It seems to me that by the time you’re 50-ish, or in my case, just barely 60, you start to feel like you’ve been there, done that, gotten the t-shirt, and seen it all. And when you do look at the things that you haven’t done, a lot of them are either dangerous, stupid, too expensive, or maybe even childish.
Take sky diving, for example. You may have noticed that this is a big thing for people to do on their 21st, 30th, or maybe even 40th birthday, but by the time the latter milestones come along, it starts to sound like a very bad idea. Sky diving seems to have been replaced by ziplines, which seem to work well for the AARP set, of which I refuse to admit that I am a member. But, for the most part, I think ziplines are pretty silly, so there you are.
So what’s left? Well, you’re going to have keep reading to find out…
Our tribe includes Cindy, Maureen (both of whom I have worked with and travelled with before) and Maureen’s sister, Colleen. We are all experienced and reasonably jaded project managers. Earlier this year, after too much cold weather and a really lousy Monday, the four of us put on our Planning and Organizing hats and hatched an escape plan: Sedona. March. Be There. Aloha.
We decided to meet in Phoenix on St. Patrick’s Day, and then drive up to Sedona for a few days of much-needed R& R.
When I fly, I always do it old-school, just in case the plane goes down over a deserted island somewhere between Boise and Phoenix. I have a paperback book (Tina Fey’s Bossypants, one of the funniest books ever), a small notebook and pen, and a printed boarding pass. I also am wearing a watch because it makes me feel like a grownup. I never bring music along because I know that it is ONLY because of my incredible focus and concentration that this giant hunk of metal is staying suspended in the sky. I cannot afford to miss hearing a single sound.
But I think I did miss a memo…when did flight attendants start wearing disposable gloves? Not that I blame them. But it makes me feel like I am in dentist’s office. Trapped in the middle seat, flanked by a millennial male and a forty-something corporate type, they look at me as if to say, “Don’t talk to me and don’t ask me how to use your iPhone.” Sorry, guys, I don’t need you; I am perfectly happy hanging with Tina and watching the millennial pick the earwax off of his earbuds during the turbulence. It’s the little things.
I arrived first, on the early morning flight. I grew up in Phoenix, so it’s sort of like coming home, but after almost 30 years away, I don’t know where anything is anymore. Palm trees greet me like some kind of alien foliage. I picked up our fabulous Jeep Patriot rental, complete with its grabby breaks, questionable acceleration, and brake pedal designed for Big Foot. This would be our Sweet Ride from here-on out.
After my fantastic three hours of sleep and much-needed espresso with my friend Bill, whose very existence will remind you that being 68 can be a good thing, I contemplated the few hours I had left until the girls arrived. I could hit The Heard Museum or search out my favorite Mexican food restaurant from when I was a kid, but no, wait, there was a better option: Work on my first sunburn of the season.
I beat my bathing suit into submission and made my way to the hotel’s paltry pool, full of kids and helicopter parents. Note that my list did not include sunblock. Are you kidding? I lasted 45 minutes. That’s all it takes for me, with my World War II gene pool of English/German blood.
I picked up the rest of my tribe mid-afternoon and was instantly pleased that I had my swanky Jeep Patriot, after I saw the size of Maureen’s suitcase, which could block the sun.
When you travel with two Irish Girls on Saint Patrick’s Day, believe me, they take it seriously. We had the foresight to pick the quintessential steakhouse in Phoenix for dinner: Durant’s. For more about this amazing step back into time with today’s prices, check out my earlier post regarding my birthday present there: It Sure Beat The Hell Out Of Skydiving
We also had the foresight to stay in a hotel directly across the street from Durant’s. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, after our four-hour meal.
This is the kind of dinner that requires training, both in alcohol and food consumption. Being the experienced consumers that we are, we spent a few minutes ahead of time, to come up with our alcohol-consumption strategy. The Irish Girls dig Jameson’s…but the restaurant is famous for their martinis…or maybe we should just stick to wine? Nope. We settled on starting with four vodka martinis, please. And then we’ll switch to wine. No big deal; this is not my first rodeo.
Let’s not forget, I brilliantly prepared for the inevitable overconsumption of the evening by getting three hours of sleep, living on caffeine until noon, dehydrating myself by the skimpy pool, and eating a veggie burger at the Burger King, fifty feet away from the hotel. Yeah, I was ready.
And, lest it escape your brief glance, these martini glasses are BIG. Trying to hold them with one hand and keep the nectar from slopping out isn’t easy; they really require two hands until the olives are eaten and the level drops. But I can’t do that; holding a martini with two hands is just wrong; it’s not a baby bird, for heaven’s sake. I opt for drinking down the nectar instead and saving the olives for later. Probably a mistake. I know that now.
