I was riding in a car down a steep mountain gravel road. On either side of the car were bright orange rocks. The orange rocks stretched for what seemed like miles and miles. At the tops of the rocks were spiral-shaped points like the turrets of a castle spiking the clear blue sky above. It was a hot, summer day in New Mexico. My husband was driving. I was riding shotgun, and my daughter, nephew, and sister were sitting in the backseat. We were going skiing.
We drove past a fancy lodge made of red cedar. In front of the lodge, was a bright blue swimming pool. People lying on chaise lounge chairs surrounded it.
“I want to stay there next time,” I said to my husband. It looked like a first-class kind of joint—the kind of joint where waiters fetch pink drinks with yellow umbrellas while you lounge poolside. And all you have to do is lie back, relax, and tip well.
“It looks expensive,” he replied.
“I don’t care. Look how much fun those people are having. The water looks so clear and cool. I want to swim in that pool.”
In the corner of the lawn was a bubbling hot tub. “Look”, I said as I pointed to the rising steam. “They even have a hot tub. You like hot tubs. We should stay there.”
My husband looked over to survey the clouds of steam and the crowd of sweaty people surrounding the gurgling water. “Maybe next time,” he said with longing in his voice. We were staying at the Budget Hotel and all five of us were sharing one room. My sister came along only to watch her son ski. She kept insisting that she would not ski—even though no one asked her to.
“I’m not skiing,” she said over and over again.
We had left our own skis in the hotel because my husband had found a deal on a rental package. “If we rent skis,” he explained, “we get emus for free.”
We were going to this particular ski resort because they were the first ski resort in America to offer emus for rental. Emu skiing was the rage in Europe; it was the biggest thing since snowboarding. The rental emus each came with a harness. The skier held onto the harness, and the emu pulled him across the snow. Emus look like ostriches and have very long skinny legs. They are lightweight, which keeps them from sinking in the deep snow. They run through the snow very fast, sometimes reaching speeds of sixty miles per hour. The snow in New Mexico is very dry and soft, like baby powder; and even though the temperature is pushing 90, it does not melt.
I am wearing my ski suit—nylon pants and jacket—hat, scarf, and heavy gloves. I’m hot so I unzip my coat. Everyone else is wearing shorts and swimsuits. We wait in the rental line for the longest time. The kids working behind the counter are very slow. I asked for a size eight boot. They sent someone down to the storage shed at the base of the mountain to get them. It took nearly two hours.
“If I had known it would take this long, I would have taken a pair of nines. My feet are very wide. I can wear nines—no problem,” I said.
“You asked for eights, we’re giving you eights,” the kid said.
By the time I got my boots, everyone else was waiting impatiently by the car. My nephew, Sam, had his boots on and was ready to go. My husband had bought the ski passes. They were all crabby.
“Did you get poles for me?” I asked.
“We don’t need poles for emu skiing,” said my husband. He took a deep breath and sighed loudly so that I would know just how annoyed he was.
“Of course, I need poles. It’s my first time. What if I fall? How will I get up?”
I went back into the shop to get poles.
“What size do you need?” asked the kid behind the counter.
“Three—maybe three and a-half feet long,” I said.
“They don’t come in inches,” he said. “You have to order them by centimeters.”
“We didn’t study the metric system when I was in school. I don’t understand centimeters and grams.”
The kid looked at me and rolled his eyes like I was clueless. “They come in centimeter,” he said. “If you don’t know your size, I can’t help you.” He turned his back on me and started to help the next customer.
I walked back to the car where my family was waiting. I turned to my daughter, who is very good in math, and asked, “How may centimeters in a yard?”
“Mom, I’m on vacation. I can’t be expected to do math problems.” She gave me that ‘I’m a teenager-don’t-mess-with-me-attitude’ and turned away.
“I’ll bet Sam knows,” my sister said. “He’s a good kid. He spends nine hours a week at chess club. He doesn’t even like girls yet; so, he doesn’t have an attitude problem.”
That’s right, I thought to myself. ‘Your kid is perfect and mine is a brat. I agree—I agree—I agree. You’re the best mother in the world and I’m a failure.’ “All I want to do is get some damn ski poles. Can’t anyone tell me what size I need?”
“You probably need 54s,” Sam replied with a smug look on his face.
“Nerd,” my daughter said under her breath. He had broken the unwritten teen-age law that forbids speaking to parents in public.
I walked back in the shop. “I’ll take 54s,” I said confidently.
“We’re out of 54s,” said the kid behind the counter.
“If you don’t hurry,” my husband yelled through the ski shop door, “all the emus will be gone.”
“I’ll take whatever ski pole you have,” I screamed. I was desperate. If they ran out of emus before we got there, everyone would hate me. We would have driven all the way to New Mexico and slept in a cheap motel room for nothing. Worse yet, we waited in line to rent crappy ski equipment when we had perfectly good equipment of our own back at the motel.
The kid at the counter handed me a pair of ski poles that were only as high as my knee. They looked like they were made for toddlers. “This is all we have left,” he explained.
“Fine. I’ll take them.”
I returned to the car. Everyone was waiting for me. They were all mad.
“I paid for a full-day pass and it’s almost one o’clock,” said my husband. “I could have bought a half-day pass. It would have been cheaper.”
“I’m sorry,” I said as I loaded my equipment onto the ski rack. We drove in silence to the base of the mountain. We saw skiers zooming past, pulled by big, strong emus across the white mountain. They left trails of white puffy snow in their wake. Everywhere we looked, people were laughing and having a great time.
There was a sign with a large white arrow that pointed down a steep driveway. ‘Emu Corral’ the sign said. Inside the corral, were three sickly looking birds. They looked more like large turkeys than emus.
“Great. There are not enough emus for everyone,” said my husband. He glared at me like it was all my fault. “I spent all this money, and now we can’t even ski.”
“I’m not skiing,” my sister said firmly as if someone had asked her.
“The only reason I came with you on this stinking trip is because I wanted to emu ski,” said my daughter. “I gave up a Saturday night for this trip.”
“I’ll ski regular style,” I said. “I have poles. I don’t mind.”
“Are you sure?” my husband asked.
“Okay, then.” He agreed too quickly, without protest.
I got in the singles line for the ski lift as they sped away behind their emus. I was glad they were gone. They were getting on my nerves