Saturday, June 28, 2008

Highlights (and lowlights) of a Family Road Trip

We did it as kids -- piling up in the family car and driving cross country, memories being born in stories that would be told, retold and laughed about years later -- the hubcab spinning off the wheel driving through the desert, the suitcase full of shoes flying off the top of the car and showing up on our doorstep weeks later, the car breaking down and then watching Prince Charles and Lady Di get married on a TV in an auto repair shop. Somehow, when it comes to family vacations, it seems the "getting there" is always part of the memory, part of the family history.

Now as parents, it's our turn to orchestrate ...

So, a couple weeks ago we loaded up the kids -- well half the kids, Zach and Allie -- to venture out on the first leg of our trip to the Monterey/Santa Cruz area. Blake and Nick flew to Sacramento a week earlier to spend time with their grandparents.

What used to be about a 3-4-hour drive to the Central Coast from Sacramento is now about 13 or 14 hours from Phoenix, depending on traffic and how many times you need to stop to give the kids (or me, much to Brett's chagrin) a break. As we considered the scenarios of how such a lengthy trip would go with two 3-year-olds, we decided to break up the drive and stop at Disneyland for a day.

Here's a glimpse into some of our adventures in the Dawson Honda Odyssey:

  • If you live in the Phoenix area and you plan on traveling on any highway, chances are there's either major construction going on or you'll be stalled by an accident. It was so weird to get used to checking newspapers and web sites last fall before Blake's weekend soccer tournaments to see which sections of which highways were closed. I've gotten used to it now. But sure enough, almost an hour away from home, on Highway 10 (or as Arizonans call it, "the" 10), we're at a standstill. Brett is a bit on the impatient side when it comes to driving (I love you, honey!), and apparently little Zach inherited this trait. After moving what felt like just inches at a stretch for more than half an hour, Zach begins his mantra, punctuated with sobs and tears ... "I WANT TO GO HOME ... I WAAANT TO GO HOME ... I WANT TO GO HOOOME!" He goes on and on. Relentlessly. I feel like a human blood pressure monitor; I can see Brett's start to rise. I unstrap my seatbelt and make my way to the back to dig out some trail mix and a drink. Seems to do the trick ... for both Zach and Brett.
  • On the highway, you come across several larger-than-life cut-outs of humans -- babies, children, adults. It's really quite bizarre. The first time I came across one and it started to come into view, I thought, "What is that thing that looks like a baby?" You get closer, and you realize it is a baby." Take a look:
  • We brought our trusty Garmin GPS. At one point, somewhere in Southern California, we're on the highway. Garmin tells Brett to veer left. I try to tell him that the left lanes are the Express Lanes for motorists who have a toll card. But it's too late. We're in the left fast-track lanes, separated from the other lanes by tall, skinny columns of some sort, placed every few feet. It reminds me of the episode of the office where the GPS tells Michael Scott to turn right and he ends up turning into a lake. Brett and I talk about what could be at the end of the Express route -- maybe a machine where you slide the card (only we don't have a card so we'll be stuck), a person manning a booth (we figure if this is the case we'll plead ignorance or blame the GPS), a cop (again, we'll plead ignorance or blame the GPS). This lane seems to go forever, running alongside the regular lanes. "Do you think I can run over those things?" Brett asks. I can't quite tell if he's serious. "What -- you're kidding, right?" This isn't the Dukes of Hazard. Finally, the lane separates from the regular lanes and finally it feeds us back into the normal lanes.
  • It wouldn't be a Dawson family roadtrip unless one of the kids got carsick. Sure enough, about an hour out of Anaheim on our way north, Allie -- with no warning or symptoms whatsoever -- gets sick. All I remember is turning around, looking at her sweet little face, and her losing it -- three times. So, we pulled into a nearby Chevron station, changed her clothes, cleaned up best we could ... and rode with the windows down for a while.We arrived back home on the day that all the fires started breaking out on Highway 1 and then throughout Northern California.
  • On our way to California, we saw three small roadside fires. The California Govenator is encouraging Californians not to buy fireworks, which I don't have any quibbles about. BUT, those who smoke while driving and choose to flick the butts roadside onto what amounts to the hottest, driest, stretch of the country (it was 119 in Palm Springs on our way home), should be ... I don't know ... dealt with ... punished ... forced to live in Phoenix in July.
  • One thing I've learned about road trips with kids is that they go through three distinct phases: sleep, calmness/relaxed state and hyperactive craziness. Usually you try to time it so the crazy occurs right before you're about to make a stop. But sometimes it doesn't always work out that way. About an hour before arriving at the beach house, Zach and Allie entered the crazy state. And the thing about twins, or any siblings, really, is that they feed off each other. One gets crazy, so the other gets crazier. So their big thing was chanting, "Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?" It's so funny and so cliche -- the kid asking the parent this timeless question -- but there it was and they were chanting/singing/yelling this for what seemed like forever. But to them it was just a big game, trying to sing in tune with each other and bouncing their heads back and forth in rhythm. Mental note: next time, bring my IPod.
  • On the ride home, we didn't break up the trip -- we drove all the way from Watsonville to Anthem. We left at about 10 a.m. and arrived home right at midnight. During the last half hour, the twins both got cranky and Zach, plagued by a fear of the dark, begged us to turn on the lights. During the week we were gone, the real heat -- 110+ degrees -- finally hit Phoenix. And as we entered our oven of a house, having turned off the a/c while we were gone, we tucked the kids into bed and waited for the 88-degree house to cool off.
It felt good to be out of the car -- no sick or hyper kids, no giant babies on the roadside, no fires, no sitting in traffic. Just the memories.

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