Our ingenious plan to pack almost nothing the night before our trip worked like a charm. We left at 5:25 p.m. a week ago Saturday instead of our target two o’clock. Before you ask, we can’t teach anyone how to do this. It just flows out of us naturally.
At a mere six hours, we still could make Amarillo before midnight (see above paragraph to rate the wisdom of that statement.)
Ben’s fourth birthday party was our first order of business that day. Twenty kids, and presumably at least one parent each, had RSVP’d “yes.” Come the big day, all of those showed up, minus the twins but with a pleasant surprise who didn’t reply. So, 19 in all. A good crowd for a pre-schooler’s birthday bash.
Our chosen venue (read, the one we could afford with our big vacation coming up) was the McDonald’s with the largest Playplace. By 11:05 a.m., Ben sat at the head of the table brooding while all his friends literally filled the tunnels and slides.
Kind of like oversize hamsters on crack. The picture proves this.
Aforementioned hamsters (click for bigness).
The birthday boy stares off into the distance.
We think Ben was overwhelmed by the number of people. I know I was. In the end he perked up for cake and presents, and decided to play about five minutes before folks started leaving.
Ben in better spirits (again with the clicking).
Sweet Lord, the number of presents. We’ll be adding another wing to the house soon or having a garage sale. I think you all know by the party’s location which we’ll choose. We got out of there at 1:30.
The happy family stops for a photo op (cropped). Click to make my forehead even bigger.
We packed in a frenzy that somehow lasted longer than an NFL football game (despite our no-huddle offense), and let Ben bring the travel toys that his wise aunt had given him. On the road at 5:25 p.m.
I stop at six to replace our air filter that just that morning the Kwik Kar guys told me was past due. Upon discovering it was secured by more than just a clamp or two, I borrow a screwdriver from the AutoZone guys who had just sold me the filter. I chuckle at their name change from AutoShack that was supposed to dramatically improve their image. Exactly which of their shoppers did they think would care? (If nothing else, it freed someone else to establish AutoShack.com and load it with pop-up ads promising a free Spam scan.)
Ben plays while I wait in line for the air filter (see sign in background).
After I curse the first screwdriver for not reaching, I go back inside and buy one that would scare Dirk Diggler. Thirty-three minutes after stopping, we are back on the road with a new air filter and a $5 screwdriver.
At 7:30, Ben’s already blown through all his travel toys. He breaks his brand new, first-ever Transformer (sorry, Sir J), holds it aloft proudly and proclaims, “I’m the figure-out boy.”
At 8:10, we pull out of a Sonic onto a rough road. Ben says, “Daddy, you make mommy’s head shake.”
I reply, “I tend to do that to women, Ben.”
Shannon actually laughs — a courtesy she has learned keeps me happy.
At a gas stop after dark, we’re welcomed by a Biblical swarm of black beetles. We each report that our respective restrooms were crawling with the little buggers. I sustain so many mosquito bites fishing more of Ben’s toys out of the van that I practically beg Shannon to pump the gas. She does.
Shannon’s beetle pic. (cropped. click to enlarge)
Fast-forward to 1:15 a.m. We arrive at Motel 6 in Amarillo, where I made our reservation about five days in advance (see budget paragraph). The he-she behind the counter looks at me and says, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a reservation for you.”
“Well, I reserved it for Motel 6 West in Amarillo,” I shoot back.
“This is Motel 6 Central.”
I tuck my tail and scurry back to the minivan. Motel 6 West, a few exits on down I-40, expectantly welcomes me and hands me our card keys.
I scope out the room while Shannon and Ben wait in Homer. One bed. I reserved a room with two double beds. I storm out to Homer and inform Shannon. She’s in dire need of the facilities and says she can’t wait for me to swap rooms. I hand her a card key.
Shannon’s gift renders the room’s next occupants eligible for the Hair Loss Club for Men. “That’s their punishment for giving us the wrong room,” she declares. Misplaced, perhaps, but it made her feel better.
The next room is on the second floor instead of the first. We catch the outdoor elevator, which sports a framed document proudly announcing its next inspection was due November 2006. On the way to our room, the walkway of rusty metal and cracked concrete shakes so much we wonder whether we’re in Amarillo or Anaheim.
Welcome to Motel 666.
All in all, our vacation has lots of room for improvement.