Sunday, July 4, 2010

Behind the Wheel

I was just sitting in my living room watching Julie and Julia when I realized that I hadn't started talking about the trip to San Diego yet.   I'm not sure what has kept me from it, outside of the thought of reliving five very long hours on the road.

What is it about car trips that seem so fun but at the same time so tiring?

I woke up that Thursday morning after getting my Kingslayer in WoW and packing my bag the night before.  Truth told, I only got about 4 hours worth of sleep.  To pile on sleep deprivation with a five hour drive, well, it'd make most people blanch, but not me.  In all my years of driving, I've never fallen asleep behind the wheel, besides, with Mom and Dad in the car, I figure that I couldn't be carrying more precious cargo than the two of them.

When people think of vacations, they think about jumping on a plane and going quite a distance.   I've had the pleasure of flying here and there, but outside of a trip to Cancun and maybe a jaunt to Disneyworld, my family has always liked to do things within driving distance.  Truth told, most of my fond childhood vacation memories have always started with my Dad behind the wheel.  Summer trips to South Padre Island were always by car.  It may have been seven hours from our house in New Braunfels to the sunny shores of South Padre Island; even the two and a half hours door-to-door every weekend to my grandmother's house in Bryan, but it was mostly the same scene.  I always found myself tucked up in the backseat with a book, walkman or some sort of thing to keep me busy and waiting for it to all be over; with my Mom up front reading to my Dad from a book by James Herriot or Erma Bombeck.  Way back in the day when I had to share the backseat with Nan, outside of the requisite pinching and tickling and "Mom, she's touching me", I often found myself sacked out more often than not with my head on a pillow in my sister's lap.  (Thanks Nan.)

I remember when my maternal grandmother died.  I wish you could have seen her.  She was tall.  The first time I really met her was when my family went to Europe in 1985.  After two weeks, where we covered London, Paris, Lucerne, Innsbruck, Munich, Frankfurt and a whole host of other German-speaking cities, we headed off into the wilds of Germany, even stopping to see Atlas in Kassel.  It was then that I found my Dad giddy as a schoolboy behind the wheel as he did Mach 5 on the Autobahn.  I was a bit nervous to say the least with him going so fast, but he just seemed so tickled pink, so I held on for dear life as we shattered the sound barrier in a rented automobile.  But, when we drove up the street called 'Grunwaldweg' in mom's hometown, you could see my mother tensing at the shoulders a bit.

You see, most of my Mom's life, she had a pretty rocky relationship with her parents.  Oh, how to put this nicely, she was the youngest of eleven children.  With the combination of previously abused people around her, well, as the expression goes, 'shit rolls down hill' and oh did my Mom get it with both barrels.  Let's just say that she didn't have a proper upbringing filled with loving people.  The only person in her life that gave her some reprieve was her sister, Anita.  The rest, well, let's just say that Mom has needed therapy for some years to deal with the abuse she took in her youth and hasn't gotten it.  Over the last couple of years, Nan and I have pitched in and after 40 years, she's finally letting some of it go and understanding that she didn't have the world's best role models when it came to raising children.  Personally, I'd love to kick the crap out of the people who hurt her because well, without all of that happening to her, I have a feeling she'd have been much more happy in her life.  That's the thing about Mom, she's pretty, she's super creative, she's really brilliant and if you tell her she is, there is no amount of convincing you can do that she would believe you.  That being said, when she married my Dad back in 1966, well, it gave her a one-way ticket to America and away from the abuse.  This is why I think my Dad will get into heaven (if there even is one).  At the least, I think he should be canonized by the pope for taking care of her.

Back in 1985 as we were driving up the street to her parents house, you could tell she was none too thrilled to be there.  We got out of the car after driving up from Frankfurt and we walked up to the front door of the house.  I was standing on the front walk, near my mother and sister when I heard a commotion from the other side of the front door.  As I heard a hand touch the doorknob on the other side, my mother, with a grip that could snap a cast iron bar in half, grabbed me and held me in front of her.  When the door opened, this giant of a woman (she was six feet tall) stepped through the doorway.  She had sunken eyes, large glasses, wiry gray  hair and was wearing a bluish gray house dress with little flowers on it.  Not knowing who the woman was, I was terrified as the iron grip on my shoulders thrust me at this very scary looking old woman.  I nearly screamed but thought better of it.  Truth told, I think I was too scared to scream.

