This is something I've not tried before: a series on a single subject. Sticking to my motto "always short, never a download" (some readers would say this is my ONLY selling point) I broke my essay on "How to Take a Summer Vacation" into three parts. This is the first piece, the second will appear next issue, and then maybe I'll take a break before running the final installments. Let me know if you have a strong or violent opinion one way or another. -- Bruce
How to Go on Summer Vacation - Part 1
Preparing for a summer vacation is far more enjoyable than actually taking one, so be sure to give yourself lots of time to get ready. Purchase a new road map and spread it grandly across the table, inviting your family to gaze upon it in all of its crisp, pristine glory. Get some of those little model cars and let your children push these around the map like Admirals plotting war in the Atlantic. This is the last time the map will ever lie flat--after you've re-folded it, you will have created several new mountain ranges across the continent and will never again be able to view a specific area of the country without repeatedly creasing and un-creasing the darn thing, usually while driving down the interstate highway with an 18 wheeled truck blaring its horn at you from a distance of nine inches off your back bumper.
Summer travel in the United States is bound by a singular, unavoidable truth: most of the water lies around the edges of the country, so in order to get there you must drive great distances through states where the most fascinating point of interest is that the rest stops are named after senators you've never heard of. Ah, but at this, the planning stage, the magic marker fumes filling your head with hallucinations as you trace your route, you actually believe you are going to take County Road 121 so as to see the National Beef Jerky Museum or the Potato Chip Gallery of Famous Persons. Hey everybody, should we take the scenic route through Nebraska? (Are you kidding? The SCENIC route?) Kids, how about a tour of a gravy manufacturing operation in Missouri? This is going to be GREAT!
Of course, you aren't going to visit any of these places. Once inside your car you're going to be held hostage to the odometer, which will tick each tenth of a mile so slowly you'll begin to envy people who've been subjected to the Chinese Water Torture. All unnecessary distractions--museum going, scenery viewing, eating, urinating--will be sacrificed to the frantic need to finally GET THERE. But before that, before you slide behind the wheel and shout your gleeful "Let's go!" you must first face the nearly insurmountable task of packing the car.
Those of you who have been reading this column for awhile know that I subscribe to the theory that the human race is divided into two categories: (1) Fathers, and (2) Everybody Else. Case in point: packing for a vacation on the road.
A father prefers large containers. In fact, most fathers would agree that the best way to pack would be to put everyone's belongings into a single suitcase, then have all the other fathers in the neighborhood come over and help lift it into the back of the station wagon, where it would stay until you came across a hotel with a forklift. Everybody Else, however, seems to think that the best way to pack is to load nearly everything in the house into individual suitcases and then, just when the last of these containers has been tied to the roof and the car's shocks have sunk to an all time low, start bringing out sole items. Like a set of curlers. A bottle of cough syrup. The dog bowl. A single tennis shoe. At this point, fathers begin muttering to themselves fiercely, and it is wise not to listen to what they are saying.
Fathers also believe that to insure that the family is properly outfitted for the vacation, there must be an ample supply of tennis rackets, canoe paddles, polo mallets, fishing equipment, chain saws, night vision goggles, and spelunking helmets to have a good time. Everybody Else, however, seems to believe it is far more important to make sure one is adequately clothed for the vacation, until it seems impossible that there is a single item of apparel left in the house. (Despite this, Everybody Else will need to spend at least 50% of the time on vacation shopping for clothing that they apparently forgot to bring along.)
Packing will take far longer than the time you've allotted for the activity. In fact, if you're not careful, you'll never actually go anywhere--you'll spend your whole vacation in the driveway, first packing and then unpacking your automobile. After awhile you'll begin shouting at Everybody Else. "That's IT. This is the LAST THING I'M PACKING." Naturally, Everybody Else will ignore this as effectively as they've ignored your timetable.
When you finally depart, hours late, your back aching from the strain of lifting an entire Boeing 747's worth of luggage into your car, you will reluctantly face the fact that the House Of Wax Museum of Pets Who Killed Their Owners is probably going to be closed by the time you get there. Your children will wait until your house has just disappeared from sight to announce they have to go to the bathroom. Your wife will worry out loud that she left the coffee pot on and that shortly your home will be on fire. ("Who cares?" you snap, "there's nothing inside to burn anyway, it's all packed in the CAR!") Every pothole in the street feels like your car has been hit by artillery, your flattened suspension so overwhelmed that even running over a cockroach rattles your teeth with impact. A check of the gas gauge reveals you might actually be getting zero miles to the gallon. The air conditioning seems offended that you want it to work in this heat, and the transmission howls fiercely whenever you try to drive faster than 50. The sun becomes a laser and carves you a new cornea. Your oldest daughter begins shrieking that her siblings "Keep TOUCHING ME!", which is impossible NOT to do since you've wedged them in so tightly between the volleyball set and the inflatable kayak that their bare thighs make a ripping noise whenever they shift in the seat.
You wipe your forehead and concentrate on getting your first 100 miles behind you. The odometer clicks one agonizing digit at a time, and eventually they stop yelling in the back seat, possibly because they've murdered each other. You sigh and try to find something to listen to on the radio.
It's the best day of the trip.
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1997
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