hook on board? Small sewing scissors? The nightmare stories curl your hair. Book the flight, book a room at the Candlewood Suites in Waukegan. I have a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath, so while Stacey and John are alone in her room, the rest of us have something to do. We watch the weather, -20, -5, ooooh, 10!!! ABOVE zero!! Our stay is expected to have an unusual heat wave of 32. Golly gee. Pack another silk tee shirt. Prepare maps of Waukegan, list all the usual stores and restaurants, print out local maps, wishing David could come. I never go anywhere without David.

D day comes. Dan (my ex in his new caddy, ugh) picks me up, he rolls his eyes as I bring out this huge suitcase (you should have seen the bigger one!) my carry on, coat, laptop, camera bag, pillow, water and my purse. The trip to San Francisco is uneventful except I can't help but watch the time. Getting a tad close, dude. The security section is gnarly. Find your ID and boarding pass. Not a laugh at my picture, either. Give up your water bottle, opened or not. Off with the hat, the scarf, the coat, the boots. Empty my pockets. Lighters, magnet and silver bracelets go through the alarm tunnel just fine after all. No one said a word about my children's lady bug scissors, and I sighed major relief. The officers look at me, bored. Move along, please, faster. Ughs back on, ID and coins in the pockets, coat, scarf, hat, pick up everything, walk fast. We get there in time to stand with everyone else, waiting to board.  We haven't eaten, and a nearby tuna sandwich looks relatively palatable, but $8.00?? Wait, wait, where is my pillow??? Oh NO! Back to security I run, the guy grins and says, "Pillow?" I actually had to sign for it. WAY back to Stacey and Dan, and finally, we board. I grab the window with the understanding Stacey gets the window on the way home. Pillow, coat, hat and purse are all stuffed onto my lap.

What a trip. I LOVE takeoffs. It took us over an hour to settle down horizontally at 35,000 feet, and by that time I have taken at least three dozen shots of the Bay area, tiny green pastures, heavenly puffy clouds, and weird land patterns. What is that white area? Oh, snow? Duh. There aren't any neat white state lines after all, so it was always hard to tell where we were and what land formations we were looking at. We went over Salt Lake City, Cheyenne and Sioux City, but I was completely lost outside of that information. I brought a book to read, sudoku puzzles, a small quilt to work on, crochet, and I think I did one puzzle to make sure my brain was ok. A recent O2 level problem due to a heavy chest cold had caused its own anxiety of late. Other people on the plane must have had a hard time with us cooing and exclaiming all the way, "Oh, oh, look at THAT!" Five dollars for a bottle of wine that needed to be tossed out a window, three dollars for chips. Ye gads and little fishes. The tuna sandwich was awful after all.

We land in Detroit. All three of us make a bee line for the outdoors for a smoke. I had been warned, protect your head, ears, fingers and toes, don't wear cotton next to your skin. My hip length heavy coat is too warm at home, my ughs are warm and toasty. It wasn't the arctic blast I expected, but after about half a cigarette, I noticed my face was a tad icy. No one told me about my thighs. Good Lord, they were cold.

Back on another identical plane, and backwards we go, a short trip to Chicago's O'Hare. Why DO they arrange such strange flights? Gather up all the bags to hurry up and wait to get off. Finally our luggage is collected (I cross myself, Jena looses her luggage on every trip) and we hop (ha ha, drag, thump, drag, thump) onto a bus that takes us to a car rental. It was during that trip I called home to have my David tell me my sister's husband, David, died at three that afternoon from lung cancer, just days after the official diagnosis. I had spoken to Sue the day before we left, and while I knew he would be gone soon, I just never imagined it would be that soon. It was hard to be cheerful about anything.

A slight fiasco about our rental car, switching from a mid-sized to another med-sized, actually a tiny thing that barely held our luggage, and off we go, warned that we need exact change for tolls. What IS that in the back window? An ice scraper. Gee. Okay. A clean, non-busy freeway, and the drivers are polite, not insane like Californians. We arrive in Waukegan, and as Dan drives into a Denny's restaurant, I think, "You have got to be kidding." It was horrific. Service was slow at best, eggs were literally burned, I finally got my tea and barely got my water. At least Dan agreed we would not eat there again. I watch what other people, the locals, are dressed in and wonder how they manage levis. They must have something underneath? I guess our gloves give us away as tourists. The snow is not all that bad, it is either dirty and pushed over to the sides or icy chunks you have to beware of.

The hotel was a relief, as nice as it looked online. I settled in quickly, actually emptying my suitcases into the drawers, turned on the telly, poured myself a Drambuie in my glass (yeah, I even brought my Drambuie glass with me, I AM spoiled!) and fell asleep in the wee hours of the night, in my big bed, all alone with my pillow and no David, no dogs, no cats.

I woke to see 8 am and jumped out of bed. Two teensy hours of time change can really mess you up. I think of Jena and her nine hour difference from Germany and sigh. Dan and Stacey had overslept as well, we were to be at graduation by 9 am. No one had actually done any research to find out exactly where graduation was, and the next two hours were simply stupid. The first Navy center stopped us at the gate, and without asking a single question, informed us we were in the wrong place. Fast, seemingly easy directions. That led us to the most incredible housing area, each home was right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The last estate at the end of the road had stone columns and brass plaques. Gas station directions were not any more useful. A map Dan purchased didn't help, no detail of Waukegan to be had. Finally we spy another Navy center and a uniformed gentleman in the parking lot. Rolling down the window and frantically asking about graduation, he grins and points to his car with a friendly, "Just follow me, ma'am."  We laughed to see a San Francisco baseball hat in the back of his car.