We were then seated at the best table in the house, IMHO. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe used to frequent this restaurant, back in the day, and this was their booth. So, our sorry asses were seated where theirs used to be. We refused to worry about our sorry asses on this trip because Maureen and Colleen informed me that calories don’t count outside of your zip code. If only I had known this earlier!
Our highly professional and delightful waiter, Vince, clearly had experience with project managers on the lam. He made great wine recommendations that didn’t break the bank and we happily settled in for the long haul. Best Oysters Rockefeller EVER. Best Caesar Salad EVER. Most amazing $57.00 tenderloin and garlic mashed potatoes EVER. A four-girl acapella group came by and sang “My Wild Irish Rose” for us and wouldn’t take a tip…it was on the house…that’s Durant’s for you.
By the time our dessert arrived, three petite Crème Brulees (Frangelica, chocolate, and berry), I was done. While I can normally eat my body weight in crème brulee, I just sampled the chocolate and gave up. I categorically refuse to leave wine that I ordered, but maybe I should have. My head was drawn to Colleen’s right shoulder like a moth to a flame, as sleep was threatening to overtake me. The rest of the girls, in keeping with the spirit of the night, ordered a Jameson’s on the rocks. Not me. We paid the hefty bill, somehow managed to cross Central Avenue without getting hit by a car or the light rail, and stumbled up to our rooms. If this is my last meal, I am OK with that.
My first thought the next morning was: What the hell did I post on FaceBook last night and did I send any embarrassing text messages? I grabbed my glasses and phone to check. Whew, just one typo and a bit of rambling. Oh, it could have been so much worse.
And we finally have an answer to the age-old question: How many hungover project managers does it take to load four suitcases into the back end of a Jeep Patriot? Answer: Three (it would have been four, but I was fiddling with my sunglasses at the time). We piled into our Sweet Ride and headed north for the two-hour drive to our destination.
Sedona is an alternate reality, full of hippies, aging psychics, skinny outdoorsy types with substantial trust funds, and people wearing way too much turquoise jewelry and fringe. Oh yeah, and then there’s the scenery; it’s spectacular and changes every hour of the day. As an old friend of mine once said, summing it up quite simply: “It’s so red there.”
The main street was packed with tourists of all ages and ethnicities. What IS it about going to beautiful places that makes people want to shop instead of exploring the scenery? It must be the vortexes here. There are rumored to be four energy vortexes that claim a variety of healing powers, but I’m pretty sure at least one of them is a jewelry vortex. But yet, there is something about this place that makes you want to get your hands on something beautiful and take it home with you.
If nothing else, these vortexes seem to have the power to make it easy to spend ridiculous amounts of money on food, like we did at a fancy Mexican food place, for a much-needed lunch and a small amount of the Hair of the Dog. Don’t judge me…
We meandered through the afternoon, strolling through the shops, taking photos, buying this and that, and eventually enjoying the lovely Cinder Dry Viognier that Cindy had stowed in her luggage (the only benefit of checking luggage, IMHO) at our hotel, while overlooking the golf course. We opted for a simple, cheap meal at our hotel bar, and decided to rest up for tomorrow. It was going to be a very big day…
Colleen and Maureen had psychic readings scheduled for late morning, so Cindy had a heavenly facial and then we amused ourselves at a beautiful (read: expensive) shopping area that is largely unpronounceable, called Tlaquepaque. We visited stunning art galleries, run by aggressive Buddhists with Big Gulps full of Diet Coke next to the cash registers. That combination just didn’t work in my head, somehow. But that’s just me. Maybe I missed another memo.
The four of us gathered at a lovely outdoor café for lunch and to get a little liquored up before our afternoon’s Main Event: Getting tattooed.
Since I’ve never had a head injury, you might question the whole tattoo decision, and maybe you’re right. Time will tell. But it’s just one of those things.
Only in Sedona, can you be munching on your chicken salad sandwich with a glass of cold chardonnay, and hear people at every table around you discussing their chakras and past lives, probably for their first time. But not us; we’re discussing our tattoos. Maureen and Cindy are still on the fence; and for reasons that astound even us, Colleen and I are still 100% committed. Second glass of chardonnay? Sure! I think we’re gonna need it.
Once you get a bit older, there are fewer “firsts” to experience. We all have firsts in our lives and, hopefully, remember them with great fondness. Maybe it was your first kiss, the first time you, well, you know, or the first time you tasted scotch. But having spent some time on this planet, new firsts are getting harder and harder to come by and I miss them. I’m willing to bet they still can still be powerful, enjoyable, and truly memorable experiences. And, in this case, probably also painful.
