Attorney, writer, judge, dance caller -- just a few of Merri's 'jobs.' She's a dynamo, always working on something.
I would be embarrassed to be a cliche of the married man whose wife is his best friend except this is Merri Rudd. I would need terabytes to begin to describe her and our wonderful life together.
Merri's account of the birthday weekend is more complete than mine. Here 'tis.
Starting May 16 our company began to arrive for Mark's big weekend. Forty-seven is a magic number for their high school group, dating back 30 years. It's a random prime number that appears everywhere: Star Trek, the miles across of the iceberg that just broke off Antarctica, the number of hours Rachel was in labor on "Friends," the lab number in the season finale of "Alias," etc. So Mark and his friends have been celebrating their 47th birthdays this year in style. Mark went back to DC in Jan. for his friend's Fred's 47th. Fred and Robert came here from D.C. and John Stewart came from London last week. Here is Mark's story.
Our friend John Stewart from London made it here OK last eve, but his suitcase didn't. They finally did deliver it this morn. Another friend Robert Coontz missed his flight this morn, didn't get on stand-by, so is currently stuck in Baltimore, and a 3rd friend Fred Reiner should be here within the hour. The head ranger called and e-mailed Mark that this campground where we're going (where we've never actually been) is about the last one open in the state, 13 miles into the woods, "cold camping" only so no filet mignon. Hopefully no one else will be there. Donavon decided not to go with the 2 little ones, and Mary Smith may come tomorrow. Steve from Montana canceled. I'm trying to eat lunch while the phone rings every 2 minutes with some new change in plans. I cut up the pan of almond fudge and am eating pieces for strength or whatever.
What's the lesson? That good things are worth struggling for? Be prepared for changes? I don't know.
Well, it's 4:32 pm Friday, and I'm still here, by myself in the house. Robert didn't get on his first stand-by flight, but is now en route, due in at 9 pm. En route Robert had rented a hotel room and car to meet us there in the morn, but now we can get him. I canceled his rental car, but he's gonna keep his hotel room for a quiet night after 9 hours in airport and 5 in the air.
Mark and John Stewart broke down exactly 47 miles south of Albuq. in my truck with the camper, much of the gear, and the dog. Our mechanic closes at noon on Friday, but happened to answer the phone about 3, so AAA towed them to the mechanic. They just got there and Jeff the mechanic's looking at the car. We managed to catch 5 other folks who were heading to the woods and stop them, so they'll come by here after 6 for the burgers we wouldn't have been able to cook in the wilderness.
Meanwhile, Fred (the good child) arrived right when and where he was supposed to with proper gear, but not too much. Meg came over and the 3 of us hung out. They have gone out on errands, so here I am waiting for the next phone call and whatever that might bring. At one point, I sat in my chair and laughed and laughed because it was all so pathetic. Poor Mark, his big weekend that he's been planning for a year, one hurdle after another. He dyed his hair henna/chamomile strawberry blond yesterday, and at least that didn't blind him (one of the possible side effects).
Meg and Fred arrived home from errands with their ice cream, moments later Mark and John drive up in my purple truck with the camper on it. "I need a beer!" John and Mark said in unison. So they popped a cold one and the 5 of us plus dog sat on the front porch to hear stories.
I can't begin to re-create the story: Mark and dog waiting in the hot truck for John to get new pants and shorts before they hit the road, Mark ripping his favorite shorts while putting ice in the camper frig, the truck lurching and sputtering and finally dying 47 miles from Albuq. etc. But something about the absurdity and bad luck of it all had everyone on the porch laughing til tears were running down their faces. In the middle of it all, a poor canvasser Ray from PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), walks up to the porch, barking dog and laughing adults aside, and earnestly tries to recruit members to his cause. They were hassling him, despite agreeing with his causes, I went to start the grilling fire out back, and Ray finally figures out he ain't gonna get much from the group. I think Mark gave him $4, half of what was in his wallet, to make him go away.
They still hadn't gotten to the part where they told us what was wrong with the truck and how they were able to drive it home so soon from getting to the mechanic. And it'd been an hour since they'd started spinning tales. It became a joke, that hearing what was wrong with the truck was going to be anti-climatic. (Turned out a grounding wire hidden under some other part was loose, and all because of it, the truck died. It probably got loosened when they worked on the truck the Monday before. Apparently Jeff spotted it immediately, tightened it, started the truck, and told them they could head to the woods. He was a bit embarrassed and didn't charge them, even though he said someone might have loosened it 3 years ago...hmmmm. that didn't really make sense that the truck would work all those years) But we all felt to go tonight would be certain doom (Robert still hadn't arrived) and others were headed over for dinner.
