Saturday, July 07, 2012

We are READY TO GO. Well, almost. (Vacations)

Continuing the story of my recent vacation to Florida... read part one by clicking here, or part two by clicking here.

I may have mentioned once or twice my displeasure with the medical establishment, a displeasure that arises from their inability to deal with my own heart condition, which for simplicity's sake I'll just refer to as Yossarian's Liver.

One thing I have learned from my repeated exposures to Big Medicine is that Big Medicine doesn't like it when you come in there all knowing what you've got and uppity and all.  As I've said in the past, if you go into a doctor's office and tell them what you think you have, they will make up their mind immediately to never ever treat you for that thing and will probably use that little ear-light thing to inject your brain with test DNA they cooked up over lunch just to see what happens.  That is almost certainly a real thing that doctors do, in my mind.

So I at least never tell the doctors what I think is wrong with me.  My entire job in a doctor's office consists of two tasks:

1.  Act like I couldn't possibly have any clue what's happening to me even if I saw it happen, like, for example, let's say you were in your backyard with your kids and spraying them with a hose because it was hot out, and you upset a nest of bees you didn't know was there and you rescued your boys from the bees without them getting stung at all because YOU ARE A SUPERHERO FOR CRYING OUT LOUD but you got stung 17+ times yourself (your wife will say it was 16 in the future but you will want to be very clear that it was "at least 17" and that "there may have been more" because while 16 is a lot, 17 is more but sometimes you also think maybe 17 doesn't sound like that many bee stings.

Let's say that happened to you and you go into the ER because you're having trouble breathing.  The last thing you will want to do is tell the doctor that you got stung by a bee and are having trouble breathing, because that doctor will then not be able to treat you for bee-sting-related-shortness of breath while he goes to search for the experimental DNA to load into the ear thing, and you will be told "Okay, you're free to go" just moments before you pass out on the stretcher in the ER (which, if you are going to pass out on a stretcher, is a good place to do it.)

2.  Act as though I am going to die at any time and can't possibly focus on what is going on.  This is pretty easy if, for example, you go to the doctor when you can't breathe, or are having a heart attack (which they will diagnose as heartburn and try to send you on your way, also, something they only do when they run  out of Ear DNA) but it's harder to do if you just have a sore throat and cough and can't talk.

I knew those rules when  I took myself and Mr Bunches and Mr F, all of us sharing the same sore throat, cough, and lack of voice, to the Urgent Care on Saturday morning, but I also knew this:  just about two months before, there had been a run of strep throat through the boys' school, and I had gotten it.  I had lost my voice and had a cough and had a sore throat, and the doctor who I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING said "You don't have strep" also gave me antibiotics (he didn't say why he was giving them to me if I didn't have strep, so obviously he was just mad that I'd told him (A) there is strep throat going around and (b) I have it, but he was out of Ear DNA) and I was better in three days.

So that Saturday morning, I took a calculated risk and told the receptionist and the nurse and eventually the two different doctors we had to see ("On Saturdays, we have the children seen by the pediatric unit," Doctor One explained to me, all but adding "It's our way of further dehumanizing this entire experience and ensuring that it's as long and tedious as we can make it.") that I thought we had strep throat, and that also we were leaving on vacation just as soon as they were done and gave us antibiotics.


Doctor: [peering into my throat with a popsicle stick jabbing my uvula]: Why do you think  you have strep?

ME: argharbaroisergasp.

Doctor [removes stick]:  Your throat is very raw and red.

Me: [hoarsely]:  I had strep about two months ago and it was exactly like this.  There was a case of strep throat going around.  Now I have those same symptoms.

Doctor:  I don't think it's strep.  But we'll do some tests.  Did you say you're leaving on vacation?
Me: [Nods]

Doctor: They'll take a little while.
Mr Bunches at the pool in our first hotel. That blur behind him is not a ghost; it's Mr F, who mostly moves too fast for ordinary cameras to catch proof of his existence.

 The problem with admitting to doctors that you're not at death's door, that you might only have a bug that they can knock out with one of their wonder pills they have right in their white coats is that it makes them feel unimportant, I figure -- after all, other people get to wear white coats, like scientists who discover Higgs Bosons or pharmacists who [foreshadowing] will try to sell you a drop that supposedly prevents water from getting in your ear while you swim, which is clearly impossible but which has definite applications for avoiding Ear DNA -- and so if all they are is people who come in, hear that you have strep throat, and give you a pill, they start to think "Why did I even bother going to medical school?  I'm just a pill pusher.  Is this why my wife left me? How is this guy so cool, for a guy who has strep throat?" and they have an existential crisis in which they begin to despair that they will ever be played by George Clooney in a long-running TV series.