Who was it?  It was my grandmother, and as she is my German grandmother, she was my Oma.  I had met her one time previous, when my mom's parents had come to America in the early 70's.  I was too little to remember them, so I had no idea who the woman I was thrust at was.  Some years later, I asked Mom why she had thrown me at her mother and she answered with a single phrase, "I was afraid she was going to knock my head off."  Even at 13, I was a pretty good shield for Mom.

So back to why I think that my parents are such precious cargo.  Well, when my Oma died, Mom looked at me with a lot of regret in her eyes and said, "You only get your parents once, love them while you can."  Now this is pretty profound coming from a woman who got the short end of the stick from her family.  To this day my mother defends Oma by saying she was a very misunderstood woman, however, she's got few excuses for Opa.  But, her words ring very true.  You only get your Mom and Dad once, so whether you have a rocky relationship with them or if they're June and Ward Cleaver, you have to make sure you at least tell your parents you love them and make an effort, no matter how hard it is, to at least try to know them.  My way of making sure my parents felt loved was to get behind the wheel and drive.  You know, after all the crap my Mom has been through, the least I can do is drive for her on vacation.  I kind of felt like I owed it to her.

Now usually when I chauffeur my parents around, it's just to dinner or maybe to a movie.  Never anything long.  So the trip to San Diego was my first real adventure with my parents that had me behind the wheel.  Of course, Nan was there in spirit as my mother pulled out the GPS she had given them for Christmas.

When I reached my parent's house to pick them up, my small suitcase and toiletries bag were already packed in the trunk.  Now that's the thing about a Prius, it's not got the world's largest amount of trunk space.  You've got room for a small, medium and large suitcase, but that's about it.  However, Daddy, master engineer and builder, suitcase organizer and all-around 'man-on-the-scene', went to work on rearranging everything perfectly so that my suitcase, their suitcase and their "possibles" bag (ok, a possibles bag is filled with things you'll 'possibly' use...yeah I know, I's their phrase, not mine) all fit into the trunk of the Prius while my toiletries bag, my Mom's laptop landed in the backseat along with Dad.

Now, harking way back to the days of childhood, the one thing we have NEVER left the house on a long car trip without was a small ice chest filled with snacks.  I remember getting out cans of soda, sandwiches, fruit (a lot of fruit), chips, cookies, you name it, that ice chest was like Mary Poppins' carpet bag, it seemed bottomless.  Well, this time around, the Mary Poppins Ice Chest took residence right behind the drivers seat.

So now we've got the overall picture, the trunk and half of the backseat are filled with stuff we're taking along with room for my Dad to stretch out and sleep on the way.  For all the years that man drove, I figured it was high time that HE got to sleep in the back seat.

As we pulled out of the driveway, Mom started digging around to find the GPS.  Now, you remember the half-ton of marijuana smoking GPS from the trip to Blackwater, right?  "Turn right onto the motorway..."  No.  This time around, the Sony Nav-U didn't have that kind of no, this would be a voice I like to term as Bossy Betty.  When she says "turn right", oh no...she doesn't ask nicely.  She says, "Turn right NOW" and she waits to say it until you're right at the intersection, so it's a very last minute thing and it makes you panic. When she does that, I get a little freaked out, she's a tad too bossy for me and a little late in the whole 'make a turn' department.  I like to know at least 200 yards ahead of time so I'm in the right friggin' lane!  Oh no!  Betty likes to make you wait then scare the hell out of you.  So right from the get go, she and I stared each other down like two boxers getting ready to step into the ring.

