Victory! Another successful spring break family vacation. How do I measure success? We are alive, our car is roughly intact, and we are still married. Emotional preparation is necessary when traversing 2,065 miles with a tween and teen. Sibling fights and repetitive statements "He's touching me...she won't share her skittles....his feet stink....when will we be there....we're out of cell-phone range....my phone is nearly dead," entertain us through rolling hills, corn fields, and traffic jams. In spite of my printing a zillion MapQuest directions for the quickest route to Atlanta, Savannah, and Auburn, Alabama, we relied on Ron's cellphone GPS which had a preference for the back roads of Illinois, exotic cities like Paris and Effingham. One of Ron's favorite lines from the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, driving through the boondocks on their quest home for Thanksgiving, is John Candy's optimism to a disgruntled Steve Martin, "Nothing to see on the interstate, but interstate." So we pretty much saw everything but the interstate on our trip south! There were times I questioned Ron's electronic savvy but ultimately I simply entrusted our welfare to the great navigator of the universe, Google Maps.
The escape from school, work, and cold Wisconsin temperatures began with a deliberate bypass of Chicago through Rockford arriving 300 miles later in Urbana, Illinois at Buffalo Wild Wings. Yes, we drove 300 miles strategically targeting BW's in order to watch Wisconsin play North Carolina in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tourny. An eternal allegiance exists from Ron for college towns, wings, and supporting his Badgers in all circumstances. The second half of the game we lounged in slug-like fashion in a Holiday Inn Express until I awoke at 2a.m. to continuous ESPN highlights, Trey sleeping on the floor, and the melodious sounds of heavy breathing and snoring. At that moment I committed to completing the drive to my brother's home in Atlanta with no further overnight hotel stays--we needed space and restful sleep for survival.
Prior to our West Bend departure my brother and sister-in-law had to leave Atlanta expeditiously, five hours south, for a critical family matter. They graciously encouraged us however to use their home, even in their absence, as long as possible for our vacation comfort. It was bitter-sweet as Auburn and Trey adore their aunt and uncle and we seldom have the pleasure of extended visits. Regardless of our disappointment we accepted their open-door offer and obliged them by eating all their chocolates, stealing their books (It Starts with Food...Discover the Whole 30,) and drinking their wine. Ping pong tournaments, family walks (forcibly), skipping stones on the Chattahoochee, and cranking up their pool heater to 85 degrees ensured contented southern days.
Our objective was to spend a few days touring Atlanta. At the top of the list was Ron's request of the new College Football Hall of Fame and Chick Fil-A Experience near Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta. Although Auburn and I were not particularly keen on the destination my love language is "quality time," so whether we are at the mall, doing chores, or sight-seeing, generally if we are together I feel that there is possibility for bonding, connection, and relationship growth thus I conceded to happily drive us to downtown Atlanta. As is probably obvious, I am the primary driver on road trips; perhaps unconventional, but after 20 years we recognize our strengths. As an insomniac I am ideally suited for highway life; constantly alert I assume everyone on the road is either drunk or 100 years old and become hyper- vigilant for the welfare of my family. Ron applauds my absolute professionalism and agrees my personality and driving skills qualify me as a trucker, thus he proudly announced to the kids at around 1000 miles, "Hey kids, your mom is a white mother trucker!" Ron on the other hand suffers from narcolepsy behind the wheel; rubbing his eyes, loud sighs, taking his hat on and off, yawning. In addition he despises Atlanta traffic which, in comparison, makes Chicago look like a peaceful country road. As we climbed in our vehicle Saturday morning Ron took Aunt Amy's garage door opener for our car. There was already some discontent and grumbling but I have learned to take it in stride when traveling with teenagers...unfortunately most of the grumbling was coming from Ron. My brother's home is in a gorgeous Atlanta suburb built on a golf course. Rolling hills and winding roads are the signature of his neighborhood nestled and isolated like a hideaway from the metropolis. His driveway is unusually steep and deep, kind of like a golf-course sand-trap. To crest his driveway from the garage requires extra acceleration. At the same time as I was trying to maneuver Ron's Highlander to the street he was expressing frustration at the complicated garage door remote and asked me to stop on the precipice so he could identify the proper angle and button to close the door. Although an awkward place to pause, balancing precariously between the brake pedal and the accelerator I obliged. Once the garage door closed I punched the gas and came to a sudden halt amidst shattering glass and Auburn shrieking, "Mom!" My exit from the garage was perfectly linear on Mike's driveway, unfortunately to successfully exit his driveway requires a significant steering wheel crank to the right. We stopped hard against a sturdy but innocuous tree and the entire back windshield shattered. Remember how frustrated Ron was at not being able to close the garage door? Imagine this moment. (Ear-muffs kids.) (For the record, I am not blaming Ron for the accident....just sayin')
Fortunately, there were no injuries except for my emotional unraveling. Auburn made a couple of important snapchats and instagrams to friends to spread the news that this was by far, "The Worst Vacation Ever!" A few hours, tears and phone calls later we accepted that repairs would take a few days and hopefully be initiated Monday morning. Some positive self-talk, a brisk walk, heavy carbs and chocolate reminded me that in 25 years of driving thousands of miles, my record was unblemished. Accidents happen and even my brother kindly acknowledged via text that I was the 3rd person to hit the tree, the last being in a Porsche, somehow comforting words....misery does love company! My sister-in-law encouraged us to use her car which would be available for as long as necessary.
