Sunday, November 11, 2007

I’m On Vacation.

I’m on vacation this week. Truth is, by the time these words are actually published in the newspaper and read by you, I’ll probably be back from vacation.

You’re probably expecting that I’ll use “vacation” as an excuse not to write a column for this week. (In fact, you’re probably hoping.)

I guess most columnists, facing a week-long family vacation, would take the week off… but not me. To the contrary, the typical Shealy-family sojourn provides me some of my best material.

When I speak of the Shealy family, mind you, I’m talking about Momma’s family. Her entire family! That means five young’uns (me and my siblings), our spouses, our kids, their spouses, and – the latest addition – their kids. As of the latest family census, the estimated total is now 32, although that total seems to bounce up and down a bit for various reasons. For the record, only about half of the group was able to make it on this particular week in Florida. When the whole gang shows, the scene is not unlike a cross between two childhood poems: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do” and, “As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives, each wife had seven…. etc., etc.!!!” It’s a mob scene… but always an adventure.

As I was growing up, Mom and Dad took the family on many vacations. But, as a Baby Boomer in the Leave-it-to-Beaver 50’s, I recall vacations being much simpler. No cruises. No airfare. No vacation packages. Not even any interstate highways. Just a station wagon with a luggage rack on top. Two adults and three kids would pile into the car and start driving in the general direction of a chosen destination. Gas was 19-cent a gallon. We drove until Mom and Dad decided it was time to stop. Then we looked at roadside motels until we found one with three important ingredients: 1) a pool; 2) a vacancy sign; and 3) a manager willing to drop his price to whatever Mom was willing to pay.

By the time I was twelve, I had visited Florida, Maine, California, and a total of 30 states in between.

Lunchtime meant we found a roadside park with a picnic table and pulled over. Vienna sausage sandwiches with mustard were the typical meal.

At some point during our years of travels, we graduated to eating in restaurants, upon which Dad instituted the dollar rule: Each child had a budget of $1 per day for food. We could order anything we wanted from the menu up to a buck for the day. If we didn’t spend it all, he gave us the difference as spending money. (I averaged pocketing about a quarter every day!)

In a way, this trip has been reminiscent of those vacations from decades ago. Mom (Elsie), wife (Pat) and Yours Truly, Your Publisher, Rod-Boy, piled into a vehicle and headed south. (The rest of the family was on their own: I think there was a total of three mini-vans and eight airplane flights.) Just like trips of decades gone by, we played the “A-B-C” game and “I Spy”… although this time we each had to repeat ourselves three or four times on each clue, because none of us can hear very well anymore.

Our destination this time was Club Med near Port St. Lucie, Florida. (This incidentally, is NOT a good place to spend a week during the final month of a $1,700 weight loss competition.)

I am confident that this vacation will provide a lots of good material for future columns. You’ll be hearing about it for months!

But, for now, I’m just going to leave you with a few observations from the 10-hour drive down I-95:

-- Ike was a visionary. He gave us the interstate highway system. Turns out, it was a good idea. As Presidents go, Eisenhower may well have left us with the most lasting legacy of any recent Commander-in-Chief.

-- Bikers don’t look like they used to. Now they look like me: old, overweight, and out-of-shape. And they dress funny on purpose. (There were a lot of bikers heading down I-95 toward Daytona.)

-- When you enter Florida and visit the Welcome Center, nowadays they give you a choice of orange juice OR grapefruit juice!

-- Did you know they now make “Just Married” car magnets, so Honeymooners no longer have to drive with white shoe-polish or soap on their cars?

-- Say what you will about our state’s own South of the Border. It still has the most entertaining signs on I-95. Other have tried to duplicate the impact… but no one else has succeeded.

That’s all for this week. I’m going to lay in the sun.

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