A road trip! A road trip! Who doesn’t love a road trip! While mine down to Southern California thirteen days ago wasn’t exactly filled with Jack Kerouac moments, it was nevertheless an exhilarating break from the pressures of daily life about which I wrote in my previous newsletter.
The Thursday before last, I went south, from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Long Beach, which is a seaport that neighbors Los Angeles. My destination was the Queen Mary, an enormous ship originally designed to be a luxury ocean liner, but later used in World War II to transport Army soldiers back and forth across the Atlantic.
She is now refurbished to her original condition, and the lawns in front of her enormous berth are the site on which the Dalmatian Club of Southern California traditionally hosts two sizable Dalmatian Specialties, followed by “supported entries” at two enormous all-breed shows. All four take place within a jam-packed three days. Exhausting but exhilarating!
Mac accompanied me in the Suburban of my roommate-to-be, which was crammed with three people, Mac and Joie in their crates, and every piece of dog and human equipment we imagined we would need. Our trek past Los Angeles took us about eight hours.
The Queen Mary is a grand ship, built in Scotland in 1930. She boasts wide hallways, sweeping staircases, much mahogany woodwork, seven decks, three hundred and forty-six staterooms, capacity for two thousand people, and a history of being haunted. Though we never saw anything supernatural, we did have to leave our beds at four in the morning on Saturday when a fire was reported on our level by a disembodied voice speaking loudly into our room. Because no flames were ever seen by any of us, I did wonder later whether perhaps a disgruntled ghost generated the alarm.
To bring a raft of dogs (over fifty of our breed alone) aboard a luxury liner is a pretty amazing proposition. Cramming my roommate, myself, and the two rambunctious Dalmatians with all their paraphernalia, into the small stateroom was an amazing challenge.
However, we were soon settled into the tiny space, stowing everything into nooks and crannies: food and water bowls, gallon jugs of Crystal Geyser, bags of kibble, an electric cooler packed with cottage cheese, pumpkin and eggs for Mac’s special diet (as well as snacks for us all), dog beds, dog cookies, dog suitcases, show bags, people luggage, show clothes hanging in garment bags, and last but not least, two soft-sided crates for the dogs.
We had planned on having both Mac and Joie mostly loose in the room, but unfortunately Mac–a randy, unaltered two year old–found his roommate irresistible. He spent inordinate amount of his time trying to mount her in any and all spots: atop the twin beds, against the porthole wall, and even in the cramped bathroom. His determined attempts to achieve an impossible union (as Joie was not in season and wanted nothing to do with him) meant that my roommate and I spent much of our time early in the morning and late in the evening prying a strong adolescent dog off a very unhappy young girl. He certainly lived up to the nickname that Brad gave him as a puppy: Mac Attack.
Our days and nights were filled with walking the dogs, pottying the dogs, grooming the dogs and running around until our feet hurt. While these tasks were the mundane end of our trip, we also got the high “buzz” that comes from putting truly beautiful dogs through their paces in front of a judge. A little bit of nerves before you begin your turn doesn’t hurt, either.
We relaxed during this sunny hot weekend with good food and many margaritas. Some days we waited until dinnertime before raising those cold green concoctions, but on other days–when we just couldn’t wait to celebrate or cool off–we toasted each other in our canvas chairs under the shade of the big tent by the dogs’ crates, as soon as judging ended. I took as many photos as I could manage of the revelry and the competition, even though I ordinarily forget there is a camera in my ever-present iPhone.
The most remarkable aspect of these three days was the peace that came with all hustle and bustle and hard work. Showing my dog provides me with the enjoyment of a simple experience, keeping me centered in the here and now–a meditation on the moment. With dog in hand, I don’t think about the problems of daily life or the complications of the past or future.
All that occupies my mind is the challenge of making Mac behave in the ring–no mounting of the females–and showing himself to advantage. Even though we did not win a single ribbon at any of the four extremely competitive shows, I enjoyed just being at the Specialty and hanging out with a community of friends, as we pursued our mutual passion. We were creating new memories and they didn’t spring from our successes or failures, but from the pleasure of participation itself.
I think of the peace that my father used to feel while fishing, or that which Brad finds in sailing, and realize that taking my dogs to shows brings me the same kind of serenity. There are rituals involved in all three of these activities that bring comfort in their familiarity. Mine are: gratefully watching Brad clip and grind Mac’s toenails; giving him his bath, both of us slathered with shampoo and conditioner; trimming his coat with precision as he stands patiently on the grooming table; putting my entry number on the sleeve of my jacket with a double rubber band; and, finally, stepping into the ring with Mac to my left. My relaxation travels right down the leash to him, and so he relaxes, as well.
As the weekend went by, he and I performed better and better as a team. Many people think there is no art to the fancy of dog showing, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Mac and I had to “read” each other’s signals and synchronize our efforts–listening for verbal cues and, perhaps even more significantly, watching for body language.
Mac was judged on his structure, which is also shown off by collaboration–I had to “stack” him properly and then he had to hold the stance. “Movement” is the other element upon which Mac was evaluated, and this required us to run, in a fluid duet, around the circumference of the large ring several times. These elements combined to transform an adequate performance into a magical and intricate dance. It is this dance that has created an even stronger connection between the two of us.
The aftermath is rejuvenation. Those three days with my dog are an interlude that enables me to return refreshed to the novel that now occupies the majority of my creative effort. I came home ready to face my computer–as well as to greet Brad and Cody and Breeze with the joy that comes from the counter-intuitive adage: “distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
Though I might have enjoyed bragging that we did a lot of winning, instead I am just happy to report that Mac earned himself many compliments from other competitors I respect. We had a wonderful three days–despite the sore feet that comes from pounding around a show ring, the inevitable disappointment that one feels when exiting without a blue ribbon, and the fatigue that accompanies staying up late at night when you are lucky enough to party with friends.
In the end, the reward here is that I simply cannot wait for next year.