I was in medical school, and it was the summer of 1986. Besides the fact that I needed money and drove an Ice Cream truck (yes, an Ice Cream truck) that summer, a more important thing happened. I drove from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Los Angeles, California in my little Chevy Sprint car. It had 3 cylinders just like a motorcycle and got great gas mileage. There was not a real gas shortage, but I was short on money. (Hence I drove an Ice Cream Truck ~ a pink one. No one would do that unless they really needed the money ~ actually it was quite fun but that's another story.)
In California for the summer with my son who was then 9 years old, he had a best friend named Milton. Milton was two years older than my son, putting him at 11 years of age. When I drove back to Tulsa go finish out another year at Oral Roberts University School of Medicine, I thought it would be nice for my son to have a friend with him. So we all drove back from Los Angeles to Tulsa, coursing along the 10 Freeway day and night. It was a long, hard drive. Milton started asking questions.
Mountains appeared before us. In the heat of the summer, one looked to the left and then to the right. Heat waves glistened their form above the arid desert. "When are we stopping to eat?" Milton asked. We stopped to eat, and we stopped to drink. Then we drove another 100 miles of flat desert as the mountains before us appeared closer and closer. Just as we passed the next mountain pass, yup. You guessed it. Another mountain pass was just in front of us, again. Again and again we went through this abyss of endless road and mountain passes. Milton was having a hard time, as this was quite monotonous. "Are we there yet?" I couldn't believe it when I heard it, as my son had never asked me that question before. "Wow, I said, you're not going to keep asking me, are you?" Well, you would have to know Milton to know what I did to stop him from asking me the same question.
"You Gotta Have Faith". I turned up the music. I had George Michael in my car, a tape. There were no DVDs, no CDs, no movies to watch. Only music. So I played the same tape, over and over again whenever Milton asked how long the drive was going to be. Each, time, I was hoping it was negative reinforcement, but I actually liked the tape so I just turned it up louder and louder each time it played. "Ugh!" they said in unison. "You are going to thank me for this when you grow up", I said, "because every time you hear George Michael, you are going to remember this trip to Carlsbad Caverns." They looked at one another, as I peered at them in the rear view mirror. Shaking their heads no, they were certain this was endless torture and it would never be a funny memory.
We stared at another mountain pass before us. One could not help but wonder about the frontier, the cattle and the wagons that had to tread across this ground hundreds of years ago. How did they do it on foot? It was hot. It was dry. It was cold at night. The pioneers didn't have Rest Stops and hotel rooms, and it seemed like such a hard drive.
To provide some relief on this unending trip, I told the boys that I would take them to Carlsbad Caverns. I had them look at the map as we turned off the 10 to drive south. Little Milton was beside himself with "You Gotta Have Faith" and as we neared the Caverns, he threatened, "This better be worth it." Again, you had to know him. My son, the ever-patient one, simply took it all in stride.
So we finally arrived at the Caverns, took the staircase and elevators down down, down, and it got cooler and cooler with each step. A welcome relief from the scorching heat, soon the stalagmites and the stalactites were jutting out in beauty all around us. "Oh, this is so worth it!" Milton exclaimed.
I just smiled.
At the evening's end, we were sitting on the edge of a cave. It was time for the bats to fly out. We waited and waited and you guessed it. Milton kept asking, "When are the bats going to come out?" The audience peered at him in frustration and then several people told him to "Hush!" Just then, we could hear it. My son sat patiently waiting, trusting me on this one, too. I'll never forget how much I realized who he was as a person just now. I really liked him.
Like the ripples of water at a stream, it was smooth and soft at first. Then as the bats neared, the enormity of their wings en masse revealed themselves. Whoosh! A giant swoop echoed throughout. There they went, just as fast as they came and in an instant or two, they were gone far away to look for food and stretch their upside-down wings from the effects of gravity.
Milton looked up at me and said, "This was Sooooo Worth it!"