Saturday, September 09, 2006

T-I-O-N...Are we home yet?

When last we left our small boy hero he was in the suburban Washington Horrible Johnson’s Motor Lodge where the beds were so questionable they negated one of his favorite motel room habits. Namely, breaking the place in by jumping from bed to bed and back again until the old man growled that he was getting vertigo watching Cronkhite on the evening news or Mom got upset at the popcorn ceiling abrasions on my forehead.

Whichever came first.

Usually the old man, bucket-o-water on the fun fire guy that he was.

At any rate, we checked out of there right quick, filled out a nasty survey card lambasting the innkeeper with the note that “it wasn’t as clean as it could have been, was it now?” and slunk away hoping he wouldn’t hire goons to track us down and give us the what fer somewhere in South Carolina that night.

We usually had pretty good hotel and motel experiences. That was a bad one. Another remarkable one was the room they gave us somewhere outside of Toronto, Canada that unfortunately already contained a shaving male with a perplexed look. That is to say the hotel rented this poor guy the room, he was in the can getting lathered up when the Confused family showed up at his door with the key. No problem. We went back to the front desk, got another room and that was the end of that. But I do remember my Mom eyeing clean cut guys in the restaurant with more than her usual suspicion that night. She remarked for too many years afterwards how we never got billed for that night’s stay. Like there was a time value of a hotel room analysis or something.

On to Florida, whereas we made it to Virginia on day one, we usually got to South Carolina or Georgia on day two and then hit Florida on the early afternoon of day three. Unless of course the old man got lost or we took the bait of all those billboards and stopped to see what “South of the Border” was all the hell about. Day two was remarkable in that the old man got his first whiff of warm air and went positively Pavlovian about it. Just let the temps creep up to about sixty four and he cranked that car window down all the way to bask in the ensuing balm. That of course sent me for a wool sweater or several pounds of goose down as I was in the back seat in the ripping breeze he created freezing my ass off. Made sense that every year I got to Cape Canaveral with a case of the sniffles.

We’d pull off the interstate somewhere in the Carolinas at one of the firework shops like Looney Larry’s, Crazy Lucy’s, Insane Bob’s, Maladjusted Bet Wetting Roger’s, buy tooth numbingly sweet pecan concoctions and run across a highway crew that made my parents invariably stop and stare. See, our little corner of Canada in the sixties boasted diversity that Mr. Poser down the road DIDN’T serve in the war because he was ALREADY TOO OLD. Beyond that, we were all pretty much lily white so when faced with a truck full of black men with shovels and rakes, hey, here was something to gawk at. Poor guys busting their humps on state road 12 all summer and to top it off you’ve got a Chrysler full of pasty goofballs pointing at you like a sideshow and check the plate out: Where the hell is Labial Province anyway? I’ve never been there.

Like I said, on the early afternoon of day three, freshly chigger bitten in Georgia, we’d roll into our usual Florida digs, the efficiency with the stucco walls painted coral and aqua to complete the illusion. Mom would unpack the kettle, the old man would gather me and hoof off to the nearest beach where he got enough tar on his feet to extend I-95 to Havana and I’d broil every exposed skin area in fourteen minutes or less.

That was OK. Peeling was a ritual and a game. Details of the rules of which are better left unspoken.

And what did we do in the Sunshine State? We went to the beach, I buried my toys and forgot where. I got dragged into the ocean kicking and screaming. We ate at fabulously cheap restaurants that offered a children’s menu and the old man would usually get wrapped up in something stupid that would cap off the trip. Once it was taking out the front quarter panel of his car in an accident on the boulevard because he was tailgating again. Once it was winding up chest deep in an ocean full of bluefish-chasing sharks because the bonehead was too busy or illiterate to read the “NO SWIMMING TODAY-FISH MIGRATION AND SHARKS” sign some lifeguard had helpfully but uselessly posted.

And then, beet reddened some ten days later, we would pile back into the car and slog back home. These rides weren’t as memorable. The closer we got to the border, the colder it got. The car windows got rolled up again, the heat would come on, the dollar bills with Elizabeth’s picture got pulled out of the side compartment of the purse and we steeled ourselves for snow still on the ground in April. The last high point would come when the old man got the vacuum out for the car and would empty the bag out in the backyard whereupon I got a four by five inch patch of real beach to trot memories out on and pretend to bury toys again.

Bunny on.

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