Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A New Low

I laid the groundwork for what I hope was our worst day of vacation several weeks ago, while we were packing for the trip.

“Do I need a jacket or a sweatshirt?” Wifey asked me.

“Of course not,” I said confidently. “It’s summer there, you know. In fact, you shouldn’t pack any undergarments, just flimsy sun-dresses that become transparent when exposed to light.”

“I know it’s summer there, jackass. The seasons are the same. But are we going anywhere cold?”

“No,” I said. “It’s the Southwest United States. I think it’s all desert there.”

“What about the caves?” she asked me. “I hear they get cold.”

“That’s an old wive’s tale. Caves are closer to the center of the earth, which is a hot ball of molten lead, so they should be warmer than the surface.” I cocked an eyebrow at her. “You’re not an old wife, are you?”

For some reason unknown to me, she believed me. Oh, how I wish she’d called bullshit. It would have saved me a very bad day.

The whole problem actually started the night we checked into the hotel, just after midnight. I’d chosen to lodge at a place called White’s City Resort. The guidebook said that it was “kitschy Americana.”

What I failed to realize was that since the guidebook was English that was an insult and meant it should be avoided like the plague. Damn language barrier. Either that, or “kitschy” in England means “run-down festering hell-hole full of possible serial killers.”

The second problem with White’s City was that the whole place was being auctioned the two days we’d be staying there. I am not making this up. Every time we went to the lobby more and more stuff was missing. At breakfast a guy even offered me thirty bucks “for the wife and kids.”

“She’s a little bit of everything,” I said. “It’s gotta be forty-five.”

He was unwilling to bargain, cheap bastard. I did sell her panties for five dollars, but she refused to play ball and take them off.

White’s City, in addition to good, kitschy fun, offered three other advantages:

1) It had a water park
2) There was a rootin’ tootin’ good time offered at Granny’s Saloon, with the option to boo, hiss, and throw popcorn
3) It was close to the caves

I had to waive all legal rights to use the water park, and it looked like it was due for regular maintenance about thirty years ago. There was no way I was going to willingly go there, unless I needed a watery grave.

I was informed when I checked in that Granny’s Saloon was closed until further notice, as Granny had died, Paw ran off with all the money, and Little Joe was spending 5 to 10 in prison for fondling the help. Plus, the theater was being used as a staging area for the auction.

In all fairness, it’s still close to the caves.

Okay, what about regular hotel amenities, like wireless internet or hot water?

The internet worked if you stood outside, pointed your computer at the main lobby building, and logged on quickly while a car drove by to bounce your signal across the road.

The hot water didn’t work nearly as well.

But how about those caves? Well, that was the whole point of coming to Carlsbad Caverns, so after a cold shower and a tepid breakfast, we were ready to discover the wonder and magic of this spectacular attraction.

Here’s a fun fact about Carlsbad Caverns: it’s a temperate 56 degrees. Turns out that getting your spelunking tips from Journey to the Center of the Earth is maybe not a good idea.

Forewarned by the ranger that the cave was cold, we visited the gift shop. No sweatshirts. So we visited the gift shop annex. No sweatshirts. But, both places assured us, you can buy sweatshirts in the gift shop located inside the cavern itself.

“Imagine,” I said. “You can say you bought a sweatshirt eight hundred feet below ground!”

“If they don’t have one, you’ll end up six feet below ground,” Wifey promised me.

We decided to take the natural entrance in, because it was funner. And this vacation is all about fun. Because nothing says fun more than a mile and a half hike down into the bowels of the earth.

Another fun fact: if you suffer from fear of heights, the path dropping straight down into the cavern mouth will inspire vertigo. Wifey discovered that as we walked into the Caverns. I discovered that sufferers of vertigo often have a secondary, involuntary reaction where they kick their spouses in the groin.

At least, she told the children it was involuntary. But it was the only time all morning she smiled, so I have my doubts about that.

