You probably have a few questions for me and so I feel obliged to explain my long absence from my blog. No matter what explanation I give or what excuses I enumerate, nothing will seem to justify me absence. Except, perhaps, only to me.
I mainly write for myself, and mainly for therapeutic reasons. I could tell you about how I was so busy last semester because I take teaching Spanish seriously. And how I spent a lot of time preparing for a Spanish composition class that I was teaching for the very first time. That meant I didn’t have any handouts that I love to hand out to students. Then, I had to spend a lot of time grading all those compositions!
Plus, I must also add that I was Assistant Coordinator for the Spanish Basic Language Program at UIC. Doesn’t that job title sound impressive? That impressive title permitted me to work many more hours per semester than I had anticipated. Oh, joy! That was time I was forced to spend away from the Internet! Whenever I did have free time, I no longer had the energy to write a blog entry. But now I’m on summer vacation. And I plan to make time to write as many blog entries as possible this summer. I won’t promise to post an entry each and every day, as I once boldly promised as a New Year’s resolution a couple years back. I try to forget about that unfulfilled resolution, but a couple readers constantly remind me. You know who you are.
The thing I enjoyed about being in Mexico was being away from the winter weather awhile. I kept hearing about the extreme cold temperatures and snowstorms back in Chicago, but I was in warm, sunny Mexico. When I was in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, I was actually sweating on the beach. Meanwhile back in Chicago, winter raged on without me. While I was in Mexico, I had my brother Danny visit my house just to check it out once in while and make sure everything was fine.
One evening, I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo with my cousin and her family when suddenly I had an unusual feeling. I told her that I was going to call my brother Danny. So out of the blue, I called Danny. He was very relieved that I had just called him because he just walked into my house and he heard running water. He had just gone to his car to get his flashlight because there was no electricity in my house. He said the power was out. It turns out that a water pipe had frozen and burst in my second-floor bathroom and was pouring water into my first-floor bathroom. The plaster from the ceiling in first-floor bathroom had come down and the first floor and basement were flooded. Danny asked me how to shut off the water to house and I told him where the main valve was. However, I’m sure he would have figured out how to shut off the water without my help because he is very handy with those kind of things. Well, he shut off the water and saved my house. Who knows what further damage would have occurred if Danny had not arrived when he did.
I should explain that Danny usually watches my house when I go on vacation. I should also explain that I had never called him before while I was on vacation. I never felt the need to call him before. I have no explanation as to why I called him this time. I just suddenly announced to my cousin that I was going to call Danny. She didn’t say a word or even ask me why I would call him. I’m glad she didn’t ask me why I was calling him because I wouldn’t have had an explanation.
So why did I call him when I did? I have no idea. The next day, I called Danny to see what happened on his follow-up visit to my house. There was no heat in my house and the water was draining. Then, he asked me why I had called him the day before soon after he had entered my house. I told him I didn’t know why. I had some sort premonition or gut feeling, so I called. And at the precise moment. Danny mentioned that I had never called him before when I was on vacation. But I did call at the right moment this time because he wasn’t sure what to do. The next day, the heat turned on mysteriously and I didn’t have to rush home to take care of my house. I was afraid that if the house froze with the first floor flooded I would have even more damage. Well, for whatever reason I called, I’m sure glad I did!
When I go to Mexico, or anywhere on a vacation, I don’t have a set itinerary. I know where I’m going and I know where I hope to return if all goes well. All other destinations between the start and finish of my vacation are all determined by luck, happenstance, and sheer naivete! God always seems to protect the innocents and the helpless.
So, on my vacation, I knew for a fact that I would leave Chicago on Friday, December 12, 2008, and return to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on January 3, 2009, because that is when my Mexican car permit expired. What I would do to fill all those days in between I left to fate.
Well, not entirely. My cousin’s daughter had invited me to her university graduation party on Friday, December 19, 2008, so I had to get to her house at least one or two days before the party. I thought about going to Celaya, Guanajuato, first, but I always hate saying good-bye to everyone in Celaya. Therefore, I planned to go to Mexico City first and then on the return trip stop by to visit my family in Celaya. So I actually had some type of plan. But nothing went as planned!
I arrived at my cousin’s house on Monday, December 15, and I stayed there with them until the party. They live in Cuautitlán Izcalli, Estado de México, which is just north of Mexico City. I never made it to Mexico City to visit my family there until December 29th.
Let me tell you what happened. I was staying with my cousin until the graduation party and I was thoroughly enjoying my vacation. One day, my cousin tells me she was taking me with her family to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on vacation the morning after the graduation party. I told her that I had already made other plans. That I wanted to visit everyone in Mexico City and stop in Celaya on the way back. But she insisted. She was firm and assertive. I had to go with their family to Ixtapa. Well, I was weak and immediately caved in to her demand. Besides, I had very been to a beach resort on vacation in Mexico before. I would finally see what attracted Americans in droves to go to Mexico. It would be a good learning experience.
Well, when we got to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo after an eight-hour drive, it was hot there! This was December and I was wearing only swimming trunks and I was sweating! Meanwhile back in Chicago, everyone was enduring snowstorms and sub-zero weather. And I didn’t even feel a little guilty! That’s why Americans and Canadians went to Mexico in the winter! I think my biggest surprise was discovering that most of the tourists were Mexicans. Entire families of Mexicans. I was told that most of the foreign tourists go to Acapulco where there’s a constant party atmosphere. We stayed at the Hotel Fontán where my cousin had made reservations the year before for about fifty bucks per night for the room for four people during the height of the tourist season. I felt very fortunate that she invited me along. I actually enjoyed going to the beach and going to all the mercados. There was one terrible, tragic moment that changed our lives forever, but I will leave that tale for another blog post.
