Saturday, June 16, 2012

The first rule of Vacations is "Don't Let Chicago Rush Hour Traffic Hear You Say Its Name." (Vacations)

For now, every Saturday is going to feature a longer post on this blog, rotating among the various topics I've got going.  Today's is a new one:  VACATIONS, going over all the vacations I've ever taken.

I would like to make very clear that we live in a society where following the rules is very important, and so I am no less of a man because I did just that the first (and only) time I rode a jet ski.

We went to Mexico, Sweetie and I, about a year or two before we were married, the trip being my present to her one Christmas: an all-inclusive trip to Puerta Vallarta, where we would stay in a resort, have all our meals cooked for us, visit a foreign country, and I would follow the rules and lose a little bit of status, forever, in our marriage.

But first, we had to get there: I couldn't ride a jet ski in Mexico until I actually got to Mexico, and Sweetie couldn't find a way to tease me about stuff a decade-and-a-half later, without us getting to that foreign country, first, either, so we had to travel from Madison, Wisconsin, to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, which meant that we had to get up superearly.

If you take a trip, anywhere, at any time, with any member of my family, you will get up superearly.  That's the way vacations start: In the pre-dawn hours, the sky dark and the neighborhood asleep and the roads empty and your own eyes bleary and the kids carrying pillows so they can sleep in the car.  There are several reasons for this, the most important of which is "Avoiding Chicago Rush Hour traffic."

I am of mixed opinions about how much impact parents have on children.  On the one hand, I note that my parents raised four children, me, my two brothers, and my sister, and that we all have wildly varying outlooks on life and wildly varying standings in society, and I think "how could my parents have had such a big impact on us if we all turned out so differently?" and then on the other hand I realized that for my entire life no matter where I am going or how I am getting there, I have planned my vacations on the same theory that my parents did, and that theory begins with the maxim that one shall never drive through Chicago Rush Hour traffic if one can avoid it.

When I was younger, I would say things to my dad as we got ready for trips (being woken up at 3 a.m. to pile into the car) like "Why are we leaving so early?"

And he would respond "We want to avoid Chicago Rush Hour Traffic."

I grew up, then, mythologizing Chicago Rush Hour Traffic as a behemoth of terrifying proportions -- traffic so bad that we would never escape it, if we had the misfortune of entering it.  Traffic that swelled beyond the confines of the city, across the lands we were driving through (which were mostly flat, farmland-y areas with little clumps of trees, devoid of any giant pileups of post-apocalyptic flaming heaps of cars idling in traffic) to stall one out, leaving families sobbing in misery as their vacations ticked by with them inching forward (or not even inching forward) but never getting anywhere.

I can't say for sure because I was young, then, but I am 99% sure that on our family trip to South Dakota, we still got up and left superearly to avoid Chicago Rush Hour Traffic, and it was not until years later that I worked out that such a trip -- heading due west, through Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota, with a side-track into Iowa-- wouldn't have intersected Chicago at all.  Rationally speaking, I know it was unlikely then that we actually left early for the South Dakota vacation to avoid Chicago Rush Hour Traffic, but emotionally speaking, I'm pretty sure we did and I can't shake the feeling that Chicago Rush Hour Traffic is so bad that it could affect you no matter where you are, a singularity of traffic that eventually will pull into its maw all vacationers.

So our trip to Mexico had to begin early, and as an added precaution against Chicago Rush Hour Traffic, we were flying out of Milwaukee, not Chicago and not Madison.

I'm not sure how we ended up flying out of Milwaukee rather than Chicago or Madison.  I lived in Madison at the time, not Milwaukee, and Chicago is a sort of natural leaving point for flights from our area, being only about 2-3 hours away by car and therefore accessible without the expense of a connecting flight.  But this trip was booked in the era before there really was an "Internet," in that I think the Internet existed back then but nobody used it and I myself was skeptical that it was good for anything, and, really, the Internet in 1997 wasn't good for anything, was it?  There weren't any websites back then, because nobody really knew how to make one and if they did make one it was just full of flashing letters that spelled out the names of all their grandkids.

