School will soon be out for the summer, and many unsuspecting families will embark on the traditional vacation road trip, realizing only too late that a summer vacation may be hazardous to your health. Or, at least, your sanity. Let me tell you about my recent vacation in hope that you can avoid disaster.
First, it should go without saying, but history has proved it must be said: Take your summer vacation during the summer months. That’s June, July, and August. Unless you’re going near the Canadian border, in which case summer will be July 10th to 15th. But take a sweater anyway. (Trust me, my first hike in the snow was on July 4 one year.)
Do not take a “summer vacation” in the spring. I visited beautiful Nebraska and South Dakota to see the abundant wildflowers that burst into joyful color in springtime. I learned two things: One, you can’t see the wildflowers when they’re buried under the morning’s snowfall; and two, the motels, restaurants, tourist traps, and 80 per cent of the state parks are closed tightly and hermetically sealed until after Memorial Day or May 31, whichever comes last. April and May, it turns out, are not actually summer months, despite the fact that in our Florida hometown we’re sick and tired of 90-degree temperatures by the end of March.
Second, if you are planning the vacation in order to “relax,” you may need to see your physician before traveling, and secure appropriate medication. Let me tell you some unforeseen circumstances that may make this advisable.
Exhibit A. You are in the passenger seat, watching the relaxing scenery flow by your window, when your vehicle happens to pass a meadow containing several deer. The (usually adorable) man driving your car bursts into shouts of “Deer! Deer! They’re mule deer! No! They’re white-tailed deer! No! No! They’re pronghorn antelopes! Pronghorns! Pronghorns!” The noise alone would prevent your relaxing, but when you reflexively look at the shrieking driver, you realize that he only has eyes for the white-tailed mule antelopes (he has begun counting them aloud, but they, of course, keep moving and making him lose count). You realize that you’re on a narrow, winding mountain road with a one-lane tunnel coming up in a quarter of a mile; a large tractor-trailer truck whose driver, statistically, is underpaid and sleep deprived, is speeding toward you and straddling the center line; and Marlin Perkins is counting the wildlife instead of, oh, let’s say, driving the car! Blessedly, your rigid body and terrified scream jolt Marlin’s attention back to the steering wheel just in time to avoid horrible, fiery death. Then he turns to you with a Christmas-morning grin on his innocent face and crows, “Fifteen! There were fifteen of them!”
Exhibit B. You pass a sign warning that the next gas station (and bathroom) is 200 miles ahead of you on the highway. Your driver turns to you a minute later and says, “We’re okay, right? I mean, we have more than a quarter of a tank.” That’s also the moment you realize you had four cups of coffee with breakfast.
Exhibit C. You survive a drive of more than 2,000 miles, much of it on semi-paved, pigtail-curvy, cliff-edge roads, so that your partner can hike one particular little-known national park. You arrive at the park, drive to the first trailhead, and watch your partner tromp gleefully up the trail with his cellphone camera. You can finally relax. You begin to fill in the crossword puzzle you’ve been saving for a week, waiting for an opportunity like this to sit quietly. You fill in three words and are trying to remember a five-letter word that means “idiosyncratic,” when the driver’s door whips open. Someone leaps into the car and slams the door, panting as if chased there by a mountain lion. “It’s freezing out there!” he gasps. Apparently, he had not noticed the snow on the ground when he parked the car and got out. Imagine how relaxed you will be for the next three days while he moans, whines, and grieves about his hike-of-a-lifetime dream being ruined by weather. Try to relax while gritting your teeth in order to not say, “It’s April 3rd in South Dakota, and this is exactly what those forecasters have been talking about all week while you read your park brochures rather than listen to the weather reports.”
Exhibit D. You’re closing your eyes and gripping the passenger side armrest with white knuckles as the car swoops around and around and around a mountainside on a steep downhill grade. You know your partner is a well-educated, reasonably sane adult who is aware of the dangers of the situation. You take comfort (even if you don’t quite relax) knowing he will not take his eyes off the road or his hands off the wheel. Then his right hand swishes across your nose as he extends a pointing finger out the passenger window and leans toward you announcing, “Just look at that view! You can see the whole valley from up here!” You calmly remind him of his life-preserving piloting duties as, ostensibly, the driver of the vehicle. You express your cogent and succinct advice by saying, more or less, “Aack-aargh-ulck!”
Lest you think I am exaggerating the dangers of a summer vacation, reflect on this: I haven’t even mentioned the children yet! Or Grandma, with her creaky, ancient, flatulent dog.
Planning your summer vacation? You have been warned.