This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:
Kansas City, MO
Manitou Springs, CO
Las Vegas, NV
The road to Denver is long, boring, and windy. We stop in the middle of nowhere for gas and realize the wind is so strong, it’s changed the position of our Thule. I walk the dogs while Joe attempts to fix it. We stroll next door to what looks like a murder motel, with attached murder restaurant. The windows are dark, with 1970’s curtains pulled tight. Through the door, I can see the ceiling has partially collapsed. There’s broken glass all around the lot and the windows are painted with Christmas decor from 2015. The restaurant is closed, maybe even condemned, which makes sense. The attached motel, in not much better shape, seems to be open for business. Creepers. I quickly return to the car. Joe is…upset.
Let’s take a pause to discuss Joe’s demeanor. Upset is barely part of his vocabulary. The man exists within the word unfazed. I don’t think I’ve heard him raise his voice more than once (and Bank of America totally deserved it, you guys). He climbed up to fix the Thule, and the runner on which he was standing gave away. He nearly breaks his arm falling. He’s pissed off, he tries cramming the car part back to where it came from. Whoaaaa, Buttry! Pump the brakes! This is why YouTube exists. I YouTube what appears to be a common problem. We review a short clip, Joe snaps the car runner back into place. On the road again.
We roll into Denver intending to meet some of the world’s finest people – Joe’s cousin Meg and her husband Dave. Intending to stay with them? Not so much. Meg, the middle child in a family of female cousins that mirror the ages of Joe and his brothers, is in the midst of a demanding fight for her health, the details of which are hers and not mine to tell. I worry she’s tired, I worry she’s stressed. I know she’s been through (and is currently going through) an unimaginable amount of…shit, for lack of a better word. The past few weeks have been a lot for everyone, I imagine especially her. The last thing we want is to add to her burden. Joe and I plan to camp or just pass through. She continues to offer her home. We eventually acquiesce.
We follow Google Maps slowly through their neighborhood. We observe houses. Cute. Cute…cute. Cute. We eventually locate theirs and parallel park our car-house in front. Meg and Dave’s home is of the big, old, beautiful type you can’t find in a city like Las Vegas. Push button wall switches and wooden floors, etched glass, a sun room, a mud room, and wood molding around all the windows and doors (so many doors!). A murder basement (you’ll have to ask Meg about that one, she said it first…but she’s right.). Our house is cookie cutter and suburbs, theirs is personality and city. I never locate the speakers, but music floats room to room. I’ll never be cool enough to have days of awesome playlists in the background while guests visit, but that’s the type of cool Meg and Dave are. Meg has left us a gift bag on the guest bed, complete with scratch off lottery tickets, easter candy, and homemade buttons of our dogs. She’s welcoming us and our dogs into their home free of charge, and she leaves us a gift bag.
We had planned a nice dinner out, but post-Omaha we’re now aware that Harry and Leeeroy will not be left alone in a strange place. Knowing they have a capacity for destruction that far exceeds what you’d expect from such small animals, and that Meg and Dave have a beautiful home, we change our plans. A night in is in order.
Meg and Dave have a sweet-eyed, older dog named Ravell. Harry promptly makes his home on Ravell’s bed. Leeeroy, who loves every dog he’s ever met, feels the need to casually show Ravell his teeth over and over. And over. Leeeroy, can you kindly explain your behavior in a home with the best hospitality life has to offer? Can you stop being a jerk for literally 18 hours? After what seems like ages, Leeeroy decides to be nicer to the dog owner of this home. We all settle in. We order in arepas. Mine is full of chicken and black beans and Venezuelan awesomeness. It’s the best I’ve ever had (sorry Las Vegas, thank you Quiero Arepas). We drink Moscow Mules, complete with copper cups and freshly squeezed lime juice. We chat about family and books and mostly the dogs. Meg shows us – and then gives us – her backup button maker (see above dog button photos). We go to bed. I try to make us as small and unobtrusive as possible in their busy, complicated lives.
In the morning, Meg produces a magical restaurant that meets each of our extensive needs. City ‘O City has a patio for dogs, gluten free options for me, and vegan options for Dave (yay! Safety in dietary restriction numbers!). It’s a beautiful day. Living in Las Vegas, we no longer get to experience that feeling of the first day of spring – where everyone is nice and in a good mood and you realize halfway through the day it’s because the weather is finally nice, for the first time in 4 months. That simple pleasure isn’t part of my life anymore. The weather in Denver today isn’t quite that sublime level of amazing, but it’s pretty close. We order, the food and coffee are perfect. We enjoy brunch. We replenish Meg and Dave’s Moscow Mule supplies. We pack our things and move on. Meg and Dave are young, cool people in a cool city and it’s the weekend. I’m sure they have things to do.
