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Monday, July 16, 2012

Road trip + gypsy curse!

I've mentioned that my son wants to be a composer.  Here in America, our music conservatories are on the East Coast and we live in the Midwest.  Since my son is 17 and off to college next year, it was time for a college road trip to scout out his top choices.  Our first challenge was his list of 7 colleges to visit. I was thinking of a number between 1 and 3 but my son had different ideas.  Clever boy, he formed a cabal with my  wife which I could not crack, dent or negotiate with.  Cabal 1- Dad 0!  In a portent of things to come, there was a meltdown at work that required an impromptu and immediate visit to Long Island, NY.  Since I going to be in the area anyway, we rearranged a few of my son's college visits so I could squeeze 2 work days into our family road trip vacation. Yea work!
A reasonable reproduction of my family just before launch.
I believe good planning, organization and a GPS will see you through a big trip like this and why not?  It's worked for me every other family vacation we've taken.  I don't believes in ghosts, voodoo or bad mojo. Nevertheless, I began to suspect that we were operating under a gypsy curse due to daily misfires, mistakes, challenges and even debacles. Want proof? 

Baltimore, MD:  The hotel in Baltimore was nice, being right across from a baseball park.  Unfortunately, there was a motorcycle rally nearby. The Harley Davidson crowd believes that the louder their glass pack muffler, the less likely it is that a car will drive over them.  These overage and oversized rough riders were roaring up and down the avenue in front of our hotel all night long.  I lost 5 years of my hearing and a full night's sleep on that stop.

Philadelphia, PA:  We drove into downtown during rush hour.  In Philadelphia, the downtown streets are extremely narrow on account of the thinness of its citizens.  Apparently a lifetime of eating Philly cheese steak subs with cheez whiz has caused the good citizens to waste away to next to nothing, much like their roads. Despite a brand-new talking GPS, I could not find our hotel. As it turns out, it was a brownstone walk-up with no parking, pullout, doorman or anything at all that might signal that yes, this is a hotel!  I had to unload the luggage from the trunk of my car in bumper-to-bumper traffic, blocking up the right lane entirely while the locals gave me a brotherly "Hello!" honk on the car horn.

Once we got to our room, we opened the door to see...a single bed for our family of four.  I called dibs but the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the rest of the crew was such that my wife went down to the lobby to explore our options.  No, we could not have a cot or pullout due to a supposed "fire code."  Yes, they had one room left and if we didn't pay for it quickly, some other schlep was going to buy it out from under us and we'd have to sleep in the streets. Ca-$$$-Ching! Sold to the weary family from out of town! When my son and I went down to our room, we named it "The Mole Hole." The room was a long hallway, thin (like the local citizens) and dark.  All it lacked was worms!
May I bring your bags up to your room?
New York, NY: The closer you get to New York City, the worse the traffic gets. In a huge stack of cars crossing the George Washington Bridge, I glanced nervously at my GPS.  A decision point-GPS said to take a left but the signs said to take a right?  Did I see that right?  I had seconds to decide.  In a panic, I threw the decision to my wife by belting out "Which way, honey?!!"  She fretted and mumbled so I stuck with the GPS, which naturally was a huge mistake.  I found myself on a series of descending ramps taking me to Manhattan at rush hour.  

I'm normally a calm, cool, and collected gent.  I rarely swear.  The verbal dam burst as the reality of my mistake sank in.  I was driving into the heart of the carpocalypse known as Manhattan.  At rush hour.  F bombs peppered the air as I cursed my GPS and then the satellite which couldn't send a signal to the GPS as it kept repeating "Recalculating!  Recalculating!  Recalculating!" without it doing anything of the sort.  After 10 harrowing minutes, it finally threw me onto a side street and back up to the George Washington Bridge, one slow-moving block at a time. Cruel gypsy!  The swear jar would be filled to the brim after this one.  
I'm the blue car in the middle.  No, not that one...
New Haven, CT:  New Haven showed some promise as an interesting spot on the map but then the curse kicked in.  I picked a restaurant that served something we don't have a lot of in Minnesota-soul food.  The neighborhood was a tough one and the restaurant didn't have air conditioning on a night that was 90 degrees.   We didn't let that dissuade us. We sat and talked and talked and talked. After an hour of talking, I saw an employee stroll in with a bag of groceries that I'm certain contained the ingredients for our dinners. Dinner took so long to serve that we were rushed to find and visit the Lighthouse my daughter was looking forward to. I tried to punch it into GPS but being a lighthouse, it didn't have a street address.  Desperate and trying to beat the sunset, we drove in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean but of course, we couldn't find it. I mean, its only a lighthouse.  On the beach. How easy are those to find?  We did find ourselves in a terrible neighborhood with competing dealers on street corners.  I was wondering if I was being a little paranoid when one of my kids said "Mom, you have got to get us out of here.  What are you THINKING???" Yes, it was that scary.  Even so, I was tempted to roll down my window and ask "Mr. Dealer, sir, do you have anything for gypsy curses?  No?  How about stressful vacations?"  Sometimes your best adventure awaits you on the path not taken.  

As I was dragging our luggage down to the lobby the next morning, I saw a huge road construction machine working the street in front of the hotel.  I remember my Spidey senses tingling and a thought like "Uh, oh, this can't be good."  My wife pulled in with our car and the machine proceeded to dig a 3 foot trench in the road we needed to exit on.  Really, I would not have been surprised if Gandalf himself had popped out of the trench in a hardhat, an orange blazer, and a "STOP" sign in hand, shouting "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!" Ho-hum, another day, another obstacle.  7 days down, 7 to go and that cruel gypsy was not finished with us yet.  To be continued...