Like most Canadians, my memories of travel date back to early childhood. I was raised by the kind of mother that had itchy feet. Mom is what I affectionately refer to as a ‘Valley Girl”. To be brief, she’s a country girl from the Ottawa Valley born and raised in Brockville. As a teenager, Mom used to dream of a day when [like all the movie stars she watched or classic heroines she read about] she, too, would get out of her small town and finally see foreign places and people. Well, one day it was her turn and she embraced it with gusto. She met my father, this tall, dark and handsome exotic Arab and now had someone who wanted to see the world just as much as she did. That desire only grew when us three girls came along. My parents weren’t the kind who liked to drop their cubs off at the sitter’s. When I asked Mom why, she said she found it fun to be with us. We were funny and interesting…(!) On that note, my parents proceeded to plan all sorts of holiday travel in Canada, the USA and abroad. Needless to say, the moments spent with my family à la Planes. Trains and Automobiles (1987) remain quite memorable. Here are a few.
I. Travelling with your Family
When it came to holiday travel, our family never came up short on fun or exotic destinations to go to. We did everything from drive to Daytona Beach during Spring Break to spend Christmas together in Cuba. For better or for worse, these holiday jaunts were always marked by some kind of mishap or misadventure; the kind you might possibly find in a movie like National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). The image you see here is of the Griswolds happily starting their holiday trip together. I’m here to tell you this portrait is deceiving. In my family’s case, “D-DAY” [as I like to refer to it] often bared little resemblance to the idyllic portrayal here. For starters, we [and by that I mean my two sisters and I] were never ready to leave on time, and I mean… N-E-V-E-R, especially as teenagers or young adults. I rarely [if ever] had all my laundry done ahead like Mom asked, so on the day of departure I was inevitably scrambling around looking for stuff to replace the dirty clothes I couldn’t bring or sometimes desperately washing stuff by hand and throwing it in the dryer. Us three daughters consistently overpacked and spent an extra hour repeatedly weighing our suitcases and triaging our belongings to decide what to keep or leave at home under Mom’s irate glare. Danish author Peter Hoeg once stated “travelling tends to magnify all human emotions”. He wasn’t kidding. Our endless delays and petty squabbles over God knows what lead to the kinds of fights more suitable for Madison Square Garden or Caesar’s Palace. Of course, our parents were right and they furiously berated our lack of prep and disregard for the concept of time from the bottom of the stairs or driveway.
The majority of their pre-departure time was spent reminding us ingrates that we were within a hair of either missing our plane or being stuck driving all night. According to Dad, neither was an option. We weren’t about to get new tickets and he wasn’t about to pull an all nighter on American highways. Why? because if we were driving, he wanted to avoid stopping for the night. When he was inexorably forced to it was not good times. His notion of “suitable accommodations” was radically different from ours, especially his price point. I cannot begin to tell you the questionable lodging we’ve endured under his leadership. No, we didn’t have a vibrating bed like in the classic scene in Vacation depicted in the link above. But, we also didn’t have our own room like Russ and Audrey did. My father categorically refused to shell out the extra coin for separate rooms. Instead, one of us [ME] always ended up taking the rickety prison-issued metal cot because my two younger sisters preferred to bunk together. Truth be told, that was actually fine with me. The thing is, my options were limited: share a bed with a sister who talks in her sleep non-stop or with one who runs her own version of the Boston Marathon. Given the alternatives available… how bad can crashing in this cot or stamp-size motel room with your fam jam be? Well, let’s see….that depends if we’re talking about the running monologue my middle sister started on crocodiles around 1 AM or the soothing sound of my father’s chainsaw-like snoring. Take your pick or wait for the person who got no rest to be yelled at for her tardiness early the next morning by the causes of her own sleep deprivation…(!). Watch her passively-aggressively pretend to sleep in just to annoy her cheery, well-rested siblings and parents and succeed at doing so. Listen while her mother threatens to throw her crap out the door and into the parking lot if the eldest fruit of her womb isn’t ready to go by the time she gets back with her morning coffee. Watch that friendly chat degenerate into a screaming match that sucks all of them in and leaves at least 1 or 2 family members in tears or ready to hitchhike home. Imagine that mess getting sorted out and making it as far as some Southern state like [in one instance] Georgia. Speculate if you will, about the decision to stop for lunch in say a place like Decatur. It’s hot as Hades in the South and your Dad has been driving for hours. He’s starving [everyone is] and all he wants to do is grab a bite and sip on a cold one. Picture the look of unadulterated disgust on our waitresses face when he tries to order a beer and is told Decatur is 1 of 200 dry counties left in the Union that prohibits the sale of alcohol, sir. Finally, heave a sigh of relief when we shovel the rest of our meals down and bolt out of there before we get accosted by some of the unofficial cast of Deliverance (1972).
Cuba [on the other hand], was far more welcoming. Our first family vacation there was a Christmas time affair. I remember thinking Varadero was a lovely place filled with even lovelier people. Even the guests at our resort were congenial, including a heavily intoxicated wealthy German lady who took a shine to my 18-year-old self and insisted on giving me her watch 2 hours after meeting me. I tried to politely decline her gift, but she would have none of it. At one point, Mom walked by and caught the whole scene. I tried to introduce her, but my new German Santa was so drunk and unilingual Mom ended up taking her leave of us quite quickly, all the while looking back at me over her shoulder disapprovingly. After she left, I tried once more to give the watch back. This time she made such a scene…(!) her equally inebriated German lover came to the table and basically ordered me to stop looking a gift horse in the mouth and be grateful for her girlfriend’s trademark generosity. Unfortunately, that trip was tragically cut short when we discovered my grandfather passed away in our absence. But, I’m glad to report that such sad circumstances have been the exception, not the rule for our family vacations. Either way, I could rhyme off a dozen more crazy stories like the ones I’ve already mentioned, but I think you get the picture. The truth is I’ve been travelling with my family since I was six-months old [my earliest passport stamp] and I love it. I loved it even more after my sisters came into the frame and have countless fun and fabulous memories of adventures we had together. In our case. the good times outweigh the bad by far. For every dismal Decatur moment, there’s 3 wonderful ones of us at the sensational Sandbanks, beautiful Myrtle Beach, or magical Marrakesh that outshines it. And that [my friends]…is why I’m always ready and willing to get back on the road, again with my fam jam.
II. On the Road, Again…
Legend has it that Willie Nelson wrote the lyrics to “On the Road, Again”on the back of a barf bag on a flight to L.A. Willie was asked by the executive producer of Honeysuckle Rose (1980) ; the film he just signed on to star in, to whip up a song about life on the road for musicians. Willie grabbed the bag and dashed off the lines to a catchy tune that remains a part of country music history. Willie loves to be on the move and gets a thrill out of seeing new places and faces. I gotta admit that sounds pretty great, too, except I feel it’s even better when you do it with your family. Now, in my previous blog [ see “We Are F-A-M-I-L-Y: Finding Your Tribe Then and Now”] I describe the many different types of family units there are out there. Though I only covered travel here in terms of one’s biological family, [mine] I still stand by what I said before. I believe it can be just as exciting and rewarding an experience with them as with any of the loved ones you choose to bring along for the ride. They say friends are the family you choose, but you’re doubly blessed when you feel that way about those who share your DNA. I can tell you this much…I look forward to getting on the road, again with mine someday… and hope you do, too.
Do you love travelling with your fam jam? Do you avoid it? If so, why? Please feel free to share your story!