Hearts are overrated anyways.
I grew up taking road trips with my family every summer. My dad would stuff every square inch of our Suburban, aptly named, “The Burban of Power” with tents, coolers, a rusty Coleman stove and sleeping bags. My four brothers and I would crawl in among the chaos, navigating our way to a pocket of space like apt navy seals. My youngest brother sprawled like an ameba on the front bench seat, next to my mom.
My father was a law abiding citizen who didn’t believe in breaking the law just to get there faster. The speed limit was 55 and he would go 53, just to make sure. There was always some barely audible AM talk show playing monotonously in the background as we drove, my mother passing back string cheeses and handfuls of Cheetos from the front seat absentmindedly while devouring the latest riveting copy of Good Housekeeping. I remember touching the ceiling with cheeto fingers while attempting to count the millions of tiny pin prick holes in the vinyl ceiling cover, and leaving an orange smudge like the tail of a comet on a galaxy of milky white vinyl. Then I’d start to worry about how I was going to discreetly clean off the mess before my mom saw it, and lose track of how many holes I’d counted, and have to start over again.
In retrospect, I think the only way my mother knew to endure the chaos of a road trip with five children, was to loose herself in the real life drama of Lady’s Home Journal’s gripping feature, “Can this marriage be saved?” She barely noticed the dog howling, or that my brothers kept passing me bottles of warm “Mountain Dew” feigning kindness. “You look kinda of thirsty Joanie, here! Have my drink…” “Mom” I’d yell, “Jared and Jake are trying to get me to drink pee again!!” My mother, clearly annoyed at the interruption, just as the story was heating up, I mean would Jan accept Stan’s webbed toes unconditionally? Could this marriage be saved? would whip around lighting fast, and yell, “You two had better stop peeing in bottles this instance or I’m pulling over the car and forcing every last drop of lemonade down you throats! My Gad! Why can’t you just look out the window and count cars like normal kids?”
Yep, road trips were the stuff of my childhood. So were road stops, where a parent makes good on their promise to stop this car and leave you on the side of the road. “Thomas! Pull over! Pull this car over!” Or if. my mom was driving the car would just squeal across three lanes of traffic like a race car in the INDY 500, catapulting onto the side of the road, like a breaching whale, gravel spraying like sea water.
The offending child, or children would get out of the car and we’d watch while my mom or dad would bend over and shake a finger in their direction, while our sibling stood, looking down so they wouldn’t see his smirk while he moved his toe around in the dirt. We could never hear the words they were saying over the roar of passing cars, but we’d watch with rapt attention to see if someone was actually going to get left on the side of the road. Then as soon as all involved parties got back in the car, my dad sighing as he fastened his seatbelt, looking over his shoulder to merge, another child would cry out, “Wait, I gotta pee!” My dad would put the car back in park while my mom threw down her magazine in disgust, crying, “You couldn’t have done that the twenty minutes we’ve been sitting by the side of the road?” Uh. Duh. We would all think. Like we were going to risk going out there during a parenting throw down and get dragged into the drama because we had to pee. “You there! Stop peeing so loudly! You know what, get over her by your brother. Has no one taught you how to pee without peeing on the car door. We are not heathens or wild animals…..”
That, my friends, is why we would wait.
Despite the drawbacks of being in a sweaty car with seven people getting sick on too many Oreos, these time are some of my favorite memories. Maybe I am an undiagnosed masovist? Either way, I love a good road trip, especially when warm Mountain Dew isn’t involved.
The trick to any good road trip is that you need a chunk of time to be a road warrior. And a car. And preferably non-icy roads to drive on.
A few years back, with winter in full swing in Wyoming, and only two short days allotted for our excursion, a desperate longing for sand, sun and flip flops drove me to get up at five am, and get my kids up to catch a non-stop flight from Jackson, Wyoming to San Francisco, California; shaving roughly 14 hours off “getting there.” Basically we left in -12 degrees weather and landed in 64 degrees weather, thereby skipping the eating vegetables stage of travel and going straight to the cherry on top of the desert.
In roughly the same amount of time it takes me to scrape the ice off my windshield, we were seated in our rental car, the windows rolled down creating a makeshift convertible, making a bee line for the Northern Coast.
Okay, a bee line only after we made a zee line to a Chick fila drive through to grab some breakfast. I mean people, I have children to feed. Okay, Okay… I have myself to feed too.