An hour away lies Manitou Springs, along with Alexis and John. Alexis and I have known each other since high school, where we were voted (together) most likely to carry off a jewel heist. We did used to steal a lot of things, including (allegedly) a tree from a librarian without a sense of humor. We haven’t lived in the same city since, but we’ve managed keep ourselves firmly fixed in each others lives (especially for swimming, especially in rooftop and/or infinity pools). Alexis married John, then I married Joe. Poor John and Joe, each kind of eternally bound to the two of us. It wasn’t until recently that Joe was given the front seat of a car over Alexis. To be fair, it was her spot first. We were in each others’ weddings. We travel to each others’ houses, we go on vacations together. Apparently, we now camp in each other’s driveways.
Denver to Manitou is the easiest drive of our trip, and makes me dread the long haul that lies on the horizon. I’m not going to write a storybook, but pretend I have. Manitou is the city from that storybook, nestled between mountains and filled with little shops and restaurants…and also hippies. Our hippie friends reside on one of Manitou’s mountains. They have dogs and cats: Colfax and Ginsberg and Tibalt. Joe and I haven’t been training at altitude (be it exercising, drinking, or breathing) and Joe has enough problems breathing as is. We plan to visit their home and sleep in their driveway, which is literally just the side of a mountain.
Another story not mine to tell, Alexis and John have had fairly severe health problems befall their home the past few days. We offer to stay out of the way, to continue on our journey. They insist it’s ok. We attempt to buy dinners and help shuttle vehicles in return. I do not feel our debt is paid. No one warned me that life-altering health problems start knocking at your door in your thirties. I have several friends with life and death situations on their hands right now. I joke about being old all the time, but apparently, we genuinely are. When did that happen?
We drink on Alexis and John’s patio, and hike in their backyard (which is, again, a mountain). The dogs are allowed off leash, a rare treat for which they do not always respect the responsibility. We crate the dogs and have a normal dinner without them like adults. We clean up the small dog destruction when we return.
We are kind of lazy and tired. We make buttons (thanks, Meg). We play games. I die on the Oregon Trail, but not before Alexis. Harry tries to be one of their cats, Leeeroy tries to eat Colfax’s food (it does not go well for him the first or fiftieth time he tries, yet he is persistent).
Las Vegas is 12 hours away. Joe has a job scheduled for our company within the week. Our journey is coming to an end. We decide we have time for one last stop. Moab lies halfway between Manitou and Las Vegas, near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. There’s a campground with available spots. We’d initially thought we could revisit the Grand Canyon at the end of our trip, but the extra miles are deemed too many. It’s decided – we are headed to Moab.
We begin the drive. We meet a close friend Joe hasn’t seen in years. We have tacos, I walk the restless dogs. We continue. We talk about how Steve loved his visits with family and good friends. We talk about how he would have rolled his eyes at parts of our trip, and been delighted with others.
A few hours on the Utah interstate seem like ages. When the trip began, I imagined short 4-5 hour drives each day. That’s been the exception, with 6-8 hour pushes becoming the norm. I enjoy this time with Joe, but I’m also tired of limbo, tired of being between destinations. “Let’s just get there already” has become my impatient theme for this trip, as it has always been in my life. I’m relieved when we exit the interstate and begin the last thirty miles to our campsite.
Now on the highway, we must pass along the edge of Arches National Park and wind through Moab in order to arrive at our campground. I’ve never been to this part of Utah and the scenery is unlike anything I’ve seen. We call out awesome camper vans, Honda Elements, cars with Thules, and verygooddogs™ as we see them. All strangers, yet all our brethren. We note where to enter Arches for tomorrow. We move slowly down Moab’s main street. The town? It’s the cutest. Blue sky and red cliffs surround the small-town-cute mix of restaurants and shops. Hippies, extreme sportsfolk, and FLDS Mormons wander the sidewalks. There are rock shops and bike racks, kayaks and tie dye. Stoners and rock climbers, and rock climbing stoners. The speed limit is low, we coast slowly and take in the town.
I don’t know who sees it first. I don’t remember who is driving and who has to Google. Joe claims me, me, him. All I know is that as we survey the town’s main drive, the Love Muffin Cafe sign reveals itself. Love Muffin Cafe? As in, Love Muffin from Steve’s memorial photo? No. No way, too strange a coincidence. Must be a chain, or a different restaurant entirely. We never asked the origin of the photo, we certainly didn’t expect to stumble upon it here. Google confirms. Not a chain. Same logo, same restaurant. There’s only one Love Muffin Café, and it’s right in front of us.
