In February, we visited Bullhead City, AZ to tend to the death of Rich’s step-father, Ted Robertson. At the time, we stayed at the Tropicana in Laughlin, NV. The evening of our last night, a transformer at a local power plant caught fire, creating a city-wide power outage (although, the casinos had back-up generators, keeping the slot machines running and the blackjack tables lit).
After waiting an hour for the power to return, Rich and I headed to the Arizona side of the Colorado River where we ate dinner at a very crowded Carl’s Jr. When we returned, the Tropicana staff were handing out hand-cranked flashlights. We climbed 21 stories to our room by flashlight, attempted to take a shower with a drizzle of water (the water pumps were electric), and then went to bed.
A month later, we received a letter from the Tropicana, offering us three free nights. We took them up on the offer. Two weeks ago, Monday, at 4:30 in the morning, we found ourselves driving from Mount Vernon to the SeaTac airport for a flight to Las Vegas.
A few days before, having read the temperatures were supposed to be in the 100’s, I invested in several pairs of skorts and camisoles from Value Village. Indeed, after stepping outside to take the bus to the Las Vegas car rental facility, I felt like I was standing in front of a kiln or open oven. The heat was oppressive!
We’d arrived at the start of a heat wave with Las Vegas reaching 109 the day we arrived, and Bullhead City, AZ exceeding 120 degrees! Nevertheless, I was upbeat, especially after hearing we were getting a VW Bug to rent. Although, when given the keys, the car had a striking resemblance to a Nissan Versa. At least, it was red!
Our first stop was the Hoover Dam. Rich was hoping to take a tour, but moments before we made it to the ticket counter, they ceased tours due to an issue with the elevators. I suspect the heat was a factor. Nevertheless, we were able to buy tickets to see the tourist center, which had many interest displays, and was thankfully in air conditioned buildings. Plus, the main building had a great view of the dam, and the “Winged Figures of the Republic,” which are my favorite part of the dam.
I won’t go into details about the dam, which is considered an engineering masterpiece, especially considering the tools (in comparison to what we have today) were rudimentary, relying primarily on ingenuity and manpower.
After roasting, I mean walking, outside for half an hour, we shuffled to the car, fighting fatigue as we drove to the Tropicana in Laughlin, NV (across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, AZ). Ten minutes after checking in, we were in the hotel swimming pool, cooling off. Even though the sun was setting, it was over 120 degrees.
After a quick shower, and eating at the casino buffet, we quickly drifted off to sleep around 9:30 pm.
The following day, we grabbed iced coffees and Egg McMuffins before visiting the realtor selling Ted’s house and the lawyer handling his estate. We also went to Ted’s house to determine what repairs needed to be made. Several weeks ago, there was an offer on the house, which unfortunately fell through. The only positive outcome was we learned what needed to be fixed after it “flunked” the inspection, and the buyer’s finances imploded.
Finally, we visited the three mobile homes Ted owned. One home is being taken by the bank due to being extremely “underwater” with extensive repairs needing to be made before it can sold. Another mobile homes went to Rich after Ted’s death. Rich had paid off this home many years ago, and is now collecting $300 a month in rent. The third mobile home is being sold to the current tenant, who has multiple dogs, cats, and birds. When we knocked on the door, we noticed three tiny kittens under the mobile home, who were very leery of humans. She’s purchasing the house for $5,000, which gives you an idea of its age and condition.
With our chores done for the day, we donned our bathing suits, and headed to Katherine’s Landing, on Lake Mohave, where we rented a jet ski for four hours. Slathered with 30 SPF sunblock, we zoomed to Davis Dam, then circled back to visit the many coves Rich and his family had frequented, starting when he was ten years old. He recalled a cove where a houseboat had tied up. Ted, perturbed at their impedance to anchor near his canopy and water toys, got in his boat, and circled in front of the houseboat, making waves until they left.
For every cove, Rich had a story. He also recalled long weekends of lounging on the shore, jet-skiing, waterskiing, and swimming.