A little while later the Mullanys arrived and our friend Mary Smith, whom we'd called in the middle of this, then Meg's hubby Stewart, and Donavon, wife LaVern, their 3 little boys, and Peter showed up. We cooked out Mark's famous 5-meat burgers (beef, turkey, lamb, buffalo, and hot sausage, plus about 2 cups of garlic, hot peppers, mushrooms, onions, etc.) and hot dogs for the 17 of us. Plus used the spinach salad Meg and I had made for the following night, chips/salsa, and ice cream. Ironically, we wouldn't have been allowed to cook out in the woods due to severe fire restrictions, so had a great meal on a beautiful, cool evening with a spectacular sunset. Mark's greatest fears realized: that he'd be stuck in the backyard all weekend cuz we wouldn't be able to find a campsite! Except he had fun and knew he'd try for the campsite the next day.
Robert got in around 9:30 pm and we went and got him, brought him back, fed him, then Mary Smith took him to his motel around 11:30. We were pooped, I had cleaned up while people hung out in the living room, plus we walked the dog late, etc. Guess Mark, John, Fred and I got to bed after midnight.
Despite being tired everyone was up at 7 a.m., rearing to try again. Breakfasts were consumed by some, Mark and John headed out to get breakfast burritos for themselves, Meg showed up before 9, Fred and I loaded our stuff. We called everyone else to say it was a "go" and we were heading out to get Robert at the motel. Mark and John and dog met us over there, as we planned to caravan with them, at least past the point of Friday's breakdown. All went well, a lovely blue sunny day. Stopped for gas and snacks in Socorro. Then John & Mark split to get coffee at McDonald's, a mistake it turned out.
The four of us headed down the road 32 miles, exited at the designated exit 115, looked for Hwy. 1 paralleling the interstate, consulted the map Mark had given us, noticed we had to cross over the interstate a block's worth to get to Hwy. 1, then parallel it and cross over it again. But we did. All was well. Clocked out 11.6 miles south on Hwy. 1, cruised 50' past the turnoff to gravel Forest Road 225, backed up, wondered where the boys were, and headed into the wilderness.
Mind you, we were going to a campground none of us had ever seen in an area none of us had ever explored. First it was tan rolling hills with an antelope grazing, mountains in the distance. Then it started to climb to pinon/juniper hills, then eventually ponderosa pines and rocky crags visible. Thirteen miles in was the campground. We got there about noon.
I guess we were naive to think we'd be the only ones there. There are 6 sites, 3 of them were taken. We staked out two at one end of this tiny campground filled with singing birds, tall trees heading up a narrow canyon, a rocky creekbed that must sometimes have a roaring stream in it, but was bone dry then, an outhouse, picnic tables, grills (which we weren't allowed to use) and three-sided log shelters in case of ? (wind? storms? bears? who knows?) The Mullanys showed up, claiming not to have seen Mark and John. We made so much noise, the young family next to us packed up and left (yippee!), leaving us three sites at one end. A truck was parked across the way, but they must've been backpacking because we never saw them. An hour and a half after the 8 of us got there, Mark and John finally showed up. At the turnoff at the interstate, they turned the wrong way, then came back, headed down to a farther exit, came back UP highway 1, missed the forest road turn, and, after finding it, waited for others at the turnoff. Hence, their hour and a half delay. Oh, well, all's well that ends well. We snacked, set up tents, including a big one that Marj Mullany used to use to sell crafts and play music inside--holds about 10-15 folks. Then cars kept coming, an unexpected volleyball friend of Mark's named Jim Beard, our couple friend Ken and Benita, who was just out for a day outing, and finally Peter, 14 in all.
Another vehicle drove in and took the last site at the other end up the canyon. As we hiked past, he and Mark spoke to each other. It was Harlow, a teaching colleague of Mark's, his wife and their baby daughter. He took a great photo of 10 of us, which I'll attach. We are in the middle of nowhere. It is a small state, as Susan and Plamen can tell you (we ran into folks I knew as we were travelling around the state).
