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22 – Wait, why am I a shark?

“I’m going to ask you some questions. Just tell me the first thing that pops into your mind.”

Mom is playing with her phone again. I’m driving the RV eastward on the freeway.

“Is this supposed to be some kind of Rorschach test?” I ask. “Because I should probably watch the road.”

“Just tell me your answers.”

“This isn’t on social media, is it? You know those quizzes are just mining for data.”

“No! It’s National Geographic. Come on, humor me.”

For the next few minutes, mom asks me random questions and I give her answers.

“Hmm. Looks like you’re a Mako,” she informs me.

“I’m a what?”

“You’re a Mako shark – fast, solitary, kind of dangerous.”

I wonder if I should feel insulted.

“Why am I a shark?”

“That’s the quiz. It tells you what kind of shark you’d be. You’re a Mako shark and I’m one of those… what do you call them? The big ones that filter the water to eat krill?”

“You mean whales?”

“Yes!” Mom is bouncing with glee. “I’m a whale shark!”

This is serendipitous because my mother is obsessed with the Blue Whale of Catoosa.

When she first started planning this adventure, she imagined a variation of the Route 66 trek. Then she realized that would be difficult given that, although some parts of the original Route 66 have been well-preserved, it’s been developed out of existence in some areas and consists of a not always well-maintained two lane road in the others. But that didn’t slow her down. She ordered her paper atlas and started researching points of interest along the general route.

From the beginning she has been adamant that even if we aren’t able to stop and enjoy the charms of any other roadside attraction, we will, without fail, stop for the Blue Whale.

Before we left, every day mom would text or phone with new details about the fascinating bits of Americana we’d be traveling past. It seemed just about every town along the way had something to offer, from the U-Drop Inn to Totem Pole Park, to the Cadillac Ranch. We Americans have a history of mythmaking (and odd choices about cultural appropriation), and it’s on full display along the highways and byways criss-crossing the country. There was a time when travel meant packing up the car for a long, slow (from our perspective) trek, and after hours on the road a stop to stretch and check out the wonders of giant balls of yarn or rubber bands was probably a welcome break. Not to mention the potential souvenir sales that awaited the entrepreneur savvy enough to come up with a great tourist pitch.

The upshot of all this was that even if we couldn’t travel back in time and howl our way along the mother road in a Triumph convertible, mom was determined it would at least be a Route 66 Americana-esque type road trip. She planned our entire route across the country around roadside attractions.

Then it turned out she was barely able to walk even with a walker (Note to self – I’m serious about timely hip surgery…) and we weren’t going to be able to explore them after all. The Blue Whale of Catoosa though, that one she refused to give up. She was going to see the whale even if I had to prop her in the walker seat and roll her over to it. She talked about it so much I guessed there had to be a story behind it.

I thought maybe it was something to do with the weeks before my parents’ wedding. Dad took a bus from Boston to Kansas to meet Pops (mom’s grandfather/adoptive father – it’s a very long story) and bought a brand new Mustang convertible in Garden City (No, he couldn’t drive it – at least not legally, since he was still legally blind.) before continuing on by bus to California to start his new job. Mom, who clearly got the better end of this bargain from a transportation perspective, drove the convertible to California to meet and marry him, with Pops and two siamese cats along for the ride. Apparently her penchant for traveling across the country with pets in tow formed early.

I ask mom about the Kansas to California wedding trip all those years ago, and the stories come rolling out. I learn, among other things, that she packed several cantaloupes for snacking purposes, but when she pulled the first one out in anticipation of a sweet, delicious treat, she discovered that the cats had chewed through the rinds and eaten the insides out of every single one. I had a vivid mental image of the cats rolling around in the back seat of the car with cantaloupe rinds stuck on their heads, while mom remained oblivious, busy ignoring the speed limit signs, chatting with Pops and accidentally swallowing a large bug or two that came flying over the windshield.

It figures that her cats would have strange eating habits, but I don’t blame them for taking it out on the cantaloupe. I’d have been pissed about spending 1300 miles riding in the back seat too. Mom was lucky they were only inclined to orneriness, rather than carsickness or vindictive hairball yakking.

“Okay, but what is it with you and the Blue Whale, mom? You’re obsessed.”

When I finally just ask Mom directly, I’m ready to hear a long, semi-operatic tale. Maybe she and dad stopped there on one of their many peregrinations and had one of those borderline unbelievable adventures they were both prone to having. Maybe she explored the endless fields of Kansas as a child while dreaming of becoming a marine biologist. Maybe she whiled away the hours reading Moby Dick under the cottonwoods on the bank of the stream that cut across the farm. Maybe it was learning about the trans-oceanic migration of whales that originally inspired her love of travel. Maybe a stuffed whale was the last gift her father gave her when she was a baby, before he went off to war and was shot down over Germany.

“Oh that,” she says. “It’s funny and quirky and the town runs it and it was built by a granddad for his grandkids. It’s just a great story. Besides, it’s just off the highway, so I thought it would be convenient.”

This is… anticlimactic.

“That’s it? You’ve been talking about it for two months because it’s conveniently located? What about the Cadillac graveyard? Or Paul Bunyan? Or the giant ball of yarn or whatever?”

“Well sweetie, none of that stuff is right off the interstate.”


“Once we decided it would take too long to actually follow Route 66 the whole way, there weren’t as many fun places to choose from. And if I only get one, it’s going to be the Blue Whale of Catoosa. It has a paved walkway, so I can wheel over to it. Or you can wheel me. I checked.”

Apparently my mother’s obsession with the Blue Whale of Catoosa is just a marriage of convenience. How non-operatic. How unromantic. How perfectly sensible. Which, come to think of it, certainly isn’t mom’s usual approach to adventure. One of these days I’m going to discover she was once a circus performer and dad invented bread slicers but was swindled out of the patent or something.

Family. The really interesting stories seem to pop up where you least expect them. And vice-versa.

1 Comment

  1. Mia

    Love this story ❤️ I now want to take the “what kind of shark am I test”.


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