August 24, 2002

Vacation 2002: At a Standstill on Long Island

The overture to our 2002 annual summer vacation conjures up recollections of preparations of years past. As a boy my memories are decidedly child-oriented: the anticipation of getting up before the dawn (what was special then has become a daily occurrence now) and going to unchartered places beyond my normal parent-defined neighborhood boundaries (“Don’t go past the Nichol’s house!”).

Now, it’s off to AAA for maps, arrange for someone to feed the cat, and pack, not just for myself but for the girls as well. To say that I was clueless as a child to all the preparations that went into our vacations is an understatement. So I can relate to my children’s wild and excited states of mind just fine now.

Last year, doing last minute clean up the night before, I stuffed too much down the garbage disposal and the pipes backed up. I should have known better. When multiple dosages of Liquid Plummer accomplished nothing we made a frantic call to our professional. He couldn’t get any one out that night but could come early the next day. “How early?” I pleaded. We had to get on the road. We didn’t think we could leave the pipes full of swill until we returned. I had to endure his reprimand (rightly so) never to put anything caustic down the drain ever again before he (and we) could depart.

We also decided to hired a professional cat sitter for the first time. The second day of our trip we got a call from her: she’d set off the burglar alarm for the second time. She was standing outside talking to me, just as the police arrived, swearing to them she was just, well, feeding the cat.

This year I wasn’t allowed near the kitchen for the final pre-trip cleanup and we put our cat’s fate in the hands of the 12 year old across the street. Both were excellent choices. I don’t recall our exits of my youth being this frenetic, but as I said, back then I was in my own vacation-induced excited little world.

I can imagine my parents discussing the itinerary months in advance. It was always a car trip. And it was never to visit relatives. Plane rides and relatives were saved for very special occasions like weddings and bar mitzvahs. And, luckily, they never seemed to occur during the summer.

My father outfitted the rear of the car with a plywood platform that fit perfectly over the axel hump in the leg area. Since our trips always began at 4 am I got to sleep there while my sister took the back seat. Very cosy but not too safe. With booster seats we’ve evolved. With backseat DVD players we taken a giant leap backwards. We were tempted to buy one this year but quality won out over the quiet. This time.

Five minutes after we left our driveway my eldest queried how long before we got “there.” “Hours” is too abstract for a five year old. But, I must admit, I love when my youngest asks “Are we here yet?” My children have turned out to be very good travelers. Yes, we have a few sibling arguments every 50 miles or so. But, for the most part, they are troopers. I wonder, though, as our future car trips become longer and longer if we will be able to resist that DVD.

My childhood trips started so early in part to beat the morning traffic but more importantly to beat the summer heat. Our ‘53 Pontiac didn’t have air conditioning and if we headed east, towards Phoenix, the only way to survive was to make sure at least half the trip was spent in the relative coolness of the dawn.

My father’s job was to determine the best way to get to where we were going and how far we’d travel each day. I have inherited his map-reading prowess. My wife, who thought she had a good sense of direction until she met me (her words), bows to my abilities at following the Auto Club’s green lined Triptiks.

Since our trip to New Zealand in the mid 90s, we have developed an excellent navigator-driver working relationship. Driving on the other side of the road requires each member of the team to be in top form. A simple “At the next light you will make a left” turned out to be dangerous, for in our minds we equated a left turn with a cross-traffic turn. In New Zealand, their left turn is like our simple right turn. It was too confusing. Our survival required directions be very, very simple. “At the next light you will make a BIG turn.”

And so, unlike our daily marital conversations, which are filled with subtly and innuendo, our auto dialogue is clear and concise. We have no time for “what did you mean by that?!” We might miss the next rest stop for 48 miles and that could be disastrous.

This year we were returning to the beaches of Wildwood, New Jersey, but not before heading first for Syosset, Long Island to visit friends for a few days. We had met Rick and Peggy on a trip to China and have been friends ever since. Friends are not relatives. And we looked forward to spending a few days with iconoclasts similar to ourselves. They have made multiple trips to DC but this was our first sojourn their way.

The thought of getting up before the sun to start my vacation was too much to bear. We set a 9 am departure and I secretly hoped we’d get out of the house by 10. We pulled out of our driveway right on time: 10. Peggy warned us to get an early start. Friday afternoon traffic heading to the Hamptons can be brutal. We were clueless.

We forgot how long road trips can be with kids. By ourselves, my wife and I could have made it up there probably in 4 1/2 hours tops. But there are multiple bathroom breaks and we had to stop for a sitdown lunch at Bob’s Big Boy (Delaware House Service Area #5). We didn’t exit the New Jersey Turnpike until 3:30 and by that time we were doomed.

Crossing over Staten Island and inching onto the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn we had to make a critical decision: go north on 495 to the Long Island Expressway or take the southern route on the Belt Parkway past JFK Airport. We employed our 21st century tracking device: we called Peggy on the cell. “Your best bet is the Belt,” she replied without hesitation. “Tune your radio to 1010 AM for further updates.” Peggy was a seasoned NYC metro area driver and we put our trust in her. And she was decidedly more accurate than the electronic signs over the parkway.

But, in retrospect, it really wouldn’t have mattered. We were done for either way. A born Angeleno, I am a veteran of the LA freeways. And DC’s traffic is purported to be the second most congested in the nation. But, neither my wife nor I had ever seen so much “stop and go” and for so long as we did that fateful day. As we passed JFK, I secretly lusted to be on one of those planes taking off to anywhere but where I sat. It took us 2 1/2 hours to go the 50 miles remaining on our outbound ride.

But unless you are intimate with the terrain, you might as well be blindfolded. In LA I could drive across town on side streets if I had to when the main arteries backed up. But without constant calls to Peggy who offered up-to-the-minute alternate routes we would have been there for another additional hour for sure.

We started our trip at 10 and arrived at 6. Luckily, we also used our cell to place our bar order at Chez Peggy and Rick. Gin and Tonics were waiting as we pulled up. The extra time had allowed them to clean the house so we were duly impressed. Our vacation had begun! But next year, I see a dark, early morning departure wherever we’re headed.

View Most Recent Story:::Notify me when there's a new missive!

Related Posts with Thumbnails