I found myself getting a little nervous as I piloted our Sweet Ride a few miles south to Physical Graffiti in Oak Creek Village; I don’t think I was alone in this. We walked into the tattoo parlor, staffed that day only by the owner, Adrian, a 40-something guy with much to recommend him, on many levels. Even after two glasses of wine, there was nothing we could do or say to make it seem like we belonged here. And yet, here we were. Adrian acted as if he had packs of ancient project managers walk through his door every day. Bless him.
Cindy and Maureen soon got on-board with their tattoos and Adrian got to work finalizing our designs while we filled out the mandatory paperwork. Then Dawn walked in the door.
Dawn, whose husband was in the process of getting discharged from the hospital (for reasons she did not divulge; I suspect a sex change; it seems to be as common as gall bladder removal these days), at the tender age of 53, had picked this exact moment to get her nose pierced. Sensing our communal nervousness, Cindy and I held her hands while the deed was done. She didn’t flinch a muscle and giggled like a school girl who had just been kissed by the cutest boy in class. Oh, what a feeling…another first! And then she was gone.
By this time, the chardonnay had long worn off, but Dawn’s act of bravery buoyed our waning courage just a little bit. Getting poked used to mean something else, but I guess it’s time to get poked…in Sedona. What was happening to my moral compass?
There’s something deliciously fun about doing something your father would roll over in his grave about or your husband might be pissed off at you for. And then Colleen uttered the sentence of the day: “Go big, or go home.” In an uncharacteristic act of bravery, I volunteered to go first.
I promised myself I wouldn’t say something silly like “Be gentle,” but somehow I’m sure I did…
About fifteen minutes later, after happily listening to Stevie Ray and Led Zeppelin, it was all over. I had chosen a small green heart for my first tattoo, on the outside of my right ankle, a much simpler and smaller design than the rest of my tribe had chosen. Yeah, it hurt, but it wasn’t that bad; I guess I was just lucky.
In reality, I had been considering getting a tattoo for probably five years. I had finally settled on a green heart as a symbol of love for all of the big Greens and little Greens in my life.
So, while it might appear to have been an impulsive decision, trust me, it wasn’t. I am not famous for being impulsive, although I suppose I have my moments (like from ages 18-27). Probably like most project manager types, however, I have to plan to be spontaneous.
So for people like us, it’s somehow liberating to do something that so many people think you shouldn’t. Yeah, it’s just a little thing on my ankle, but it’s actually much, much more. It’s another first. And firsts are very precious and rare things these days.
Cindy, Colleen, and Maureen then each took their turns in Adrian’s chair:
Adrian did a fantastic job of making the most out of the designs we had picked. He was deft, capable, focused, and very patient with us. As soon as we were all done, the pain instantly subsided, and we all felt like we had done something significant; something we had been overthinking for way too long.
We were downright giddy, as we headed back to our hotel, to enjoy a Jameson’s on the rocks to celebrate the experience. We applauded our bravery and stupidity, all in one gulp. Maybe tattoos are some new rite of passage for us aging Boomers, but what the hell. Maureen and Colleen would get instant street cred with their teenage daughters; Cindy and I would get grief from our husbands, no doubt. Yeah, whatever. “My body, my rules,” right?
We high-fived, and dressed for one more fine meal in Sedona before heading home the next day. A few hours later, we were still thrilled with what we had done. While sipping the last of my wine, I wondered if there are other things that I’m tempted to do, but am too busy overthinking them to actually do. My runway is getting too short for too much overthinking.
Like an aging rock band, a reunion tour of our new tribe is bound to happen, somewhere else, someday soon. Like pricking our fingers together in a treehouse when we were nine, this communal tattoo experience has created a bond that won’t disappear overnight. Hopefully never.
Maybe this first will lead to many more firsts. I sure hope so, because this one sure felt good. I guess I just have to admit that under my cold, calculating, project manager’s heart, there beats the heart of a true romantic. Don’t tell anyone, OK?
And then, BOOM! Back to reality. Back to work. Painful re-entry. Then Cindy and I came down with the same nasty bug a few days later, charting its painful course identically. I’m still feverish as I write this, so cut me a little slack, please. All I’ve eaten for the last seven days is Goldfish crackers and Nyquil (on the rocks, with a twist). But I’m still smiling about our trip…and my tattoo.
I can’t wait for my next first, whatever and whenever it may be.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.