And Then There Was That Time My Family Left Me Behind

When I was nineteen-years-old, a few months after my mom married my step-dad, we took our first vacation as a blended family – my mom, brother and me, together with my step-dad, step-sister, and step-brother. My uncle, aunt and cousin went too. So that would be nine of us, just in case you are mathematically challenged.

We rented a houseboat on the Delta in Sacramento and took my uncle’s speedboat as well.

 

Houseboat with speedboat
This is not us. But it could be.

 

I was grumpy because I had to leave my boyfriend, Scott, for a week. This was 30 years ago (yes, I really am that old, shut up), before cellphones and texting and Skype, so being on a houseboat for a week meant no communication.

And if you were once an overly dramatic nineteen-year-old (aren’t all nineteen-year-olds overly dramatic?) who had to suffer the terrible awful horrible fate of being separated from your boyfriend or girlfriend for a whole entire week, then you certainly know how mean and unreasonable it was for my family to expect me to suffer this vacation with them. I can only imagine what a joy I was to be around.

My step-sister was seventeen, but I really didn’t know her well yet. (Nor I’m sure did I try to.) My brother was fifteen, my step-brother was nine and my cousin was eight. So obviously there was “no one to hang out with.”

I’m sure I let myself have some fun. I did (after many summers of trying) learn to water ski on that trip. (The trick was one ski instead of two and push that back foot down hard, hard, hard.) And I got pretty tan. Other than that I don’t remember much about the trip.

Except for this…

No one had ever driven a houseboat before. (Do you drive a boat? What is that called exactly? It doesn’t have sails, so I know you don’t sail it. Wait. Where was I? Oh yeah…) Coming in and out of docks could be a bit challenging, to say the least. The adults would get stressed out and bicker about not hitting other boats (or people) so I would always go lie on my bed and take a nap or go to the top deck and sunbathe to avoid the arguing.

One day we pulled up to a gas station/restaurant/dive bar to gas up the boat. Aha! My opportunity to escape from my captors and call Scott so I could complain about what a terrible awful horrible time I was having and how much I missed him. (Oh and that I learned to ski which was really cool and I was really really tan which was even cooler!)

I found a payphone inside, reversed the charges to my house, and spent ten glorious minutes – or perhaps it was twenty- talking to the man boy my nineteen-year-old self was convinced was going to be my future husband. (Spoiler alert – he’s not. But we are friends on Facebook!)

I reluctantly told Scott that I’d better get back to the boat before I got in trouble and went down to the dock where I saw our two boats. Except instead of being tied to the dock waiting patiently for me they were driving (sailing?) away.

Both boats.

Without me.

WHAT???!!!

I stood at the end of the dock and waved my arms and yelled, but they were too far.

“Oh my god,” I said to the gas station dude. “They left me.”

“That happens sometimes,” he said. “Once this guy got left overnight.”

Overnight?!

I guess I was talking to Scott a little longer than I thought. Whenever we left a dock the adults were always concerned about where the little kids were, but since I always retreated to my bed or the roof to sunbathe, they just assumed I was retreating. Apparently it didn’t take my mom long to figure out I wasn’t there (relatively speaking). She walkie-talkied the speedboat to see if I was on it and when she found out I wasn’t freaked out a bit. She wanted to turn the boat around immediately to go get me, but my uncle thought it would be best to dock the houseboat for the night (if you didn’t dock it early enough you wouldn’t get a good spot) and then go back for me with the speedboat.

I did the only logical thing – went right back into the bar and called Scott again and talked until they came to pick me up a few hours later. Well, that might be a bit over-dramatic. It was probably only one hour. And fortunately it wasn’t overnight.

 

*This blog post is especially for my Uncle John (as this is, by far, his favorite story), who reads all my posts and complains that they are too girly and that he has to go do “man stuff” after reading them.

Houseboat photo credit

 

The Long Road Home

As we start our journey home from Colorado to California (with a two night layover in Las Vegas) I find myself a bit weepy.  I’m not sad.  In fact just the opposite; I’m so happy right now I can hardly stand it.

