Every summer, my parents, probably out of some sense of responsibility for enriching our lives, would drag my slightly older sister and me on the proverbial family vacation that often induced thoughts and plans of suicide. We had to suffer through hours in the back of a million-degree station wagon, all the while fighting over whose turn it was to rest their foot on the big humpy thing that ran down the middle of the vehicle. We had no such luxuries as air conditioning or seat belts. To keep from suffocating, the windows would have to be fully cranked down, and the wind flapped and howled like the inside of a vacuum cleaner. For safety, we were told that we should hang on to something in the event of a car accident.
Along the way to our undisclosed location, we would stay at every craptacular, no-frills campground, and only occasionally at the most deeply discounted of discount motels. Of course, plan-ahead was a concept my parents never fully embraced. Reservations? We don’t need no stinkin’ reservations! They also didn’t believe in maps, or directions, or travel arrangements of any kind. I wonder if my parents were actually hoping to abandon us somewhere, but always chickened-out at the last moment.
Once we got to the point where we were too tired, hungry, and hot to even breathe anymore, well, an hour or so past that, the parents would start thinking about stopping for the night. By this time there was never any rooms at the inns. We always ended up in the cheapest and dirtiest of the rat infested, flea-bag motels. Either that, or tenting on the side of the road next to a drainage ditch. At least that’s the way I remember it. Usually one or all of us would get sick from eating at less than clean restaurants, where, based on the aroma, the meat tasted an awful lot like I imagined a decaying skunk would taste. To this day, right now even, when I think of taking a family vacation, I instinctively want to eat a gun.
We drove for a hundred and some hours one time to get to Santa’s Village to see the reindeer. In July. Yes, of course they were closed. Who goes to see Santa in July? My parents thought the tickets would be cheaper in the off-season. The gates were locked with thick chains and the reindeer had been made into mincemeat pies many months earlier. After all that driving to get there, we just turned around and went home. What else was there to do? Mmmm—I bet those reindeer tasted some good, though.
We spent one summer on a road-trip to Boston. My mother found us a hotel with a fancy sounding name, so she was expecting pretty high things. It was something like The Royal Crap Hole, or The Regency Tower of Despair. We only stayed a night or two, so the room itself was tolerable for the short time we were there, and the mice were very polite. For me, the tough part was that I had to sleep in the same bed as my father. Even at $18 a night my parents were too cheap to get two rooms. My sister slept with my mother, and I slept with my father.
Now, I loved my father and everything, but sleeping with him was, well, awkward. As far as I was concerned, my father smelled funny, and I was certain he had body lice or some contagious disease that I didn’t want to catch. I know, it was irrational, but I was twelve and really afraid he might accidentally spoon me in the middle of the night. I think this is the reason why I still don’t sleep well even in the nicest of hotels. Is there a name for that, a deep rooted psychological fear of paternal spooning?
While in Boston, we rode on a subway for the first time in our lives. My parents had no idea how the route numbering and schedule worked, so they went right up to the first person they saw and asked them for instructions. For context, I grew up in a small town that was so white that when it snowed you couldn’t see the people anymore, so he was the first actual black person I had ever seen. Conversely, I think we were the first white people who had ever directly spoken to him without accusing him of committing a crime, as he seemed a bit startled to have us approach him. My parents never had an inclination towards racism, and he could tell we were from out of town.
Well, the guy was genuinely polite and he patiently explained the hub-and-spoke arrangement of the transit lines, what the train colors meant, the difference between the inbound and outbound designations, and he showed us how to get all around town. We had a pretty good time exploring the city after that. How does the saying go? Show a guy a fish and he’ll want one. Give a guy a fish and he’ll ask for a glass of milk. Teach a guy how to fish and he’ll expect government subsidies.