Now that the summer is over and I’m back in school, I truly realize how much I enjoy having the whole day off to myself. The last two summers were very memorable because I didn’t have to work and I could do whatever I wanted. I really enjoyed spending time with my sons. We always have fun together. Now that I think back, I have never held a job that I liked. I don’t think that the working life suits me. Given the options of working for a living or staying home all the time, obviously, I would stay home and not worry about going somewhere else to work for someone else. Some people would die from the boredom of not working. Not me! You’d be surprised how little it takes to keep me busy.
I’m often amazed at what my sons can talk me into doing for them, but when I really think about it, I’m not really all that surprised. My father used to ask me for suggestions for things to do when he would pick up my brothers and me for visitation. I always suggested things that sounded wild and farfetched to my father, but for some reason he always took us wherever I suggested. I once suggested going camping even though I never thought my father would take us. But he did! And now, because of that, I take my sons wherever they want to go. In such instances, I realize once again that I’ve become my father.
Once my oldest son suggested that I take them to Skatopia for our summer vacation. Of course, I had never heard of Skatopia. Have you? Besides, it sounds like a made up name anyway. Well, I partly planted the idea of Skatopia in them when I bought them the Tony Hawk video game as a Christmas present. There’s a little film clip of Skatopia in the video game. They showed me the clip, but I said that didn’t mean Skatopia existed. I wanted to know where Skatopia was geographically, but they didn’t know. Later, they told me they saw Skatopia on the cable TV show Viva La Bam starring none other than Bam Margera. My sons are really into skateboarding and they have all kinds of skateboards so I’ve taken them to several skateboard parks in Colorado, Arizona, and Illinois. However, they don’t actually skateboard once we get there. They are too intimidated by all the good skateboarders. Anyway, they asked me again to take to Skatopia when school was over. I still didn’t believe such a place even existed, so I said to them, “Okay, find their website and then I’ll believe you!” I was sure they wouldn’t have a website. That’s the funny thing about me, though. I really don’t believe that anything exists unless it has a website. I was really surprised when my sons called me over to the computer and yelled in unison, “See! There’s a Skatopia!” Okay, where is it? It was in this little town named Rutland in the southeast corner of rural Ohio.
Well, when I go on vacation with my sons, I don’t just go to one place. I try to cram in as many sites and activities as possible. So the plan was that we would go to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, first. Cedar Point is famous for all of its roller coasters. I remember going there years before with my friend Jim Harmon. For some strange reason, I can no longer ride on amusement park rides without getting nauseous. However, I can ride roller coasters all day long and not get sick. Perhaps because the roller coaster ride resembles my driving. Anyway, since we were in Ohio, I told them I wanted to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even if they didn’t like idea. That trip was for me. After all, wasn’t I taking them to Skatopia? But once we got there and they saw all the musical exhibits, they loved the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And as long as we were in Cleveland we went to a Cleveland Indians baseball game who just happened to be in town for our visit. For some fortunate reason, whenever I’m on vacation I’m extremely lucky with timing. We also went to the children’s museum there before heading out to Skatopia in Rutland.
As I was driving south in Ohio, I saw signs for a the Football Hall of Fame in Canton. This was so fortunate! But, alas, my sons were too tired to go to another museum and soon fell asleep. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I got to Rutland, but there were no signs for Skatopia. I stopped at a pizza parlor to ask if anyone knew where Skatopia was. Yes, they did! And they gave me directions, but it was already dark and I had to drive on a gravel road for miles before I got there. Just when I finally beginning to believe that Skatopia actually existed, the road ended and there was nothing but trees in front of me. I thought for sure that we would all die victims to the hatchet murderer you always hear about in Chicago. Suddenly, I wished I was back home in Chicago where I know how to deal with muggers and drive-by shootings. As I was driving around, I saw a man walking in the dark. He looked kind of dirty and he was drinking beer out of a bottle. He also had the remainder of the twelve-pack in a brown paper bag under his arm. I asked him if he knew where Skatopia was and he said that’s exactly where he was going. I don’t know what possessed me at that precise moment, but I told him we were going there, too, and I offered him a ride. I’m so used to doing these types of things when I’m by myself, but this was the first time I ever did anything like this with my sons. Needless to say, we all arrived safely at Skatopia.
Everyone there greeted us cheerfully even though it was already 11:00 p.m. They showed us around even though it was too dark to see very much. I really liked the skateboard museum they had. This museum consisted of skateboards from every era since their invention to the present day. They were hanging on the walls, from the ceiling, stacked up in the corner. There were skateboards everywhere! I even saw a skateboard like the one I had in the 1960s! Skatopia was a very appropriate name for this museum and the rest of the place. Whenever they traveled, they bought whatever skateboards they saw at yard sales and antique shops. I was truly impressed.
It was late and we were all tired, so they offered to let us stay on their land for the night. Unfortunately, we didn’t have tents and sleeping bags, so we went to a nearby motel. We returned the next day and spent most of the day there. They taught my sons some tricks on the skateboard. Yes, I actually saw my sons skateboarding! Even I tried skateboarding. But I kept falling down. Then I remembered why I stopped skateboarding as a kid. I was amazed by how many people stopped by because their kids wanted to see Skatopia. We got to see half-pipe where Bam Margera filmed his show. They were so happy that we had visited them that they sold us the very same skateboard that Bam Margera used for the video for a mere $60. All in all, we all had fun and still recall that summer vacation fondly.