In the Suburbs / A cantankerous, determined widower rides the rails
It has been nearly six months since our mom's death, and my brothers and I have marveled at how well our 92-year-old dad has been managing after losing his soulmate of 70-plus years.
Extremely independent and still driving, he shipped his car to Florida, brought his caregiver to his condominium, found a bridge game and a lady to be his companion, and spent three winter months completely relaxing. His leg was giving him problems, so he couldn't get out on the golf course as often, but he played occasionally.
Just after his return to suburban Chicago from Florida, Dad announced that he and his childhood friend Howie were planning a major trip.
They planned a 51-hour train ride to San Francisco, where they would hire a driver to show them the sights and then drive them down the coast highway to Los Angeles for more sightseeing and eventually to San Diego.
There, they would board a ship for a cruise south through the Panama Canal, followed by a whirlwind (if there is such a thing for a pair of nonagenarians) visit to New York and Connecticut, before returning to Chicago.
In early April, Howie backed out, claiming his doctor did not want him to take such an ambitious trip, especially with a friend who was the same age. We think that Howie chickened out because Dad just has more energy.
Dad didn't think twice before deciding that he would go on the trip anyway, but with a few modifications. He would focus the entire trip around San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego and visits to relatives and close friends and their children.
Dad was very cavalier about this trip. He said that while he was still alive and had the strength, he wanted to travel the way he and Mom had always traveled -- four or five stops in the course of about three weeks. When I asked if his caregiver would be going along, Dad said he could manage just fine on his own and all was under control.
He was to leave May 16 on the California Zephyr in a private parlor car for what promised to be the trip of a lifetime. The travel was to include a visit to Napa Valley, a few days in San Francisco and a visit with our cousin, who has lived there for many years. Dad would then fly to Los Angeles and visit the wife of his dearest friend, who had passed away a few years ago.
He would see members of his friend's family, rent a car and drive to San Diego. That part of the trip concerned us, given that Dad's driving of late has left much to be desired. We even offered to meet him in L.A. and drive him to San Diego, but Dad wouldn't hear of it.
He left May 16 as planned.
The next afternoon, I got the following email from my brother Randy, who lives near Dad: It left me speechless.
To all interested parties:
I got a call from Travelin' Chipster (my brother's pet name for Dad) this morning. He wasn't calling from the train or California but from his lovely condo in Skokie. As you can imagine, he had quite a story to tell.
Chapter One: The Big Daddy Saga begins with his none-too-comforting description of how rickety the Amtrak Zephyr was, so rickety in fact that he had trouble walking to and from his sleeper cabin to the dining room. Then, once he got to the dining room, the train swayed so much, someone had to help keep him stationary enough to eat. This was just the warm-up.
Chapter Two: Last night, while he was trying to sleep, the train lurched suddenly and violently, causing him to fall off the bed and bruise his back, shoulder, left arm and the left side of his face. Apparently, he was on the floor for a half-hour before someone from Amtrak came by to help. The train was approaching Omaha when this event happened, sometime in the early morning hours. He was examined by a doctor (or paramedic) who came on board. It was determined that he should get off in Omaha and take a flight home. Even though nothing was broken, he wasn't able to lift anything -- especially luggage -- and couldn't continue the trip. At this point, it's definitely a cautionary tale (as in tailbone).
Chapter Three: Mr. Gaynes Sr. flew back from Omaha and got back home mid-morning.
Will Dad travel like this again? Knowing my cantankerous, unpredictable father, it's very possible.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.