It had all the makings of a memorable vacation. It was the first time my wife and I and all three of our kids had taken a vacation together in many years.
Our vacations used to provide fodder for columns. The kids invariably got colds, our cars broke down, I got chicken pox … Readers looked forward to our vacations because they made their own vacations look good by comparison.
Those days are behind us, of course. The kids are grown now, and one of our daughters would be driving us in her recently serviced, high-tech SUV. What could possibly go wrong?
Our destination was the family cabin in Washington state. We got up in time to get an early start and were on the road by 7:30. That would put us there by 5:30. Plenty of time to unpack, have dinner and enjoy a relaxing evening.
We stopped in Ontario, Ore., for breakfast. We stopped in LaGrande, Ore., for snacks and a bathroom break. We stopped in Boardman, Ore., for lunch. With five of us in the car, the stops took longer than expected. The odds of having dinner and a relaxing evening were steadily shrinking.
Just out of Baker City, Ore., my wife noticed a problem with Max. Max, her pet lizard, was accompanying us on the trip, along with Roux, the family dog. (Roux was named at a shelter in Louisiana, where roux, a thickening agent used in sauces, is practically a food group.)
Max clearly was in trouble, opening her mouth and gasping for air. This had happened once before. A vet had diagnosed it as a lung infection and prescribed antibiotic injections. Within a few days, Max was her old self.
“If only this had happened yesterday!” my wife lamented. “I could have taken Max to the vet then and everything would have been fine.”
Unfortunately, we were several hundred miles from our vet. A Google search yielded veterinary offices in half a dozen Oregon and Washington cities, calls were made to all of them, and all but one either didn’t treat lizards, weren’t taking new patients or were so busy they couldn’t see Max until the following week.
The exception was an emergency clinic in Portland. Not being all that familiar with Portland, I was a bit uneasy about our chances of finding it.
“No worries. We’ll use Google Maps.”
This would be the same Google Maps that has steered us wrong on multiple occasions, including one that resulted in driving two hours in the wrong direction on a remote stretch of desert.
The woman who answered the phone at the clinic asked us where we were and said it would take about 40 minutes for us to get there. An hour later, we weren’t even close. Google Maps had taken us on a scenic tour of Portland and greater Multnomah County. This included driving over the highest bridge in Portland, with a dizzying view of the Columbia River and the city. Or so I’m told. A lifelong acrophobiac, I had my eyes tightly closed.
When we finally got there, the clinic looked like Costco during a toilet paper sale. It was jammed to the rafters with customers. There were cats in crates, dogs on leashes, kids crawling on the floor …
I don’t spend enough time in Portland to know the current fashion trends there, but the clinic’s clientele was, shall we say, colorful – shaved heads, Mohawks, chains, piercings, facial tattoos …
We waited. And waited, and waited …
This did not sit well with Roux. Roux is a dog that craves attention, and Max was getting all of it. She responded by lying down in the car, sulking and playing dead.
Roux is smart. So smart she speaks English. Not in actual words, of course, but her expressions and body language speak volumes.
“You want to go for a walk?” I asked her.
“ A walk? Do you really think a walk would make up for everyone ignoring me while that stupid lizard gets all the attention?”
With that she sniffed haughtily, turned her back on me and played dead again.
To kill time, I chatted with a lavishly tattooed woman who was there with her bull terrier.
“What’s wrong with your dog?” I asked her.
“Swallowed a plum pit.”
“My dog swallowed plum pit.”
Of course. Plums are a staple of any canine diet.
“Did the vet get it out?”
“We haven’t seen the vet yet. We’ve been here for hours, and they say it will be two more hours.”
We continued to wait. An hour passed, then another, and another … Midway through the fourth hour, my wife was called to the inner sanctum for a consultation.
“They want to do blood work, an X-ray and a bronchoscopy,” she reported upon returning.
“A bronchoscopy on a lizard? They’ve got to be kidding!”
“They aren’t. The total would be $1,200. I told them to just give Max the same medicine they gave her in Boise last year.”
Max has been receiving regular injections ever since and seems to be doing better.
Roux is another story. When relatives came to visit us at the cabin, she bit their new dog, Louis.
“Bad dog!” we admonished her. “No treats for you today.”
“Fine. I’ll just get up after you’re asleep tonight and raid the refrigerator. And if Louis come back I’ll bite him again.”
Now Roux has an eye infection. That, at least, is the unofficial diagnosis. All of the vets we called were so busy they couldn’t see her.
Personally, I think she’s faking it.
We’ll be heading home in a few days, and none too soon.
I’ve had about all the vacation I can stand.