So it's far better for you if you can, while you have strep throat, sort of lie on the floor in a fetal position and gasp weakly, possibly having an aneurysm or spontaneously amputating your own leg, if you can, because that will make the doctor stop reading that Why You Should Join Doctors Without Borders pamphlet and instead work on you.

In the end, two different doctors looked at our throats and listened to our chests and looked in our ears and made us wait in those little rooms which wasn't at all the punishment it was supposed to be because I'd brought my Kindle and so we played Plants vs. Zombies while we waited.

The fact that we were not dying in a heap led the doctors to conclude that they needn't bother doing anything about us, and they sent us on our way, saying that if the other tests came back positive for strep they'd "Give us a call," and with that, we decided to embark on a new career as modern-day Typhoid Marys and spread our message of goodwill and strep virus across America.

But first, we had to pack the car, which by now you have guessed was not the minivan we thought we had rented. 

Sweetie had gone back to the rental place.  She had that morning called up our credit card company and had arranged to electronically transfer enough money to pay the entire balance, so we had this credit card that had all kinds of credit on it and more than enough, at that, to rent two, maybe three minivans.

But when Sweetie and The Boy had gone to the rental company, the same girl -- who by this point was making it glaringly obvious that it would be a cold day in Hell before she let Sweetie take this minivan -- was again uncooperative, the difference this time being that the credit card company was imposing it's own arcane rules on her, too.

So what the credit card company told Sweetie she needed was the exact amount that the car rental would cost; Sweetie had to tell them, to the penny, what the car rental agency was going to charge her.

Sweetie, for some reason, thought it would be best to get that information from the car rental company, mostly because Sweetie was still under the impression that the car rental company was in the business of renting cars.  So the car rental company told Sweetie it would cost $982.17 for the week, and Sweetie, like a sucker, believed her, and reported that to the credit card company.

Sweetie then went to the car rental company, where the car rental girl rang up her total and said "The total is $970.17."

And the charge did not go through.

Because it wasn't the exact amount.  Sweetie called the credit card company and asked the problem -- with the car rental girl right there -- and they said it had to be the exact amount and this was $12 less.

So Sweetie, in desperation for something in this story to actually work, said to the car rental girl:

"Can't you just charge me twelve dollars more?"

But the car rental girl, who could have made $12 extra dollars that day, decided to live by the Apparently Very Strict Code Of Honor That Binds Girls Who Sit Behind Desks In Sears Automotive Centers, declined that bribe, and the entire transaction fell apart, resulting in me and The Boy sitting behind Sweetie's car in our driveway trying to figure out how to fit a minivan's worth of stuff into Sweetie's car.
Main Street, Metropolis, IL, at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Here is what we were packing into the car for our vacation:

My suitcase.
My laptop case.
My small case containing my Kindle Fire.
A case of all the cords and chargers for all the stuff we were taking.
Mr F and Mr Bunches' Ipad.
The Boy's suitcase.
The Boy's laptop case.
A bin of Mr F and Mr Bunches' favorite toys in case they missed them while they were in Florida.
A bin of Mr F and Mr Bunches' favorite snacks in case they don't sell the right kind of Cheesy Puffs and Cracker Sticks in Florida.
A foam mattress pad that would serve as a spare bed for Mr F and/or Mr Bunches in the hotels because Mr F doesn't like hotel beds and sometimes sleeps on the floor in hotels.
A suitcase for Mr F and Mr Bunches.
Another suitcase for Mr F and Mr Bunches.  ("Really?")
Approximately 14,000 suitcases for Sweetie including a plastic bin that included a hair dryer.
A giant pink hockey-equipment sized bag of  makeup, face cleansers, cold medicine, cotton swabs, and various and sundry other things.

Plus, we were taking us, but we were optional.

To pack the car, we used a time-honored system I like to call "Is this breakable?"  To use that system, you pick something up and consider whether it is breakable.  You can do that in a variety of ways, but the best way, I've found, is to ask a question:  Is it yours?  If it belongs to you, it's breakable.  If it doesn't, who cares?

Once you've sorted out the breakable from the unbreakable stuff, you pack them: If something is breakable, you put it on the bottom of the cargo area and stack things on it after first putting pillows all around and over it.

If a thing is s not breakable, you wait until you have packed the car impossibly full of breakable things, and then you pick up armfuls of the unbreakable things (i.e., things that belong to someone who's not you) and cram them into the car as fast as you can before slamming the trunk door shut and thinking to yourself "I hope we don't have to open that again EVER."

With that done, I announced that we were READY TO GO.

"Let's hit the road!" I said.

"The boys have to go to the bathroom before we leave," Sweetie said.

10 minutes later, with everyone in the car, I announced that we were again READY TO GO.

"Let's hit the road!" I said.

"We have to stop and get gas," Sweetie said.

