Around this time of year, when it is beginning to warm up enough outside so that one doesn’t need to be so vigilant about skin coverage, but it’s not quite warm enough to declare spring, I begin to plot out all of the ways in which I will enjoy the imminent warm weather. Traditionally, this has included a summer vacation. This year some dear friends of mine are getting married in Los Angeles in December, so we are forgoing our summer vacation in order to save our pennies for the big event. In the absence of a vacation to plan, I am instead reminiscing about vacations past to get me through my March .
When I was growing up, my family never took winter vacations. We didn’t ski, and we couldn’t afford the high prices of escapes to Florida or Mexico. Furthermore, my mother was violently opposed to letting us miss school for any reason other than deathly illness. Therefore, all of the vacation energy for an entire year was focused on the summer road trip. My family (Me, Mom, Dad, my Bro, Uncle Pete, and sometimes Cousin Chris) drove all over the middle and western parts of this country (my dad typically refuses to go farther east than Michigan. Except for when we went to Disneyworld when I was 15. He is not a fan of cities, and therefore is not charmed by the idea of the East Coast). These trips consisted of a conversion van, lots of camping gear, a ton of snacks, and hours of staring out the window. We drove to the Black Hills, through the Rockies (hitting Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and a good chunk of the National Parks), Mackinaw Island, The Porcupine Mountains, Wisconsin Dells (that was an early one when I was about 7), and Florida (that was a crazy drive in August – it stormed the whole drive down!).
When I was 13 we broke precedence and got on a plane. We flew into Reno; where we, naturally, rented a conversion van and began the road trip! We drove to Lake Tahoe, all the way to San Francisco, and up the Big Sur. We saw the massive Redwoods, and the petrified forest. We saw the ocean; the first time for my brother and I. When we had seen all we wanted to see of California, we headed back to Reno to fly out. The trip was notable not only for the number of first sights seen, or for the fact of flying, but also because we stayed in roadside motels (some scary, some not). The last night in Reno was spent at the MGM Grand; all of it’s movie-set kitsch was particularly thrilling for us kids, who, despite our “well-traveled” status, had rarely been exposed to tourist traps.
The last family vacation I went on was when I was 20. It was July, exactly one week before my 21st Birthday. Of all places, we went to Vegas. Uncle Pete did not join us for this one. None of my family really gambles, and my brother and I weren’t old enough to drink. Dad isn’t so much into the shows. My brother and I went to a waterpark one day; we wandered down the strip and stared at everything another day. But, overall none of us was really into the whole Vegas thing. It’s just not really our speed. So, what did we do? We rented a car and drove to see the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Yee Haw! I wish we would have done that right away. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had to stand on the edge of that cliff. Another notable thing about this trip was that my entire family had a near-death experience at the same time. The plane that we were on was one of the little tin-can charter flights that were so popular at the time. These little planes are what made it so cheap to get to Vegas. However, they are terrifying in a storm. We flew through a raging storm on the way home, that caused the lights to flicker in the cabin, and the plane to pitch about. Have I ever mentioned that I am a terrible flyer? I’m pretty sure I prayed most of the way home…
Moving on! David and I have continued the tradition of big road trips. The biggest one we’ve taken was during our second summer together. It was a 2-week road trip that included the Smokey Mountains, a three day stop at Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, and roaming through the Ozarks in Arkansas. That trip is so packed with notable events that I can barely pick which ones to share! This is probably the favorite: when driving out of Memphis, and into Arkansas, we saw a store that was called “Last Chance Liquor.” We thought it was a clever name. As it turns out, most of Arkansas is dry. Now, Dave and I can get by just fine without drinking, thankyouverymuch. But we were on vacation, and we were camping. We just wanted to go out for dinner and drinks once in this whole crazy adventure. After almost a week of winding our way through the Ozarks, with much of that time spent looking for fire wood so we could cook and have campfires (we got a whole lot of “fire wood? What do you need fire wood for? It’s summer!”), we had just about had it. We wanted to relax and have a decent date night. We got a wild hair and ended up driving all the way up to Branson, Missouri, and picking up some beer from a place that, literally, had a giant, waving, neon cowboy on top of it. Then we didn’t want to drive back down to our tent (in Arkansas), so we decided to get a hotel room and go out for dinner. Unfortunately, there was a convention in Branson that weekend and every last decent hotel was booked. It took us hours to find a place to stay. That is how we ended up at Maude’s. MAUDE’S!!! The whole building was Pepto-Bismol pink, and the rooms were decorated like potpourri satchels. With vibrating beds. I cried when I saw our room. By then it was too late to go out for dinner, so we ordered pizza, and drank our cans of cheap beer. And I cried a little more. Romantical, right?
Ah, the great American road-trip. Producer of crazy stories for the whole of my lifetime. Most likely the producer of more crazy stories in the future. I can hardly wait!