In 2006, when my twin brother, Steven, and I were twelve years old, we went to Illinois to spend our first Christmas away from Arizona in nine years. We arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in the wee hours of the morn on the Eve of Christmas, pulling our suitcases through a sea of sleeping bodies scattered around the airport lobby, waiting for their cancelled flights to once again appear on the board.
We got to the security checkpoint and dragged our feet through the portal before going to our terminal. After an eye-rubbing two hour flight, we landed at the Chicago Midway airport, awaited by my Aunt Lori. We made our way to her home in Aurora, Illinois and got ready for Christmas Eve dinner. When the whole family arrived we did a gift exchange where we all put gifts around the tree and then individually selected one at random.
We spent a few more days around Illinois, visiting family members in Carol Stream, Montgomery, and Berwyn, before it was time to depart on our treacherous drive home. At first, the drive went swell. We were making good time and getting along. We hit Amarillo, Texas and ate at the Big Texan Steakhouse, home of the 72 oz. steak that if you finish you get for free. Steven and I enjoyed some hearty chicken fingers, since that's all we ever order at restaurants, which came with a pair of cheap, red and blue, dollar store cowboy hats. Of course my mother insisted on taking a picture, even though we were hissing at her that she was embarrassing us. We spent the night in Amarillo, and then continued our venture west.
We were on our way through New Mexico when the first signs of trouble struck. The radio claimed that the I-40 was closed in both directions due to icy roads. Being skeptics, we had to confirm this for ourselves. We were, of course, turned away, so we made our way to a small, previously-unknown-to-us town with the name of Tucumcari, which closely resembled the town of Radiator Springs in the animated film, Cars. I swear we went to three different hotels before we finally found a crummy motel with one available room that had one bed, no heat, and a bathroom under construction. It was either that or the truck, so we took the room. We unpacked and then headed out to look for a store to buy a heater. Thirty bucks later we had a mini space heater and ten minutes later we blew the electrical circuit in the entire wing of our motel. After saying, “Oops!” to ourselves repeatedly, the electrician fixed the problem and we got our heater working.
Every day we tried to leave at the crack of dawn, and every day we were turned down. We ended up staying for three days, and spent New Year’s Eve in the “Lizard Lounge” with truckers and people in the same boat as we were. We couldn’t watch television because all that was on was reruns of Saddam’s beheading, so we played Sudoku and built snowmen.
In the end, it was a memorable trip because of its story possibilities and an epic failure turned family bonding experience at the same time. I learned what made my family tick and how to entertain myself when there was absolutely nothing to do. Now if you ever bring up the name Tucumcari, my family all lock understanding eyes. In all of this craziness, I even learned something! Who knew it snowed so much in New Mexico? I sure didn’t.
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