Our trip south last week proved that the harder something is to accomplish, the more you grow as a result. Ray seems sort of sad to be home now with nothing much going on anymore, and no non-stop blabbing 24/7 (although I'm in charge of the neighborhood yard sale this weekend, so we're not totally vegetating). However yesterday, back here at home, he amazed me with his new initiative. He went ahead of me into the grocery store instead of waiting for me while I got a cart, and then later he hopped into the car all by himself while I was loading the groceries. Really big deal to me, these are both firsts. And it's all from stretching beyond our comfort zone.
We started our trip off with a bang. Allowed ourselves an extra two hours to get into NYC/Penn; an hour in case of traffic plus the recommended one hour early arrival. Who knew that the Mid Town Tunnel would have a lane closed? (Maybe our limo driver should have known, but water under the bridge). We discovered this just as we passed the last exit before the toll, so there was no turning around. Took two hours to go two miles, and as we watched the clock ticking away we started panicking. Ray was throwing a temper tantrum and I was on the verge myself, while thinking of alternate ways to get down south in the next 24 hours. I couldn't believe how excited Ray's friend, and also my brother and his wife, were about our impending arrival. They were besides themselves with glee. I wasn't giving up our vacation for anything! Although we had been looking forward to the train ride itself more than I can say, now I had to think about a hotel room for the night, then hoping there'd be a flight to Atlanta in the morning; who cares what the cost. I had to get down there somehow.
But as luck would have it, a complete stranger I was talking to on the internet had given me the cell number of a Red Cap (a porter for luggage) so I could call ahead for him to meet us, instead of waiting on him once we arrived. I called from where we were and kept him updated. We miraculously arrived curbside at 2:13 for a 2:15 departure. He was waiting, grabbed my five pieces of luggage (never again!) and we ran inside. To my shock, right inside the door there was an escalator plus a long staircase, not the direct elevator down to the tracks I had been expecting. The porter ran all the luggage down the stairs and ran back up to get Ray and his wheelchair down on the escalator. What a pro! Then we ran down hallway after hallway to the freight elevator. The doors finally opened and we went down a level, which was only the LIRR. More hallways, another elevator, running left and right. The porter radioed ahead that we were on our way. Finally the last turn, and there was the train and the two conductors waiting for us. They grabbed Ray and carried him in, and before we even sat down the train took off. It took an hour before we could finally relax. I had told my mother how nervous I was about this trip, and she said oh if anything goes wrong it will be a fun adventure to tell about. I think she cursed us! But all's well that ends well!
Amtrak is very good with handicapped accessibility. The last two rows of seats are a bit bigger and right near the handicap bathroom. Which everyone seems to use despite the normal bathroom being directly across from it. I myself could barely walk the aisles with the motion of the train, so Ray stayed in his seat the whole time except for bathroom breaks. Meal time someone came from the dining car to take a "to go" order, and then I went alone to pick it up. The ride was very pleasant and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
First we stayed with Linda, Ray's oldest friend, and her husband Steve. They are dedicated vegans, but the food she cooked was surprisingly tasty. Luckily her husband is an ex-cop so at least there was fresh brewed coffee every morning. She has tons of animals running around too so never a dull moment. They showed us the sights around Atlanta plus north of there, we didn't stop for a minute.
Then time to pick up our rental car to make the four hour drive south to my brother's little town (he calls it Mayberry RFD), near the Marine base he retired from 15 years ago. I had reserved a large sedan, not because of the size but because one of the cars mentioned was a Dodge Challenger. Since we sold the Corvette, Ray stares enviously at all the new muscle cars that have been appearing on the road lately. I knew it was a slim chance they'd have one on the lot, but what the heck. I also saw they had Camaros for rent, which is his biggest obsession (he had a red 1967 when we met) but they wanted over $100 a day. Forget it.
We go to pick up the car, and front and center there is a white Challenger with bright racing stripes, and right next to it a candy apple red Camaro. The clerk told us those cars don't stay on the lot for more than a half hour, so our timing was impeccable. I told her I wish I could afford the Camaro; she said let me look it up. Reason being, there was a big football game a few weeks back, which is when I reserved. She said no, now it's only $10 a day more than the Challenger. Who knew they adjust their prices like that. Meanwhile Ray's friend came inside to tell me in no uncertain terms that Ray wanted that Camaro. So it came to be that we got to travel in style. Ray bumped his head on the low roof every time he got in but didn't seem to mind one bit. There were too many cops and speed traps to really go all out, but I did rev it up a bit on the country road near my brother. Such fun!
My brother didn't let us sit a minute. He, like me, is into food experiences, so we did BBQ, we did Cracker Barrel, he found some boiled peanuts for me to try, and on and on. I am now madly in love with biscuits and gravy. And I really miss people saying "Yes Ma'am" to me all the time. We got to visit the Marine base where he had been in charge of supplies, so I went to my first PX to do a little shopping. Again, we didn't stop for a moment to take a breath. Ray flourished with all the stimulation he was receiving. He just started using a hemi cane before we left, at least occasionally, and everyone was so happy to see he wasn't really stuck in the wheelchair anymore.
Then back to Atlanta, for some reason our friends thought we'd like some NY style pizza before we left. Being vegan, they were disgusted at the type of food we had been eating down south of them. But they were willing to suffer and eat cheese if it made us happy (she thinks there is mercury in all cheese, that's just the way she is. She reads something somewhere and it's the gospel truth. She told me pizza is worse than McDonalds!). As we headed back to the train, they gave us a tour of Atlanta, good and bad, but we were a little nervous to get to the station on time. It all went smoothly and the train arrived in NY 45 minutes early. Limo was right there and we were home in no time at all.
All in all, I just have to say that these kind of trips are worth 6 months of therapy, I only wish I could afford to travel and do things like this all the time. Ray is on top of his game when we're doing something new. As I've said before, it's a lot of work but the end results make it all worthwhile. You can't expect to have the time of your life, but it's still pretty darn good.