It’s that time of year again.
Wimbledon came and went (I know, I couldn’t believe it either), San Diego Comic-Con has nerds from around the globe strutting their cosplay stuff, Brett Favre is deliberating whether or not he is coming back to the NFL, and it’s time for summer vacation.
As a kid, summer vacation meant my Dad packed the car with miscellaneous items compiled by my mother. Our bags were pressed against the windows, our bed pillows replaced our headrests, and my Dad zoned in to the drive (which meant we were to remain as still and as quiet as a Buckingham Palace Royal Guard). Our only time we were able to disturb the peace came when my Dad rolled the windows down allowing us a sniff of the salty air. It was about that time when our unavoidable, “Dad are we there yet”, questions came. Even my Dad, who had the compassion of Dick Cheney interrogating a detainee while he was driving, understood our enthusiasm by this point because he knew we were now on vacation.
This year, me the three ladies in my house, and my mother-in-law were going to be packing the trunk of my car full with their own miscellaneous items from our house and make the two hour road trip down to the Jersey shore.
Last Thanksgiving, my family and I made a 13 hour drive to Owensboro, KY to see my brother-in-law. If we could do that without any of us being charged with manslaughter, then a two hour drive down the Garden State Parkway should, in theory, be a breeze. In theory, we were all supposed to be driving flying cars to work and yet there I was packing the trunk of my internal combustion engine Volkswagen.
Tension can build quickly. Even a twenty minute ride to the mall can become contentious. Cries (more like whines) of who touched who, who is staring at whom, or who is singing songs someone else doesn’t want to hear. A two hour ride, mixed with the bubbling energy of going to the beach, has the potential to turn in to a ride more pressure filled and dangerous than taking a submersible to the Titanic.
As a kid, to combat any territorial battles between my sister and I, my father would simply let us know our ability to walk would be in jeopardy (even at the expense of driving off the road to reach us) if any backseat skirmishes would erupt, which seemed to do the trick. Today, my kids are occupied with Nintendo DS’s and portable DVD players (and some bodily injury threats sprinkled in just for good measure). I have spent the last three days charging these devices just to make sure all batteries are ready to go.
While I have surely increased our electric bill by thirty percent charging my kids’ devices, my wife has been busy gathering everything needed for us to take on this four day excursion. She packed everything she believes we need into two large suitcases. Alicia beams with pride over how restrained her packing is for our trip. I tell her that packing everything in to two suitcases that rival the size of coffins may not be as restrained as she thinks. She gives me a ‘Charlie McGee’ Firestarter type stare that makes me believe she is trying to get me to spontaneously combust. I pick up the suitcases; make a joke about needing pallbearers to carry them under my breath, and head to my car.
I am surrounded by the suitcases, pillows, camera bag, inflatable mattress boxes, and my mother-in-law’s bag, staring into my trunk. I am trying to recall any bits of knowledge I learned from 10th grade Geometry so I can load my trunk. All I can think of is cosines and tangents, realize that is Calculus (or is it Trigonometry?)…realize I know nothing about applying math into practical applications, and just start pushing everything in.
My kids are behind me, peeking around my back into the trunk, to make sure all their “stuff” is packed. They also want to know just how long it will take to get to the beach, and preferably down to the minute would suit them. They want to know when we are leaving by asking me, “Daaaaddddyyy, when are we going to leeeaaavvveee!” (Head cocked back, shoulders slumped over, and their body tilted at their waist). I remind them it would be no big deal to unpack the car and stay home if they would like to continue to bother me as I scientifically pack the trunk. They scatter like cockroaches in the light.
Remarkably the five of us are in my car and ready to leave at the time we had pre-set. Usually we run later than Lindsay Lohan for a photo-shoot going anywhere except for this Wednesday morning (good sign or calm before the storm?). We head down Route 422 East, making our way to the Schuylkill Expressway.
On any given day, driving down the Schuylkill Expressway/I-76 through Philadelphia can make a human being regret being alive. I fear for all of us as we go past the Conshohocken exit and right on cue, the back up begins. It is bumper to bumper, four lane traffic, with occasional breaks in the jam, giving everyone the opportunity for a short burst of full throttle acceleration to jockey for better positions. Thankfully, by Girard Avenue, the traffic dissipates and we have smooth sailing over the Walt Whitman Bridge, Garden State Parkway, and the Black Horse Pike.
In between finishing another level on the DS, I get a brief, “Daddy are we there yet?” inquiry. Otherwise the soothing effects of Nintendo, DVD episodes of ‘Full House’, and their grandmother, have kept my children at bay. That is until I openly announce our entry into New Jersey. Their respective battery powered devices abruptly click off and now they remember how excited they were to be on vacation.  Every 300 feet on the Garden State Parkway I am asked about our estimated time of arrival.
Their enthusiasm is beginning to boil over. I find myself getting caught up in it with them. I’m less inclined to reach back at them and chance rolling the car down Route 322 in Atlantic City by this point. I can’t help but feel just a little nostalgic as I roll down the windows to give them a waft of the briny air and alert them to the sight of water and boats out their windows. They are now jumping up and down in their seats, and I can feel myself jumping just a little bit too. I add an extra 5 mph to the cruise control setting and turn off the radio because the five of us are all talking about what to do first when we get there. Every 300 feet, when they ask me, ‘how much longer’, I am content to answer (it started at 20 minutes and goes down in 2 minute intervals from there…their concept of time rivals our dog’s). And as we make the turn on to Atlantic Avenue and I tell them we will be there in 2 minutes (really in 2 minutes), everyone in my car, including myself, knows we are now on vacation.

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