Soon after one crosses the Hooksett-Manchester border traveling south on D.W. Highway, the commercial establishments that pop up (at least in the 1990’s) were all to a driver’s left because Dorrs Pond, its surrounding woods, and Livingston Park were all on the right leaving no room for any business developments. The landmarks on the left that were of any interest to me were basically just Luisa’s (damn good calzones), Cheung Kee (great chow with plenty of MSG), Chantilly’s, Puritan (ice cream), and the Backroom (chicken tenders.) Chantilly’s was a pool hall, for lack of a better term I guess, which was in the Maple Tree Mall. It might still be there. I have no idea.
Anyway, there was a pinball machine in Chantilly’s that had something to do with rain storms or weather disasters. A voice used to say, “Uh oh, looks like rain” and another one said “The storm is coming. Go back to your homes.” The pinball game wasn’t really fun. The voices weren’t really that funny. But of course my buddies used to (and continue to this day) to quote this pinball machine at random moments, which makes me smile because it reminds me of being 15 years old.
So what does pinball have to do with the price of tea in China? Well, T-Family Vacation version 1.0 (with the full Party of Five) kicked off on Friday and I found myself saying these two quotes repeatedly during my inner monologue. Let me back up and set the scene.
Friday afternoon. Easton. By the time we’ve completed packing up the family truckster, rush hour has begun. Traffic maps on the Internets showed swaths of bright red to indicate that highway travel was gridlocked. Obviously, the most sensible option was to wait and do dinner at home. We could bathe the kids, put them in PJs, and hop in the FUV when the traffic has subsided. If we left at 8, we’d probably get to Madison by 10:30 p.m. Naturally, we decided to leave at that moment instead.
I ducked and weaved (yes I was driving – I’ve surrendered) on and off the highway to make decent time as far as the Ashmont exit of 93. Unfortunately, the inevitable crawling pace of traffic stymied our merge onto the highway. Ever so slowly, we passed through the tunnel and hit the Tobin only to somehow move more slowly.
Right around Kappy’s Liquors on Route 1, Greta announced that she had to pee really bad. All I ever associate with Route 1 are the ubiquitous chain restaurants, chain stores, and independently owned exotic dancing small businesses tucked in between. I figured we could go a little further and pull over any second into a semi-decent eating establishment before Greta really had to go. Worst case scenario, we might crash an amateur hour at the Golden Banana to use the bathroom, but of course, that was only a worst case scenario.
Cue the rain. And the pinball machine quotes.
After we encountered what seemed like a ten mile stretch at 1.5 miles per hour with literally zero eating establishments (does such a void actually exist on Route 1?) Greta started to ring the alarm.
GRETA: My belly hurts really bad.
Yikes. I decided internally that “I’ll just pull into the next establishment I see, whatever it is. If it’s the Cabaret, so be it. Greta and I will just run in there, pause only slightly at the stage, then continue running into the bathroom.” Or maybe not.
Finally. Signs of life. Great. I was just gearing up for the turn into a parking lot. If only we could move faster than a half mile per hour.
It started pouring around then, by the way. Hard.
Just as I activated the blinker, THE WIFE and I encountered our worst travel nightmare… The Golden Arches. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!
We’ve made it almost three and half years without resorting to eat with any of our kids at McDonald’s or the like. Was this our moment when we finally gave in? Was I about to order a quarter pounder with cheese, enjoy the four minutes it took to inhale, then regret the decision for the next three hours as it wreaked havoc on my intestines? Scenes from Braveheart flashed behind my eyes. Mel Gibson/William Wallace yelled. “Hold. Hooold! Hoooooooold!”
I kept driving. Greta yelled openly in discomfort. Soon we were driving in a typhoon. My cell phone beeped with a severe weather alert text message.
“This is ridiculous,” I said to myself in the echoing space that my brain should occupy. “I’m seriously pulling over in whatever stop is next that may have a toilet.”
Suddenly, a beacon of light flashed like an oasis in the desert, or at least a potty for a small child whose bladder is on the verge of bursting like a water balloon.
ME: It’s not open.
WIFE: Yes it is.
