As I write this, I am sitting on a big sofa in a big atrium in a big hotel in Grand Teton National Park. There is a big picture window that looks out over the big mountain range: Think of the lodge in North by Northwest.
My mother and I have decided that our biggest travel pet peeve is the people who expect the world to come to a stop so they can take a photo. Second, of course, is those people who choose to take photos of things my mother and I deem completely stupid, such as the guy who aimed his 10-inch scope between our heads at the lunch counter to take a picture, seemingly, of the syrup cruets. Or the family that blocked the entire exit with a boat-attached truck to take a group shot of themselves in front of a "Please do not feed the bears" sign.
But I suppose pointing out things that drive us crazy when we travel is a way to assuage any anxieties that might arise from each other's company. If you have ever traveled with your parents, you know what I am talking about. And I'm sure I am also hitting my mother's buttons right and left, as only family members can do.
Case in point on the button pushing: Last week at MoMo's, that colossal maroon and yellow restaurant on Second Street across from the ballpark, I watched one such unpleasant reunion in action. You've probably passed MoMo's on Muni. It has a large eating area out front, with a pimento-filled green olive sculpture. The olive is also in the restaurant's sign. I have decided that any place with an olive in its logo is usually suspect. It's sort of like a steakhouse that has a cow in its design: overkill. But MoMo's is the kind of place you take your parents when they are in town from Boise, Idaho. First you catch a game, then dinner at MoMo's.
There was a family scenario going on across the bar the night I was there, featuring a retired couple with their daughter and her boyfriend. The young woman had that beleaguered look of someone who has been trying to entertain her folks for one too many days. There seems to be a point in your twenties when your parents drive you absolutely batshit, and this feeling had apparently reached its peak with this gal. Not that I didn't feel for her. Her mother was wearing a patchwork blazer and bright red slacks with navy socks and green Crocs. Her dad was wearing chinos pulled up to his nipples and a fanny pack. And the questions just kept on coming: "How long has the stadium been there?" "What is calamari? Is that like a white wine or something?" "Whatever happened to that Ron guy you worked with who was so nice?"
I sat on a stool at the long bar and ordered a steak. The bartender, when he wasn't serving, was busily scrubbing the large mirror behind all the bottles. This didn't seem to be the sort of place where bartenders are allowed to just stand there. MoMo's is just as big inside as the outside promises it to be, with a luxurious dining room and a bar area filled with old Giants photos and knickknacks. Muzak, pure and simple, pours out of the speakers, but with a jazzy kick, like KKSF crap played by the Little Rascals. "Scoobiedoobie squeeb squeeb squeeb mickshoogy ..."
The joint has to be a cash cow. The location alone means that it gets packed before and after games, but it has another sign of being flush: a retinue of stick-up-the-butt manager types running around. These are the people who say "We" instead of "I," and "need" instead of "want," as in, "We are going to need these tables cleaned up." Or "We are going to need more bread at the service station." I've worked for these people before. They "need" something, all right, but it ain't more bread for the service station.
My bartender seemed happy enough, though. He was fantastic, actually, and I'm sure the young woman with her family was relieved to have someone else field her parents' questions.
Badoowah scoo scoo scoo shewop squeeeeep mickshoogy.
"So," the girl's dad said to her boyfriend, "Jacob, tell me more about this DJ thing." Oh, lord. Jacob went on to describe what he does, sort of; it sounded as though he were a musician who did session work with different people in the Bay Area. But the parents couldn't seem to move beyond the image in their heads of some guy wearing headphones at a wedding.
"So you make a living doing that?" asked the mom, who immediately realized it was kind of a rude question, so she added, "I mean, it's great that you get so much work." The daughter took a big swig of her wine.
As for me, I was having déjà vu. It's funny how the same conversations replicate themselves between parent and child over the decades, like some Joseph Campbell journey of the hero. How many times have I sat there while a musician boyfriend tried to persuade my dad that what he did involved some sort of higher brain function?
I finished my steak and paid, and the family shuffled into the dining room for dinner. I knew innately that there would come a time in the evening when the daughter would see her parents across the table, watch her mom use her fork in that odd way that she always does, and see her dad butter his bread by using the entire pat and not saving any for anyone else, and she would suddenly feel a wave of love. At least, I'd like to think so. Because in your twenties, your parents drive you insane, but you also begin to realize that they won't be around forever.
"Hey," my mom called over my shoulder, back at the Teton Lodge. She wanted me to get off the computer so she could message with her husband back in Minnesota. She has repeatedly called me by his name the entire time we've been together, usually after I make a bad joke.
"Bob!" she chides, then immediately says, "I mean, Katy!" This used to drive me nuts, but now I don't care. I began to realize a while ago that my mother will not always be here. She can call me Bob all she wants.