Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holiday Road

American Popular Culture is rife with stores of the family road trip.

From the Donner Party, to The Grapes of Wrath, and even Lost in Space, we Americans love stories about families hitting the road and the difficulties encountered on the way.

As a child I grew up with the experiences of vacations featuring roadside scenes captured from the back of a GM Station Wagon outfitted with a full size mattress and pushed forward with a gasoline sucking 454 cubic inch V8 engine.

It was the culmination of the Monroe Doctrine, the American Family pushing outward on the back of 5,000 pounds of road kill producing steel. On these trips I met my fellow countrymen and sampled local delicacies like scrapple (sort of like corned beef hash). It was also where I bonded the most with my family.

My father usually drove. My mother usually criticized how he drove. My sister had the middle seat to herself. She needed the room for all of her teenaged attitude. My brother and I laid on the mattress in the back and tried to talk to truck drivers on the CB.

And even though we saw things like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls,  I don't think that was the purpose of the trips.

It was on these two week long imprisonments that I learned the most about my family. The confinement forced interaction and tolerance between us. Although resentment was easy to find, compassion and caring was never lacking. We knew we would survive if only we stayed together.

In 2005 I finally got divorced. It was the last gasp of a marriage in which I had spent more time separated than together with my wife. For two years previous to the divorce I learned what it was to be a single dad and considered myself an expert. To celebrate the possibilities and the future that came along with removing my wedding band, I planned a vacation road trip with my son who was five at the time. With 3,200 pounds of camper being pulled by a 2.5 liter Honda V6 we headed out.

Stopping at the Corn Palace, Wall Drug, and Mount Rushmore on the way, we brought along our Chicago good sense and blazed a trail to Yellowstone National Park.

Once there we saw moose, bears, buffalo, and geysers. As visitors we quickly came to realize the importance of preserving the National Parks as well as not leaving trash outside of your camper.

On the second night of our visit tragedy struck. My son had a split tooth and at 2 am, 1,400 miles from home, we had a problem. Using cold water to soothe the pain so he would stop screaming, he finally fell asleep.

Later that morning I found myself on the road again, this time to Saint John, Idaho, and the closest dental clinic. At the advice of the dentist, after the temporary filling was in place, we headed to the local pharmacy for a huckle-berry shake.

My son and I shared a huckle-berry shake in a pharmacy somewhere in Idaho that still had a soda fountain. You just can't get that on an airplane.

Fast forward nine years. As I write this, I am feeling a little better, having finally recovered from a road trip to Florida with my family. On the way I developed bronchitis which needed a trip to the immediate care center, watched my now 14 year old son buy a disgusting alligator head, tested my wife's patience with my stubbornness while she battled with "is that a cop?"-itis, and scolded the 4 year old repeatedly for simply not listening and continuing to mess with his brother.

As awful as it was, I am sure I will always look back at that time with great fondness.