Thursday, June 10, 2010

Excursions, Ice Cream, and "Iceland" - Part 2

If the excursions that I took as a child with my Mom helped to develop my curiosity of what lay further along the road ahead, then the road trips that my Dad took me on served to be the true genesis of my traveler's spirit.  The things that I looked most forward to as a child were the trips that I would go on with my Dad (or as a family).  It could be something as simple as a trip to his job at JFK airport or something as complex as a multi-day, multi-state adventure; either way, I was enthralled.

I loved being on the road.  I soaked in everything: the details of the passing scenery, the songs playing on the radio, even, when possible, the route that we were taking.  An early memory of a trip home involved my Dad intentionally going past our exit on the highway and asking me if I knew how to get us home (feigning a lack of such knowledge himself).  As legend has it, I impressed him by telling him that there was a second exit (Part B, if you will) that would take us to the same street, just on the other side.  I then navigated us home from there.  I don't remember how old I was but I know I was closer to being quite little than I was an advanced grade-schooler.

Perhaps the earliest trip memory I have came when I was perhaps three or four years old.  The details have faded and in some cases are sketchy at best but I recall getting a papercut on my tongue, likely from licking an envelope.  I remember that my Dad took me out for ice cream to help soothe the cut and going to his job, perhaps to drop something off or to pick something up.  Again, the details are hazy but what stands out from the memory was my Dad's compassion in taking me for the ice cream and the excitement of going on a "trip."

Not surprisingly, many of my most cherished memories of spending time with my Dad come from trips that we took together.  I remember looking forward each year to going on a family road trip somewhere along the east coast.  My Dad would select a location (or multiple ones) for us to visit, often with unplanned pit stops along the way, the most famous of which was in either Massachusetts or Vermont when we stopped to play miniature golf.  That was the moment of the "Shot Heard Round The World" as narrated by yours truly.

One trip that we made was up to Albany to see the "Dinosaurs" exhibit.  At the time I was extremely into dinosaurs (as nearly all little boys are--in fact, I would argue that nearly every American male, in his youth, will go through an astronaut phase, a superhero phase, and a dinosaur phase, with an option for a cowboy phase or G.I. Joe phase as well) so we headed upstate for this supposedly spectacular exhibit.  It wound up being a bust but my Dad managed to audible us into something else and we wound up having an awesome time on the trip.

I laugh as I look back and reflect on many of these experiences because I have adopted unconsciously many of my Dad's good habits when it comes to roadtripping.  We are both extremely meticulous in our research and preparation, often having multiple routes to our locations, backup plans in the event that the trip is a bust, and the uncanny ability to find something memorable and off-the-beaten-path while en route.  Another similarity is the interest in adding "one more state" to the trip, though I would argue that he likely did this FOR me, thus stoking the flame of my excitement in visiting more and more states.  We ventured up to Kennebunkport, Maine while in New Hampshire solely for the experience of passing into Maine and adding the last New England state to my list of states visited when I was a kid.  I've subjected my wife to this numerous times, the most recent of which was last year when we went to a Cincinnati Reds game and I drove us five minutes out of the way solely to re-take a photograph of the Kentucky welcome sign. To date, though, Michigan, Utah, and Texas are the only states that we visited and saw only the welcome sign, doing nothing else; every other state we either stopped at an attraction or visited the capitol building. 

As I sit and plan Timmy's first roadtrip (a baseball roadtrip at that!), I can't help but smile as I look back on all of the great trip memories I have from my childhood.  I remember visiting Valley Forge and the Catskill Game Farm, numerous trips to the Amish Country, as well as jaunts to the Mystic Aquarium and Washington D.C.  My most cherished road trip memories come from visiting a small town in Pennsylvania called La Anna.  There isn't anything particularly remarkable about the location; it is nearly identical to a thousand other small towns in the state.  What does stand out, for me at least, are the memories and moments that have been collected from spending time there with my Dad and Mom.  I remember visiting the candle store outside of which my Dad and I took our favorite picture together.  I remember visiting the other candle store near the park that we went to for picnics (truly the purpose of each trip to La Anna).  I remember crossing the "Shaky Bridge" and how my Mom was freaked out every time...mostly because my Dad and I would do our best to shake the rickety wooden bridge as we crossed above the stream below.  I remember walking through the woods before getting to the picnic site near the lake.  I remember the time my Dad went exploring and came running back, causing my Mom and I to think that he found a bear (turns out he wound up on someone's property).  I remember the lunar betrayal that has never been lived down.  In short--I remember every moment of those trips.