(It seems odd, but as I remember it, most of the prehistoric Internet back then seemed to have been dominated by grandparents.  Can that be right? Can the same people who find cell phones to be mystifying even though it's still a phone you just have to hit one extra button, the send button, and what's so hard about that? also be the people who first mastered the Internet?)

So when I decided go to Mexico, and to surprise Sweetie with a trip there, too, here is what I knew:  Mexico existed, and it is somewhere south of me.

I also knew that travel agencies existed -- do they still?-- and so I contacted one in our area, looking in the "Yellow Pages," which probably still exist, too, to find one.

(Two years after this, I would use that Internet, which I was still skeptical of, to book our hotels for my honeymoon with Sweetie.  I would successfully use it to book us into a string of Econolodges in areas of the city that were so bad I stayed awake all night the first night of our trip to protect us from murderers, spending the time using the phone to book different hotels for the rest of the trip.) 

The travel agency set us up with the flight, and so we ended up flying out of Milwaukee, and I'm not sure why; this was a travel agency decision that had nothing to do with me.  All I know is that the travel agency said that for the price of the trip, they would take care of everything and all I would have to do is pack and show up and have fun with those all-you-can-drink-all-inclusive Pina Coladas.

SPOILER ALERT: They didn't.

So we were going to leave from Milwaukee on the flight, but that alone wasn't inconvenient enough.  We still had to leave superearly, and so our flight was going to be boarding just prior to 7:00 a.m., Milwaukee time (which was the same as Madison time, even though Milwaukee is further east so if you want to be technical 7 a.m. Milwaukee time is probably like, 6:58 a.m. Madison time.)

Milwaukee being an hour away from us, we could have just gotten up superearly and driven there and got on the plane and been set but that would not be nearly complicated enough for a trip in my family, and besides Chicago Rush Hour Traffic there are a whole list of other things you must avoid in life, including parking charges, and so I made the decision that we would get a ride to the airport from my Mom, who lived in Milwaukee and who would then take our car back to her house where we could park it for a week safe from parking charges and bandits.

(Bandits -- a humorous word I apply to everyone in the world who I don't know -- are the combination of serial-killing-rapist-thieves that make up society outside of people we know.  Anytime you are away from your house, we learned from an early age, you are at the risk of people who would just as soon kill, rape, and murder you as they would look at you.  These people take note of when you are leaving on vacation and steal your mail, as well as breaking into your house to be there when you return so they can kill and rape you.  These people follow you to the Mall and steal your wallet which is why you must put it in your front pocket.  These people can spot you as a tourist from a hundred miles away and will defraud you or put you on the dangerous helicopter tour and so you don't take the helicopter tours at all.  And if they can't get to you, personally, they'll just go to the airport parking lot and ransack your car while you're on vacation, getting your radio and then there you are: You just paid parking fees for a week and your car got robbed!)

If you are keeping track, then, so far, our vacation from Madison to Mexico is set to begin at 7:00 a.m. in Milwaukee, and now includes my Mom dropping us off at the airport, which, while somewhat complicated, wasn't quite perfect yet, and so Mom suggested that it would be easier for all of us if we just went to her house on the Friday night before we left, and spent the night there.

That seemed reasonable to me, in that it made no sense but did complicate the departure nicely, so I agreed.

To be continued...


Andrew Leon said...

In an attempt to avoid traffic in San Francisco once, we left superearly but were foiled by a dead deer on the side of the road that caused traffic to slow to slug-like speeds causing us to catch the traffic in San Francisco.

Briane P said...

So, Chicago Rush Hour Traffic swallowed San Francisco? It's worse than I thought.

Andrew Leon said...

Evidently, yes.

anna. said...

sports boy and i will sometimes take a trip home (indiana and ohio) by leaving after our evening newscast (around 11PM) for that same reason. i feel your fear.