How To Go on Summer Vacation
by W. Bruce Cameron
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 "Lets
go!" you must first face the nearly insurmountable task of packing the
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 cars
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
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
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 IM
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 747s 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, its 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
Its the best day of the trip.
America's highways are bejeweled with sagging, dilapidated motels where
rooms can be had for a reasonable price if you're willing to forgo
certain luxuries (like, towels.) The first of these will lie just past
the edge of exhaustion on your trip, so that you'll groan with relief as
you pull up to the front doors. You'll tiredly inform the clerk of your
last name and announce that you have a reservation. He'll nod from
behind his bulletproof glass and pass you over a registration form,
scratching out the words "per hour" and circling "all night." You are
asked for your car license plate, which is a laugh because your rear
bumper has been forced so low to the ground by all your baggage that the
plate was worn down to a nub somewhere near the Kansas border.
The room is on the second floor, toward the back. Inside, the two beds
have a distinctive concave shape, designed to roll their occupants
together in the middle and keep them there until autopsy. Your children
turn on the television set and stare at a rerun of "The Dukes of Hazard"
as if receiving a rescue message from their home planet. "No," you warn
them, "first we have to get the Hotel Suitcase!"
The Hotel Suitcase is a mythical creature said to have the magic power
to deliver from within itself all of a single night's needs, so that it
and it alone is the only bag which needs to be brought into the hotel
room at night. Fathers believe fervently in the Hotel Suitcase, even
though none of them have ever seen one. It turns out that despite
careful instruction, the rest of the family has somehow failed to grasp
the concept of the Hotel Suitcase, the result being that nearly every
item from your car must be unloaded and carried up the two flights of
cement steps to your room and dumped out on the floor.
This is the time when you realize that your son has packed his ant farm
(though not the lid), that your oldest daughter has brought along her
ankle, wrist, and hand weights even though she's never used them before
(I'm going to start while on vacation!) and that your middle child
didn't bring any underwear (on the plus side, she did remember to bring
her fur-lined boots in case there is snow on the beach.)
You grit your teeth and invite everyone to change into swimsuits -- this
is a vacation and we Will Have Fun. Sensing that you are not willing to
negotiate, the television is turned off and the entire family troops out
to the pool. A trip to the hot tub seems like a good idea until, upon
closer inspection, it looks to be full of something similar to turkey
gravy. Your oldest daughter, wearing a swimsuit which must have been
bought at a store called "Breasts on Display," saunters over to talk to
a group of young men who appear to be out on parole violation. Your son
asks you to rate his backdive. Five hundred times. Your own dip below
the surface fills your eyes, nose and mouth with Clorox.
When your daughter announces that the criminals she's encountered want
to take her "for a ride" you decide you've had enough and head back to
the room. Everyone wrestles around in the tiny bathroom for a couple of
hours and then gets into bed. The air conditioner wheezes like a walrus
with asthma and produces a mist so humid you're wondering if it will
soon be raining inside. No one sleeps, particularly the couple in the
room next door, who sound like yodelers in love. Directly over head,
professional wrestlers practice for the world championship. A murder or
two in the parking lot, several trains, a chorus of trucks firing up at
five a.m., and it's morning.
No one speaks as you load the car, which has had enough of your nonsense
and refuses to take back all the stuff you removed the night before. No
matter how you pack it, there doesn't seem to be adequate room for
everything and everybody. You contemplate strapping one of your
children across your hood like a dead deer. Eventually, you get the job
done, but it means that your daughter has to hold a Coleman stove in her
"Only three more days until we get there!" you trumpet cheerfully as you
steer out onto the highway. The expressions you receive in return look
like the Manson Family at their arraignment. If you had any sense at
all, you would turn around and head home immediately. Nonetheless,
drawn on by pre-paid hotel rooms in front of you, you press ahead.
