August 3, 2004

Road Tripping with SK

When I was a child, our family often took road trips during the summer to visit the grandparents. In one way, our family was unfortunate because we didn't get to live in the same town as the grandparents. But we were fortunate in another way because both sets of grandparents lived in the same city. One trip, both sets. And now we all have our fond memories of those road trips to savor at will.

This was before the family got a little labyrinthine due to divorce and re-marriage. Then we had two new sets of grandparents for a total of four sets (I did the math for you folks who may be a little math-challenged). While two sets still lived in the same town, one new set lived all the way across the country and the other one lived about as far north from our house as the original sets lived south.

Clear as mud isn't it? Extended families make life more complex, but usually in a good way.

Anyway. We would all pack our suitcases and pile into the old Ford Sedan. My sister and I shared the backseat. Shared probably isn't the best word for what we did because invariably we'd get squirmy and irritable and the old "Mom! Her finger is on my half of the seat!!" type argument would break out. At times we did share nicely however.

It was a two day trip from Alexandria to Montgomery, Alabama. I have no real memories of staying at hotels, but I know we did. It was during one of those trips when I fixated on the difference between a hotel and a motel. For some reason I was convinced that hotels had bathrooms while motels did not. I know better now.

We had a list of Ten Rules for Family Car Trips that were rigidly enforced. I distinctly remember there being ten rules, but I can only remember what three of them were. So maybe it was only these three that were rigidly enforced and the other seven were fluff.

Rule Number One: Nothing on the back shelf

Children usually need lots of entertainment on road trips. My sister and I were no exception. So while we were allowed to bring pretty much whatever we wanted to bring, we were required to keep it within certain parameters. The back shelf of the car was out of bounds for storage.

Rule Number Three: Everyone must use the bathroom immediately before getting in the car

Obvious reason for that rule. The rule was enforced for the dog too.

Rule Number Five: No asking "When are we going to get there?"

Or any other form of a question that requires the same type of answer. For instance "How much longer?" or "Can we get out of the car soon?" Again, obvious need. Because children can be impatient like that. And what parent wants to hear that question over and over again, particularly when there are at least 15 more hours of highway ahead?

As an adult when embarking on road trips with family or friends, I only invoke Rule Number Three. Not that it helps when traveling with my sister SK. Once in not too distant yet not too recent times, we were road tripping together to New Jersey for Christmas at Cathy's, my step-sister from my father's side. We were in separate automobiles. This was during the time SK lived nearby in Maryland. She was in her auto and we were in ours. Cosine and Detail and The Boy and me. So we set off on that bright clear December morning, full of excitement and anticipatory pleasure at spending the holidays with our father and extended family.

This was before the age of common cell phones. So we had devised a simple communication system. If one or the other of us needed to stop for whatever reason, the driver would simply flash their headlights to inform the other car. Simple. Effective. Communicative. However I was totally totally taken aback when, before we had even reached Baltimore, SK was frantically flashing her headlights for a break. A potty break as it turned out.

Bear in mind that Baltimore is about an hour from where our trip originated. One hour. 60 minutes. 3,600 seconds. One short little hour. I was just getting into my driving groove. When I pulled over into the rest stop, my irritation at stopping so soon into our travels was evidently more than apparent. SK held up a large water bottle, like a two-liter size, and announced she consumed the whole thing. Which is why she had to pee. And would have to pee again in the not-too-distant-future. Argh.

I contemplated adding a new rule. Rule Number 3A. No drinking water. Or if one must have water, no swallowing.

Instead I just became resigned to expect frequent stops. So my sister could pee. Again. It was the humanitarian thing to do after all.

On our recent trip to Rehoboth, SK was again caravaning with us in a separate automobile because she unfortunately had to depart two days earlier than the rest of us. We all have cell phones now. Communication by flashing lights was rendered obsolete. Progress I guess. We had just reached the slow traffic approaching the Bay Bridge. Bumper to bumper. Creeping. Not unexpected. We'd been on the road, oh, maybe an hour. My cell phone rang.

Ayup. SK needed to pee. Bless her heart. (There's a joke there but you don't know it because I haven't shared it with you. Just go with the flow. Bless your heart.)

So we worked our way over three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic and pulled into the Wawa. Again, my irritation was evidently apparent even though I really really tried to conceal it. Guess I still have some work to do in that area. While we were there, we got coffee and doughnuts just because. One box of powdered doughnettes for SK and one box for Wendy and me. And no, we didn't empty the boxes. There were plenty left over to share with others at the beach.

Life's really too short to begrudge a potty stop to my sister. Did a time schedule really matter that much? We were on vacation after all.

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