Sunday, February 11, 2007

Not Necessarily Fun for the Whole Family

I have a serious aversion to car trips. This can be traced back to my early childhood memories of the family vacation. The vacations of my childhood were really not vacations at all when I think back to it. They were more like ordeals to be suffered with my sister and I both trapped in the backseat of a car for days on end with a father determined to poison us with second-hand smoke. Like most families, the “vacation” took place in summer. My father enjoyed the after-market air conditioning he had installed in the family car and kept it set to “meat locker”. I would always ask if we could please roll a window down just a little bit and he would respond with,” No. We're running the air conditioner”. This was accompanied by both a frown and a tone of voice that suggested that, possibly, you weren’t a terribly bright child after all. I didn’t have any better luck when I would start up with,” Well, could you not smoke then?” That was simply not an option. We were in the smoking section, like it or not.

The worst family vacation did not have just the whole “trapped in a car with all the windows up” element. It gets even better than that. We were traveling in my dad’s truck that did not have air conditioning. Did I mention that it was summer? Four of us on a bench seat in an old truck with no air conditioning, legs sticking to 1970's vinyl seats. With temperatures high enough that highways would buckle from the heat and road crews would have to block off sections of highway, we set off on “vacation”.

This was really not a vacation at all even though my dad persisted in calling it that. Somehow he convinced my mom that it would be fun if we all went along on this little journey to hell. He had volunteered to help my uncle Kevin move to South Dakota and since it was going to be so much fun, he wanted us all to go, you know, to share the fun. As far as I know, crack did not exist back in the early seventies, but for some reason my mother was in agreement with this crazy idea.

We followed behind my more sensible uncle, his wife and my baby cousin, all traveling in a nice air-conditioned car. We were jammed together like sardines and sweaty ones at that. It seemed like an incredibly long drive to get to Rapid City but we finally made it. I remember that we stayed at a motel with a pool, which is always a plus when you are a kid. Uncle Kevin and his family stayed at a more expensive place, because for them, it had to be a Holiday Inn at the very least.

We didn’t see a whole lot of my uncle on that trip, despite the fact that moving them was the reason for the trip. We did eat at the same restaurants for most meals and the most interesting thing about that was watching Uncle Kevin’s wife feed the baby. She was breast-feeding, which at seven years old, I had never even heard of. To add to my fascination, the woman had no inhibitions whatsoever and did not make any effort to be discreet. She would have her boob out in plain sight right there over lunch! Then after lunch it would be back to the truck to listen to my dad complain about the boob being out in plain sight right there over lunch!

After the truck was unloaded at my uncle’s new place, we set off to see South Dakota. My dad insisted on driving through the Bad Lands, which is South Dakota’s own version of a desert. We came close to suffering heat strokes but that didn’t stop us. We continued on with our “vacation”. My mom became ill right there in the Bad Lands, miles away from civilization and was forced to suffer through diarrhea with nothing more for privacy than a big rock. It amazes me to this day that she didn’t call a divorce attorney after that one.

Next on our agenda was the mandatory visit to Mount Rushmore as well as the drive through the Black Hills. I remember the Black Hills being heavily forested and seeing deer for the first time. South Dakota is also home to the donkeys known as “The Begging Burros” that roam in the state park. Evidently they just wander around looking for food or even better, people with food. So, naturally, we had to stop to feed them. Finally, something fun for kids! They were so incredibly tame that they would just all walk up and gather around to see what kind of treat you brought for them. My mom, my sister and I were having fun with the animals and ignoring my dad saying that it was time to get in the car. For God’s sake, we were finally doing something fun and he was ruining it. We continued petting the donkeys and feeding them, until we ran out of food. Uh-oh. My dad continued nagging about how it was time to get in the car, blah, blah, blah. Then the donkeys were noticeably displeased that the food was gone. My dad forced us all into the car but there was a little problem. He was still out there with the donkeys. Mad donkeys. That rapidly progressed to my dad being chased by mad donkeys…

When he finally was able to make his escape, his mood was not at all improved by the fact that we all thought it was funny. REALLY FUNNY. Like so funny that even though he was back in the truck and furious, we still couldn’t stop laughing. The more we laughed the angrier he became. This made all the boob complaining look like little league. Now he had something to talk about on the long, long ride home. And he was smoking.

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