It’s hard to piece together exactly what happened in the moments after we arrived at Logan airport in the wee hours of a freezing cold, sleeting December morning, only to be told that our JetBlue flight to Fort Meyers, Florida, had been canceled. I blame my own bizarre behavior on the Lorazepam I’d taken in anticipation of a flight. My husband, David, has no excuse, as far as I’m concerned. But after determining that we could not get another flight where we’d be guaranteed seats together (a necessity when you’re travelling with a seven-year-old and a toddler) for possibly another two days, we looked around at the miserable people pulling tired, pasty children through zig-zagging lines and debated postponing the whole trip.
“But I really want to go!” I said. And then, desperately: “We could drive!”
That was the Lorazepam talking. And this is where the temporary insanity part kicks in on David’s part. Because what he should have said was, “Woman! Are you crazy?! We are not driving to Florida with two kids!” But what he did say, while nodding slowly, was, “Huh. We could rent a minivan…it could be an adventure…we should do it!”
Wait — what!? Who were we? We are not road trip people. We’re not minivan people, either! I’m Type A, a planner, some would even say uptight — I don’t throw stuff into a minivan and take off (and yes, I do realize that any coolness I am trying to convey in our breezy “Let’s do it!” decision is totally negated by the presence of a minivan).
My seven-year-old, CJ, took some convincing. Like many kids she is not great with a sudden change of plans and had immediately started crying when we were told about the flight, but once I told her that road trips are when you get to eat things like Cheetos and Cool Ranch Doritos, she was fully on board. That kid will do anything for a chemically-coated chip.
So off we drove, on what I would describe as three days and two nights of 85 percent fun — and who doesn’t want to have 85 percent fun? In retrospect, the thought of listening to Gangnam Style and that Phillip Phillips song back-to-back for hours (we also told CJ she could be in charge of music) while trying to keep the seventeen-month-old entertained in a car seat sounds really, really bad. “Are you a masochist?” one friend asked me on Facebook. So I’m not sure exactly what conspired to make it work, but I know that part of it was the self-adopted spirit of adventure — turns out there’s something to that whole “power of positive thinking” thing. Oh, and “The journey is the destination,” and all that jazz.
The other part of the equation was that I really needed to get out of town. In fact, once we were in the freezing cold car on the way to the airport earlier that morning, with our bags all packed, there was no way I was going back home. On top of a truly wonderful but exhausting Christmas with the kids, I had just helped empty out the house my parents had lived in for over twenty years. We finally had buyers for the place and my dad had flown back from Florida to empty the place with our help.
It happened to be exactly two years after my mother’s death from complications due to early-onset Alzheimer’s. My mom had adored this house and filled it with a mish-mash of Oriental rugs and contemporary art and antique bed frames and unexpected paint colors and colorful outdoor gardens with small cement creatures peeking out from under bushes — it had all, somehow, completely worked. Now it was all faded and chipped and peeling, and hauling it all away to our basements and charities and, ultimately, a giant dumpster, was depressing. For all of us, I believe, the house was a little piece of my mother that we still had with us and, although we were ready to sell the albatross and move on, it felt like we were letting her go all over again.
After that, I needed to hit the road. I was desperate for the clarity of mind and levity that comes with a change of scenery. I wanted sun and warmth and fun, goddammit.
I quickly noted that when you’re driving, as David was, you can’t check your email constantly; and when you’re a passenger who is prone to motion sickness, as I am, you can’t be updating Facebook constantly, either. So we mostly talked or sang, or CJ played on my phone and we remained quiet or used headphones when Hugh was sleeping. We commented on the scenery. Nothing deep happened. I could have listened to an audiobook but I didn’t. We could have discussed New Year’s resolutions or David’s business plans but we didn’t. There was no NPR, no fiscal cliff, and no stupid comments from the NRA in our minivan. We learned all the words to the Phillip Phillips song and also, weirdly, most of the words to Gangnam Style. We took off our coats and shoes and we tried to spot the White House from the highway (not possible) and we named some state capitals.
And of course, there were times when we couldn’t stand each other. I was less than thrilled when David drove completely over a median on the highway in New Jersey, and then there was that occasional screaming baby situation. I think it was around Virginia when Hugh was getting antsy and I realized how much further we had to go; I suddenly got claustrophobic in the minivan and I thought I might freak out if I heard the Phillip Phillips song one more time. I said something to David like, “Thank god we’re flying home,” which CJ overheard and in a truly distraught voice yelled from the back seat, “We’re FLYING HOME?!? But I want to drive home!” The fact that she was having fun cracked me up and got me back in the zone.
Frankly, if you had told us in advance that we were going to be stuck in a car together for three days we probably all would have said some version of, “Please just tell me what I need to do to not have that happen.” We are not the “together all the time” family, due to both scheduling issues and, also, being the kind of people who need some personal space. And although the makers of the Kia Sedona would surely argue to the contrary, there’s no personal space in a minivan.
But in a way I think that was the point. Even on a typical vacation everyone is checking email and sending texts and checking in with the office. For better or worse (and there was some of both) we had the more old fashioned, shared experience. And we lived to tell the tale. Not only that, but by the time we got to our vacation destination the actual planned vacation seemed like a bonus, an extra.
Some random observations and thoughts:
–There are some really cool looking neighborhoods in downtown Baltimore, where we made a pit stop in a Whole Foods. David pointed out the docks, and said, “That would mean something to you if you watched The Wire.” But I don’t, so it didn’t. Still, I’d like to go back to DC and Baltimore sometime.
–Wow, you have to drive really, really FAR for weather that could be considered even somewhat mild, nevermind actually warm. We wore our winter jackets until we got to Georgia.
–Speaking of Georgia, we stayed in a fabulous hotel there on New Year’s Eve, right off the highway. It’s funny how, for about $139 a night, you can get a room that’s a step above a jail cell, or a really great place like this one. Glad we landed in this gem to ring in the new year (at 10pm, with Ryan Seacrest on the TV and CJ wearing some crazy glasses we purchased at a Dollar Store where we stopped when Hugh was freaking out).
–And if you ever decide to do such a trip, add about 8-10 hours to your estimate of driving time. Because there’s almost always someone who needs to use the bathroom or eat or have their diaper changed. (Also, we had visions of driving for hours at night while the kids were asleep but that did not happen. Turns out they are not car sleepers and could never get comfortable enough for a deep sleep, so after 7pm it got ugly.)
–JetBlue can suck it and Hotwire can double-suck it. Those are stories for another day, though.
–Minivans are awesome. They are huge inside! I wish I would get over my stupid “I’ll never drive a minivan” self and get one. But I’m not going to.
What’s that? Would I do the roadtrip again? That’s a good question. I’m gonna go with no — I think the spontaneity was a big part of the fun. Although, in some ways the long drive was easier than the three-hour flight home (tragically, the TVs were not working on our flight). There were times when things got very sloppy in that minivan, but at least is was our own, private, shared sloppy. And that was only about 15 percent of the time.