LYNDEN, Washington -- Summer vacations growing up were not fun. In fact, they were so awful that I suspected we were characters in a Chevy Chase flick. Throw mom, dad, and two or three kids into a cramped car with lots of driving ahead and very little money. Add an unexpected illness, a heat wave, car problems, and some unexpected financial crisis, preferably at the last minute. And... action!
Normally we got along okay. But the trips on which one or more passengers didn't get stung hundreds of times by mosquitoes or vomit up neon green Big Chew gum or get into a shouting match during the first 15 minutes were the exceptions to the rule. Consequently, I've tried to avoid vacations ever since I grew old enough to opt out of them.
But this year was different. My kid brother is going into his senior year of high school, and the parents finally had a little bit of money from my late grandfather's (my father's father's) estate. More importantly, they were determined to herd all of us cats into the new Dodge Caravan and drive several thousand miles together, from Lynden to the Bay Area and in and out of every nook of northern California and Southern Oregon.
And that's pretty much what we did, though I got out of the first leg of it. Two weeks ago Monday, the Caravan met me in Eureka, California, where I attended a wedding that took place on a rock that jutted out of ocean. I worried that some of the bridesmaids in high heels would fall over the edge to their death and the minister almost pitched back into the drink a few times. During the "speak now, or forever hold your peace" bit, the groom had leaned over and whispered "Don't say anything" to me.
We headed over the windy mountain pass to Red Bluff and Redding. From there to San Mateo, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Medford, Ashland, Gold Beach, Coos Bay, Florence, Portland, Hood River, Tacoma, and then home, James.
All of the other Lotts took pictures incessantly. In my own way, so did I:
* St. Bernard's in Eureka was one of the most striking churches I have ever seen. The altar was pulled out and there were a few speakers to amplify the priest's words but no concessions had been made to church redecorators, and, I thought -- looking at the paintings, statuary, censors, and stained glass -- thank God for that.
* I won't give money to bums in San Fran, based on past experience. But one old guy with a gray and white speckled beard approached me as I was eating chocolate covered blueberries near Fisherman's Wharf. "How about a chocolate?" he asked. How could I refuse that request?
* Ashland is home of a world famous Shakespeare festival and we watched The Merry Wives of Windsor on the Elizabethan stage. It's not one of the Bard's best, but the fat jokes were fun, the company did a decent job of it, and the open-air Elizabethan is something else. The moths that fluttered through the hot, dry air lit up like fireflies.
* From Gold Beach, we took a wet and wild 80-mile jet boat tour of the Rogue River. On the return stretch, as we were going through a particularly nasty patch of rapids, I looked over to see Mom applying lipstick. "Girl's got to look good," she explained.
* Much of the extended family on my mother's side met for dinner at a McMenamins in northeast Portland. For those who don't know (I didn't), McMenamins is a company that specializes in refurbishing historic buildings and putting them to new uses. The thing about this one was, it was in the elementary school that my Dad used to attend back when Eisenhowers roamed the earth.
And... that's about it. The family got along better than on past vacations, in part because we're all older and less likely to ask "Are we there yet?" every two minutes.
Of course, technology helped. The Dodge Caravan has so much storage space that we weren't packed in like sardines. It features individual control of air conditioning and heating through vents and front and rear controls, which removed those, uh, heated conflicts of years past.
Adaptors and extended batteries and stereo controls also worked wonders. My younger brother could be listening to his iPod in the back seat, my kid brother watching an episode of House M.D. on a laptop on the left hand side, I could yak at somebody on my cell phone or read a book on the right, and the parents, up front, could play whatever music their vacationing hearts desired.
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