10 minutes later, having spent $57 on gas and repacked everyone into the car, I announced we were READY TO GO.

"Let's hit...," I said.

"Do you think we should get something to eat on the way?"   Sweetie said.

And so, at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, which is at least 6 hours too late to miss Chicago Rush Hour Traffic, with a car packed to the gills (cars have gills) with medicine and Play-Doh Dentist Playsets, and all of us holding McDonald's lunches, we set out on our vacation!

This is a city, as seen through our windshield. I'm not sure what city, except that I know it's not Chattanooga because it's not ugly enough.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Why would anyone want to drive through Illinois? (Vacations)

Continuing the story of my recent vacation to Florida... read part one by clicking here.

So the next day, Saturday, we woke up bright and early and sick.

I got up, on the first full day of my vacation, with a sore throat and a bad cough and a complete lack of surprise that those things were happening, as I'd seen them coming all week.  More than all week, in fact -- for about two weeks, since Mr Bunches got sick after Sweetie got sick.

Here's the thing about living with little kids, especially our little kids:  your entire body essentially becomes one giant test lab for viruses.  Although there are only four people in our immediate household (the three older kids pop by mainly to either borrow money, eat my leftover pizza, or recommend that we watch 21 Jump Street, the movie, calling it "the funniest movie ever" so that we will watch it, only when we do, we don't even laugh, AT ALL, through the entire movie.  The older kids owe me two hours of my life) it's like we have many more people than that, thanks to Mr F and Mr Bunches and their wide circle of "friends," some of whom are actually friends, like Mr Bunches' buddy "Basement" and some of whom are therapists.

I should explain about Basement.  The other day, I took Mr Bunches and Mr F to our local swimming pool, the one that's shallow enough on half of it that the boys can swim and wade without constant supervision, and also it's fenced in so that it's possible sometimes to take your eyes off a boy for as much as 0.000001 seconds, that being the longest break one can get when supervising the boys.

As we arrived at our usual picnic table there, and were taking off our Crocs and shirts -- having worn our swim trunks because I'm always able to plan ahead and save time by wearing my trunks to the pool, while I'm never able to plan ahead and think "But what will I wear home, once those trunks are soaking wet?" -- Mr Bunches looked and said "Oh, it's basement."

I was 100% sure he said basement, and only about 0.00001% sure what he meant, so I did what I usually do when I don't know what Mr Bunches is talking about, and I repeated what I thought he'd said.

Me:  Basement?

Mr Bunches:  There's my friend basement.

That also did not clear it up.  So I went to plan B:

Me:  Oh. Yeah.  Cool basement! That's great!

If you can't figure out your kids, at least try to be encouraging.  That's my motto.

So having slathered on the multiple layers of 110-proof sunscreen that Sweetie insists we use on them, including painting it on Mr Bunches' face because he is prone to sunburn on his cheeks, we hit the pool, and Mr Bunches immediately began playing with a little kid who said Hi to him and was calling him by name.

I thought Oh, that's nice, he must be a friend from school and focused on trying to get Mr F into the water.  Mr F likes to swim, but he doesn't like to swim with me, as he suspects that I am always on the verge of trying to trick him into actually swimming, which is fair enough because I am: my time with Mr F in any pool is divided equally between three areas of concentration:

1.  Trying to get Mr F to let me teach him how to actually swim, with arm paddling and leg kicking and face in the water and all, and

2.  Trying to remember that this is supposed to be fun for Mr F and not work, and that if he wants to swim he'll swim but if he wants to wade around in the pool and laugh like crazy he'll do that and I should relax and let him be a kid, and

3.  Feeling guilty because I'm either not teaching him to swim or I'm not letting him have fun and whichever one I'm doing I shouldn't be doing that one I should be doing the other one.

While I tried to coax Mr F into the pool, I heard a woman further down the edge say something to the boy Mr Bunches was playing with, and what she said was:

"Besian! Don't take his inner tube," by which she meant, I assumed, that Besian should not take Mr Bunches' tiny, impractical inner tube that I bought for $3.99 at Toys "R" Us but which was much smaller than I imagined and so isn't really good for much of anything but Mr Bunches loves it:

and by which she meant, also, I assume, the boy Mr Bunches was playing with, and I recalled at that instant that there had been a kid in Mr Bunches' 4K class named Besian and so, putting two and two together, I looked over at Mr Bunches, who was coming over by me, and said:

"Is that your friend, BESIAN?" pronouncing his name very carefully.

"Yeah," he said.  "Basement."