The final leg of your cross country drive finds you curiously divided
between stupor and rage. You sit in a layer of dried french fries and
eviscerated taco innards and listen dispassionately to the ongoing
intellectual debate between your children:
"Could you PLEASE stop doing that with your lips?"
"Stop doing what?"
"Making those gross wet noises. You keep LICKING YOUR LIPS."
"You mean like this?"
"DAD! He keeps LICKING HIS LIPS!"
Though your "good parenting" training calls for you to urge upon your
children the adult traits of reason and compromise, your impulse is to
open the back door and fling everyone out onto the pavement. How can it
possibly matter that your son is licking his lips when the dog is riding
with its nose sticking into the jet stream outside the window, sneezing
so explosively every two miles that everything in the car has become
covered with dog mist? And if you roll the window up, the dog whines,
sobs, and ultimately barfs.
Your wife is no help in adjudicating the dispute: you've been having a
raging argument with her for two days, though neither of you has spoken
a single word to one another since East St. Louis.
Okay: just how much farther can it possibly be? That damn Jefferson
and his stupid Louisiana purchase, buying up all this land between your
house and the ocean!
"Dad, he licked his lips again!"
The maniacal glint in your eye shocks them into silence as you twist in
your seat. "Stop licking your lips or I'll rip them off!" you hiss.
"And you, stop hitting your brother!"
"I'm not!" she protests.
"But you will, and when you do, stop it!" you snarl.
"Wow, Dad's really lost it," your son admires.
"Is Mr. Mugster in the car?" you demand for the hundredth time in the
past hour. Mr. Mugster is a stuffed gorilla whose accidental
abandonment at a Stuckey's restaurant forced you to backtrack two
hundred miles. These were hard, Missouri miles, where corn has
overtaken all other life forms on the planet. You have the feeling that
had it been you at the Stuckey's, the vote would have been three to one
to press ahead anyway.
It is with a sense of unreality that you finally pull into the parking
lot of Big Al's Beach Resort. After all these days of being propelled,
your body can't quite adapt to being stopped.
For some reason you were deluded into thinking that Big Al's hotel
overlooked the ocean. Perhaps you were misled by the brochure, which
depicted a smiling and attractive couple completely unlike yourselves
holding little paper umbrella drinks as they admired the view of what
you now discover was the back of an automobile dealership. The only way
Big Al's will ever be on the beach is after three decades of global
Maybe by then your automobile will be fixed. You admitted it to
intensive care shortly after arriving at Big Al's and from your room you
can confirm that they haven't done anything to it since. In fact, it
appears they are using parts from your engine to fix other cars.
Should you be concerned that the name of the place is Jack Kevorkian
Well, you're here. Time to relax, enjoy your vacation. Time to be
spontaneous, to live for the moment. Naturally, this means you must
immediately compile a list of Fun Things To Do.
This is what Dad's do: make lists. No one reads the lists after they
are made or listens to you as they are being written or notices that you
are talking, or breathing, but that has never stopped you. When you
pass on you would like your headstone to read like this:
2. Die (Don't forget!)
3. Get buried here
Vacations make for particularly wonderful lists, but no one is listening
except the dog, who has finished drinking out of the toilet and has come
over to lick your legs. Your oldest daughter picks up the telephone to
initiate what will become a six hour conversation with her best friend
back home. She begins with the words, "you wouldn't believe how boring
it is here." Your other daughter wants to go to the mall because,
despite her three suitcases, she "brought nothing to wear." Your son
plops down in front of HBO, a study in Flatline Response Syndrome. Your
wife, muttering, tromps off to find a washing machine so she can tend to
all the laundry that has piled up over the past three days. You tell
her you'd like to help, but it's not "on the list." Her look indicates
that you'd better add "celibacy" to the list of Fun Things To Do. The
mechanic from the car dealership sends word that you need to hurry right
over to look at your vehicle's transmission, "never seen anything like
it since the war."
You begin looking forward to going home.
The Cameron Column
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Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1997
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