Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Girl Gone Mild

When you’re married to a teacher, words like “spring break” creep back into your vocabulary. Dave had the week off before Easter, and while we had used this opportunity to travel out West the past few years, current financial constraints kept us homebound. It wasn’t the best vacation ever, but it could have been worse.

Spring Break 1989: Islamorada, Florida Keys

It was my senior year in college. Ten of us rented a beach house, but we were really two tribes of five—Friends of Cindy (FOCs) and Friends of Bobby (FOBs). (Names have not been altered to in any way resemble members of the Brady Bunch.)

That Cindy and Bobby were sister and brother did little to merge the factions into one shiny, happy group. Among the sticking points: A contingent of “the others” arrived at the house before we did and laid claim to the larger of the two bedrooms. (Actually, there was a third, but it lacked air conditioning. My friend Bill was the only one willing to brave the sauna.) That left five girls and a single king-sized bed, which was judged roomy enough for a threesome. Men everywhere may drool at the thought. But A) I’m not a guy and B) we weren’t talking about the cast of “Charlie’s Angels” here. I knew that one of my companions was prone to farting. I opted to sleep on the floor, which frankly I considered the better end of the deal, until the very last night when a bug of the size only grown in Florida encroached upon my territory. But still I would not seek refuge on higher ground.

Food proved an even more contentious issue. Our group, the FOCs, was composed of females and Bill. The FOBs boasted a pair of Big & Tall men. They’d bring back groceries from the store, ask us each to pony up an equal share of the bill, and then proceed to inhale the majority of the provisions. On a good day, I might walk away with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Which, last I checked, does not cost $20. We took to hoarding essential rations, like Oreos, turning our bedroom closet into a larder. But there was a GOB (Girlfriend of Bobby) in our midst. She ratted us out, launching an all-out war that culminated in Cindy calling GOB a “bitch.”

I couldn’t wait to go home.

Spring Break 2005: Capitola, California

My fellow Midwesterners, raise your hands if you think of California as the Land of Eternal Sunshine and Warmth.

It’s not.

We had planned to go hiking in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. The guidebooks told us spring would be ideal for a visit. We could enjoy nature’s beauty in near solitude, avoiding all those pesky summertime crowds. I tell you, there’s a reason June, July and August are popular with the tourists. Because in March, the parks are blanketed in snow. Who knew? Not us. Thanks for nothing, Fodor’s.

We flew into Fresno, Dave’s luggage stayed behind at LAX. Strike one. Driving to Sequoia, where we had reservations at one of the park’s lodges, a light rain started to fall, then gave way to pea soup fog. The pavement turned to ice. Warning signs flashed: “Road Closed Ahead. Four-Wheel Drive Vehicles with Tire Chains Only.” Our rental PT Cruiser came equipped with neither. Strike two.

We headed back to Fresno. I called the lodge to tell them we might be a little late. The desk clerk informed me that four to five feet of snow were expected; he suggested we push our arrival back a day. Dave and I were sick. Assuming the Cruiser got us to the lodge, what were we supposed to do in five feet of snow? Build an Igloo? We hadn’t exactly packed for Alaska. This was California. You know, leave your cares and your mittens and longjohns behind.

We holed up for the night in a hotel near the airport. Stress oozed out of our pores. “This is not a vacation,” I said. We woke the next morning and called the lodge. The road into the park was still generally impassable; the clerk told us where we could purchase tire chains. Again, I have to say, any trip involving tire chains, not a Spring Break. Strike three. So we canceled our reservations at Sequoia and Yosemite and weighed our options: in order to make our flight back to Chicago, we needed to stay within a few hours of Fresno. We looked at a map and discovered Capitola.

Capitola is a small beach town just south of Santa Cruz, the kind of place where surfer memorials dot the cliffs along the ocean. California.

We took the Cruiser down to Carmel and paid an $8 fee for the privilege of motoring the 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach. I am the daughter of a golf fanatic; it would be treason to pass up Mecca. I bought souvenirs for my Dad and called him on the cell. “Guess where I am?”

From Carmel, we continued on to Big Sur. Few things in life live up to expectations. California’s Highway 1 is not one of them. We pulled over every few hundred yards, awed by the breathtaking views of ocean meeting mountains. My brain felt like an outdated computer, attempting to process gigabyte scenery at kilobyte speed.

I never wanted to go home.

Spring Break, 2006: Chicago

The weather was unseasonably warm. We went for walks in the park and took an urban hike to Margie’s Candies, where we rewarded our efforts with an ice cream sundae. We debated going downtown and taking in a museum or two but decided on Costco instead. It proved a wise decision, as they were sampling tiramisu.

For entertainment, we got creative. One night, we dropped a raisin into a glass of water to see if it would re-hydrate into a grape. From the looks of things, it did, although neither of us was willing to definitively confirm the results by eating the Frankensteinian fruit. We also played a round of the Mexican Train Game, which involves dominoes and a score sheet and is all the rage among retirees. While “Mexican” is part of the game’s proper name (I have no idea if there are other versions, like the Namibian Train Game), we are not allowed to refer to it as such in our family because my sister-in-law is Honduran.

We capped off Easter weekend with a visit to Ohio, where my parents taught us “Golf,” which involves two decks of cards and a score sheet and is the newest rage among retirees. Leading me to wonder, is there money to be made in score sheets? As the Baby Boomers age, will demand outstrip supply? Is this the one Big Get-Rich-Quick Idea I’ve been looking for?

Sometimes, it’s pays to party in your own backyard.


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