SO: Basement is one of Mr Bunches' actual friends, and he has those and therapists and friends at camp, where he goes for therapy, and what that means is that although there are only two little boys in our house, those little boys three times a week go to a large building where there are innumerable little kids, and when they're not at that camp, they have therapists coming into our house for five hours at a time, and those therapists are the same ones that spend their time at the camp with all the kids and go into other people's houses and see their little kids, all of whom (I assume) have their own friends named Basement and so the result is that you could wash your hands until they are tiny nubs and you still would have 13 zillion viruses on every surface of every thing you own.

What we do at our house is we cycle the virus of the month through us: Someone starts it, in this case, Sweetie, who woke up three weeks before vacation and had a cough and a sore throat and had lost her voice.  The rest of us try to be a little cleaner for an hour or two but by then it's pointless anyway: once someone in your house is sick, they've been sick for long enough that everything around you is seething with microscopic lifeforms trying to get into your body and reproduce, so when Sweetie wakes up sick I at first think "Drink lots of orange juice!  Wash your hands more!" and I do that for about a half hour before giving up, much the way Leo gave up when he was floating in the icy water holding onto Kate's hand.

From Sweetie, the virus had worked into Mr Bunches, who lost his voice and walked around hoarsely for a week.  Here's something fun: try to convince a 5-year-old boy with autism that he shouldn't talk to save his voice, and then as you think of ways to do that, remember that everything you've done for this boy in the past three years has been designed to do just the opposite and get him to talk to you.

Mr Bunches would come up to us and say something in his cute-and-sad little hoarse voice, rasping out that he would like "Blue bread, please"

(Blue Bread is a frozen french toast breakfast treet: it's shaped like a piece of bread, and comes in a yellow box, but there are two varieties: Plain and cinnamon.  The plain box has a blue patch on it that notes it's plain and so Mr Bunches calls plain frozen french toaster sticks "Blue Bread")

and I would be torn between trying to tell him not to hurt his voice and congratulating him on using words, which is what we're supposed to do; there's always the chance that if you tell him he shouldn't talk, he will take that literally and will not talk again, and that is a very real fear.

What I did was I tried to talk in a whisper, to show him how he could talk (which in turn made me wonder whether he would then spend the rest of his life whispering instead of speaking at a regular volume.  There's no end to worries in my life) and what he did was laugh at the way Dad talked because it was funny, and then when I'd say "You try to whisper" he'd respond really loudly "No, I think Not Whisper."

From Mr Bunches, the virus got into me, hitting my voice the same week I had to give a seminar, so I spent two days not talking at all except for the three hours I spoke to a bunch of lawyers, and then, on Saturday, I woke up feeling worse than ever and Mr Bunches wasn't better and Mr F had started coughing and he sounded hoarse, too.

"I think," I told Sweetie, "That while you and The Boy go get the rental, I should take us to Urgent Care." be continued.

This is the bridge between Metropolis, IL and Paducah, Kentucky.  I made Sweetie take a picture of it because I was driving at the time.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

I'm going to build a life-size Viking Ship crossed with the Battlestar Galactica and sail that... what do you mean, 'too ambitious'?

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Atlantic Luggage for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.


Sometimes I think life really works out well.  Here I am, just back from a vacation to Florida and wishing I could arrange to get away again, and at the same time, I’ve just spent a couple of hours last night with Mr Bunches putting together his 700+ piece Lego ™ Avengers Quinjet with bonus Loki package, and then today I wake up and I see that I can combine those two things in one adventure… for free?

I should possibly explain.  Atlantic Luggage – luggage that’s affordable, lightweight, and really perfect to use for family vacations – is giving away in its Atlantic Luggage and Legoland Sweepstakes a free set of luggage and, naturally, a trip to use it on: A trip to Legoland in Florida!

Which is great because that’s one of the places we didn’t have time to visit when we went there last week!

The trip is for 2 days and 2 nights: winners will get a hotel for 2 nights, a car voucher, and get to go to Legoland, where they’ll not only be able to meet with a Master Model Builder but also can beat this heat wave in the new waterpark Legoland has – wave pool, slides, and even a lazy river on which you can imagine and create and sail your own Lego vessel.

See what I mean? This sounds like fate, to me: I mean, I like vacations, especially free ones. I like free luggage (who wouldn’t like Atlantic’s luggage? They’ve got a style for everyone), I like waterparks, and I own Legos!

OK, technically, Mr Bunches owns Legos, but he needs me to help him put them together, so we’re a team on this now.

C2 3271113-09 image.jpg

Visit Sponsor's Site

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

It only looks like he's doing all the work because he didn't take snapshots of what I was doing. (A Photo Essay)

Mr Bunches walked into a Lego Store on vacation, and within 10 minutes had selected the "Avengers" package as his toy.

He wanted to put it together on vacation.

It has over 700 pieces and three booklets of instructions, so I made him wait until last night.

(A brief break is taken, to make dinner, which is eaten while assembling.)

