Road Trip, chapter 1: Hit the Road

Maybe we’d just fly down to Southern California for our niece’s wedding. Long way to travel for a weekend. Should we drive? Of course not. But… it would be great to visit some of our favorite people. We could go to San Francisco. And Big Sur. Love Santa Cruz. Haven’t seen the Monterey Aquarium. What about Hearst Castle? Yep – it’s time for a Road Trip.

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We’d never been away from home for more than a week with the kids. The prospect of two weeks in close proximity 24/7 with a 13 year-old daughter (Lauren) and an 11 year-old son (Zack) was a little daunting. When Susan told her about our plan, a friend responded, “Blessed are you among women!” and asked if the trip would be “electronically mediated.” Yes it would: Lauren had borrowed a portable DVD player from a friend, and there were Gameboys, CD players, digital cameras, and a cell phone in the back seat as well. Man, when I was a kid cars didn’t even have seat belts. I remember a trip where our entertainment was crayons – until they melted in the back of the station wagon.

In order to help us prepare, and to establish baseline expectations for our trip, we had watched National Lampoon’s “Vacation” before departing. No matter what happened along the way, we would come out ahead of the Griswolds!

It was a perfect July morning to leave Seattle – pouring rain. Susan’s parents very generously offered to let us take their car. Though smaller than our aging minivan, it’s much newer, much more comfortable, and much, much more stylish. Each time we sailed by a steaming or smoking car on the side of the road, we thought, “If we were driving the van that might be us.”

Susan had told her family of Zack’s apprehension about long days in the car. In the wilds of Oregon Zack got a phone call from Susan’s brother challenging him to identify a few out-of-state license plates before calling for his next assignment; then he was to identify more license plates and check in again. After we had driven 200 miles the next day, Zack made his assigned call to hear a promised funny story from a family road trip when Susan and her brother were kids. (It involved peeing in a coffee can in the car, and emptying the coffee can – at freeway speed – from the front seat without anticipating what would happen to the occupant of the back seat whose window was down.) Later a text message reminded us not to repeat the coffee can trick. Later still Zack got a call from Paul (starring in chapter 2) because Susan’s brother had called him and asked him to request the story from Zack. Mission accomplished. Surely this is the reason God created uncles.

First scheduled stop was the K & R, a dumpy little drive-in housed in a mobile home in Rice Hill, Oregon. I’ve been stopping there for ice cream since 1974. Big scoops, lots of flavors, made at a local dairy. Corrugated tin roofing over the outdoor eating area provides shade but no relief from the sun’s heat radiating through the hot metal. Very little has changed about this place in the last 30+ years, including long lines of customers. Even so, the little outdoor drinking fountain still didn’t work, and the nearest restroom is about a mile away. But there was something new this time: a broken support beam and several crumpled up sections of the tin roof suggested that a tall truck or RV had pulled in too close to the overhanging roof. The damage fits in nicely with the rest of the decor.

We spent our first night in the home of long-time friends in Medford, and thought we might stay with them for two weeks instead of continuing south. Zack and their 14 year-old son were instant buddies. They played badminton, listened to and discussed music, got out the weights and the “wrist rocket” slingshot, and blew up a water bottle in the backyard. Our friends’ 19 year-old daughter is an exceptionally compassionate and articulate young lady. She’s a hard worker, studying to be a forensic nurse, volunteering with abused children, and holding down a couple of jobs. Before she left for work that evening, she passed along some clothes from one of Lauren’s favorite stores.

After dinner we started walking up a hillside to enjoy a pre-sunset view of the beautiful Rogue River Valley. The kids decided to race up the road, but the race was cut short when Lauren – who I recall was in the lead – stumbled and fell onto the chip-sealed asphalt. She scraped herself up pretty badly. Our friends asked a nurse from their church to come over and look at the worst abrasion, which was on Lauren’s hip. I was fighting to stay conscious at the sight of the wound, but Lauren was much braver and more sensible. She didn’t panic or cry, reminded herself that it could have been worse, and she determined that an injury on the first day of the trip was not going to keep her from enjoying herself.

Good family and friends, good kids, good recovery – and good night.

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