In this first of a multi-part version of the SRS Report, we ditch (most of) the bullet points. After all, as they say, Diversity is the father of Invention. Or . . .is that right? Yeah, yeah. Because Adversity and Diversity were an item in college, got married like REALLY soon after and Invention was born later that year. . . Yep, it’s coming back to me. Not sure if it worked out between them . . . Adversity was a bit of a whiner.
Anyway, the following report is brought to you by a markedly non-restful (but “memory-making”) week recently spent with my wife and kids in the great, hot, expensive state of Florida.
The (Metaphorical) Drive
When my wife and I decided that we as a family would partake in that great American tradition of escaping the heartland and driving straight for the coast, some burning questions arose in that nebulous place somewhere between the heart and the soul (in retrospect, it may have just been indigestion from an irresponsible diet, but that’s not important at this point):
- What is it that compels us to travel from home?
- What draws us to the sea?
- Why does a shrimp Po’ Boy (presumably short for “Poor Boy”) sandwich cost $14? Are they being ironic?
While it is certainly fruitless to try to answer the last question, I thought much on the first two in the time leading up to our trip.
Is it the seemingly endless expanse of coastal waters, that unbroken bluish plane which reminds us of the vastness of our own planet – of our universe – as we try to find our place within it?
Is it the salted air, working to cure and restore both body and soul?
I think so.
Is it the chance to wake at an unholy hour, to sit in a confined space from dusk-till-dawn, legs cramping, back aching, as device cords and fast food wrappers pile up and entangle us all? The chance to search in vain for a long-defunct Arby’s, the existence of which no one bothered to remove from the sign on the highway? The chance to slog across hot sands, sands which cling and chafe like a hundred thousand burning suns to both skin and crevice? The chance to live in fear that you may have missed a spot when applying the SPF 50, ensuring a very localized yet still-as-annoying case of sun poisoning? To sit and absorb the majesty of the sea for a grand total of seven minutes before someone either has to pee or realizes that they forgot something at the condo or has an epiphany that they don’t, in fact, like the beach and would rather be at the pool or the water park you passed on the way into town?
Is it the opportunity to head back to the heartland in a ruined vehicle, more tired and with much less money than when you arrived?!
Yes. Yes, it most certainly is.
So we obeyed the call, loaded up the van and pointed it toward the Gulf of Mexico!*
*(And eventually drove it there, in case that was unclear. “Pointed it toward the Gulf” sounded like a neat turn of phrase, until I realized that it might appear like we just oriented our van so that it faced Florida. Which would have been strange, but come to think of it much simpler.)
The (Literal) Drive
As we headed out, I was allowed the relative luxury of resting in the knowledge that my wife had done pretty much all of the planning and packing, and had, per usual, nailed it. Had I been responsible for packing needed items for myself, my spouse and the kids, we would have spent half of the first day in Florida buying clothes, swimsuits, and toiletries, and the other half trying to convince five doctors to send emergency prescriptions to the local CVS. (I.e. dad ruins vacation before it begins, gnashing of teeth ensues.)
But, since I am married to a planner-and-executor extraordinaire, I was allowed to focus on my primary job as the driver, the family chauffeur, armed and ready not only to navigate with the utmost safety, but to, at a moment’s notice, dispense that wisdom which has been passed down by generations of fathers through centuries of road trips:
“If you can’t keep your hands to yourself, I’ll turn this car around and we’ll just go home!”
Thankfully, I never had to unleash fatherly diatribes so dire, as the kids were, overall, well-behaved.
That’s not to say that there weren’t challenges. For instance, even though we experience it daily here at home, the speed at which trash and other refuse piled up in the van was staggering. By the time we made our first stop at a Chick-fil-A, we all filed out, dragging belongings and trash into the parking lot. The good news is that we had a chance to stretch our legs, throw some things away, and re-adjust our packed van.
The bad news is that we had only driven 3 miles.
We were going to have to do better if we were going to make it to the coast before Christmas.
Realizing this, we enjoyed our chicken biscuits (perhaps a bit too nonchalantly, seeing as we were 3 miles from our actual house and 630 miles from our beach destination) and pressed forward at a much more ambitious pace, stretching the 3-miles-between-stops to 30, and even beyond. And, while we all eventually began to suffer from being cooped up, I have to say I felt for the kids particularly – sitting in one place can be a luxury for a parent, but for a child, it has to be akin to torture. All of that pent up energy has to come out in some way.
While they mostly maintained their composure in the car, they would release their bottled energy with a vengeance when we reached the hotel we stayed at the first night. (Yes, we broke what was easily a one day trip up into a two-day affair, choosing to extend our road “adventure” (read: “word which people use for things which are unpleasant but unavoidable, so that they seem less so”, as in “This colonoscopy is going quite an adventure!”).)
When we finally arrived at said hotel, it was as if the kids had spent all of their time in the car working up a community theater version of “Oliver!”. Kids were dancing everywhere, running artfully across counters and jumping on tables, evidently responding to music that must have been playing inside their own heads. They picked the pockets of fellow travelers and sang songs about how much they don’t mind a life of danger. Eventually, a couple of ne’er-do-wells from the local workhouse showed up to steal the kids’ fortune but ended up shot by some off duty British police officers.
It was insane.
(Spoiler Alert: they nailed the ending, being reunited with their family and turning their back on a life of crime, enjoying a bowl of gruel and collapsing in bed as if nothing happened, as per usual. I was very proud of how true-to-life and gritty they made the whole thing.)
The second leg of the trip the following day, save for the slight amount of human-to-human jostling which was required to access our free hotel breakfast, was fairly uneventful, which is really all you can ask in situations such as these (I’ll say it again: whoever said it is “the journey, not the destination” did not journey with kids. Being able to travel leisurely with young children, to revel in the various sites and attractions this great land has to offer, is a myth, much like the ever-illusive “indoor voice” – you’d be better served spending your time trying to find Sasquatch riding a unicorn, the pair being abducted into a spaceship driven by 2-Pac.)
However, I was struck by 2 observations as we closed in on Florida:
First, I like the HOV lane. We don’t have them in my hometown. I think we need to expand this idea. There needs to be a lane next to the HOV lane reserved for those traveling with 2 or more kids. Of course, it would be 95% Honda Odysseys, and set some kind of record for the most screenings of “Moana” per square foot.
Secondly, I don’t listen to enough country music. On this trip, we listened to a lot of country music, and the storytelling contained therein, while less than stellar, gave a glimpse into a charmed, foreign existence.
For instance, I noticed there are a lot of songs about couples in love, including many where they are riding shotgun together, in a truck (of course), leaning into each other, hand-in-hand, music cranked up, riding around without a care in the world, probably going to end the night dancing with some friends at the lake or cruising some back roads in search of fireflies.
Here’s the thing: I’ve yet to hear a country song about a couple cruising in a packed van to Florida, she wondering why he spends so much time in the slow lane, he lecturing her on some of the finer points of highway driving safety.
That would be a great song.
I may write that song That song writes itself.
Up next, Part 2. Including observations on shopping where the Golden Girls shopped, state flag revisions, giving away hermit crabs, and the hottest substance known to mankind.