This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:
Kim and I woke in Kansas City. As a child, I loved riding Interstate 70 and driving past the stadium, so I was fittingly nostalgic as I loaded the car looking across at the scoreboard. There are worse places to wake up (Extended Stay America. 4615 Opa Locka Lane, Destin, Florida 32541). The plan was to head to Denver. As with Kansas City, there were more people we wanted to see and commitments waiting for us in Colorado than we would have time for. I started the drive west out of town filled with dread. Anyone who has made this drive knows that it is a wasteland. The five hundred miles west of Kansas City seem to repeat themselves as if one has entered the Twilight Zone. But instead of finding it creepy or super natural, it’s just incredibly boring. This trip added the extra concern of high winds. As we have already discussed, we were traveling in a fairly high profile vehicle on top of which we attached a box. The wind blew from my left to my right. And I fought it the entire way. When we stopped for gas, I found that it had pushed the front of the Thule (which was quite tight) over, jamming the hooks that attached it to the roof rack. I fought it back to straight, tightened it as tight as it could go, broke a piece of trim off of the car, and fixed that same piece of trim while Kim walked the dogs around the gas station and a nearby sketchy hotel. As we got closer to Denver the wind began to relent, but my nerves were wound as tight as the Thule hooks.
We got to Denver and I remembered that I like this city. *Warning: mean-spirited sports content ahead* I am a loyal Kansas City sports fan. My teams are the Royals in baseball and the Chiefs in football. As a Chiefs fan, I have a hatred of the Denver Broncos that runs deep. So deep that as a child I may have convinced myself that I hate Denver as a whole. It wasn’t until a 2014 visit that I recognized that maybe this was a little extreme. (I do still really hate the Denver Broncos. Especially that mouth breather John Elway.)
Now I view it differently. It’s more like a friend who is a pretty good person, but casually kicks their dog. I mean, it’s a deal breaker you’ll never be able to look past, but maybe they just don’t know how horrific what they do is. Maybe they were raised that way and just can’t see outside of themselves enough to break the cycle. Like people who think ketchup goes on spaghetti, or racists.
Colorado has legal recreational marijuana. Here is what I think about that; I think there are a finite number of things that I can care about at one time. Who does or does not smoke pot has never been and will never be one of them. As long as I don’t have to listen to too much jam band music.
We rolled into town and headed to my cousin Meg’s house. Meg is Mary and Jim’s daughter. We grew up close. She was my fellow middle child. She also wears the scars of a fight with cancer.
Word of Meg’s cancer came shortly after my Dad’s pancreatic diagnosis. They faced their treatment together, with my father promising that “we will be strong together.” My family sent Meg a pencil case to take with her to treatment and tokens to keep in it, to remind her that we were all behind her. My token was the champagne cork from the bottle of champagne that Kim and I shared to celebrate the end of Dad’s lymphoma treatments. I wrote in my note that I hoped to replace it with two. One for Dad and one for her. Two days after I sent it we found out that there would not be two corks. The cancer had spread from my father’s pancreas to his liver and his treatment was over.
That remaining cork has become ever more important to me and my family. Meg is the kind of person that makes the world a better place. She is quick to laugh and wears her heart on her sleeve. Her courage is a true inspiration. When I spoke at Dad’s memorial I knew if I was going to make it through without getting choked up I wouldn’t be able to look at Kim or my mom. In fact, I avoided eye contact all together. When I was talking about how a fight with cancer takes your identity, I made eye contact with Meg. She was in tears. That was the only moment I was in danger of losing it. It was also the moment that I noticed there was a phone in her hand. I was being recorded.
Meg also has a very nice house with an empty guest bed. We got there and took over the house like only two people who have driven their car/house too far and 2 ten pound dogs can. Meg took us on a tour of her super cute house. With it’s charm and character, it is the kind of house that simply does not exist in Las Vegas. Leeroy and Harry met Meg and David’s dog Ravell. Leeroy spent most of his time pulling all of Ravell’s toys out of the box and spreading them around the room. I thought about how weird it would be to have a dog that would let you put his toys in a box. David made a run to Quiero Arepas for dinner. If you have never had an arepa, you should. As soon as you are done reading. They are a Venezuelan sandwich. Mine had chicken, black beans and avocado. It was crazy good. Meg made gluten free onion rings (who is actually nice enough to do that?) so we snacked on those, had some Moscow mules and watched Leeroy try to destroy Ravell’s toys. Meg told me about the EXTRA BUTTON MAKER she had that only needed a handle. I can make a handle, so she sent it with me. The combination of the hard drive, button maker excitement, and a few drinks sent me to bed pretty early.
