Thursday, June 23, 2011

Postcards from the Slough of Despond: how I kill vacationing right dead with my skills.

Thanks to the powers that be that I was born into a family of readers, and not doers, or worst of all, both. My Dad, stepmom and stepsis have been going to the same collection of cottages in the same part of Narragansett for nearing 10 years now. We read, we barbecue, and we go to the beach; that's it. The trip used to be a family reunion, but has dwindled down to just our core crew as the other familial groups got bored of the same rural town, year after year, and stopped going because there's nothing to do. The same reason, of course, for why we keep going back. Underachieving is an art and we treat it as such.

When I was younger, I pitied the child born to The Doers; dragged out across such and such country with a hot, sweaty family to see statues of long dead whomevers who did this and that. I saw a few family trips through, a bitter 11 year old in short shorts and a "Xena: Warrior Princess" t shirt, baking in the back seat of a similarly 11 year old Volkswagen that ran on prayer and desperation. No, I'm remembering it wrong: that was my mother's car, and when she got time off we usually flew home, to her home, St. Albans, England or to her dream home, Los Angeles, California. So it was someone else's car, usually; oversized minivans, taupe interiors with goldfish crackers hopelessly jammed into the seat cushions and somebodies younger sibling's baby seat poking into my side.

This all happened before we figured out that I have the delicate blood sugar of a diabetic hummingbird, and have to eat every few hours or I blossom into a hellbeast with a hideous disposition. Its similar to blackout alcoholism: I get angry and sad simultaneously, yell for no reason, then tell everybody just exactly what I think of them before passing out.

One summer, when I was in high school, we went to Washington DC and ended up having a stand off between my Dad and the rest of the family. Dad entered this manic apex of Dadness, wherein he felt some compulsion that we had to see every single thing DC had to offer, in the two or three days we were there. Of course, the heat, plus my delicacy, plus being 30 odd pounds overweight and not given to much walking, ended in me weeping in desperation at an outdoor cafe. These are the kind of dumb moments that happen during travel; expectations are high and personal care tends to run low, and before you know it, you're choking back tears under a parasol featuring the minimalist logo of some high-end smoothie operation. If anyone judges you for those moments, you have no choice but to cut them out of your life immediately. That's how I see it, anyway.

That night, once the heat had mellowed to an low-hanging buzz of humidity, Dad and I snuck out alone and drove into town. Some jazzy lady singer was growling a low croon out of the radio. I felt wild. No keys, no purse, no phone. I was wearing a pair of his hideous and hideously practical blue Crocs. Not even my own shoes. We went and saw all the badges of America; the tesseract brick of the Washington monument, lit by aptly placed lights, repeats and repeats upward into a smooth white-pink snakeskin until it disappears into the dark. The flashes of digital camera bulbs fluttering against Lincoln's bold cheekbones, not to mention everywhere the moving black shapes of people, tourists, but stripped of their tourist identifiers that we all recognize. No garish t-shirts, no dimpled white knees or mosquito net visors. No families yelling unnecessarily to and at one another. In the night time we were all quiet observers, taking careful steps around our own history.

That's how I'd like to see the world. Not forced by someone's urgent hand, not rushed and only semi enjoyed. I can't do it, I can't fake it. When we go, we'll go at my speed. It's slow, it gets up no earlier than 10 unless there's a plane to catch. It packs up the car and - oh, you're driving, sorry - needs to stop for coffee before we hit the road. It made up a play list last night, but you can skip whatever you're not into, it concedes that not all moments are "Abba" moments. It does not wear shoes in the car and it is going to need to pee roughly every three hours, so you're gonna wanna go ahead and plan for that.

I can't wait!

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