I think it’s the nostalgia of the car trip that’s getting to me.  My husband Dave and I are listening to “The Best of Van Morrison” – a road trip staple – while the kids zone out to Star Wars in the back, their huge wireless headphones blocking out the music and our terrible singing.  I find myself thinking of our first real road trip over 16 years ago when I set off on a cross country drive sitting next to a man I loved more than any man before him.

On December 27, 1991, after putting all of my furniture into storage, I shoved my entire wardrobe and everything else I deemed essential into a rented Uhaul car-top carrier attached to my 1984 Toyota Celica and Dave and I set off towards New York.  (Okay, technically it was New Jersey, but you know…)

Dave and I started dating in the summer of 1989.  I fell hard for him right away.  I think he fell hard for me too but HEDIDNOTWANTAGIRLFRIEND so he was very non-committal.  (Once after we were dating for about a year we went to Phoenix for the weekend and he introduced me to his uncle – who lived there – as his date.  His date?  To Phoenix?  Yeah, he had serious commitment problems.)

In January of ’91 he got a promotion that required him to relocate to New York.  And even though I still never heard him ever utter the word “girlfriend” we decided to carry on long distance to see what happened. We managed to see each other for long weekends about every six weeks.  In October he asked me to move to New York.  I’d been ready since February.

I really think that if he hadn’t moved to New York we wouldn’t have ended up together.  It was the distance and missing me that made him realize he was in love with me.  If he had stayed in California I think I would have grown tired of waiting for him to commit and left him or I would have started nagging him for a commitment and he would have grown tired of that and he would have left me.  It turns out the distance that  separated us is ultimately the thing that brought us closer together.  It’s funny the little curve balls life tends to throw at you.

So two days after Christmas, after giving up a highly coveted job in the music industry and a really great apartment, I kissed my friends and family goodbye and set off on the road trip of my life.  We had a great time.  We tried to visit the Grand Canyon (well we did visit the Grand Canyon, we just couldn’t see it because it was socked in with fog), we stayed with some friends in Houston and had the best Queso Fundido I’ve ever had in my life, made it to New Orleans for New Year’s Eve, and got lost on some Louisiana back road that provided us with a story we still tell today.

When we were living in New York (okay, okay New Jersey) Dave actually lost his job due to a merger but was still under contract so he was still getting paid.  Talk about the time of our lives!  One day we were walking down the street in Hoboken and Dave turned to me and said, “It’s so cold.  Let’s go to Florida tomorrow.”  And we did.  We drove all the way down to Key West.  A few weeks later we drove through New England all the way to Montreal.  Four months later he got a job in Los Angeles and we loaded all of our belongings and my Celica onto a moving van and drove his Honda back home.

We’ve been on many crazy road trips since then – LA to Seattle and back, and twice we’ve driven roundtrip from Los Angeles to Wichita (once to pickup heirloom furniture and another time for his grandmother’s funeral).  When Chandler was just shy of four and Marley was only 3 months old we drove from Los Angeles to the Canadian Rockies and back.  We had to stop every 3 or 4 hours so I could nurse Marley, but that was one of the best and most beautiful trips of our lives.   3,000 miles in 10 days.  We both wish it could have been longer, though that probably would have meant driving even farther.  Not counting this trip where we are sure to log in over 2,000 miles, we’ve probably driven over 20,000 miles together on road trips alone.

There are things that remain constant for all of our trips:  two travel mugs and a Thermos full of coffee to start our day, music that is (for the most part) mutually agreed upon, whenever we stop for gas he fills up the car and I wash the windows, we always have a big box of Gobstoppers to suck on (the passenger pops them into the mouth of the driver), and the air conditioning is only turned on once the outside temp reaches 83 degrees (that’s his stupid ass rule – though you know, with all the fluorocarbons the A/C releases into the air I put up with it without complaining.)