Just inside the Big Room, two facts became quickly apparent: it’s damn cold down there, and it smells like poop for reasons not readily apparent.

I confidently strode to the gift shop, my frozen testicles clinking as I walked. “I’d like a sweatshirt,” I said.

“We don’t have any,” said the woman in the parka behind the counter. At least, I think that’s what she said through her muffler. “You could probably buy one upstairs.”

“Listen, I really need one,” I said. “My wife’s gonna kill me.”

“You could buy a T-Shirt,” she suggested.

“What the hell good will that do me?” I asked.

“I dunno,” she said. “But we have those.”

“Listen, can I buy your parka?” I said. “I’ll pay you a hundred bucks for it.”

“Then what would I wear?”

“You could wear a T-shirt.”

“But then I’ll be freezing!” she protested.

“So why the hell did you offer one to me?”

“I’m going to call security,” she said threateningly.

“Fine, fine,” I said. “I’m going to call you a bitch and leave.”

It’s clear to me why the government loses money: here’s a tourist attraction located in a meat locker, and not one damned sweatshirt. But they had tons of T-Shirts.

If looks could kill, then I would have died when I informed Wifey of our predicament. So, to compromise, we had lunch.

“We’re eating eight hundred feet underground!” I said excitedly.

“I’m cold,” the girl said.

“I’m bored,” the boy said.

“I’m cold and you’re celibate,” Wifey said.

“I don’t think that’s technically true.”

“Oh, that’s right, you’re a eunuch.”

“I am not!” I protested.

“Yet,” Wifey said menacingly.

Quickly, I bought sandwiches. You can buy any kind of sandwich you want in Carlsbad Lunchroom, so long as it’s Turkey or Ham. Why the family in front of us took twenty minutes to discuss this, I will never know, but finally I bought us all sandwiches.

“Mine has hair,” the girl complained.

“That’s just cave moss,” I said. “It’s good for you.”

“Mine is green,” the boy said.

“That’s health bread,” I said. “It’s good for you.”

“I’m a widow,” said Wifey. “Just you wait.”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” I said. “Let’s leave! Right now!”

Up on the surface, we quickly thawed, and then decided to do laundry. Because nothing says “crappiest day of your vacation” like doing your laundry. Only, White’s City doesn’t have a laundry. You have to drive to Carlsbad.

Another fun fact for you: the Shamrock Laundry in Carlsbad is about 95 degrees in the summer, and for reasons not clear to me, it also smells like poop. What a great place to spend an afternoon of your vacation!

Just after we got the clothes started, Wifey turned to me and said “If you want me to go down again, you will go buy me a sweatshirt right now.”

“You mean in the caves?”

“I mean ever,” she said.

So I went to my favorite vacation Mecca: Wal-Mart. They never fail, right?

Wrong. In addition to lacking an elderly greeter, the Wal-Mart in Carlsbad has no long sleeved apparel whatsoever.

Saddened, we returned to White’s City once the laundry was done. However, I was struck by inspiration. “Why don’t you check out the auction,” I told Wifey, “While I check the gift shop for a sweatshirt?”

“Okay,” Wifey said. “I do like Antiques Roadshow.”

Inside the gift shop, I found the sole bastion of capitalism in the whole area: sweatshirts, for sale, even. I picked out some other objects and quickly made my purchase. The cashier was so distracted with her personal phone call she forgot to charge me for the sweatshirt, so it was free.

Advantage: Plebian!

Inside the auction hall, however, things were not so wonderful. Wifey had thumbed through the book and found several pieces of beautiful glassware for sale, all marked for auction tomorrow. This is not a problem, since we’ll be here tomorrow.

For reasons never fully explained, the lot of it had been sold off just before we got there.

“Instead of being here buying beautiful heirloom glassware, I was freezing my nipples off and eating shit sandwiches underground!” Wifey growled at me. “I am not happy!”