The sentries at the gate of the RIGHT Naval compound asked for ID's from Dan and myself, but said he did not need to see Stacey's. I will always wonder about that. Did she look under 18? Did he know John and had seen John's family photos? He told us where to park, and those directions did not make sense. We parked in a lot, wandered around, Dan went to a church to no avail, some guy told us where the building was, and, oh, don't park where we did.  Finally, we make it to graduation, and we aren't terribly late. There are eight 'ships' and thirty odd sailors per ship. If the guy didn't have glasses, if he was white, he could have been John. After the ceremony, we found John after a long search. John was pleased to see his dad, and we had a laugh about John searching for me by looking for the huge glasses I usually had on the top of my head. (I was using them to find him!) Walking to the car, my son (I think this gentleman with industrial manners was my son) offered his mother his arm when we approached ice on the walkway! While John reported in, I realized I was missing a glove, and headed back to where we had originally parked the car, only to be stopped, escorted and assisted in my search. My my.

Back to the hotel where John changed into civies Stacey had brought, all of us talking for hours. Back into uniform, and out to dinner, where we got lost again. Waukegan is fairly straight forward with three major horizontal streets and four major verticals. The intersections, however, are not the clean simple ones we know and love in California. With no problem at all, you can easily take the wrong off ramp and end up on the freeway headed back to Chicago. A quick trip to Walmart for a watch for John, browsing the electronics, a ice pack for me just in case, snack and whatnot. Red Lobster had a thirty five minute wait as there were many Navy grad families about, so we ended up at the Lonestar Steakhouse. Not bad, informal, crowded, noisy. Our waiter did his best putting a rush on the dinner to get John back in time. A hundred dollars easily covered the meal and a hefty tip.

Back to the hotel for more telly, cozy under a blanket and crocheting, right up until a headache appeared out of the blue. To bed with my icepack until John peeked in on me in the morning. Everyone headed for the movies while I slept and waited. I did not keep notes (weird), and do not remember where we ate dinner. I know I kept voting for the Red Lobster (biscuits and salad, oh yum) and kept getting shot down for one reason or another. John's dad's getting lost was driving him crazy, I guess, because we maneuvered Waukegan from then on with the help of a GPS John purchased at the PX that afternoon. Familiar restaurants names were comforting but boring. Stops at Starbucks and Walmart were frequent. People in Walmart say, "Excuse me." I almost fainted. We fulfilled the quest to take a picture of Stacey beneath the Anastasia's Pizza sign.

Sunday morning, John and Stacey took Dan back to the airport,  I made toast in the bathroom because the kitchen plugs had blown. Then, I walked to Walmart to replace the expensive luggage that broke, taking amusing pictures of snow and ice on the way. During the walk, it occured to me, there isn't a single solitary bird around. They have all flown south for the winter? Really? That's not just a fairy tale? We toured the next door apartments, very nice, very up to date but quite small, only $1395 a month, cough, cough. Pizza dinner, and I stayed behind while Stacey took John back to the base the last time.

Monday morning, we packed up and headed out, armed with listings of houses for rent in the area. There is a reason everyone has second story balconies, me thinks. The brick one was nice, but rented. The blue one was ok, next to schools and a forest for an extended backyard. The red cottage with oak floor, mouldings and staircase was heavenly, and the agent met us for a tour. That made it quite late, and thanks to the GPS, we managed to arrive back at the airport (via the car rental) just in time. They actually held the plane for us, and the looks on the passengers were not pleasant. Off to Minnie sota, trying to get the time all sorted out, (not) landing with an hour to spare. Fingerprint lockers, immediate cigarettes, security again, and Stacey spots a store that was made for me, the Spirit of the Red Horse. Fifteen long minutes later, I leave with a gorgeous light brown leather jacket with curled fringe, my pocketbook is almost $300 lighter, but oh, this jacket is heaven.  David is gonna kill me.

The last leg of the flight to San Francisco, pictures of the sunset, clouds, land formations and we whisper repeatedly, "Home, home," and giggle about where we are landing. If the bay is to our right, the airport must be 1. under us or 2. behind us, so what is he doing landing NOW? Shouldn't someone tell the pilot we are headed for the water? The lady next to me must have thought we were nuts.

David is a sight for sore eyes, standing all alone outside security. Don't loved ones meet people at the airports any more? Several girls who were on the first leg as well as the second were walking and laughing with us, spied David and said, "Guess who he is here for?" Our cowboy hats must have been their first clue. I know, I know, I was told to leave it behind, but you know, there is no way I go anywhere without my hat. Nope. My poor broken luggage was finally found, Stacey headed home with Cessa and Justin, we headed home, happy to be together, happy to have me home, safe and dry. About 9 pm, we start thinking about our grumbling stomachs and call around to find someone who just might be open by the time we get there. All restaurants close at 10, it seems, and we are an hour from Modesto. We made it to the Red Lobster at 9:58.

Boy, it was nice turning that corner and seeing our sweet comfy house.

Best bumper sticker of the trip:

cause I gotta PEE

Chicago Pictures

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