This is actually our first vacation car trip since that trip to Canada almost 8 years ago.  Sure we’ve gone on some 5 or 6 hour drives for camping trips, but that hardly counts as a road trip by our standards.  And today, as we start our journey home and sing “Have I Told You Lately” to each other, the first song we danced to together as husband and wife, happy tears escape from the corners of my eyes -tears shed in reminiscence of the road trips of our past and in anticipation of all the miles we will surely travel together in our future.

*This post originally appeared on skirt.com on August 24, 2008. I have archived it here after learning that skirt will be shutting down the blogging portion of its site on November 30, 2013.

Colorado Here We Come

5:51        We leave home 9 minutes ahead of schedule.  A Ross Family first.  It’s Friday morning and we are finally taking our long-awaited family vacation.

6:37        The sun pops up from behind the mountains and I realize my sunglasses are in my backpack my husband Dave has so conveniently placed in the back of the car where I can’t get to it.  (In his defense he was trying to give me some room for my feet.)  I have to resort to the ultra crappy pair I keep in the glove box for emergencies.  Sun directly in your eyes before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee definitely constitutes itself as an emergency.

7:20        Boredom has already set in for Marley.  She’s finished her entire breakfast – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – and claims to still be hungry.

8:07        Our children are lucky enough to have a DVD player built into our SUV and have decided on a Star Wars marathon for our long trip. (Yep, all 6 movies in a row.)  Marley has announced that she is bored of Star Wars.  I hand her a banana hoping it will occupy her for at least a minute and a half.

8:32        We hit our first rest stop to stretch our legs and say goodbye to our morning beverages.

9:26        We cross the state line into Nevada.

9:28        I’m trying to rock out to Joe Jackson.  “Is she really going out with him,” my husband and I sing at the top of our lungs.  “Mom, mom, mom.” I hear from the back seat.  “What?” I ask in the nicest mommy voice possible to mask my annoyance.  “Blah, blah, blah, blahdy blah, blah,” my son says making a joke.  I fake a laugh and tell him he’s funny so I can go back to my music and relive my 80’s youth – hopefully without further interruption until we hit Las Vegas.

9:50        We enter the outskirts of Las Vegas in less than 4 hours.  Good timing.  The last time I drove to Vegas – about a year ago – it took me 7 hours to get here.  Apparently leaving at 6AM on a Friday is better than leaving at 2PM on a Friday.

10:10     Las Vegas Blvd.  Chandler is pissed that he forgot his camera and his cell phone.  His complaining pisses Dave off who is cranky because he’s been driving for 4 hours and really, really needs to pee. (Yes he did use the rest stop an hour and forty minutes ago but then he went and had a 3rd cup of coffee.) 

10:46     We are back on the 15 and passing Nellis Air Force Base.  Fighter jets are mock fighting and doing cool fighter jet turns.  This holds the kids attention for about 30 seconds as they’ve moved on to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

11:44     We cross the state line into Arizona.

11:55     We enter the Virgin River Gorge.  Dave gives a science lesson on sedimentary rock.  Oddly enough this holds Chandler’s attention longer than the fighter jets did.  The mesas are stripes of gold and yellow and Grand-Canyon-red.  It is a magnificent sight.

1:08        We cross the Utah border.  We changed time either here or in Arizona (who knows what goes on with the time zones in Arizona – I can’t keep up) so it’s 12:08 in driving time, but 1:08 in actual time.  Does that make sense?

1:20        Dave and I hit the drive-thru at Arby’s and take our food into Burger King where Marley wants to eat.  I have vowed not to gain weight on this vacation (good luck right?) so I give my 2nd potato cake (minus one bite) to Dave (apparently I don’t care if he gains weight).

2:15        We see a landscape of mesas so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes.  (One day I’ll blog about all the unbelievably ridiculous things I cry about.)  To quote Baz Luhrmann it is ‘Spectacular Spectacular.’  What a gorgeous miracle.  I want to bring it to the kid’s attention but Chandler is actually reading which is a miracle in itself.