Fortunately, she was right and I pulled over. We arrived at the Mexican restaurant chain whose name makes me repeat it incessantly while wondering what it means and whether I’m pronouncing it properly: Chipotle. [“Chee-poat-lay,” is where I’m leaning, for the record.]
As we skidded the mini to a stop in the parking lot, the rain began to fall Hollywood-style when star crossed lovers run towards each other to apologize about whatever transgressions they’ve committed because they just want to be together forever. Greta and THE WIFE parted the Red Sea as they flew through the entrance. I ferried G-man and the Tills inside.
Long story short, we averted disaster. Gigi evacuated. We ate fairly healthy food. We also had our very first dinner as a party of five in public. And we didn’t seem to ruin anyone’s meal. No meltdowns occurred in public. Granted, Gus ate only tortilla chips, pulled the old arch-your-back-while-sitting-on-my-lap move, and licked a ground-level window after watching Greta do the same, but overall it was a success.
We pushed off from the dock and steered north. After hydroplaning through the “Nohth Shoah” of Massachusetts, the deluge began to subside once we caught Route 16 in Portsmouth. And traffic finally relented. Before long, all three of our peanuts were snoozing. We arrived at Pep’s house about an hour earlier than if we left at 8 o’clock. But we made it.
Day One - Is It Bedtime Yet?
I opened my eyes. Greta was beaming beautifully next to me. It was 6:40 a.m. I was desperate for more sleep.
ME: Greta, it’s too early to get up. Get into bed with me and mom. Let’s cuddle for a few minutes. I’ll buy you an SUV, only slightly used, when you turn 16.
ME: Please. I’ll pay your first year of college. No strings attached.
GRETA: No, daddy. I want. To go. Downstairs. (strong intonation on the last syllable and possibly stomping a foot)
ME: (seeing that THE WIFE is awake) Can you please handle this?
Amazingly, I didn’t wake up again until about 7:45. THE WIFE was a rock star and apparently took Greta somewhere out of the house because they were both gone.
Like a morning rooster, the Tills-inator beckoned me to wake. Dazed, I stumbled up the carpeted stairs to get her. I missed the last step and shanked my back. Still cursing under my breath while rubbing my back, I looked over the pack-n-play. Tilly-Vanilli was grinning ear to ear. I grabbed her, changed her diaper, and laid her in bed next to me. Suddenly, THE WIFE appeared again like an angel from above and grabbed our baby. I went back to sleep. (Rock star status, continued, for Mrs. T.)
At 8:15, guilt and a Tilly cry got me out of bed. I rejoined the family. G-man got up not long after.
We breakfasted. THE WIFE and I decided to divide and conquer. I’d take the older two to the beach. She’d take the baby to the grocery store.
Rather than wait for a ride in the FUV, I decided to walk. Seeing that I was holding Gus, our bag, two floaties, a foldable blanket with shoulder strap, and a basket of toys, Greta graciously offered to carry something. Two minutes later, she complained the toy basket was too heavy. I was relieved she at least agreed to walk on her own.
For the next two hours, I ran closely behind Gus as he drunken sailored his way around the beach. He ate about four mouthfuls of sand and packed another handful or two in his bathing suit. Greta dumped a shovelful of sand into my ass crack for good measure, too. The three of us played in the water, built sand castles, sat wrapped in towels after our dip, etc. You know the drill. Once Gus’ lips began to blue and shiver, I packed up our gear.
Back at HQ, we rendez-vous’d with M&M. After lunch, Gus went down for his nap. In light of our vacationing status, I decided to nap too. The girls decided to take their own adventure to the beach.
Two and a half hours later, I woke up stunned and confused. The siesta did me right.
Downstairs, I could hear the girls in the bathroom after returning from their excursion. Once G-man woke up, I took the killer bees (my term for the two younger kids, more on this another time) out of the house for a drive so that THE WIFE could cook dinner. (Rock star status for her part III on the day.)
After steak and a birthday cake, we skyped Nana and Aunt Carol. Next, baths, books, and songs followed. Finally, the beasts fell asleep. THE WIFE watched
Toddlers and Tiaras Dance Moms, which blows my mind on so many levels but I
can’t even comment. And here I am. Typing these words.
I think I’m finally relaxed.