State of emergency

Five. It is literally five degrees outside. The state came by and plowed 66 this morning, and Grant took the laundry up to the laundromat in the truck stop to wash and dry because it’s obviously too cold to line dry anything, and we’ve got a lobby full of people.

Joey cleared and salted the paths from the rooms to the lobby, and Lil Miss appointed herself activities coordinator for the children stuck here as a result of the weather. Just about every flight in the country has been grounded, and the roads are still too dicey for most people to attempt — especially with blowing snow and the threat of highway closures farther west — so we are obviously packed.

I could do without the cold and the hassles, but I’m enjoying the little kids’ artwork that now graces my lobby. Lil Miss has kept the kids busy all afternoon with fingerpainting, tissue-paper suncatchers, Shrinky Dinks, and I don’t know what all else. She assures me that the glitter and scraps of paper will be removed from the lobby before she leaves.

Meanwhile, Grant won’t let me outside, lest I slip and fall on the ice, so I’ve spent most of the day in the kitchen, making the usual short-order breakfast, then a kid-friendly lunch of mac and cheese, PBJs, and carrot and celery sticks. A very sweet, very funny gay couple from Missouri took over cleanup duties when I started to run out of steam after lunch. Mike was raised by his Italian grandmother on The Hill in St. Louis and owns his own catering business, so he and Bill promptly commandeered the kitchen and announced that I would be taking the rest of the day off while they whipped up dinner for everybody. I’m not sure what we’re having, but it smells heavenly.

This place never ceases to amaze me. No matter who’s here or what the situation is, we always seem to end up with the perfect combination of talents, personalities, and ideas to keep things running smoothly. I am beginning to suspect that the Tumbleweed is some sort of odd wormhole through which blessings enter the universe. It’s certainly worked that way for me.

— Sierra

Wedding plans

Lil Miss — who is rapidly proving herself to be worth her weight in gold, as she is quite adept at running the wringer washer, processing credit-card transactions, and keeping track of reservations, all while listening to Joey’s endless stories and nodding at the appropriate times — has volunteered to help with the few details I have to arrange for the wedding.

Joey wants to make my bouquet, so Lil put herself in charge of acquiring materials and helping him with that project. She assures me that they will come up with something “appropriately garish, but not too embarrassing,” whatever that means. She also insisted on joining me for a dress-shopping excursion in Albuquerque yesterday, because — as she put it — “You know Mr. Loucks isn’t going to tell you if something makes your butt look big.”

If her parents ever get tired of her, I swear I am going to adopt this child. She reminds me of myself at 14, only much more practical.

I started to walk into a bridal shop on Nob Hill yesterday, but then Lil asked me what I thought one of those $500 dresses would look like the first time one of Coldwater’s brightest citizens bumped into me with a bowl of chili in his hand. I laughed and let her lead me into a hippy-dippy little vintage shop, where we both immediately zeroed in on a strange little dress made of several layers of filmy, paisley-patterned fabric in a range of dark colors. The top looks sort of like a poet shirt, and the skirt is long and flowing and very pretty. It looks nothing like a wedding gown, but it suits me, and I’m sure Sandy will approve. I bought myself a new pair of Birkenstocks and some vintage costume jewelry to go with it. The Birkies cost literally ten times as much as the shirt.

Grant assures me that he doesn’t care what I wear, because whatever I come up with will look just fine scattered across a hotel-room floor three hours after the wedding.

I’m so glad I’m marrying a man with such a strong sense of class and decorum….

— Sierra

Lil Miss

Grant sent a diminutive blonde teenager named Lillian into my lobby yesterday afternoon to inquire about a job.

Lillian, who hates her first name and just goes by “Lil,” is an honor student and president of Coldwater High School’s FFA chapter. Lil drives a ’73 Ford pickup she inherited from her late grandfather, loves history and geography, and assures me that there is not a motel guest alive who can make a mess any nastier than anything she’s cleaned up on her family’s ranch.

A well-known Route 66 historian happened to check in while I was showing Lil how to run the credit-card machine this afternoon. Upon hearing her name, he told her about another Lillian with ties to a historic motel on the Mother Road, then announced that Lil should henceforth be known as “Lil Miss.”

Lil Miss nodded. “I like that,” she said, her eyes downcast and her voice soft. “I like that a lot.”

After our guest headed off to his room, Lil Miss looked at me, tears brimming in her eyes. “Nobody’s called me ‘Lil Miss’ since Grandpa died,” she said. “That guy called me ‘Lil Miss’ because it reminded him of someone he obviously loved a lot, who also died. Isn’t that odd?”

I glanced at the picture of St. Julian the Hospitaller pasted onto a jar candle above the fireplace and smiled.

“Around here, ‘odd’ is relative,” I said, pressing a heart-shaped milagro into her open hand. “Welcome to the Tumbleweed.”