3:04        We’ve moved on to the Best of Hall and Oates and Dave and I are now belting out ‘Rich Girl’.  This song came out when I was in 8thgrade and my best friend Dale and I would whisper the word bitch when we sang along because we didn’t want to get into trouble.

3:54        While the scenery is breathtaking the air in the car is a different story.  I mean two kids, a husband, and a fast food lunch…  While there are many giggles coming from the backseat it sure would be nice to be able to roll down the window.

4:39        Chandler just read me an excerpt from his book “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” – that truth be told is little more than a comic book, but as I said before the kid is reading (for about 2 hours now!) without being coerced or setting a 20 minute timer.  It makes me laugh so hard that I have to read it to Dave who couldn’t hear Chandler’s sweet, quiet voice behind him.  It is so stupidly funny I laugh so hard I cry and snot starts coming out of my nose.  I have definitely been in this car way too long. And good news – we only have about  6 more hours to go – you know – if we don’t stop to eat!

5:45        Utah I70 mile marker 125.  Incredible beauty.  I wish I could write beautifully descriptive prose that would give you some idea what the beauty outside our car actually looks like.  (See I just used a form of the word beauty 3 times in 2 consecutive sentences.  I am pathetically unimaginative.)  I’ll say this:  there are a lot of mesas and cool rock formations.  A lot of red, green and gold.  Even my husband’s insistence of listening to his Utopia CD can’t annoy me (too much) with such beautiful scenery to look at.  (See there it is again.)

6:49        I look out the window and see a rainbow confirming that those big, puffy, white clouds to the right (south?) of us are indeed rainclouds.

6:50        I look over our accommodation amenities and notice that Internet access is located nearby (within 5 miles) and not on site.  Not quite sure when to break the news to Dave as he’s got to be online at 6AM tomorrow for work.  This will obviously not go over well.  Maybe things have changed since this was printed out in March.  I mean, hello, we’re staying at a Marriott and it is 2008.  They’ve got to have Wi-Fi.  I decide not to mention it just yet.

7:06        After 12 hours and 16 minutes we cross the Colorado border.

7:12        We see rain clouds on the horizon – big ugly, black ones, unlike the cute, fluffy, white ones that made the rainbow.  And this time they’re in the actual direction we are heading.  I realize I forgot to pack Marley’s raincoat.  (She only has 3 and we live in a place where it never rains.) Dave – the person who has to pack for one, not three (oh and I planned the meals and packed the food too because we’re in a timeshare with a full kitchen) – seems flabbergasted.  After all we did talk at length about raincoats.  And yes I know I should make a list and I did – lots of lists – just not a list of what to bring for myself and the kids.  So there ya go, another point for me in the crappy mom column.  And now that I think of it I may have forgotten Chandler’s swimsuit (2 points) but at least he has a raincoat.

7:32        We stop in an adorable downtown area of Grand Junction, Co and have dinner at a brew pub.  Dave and I both really want a beer.  I tell Dave, who has driven the entire trip that I’ll take over driving.  He has a beer and I order a Diet Pepsi.  Back at the car he tells me that he’ll drive. I try not to be annoyed that I drank a Diet Pepsi for nothing.

8:45        Marley has packed it in and has cuddled up to her pillow and fallen asleep.  Chandler has opted for a movie.  The full moon lights the highway and we can see that this drive would be really beautiful if it were light.  I’m over the beer and put in a Todd Rundgren CD (ugh!) for Dave to reward him for continuing to drive and to keep him awake. 

9:37        It starts to rain.

10:57     16 hours and 6 minutes after leaving home we arrive in Vail, Co. I take back all the mean things I said about my kids in my last blog as they were amazingly (almost) PERFECT on this long, long trip.  The timeshare is beautiful, the rain has stopped, I did remember Chandler’s swimsuit, and – Thank God – we are set up in our room with the Internet.

*This post originally appeared on skirt.com on August 17, 2008. I have archived it here after learning that skirt would be shutting down the blogging portion of its site.