Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Worst of Times

No vacation goes unpunished. ~Karl Hakkarainen

It’s vacation season, a time most of us look toward with longing.  As much as I like vacation, I must admit that at times they can be like a Dickens’ novel:  the best of times, the worst of times.  

Greetings from the Griswolds!

I’ve had my share of bad vacation experiences.  The earliest dud I remember occurred when I was about nine.  We were camping at Shawnee State Park near Bedford, when I sat up suddenly in the middle of the night in the tent and promptly vomited on my seven-year-old brother.  Not surprisingly, he began to cry.  While my mother fumbled in the dark with a lantern to clean up the messy sleeping bags and find him clean clothes, he got sick too.  All that I remember is lying on a picnic table the next morning with my brother.  He was clad in my mother’s stretch pants that came up to his arm pits because he had no unsoiled clothes left while my dad and mom took down the tent.  On the ride home, we had to take turns lying down in the station wagon and vomiting into a bucket—that’s a Kodak moment I’d like to forget. 

The summer I was first married, we went to the Outer Banks with my family.  I was having a great time until Tuesday when I began to feel a bit creepy.  When I spiked a high fever later that evening, we headed for the doctor's.  We had to drive to secluded Collington Island—think setting for the Swamp People show.  After navigating through abandoned cars and Spanish moss, we found the doctor who diagnosed strep throat. I spent the rest of the week on the couch while everyone enjoyed the glorious beach weather. My only source of entertainment was the Democratic National Convention, which was on all three of the channels we received on the portable TV in the cottage.  Fun times, that was. 

Swamp People

The following April my husband and I thought it would be fun to take Amtrak to Washington, D.C., for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  Traveling by train conjured up romantic images of The Orient Express, but that was quickly dispelled  A trip that takes five hours by car took nine by train.  But the scenery must have been gorgeous, one would think.  Unfortunately, no.  Train tracks do not run in the most scenic areas of towns.  We got a nine-hour tour of every slum and depressed town between Pittsburgh and D.C. 


 It rained the whole time we were there, knocking off all the cherry blossoms.  I had purchased new jeans for the trip, and because we were so wet, the dye bled and stained my legs. To top off my tour of the nation’s capitol as a Smurf, I came down with the flu on the way home.  Nothing like sitting for nine hours on a train with fever and chills and returning to a lovely Pittsburgh greeting of a late-April snow storm. Of course, we had no coats.  

I was a surly Smurf!

Vacation accommodations are always a gamble.  The year my mom booked a cottage for us right on the lake in Sandusky, Ohio, when we went to Cedar Point sounded ideal on paper.  Yes, we were right on the lake--next to a drawbridge that went up and down all night with clanging and boats tooting horns.  It reminded me of that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen’s character as a child lived under the Coney Island roller coaster. 

Alvy Singer as a child in Annie Hall.

Through the years, we’ve had bats in our cottage, skunks under our camper, and have been evacuated twice for impending hurricanes headed for the Outer Banks. 

While those vacation disasters were unpleasant, it’s not every holiday mishap that induces nightmares for years to come.  The pièce de résistance of vacation catastrophes that holds a special place in my family lore, even today, is our fateful trip to Skyline Drive, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  I was probably 10 and, once again, we were in our tent, and to make things really pleasant, it was, you guessed it, raining.  In fact, the days we were there, the area set records for rainfall. 

Raining again!

 During one brief respite from the deluge, we--my parents and my three siblings and I--emerged from our tent to take a walk.  My little sister’s shoes got wet, so as my mom headed back to the tent to get her a different pair, we saw people pointing.  We were heading right toward a black bear.   

My nemesis

Our legs turned into wheels like those of the Road Runner, and you never saw six people run and cram into a station wagon so fast.  Terrified, we kids refused to leave the car.  My dad thought we were nuts, but we wouldn’t let him sleep that night in the tent either.  After an uncomfortable night of six people sleeping in the back of a Ford LTD, we packed up and headed to a safer Pennsylvania campground.  

Feet don't fail me now!

The saying goes A Bad Day of Vacation is Better than a Good Day at Work—I don’t know about that--I’ve never had nightmares from work.   

This originally appeared in the July Issue of Northern Connection magazine.

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