The next morning Meg found us a place 1- With a gluten free menu 2-With a vegan menu (David is a vegan) 3-With a patio where the dogs can go. There are like 10 of those in the country. I’m pretty sure most are in Denver. We went there and put our names in, but the patio wasn’t opened yet (this is NOT what they told Meg on the phone) so we had to wait. We talked, got coffees, and laughed at the dogs. We told Meg and David that Harry hates things with wheels (skateboards, bikes, strollers) but they were surprised just how serious we were. Every time a bike, skateboard, or God forbid rollerblader rolled by, Harry lost his damn mind. Keep in mind that Harry is tiny, and he has the bark of a tiny dog trying to be tough and failing. Soon enough we were seated and I ate and thoroughly enjoyed my vegetarian breakfast. We headed back to the house and packed up our hotelement.
We hit the road and headed to Kim’s friend Alexis’ house. Manitou Springs sits just outside of Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is like the conservative older brother who joined the Air Force to Manitou’s college dropout who joined the peace corps. It is a cool little mountain town. The last time we visited we stayed at a bed and breakfast, but this time we crashed in our car outside Alexis’ house. Alexis was very excited because she has lived in vans (by choice, in a hippy kinda way. Not homeless) and was one of our advisors on the subject of van dwelling.
Alexis and her husband John live on the side of a canyon. A few years ago, a wild fire almost burned down their neighborhood, but fortunately for them it was only a close call. Then, because fires had had killed so much vegetation, they had terrible flash floods. Again, Alexis and John were close to the damage but they were more fortunate than many. Their house was unharmed.
Seldom have I seen a house that fits people I know like Alexis and John’s house. The main draw of the house is the setting. There may be no more appropriate place for Alexis and John to live. It sits on a hillside across the canyon from the cave of the winds and looks out over the valley. They have real wild life. Their dog Colfax chases away bears and John has seen mountain lions on the dirt road that leads to their house.
We got in and hung out for a while. We busted out the button maker and John and I started trying to figure out what we had that would work as a handle. (Answer: the handle of a pair of channel lock pliers) We researched gluten free restaurants and decided on a place. I got some trout that was dynamite. There was a nice little deli attached to the restaurant which is usually the kind of place that I end up spending a ton of money, but I managed to hold it together. Until dessert. We ate our desserts and had a few drinks before heading back to John and Alexis’. Once there, we talked and made buttons until it was time to turn our car into a bed and go to sleep. Our dogs didn’t even get eaten by a mountain lion.
The next morning, we got up and Alexis made breakfast. (I never do this for my house guests. Am I a bad host? Your answer doesn’t matter. I’m not going to start.) We got our act together and the four of us and all the dogs went on a long hike. Our dogs are not the kind of dogs that you can usually trust to be off leash. Leeroy is a runner. One time, he got out late at night (like 3 a.m.) and, unaware of how much Nevadans love guns, found a nice dark backyard across the street and down a few houses. He holed up like a prison escapee, only coming out after Kim was in a full blown panic and became liberal with the treats. But this hike was through a canyon and there were not a ton of other people so we let them off leash for a little bit. They loved the freedom and only once did they start to run off. They got to cross creeks and climb up rocks and all of it tired them out so they would hopefully sleep. The hike itself was beautiful. It wound through the canyon, and ended at a waterfall with a few natural pools cut out of the rocks by the water. The whole area was only recently cleared of underbrush by the flash floods allowing it to be hiked. I was amazed that a hike this incredible was only a few steps from Alexis and John’s house. Once we got back we picked another restaurant and went to grab dinner. It was also very good. We sat outside in the sun and enjoyed ourselves. On the way back home we picked up groceries for the rest of the trip as well as some cheap champagne. We spent the night having some drinks, playing some board games, and making a few more buttons. Before too long, my allergies act up (Alexis has cats and I am very allergic to pretty much everything, but especially cats) and I retired to my bed/car.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and headed out. Our stop for the night would be Moab, Utah, but first we would see my friend Mike from high school. I downed a good deal of Red Bull and we drove toward western Colorado. We decided to take the smaller highways through the mountains. It was a pretty sweet drive. I-70 through the mountains is scenic, but it’s still an interstate. This drive got us off the beaten path. (A little. It was still a highway.) Eventually, the highway went up through Breckenridge and joined with Interstate 70. We took that to Glenwood Springs.