But seriously, those nuggets…
We planned to follow California Highway One from the SFO Bay to Santa Monica and back. This two lane highway clings to the state’s western edge and offers views of some of the best landscapes in California. Winding north from Sausalito through Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, the road follows the coastal contours, rising and falling, zig-zagging around coves and curving around hillsides slopes that drop dramatically to the sea.
Our first stop was at Princeton’s Ketch Joannes, a favorite local cafe. I pulled up a chair next to a group of salty fisherman, already clustered together at the bar. They joked good naturedly about who the better fisherman was between bites of fresh caught crab and shrimp omelets. I flipped through the menu, while pretending to be waiting for someone, but really I was just hiding from my kids.
I am a Diet Coke kind of girl. Yes, even at ten am. But according to pretty much everyone else in the place, the Bloody Marys should not be missed!
Coincidentally, I am also often a designated driver kind of girl.
After deciding I couldn’t avoid my children any longer, I followed the cries of “stop touching me” down a gravel path to find them. Along the way I paused to watch crabbers hold their crustaceans high in the air like auctioneers, selling them to the highest bidder. I found the boys leaning over the edge of a floating dock, boats tied with thick heavy knots. A guard dog regarded me sleepily as I stepped over my children’s bodies, his boat swaying hypnotically in the waves. Seagulls spread their wide white wings open, dipping and diving towards the water, in search of a snack.
Please note that unlike my uncivilized siblings, when I stopped to relieve myself before getting back on the road, I chose a bathroom stall, not an empty Diet Coke bottle. The boys climbed into the car, their pockets bulging with rocks and bits of crab shell and ripped red twine, and we headed towards Point Arena Lighthouse.
Please note, I have a limited amount of pull over to take picture time before my children turn feral. Therefore, I risked my life by pulling over to snaps some pictures at Half Moon Bay at the spot where the Mavericks compete in the Big Wave Surf Contest.
The Point Arena Lighthouse was originally a masonry tower built in 1870. It sits on a narrow strip of land that juts out into a portion of the cold Pacific Ocean and embedded with dangerous reefs. At 115 feet tall, Point Arena is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast and reminds me of someplace Rupunzel would be banished to. I imagine her dropping her hair out of the high tower window and can’t help but think how much it would freaking hurt to have some dude using it as a rope to climb up. “Don’t ever use my hair like a rope…” I say to Logan, ‘Huh?” He answers back. “Yeah, you know what I’m talking about, you use to use my hair to tether you when you would lunge towards something when you were a baby.” Logan blinks
In my opinion, Raponzo should have just cut her hair off, braided it into a rope, escaped the mortar and plaster jail cell and walked to the farmers market, because 99 percent of the countries artichokes are grown in California, and happen to be on sale four for five dollars. #weightoffyourshoulders
Once I filled my entire phone memory with lighthouse shots, and paid for all the artichokes my children had mauled, we continued down Highway One to the vibrant beach town of Santa Cruz. We parked the car so we could walk along the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk, passing row after row of bright beach towels lined up like bandaids in the sand. According to locals, this place is considered one of the best seaside amusement parks in the world, because of it’s hard to beat scenery and landmark vintage rides. The Looff Carousel has been spinning children since 1911, and the famous wooden roller coaster “The Giant Dipper” has been offering thrills, chills, nausea, neck injuries and panoramic ocean views since 1924.
The 1950’s carnival vibe reminded me of a movie set for Gidget, if only that hunk Moon Doggie would ask me if I wanna grab a burger and shake. Ok, lets be honest, Moon Doggie was lost at sea as soon as I breathed in the heady aroma of fresh sea food? I managed to get a few bites of quick fried shrimp, and a crab melt before the boys finished them off. Logan wisely took his clam chowder to a seperate booth out of my reach.
Our last stop for the day was the city of Santa Monica. The hollow echo of our feet against the wooden boardwalk sounded like a beat box as we plodded along, peering in the windows of souvenier and ice-cream shops. I finally got to try some chowder, as we walked past different seafood huts vying handing out samples of chowder, while musicians plucked out songs on guitars, squinting into the sun.
I sent the boys to wait in line for ice cream, while I secured a table by the edge of the dock, the water lapping against the wood. I soaked up every last ounce of vitamin D as the sun sunk slowly into the sea. And from where I sat, it seemed like the diamonds sparkling like wishing stars on the waves would never sink.
I should have probably let my kids know where I was, but c’est la vie!
I might have left my heart behind in San Franscisco, but I kept my passport, both kidneys and a few treasured sun lit memories of lighthouses, boardwalks, crab melts, and crusty old fisherman holding up live crabs, their claws snapping like castanets.