(A bath is taken, and pajamas are put on)


In another universe, I am in Birmingham, Alabama, for some reason. (Vacations)

"It's easier," I said to The Boy, as we stood outside a gas station somewhere in Georgia, in heat that sucked the breath out of your lungs before you could get it all the way in, "If you break it into smaller segments and take it one step at a time."

Mr F, staring at the Illinois countryside.

I was talking, at that point, about the seven hours of traveling that still loomed like an open maw ahead of us last Sunday.  We were at a convenience store in Georgia, a convenience store that was inaptly named, in that it was incredibly inconvenient, mostly because the front of it was blocked by a giant pit where they were, it seemed, putting in the parking lot.  It wasn't a parking lot yet: it was a square rectangular dropoff into dirt, a four-foot dropoff one had to skirt to get into the Inconvenience Store before one could get Cheesy Nacho Puffs and a large soda.

I was looking as I said it, at the roadside stand I would not stop at to get Boiled Peanuts, even though I really wanted to get Boiled Peanuts.  Not because I love Boiled Peanuts.  I don't know if I love Boiled Peanuts or not.  I've never had them.  But I had been seeing signs for Boiled Peanuts for the past few hours and had, in the back of my mind, come to a resolution:  I would get myself some boiled peanuts and see if I liked them.

I never did get them.

At least, this me did not.

I think this is Nashville.

I came to think of our recent trip to Florida as a quantum vacation, because I'm fun that way.  But also because it seems like that not only was true, but also a fun way to think about the vacation, and my life, in general, and also to not be sad when the vacation was over.

Not so long ago, I read a comic strip that talked about quantum realities.  Bear with me, here.  This comic -- Dinosaur Comics -- talked about the idea that every time we make a decision, a new universe is created, one in which we made all the other decisions that we could have made at that precise moment.   It would be impossible to be depressed, the T.  Rex in this particular comic pointed out, because somewhere there is a universe where we are being totally awesome, even if right now you are being not so much.

THAT is a seductive thought:  Choices are no longer choices, options are not lost, opportunity will always be at the door when you answer it.

Outside of the Superman Museum in Metropolis, IL.

So as I stood there, outside the Inconvenience Store, baking slowly in the heat and wondering if it were, in fact, possible that we still had seven hours of driving left that day when we had already been driving for 8 hours, as I stood there watching Mr Bunches sit huddled in his blanket on the ground because he was sad and wanted to go home and hadn't even wanted to get out of the car and could only say "I think go home," as I stood there and explained to The Boy how the seven hours we were facing was better off broken into segments -- two hours here, three hours there, stop for a snack, pull off and eat dinner -- and as I stared at the boiled peanuts sign and resolved that I would get myself some boiled peanuts, I thought to myself:  that's how to handle this vacation:  Quantumize it.

I don't know if "quantumize" was a word up until I just wrote it, but it's a word now.

Ordinarily, on vacations, I have big plans and too many of them at that.  Ordinarily, I pack so much into a vacation that it's impossible to believe one person could think several people could do all those things.

I didn't do that on this vacation.

Or at least the vacation I took.

There's a theory, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, that says that with respect to quantum particles, you can measure where they are, or how fast they are going, but you can never know both.  So you can tell where something is or where it will be but not both, is how I think of that.

On this vacation, I decided to just be where I was, and that's another reason I thought of it as the Quantum Vacation.  No big plans, no directions: where I was, was where I would be.

Also, I wanted to take the boys, Mr F and Mr Bunches, to the ocean.

But other than that, no big plans and no directions.

Mr Bunches, sad and sitting on the ground outside a Burger King in Salem, IL. He just wanted to go home, until we let him take his "Play-Doh Dentist" kit into the restaurant with us.


Technically speaking, my vacation began about 2:00 Friday, June 22nd, which was when I got home from work that day, my last day at work before this vacation having been cleverly scheduled to involve nothing more taxing than driving up to a minor hearing in a case and then driving back home, and so I should have been on "vacation" by 2:00 that afternoon but Sweetie and I had made the mistake of thinking that we were regular people and by regular people I mean "people who can rent a car without moving Heaven and Earth."

We're not people like that.

I don't know why it's so hard to rent a car.  Which is to say, I know why it's so hard to rent a car, in theory and in general:  As I said to Sweetie, if I was to be in the business of lending out pieces of equipment that cost thousands of dollars to people, I would be pretty particular about who I would lend that equipment to.  Then again, I would never be in that business.  I would never be in almost any business.  I can't actually think of a business I would like to be in, other than maybe bookstore owner back in the days when bookstores still had a (theoretical) future.  I think I would like to run a bookstore - -back then -- because it seemed like a pretty laid-back way to make a living, plus, free books.  (I wouldn't like to run a bookstore now, not now that there aren't going to be any bookstores in five years.  But back before people knew that, it seemed like a good gig.)