The only other trip memories that come close in terms of their vividness and importance in my mind are those that I took with my Dad while he was working for a bus company at the airport.  Occasionally, he would take me with him on charters to various places.  I likely cherished these trips the most because they are fewer in number...but at least two stand out in my mind for other reasons.  The most infamous trip I have ever taken with my Dad found us taking a college group up to New Hampshire for a retreat.  Usually, I would simply sit up front with my Dad and leave the passengers be, but somehow I found myself in their midst, having earned their favor.  I remember that we got McDonald's for lunch and that I had their chicken nuggets.  To date, I have had McDonald's chicken nuggets three times and all three times I wound up vomiting horrendously afterwards.  On the plus side, though, was the fact that I got a transforming hamburger that went from burger to some sort of lizard beast.  I remember showing how it transformed to the college kids and them seeming to be entertained. 

A few hours later, we arrived at the retreat site...but I couldn't get off of the bus.  Because we were in the middle of a tropical storm.  So after enduring a seven hour or so bus ride I had to stay inside as we turned around and began to head home.  Then we stopped in Keene, New Hampshire.  Keene might be the only place in the entire world that causes me to shudder when I see its name on a sign (seriously--that's what happened a few years ago when I took Heather up to Vermont to go to the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory).  My Dad and I stopped to eat in Keene and then headed back out to the bus to head home.  Except the bus wouldn't start.  At all.  My Dad had to call for someone to fix the bus.  That was when he was told that the closest help was something like eight hours away.  They told him what to do over the phone.  Apparently it was dangerous.  He made me stay away from the bus as he headed to the back and opened the door.  I was convinced the bus was going to blow up and either we were both going to die or he was going to die and I was going to be trapped as a prisoner in Keene forever.  I'm pretty sure I began to cry.  My Dad opened the compartment and went to take the dip stick.  This was when he saw that the dip stick was nothing but a nub.  Apparently this bus had this particular problem before. More than once.  In fact, it had this problem a lot.  The optimist says that the technique must have worked since the dip stick was melted, literally, to a nub.  The realist says: the dip stick is a nub.  The pessimist says: the dip stick is a fucking nub.

If I remember correctly, my Dad had to use the dip stick to jump start the bus somehow.  The risk of electrocution was great.  The risk of explosion was also larger than one would like (a.k.a. a percentage chance above zero).  My Dad did what he had been instructed to do and the bus started.  No explosion and no electrocution...though my tiny nerves were fried.  Needless to say, we headed home and I vowed never to go on another trip again.  I think I cried and kissed the carpet in the living room when we got home, much like survivors of plane crashes do once they have reached terra firma safely.

On another trip, though far less dramatic, I remember discarding my previous vow never to take a work trip with my Dad again and heading out with him for what should have been a brief trek.  Somehow, after completing the trip, my Dad was asked to do another one.  I was feeling fine so we decided to go for it.  I think that at some point during this second trip I began to get tired and, most likely, began having flashbacks of my time in Keene.  At the end of the trip (now finally nighttime), my Dad was asked to take yet another group of people somewhere.  I remember falling asleep and just wanting to get home (convinced that this trip was going to take me back to New Hampshire where I was surely going to be orphaned, abandoned, and any other -ned you can think of!) when I overheard a man say that we were going to Islip.  I was young and I was tired.  I also didn't hear "Islip" but rather "Iceland."  Somehow I had enough knowledge of global geography to know that Iceland was far away in the Atlantic Ocean but not enough adult common sense (again, I was maybe eight at the time) to realize the impracticality of a multi-thousand mile long bridge.  I had no idea how we were going to get to Iceland, assumed that there was such a bridge, and that it was going to take us a week to do the trip.  I remember crying and saying that I just wanted to get home and an older man trying to comfort me and saying that Islip, "wasn't that bad."  That's what he thought!

Now, as a father myself, I can only hope that my son enjoys our trips as much as I enjoyed the ones I took with my Dad.  I remember many of my classmates in elementary school and junior high school talking about their trips to Disney World and other places in Florida, or the cruises that they went on with their families.  I didn't visit the state or the amusement park until I was 22--ironically enough on my first road trip as an adult.  I had gotten my license officially only a few days, a week at most, before and essentially took a trial by fire.  I drove for fifteen hours straight on my first day of driving outside of New York City, drove through a hurricane on our last day of the trip, and wound up being up for thirty consecutive hours as I drove straight from Weston, Florida (20 miles from Miami) to Brooklyn.  As a kid, though, it never bothered me that we never flew anywhere for trips or that I didn't go to Disney World--to me, the best part about a trip was taking it and, thus, driving to where we were going.

With any luck, Timmy's experiences with trips throughout his youth will have a more expansive radius than mine did; after all, that's the way it should be.  My Dad's big trips as a kid took him to upstate New York; mine took me to New England and other northeastern Atlantic states; hopefully Timmy's will take him throughout the continental United States and maybe even Canada.  Regardless of where we take him and where he ultimately takes himself, I can only hope that he will find his own La Anna--a place where, for at least one moment, the happiness of being with his Dad is captured perfectly in a timeless photograph or memory.