So today was Ralph’s first appointment at Emory’s Integrated Memory Care Clinic, which offers one stop shopping for his health needs and access to more resources in terms of social work, classes, and support. Ralph doesn’t care about any of that. He is just glad to stop using his current primary care doctor Dr. Andy. Andy is the wonderful doctor who diagnosed Ralph and got us to Emory in the first place, but he is also the husband of a close friend of mine and the four of us socialize in a small group of other couples every month or so. Ralph, who resists going anywhere anyway, has said he finds mixing his and “Dr.” Andy’s social and professional relationship awkward, and frankly keeping the socializing element in Ralph’s life is more important at this point.
So off we went up the highway to the big city. For reasons too complicated to recount we were driving a rental car, a rather sporty black Chevy Malibu that had a bit more zip than my own red Prius. It also had a dashboard that gave interesting data, like that I needed air in the tire because I was down to 23 pounds. This information popped about ten miles from the doctor’s office. I got nervous—nothing like a flat on the highway with Ralph along. But Ralph puffed on his vape and said not to worry unless it dropped more. By the time we reached the parking lot we were at 21. Again he said not to worry.
By then he was more worried about the doctor appointment and what would be expected of him. As it happened, very little: a couple of shots, some blood drawn, and a friendly chat with our new primary physician, nurse practitioner actually, who already had most of the information she needed at hand. She said Ralph was the bright spot of her day as patients go. He liked that and left in a great mood.
Which didn’t last long. The tire pressure was down to 15.
We stopped for air at the closest gas station we could– something new we learned today: air costs at least a dollar now, quarters only and the charges vary from $1-$1.50–before heading to pick up our oldest granddaughter. Geneva, who was raised in Namibia, now attends college in California and must divide her summer vacation time in Atlanta juggling the multiple sets of family and resulting family politics that occur when you are the daughter of a divorced parents one of whose own parents are divorced. Although we’ve always been the maybe slightly oddball farm grandparents, difficult to get to and from the city relatives, I doubt Geneva expected this drive.
In Atlanta rush hour traffic begins early and we were stuck bumper to bumper, watching the air gauge on the Malibu drop minute by minute. In other words,
a situation made for disaster, both in terms of an imminent flat tire and also in terms of Ralph having an anxiety meltdown. It would have been grim if just the two of us were white-knuckling our way down the highway, but having Geneva in the backseat turned potential disaster into rollicking adventure even when I took a turn that seemed logical to avoid a traffic jam but took us way out of our way and into another traffic fam.
“Down to 20” I’d shout.
“Wait til 18” Ralph would shout back leaning over to see the dash.
“Where is it now?” Geneva would ask in her lovely Afro-Brit-Indian accent.
“Down to 15 again.”
Then we’d sigh and laugh at the same time. Ralph was weirdly calm.
I was driving, but Ralph was the one pumping air. At our first station stop as a trio, Geneva went in to buy the cheapest thing she could to change a twenty for five dollars worth of quarters. We used them all by the end of the day.
I called our local Enterprise twice, first to make sure we could exchange cars if we got there by closing time (“yes, definitely”), the next time to see if we could exchange cars at a closer branch since there was no way we’d make it all the way to our branch by closing time—or at all given the way the gauge was dropping (“yes, uh-oh”). Fifteen miles, four gas stations and more than an hour later, we limped into an Atlanta neighborhood Enterprise with 8 pounds of air left. The manager agreed to give us a car, his last available as it turned out. As we waited another hour for the paperwork snafus to work out, we watched him turn away one distressed would be customer after another.
Rental car agencies are filled with people who are in bad moods because they’ve had a car mishap or some other disaster that means they need a car fast. I would have expected us, Ralph especially to be in a bad mood too. Instead we were slaphappy with relief
When Ralph went outside to smoke, Geneva and I discussed how well he was handling the tension and stress. She knows her “opa” as gentle, kindly, funny and indulgent, but she has heard her dad’s stories of Ralph in his prickly prime and believed me when I said how unpleasant he used to be in this sort of situation, angry and full of blame.
Instead he was making funny jokes about the man who walked in with a pistol in his belt. “That guy’s getting a car!”—The guy did but probably because he had a reservation.
We were rolling in the aisle, but you’d probably have to be there, exhausted and high on adrenalin, to appreciate the humor.
And really that’s the point. Geneva and I have a new, funny memory to share. And what is wonderful is so does Ralph because Geneva and I will remind him every time we’re together.