With relatively few people on the river to disturb the wildlife, we saw mallard ducks, American coots, common mergansers, Western grebe, and a fabulous blue heron that swooped in front of us as we motored into a cove. One cove was rather odiferous with several bushes submerged in the water. Dotting the bush was a collection of delicate dragonflies with black, gray, and blue wings. Tired from our jet ski adventure, we headed to Carl’s Jr. for a quick meal before heading back to the Tropicana to shower, turn on the TV, and conk-out.
The following day, we returned to Ted’s house to make some quick repairs, including covering up the rust on his gate with white spray paint. Even though, he’s passed away, his home owners’ association is actively looking for issued with his house. A few weeks after he passed away, they sent a letter saying he had too many “lawn ornaments” in front of his house. For the last seven years or so, he’s had an old horse-drawn wagon, mining pans, and other collectibles he’d gathered in the desert in front of the house. None were added after he passed away!
After finishing up what we needed to do, we wandered through the car collection at the Riverside Casino. Don Laughlin, who essentially founded Laughlin by turning a small motel into a blossoming casino and soon destination, was a car collector.
Afterwards, we rented a jet ski on the Colorado River, across from the Laughlin casinos. With the water colder, we did more riding than swimming, and instead of seeing wildlife, we checked out the homes lining the Arizona side of the river. The Nevada side of the river is owned by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. There are few buildings along the river, except the Avi Casino. A distance from the river are numerous homes, apartments, and a handful of small businesses. Driving around the area, in search of somewhere to eat, it became clear that Laughlin residents need to travel to the Arizona side of the Colorado River for groceries and most of their shopping needs. Laughlin commerce primarily consists of eight casinos and associated restaurants and shops along a 4 or 5 mile stretch of the river.
The fourth day of our visit, we got up early and headed back to Las Vegas to catch a flight to Seattle. The flight home was a little over two hours, slightly more than the time it took to drive from Seatac Airport through Seattle and Everett up to Mount Vernon. Northwest Washington traffic is horrible!
Death in the Family
[I started writing this in late February]
Last Tuesday, February 21, at 7:45 in the morning, Ted Robertson’s heart stopped. He was my father-in-law, but his death elicited little sadness, only anguish for the amount of work my husband Rich will have to do to settle his estate.
In a sense, his death felt like a wilted bouquet of flowers. What was once appealing and promising was now just frail stems with strewn petals, needing to be cleaned up.
Since September, Ted had been ailing, starting with pneumonia that sent him to a hospital in Las Vegas. The course of antibiotics resulted in his getting c. difficile, a bacterium that causes horrific diarrhea. He spent the next few months isolated in a rehabilitation center in Bullhead City, Arizona (90 miles from Las Vegas). While he was there, two of his toes, which had become necrotic were also being treated.
He was sent home in early January, moving in with Sue, a woman he’d befriended several years earlier, and with whom he gave a “supposed” engagement ring. In December, we’d learned they’re joined checking accounts, except the only funds going in seemed to be from Ted, with Sue making weekly purchases and cash withdrawals, even though Ted was in the hospital or rehabilitation center.
In the three weeks Ted spent at Sue’s house, all of his toes became necrotic, and the local paramedics were called four times. The last time, his blood sugar was over 1,000, and his body had become septic. He was immediately airlifted to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, where he was stabilized, and numerous tests were conducted, revealing he needed a stent, and his lung were filled with fluid.
On President’s Day, Monday, February 20, we received a call from Ted’s son, Chris, who lived in Philadelphia. Ted’s physician wanted the family to make a decision whether to place Ted back in intensive care or hospice. Knowing Ted didn’t want any life-prolonging treatments, Rich and Chris opted for hospice care.
We immediately went home, and made arrangements to fly out the next morning from Bellingham International Airport. The rest of the day, I scrambled to document what needed to be done at work for the rest of the week, then sent emails to my colleagues with instructions. Rich did the same, in-between looking for the legal documents that showed him to be the executor of the estate.
