Note: The first leg of this family vacation from July of 2016 is detailed in an earlier post. As I explained there, travel and traffic do nothing good to me. The first truly long day of our drive took us from Cle Elum, Washington, to Seattle and then from Seattle to Medford, Oregon. It was a long day. And it was only Day Eight of the vacation.
I needed a haircut weeks ago, so when I wake up in Medford and stumble downstairs for my free hotel breakfast, I should put on a hat. I don’t. John and Sam sit with their cousins, so my wife, father-in-law, and mother-in-law are subjected to breakfast with a short, brown-haired, smelly version of Carrot Top, one even less fun to be around than the original. But there is bacon, and bacon makes things better. Bacon helps me forget that I have 400 miles to drive today. 400 miles through Sacramento and then San Francisco. But San Jose is at the end of my trip today, with a visit to the Winchester Mystery House planned for tomorrow morning. Jack Palance sold me on a visit to this place decades ago on a mostly-forgotten segment of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
I drive and admire my windshield. On literally Day One of this trip, right by the Warm Springs exit on I-90, I got hit by a rock so large and destructive that for a split second I thought someone threw a brick at me. It shattered the left side of the windshield in an enormous spider-web pattern, just below my line of sight. My insurance company sent someone right to my parents’ house to fix it a couple days later, which was nice, and to remind me that such service costs me $100. Deductibles always piss me off, even reasonable ones. But it’s great to drive with a pit-free windshield. Even Oregon looks better through such glass. I begin to frame this sort of anti-Oregon joke and immediately abandon it. Elizabeth is asleep, knowing she’ll need to drive once the traffic gets truly bad, and the twins are immersed in the books I bought them: The Long Walk for John, Forrest Gump for Sam. (In a week or so, I’ll read Forrest Gump, agree with Sam that it’s awful, and never ask her to pick it up again. The movie may be the only good thing to come out of that novel. Don’t judge me—or Sam—until you’ve read it yourself.)
As we leave Oregon, California does not welcome us. Not at all. There is literally no sign to say that we’ve crossed into California, until we hit an “All Vehicles Must Stop for Inspection” checkpoint. I assume that this is a vague attempt to stop fruit smuggling. Or to identify dangerous looking kayakers. Or whatever. Regardless of what it’s supposed to be, what it actually is is pointless: We ease off of the interstate into a line that never stops moving, and a bored-looking blonde in an orange vest waves us—and everyone else—through without a second look. I am transporting multiple kinds of fruit, enough liquor to make “personal consumption” seem unlikely, and several kinds of prescription painkillers. Someone should probably stop me and ask questions. No one does. I turn Bruce Springsteen on again.
“Moneypenny,” I ask, “how far to San Francisco?” She doesn’t even hesitate before answering: 262 miles. I immediately pass a sign reading “San Francisco 323 miles.” This is proof that Moneypenny hates me, and I turn her off. I will, I decide, navigate by the sun and stars before asking her for directions again.
By the time we get to San Francisco, which is every bit as far away as Moneypenny said it wasn’t, Beth is driving. We deviate from our route in order to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, which is pretty cool. I’m told I’ll be getting a bill in the mail to cover the toll for this bridge crossing, however, so I reserve the right to downgrade how cool it was until I see how much it cost. Then we spend more than two hours in almost-frozen traffic, which is powerfully uncool. I sit in the shotgun seat and sweat, fidget, twitch. At a four-way stop, a Cadillac from Florida slips in when it’s supposed to be our turn; then the driver stops to let people out of the backseat. They get out slowly, not hurrying, thinking that the mostly-unmoving traffic they’re blocking is pretty much like being in a parking lot.
Another car slips in, this time navigating around them. Then another car moves in behind that one. We move up behind the Cadillac, which has now effectively created two lanes of traffic where there’s only room for one. And young people are still slowly getting out of the backseat…
I snap. Seatbelt off, I open my door and roar at the Florida folks to move their car. I probably drop an F-bomb. I am so furious that I’m having an out-of-body experience. It’s my loudest teacher voice, the one I used to be able to use to silence a roomful of 35 ninth graders on my incredibly brief trip through teaching public school. The Floridians actually jump, look at me, begin to move faster. A little faster. There is nothing visually intimidating about me, so I can only assume that I looked dangerously unhinged. Which I may have been. It was not a proud moment. John and Sam will speak for weeks about the volume I managed, the anger I communicated, something they’ve never experienced before.
We are in San Francisco forever. Part of me is still there, trapped behind a Cadillac with Florida plates.
I wake up with a stale vodka taste in my mouth and the Winchester Mystery House on my mind. Worse, I have the 1974 Glen Campbell song “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy” stuck in my head. It’s entirely possible I haven’t heard that song in 30+ years, and it won’t go away. I download it on Spotify and wake my children by playing it at full volume, something I will do repeatedly for the rest of our trip. It will become our theme, the anthem that represents this entire vacation. Forcing this music on them is, I tell them, legally considered child abuse in several States—but not in California, so they’re stuck. They frown at me and shake their heads. I play the song again…
For the rest of this post, refer to the published version at Gum in Your Hair.