On the road again, heading for mountain or sea, the car overflowing with tennis racquets, beach balls and guides to the flora, fauna and food of the Cape or the Carolinas. But how does this dream of a holiday begin? With a long, hot drive, while the frenzied vacationer is pushed forward by one car playing bumper tag, then pushed back by another ambling along at 35 miles an hour in the passing lane.
And when darkness falls and it is time to stop, it is rarely at a charming inn, full of quilts and haute cuisine, but at a motel bearing a reassuringly familiar name, anchored in sight of the highway.
It is here the travelers are rewarded for their day on the road. To sleep -- perchance to dream -- and definitely to eat. But alas, one either must get back in that awful car to cruise the area looking for a decent restaurant, or rummage about, unearthing the menu for room service. Overpriced variants of the hamburger, overfried something or other, ice cream in one delicious flavor, bad wine at boggling prices. The luxury of kicking off your shoes is paid for by having to eat an expensive and terrible meal, which arrives, often as not, wrapped in plastic so you will know that no human hand has touched it.
Oh dear. A holiday is a time to spoil yourself and this will not do at all. It is no good to rely on the kindness of strangers; you must learn to entertain yourself -- and your nearest and dearest -- on the road.
This should not involve elaborate equipment. You do not need a lot of extras to unload at the end of the day, and the motel will have unwittingly provided you with many of the things you need.
Unless your favorite pastime is staring at motel wallpaper and the paintings that have been hung upon it, bring candles -- little votive ones you have cupped in tin foil to catch the dripping wax. (Glass holders are too heavy.) Add a small cloth to spread over the table to hide the plastic veneer; inexpensive knives, forks and spoons (if you wanted plastic you could have used room service), a serrated knife for more serious cutting, a salt and pepper shaker, a corkscrew for the good bottle of wine you've brought with you -- which is chilling in the motel's ice bucket, filled with ice from the motel's ice machine, while you enjoy an aperitif (brought separately in a mason jar).
Glasses. Unless you're sure the motel you will be staying in runs to glass, bring small ones for your drinks (one per person, you can rinse them out for the wine). Brookstone, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, has a set of six French tumblers for $8.75, which are just the right size to tuck into a bag, and sturdy enough to withstand being bounced around in the back of a trunk.
Cloth napkins. They won't take up any more room than paper, and afterward you can toss them in the back of the trunk and wash them when you get home.
Plates. Paper is better because plates are harder to pack and are more likely to break in transit. Also, they're heavy, and the point is to provide an easy luxury.
While one person has a bath, ignoring the hotel soap and using a small scented bar from Crabtree & Evelyn (1101 Connecticut Ave. NW, 75 cents), an envelope of fragrant bubble bath (bath seeds, $1) and a scented candle ($3) to erase the dust of the day, the other unpacks and sets out the food.
The food has presumably made the trip in a cooler, nestled down among ice packs, but unless you have a cooler that never lets you down, stay away from foods that perish in the heat. You could put out an assortment of pa te's and cheeses with French bread, and little containers of mustard and pickles.
A salad of lightly cooked vegetables (with the dressing added after you arrive at the motel) will survive the heat better than greens. You could bring a whole roast chicken, or fried chicken parts with biscuits and a container of honey, or a steak cooked rare, sliced into strips and served with horseradish sauce, or stuffed pork loin with fruit sauce or thick slices of ham with potato salad and corn sticks.
For dessert, something simple that travels well -- fruit and cookies, or turnovers.
For breakfast (this is a two-meal party), bring an assortment of fruits -- oranges, peaches, plums -- a bag of homemade doughnuts or muffins, and hardboiled eggs. It's time to be on the road again, and why waste an hour in a motel coffee shop?
For tea or coffee, there are small electric coils to heat the water in a cup; they'll never replace the stove but will do in a pinch (Brookstone has them for $9.95).
And bring mugs. Nothing tastes good when it's served in styrofoam.