Tuesday morning, while going through security at the airport, Rich received a call from the hospital, indicating Ted was in “bad shape.” Twenty minutes later, he receive another call, saying Ted had passed. We both got on our phones to call and text families before getting on the plane.
Our first stop in Las Vegas was the mortuary, where Sue and her daughter were waiting. We were informed most of the paperwork had been completed by Sue, using Ted’s last name, and pretending to be his wife. Some of the information was wrong, such as his date of birth. Sue ardently argued it was 1936. The mortician used 1935, which was on Ted’s driver’s license. It was an awkward situation, which was tactfully solved by the mortician who insisted he couldn’t complete the paperwork until Ted’s nature son, Chris, arrived from Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon.
Our next stop was Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, a 730-bed facility in southwest Las Vegas that looks and feels old. The front doors opened to the crowded main entrance with a guard sitting behind the front desk. He directed us to the security office, located in emergency department to get Ted’s personal effects, which seemed like a bizarre place to keep deceased people’s belongings. We started down a long sterile, non-descript corridor, past an occasional prosaic framed picture, numerous closed doors, and polished linoleum floors with layers of wax, disguising their age.
A few people passed us, darted behind a door or turn down another indistinguishable hallway. We followed the signs, making several turns until we arrived at double-doors indicating we’d arrived at the emergency department. My first thought was apocalyptic.
Nearly every chair was filled. Along the walls were people in wheelchairs or sitting on the floor. Children. Adults. Elderly. Street people with their possessions by their side. People who looked somewhat healthy, and others no doubt regulars to the emergency department, especially the obvious homeless and indigent.
Rich knocked on the door of the security office, and was told they’d get Ted’s possessions shortly. After waiting twenty minutes, I decided to go outside where several ambulance were dropping off or picking up people. A woman approaching me, explaining her husband had been brought to the hospital earlier that morning after having difficulties breathing. She was hoping he’d be admitted. She commented Sunrise regularly turns away ambulance when their emergency room fills up.
Indeed Ted had spent several days in the Sunrise emergency department until they found him a “bed” in the hospital. On Yelp, the hospital barely gets 2.5 stars with most people complaining about the long waits in the emergency room, and subpar care.
After finally getting the handful of items Ted had in his room – including a shaver, phone charger, and stuffed teddy bear – we headed to Bullhead City, AZ.
After checking into the Tropicana Casino, across the Colorado River in Laughlin, NV, we headed to Ted’s house. While we knew it was a disaster from previous visits, we weren’t prepared for the extent of the disarray and filth. And unlike other visits, it was now up to us to clean up the mess, and figure out what to do with his properties, which included a large 4-bedroom house, and three dilapidated mobile homes.
To be continued…
The Saturday before Christmas, Rich and I watched Hector and the Search for Happiness, a movie starring Simon Pegg who plays a psychiatrist stuck in his daily routine for which he experiences little happiness. He sets out on odyssey to unearth what makes people happy.
By the end of the film, he’s experienced fear, elation, wonderment, and many unexpected adventures, which lead him to the path of happiness and contentment. The film is worth watching in that my saccharine description glosses over his journey across several continents, people he meets, and lessons he learns.
For our recent trip to Bullhead City, Arizona, I decided to take notice of the genial people we encounter, and harvest their zeal, optimism, and outward happiness.
Early Sunday morning, we boarded a shuttle at the Bellingham International Airport. The driver was jovial, sharing that he had five daughters (two were twins), nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He laughed, recalling the many pranks he’d played on them, including insisting a large, gaudy-painted sphere was an alien egg. He commented that one of his daughters still displays the “egg” on her mantel, and eagerly tells visitors how her father tricked her as a kid.
His favorite prank, which he’s been reenacting for his grandchildren, is using wire ties to secure bananas to his cherry tree. He then invites his grandchildren to harvest the bananas, confirming his tall tale that cherry trees can indeed grow bananas!
We wished him a merry Christmas, and the joy of dreaming of new antics to entertain his daughters’ children.