I sent Mike a Facebook message asking if he would be able to get together and it worked out perfectly. He had time off and we wouldn’t even have to change our plans to see him. He suggested meeting in Glenwood Springs. It was the prototypical awesome little mountain town. The main street had a ton of character. We headed to the place I had researched that met all our dietary and dog friendly needs (we are awful) and Mike met us there. Mike has always been one of my closest friends. Life has taken us to different places. After high school, he served in the Army and went into law enforcement upon his discharge, while I went in the opposite direction and got an arts degree. We don’t see each other nearly as much as I would like. However, our connection is still as deep as ever. After my dad died, there were lots of kind words in many different forms. I don’t think that anyone said anything that meant as much to me as Mike.
We grabbed a table outside and ordered some tacos. We ate and caught up, sharing news of long lost high school acquaintances and what each of us were up to. I feel like the excess of Red Bull and time in the car have my entire body vibrating. Too quickly, it was time to once again hit the road. My father maintained long distance friendships like this better than I do. Certainly, on this trip there were too many people to visit and not enough time. In almost every city there were people important to me that I was unable to see. But putting in the effort to reunite with one of my oldest friends was a no-brainer. The fact of the matter was Mike made most of the effort, driving far enough to meet us that it was on our way. Over Thanksgiving, I went with my Dad to meet with a group of his friends for lunch. It was like a stop on the Steve Buttry farewell tour. The group was a mismatch of former co-workers, friends, and Twitter contacts. As far as I could tell, the only thing that they had in common was Dad. He did this over and over on that trip, and all the trips he took from then on. I have written before about how in the twilight of his life it was these relationships that were important to my father. After our visit with Mike, it would only be Kim and I, yet I can’t help thinking that the lesson is that I need to pay these relationships the attention they deserve.
We continued to Moab, Utah. Moab is situated between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The national parks of Utah were some of my father’s favorite places. He lived in northern Utah as a child and visited the canyonlands of the south frequently. In 2011, my parents visited Moab, Canyonlands, and Arches. Just prior to visiting his 50th state, Dad ranked the other 49. Utah was number 6.
As we pulled into town, Kim recognized the Love Muffin Café from a picture. It was from my parents’ 2011 trip and my father was standing next to the door. My mother would go on to say “it is Dad checking in.” I don’t know if it’s that or if we are simply in a place that he loved and therefore took lots of pictures (who are we kidding, Dad always took lots of pictures). One thing is certain: Kim was drawn to the picture of him in front of the Love Muffin Café at the memorial and none of us knew where it was until we were driving down the main drag of Moab, Utah. (Even my mother didn’t remember where it was taken until we sent her a photo of me in the same spot.)
We settled into the campground and started to cook. We hadn’t yet perfected the skill of getting food cooked and cleaned up before dark, but we managed to get it done this time. It would have gone even better if we had found the camp sink that would have made washing dishes easier. I set up my hammock and read for a bit as darkness fell. We had a few drinks. In a strange reversal, Harry whined until we let him go into the car. We settled in and slept.
The next morning, we got up, made breakfast, and used the sink to do the dishes. We attached the dogs to the pergola that the hammock was hanging from when Leeroy noticed something. Lizards. Everywhere. His little obsessive brain flipped into overdrive and for as long as he was at the camp site, all he wanted to do was kill. The lizards darted from tuft of brush to tuft of brush, but always remained just out range of Leeroy’s tether. Much dog frustration ensued.
Once we got tired of laughing at Leeroy, we headed to Arches National Park. We went in and drove to an area with a few of the more popular arches. Dogs are not allowed on the trails, so we took turns walking up the trails and taking photos while the other watched the dogs. The park was beautiful.
We moved on to a hike that sat outside the park, so the fascism of the national park’s dog rules no longer applied. We parked and headed down a smaller trail that started before the main trailhead. It went straight down to the creek. The sand was so hot that the dogs were happy to jump in and go for a swim. They met some dogs and gave them a suitably chaotic greeting. We took them back onto the main trail. The dogs cruised right along through some fairly tricky rock scrambling (well, tricky for a 12” tall dog), a few river crossings, and more dog on dog chaos. Eventually we decided that crossing the river/creek with 2 small dogs was getting old and we turned back.
We headed to the state liquor store for some supplies. I have been to many liquor stores, but this one was probably the saddest. There were people who appeared to be already drunk, mentally ill, or simply without the desire to shower that week. Kim grabbed some champagne to celebrate the last night of our road trip. I picked out a bottle of Gentleman Jack from the modest selection. If all liquor stores had that vibe I might never drink again.
We headed back to the campsite, made dinner, and had it cleaned up before dark. We toasted to the final night of our weird, strangely poignant journey. It may have been the weight of the last few weeks catching up with us, it may have been my Mom’s words at the Baton Rouge memorial, or maybe it was simply the feeling of his presence in this magical place, but Kim and I thought about Dad as the sun set. One by one the laughing stars came out, as bright as I have ever seen them.