Monday morning Ron and Trey made the journey to the College Hall of Fame in Atlanta; I had to confess my heart just could not handle driving someone else's car and I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Ron agreed that he would muscle his way into downtown Atlanta traffic and tour this new museum and fan experience with his son. Opprtunities to announce famous games with ESPN broadcasters, run through a simulated combine, catch a diving pass, or practice your field-goal kicks...it was a father/son dream date! I was relieved to get the text, "We are here." I was shocked to get the following message a few minutes later,
Warning: To all men older than 40. There is a high probability your muscles are not prepared for a cold kick after driving 1000 miles, running through a hilly neighborhood, and feasting on nachos while watching basketball. If you kick it once and miss by a few feet wide, accept it. Giving it all you have on the second kick, just to impress family as well as those viewing your performance from the Chick-Fil-A grand-stands, may risk an audible pop, a drop to one knee, and then hopping off the field to a wheel-chair delivered ASAP by the manager. (Ron did say it was a "sporty" wheelchair.) The manager Mark graciously gave Trey the royal treatment and a full tour while Ron was given Tylenol and ice. With a few phone calls I arranged a cab to take me the 30 miles to Atlanta. A delightful conversation ensued with the congenial Uruguayan driver all the way to the heart of the city. With a brief explanation at the ticket counter I was directed to the inner sanctum of every collegiate athlete and fan's historical haven...and there was Ron...walking around with a slight limp. To his credit, his decision not to drive with pain and acute injury was likely prudent; nonetheless, I was surprised at his mobility and eagerness to show me all three floors of the museum! From that point on he often referred to his "old football injury" contributing to pain and limitations throughout our vacation.
With the help of an auto repair shop we were on our way to beautiful Savannah, Georgia on Wednesday. We stayed at The Marshall House, the first hotel in the city which later became a Civil War hospital and like most of Savannah, has the renown reputation of being haunted. The Oglethorpe Trolley tour gave us a thorough history of this enchanted city and was an ideal choice due to Ron's "old football injury." After some serious southern dining at Paula Deen's Lady and Son's (fried okra, cornbread, and shrimp and grits) we eventually began our trek to my favorite stomping grounds of Auburn, Alabama where we toured the campus, admired the lilacs and dogwoods in full bloom, and took advantage of updating our collegiate attire (you are never too old to represent!) Our trip ended a day early as we had planned to attend a baseball game April 3rd but with a little persuasion from the kids it felt right to get home for the Final Four game tonight of the Badgers taking on the Wildcats. Not one to argue, I agreed to the 15 hour return drive home and with Ron in charge of the tunes and directions we successfully completed our vacation at 1:30a.m.
I share this post not to brag about our exotic vacation, boiled peanuts, or the shards of glass we left in my brother's driveway...if anything we rivaled the Griswald's and to be honest this is simply the tip of the iceberg of the past 10 days. I share this post as assurance that life has many ups and downs. We smile for the camera even if there is a broken windshield, torn quadricep, or broken heart. Be kind to those you meet, weary travelers, neighbors, and strangers. Do not let yourself grow tired of doing what is right and good. Believe that even when things go wrong that there is a power greater than Google Maps, a power that will ultimately restore the sick, the hurt, the troubled. This trip taught me that while we can sometimes be shocked by humanity, we can also be pleasantly surprised by the love which is shared among friends, family, and sometimes even perfect strangers. Redemption occurs when least expected. Thank you for reading and Happy Easter!