Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nance And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Trip

No preamble to today's post, Dearest Readers, except to say that today's Question is the last one in the meme. March still has almost three weeks remaining, so if there are other questions you would like to have answered, discussed, or generally kicked around by me and The Esteemed Commenters, please mention them in the comment section or email them to me using the clickable link in the Sidebar.

Continuing a bit with yesterday's theme, today's question asks:

What was the most awful vacation/trip you have ever taken, and why was it so terrible, the location or the circumstances?

(It also adds, Would you ever go back under different circumstances?)

The year was 1976, and I was seventeen years old. All during the late spring and early summer, I had battled rogue and random infections and could not seem to get well. By the time school finished up, I was flat on my back with mononucleosis, and if the tests were to be believed, it was the third time I had had it. I could not remember feeling worse or more tired.

Until, of course, I got a virulent case of strep that strafed what was left of my immune system and gave me such high fevers that I became delirious and heard things like lawnmowers and breaking glass in the middle of the night. My throat was a horror film. My tonsils were enormous and covered with grey and white matter that peeled off and choked me whenever I tried to swallow. I couldn't stop crying.

When it was finally over, and I could walk and sit up and function, my parents announced that my little sister Susan and I would be accompanying them for the month of August on a big trip out West. The announcement went over like, as my dad would later tell it, a lead balloon.

Susan's winning city softball team would have to do without her for the whole month. My boyfriend would have to do without me. We packed up the '69 Buick LaSabre (vinyl seats, no airconditioning) and set off west. My doctor had cleared me to go, but had nixed the idea of camping all the way. My presence meant motels. It also meant, he told me, "No swimming, no riding, no hiking, no physical exertion. You have to rest. Enjoy the ride and the vacation." I also had huge iron pills and vitamins to take which Susan used to use as leverage against me."I have your life in this bottle," she'd say, taking them hostage. "Now move over and give me more room."

The year 1976 was the Bicentennial, but by the time August rolled around, all the cool stuff was long gone. Our trip was exactly what my parents had planned--for themselves--driving for hours and looking at Scenery. And the American West has a ton of Scenery. Sometimes, when you are driving Out West, the only thing there IS is Scenery. You, your car, and Scenery. As a teenager myself, and Susan a preteen, we didn't give a shit about Scenery, or as my mother always wrote in her travel journal, "vast panoramas of majestic mountains with white puffy clouds in the foreground." We sat in the back seat with Queen on our cassette player and read comic books. Once, when my father pulled over to behold a particularly breathtaking view and Susan and I didn't look up from our comics, he hollered, "Right now! Turn off that rock music and put down those comic books and look out that window. You're not bigger than God, you know!" I was duly chastened, but when I looked at Susan, she was trying with little success to stifle both a smile and a giggle. She was braver than all of us, always.

Once we neared Montana, traffic thinned out alarmingly. Big Sky Country is right. Also, Big Empty. We drove for miles and miles and miles with no company on the road. It was blisteringly hot, and I was miserable. My open window didn't do anything but bring in warm air and dust. All of a sudden, a dark mass appeared on the horizon. I thought it was just a heat shadow, that wavering optical illusion you get from a hot road. But as we sped forward (my dad really like to make time, and he went at least ninety on stretches like this), the mass got larger and more solid. Pretty soon, we got right up on it, and to my delight, it was an enormous herd of cattle. It was as if a lake of cows stretched as far as the eye could see. We had to stop. My father looked at my mother with an expression of incredulity and expectation. As usual, when he was driving, he blamed anything untoward that happened on my mother, The Navigator."Well, now what?" he said, exasperatedly. "I'm on the road you said we should be on!" As my mother started to try and soothe him, I looked with interest and excitement at all the cows milling around. I wondered if I should ask if I could get out of the car.

"...and if we just wait for a little bit, they'll move on," my mother was saying. My dad was regarding her with the same kind of look that one gives an insane person. Nope. I would be staying in the car. "Doll," my dad said to her, "do you honestly think that I'm going to sit here and wait until Christ-knows-when for these cows to move? You cannot be serious!" My mother matched his frustration. "Well, Honey, what else can we do!?" she said, raising her voice the merest bit, mainly by inflection on a few key syllables.

And so we waited and waited while the cows strolled around. More than a few stood still, looking right at us. I think it was the arrogance of those few that finally got to my father. In a burst of exasperation, he hit the horn. My mother turned to him, horrified, and I saw the look in her eyes. She looked completely terrified. "Bob, NO!" she yelled."They could stampede!"

Every single cow we could see turned its head toward us and started to move in our direction. Some trotted, but most just walked. Suddenly, a gigantic cow head burst through my open window and into my side of the car. It smelled awful. And when it left a huge pool of slobber in my lap, it smelled even worse. I was so stunned, so amazed, and so darn surprised that all I could think of to do was to say, "Mom!" But she had her hands full with Dad.

So that was Montana, and the very best part of it. Let's just say that by the time we got to Washington (where we couldn't even see Mt. Rainier, my mother's Mecca, so shrouded it was, by clouds), my parents called Patti, my big sister back at home, and put her on high alert; she might be driving out to Cleveland Hopkins Airport soon to come get Susan and me. My parents weren't sure they could stand it all the way back home.

But a funny thing happened when we turned Eastward. Susan and I knew it was almost over. At least we were headed home. Wyoming was pretty, even though we had to escape a tornado there. I was very happy to go to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, and I was quietly reverent and impressed. And, overall, I was feeling much better. The whole way West, I was beset by terrible leg cramps and awful fatigue. Both lessened considerably on the way home.