When I look at businesses, I can't imagine how they make any money.  Seriously: drive by a strip mall and try to imagine someone supporting a family on any business in that strip mall.  There is a little set of shops near our house which includes a store entirely devoted to board games.

How is that even possible?

Do people even play board games anymore? People who aren't Amish, I mean?

Those are the questions I think every time I drive by that store, and I assume I'll stop thinking them in about six months when Board Games R Us or whatever it's called stops existing and I can then stop questioning its reason for existing.

Car rentals are another business (along with restaurants, selling board games, and anything that has to do with acupuncture) that I wouldn't get into, in part because it seems like a pretty expensive, dicey way to make a living and in part because, judging solely by my experiences with car rentals, you have to be implacably mysterious and mercurial to be in the car rental business.

I wonder who, other than perhaps vacationers and businessmen traveling on business, rents cars any more, anyway?  And do businessmen travel on business anymore?  On the first Friday of my vacation, I sat in our car outside the car rental place thinking thoughts like that, while Mr Bunches played with my Kindle Fire and Mr F tapped his coat hangers against the car window, and we waited for Sweetie to finish up renting the minivan we were going to take on vacation.

In another universe, we took that minivan but in this universe where this me is existing, we sat outside for about twenty minutes and then Sweetie came back outside and got in the car and said:

"That's our minivan right there," and pointed to a minivan sitting next to us.  "But you have to go in and try your debit card."

Let me explain this about that:  Sweetie and I have credit cards but we rarely use them, for reasons that I will not go into at length other than to say: You know how everyone tells you to pay down your credit cards if you can? Well, that's a load of hooey and also that's a story for another day.  So we use our debit cards for everything because we live in the 21st century and debit cards with little "Visa" logos on them have been around for a jillion years and are accepted everywhere.  I almost never have cash on me anymore, and if I see someone paying in cash I assume they're a drug dealer or Jason Bourne.  I use debit cards because I live in a society that lets me use debit cards.

Also living in that society is the girl who worked at the rental car agency who had, four weeks earlier, assured Sweetie several times that a debit card was fine to rent a car.  Sweetie had reason to be suspicious of that assurance, because the prior time we'd tried to rent a car with a debit card, we'd also been assured that a debit card was fine to rent a car only to arrive in San Francisco and made our way through the crowded busy airport with three tired kids in tow to get to the rental car counter and be told "No, you can't rent a car with a debit card."

That time, I had threatened to sit at the counter and not move until the guy rented me a car using my debit card.  Unsurprisingly, that threat didn't make him rent me a car, but producing a credit card did.

So this time, when we decided to rent a car, Sweetie wondered whether we should use one of our credit cards, which would require us to pay down a credit card, something we don't ordinarily do for reasons related to the continued, unwanted, efforts by the federal government to "protect" "consumers" that had led credit card companies to start shutting down lines of credit once you paid them off.

But the girl on the phone at the car company had said no, no, it's fine, it's a debit card, I know, that'll be fine, just make sure you have $250 available on the card, which we did that fine Friday on my first day of vacation, but for some reason "the system" wasn't "accepting" the debit card even though there was well over $250 available.

So I went in, and Sweetie waited outside with the boys, and I gave the girl my debit card and she swiped it through something and frowned at the computer screen and said that "the system" wasn't "approving" my card.

"Why not?" I asked.

She shrugged and mumbled something about something.

"But you said that we were okay with renting a car with a debit card," I pointed out to her, because I sometimes still believe that telling people what they told me will make people do what they told me they would do.

She shrugged again.  "You need a credit card," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it's not accepting your debit cards."

"How much credit do we need on the card?"  I asked.  She gave me the price of the car for the week and I said: "What if I were to just give you that in cash?"

(Just offering to pay cash made me feel a little sleazy.)

She stared at the computer screen again (I later pointed out to Sweetie that we had no idea what that screen said; given her rather lackadaisical attitude towards customer service, it might have been her Facebook page.  She may not have cared one way or the other whether we rented the minivan; she probably wasn't the owner of the rental company, after all) and said that we couldn't pay cash; it had to be a credit card.

So Sweetie and I talked it over (while in another universe another me ranted at the girl repeatedly and kept pointing out that four weeks prior she had told us a debit card would be fine) and decided we'd pay down a credit card and use that to hold the car, and Sweetie called and made a phone payment to clear up the necessary amount of credit on the card -- $250, the girl had told us -- and she went back in and then came back out 10 minutes later.

"Are we ready to go?" I asked.

She shook her head.  "She says we need the full amount of credit available on the card, now."  Not just the $250 that we'd been told-- the entire cost of the car rental for a week had to be available on the card.