As we went through the security line at the airport, we commented to the TSA agent it’s a pleasure flying out of Bellingham with short lines and easy parking. The agent added the security personnel are also nicer. While they’re certainly nicer, Rich had to go through additional security screening because he left his wallet in his pants pocket when he went through the body scanner.
Our flight to Las Vegas was pleasant. Halfway through, we struck up a conversation with one of the flight attendants, a 26-year old woman who said her job is super fun, and that I should consider becoming a flight attendant. I was sold after she told me the oldest person in her class was 68, training is just 5 weeks in length, the benefits are great, and after a year, you can choose how much you want to fly. The drawback is that I’d need to commute to Seattle, which is one of Alaska Airline’s bases.
Julie the flight attendant? Maybe.
After landing in Las Vegas, we drove to Laughlin and Bullhead City, which are on opposite sides of the Colorado River, straddling the Nevada and Arizona borders. After seeing Rich’s step-father, enjoying Mexican food, and settling into our room at the Tropicana in Laughlin, we walked to a quickie mart for soda and nibbles. Two women were behind the counter. One was an older woman. The other, a younger, heavy-set woman with a man’s haircut.
No doubt, working at a quickie mart isn’t the most enjoyable job, especially if you work the graveyard shift. However, both were affable, and eager to help me overcome my indecisiveness about the best “snack” to purchase. After deliberating, and enjoying the lighthearted banter, I settled on Tic Tac mints.
The exchange was so amusing, the next evening we returned, hoping to find the same clerks. This time, there were two men who were equally pleasant, but lacked the joie de vivre of the women.
One of the reasons for our visiting Bullhead City was to check on several rentals overseen by Rich’s step-father, who’d been hospitalized since September. There’d been several issues with one of the renters – a woman and her two young daughter – so we prepared for a confrontation. Instead, we arrived to find them in the midst of moving out.
The woman overseeing the move was a relative, dressed in a tank top with crude tattoos on her arms and chest, cigarette dangling from her yellowed fingers, and hair in a scraggly ponytail, emphasizing the blemishes and wrinkles on her face. Her looks, however, were deceptive.
She was courteous, conscientious, and cooperative, working with Rich to identify issues with the rental (a double-wide mobile homes that’d seen better days), and discuss what needed to be done to lockup the property to prevent vandalism.
In the property next door – also a rental owned by my father-in-law – lived a woman and her mother. They had six small dogs, four cats, and several cages of birds in their single-wide mobile home. While they obviously had way too many pets, it was hard to overlook their soft heartedness. They no doubt had to stretch their meager welfare and social security payments to provide for their furred and feathered companions.
Difference between Happiness and Meaning
Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, who wrote the bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which details his experience in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, champions the difference between those who lived and those who died while imprisoned hinged on whether they had “meaning.”
Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. Whereas simply pursuing happiness doesn’t result in consistency of happiness.
Many of the people we met during our trip had challenging lives, but they had meaning. We learned the woman who was helping moved the family from my father-in-law’s rental was an aunt who’d previously been instrumental in raising the mother. For the past eight months, she’d cared for the woman’s children who worked 45 minutes away. She explained how she’d walked the girls to the school bus stop every morning, and ensuring they had what they needed at night. The meaning of her life was to care for others.
Perhaps the meaning for the next-door neighbor with the multitude of pets is to take in unwanted and abused animals. The shuttle bus driver at the Bellingham Airport found meaning in delighting his grandchildren with playful antics.
A study in the upcoming issue of Journal of Positive Psychology associates leading a happy life with being a “taker,” while leading a meaningful life correlates with being a “giver.” Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study explains, “Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others.”
Because a “giver” may have to sacrifice happiness in order to achieve meaning, they tend to experience more stress and anxiety than happy people. On the other hand, happiness without meaning can result in a person being shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish, continuously seeing ways to satisfy their needs and desires, while avoiding unnecessary entanglements.
The Declaration of Independence states the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness isn’t guaranteed, just the freedom to pursue it. But like Hector in the Simon Pegg movie, a more satisfying goal might be to find ones meaning, and thereby, lead a more caring life.