Given the whirlwind of a summer my family is experiencing this year, it is a wonder we were able to embark on anything close to what others might recognize as a vacation.
But last week we borrowed an inflatable air mattress from friends (stretching the “easily accommodates a family of four” hotel room to hold our party of five), slapped a few bags, books and bottles into the minivan and reversed out of the driveway without looking back, gripping only a sketchy itinerary and having as our primary goal “getting out of town.”
Although it was Sunday, by departure time my husband was only 60 minutes removed from several hours spent at his office, I had barely managed to finish scribbling out three articles due that day and our kids rolled in from work inservices and a soccer meeting to scuffle over seats and pillow placement. I don’t think we did more than take a collective deep breath and marvel that we were ACTUALLY ON THE ROAD until we were about an hour on our way.
The most remarkable thing about planning a vacation a mere three–or was it only two?–days before it’s set to occur is if anything at all manages to unfold as one might hope. I’d frantically booked hotel rooms for five consecutive nights, in five different cities, at what I hoped were drivable intervals with time left in between for actually DOING something, but who knew if it would actually work? Certainly not me.
Those of you who meticulously lay out vacation plans, research tourist sites or historic markers months in advance and comb through listings of restaurants are probably quaking in your shoes or shaking your heads in dismay at these revelations. Our trip definitely did NOT follow your model.
As we cruised into Omaha around 5:30 p.m., our smooth sailing quickly came to an end, with freeway traffic just before the downtown exit grinding inexplicably to a crawl. What was this? Sunday rush hour? A terrorist attack? After a slow progression to the nearest exit, necessitated by the emergency personnel and vehicles in place, we witnessed the tragedy: A semi trailer was upside down, having leaped off the overpass and left its driver dead.
A pleasant curbside dinner in the Old Market area put us in better moods, and we soon learned that section of Omaha has its share of colorful characters. Later, in our hotel room, a quick scan of possibilities in the Kansas City area had our teenage brood deciding the Oceans of Fun water park would be the best option for the following day. With no particular schedule to follow, we shrugged in agreement.
But Mother Nature had a different idea, and we encountered first mist, then all-out rain, on our cruise toward Kansas City, Mo. With a water park now out of the question, we quickly switched to Plan B: the National World War I Museum.
Oceans of Fun or World War I? Maybe our family is in the minority of those that would happily opt for the latter, but after parking in the cramped Crown Center ramp, we hiked through the rain to the museum and were soon amazed at the well-done exhibits and plethora of information that came our way. (We even were able to buy a clearance rack umbrella in the gift shop for a bargain price, which was the most useful souvenir we could have obtained that day.)
And so our journey proceeded…a KC barbecue dinner, visits to the Harry Truman House and his official library in Independence, Mo., the next morning, a drive to St. Louis for a riverboat cruise and the Gateway Arch by moonlight, a stop at the old St. Louis courthouse to dip into the history of Dred Scott, and a race to Springfield, Ill., where my sprint to the visitor’s center yielded the last three tickets on the last tour of the day at the Abraham Lincoln House (and the sympathetic tour guide waved in mom and dad when two other tourists failed to show up).
We marveled at our luck, at the good-natured attitudes of nearly all the staff members at the various sites we managed to pack in, at the 40 different state license plates spotted along the way–and at the wonder of having “gotten away from it all” with three kids who were willing to sacrifice water parks for presidential and national history, along with several lunches of “road food” served straight from the cooler.
Whew! Time for a vacation!?