Throw Junior From the Car

By William Booth
Sunday, September 23, 2001

Since my father's death a few years back, my wife and I have begun to take an annual trip with my mother. All I can say is, you have not lived until you have driven with your mother through traffic circles in Rome. Traveling with your mom is a transforming experience. In my case, it transforms me into the Cruise Director.

"Relax," says my wife. "Have a nice cold beer."

"Or a nice cup of tea?" my mother pips, sitting on the couch, her bags -- a collection of suitcases and mysterious paper sacks -- neatly packed. I have been loading tackle boxes and birding binoculars and expedition quantities of emergency lubricants into the car and nattering on about mileage and schedules and dinner reservations. It is, like, 3 in the afternoon, and we have already had lunch twice and we are still not on the road from Los Angeles for our first destination in what I had planned as a relaxing but educational and tightly scripted trip up the central coast of California. I would show my mother a good time and I did not care if it killed her. I do not know why I feel this compulsion to show my mother a good time. With no help from me, she has in her early seventies become quite the accomplished traveler.

I remember a recent telephone conservation, which went something like this: "Sweetheart, I'm sorry I missed your birthday. Did you get my postcard?"

She thinks she mailed it from Helsinki, or maybe Fez? She goes to places like that now, on "cruises."

"We didn't get into the Royal Ballet," she confessed. "But we saw some very nice folk dancing, with army men, I believe. And we did do the Hermitage."

"Wait a second. You were in Russia?"

The Cruise Director has never been to Russia. I crammed the last of the crap into the car and stomped on the gas.

When I was a kid, our family vacations were like home movies on fast forward, the film jumpy, the colors cartoony, a blur of motel swimming pools viewed with longing from the back seat of a hurtling Dodge Dart.

For most of the year, my father was a relatively sedentary company man, a real Clark Kent. But for two weeks in August, he was the Roadrunner. The man enjoyed crossing state lines.

The motel had not been built that could hold Pop longer than one night. My family could do a week at the shore in about eight hours.

"Nice beach," Dad would sigh in his Bermuda shorts. "Now back in the car."

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