Ok. So. I’m a realist, a skeptic. I don’t believe in signs. But even my skeptical, hard heart has to take a pause. I make a mental list: we just happened to be in Baton Rouge the day Mimi selected the memorial photos. I just happened to find and attach myself to the Love Muffin Cafe shot. Short on time, we just happened to decide on travelling through Utah instead of Arizona, and it just happened that Moab was the best stopping point from where we woke up this morning. An entire trip’s worth of random moments and decisions culminate here – at the sole location of a restaurant where a years-old photo of Steve was snapped, a photo that was picked out of a pile and loved by me, weeks ago in Baton Rouge. Maybe you believe in God in one of His or Her various forms, maybe instead you believe in the Energy of the Universe, or maybe you think the human brain assigns meaning where there is only coincidence. Regardless of creed, I think that most would find comfort and a bit of wonder here. There’s the idea that maybe someone, something, some energy has been with us all of these miles. Maybe someone is here with us now, as we stand outside of the Love Muffin Cafe.
Joe later tells me the parks in Utah were some of his dads favorite places, and he expected to find something of him here. Well, Joe. Maybe you could have mentioned that before I started questioning my belief structure.
Moab’s KOA is our last stop, and also the first campground we get to, cook, and clean up before total darkness. High five, Buttry. Four weeks in and we are starting to get the hang of this. Our campground is full of desert sand and dust, with a background of deep red cliffs. The dogs are disgustingly dirty, but the scenery almost makes up for it. We sleep easily in the cool night. The warm day get us out of bed early. We laze about in the morning, comfortable in this place. After a slow start and breakfast dishes, we are off to Arches.
Arches is a dog friendly National Park where you cannot take your dogs anywhere other than the parking lot. We spend an hour driving around. We take some parking lot photos. We leave.
Alexis had recommended a trail outside the park. We locate it at the edge of town. I’m promised a swimming hole with waterfall at the end of this hike, and I. AM. PUMPED. The trail winds along a creek. We begin by climbing down into the water and letting our dogs take a swim. I only get in to my thighs. It’s freaking cold, you guys. A giant dog shows up sans owner, our dogs decide to “protect” us. Harry almost gets away, eight pounds of Yorkie willing to take on this perceived intruder, who weighs in at at least seventy-five. We scramble for his leash (it was a terribly timed accident! I didn’t mean to let him go!) and subdue the small dog. We get out of the water. The trail itself is easy, but the sun begins to beat down. We continue to cross paths with hikers in bathing suits and towels. I begin to notice every one of them is model-level beautiful. What is this place? I want to find this fountain of chiseled abs, toned arms, tanned skin, and magically flowing beach waves and/or man buns. Apparently, Joe and I are going to wash away the start of middle age when we get to the end of this trail. That seems easier than diet and exercise, so I’m in. I forge ahead. I had read the trail crosses a creek several times and prepared myself thusly. I thought this had been made clear to Joe, but he is wearing real shoes and full length pants. I scoop up a dog and waddle across the first junction in my sandals and bathing suit. I try to help him. I don’t get very far. Models continue to cross our path. WHERE IS THIS MAGIC SWIMMING HOLE OF YOUTH? I feel bad as the heat increases and Joe struggles through a second muddy creek with dog. It’s hot, it’s been a few hours. Joe is not setup for this, his pants and shoes are ruined. We give up on magical swimming holes and second youth. We turn around.
We return to the campground after a full day of mild nature encounters. Joe cooks our last camp dinner, I find a dish sink at the camp office that makes our last dinner dishes a breeze (finally). It’s our final night on this journey. A month away from the real world, away from jobs, away from house cleaning and yard work. We’ve barely checked our bank balance, I might have been late paying our last bills – I don’t really know because we can’t get our mail. There’s been no twenty-four hour news cycle, no Donald Trump or Russia or North Korea. No work emails, no deadlines, no irresponsible stagehands. I don’t know if I could stay here forever, but I would be willing to make an attempt. Joe’s ready to return to life. We pack up the car and prepare to leave in the morning, some of us more reluctant than others. Night falls. It’s pitch black, but the sky is crystal clear. For the first time in years we can see the expanse of the stars. Joe notices them first. We stare for a few minutes, he picks up his things and goes to shower. The dogs have curled up to sleep. I pull out the laptop and begin to work on a blog post. I think about the places we’ve been over the past month. I think about what’s brought us to this place over the past many years. I notice how quiet my surroundings have grown.
Alone, under a silent blanket of stars in the Moab desert, my mind goes back to the Love Muffin Cafe. I think of Steve. I reflect on the many years I knew him, I think of the last few hours I had with him. Though there for his last days, I arrived too late to see him conscious. I missed my chance at a proper goodbye (whatever that is, if one even exists). Those days are hard to think about, they’re painful and they’re unfair. I shake my head to clear the thoughts.
I sit for a while, mind blank, in the dark of the Utah night. My mind returns to Mimi, always returning to Mimi. I think of her story and The Little Prince. “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing.” I lean back and stare into the night sky, scanning the thick field of stars. I search for Steve among them. It’s here, alone in the quiet desert night, that I begin to say goodbye. It’s always that I will say thank you.