The Trip’s The Thing

I’m heading off on a vacation or what I hope will be vacation: a road trip with my parents and my sister up the Eastern edge of the country.

It’s a return to the trips of my childhood since all of our family “vacations” were road trips. This isn’t our first family trip since my sister and I left the nest (we took a shorter road trip around New England two years ago), but it may be the last.

Getting on the road again with my family is a bit of a gamble for me, since I didn’t particularly like our family car trips.

Our cars weren’t well equipped for the open road and neither was I. Since I get car sick from the slightest bend in the road and the family car overheated at the slightest incline, we spent a lot time on the side of the road, rather than on the road.

Many people have romantic ideas of a road trip, but I know the reality. I know what it’s like to blow a fan belt in Winnemucca, NV. Or to stand on the narrow shoulder on an exposed mountain pass because the car overheated.

Car trouble was at least a chance of pace, though. Mostly what I remember from our car trips was the boredom. Sitting in the back seat with ice chests tucked under my legs for hours. Rolling into a new town, hangry (that’s Tablehopper-speak for being so hungry you’re angry and my family frequently suffers from this ailment, especially on the road), and with no place to stay.

In hindsight, I can see that financially, road trips were my family’s only option. A nurse and a teacher with two kids and a mortgage can’t really afford to fly somewhere, stay in a decent hotel. So instead, we drove…and we camped.

Camping meant finding room for 4 sleeping bags, a decent-sized tent, and cooking equipment in the car (do I even have to say that it was a station wagon?). And it meant rolling into new towns dusty as the Joads and smelling like a camp fire.

This trip should be better.

It’s too far away to consider camping, Reed’s ginger chews help my car sickness, and our rental car is pretty much guaranteed to be in better shape than the old overheating station wagon.

But now, there are new concerns: my mother’s intense snoring, for example, and my father’s intense frugality. (While I like to try local restaurants when travelling, my dad would be perfectly happy to buy a 12-inch Subway sandwich and snack off that for 4 days straight). And then there’s my sister’s relatively recent refusal to eat animal products — and we’re not headed to a region known for their vegan cuisine.

I’m different, too. I’m used to living with Mr. WholeHog, who is decibels quieter than my family. I’m used to San Francisco’s 65 degree weather. (I’m seriously frightened of the heat and humidity we could encounter next week.) And I’m used to knowing where my food comes from.

Going on the road, for me, means having to let go of control and that doesn’t always come easily.

But it’s an adventure. As my grandfather famously said, “The trip’s the thing.”

We know where we are starting and ending our trip, but we’re leaving the middle stretch wide open. We hope to have some good meals, and assume we’ll have some crummy ones, too. We’ll drink weaker coffee, swim in a warmer ocean and breathe a thicker air. We’ll try to see how the other side of the country — geographically and politically — lives.

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