September 10, 2005

Getting a Freeway Education, Hollywood Style

Family vacations are so much fun. At least that’s how I remembered them from my youth. The night before we left for “parts unknown” was full of hustle and bustle as my parents scurried about while my sister and I relaxed in front of the TV. Getting to bed early so we’d be in the car at 4 am, we’d traverse the desert in the coolness of the early morning dawn. All I had to do to prepare was be excited.

However, as a parent I now know the truth. Getting ready for a family vacation is hell. It’s one thing to literally stuff the family minivan with every conceivable item you may ever need —in fact, everything you own. It’s another to pack for a trip by air. For, of course, the airlines have consistently refused to allow us to stuff their cargo bay to the gills.

So two weeks ago when we finally deposit our luggage at airport check-in and wind our way through airport security, suddenly we are light-headed with the relatively little we are lugging around. That is when the vacation truly begins. We are on our way back to my ancestral home: Hollywood, USA.

With our seatbelts securely fastened we parents can finally relax. The five hour flight would provide a respite until my next job: retrieving our luggage and moving it en masse to the curb where I would throw it on the van to our first stop: Thrifty Rent-a-Car. Count the bags. We have six. Make sure that number remains constant throughout the trip and make sure all family members are accounted for at every stop.

Ensconced in our overly-equiped minivan I forsee pure sailing to our temporary LA abode. It has been two years since I had been “home” and I anticipate it would be like falling of a horse: I’d know the shortcuts and remember to make full stops at all stop signs. Unlike the DC police, the LAPD is very specific on that point. Once on the San Diego Freeway I would know exactly what to do and when to merge.

Every trip back I make sure I am trapped at least once in a freeway rush hour. It reminds me of why I left and why I am so glad I used rapid transit to commute in DC. It doesn’t take long for me to fulfill this requirement. Doh! I’d forgotten. There is no more rush hour in Los Angeles. It’s 24/7.

As we inch along I tune the radio to my favorite station and it was almost like I’d never left, married, and raised two children. I was back in high school. “Round round get around, I get around…” The Beach Boys were the perfect band to start our LA trip.

Billboard for the 40 year old Virgin

My daughter notices this and asks the important question.

Suddenly (and suddenly is how it always happens —always), my almost-nine year old asks from the backseat: “What’s a virgin?”

“Why, what do you mean, dear?” I calmly reply.

“There’s a big billboard over there for ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin.’ What’s a virgin?”

“Why a virgin is an unmarried person,” my wife answers, trying to dodge this bullet.

“Now wait a minute, let’s start out on the right foot.” I suggest. I’ve come to realize that if you answer these questions in a truthful and forthright manner, children usually accept what you have to say and move on. Kids simply want to know the facts. Mercifully, we’re not at the facts-of-life stage just yet (oh so close, but I am determined it will not happen on this trip).

“A virgin is someone who hasn’t had sex.” I say (with fingers tightly crossed).

“Oh, okay,” she replied. Success! Another minefield traversed. Let’s continue with this holiday, unfettered by the pagan Hollywood advertising in my home town of Sodom and Gomorra.

Two days later we are walking down the street to a restaurant and Ms. Tween Daughter sees the billboard once more. “Now what is a virgin again?” she asks.

“Someone who hasn’t had sex,” I reply as matter-of-factly as the first time. Stick with what you know and what’s worked in the past. Do not give any more information than you have to. Do not deviate from the plan. And for God’s sake, stay calm.

“Oh, so I’m a virgin,” she declares.

I start to laugh. “What are you laughing about?” she wants to know. I have to think fast. What do I say? WHAT DO I SAY?

Remembering my training I recover: “Yes, my dear, you are a virgin.” And that was that (for now).

I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip
I gotta finda new place where the kids are hip

It was a memorable beginning to our California vacation: a situation comedy neatly resolved by the end of its Hollywood premiere.

Related Story: High Adventure in Disney’s Tomorrowland

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If you could only teach adults to talk to each other the way you talk to your children.

Posted by: Lavinia Weissman on September 15, 2005 10:33 PM

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