Growing up, I always thought of distance as days on the road, versus miles or hours on a plane. It was extremely rare for our family of four to afford airfare, and yet we never let that stop our vacation plans. Wherever we had family is where we wanted to be during the summers and at holidays. My entire childhood is speckled with memories of road trips from Texas to Washington D.C., California, Florida, Connecticut and Ohio.
As a child, I didn’t understand what went into getting ready for a road trip. I mean, you pack a few suitcases, you get in the car and you go, right? Never mind the fact that my mom always filled our big blue cooler with homemade fried chicken, potato salad, three-bean salad and fresh milk. There was a tote bag filled with snacks and small boxes of different varieties of “sugar” cereal, which was a real treat since we couldn’t eat them at home. And my absolute favorite was the Oreo cookies. We couldn’t have a road trip without the Oreo cookies. My mother was also amazing at playing fun road games like license plate alphabet or home-made car bingo boards. She had an extensive list of car songs memorized that we sang mile after mile or stacks of books to occupy our time. I don’t ever remember asking, “Are we there yet?” because half the fun of vacation was the traveling.
My own little family does most of our vacation traveling by car as well. It just makes more sense both economically and logistically. It’s nice to have your own car with you when you stay for an extensive amount of time. However, I didn’t realize that being so organized would bring on this much stress. My mother always seemed so calm and cool. I, on the other hand, am a menacing lunatic ranting and raving throughout the house for a full week before departure. There are lists of lists of things that need to get packed, purchased or performed before we can leave. Both DW and the girls hide in the shadows, only catching glimpses of me in a mirror until it’s time to go, avoiding any real eye contact for fear of turning to stone. (That was meant to be a Medusa reference by the way.)
Earlier this summer a whole week had gone by that I hadn’t heard from my close friend and neighbor. It seemed strange enough that I asked her about it when I confirmed that her daughter would be watering our plants for us while we were gone.
“Have I offended you or something, because I haven’t heard from you all week?”
“Well, I’ve learned it’s just better to give you space during packing week.”
Now it has a name?
Duplicating my mom’s fun-filled, fantastic days on the road has also been unmatched. When we told The Hare we were going to be heading to Boston this August for her uncle’s wedding she panicked.
“How many days in the car away is that?”
“Just one, honey.”
“Okay, then how many movies away is this one day?”
“Six or seven, I think.”
She rolled her eyes, folded her arms and said, “Can’t we just fly like normal families?”
In the beginning I did pack all the food and the games. I even wrapped little dollar store presents to open along the way. Over the years though, I have slowly started to slack off. It’s just too much work. Besides, you would think that having IPODS, DVD players, and Nintendo DS’s would make any road trip even a little bit bearable. It also doesn’t seem to bother the girls to waste an entire day watching a Disney Channel marathon at home but somehow it is torture to do it in the car!
So we are on the road again this week. We left Thursday, and I realized early in the day that I had forgotten to pack all of our snacks and juice boxes. We had to make due with what was at our first rest-stop. The stress of worrying about all the other things I might have forgotten put a little damper on my mood and appetite. I had a simple breakfast, but while getting a magazine in the bookstore I spotted a box of Junior Mints. The thought of mint and chocolate started to lift my funky mood.
I sat criss-cross, apple sauce in the car savoring each bite of the gooey goodness, reluctantly sharing a couple bites with my greedy goblins in the back seat still complaining, “How many more hours?” As the last one melted in my mouth, I decided to sit back and finally enjoy the ride. By sleeping.
A couple of hours later I awoke with a piercing pain in my neck from leaning my head too far to the right, cradled in the seat belt strap. Belt marks cut across my cheeks. I reached up to wipe away the drool running out of the corner of my mouth, but was distracted by an overwhelming scent of chocolate and mint. I looked at the palm of my hand and was horrified. It was covered in melted Junior Mints. Where the heck did this come from? Then I started to get another sensation in my lap – I turned over my left hand to reveal a pool of melted chocolate. Apparently a handful of tasty morsels had fallen into my lap and melted while I was sleeping.
“Oh my gawd!” I exclaimed.
DW glanced over at the mess.
“What’d you do? Crap your pants?”
“Yeah, exactly,” I retorted, “from the back to the front and it smells just like fresh mint. I’m amazing that way!”
He just started laughing. And laughing.
I started crying. And crying.
We pulled off at the nearest gas station. I dashed into the one toilet bathroom, locked the door and surveyed the mess. It wasn’t good. At first I tried to dab it with a dry paper towel, but it only stuck to the chocolate. Then I tried a wet paper towel and that was almost worse. It just made the chocolate start spreading all over the front. This bathroom was small and smelled like urine. The trashcan was overflowing with paper towels and tampons. I really didn’t know what to do – so I just took off the darn dress and held it as best I could under the faucet, being careful not to lay it on the counter or in the grey-rimmed sink. It only took a minute to rinse out the evidence, but in my panic I didn’t take into consideration how wet this was making my dress. Now what was I going to do? I couldn’t walk out in my underwear! So I just put it back on – wet and all. It looked like I had just had a fight with the toilet and lost. The wet spot ran the entire length of the sundress, and was speckled in brown lint from the poor drying job of the paper towels.
I walked tall through the convenience store, avoiding eye contact with the curious shoppers. DW was waiting for me outside. His eyes widened as he surveyed the damage. I could tell he was stifling another grin.
Better would be round-trip tickets next time.