Are we there yet?
Back in my journalist days, I wrote a column for a chain of newspapers. My editor, however, was the one who chose the headlines, and for this one he wrote:
Years from now, this vacation will only be a fond memory…
Well, since that was in 1991, I think this qualifies for the “years from now” part. I’m still waiting for the fond memories. Maybe it’s because I’m supposedly on holiday right now, and things really haven’t changed much. After last year’s fiasco, we did get a new car. This doesn’t come under the heading of learning our lesson, though, as much as learning that our old Classic (which had just vomited its engine across the Boulevard Périphérique in Paris) was, according to the technical diagnosis of the French mechanic, “kaput”.
This year, we vowed, things would be different. We had a new car with our new favorite feature—a warranty. Just like real grownups. And guess what? Warranties work! Kinda… I was backing the new car uphill at our holiday rental in rural Spain, and before I’d gone ten feet, smoke started pouring out. REALLY black, stinky smoke. Of course this had to happen just as our landlords were hosting a family party. Concerned Spaniards poured out to the street and surrounded the car, accompanied by a flood of concerned Spanish. (At least, that’s what I hope it was, although I suspect they were really saying, “Hey, look at this! That crazy American is at it again, and this time she’s burning a car in the driveway…”)
So. The warranty. What an amazing concept! An hour later, a smiling man with a tow truck showed up. (You have to understand—we are staying about 5 kilometers outside of an incredibly tiny village, and the directions to the house go something like “take the road out of town and go to the 3KM mile sign and then make a U-turn at the water tank and go down the little side lane (no, it’s a real lane, even though it doesn’t look it) and past the field with the donkeys on your left and the one with the cows on your right and then when you get to where it turns into a dirt path, send me a text and I’ll walk up and show you the rest of the way. If I get your text. Because there isn’t really a phone signal here so I have to stand at the top of the hill by the pool and wave my phone in the air. So yeah, that should end well…”
But there he came, and there went the car. A few days later, we got a call from the mechanic who said repairs would take “Semanas. Posiblemente muchas, muchas semanas …” [Weeks. Possibly many, MANY weeks…] I explained that we didn’t actually have muchas semanas because we had booked the car on the ferry to England and there weren’t any other spots available for months that would allow the dog.
For a country that adores all things canine, England is extremely concerned about the possibility of being overwhelmed by a flood of foreign dogs. Perhaps they worry that some will come with dangerous religious convictions. Others—who hadn’t brought their own sheep or other source of jobs and income—might stress existing dogchow supplies. They might even expect their puppies to be eligible for high-quality British dog training.
BREXIT REVEALED: It’s a little-known fact that this fear is the actual basis for the Brexit vote…
Thus all dogs who wish to enter the UK must have British passports, and can only enter if they come in a car or plane. [NOTE: This happened last year too, and we did eventually call a taxi to come from England and pick us up with the dog. I swear.] But this year we have The Warranty. So this could NOT happen again. Right? Comprende?
When I finally finished this speech, there was a long pause on the mechanic’s end of the line followed by a sorrowful, “No hablo Inglés. Adiós, señora.”
So. How many years will it take to laugh about this vacation? I don’t know, but I think it will involve the Guinness Book of Records… Meanwhile, here’s that post from the Land Before Mobile Data.
I hate vacationing.
Sure, it always starts well. We rise with the dawn! We go back to sleep, because seriously? Dawn?
Hours later, we roll onto the freeway for the 400-mile trip which is supposed to take about six hours—if you bring an empty Coke can for each passenger’s use. Six hours and less than a hundred miles later, we are in a parking lot which the map had optimistically listed as Interstate-94 out of Illinois.
On our trips we each have defined roles: Driver, Gasper, Barfer, Asker, Bladder, and Barker. The Driver’s job is to give the Gasper something to do. The Asker’s job is to inquire, “Are we there yet?” at least 137 times an hour. The Barfer and Bladder’s roles are best not discussed.
The Barker lets passing motorcyclists know that this vehicle is protected by an Anti-motorcycle Attack Border Collie. I don’t know what motorcyclists think of 60+ pounds of hysterically yelping Border Collie plastering our car windows with Border Collie excretions. But I do know that the Driver spends a lot of time informing us about what netherworld conditions will have to prevail before the Barker takes another trip with him.
Ever anxious for educational opportunities, our Driver decides to get a closer look at the trail bike mounted behind the car in front of us. Hearing the Gasper, he reassures me that there are still several atoms of space between our bumpers. “I bet they have one of those new indexed shifters,” he says. “See those two little buttons on the hand brakes?”
“No.” The Gasper… well…gasps. “But if you pull up any more, we’ll be in their back seat and I can ask them about it.”
We arrive in Michigan to discover that they’ve been having a drought here for months. So I’m not surprised when it begins to rain. Although it often takes buying a non-refundable airline ticket, sometimes all I have to do to make it rain is pack a picnic basket. Last year, I visited my sister in California. Even though they were in the fourth year of a drought, I made it rain. She had seen rain before, but she was very pleased for her children’s sake.
By evening it clears up a bit, so we hit the beach.
4-year-old: “What is the name of this rock?”
I think, years from now when he is a world-famous geologist, he’l look back to the moment when his mother started him on the path to his career. Gently, I begin: “They call it sedimentary. See all the layers? That’s because zillions of years ago…
4-year-old: “No, I think its name is Judy.” The geologist goes off to build a sand condo for Judy Rock.
We take a scenic hike to the scenic viewpoint in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore. We know this is the right spot because there is a scenic bench at the top of a huge sand dune and a helpful National Park Service Mafia sign which actually says, “Scenic Viewpoint. Do not dig a hole and bury anyone in the Dunes.” (The 4-year-old is very disappointed when his sister reads the sign to him. I think he’d been considering the benefits of being an only child.)
At weeks’ end, we leave the cottage to grab the last vacant campsite in the state of Michigan because the Driver thinks it’s time to expose the kids to the Real Outdoor Experience—whispering pines, smoke-scented air, babbling river, Grateful Dead fans with powerful car stereos, pit toilets. Actually, the air seems to be scented with whatever the Deadheads are smoking in the next campsite over. When the wind shifts, it’s the pit toilet’s turn.
Down at the river, most of the babbling comes from a group of eco-tourist canoes headed downstream. Their occupants are inexplicably dressed in polyester leopard-print loincloths and bone necklaces. The cavemen canoeists have evidently been hitting the pterodactyl juice because several of them turn over in about 18-inches of water. “Don’t worry,” one missing-link assures his fellows, “I can give you mouth-to-mouth recitation.”
By morning, the Barker is almost comatose from exhaustion. You would be too if you had to spend all night guarding our campsite from marauding raccoons and our pit toilets from all those other campers. The Driver decides the kids have been exposed to enough in the Great Outdoors (I think he’s referring to what the other campers did when our dog wouldn’t allow them near our pit toilets) so we give up and head for home at last.
But we have to stop, because I’m showing symptoms of acute shopping-withdrawal. Every store we pass starts to look good to me. Just as I’m lobbying seriously for the one labeled “Antiques & Fresh Bait”, we come to the high point of my vacation—the Outlet Mall. A quick Visa-fix later and we’re on the road again.
I love vacationing. Especially this part…