Now there is another Bossy Betty and she's the seatbelt alarm for the passenger seat.  Oh and does Betty like to get rowdy with people who don't buckle up.  She'll beep, holler and yell until that seatbelt clicks and you're firmly buckled in.  So, what do we have?  We have Bossy Betty attached to the windshield going "Turn right NOW" along with the incessant beeping if Mom decides to take of her seatbelt for a second to get something.  I know you're feeling me right around now.  Yeah, I wanted a cigarette two minutes in.  However, I was smart!  Night before?  Yeah, I took a whole brick of Nicorette, broke it out of the packaging, into a small ziploc bag and I had 12 pieces of nicotine gum at the ready, hanging out in my sunglass holder just waiting for my moments of weakness.  Talk about good planning right?  So I reach down, lob a piece of Nicorette in, and we started the drive.

Five hours.  That's how long it takes to get from Vegas to San Diego if you go the speed limit +5.  However, we had a car filled with hungry people half way in, so we stopped in Barstow for a bit of brunch.  We stopped in, as is becoming tradition, to an IHOP.  Mom and I go with our usual, an International Passport with German Pancakes and lemon butter, and Dad went with more of a lunch type meal, the Senior Special...chicken and the broccoli he barely touched.  We finish up, get back into the car, this time Dad up front and Mom in the back for a nap, we got back onto the road.

Things were great up until the point that Bossy GPS Betty decided to shove her head clean up her rear end.  Yep, she made me miss an exit!  Wow, and those things are supposed to be really accurate?  NO.  It wasn't until I was next to a very large concrete wall on my right when she hollered "Turn Right NOW!!!!!!"  I nearly about soiled myself as she's hollering, realizing that the exit I was supposed to take was then about a hundred yards back. I gave a solid 'goddamnit' and Mom asks me what's wrong.  I reply, "Betty smokes crack.  I missed the exit."   Daddy, who was passed out in the front seat until I gave my very vociferous expletive says, "What's wrong?"  Mom says, "She missed the exit."  Then, just as I'm getting over to exit the freeway, hit the turn around to get back on the freeway going in the opposite direction, Daddy says, "Get off and turn around."  My eyes got large as I thought sarcastically to myself, "Really Dad, wow, never would have thought of that one..."  Yeah.  At that point, another piece of Nicorette found its way into my mouth as the last piece was long gone, tossed out at brunch an hour and a half previous.  We do the turn around, I get back onto the freeway and grab the exit that would keep us going towards San Diego.

The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful as I kept us at a safe speed and navigated with a little bit of Betty's help.  It wasn't until the final exit onto the final stretch of road that I realize Betty is still high on her crack pipe because she's got me in the wrong lane to take the exit.  I start to freak out a little bit and Daddy is hollering "Get over!  Get over!" and I'm looking out of my blind spot, seeing a car right next to us.  Had I done as Daddy instructed, we would have had a wreck.  I'm already hyper-vigilant, Daddy's hollering at the same time as the bitch GPS and after I slowed down, let the car pass us and got into the proper lane for the exit, I looked at Dad and said, "Daddy, I know you're trying to channel Aunt Sissy right now with her side seat driving habits, but please don't.  I love you, so please don't make me kill you.  There was a car next to us I didn't want to plow into or cut off."  Dad replied with an "Oh!  I'm sorry angel."  I felt bad for Dad, I didn't mean to get on him, but between two people hollering and me very conscious of the two very precious passengers in my car along with the fact I love my car in its pristine condition, I wasn't ready to damage any of the three or myself for the sake of a crack smoking GPS lady.

Upon reaching the hotel my parents had booked for the trip, I sat wound up and annoyed as Dad went to check us in.  Five hours, two screwed up exits and not a cigarette in sight.  As I prepared for hari-kari, Mom said from the backseat, "You really shouldn't get so wound up."  She was right.  I was really exhausted and Dad took the brunt of my hyper-vigilance, tiredness and nicotine deprivation.  I felt horrible.  But, as a good side, we dropped our bags in the room, changed clothes and went to the Red Sail Inn for dinner.  Daddy loves sitting in the outside dining area and even though it was a bit too chilly for me and Mom, Dad got to eat his Shrimp Scampi next to the water and all the pretty yachts, drink his beer and go on and on about how beautiful it was.  I was freezing sitting there in walking shorts and a shirt, but you know what, I owed Dad a lovely dinner just as he wanted it, so I went out to the car, got my fleece, smiled and enjoyed my dinner.

I was wiped out and in bed by 7pm.

Next up:  Shelter Island.

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