“I have an idea!” I said. “Let’s go to dinner!”

If you’re scoring at home, that means we drove back and forth to Carlsbad (about twenty-five minutes) four times in two hours. But isn’t this what vacation is all about?

Turns out, no.

We went to Pizza Hut, on the theory that since our Pizza Hut in Europe has shitty service this would be like a breath of fresh air, no matter how bad it was. Oh, how I longed for surly Euro-trash waiters that evening.

The boy and I visited the bathroom and I read the most horrifying sign ever: "Do not flush paper in toilet." Next to it was a large garbage can, overflowing with paper. The boy made a beeline for it.

"Good God, no!" I pulled him away. "We don't go in there!"

"I have to go potty!"

"You'll go potty in the parking lot before you walk into there, my son!"

Fortunately, the other toilet had no such sign. Which begs the eternal question: what kind of wimpy toilet can't handle paper, but can handle poopie?

After that, we were immediately seated, fifteen minutes after we came in, and had to get our own menus. Then we watched as the single waitress took orders from several other tables, bussed a few others, flirted with a customer, and then peed right in the soda fountain.

Okay, I made that last part up. Finally Wifey, by this time a volcano of pent-up fury that was thankfully pointed at somebody else, said that we were leaving and not patronizing this establishment.

“Where will we eat?” I asked.

“I don’t care,” she said. “But they better serve us food.”

“Sonic it is, then.”

Listen, I have a problem. I know this. But it’s not like there’s a twelve-step program for Taterotica problems. It’s just an issue I have to live with.

You know how Sonic works: you pull up to a box, press the button, and order. The first box we pulled up to had an “out of order” sign on it. The second box we pulled up to we pressed the button, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

In the ten minutes we waited, we saw no less than four other cars come, press the buttons around us, and then leave in frustration. Finally, the car next to me pulled out, throwing a Sonic bag onto the ground as they went.

“Daddy, those people littered!” the girl said.

“Really? Where were they?”

“They’re right there!” she pointed at the road.

“But which slot were they in?” I asked.

“That one!” The boy pointed it out. “I saw them leave!”

“Hot damn! Good work, kids!” I rapidly pulled the car around, almost running down an old lady and her dog.

“But shouldn’t we pick it up?” The girl asked. “It’s bad for the planet.”

I decided to comfort her. “Don’t worry, honey, there are plenty more bags where that came from.”

Soon we had our food, which I was beginning to despair of. I told the carhop about the busted box, and she said the most chilling thing I’ve ever heard:

“Oh, no, it works, it’s just that sometimes they ignore the calls that come in.”

So to all my friends at Sonic Carlsbad: screw you too, ‘kay?

And that’s far kinder than what Wifey said, what with her previous experience at Sonic at all.

Finally dinner was over, with a minimum of tater tots rubbed in Wifey’s hair (I did it while she was leaning out the window hollering at passing cowboys). We decided to order ice cream.

Should have quit while we were ahead.

“I’d like some ice cream!” I said to the box.

“Okay, it’s a thirty minute wait on ice cream,” the box said to me.

“Well, then I’d like you to have unlawful carnal knowledge of the shake machine, and then dip your head in hot grease.”

“Would you like fries with that?”

Rolling my eyes, I pulled away. There was a loud yell from the rear of the car.

“Daddy, you almost hit a carhop!” yelled the girl.

“Don’t worry, he’s biodegradeable,” I said. “It’s not really litter.”

Thanks to the miracle of the GPS, we were able to highlight another ice cream store, which we quickly sped to.

It was closed. At 8:30 at night in the summer.

WTF is wrong with Carlsbad? One restaurant with decent service, normal hours, and sweatshirts and the whole town could be yours.

“What do you want to do now?” asked Wifey.

“I want to go back to the hotel, chain the door, and hide under the bed until morning and hope that this is the single worst day of the vacation.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Tomorrow: Back into the hole.

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