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SummertimePosted Tuesday, June 10, 2008, at 11:43 PM
With the onset of the summer season, menopausal minds turn to vacations, or lack of, due to the soaring price of motion lotion. And so, keeping in mind that the mortgage payment on my first home was only eight times the current price of a gallon of gasoline, it seemed an appropriate time to recall a memorable vacation. I can't afford to take one, so I might as well recall one.
It was 1987, I believe, and the youngest of three offspring was only about two or three. He was my little surprise later in life, not an "accident," as I used to refer to him. That term would infer that he was a "misfortune," which he certainly was not. He should be more aptly referred to as a "surprise," and that would conjure up all sorts of wonderful opportunities, as he did over the years. There was a 12-year gap between the oldest and the youngest and so the youngest, it seems, was raised, somewhat as a "toy" for the older children to direct and enjoy. Ah, but I digress.
1987or thereabouts…the ex-spouse (deservedly so) and I planned a rare vacation. We would venture to Nashville, Tennessee to visit what was at the time a tourist attraction, the then-famous "Opryland." It was the theme park of theme parks of its day and promised to hold attractions that would entertain all three offspring and their 38'ish parents as well.
And so we took off, in our 1979 Riviera without reverse…that's right. No reverse. Best I can recall, it was stripped months before and we couldn't afford a new transmission, so we just parked strategically in a manner that would not necessitate backing up in order to exit our allotted space. The procedure became somewhat of a challenge, as I recall. Parking in a parallel spot in the downtown area would at times require waiting for the driver of the vehicle in front to return to his/her vehicle in order to allow me the space to maneuver an exit from my chosen spot.
The scariest aspect of this is that at the time, it seemed not all that abnormal. Just something with which to contend until times got better. Funny what is ingrained in your brain in a given circumstance. If a child of mine today were to be placed in some of the situations that I was at times, I would have rushed to their rescue. It was a time of subservience, though, and one during which I just contended with the plate that was served upon my table.
Ah, but I diverse once again.
Another problem with the Riviera without reverse was that the air-conditioning system was somewhat faulty. It would cool for a time, and then start blowing warm outside temperature air. It was late July, as I recall, and temperatures were in the upper 90s at the onset of our "vacation," or as I affectionately refer to it as, "the trip from hell."
The first order of business was to stop and buy several cans of "Freon" to refill the AC system to keep the cool air flowing. Somehow, this never seemed a necessity so long as I was driving the vehicle to and from the workplace with three children in tow. It only became a vital issue when the male element of the parental team knew that he would be riding in the vehicle for a duration that would eventually result in 100+ temps. And so, every 40 miles or so, we would routinely pull off the highway and inject the canned Freon into the cooling system to insure a few more miles of comfort.
This routine continued for several miles until suddenly, approximately 80 miles from our Nashville destination, the Riviera with no reverse and a serious Freon leak, quit. Absolutely quit. No power. No air. No nothing. No cell phones at that place in time either and temperatures closing in on 100 and no breeze. It was hotter than ….well, usual.
The situation, as best I can recall, was so unbearably miserable, that I could do nothing but laugh. In an effort to allow the offspring to recall the memory with some semblance of affection, I chose the moment to retrieve the old 35 mm camera and capture the moment on film. And so, somewhere in the shoeboxes of my life, there is a photograph depicting a tow-truck hooked to a gray Riviera with no reverse and a serious Freon leak, headed toward a shade tree fixit shop, while the family of five, sunburned and dripping with sweat, one with a sippy cup full of warm lemondade, sits alongside the highway, awaiting a ride. I recall telling the now ex, "I want to capture this moment on film." And I did, much to his grumbling something about it being all my fault.
We somehow made it to Nashville and to Opryland. It was not what currently bears that name. We stayed, as I recall, in downtown Nashville at a Ramada Inn, which was pretty uptown at the time. The two oldest, around 13 and11, had not, apparently, been to town often and found the highlight of the trip to be the elevator in the hotel. The next best tourist attraction was the escalator. Both served to entertain the duo for the duration of the stay, or until we reached Opryland Theme park the next day, at which time the vacation from hell took another plunge downhill.
There was an attraction at the time called, "Chaos," at Opryland. It was a roller-coaster sort of attraction that circled high above the street in a circular motion and in a darkened area. A flashing slide sort of light show flashed on the circular wall as the car elevated and circled and increased speed. For some reason, my two oldest thought I'd really enjoy this kind of vomit waiting to happen. I relented and rode with them, and tried unsuccessfully the entire ride to try to gain the attention of an engineer somewhere to halt the hideous circling. I don't think that I've been so sick in all my life.
Soon after unboarding the Chaos, we all boarded the repaired Riviera without reverse and now without any air whatsoever, and headed for home. The three or four hour trip lasted 18 hours, or so it seemed, and all the while I hung my grayish face out the passenger window hoping beyond hope for relief for the misery inflicted upon me from Chaos.
I believe that there is a purpose for everything under heaven, as the song says. I believe the purpose of the 1987 trip from hell was to make me appreciate every vehicle that I have driven since that era and every burst of cool air that is forced through the vents in a dashboard. And there isn't a time I see an escalator in a major city's mall, when I don't recall the wonderment on the faces of my then-young children who had never experienced being raised off the ground in a confined box, only to have a sliding door open a few moments later that exposed an entirely new view than the one previously seen. It was a miracle, as far as they could tell. It serves well to remind me at times of what the modern world must look like through the eyes of those who are experiencing it for the first time.
All was not lost on the trip from hell in 1987.Although the now-ex failed to see the humor, I look back and smile, as do the offspring. I believe the journey served to prepare us all for another journey, with many more challenges than what we faced over those couple of hundred miles so many years ago. By looking at the bright side, and by appreciating the "wonderment' of it all, we seem to have developed a skill to always look at the positive, appreciating the pitfalls as much as the opportunities.
Any favorite vacation memoirs?
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