Thirty minutes later, we'd made a quick trip to the nearby bank branch and transferred the money to make another payment by phone to the credit card in question and went back to the car company and Sweetie, in the parking lot outside, called the credit card company back and was told that she could make only one telephone payment per day.

If you are keeping track, we have offered several times to pay a car company to rent a car, only to be told we could not do that, and were now offering a credit card company to pay our credit card, but were told we couldn't do that, either.

I kept the radio on in the background, humming along with the music while Sweetie and I pondered our options, sitting in the parking lot next to the local Sears store, and looking at the minivan that was so close to ours.

"We aren't leaving 'til tomorrow morning," Sweetie said.  "We could call the credit card company, make the payment, and then come pick up the car and head out."

I considered that: it would mean that we wouldn't be able to leave until 8 or 9 o'clock, and our schedule called for us to leave at about 5:00 a.m. because one of the very few plans we'd made was that our first day would end in Metropolis, Illinois, where we would check into the hotel and then go out for dinner and see the Giant Superman Statue and the Superman Museum.

That first day had been actually carefully planned for Maximum Relaxation combined with Maximum Tourism.  While I hadn't set out any actual goals or plans for the vacation in one sense, I had done just that in another sense, in that I had decided that since we were driving, our trip down should be, you know, fun.

We were driving not because I like to see the sights -- I do, but after 23+ hours of driving through the sights you get pretty sick of seeing the sights plus, let's face it: the days of seeing things while you drive through America are long gone.  That's the whole point of the Interstate highway system: To not see anything because seeing things keeps you from getting where you're going as fast as humanly possible.

According to what I think I remember from movies about stuff that happened before I was a kid, there was a time when you could drive across America on roads like "Route 66" and those roads went right through the heart of every city and town in America, past roadside attractions like "Rattlesnake Acres" and "The Mystery Spot" which I've always wanted to go to but have never actually gone to even though you'd think that it would take wild horses for me to not go to some place where they say gravity is inverted and people on those roads have drive-in restaurants and giant Indians holding doughnuts to advertise their souvenirs and women wear scarves but it's okay because they're also wearing those tight pants women wore in Grease 2.

That's how people used to travel before airplanes became safe enough and commonplace enough that it seemed alright to complain about how easy and convenient air travel is, and once air travel became safe and convenient enough that we could complain about it, highway travel tried to fight back by becoming boring, and so the Interstate highway system was invented to make sure you could travel across America without ever actually seeing any of the good parts (which, as I understand from other movies, has led the good parts of America to all end up being reduced to one-street towns where the guy who runs the gas station is also the local sheriff but he's just covering for the murderous hillbillies that are going to eat your spleen in the second reel.)

So we were not driving in order to get our spleens eaten, or see the sights, although I hoped to see the sights, too.  We were driving because we weren't sure how Mr Bunches or Mr F would take flying, and so even though the cost is about the same...

... trust me on that: I had 46+ hours, driving 2,800 miles there and back, to work through how much we were spending on gas versus how much it might have cost had we flown; I even worked out how much it might have cost if we had no layovers and/or flew from different cities around us...

...we were driving because, as I told Sweetie, "I don't want to be CNN's breaking story on Saturday morning: Family of four forces plane to land halfway to Florida."

I don't know that they ground planes simply because one of your kids is freaking out, but I don't not know that, either, and flying is a huge mystery to me.  I've flown five times in my life, and the rules keep changing.  Back when I first flew, to Morocco, in 1994, you could smoke on the plane and there wasn't any security to speak of.  The last time I flew, they made up open up our baby formula jars but ignored the case full of electronic equipment we were carrying with us.

I do know the rules of driving:  Get in your car.  Point it in a direction. Go.  Miss Chicago Rush Hour Traffic.

So we were driving, and ideally we were driving a rental minivan because Sweetie didn't want to take her car across country in case it broke down and also because we would be eating and drinking in the car during those 2,800 miles, and the rules are that Sweetie won't let anyone eat or drink in her car except secretly sometimes the boys.

Sweetie has had her new car since February, and I am actually very impressed by the fact that she sticks to her rule of no eating or drinking in the car, a rule that was created by the fact that our last car was not, at the end, so much a "car," per se, as it was a rolling giant cheese puff that got horrible gas mileage.  When we bought this car, Sweetie announced that there was no food or drink allowed in it, and I honored that rule because I assumed it would last no more than a month.  Nobody ever goes forever without eating or drinking in their car, right?  Right: We live in a driving culture where everything has a drive-thru window including I heard once a law office, which seems weird sometimes and other times I think maybe that would be kind of cool but I don't know how to propose it to my partners.

So prior to the vacation, I had never eaten or drank anything in Sweetie's car because I followed her rules -- well, that rule, anyway -- and even one time worried that I'd inadvertently broken the rule because when I took Mr F and Mr Bunches to my office and then the swimming pool, when we got out of the car at the pool there was a cracker on the seat.  A half-eaten cracker.