We hiked up, up, up. 1700' up to be exact, about 1 and a half miles. There was dense forest, horned toads, hawks calling, turkey vultures circling, tanagers coloring the trees, incredible vistas up high where you could see for over 60 miles. Some folks turned back then. Others of us went on. More scenic views. More turned back until it was Mark, Fred, John, me and the dog heading less than another mile (where we saw a group of 4 heading down; they turned out to be the last group camped next to Harlow and we warned them there might be live fiddle music that night and to come on down), a flat saddle between two mountains, 360 degree views, and finally a rocky outcropping with a whole new set of forested, layered mountains behind it. Amazing! We'd come about 2.5 miles. We had no idea this gorgeous part of the state existed. No water anywhere. I don't know how all this life is surviving, but it was amazing. We were the only ones there at that point.
Turned back, hiked down, hung out, then had a gourmet supper of 5 kinds of cold cuts, 4 kinds of bread, potato salad, fresh fruit salad with lemon/cinnamon/yogurt dressing, almond fudge, beer, etc. Not filet mignon, but mighty fine. It started getting dark and a bit chilly. The whipperwills tuned up (didn't know we had them in NM!) and so did the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. Robert from DC plays music too, so Jim and Marj Mullany and Robert played tunes for 2 or 3 hours. I went to bed after walking the dog down the road and being scared by something BIG walking nearby, a deer or a bear, I wasn't sure (deer). Ran back to the music and light and crawled into bed at 10:30. Mark came in around midnight.
Wasn't too cold that night, but the whipperwills sang over Meg's tent all night, so she was tired. Had simple breakfasts, then Jim, Fred, Mark and John headed off for another hike while Robert, Meg, Marj, Peter, me, the dog, and the two Mullany kids Maddie and Riley stayed at camp. I visited with the group of 4 at the other end to see if we disturbed them. "No," they exclaimed, "We love fiddle music. We're contra dancers from Las Cruces! Sometimes we dance in Albuq." "You're kidding," I said, "so you know Lonnie and Julie (the dance organizers in Las Cruces)?" "Oh, yeah." "Well, I call down there sometimes and Mark Mueller fiddles for me." I say. "Really?" one of the girls says, "I saw him last weekend." One degree of separation...a darn small state. Turns out there weren't ANY strangers in this remote campsite!
We cleaned up, took down some tents, hiked to some cool rock formations, ate lunch (dinner leftovers). Peter drove Meg, me and the dog home about 12:30 so I could bake birthday cakes for the next party in our backyard that eve, Sun., May 19, Mark's actual b-day (candles to be blown out at 7:47 pm). Meg left her car for the boys to use to get back since they all 4 wouldn't fit in the camper truck. Got home at 3, delightful to have house all to myself. Made Rusti's famous carrot, mandarin orange, coconut spice cake with cream cheese frosting (spiked with bits of fresh orange rind and cinnamon, plus 47 candles in the shape of 4-7) and a triple fudge cake. Showered, laid down and did nothing for 1/2 hour.
The boys arrived home at 5:47 (guests were coming at 6:30), some showered. Robert decided to stay at a hotel near our house, so he'd be comfortable instead of sleeping on our floor. Mark took him to the hotel a mile away, then ordered 4 giant pizzas, didn't shower, but went to pick up the pizzas. It was his 47th order from this place, according to their computer. He forgot his wallet, so had to come home, get it, guests were already arriving. A bunch were folks who didn't get to go camping, but wanted to celebrate, 22 in all, including all the campers but the Mullany family. Our birding friend Dave Mehlman even brought his mom who was visiting from NY. It was another nice time in the backyard, except the winds kicked up just as we were trying to light the 47 candles. So all the bodies present formed a human windbreak around the cake and we lit them just in time for Mark to make a wish and blow them out at 7:47. We ate cake and ice cream, then most folks left.
Seven or 8 of us watched Mark read cards and open presents, then we plugged his digital camera into the TV and we got to re-live our camping trip, starting with leaving the driveway Friday morn, then the next shot is them broken down along the interstate, all the way up to hiking and cake/candles and opening presents.
Fred and John stayed with us Sunday night, and I cleaned up some, then Mark, Fred, and I walked the dog. All in all, we fed 88 meals in 48 hours.
Got up, got bagels, took Fred, John, Robert, and Mark down to my Court for a tour. John, legal counsel in London for a big charitable trust, was actually interested in the history and probate code! Then Robert/Fred walked downtown for shopping while Mark took John to the airport. Then they all shopped while I worked. We ate New Mexican food that eve and Robert and I waltzed in the living room. Robert finally stayed with us one night. Tues. morn Mark took the boys to the airport, then we did laundry and did nothing for our first company-free day in 6 days. Oh, wait, I didn't do nothing. I took Kathleen, my 86-year-old friend, to lunch and the doctor and Walmart. Got home at 3 pm, THEN did nothing!
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