Sunday, August 16, 2009


I finally managed to pack the car, and we got on the road. The trip was unremarkable. Everyone's trip - we had folks coming from central and eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Baltimore - was unremarkable. But this? Was not always the case. Let me take you now, to Family Trip circa 1991 from Reading, PA to Ocean City, MD. According to Google maps, a trip that should take 4 hours, 4 minutes.

At this time, I was 13 years old, that magical age when nothing is fun because I was either too young or too old for most activities. Sister #1 was 11, Sister #2 was 6, and Brother was 7. My parents, who had apparently chosen to ride in a minivan for 4 hours, 4 minutes, with 4 kids, were insane.

It was a HOT day in mid-August, and since minivans at the time did not come equipped with "stow and go" storage, we had to put the obligatory "turtle shell" on top of the car in order to pack all our many many many belongings. Packing at the last minute, as I did yesterday, is a long ingrained family tradition, and so even in 1991, we were packing at the last minute. After a few hours of manuevering the turtle from its normal position (hoisted in the garage) to its final position (bungeed, tied, and double bungeed to the roof of the minvan), we loaded the luggage, and we were off. As usual, we doubled back so someone could run inside to grab that quintessential item which they couldn't live without for an entire week. Then, we were off. Again. About 11 minutes after we started, the air conditioner stopped working. We cracked the rear windows of the minivan as far as they would go - which did nearly nothing to cool us. About sixteen minutes after we began our trip, someone surely had to pee...and we finally stopped an hour later at a Wawa.

Mind you - under no circumstances would my father allow purchases at said Wawa. We were there for the potties, a brief basking/drying out in the fabulous fabulous convenience store A/C, and that was it. However, when we were all back in the car and buckled into place, my father tried to start the car. The little engine turned over and over, but to no avail. A few construction workers who had been on their lunch break suggested that the car should be pushed backwards while Dad tried to start it. Three men pushed us as the engine sputtered. But start, it did not.

My father called Triple-A, who said they would send someone over as quickly as possible. Belted into the car as the temperature rose to 92 degrees, we sat. This time, we did not have even the minuscule window crack to supply air circulation. Forty-five minutes later, we called Triple again. Where were they? What was the plan? My father was assured that his call was important, that they would arrive shortly. That if the car refused to start again, they would tow it to a nearby Ford dealer. Unable to stand the heat, we piled out of the car and sat on the sidewalk, begging for some treat from the store. We were hungry. We were thirsty. We were hot. My father relented, and allowed us to purchase two large tootsie rolls and a fountain drink. To share.

We waited another hour. At some point, the lady who worked at the Wawa took pity on us, and brought more drinks outside to the sidewalk. My father called Triple-A again. The temperature soared to 95 degrees.

About two and a half hours after the call was made, Triple-A arrived. Perhaps we should have yelled at the man, scolded him for making us wait so long. But we were so happy to see him, we crowded around him as if he were royalty. Alas, he did not start the car. This was expected, and all we wanted was to get to the "nearest Ford dealer" as soon as possible so we could be on our way after a quick pop of the hood and tightening of some bolts.

At this point, it becomes appropriate to describe the neighborhood. First, we have the Wawa. Next door, one of those lonely residential holdouts, obviously grandfathered in, living in an area zoned commercial long after the house was built. The house was run down, and a lone tree stood in the front yard. This was no landscaped dogwood or pretty little maple tree. It was a 60-foot tall pine tree which towered over the house...and completely blocked the large sign advertising the presence of the next business over. Had the tree been just a tad shorter, or placed just a hair to the side, we would have read "F-O-R-D" on that sign. Oh yes. We had waited two and a half hours for a tow truck to tow us one hundred and fifty feet. In fact, the tow truck guy decided it would be more of a hassle to hook up the car to his rig than to simply push the mini van to the adjoining property.

Bristling with the injustice of it all, we march over to the dealer, following the tow truck. It is now about 3pm on a Saturday, and the mechanic is just getting ready to leave for the day. I suppose we looked pathetic and desperate enough, because they did agree to do something for us. I am not sure what. All I know is that was again set about the business of waiting. Only this time, we were in a dealership waiting room with air conditioning. And a candy machine where we were not allowed to purchase anything. It was bliss compared to the Wawa sidewalk. We waited 45 minutes, until we were told we would have to rent a second minivan for the week.

In the parking lot, we had to transfer the contents of one car to another. Only now, the bodies of both cars were literally scalding to the touch. One could not very easily reach up to the turtle for the baggage without touching the vehicle. Sister #2, age 6, was hoisted up inside the turtle, and lifted each bag down to us. She was not very happy with this decision. Then, we had to un-bungee and un-tie and un-double bungee the turtle from the car, and hoist it onto the rental. Sis was again hoisted into the turtle, and we lifted the bags high overhead, trying hard not to touch the car.

At 4:30pm, approximately 4 hours and 4 minutes after we started, we got back on the road. WE had maybe 3 hours, 3 minutes to go. The rental had air conditioning!! And perhaps in a fit of heat stroke, my father agreed to allow us to purchase an item from the vending machine to share. Life was good.

And then we hit the traffic. For some reason, the radio reception in the rental was poor. And for some reason, the only station which did come in clearly was stuck in a loop. It played two songs: "Blue Moon" and "Rockin' Robin". For the entire time we sat, unmoving, on a bridge to Ocean City. It took another hour to cross that bridge.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family - my cousins and aunts and uncles - had been pulling into the house all day. They had no idea where we were, and were beginning to worry. This was before cell phones, mind you. Around 8pm, nearly 11 hours after we started, we pulled into the driveway in our fabulous rental car.

How would this trip happen today? We'd stop at the Wawa, call Triple-A. In the meantime, we'd play on our I-phones, maybe check out the local Ford dealer locations. We'd find out it was next door. The mechanic would take a look, having several hours before closing time. He'd fix the car and the air conditioning too. We'd play Tetris on the phone in the waiting room. We'd watch "Secondhand Lions" as we drove to OC. We'd be there by mid afternoon. The family would have full updates throughout as we texted our predicament. Kids today. They just don't know what they are missin'.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

I've got a better story for you of a family trip. Way too long to go into in comments, but imagine sitting in a car and having the seat burn out from underneath you. You are 9. You say you are hot, and you are ignored. Finally you shift, and smoke comes out from under you. Oh, btw, you are sitting on a towel b/c it is vinyl seats so it was too hot to sit on the actual seat. So, parents stop the car, you get out, and from where you were just minutes before sitting flames are now shooting out of a hole in the seat about 8" in diameter. Oh, and there is a camper attached to the back of your car with a propane tank attached to it. Long story short - no explosion, thankfully we had a fire extinguisher and dad put out the fire that had been the muffler... and no one for many years after ignored me when I said I was hot!!