That trip was terrible in so many ways. St. Patsy admits it was ill-conceived from the get-go, taking two teens on a largely Old Folks Scenic Drive, especially when one of them was still convalescing. I admit that Susan and I were snots on purpose some of the time in that Teenage Brat sort of way. I am grateful that I got to see so much of the USA; I'm often surprised by the number of people my age who haven't. They've been all over Europe and other countries, but they haven't seen very much of this one. I'd like to see all fifty states before I get too old. And thanks to St. Patsy and Dad, I've seen quite a few.



  1. Can't really remember any trips that were a total disaster from start to finish, except maybe the first one I ever took. It was on an old DC3 from Hawaii to the mainland. About 9 hours of looking at ocean. My sister was 4, I was 3, my brother was 3 months, and my mother was 24 and unaccompanied by my father who had gone on earlier to report to the base commander. Apart from endless hours of looking at water, the only other thing I remember was my baby brother throwing up. Which made me throw up. And then my sister. My mother managed not to, although I am not certain how.

    All other trips with anything negative tended to have something positive that offset them--- usually the destination. I can imagine you going bonkers travelling through all of those states with just the "scenery" as entertainment; it's not what you really crave for excitement when you're seventeen. You sure saw a lot of the U.S, though. I can remember when I first took a long car trip where we had to travel through several states when we moved from Maryland to Louisiana. For some reason, I expected the scenery to change drastically every time we crossed a state line, lol. My father would announce these crossings in solemn, dramatic tones: "Children! We are now entering Tennessee!" And we would chime back at him, "It looks the same as Kentucky!" And he would say we'd have to give it a bit, and it would change. In the meantime, in the hopes that we would forget, he would get us all fiercely engaged in a game of car poker. Or waiting anxiously to be the first one to spot a Burma Shave. (Wow. That makes me feel old.)

  2. So many childhood trips were salvaged by the stack of books that I brought. By the time I started working in the summers, we had stopped taking vacations altogether.

  3. I've driven across the country twice, but both on the same route. 80 goes from San Francisco to New York City. So if you want to drive from SF to Philly, you get on 80, drive for 3 - 5 days (depending on your sleep situation), turn right in Pennsylvania, and bam, you're there.

    I don't drive in Wyoming. I got a ticket for going 85 in a 55 zone, which I never paid. I mean, IT'S WYOMING. There's nothing else to do but drive fast. And I had just cut my foot at the gas station, stupidly filling up while barefoot. Not a big fan of Wyoming. Though you're right, it's beautiful, at least the mountains.

  4. j.@jj--At the risk of offending anyone, I felt the same way about Idaho and Iowa, too, back in 1976. Idaho, the part we went through, was a big desert. I had no idea what it would be like, but I sure didn't expect that. And Iowa was boring to me, like Wisconsin. At least Wisconsin had lots of cows.

    I remember feeling like we were taking The White People's Tour out West. I don't think we saw a single black or Hispanic person in Montana, Wyoming, or N.Dakota. It felt odd to me, considering my hometown.

    Rainbow Motel--Oh, I had stacks of paperbacks, and my parents always let me buy a few new ones whenever I wanted. That's when I got hooked on the Herriot series "All Creatures Great and Small", about being a vet in Yorkshire. I returned home and, when school started, told my counselor that I wanted to go to college to become a veterinarian.

    But reading anything for a month on the road still can't help all that much.

    Ortizzle--Susan and I would love crossing another state off, as you can imagine. My mother would always trill brightly into the back seat, "Girls! We're in Oregon!" or whatever. We'd lift our heads and look all around for her, and then go back to whatever we were doing, because as you said, nothing really looks different simply because you cross a border.

    Bless your poor mother. I don't know how so many military wives did/do it. And with children! The life must seem like work all the time.

  5. When I was nine, my dad, who was a career Marine, was transferred to Kansas City. His family was still "back east" (in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia), and my mom's family was in rural-ish Nebraska. Our vacations only ever consisted of driving to one or the other. Nebraska is BORING, but it was only a six hour drive, and I had cousins close to my age, so that wasn't too bad. Driving back to Pennsylvania was brutal. My dad was never one for stopping to see anything that might be interesting (including bathrooms), so we drove for hours and hours every day for like three days straight. My brother and I hated those drives. The only part I ever really liked was seeing my grandmother (the best Hungarian cook in the world) and going to the Jersey shore to go to the beach, see the boardwalk, and eat hot Italian sausage sandwiches.

    And being a military brat? HATED EVERY MINUTE!

  6. We went to Washington DC in 1976. I was 12 - & I remember that it was hot, the Washington Monument was under scaffolding, and our car broke down & we had to stay in a skanky motel for the night.

    I lived in Africa for 18 months, but I haven't ever been west of the Mississippi. Or to New England. Or Louisiana. Mike & I really need to plan a trip of some kind - maybe one just like your parents did because we would really enjoy that - ha!

  7. The Bug--We stayed in a few yucky motels on that trip, too.

    I haven't been to New England proper, either. It sounds like a trip I would love.

    I would enjoy many parts of the trip I suffered through then if I took it now. I would be more appreciative, as an adult, of that sort of vacation. Banff was gorgeous; Lake Louise was, too. And I really liked Oregon very much. You and The Professor would love that trip for a great many reasons. Start planning.

    LaFF--MMmmm. The Hungarians certainly do know how to cook. Paprikas especially. SO good.

    I've never been to Kansas or Nebraska, but I was just saying in an email to a friend that in order to be completely fair to all my Readers/Commenters, the Dept. Cocktail Party would have to be located in one of those two states. All of you are all over the country, and those two places are centrally located. LOL.

    Hey, it would make NB less boring now, in your memories.

  8. I'll vote for Kansas, so I can check it off of my list. I've been to Nebraska. At least, driven through on 80 from SF to Philly. ;)


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