I stared at it.

"How did that get there?" I asked Mr F.

He, of course, did not answer me.

"How did that get there?" I asked Mr Bunches.

"Pool," he said, and started to get out of the car.

Since I knew I had not eaten the cracker, I worried that Mr F or Mr Bunches had somehow smuggled some food including Crackers of Unknown Origin into Sweetie's car, and I cleaned it up and made sure there was no evidence of it and didn't tell Sweetie for a few weeks until one day she confessed that she sometimes let the boys eat in the car because when they came home from school and had to go immediately to Camp, which is actually Therapy but we call it Camp because who wants to go to Therapy, they were hungry and she felt bad about that and so she would sometimes give them snacks and let them eat in the car.

But Sweetie still didn't eat in the car, and so I never did.

In short: we were going to drive across America, hopefully in a rented minivan, in order to avoid having to find out what happens when you put two autistic boys on an airplane, only that wasn't going to happen at all.

Mr F and Mr Bunches in our first hotel, in Metropolis, IL, 9:30 Saturday night. 

I agreed, because Sweetie felt it was important, that we would delay our leaving in the morning to try to clear up credit on the credit card so we could rent the minivan, even though that meant not avoiding Rush Hour Traffic and messing up our plans for the day.

The plans for the day-- one of the few plans I made, and therefore one of the plans which went nothing like what I'd imagined it would, in this universe, at least -- was to use the first day of vacation as an actual day of vacation.

I don't know what it was like when you were kids, and drove on vacations with your family in your family's car, with a couple of comic books and a Rubik's Cube for entertainment (one a trip to Florida, once, when we were little, each kid was allotted 1/3 of the back ledge of the car to hold our toys for the trip.  That's what I brought: two Mad Magazines and a Rubik's Cube.)  But in our family, the drive to a vacation was just that: a drive.  The goal, back then, in the late 70s and early 80s, was not to see the country, but to get there.  We covered an amazing amount of ground on our vacations as a family, back then, driving 10, 12 hours a day sometimes because the vacation, to my parents, began when you arrived at your destination, not when you pulled out of your driveway.

I'd decided otherwise, for two reasons.  I wanted to make our trip a little more enjoyable and leave us time to see the sights and pull off and get out and have lunch and stretch our legs so that I could distance myself from those marathon treks of my childhood, and also so that I could minimize the amount of time we had to spend with other people on the vacation.

This vacation, I should probably have said earlier, was not our own vacation:  This was something I'd spent 43 years avoiding ever since a disastrous trip with our cousins when I was 12: this was a multi-family vacation, in which we were traveling down to Florida to spend 4 days with Sweetie's family.

Now, as people go, Sweetie's family is fine.  Keeping in mind that I can't stand people, as a rule, and hate small talk, mingling, family dinners, and hanging out with people, I can tolerate Sweetie's family, but that ability to tolerate them for holidays and birthdays didn't translate into "Hey, let's all take a vacation together and hang out incessantly so that I can spend every waking moment trying desperately to think of a topic of conversation with my sister-in-law." (Tip: THE WEATHER is only good for one go-round per day.)

But that was exactly what I was going to have to do, so I'd planned this vacation to get me some actual vacationing in, as well, and thus when I looked at the route and determined this to be about a 20-hour drive...

...cue ominous music, as that estimate was off by about 4 hours...

... I decided that our first day of the trip would be a (relatively) short 8 hour drive to the tip of Illinois

("It's where Huck was trying to get Jim to in order for Jim to be free," I helpfully, if possibly inaccurately, pointed out to Sweetie in order to describe where we were headed.)

where we would take in a tourist sight, and then the next day we would have that second drive of about 10-12 hours...

...hey, what's that ominous music?...

 and get to Florida late in the evening, so that we would be free to go to our rooms at the time-share instead of having to go to the big rooms where everyone else would be staying and mingle.  Or, as I put it to Sweetie:

"When we get to Florida, your Mom is going to want to hang out with you as soon as we arrive.  So if we have a long drive Saturday, and then a short drive Sunday, you'll drive for 20 hours..."

...seriously, what's up with that music?...

..."and end up having to hang out and mingle all Sunday night, and do you want that?"

Sweetie agreed she did not want that and so our plan was to have the short drive Saturday, see a tourist-y site, and then have a longer drive Sunday, arriving late enough that day that we could simply go to bed and put off hanging out with people until Monday.

And now that was all going to be thrown off by the rental car.  Plus, we hadn't even gone to the Urgent Care yet.

To be continued...
This is Sweetie's car. In a parking lot at a hotel in Metropolis, IL: Foreshadowing!