Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sometimes, a house. (Vacations)

Stuff that was NOT for sale at the Superman Museum
Continuing the story of my recent vacation to Florida... read part one by clicking here
or part two by clicking here
Or part three by clicking here.

TO RECAP: We were going to Florida to hang out with Sweetie's family for a week, and got waylaid by recalcitrant car lenders and three cases of strep throat. But it was 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, we had stopped and gotten McDonald's for the trip, and were ON OUR WAY!

Let me begin this portion of the story by pointing out that Mr Bunches and Mr F have only rarely left our house and never for this long a time. Their last real vacation was a trip to Florida back four years ago, almost four years to the day, when we had taken a trip with the then-Babies! and Middle Daughter and The Boy to go to Orlando to make use of the vacation package I had purchased in a spurt of optimism one time using our tax refund.

That trip is for another day, but the main thing we remembered about it, vis a vis Mr F and Mr Bunches, was that they had not slept.

Not at all, as far as we could tell, for four days.  Four days in a hotel suite with two little boys who would not, under any circumstances, sit down long enough to let them fall asleep at all, and consequently, we almost never slept on that trip, at all.

Since then, Mr F and Mr Bunches had not been away from their home for more than a single night, and those single nights had not gone much better.  We had taken them with us when we went to drop off Middle Daughter at college, and stayed in a hotel room that night, with Mr F having to be almost forcibly subdued before he would sleep: I literally took him in my arms, and laid with him on the bed, and held him immobile as much as I could for as long as I could, with him occasionally trying to worm out or kick me or just tap his tappers around on whatever was handy, e.g., my head.  He'd fallen asleep, that time, about 2:00 a.m. and woken up about 2:02 a.m. and we'd eventually packed up and gone home to get some sleep.

That was what we expected on this trip, too: we were all, Sweetie, me, The Boy, girding ourselves for a nightmare of no sleep for the week, trying to figure out how long we'd cope before we got exhausted... then started to hallucinate... then turned on each other and began infighting, so that eventually the authorities would find a triple murder-suicide at a resort in Orlando, with two little boys wandering around in their Justice League pajamas, bags under their eyes.

What we didn't know, and could hardly contemplate, was how Mr F and Mr Bunches would react, period, to being away from their house for 8 consecutive days, a period of time that was double their previous record, from when they were two and of which they had no recollection; all trips since then had been only one-day affairs and those had been tough enough.

So as we set out for the first leg of the journey, to Metropolis, Illinois, that was what I was mainly pondering: Would Mr F and Mr Bunches be able to handle the rigors of the road, and how would they react to not seeing their house and their stuff for over a week?

To help deal with that,we'd brought along a big chunk of their stuff, including one of the mattresses from their beds and a tub, literally a tub, of their toys, stuffed into the back of Sweetie's car with the bag of medicines and facial creams, the suitcases of t-shirts, and the bag of beach toys that I'd bought at Toys"R"Us to use at the ocean.  Our idea was that they might not miss their house so much if 90% of their house had come with them to Florida.

Loaded down, we began the most boring part of the trip: the beginning.  Starting out on a vacation, when you are driving, is always boring.  When you start on a vacation and you're flying, you are almost instantly transported into VacationLand, a wonderful place where you are unencumbered by the familiar, where you are free to make purchases that you would not otherwise make, able to read that book you have been saving for vacation, able to watch TV at 9:30 a.m. even though ordinarily you would never do that, because when you start out on a vacation and you are flying, you go to the airport and the airport is part of VacationLand, not part of Regular Life.

I have always loved airports, always found them exciting, and I finally hit on why with this latest vacation:: it's because airports are in no way connected with anything that I associate with real life.  When you walk into an airport, there are decorations (Chicago's O'Hare has dinosaur skeletons, Madison's airport has an airplane hanging up there) and there are security guards and there are those stores that sell t-shirts and books and candy and soda, with their stuff just all out in the open and spreading into the mall area because what are you going to do, steal a t-shirt and run past all the security?  There are newstands and shoeshine places and runways and TVs up in the corners, and all you have to do, to begin your vacation, is take a short drive and suddenly everything is different and you've got permission to buy a bunch of junk food, sit on a chair, pull out that book you bought, and watch CNN Headline News while you eat Circus Peanuts and read a sci-fi novel, which is what a vacation is.  Your vacation has begun, right then.

But when you drive on vacation, your vacation takes forever to start. We had loaded up the car and gone to our same old gas station and same old McDonald's, and we'd already been "on the road" for 20 minutes by that point and I could still see my house.

 Mr F briefly took an interest in our surroundings before deciding that tapping coat hangers together was more interesting than highway scenery.  (He was right.)

Well, not really, because my house is hidden by trees behind a hill, but I could still see where I would look to see my house if I could see my house.

When you drive on vacation, you drive through all the familiar stuff that you drive through all the time, and that takes forever.  When we "left" for Orlando this time, we drove almost the exact same route that I take on my commute to work for the first five miles, so I was on vacation and sitting in the exact same traffic I drive through every day.

Eating a cheeseburger, granted, but still.

From Madison we went onto the Interstate, which is not the best way to travel if you want to actually see stuff.  The Interstate Highway system is a great idea for getting people to and from places really quickly, but you know what's an even better idea for getting people to and from places really quickly? Airplanes, and the view is the same from an airplane or an Interstate: almost nothing.

This is the most scenic thing you can find on most highways: A wall.
When we'd decided to drive, which we decided because we weren't sure how the boys would react to flying and didn't want to be on the news for being the family that got kicked off a plane bound for Florida because one of their twins wouldn't stop freaking out, I'd told Sweetie that it was okay in part because I love road trips, which I do, and because we would "see the sights."

But I'd been mistaken on that latter one, and I can be forgiven, because the last few "road trips" we'd taken had been years ago -- taking the kids to California, where we drove a lot, and taking Sweetie to New York for our honeymoon, where we hadn't worried about the scenery -- and I'd had somehow, in my mind, replaced the actual scenery that accompanies an Interstate road trip:

Scraggly trees. Long fields of nothing.  Sometimes, a house.

With what I assumed was the scenery that accompanies an Interstate road trip:

Wacky tourist traps, panoramic city vistas, the sprawling majesty of the United States.  

You don't see none of that from the Interstate - or precious little, anyway, especially when the bulk of your trip is done in the Midwest, which appears to be a place that long ago got rid of all its scenery because decent folk don't need scenery, not if they're going to be respectable people, let those hippies in California have the scenery, we're fine with a few small trees and whatnot, which is why the only scenic place in the entire Midwest is now the Wisconsin Dells and in an attempt to hide that like a guilty teenager with a Playboy, we Wisconsinites have buried the Dells under waterparks and minigolfs.

All of which is to say: we drove on down I-90 towards the Illinois border and the excitement of finally being on the way was overcome almost instantaneously with the drudgery of the Interstate that exists in Wisconsin between Madison and Beloit, a city that I associate with the terror of being lost.

Beloit, Wisconsin, sits right on the border of Wisconsin and Illinois, and is a city that nobody goes to willingly, as far as I can tell.  The only time I've ever been to Beloit is when I have had to stop for gas on the way somewhere else, and I never actually venture into the city.  Of course, I may be biased, because my earliest memory of Beloit is that I almost ended up living there as a result of a fight between my parents.

I think.

Here's what happened: When I was a kid, I had lazy eye. 

I still have lazy eye, I mean, but it's not as bad as it was and it all started when I was a kid, so when I was a kid, I had lazy eye.  And to get it fixed, a little, I had to go see an eye doctor in Madison, which was kind of a problem in that we lived in Milwaukee, an hour away, and don't ask me why we had to go to Madison to treat a relatively common eye problem. But we had to go, and we were in Madison long enough that it got dark out, and we left Madison in the dark.

I was in the backseat, trying to read a book, which was what I did in the car when I was a kid, and it was made harder by the fact that it was dark, and also I'd had my eyes dilated and so couldn't see all that great, and my Mom and Dad were up front, driving and only paying attention to me to tell me to quit trying to read because I'd hurt my eyes, which was ridiculous because my eyes were already hurt.  Or at least, lazy.

We'd been driving along for a while when I became aware of a more tense feeling in the car, something that was not uncommon in my childhood, where tension was a constant companion, but this was starting to boil over as my parents were arguing about where we were headed and whether we were on the right route.

I don't remember all the details of the conversation/argument: it got bigger and more heated as my Dad claimed one thing and my Mom claimed another about where we were going or what road we should take, but I do remember this exchange:

Mom:  It says you're going to Beloit!

Dad:  F**K IT! Then we'll go to Beloit and we'll live THERE!
I, in the backseat, got suddenly sad and scared because I didn't know anyone in Beloit.

We didn't go to Beloit, of course, we made it back home, but that momentary fight, there in the dark of what I know now to be I-90, a road I drive all the time, made such an impression on me that nearly 40 years later I still think, every time I see Beloit:

"F**K IT! Then we'll go to Beloit and we'll live THERE!"

Every. time.

Think about that, if you are a parent or will be one: You will spend night after night after night trying to teach your kid to do math or be responsible or clean his room or something, and none of that will have as much of a lasting impact as one explosion of frustration that was not even directed at him.

Beloit, in other words, is the ideal marker for the edge of Wisconsin when we leave on trips, because only those memories of possibly going to live in Beloit would ever be the final impetus into doing what we did as we drove past Beloit on this trip, which was to cheer, as we crossed the state line past the sign that said "Welcome To Illinois!"

"ILLINOIS!" I said.  "YAY!"

"Illinois!" Sweetie said.  "Yay!"

The Boy was playing with his laptop and ignored us.  Mr F was tapping a coat hanger against the window and ignored us.

"Say Hi, Illinois!" I told Mr Bunches, who looked up from his iPad.

"Hi, Illinois," he said, in a small, quiet voice, and waved.

This is a McDonald's playland, somewhere in Kentucky, or maybe Tennessee.  Or Georgia?  All I know for sure is, it's really hot inside that top row and I should not have agreed to chase Mr Bunches through it.

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

I think your part of the country has even gotten rid of some of its cities in order to get rid of scenery. I was driving through Idaho once, and we went past Boise, at least, the signs said we were going by Boise, but there was nothing there. Just an unending field and one lone building off in the distance.