Thursday, July 1, 2021

Best Worst Vacation Ever!


Vacation season is upon us. Some vacations go exactly as planned, and some do not. Here is the exciting tale of one that did NOT.

It all began on a peaceful day in July of 2018...

Ah, Michigan! I was born there and have wonderful memories of summer vacations there with all my family. There are some truly beautiful places in Michigan! I thought it was high time my kids got to experience them, so I crafted a route and booked our hotels. It was going to be awesome!

Then I realized transportation would be an issue. My car at the time was teeny tiny and my husband’s car had been acting squirrely; neither of these would work as a Family Vacation Vehicle. So we opted to drive our daughter Joy’s precious car. Her dad bought it for her three years ago when she was sixteen. It was super cool—a zoomy Dodge Charger that used to be a sheriff’s chase car! Just what every teenager needs, right? But there was a huge trunk and enough leg room for all four of us, so we christened it our road-trip wagon. Joy called it Penelope.

We headed North. Michigan is just as beautiful as I remember! We went up to the Traverse City area and I showed the kids some of the old farms and cherry orchards that used to belong to my family. My kids got to swim in lakes that I used to swim in as a kid. We bought fruit at a roadside stand from people who recognized my maiden name and claimed to be distant relatives, and we had dinner with cousin of mine whom I haven’t seen since middle school. 

We climbed giant sand dunes (my kids declared them “sand mountains”) and played in the water of two different Great Lakes. We hopped on the ferry and went to Mackinac Island to be fascinated by the horse carriages, the beautiful homes, the historic fort, the made-right-in-front-of-you fudge, and the exorbitant prices for everything.

The first days of our vacation were wonderful. I started not feeling well out on the Island and was glad that we were on the way to our last stop—a short stay at Frankenmuth with history, shopping, putt-putt golf, and the most kitschy surroundings imaginable. It was just a few hours drive there, a straight shot south on I-75. We had stuck to the schedule and would settle into our touristy Bavarian-themed hotel there right on time. I was planning to let Jack and the kids go explore on their own while I went to bed early—I assumed my headache, stomachache, and overall yuckiness was just the result of too much fudge.

It wasn’t. And we never made it to Frankenmuth. We made it to the freeway interchange at Gaylord.

While stopping for gas, we had a freak accident. An ill-placed embankment was cleverly hidden in shadows. We didn’t see it. The car hit the curb/wall/murderous-ledge at around 10-15 miles per hour, but it was just enough to destroy it. The car, not the ledge. The impact crushed the oil pan, punctured the radiator, and sheered off the very important bars that are supposed to hold the engine in place. We still have no idea how so much damage could be inflicted by such a minor bump, but it did. My daughter’s precious car—her darling Penelope—was dead.

My husband was devastated. He’d been driving and felt as if he’d killed our daughter’s best friend. I felt sick and miserable—after all, I’d been the one navigating as we pulled out of the service station and I should have seen the evil concrete barrier. My daughter, bless her, did her best to hide her sorrow, and my son, God love him, pretended that he never had wanted to stay at that hotel in Frankemuth with its gaming arcade and indoor water park.

And so began the epic struggle to locate a tow truck, find a mechanic—after hours on a weekend, of course—and decide what could be done. The tow driver told us he thought things looked bad, the guy who owned the garage confirmed the worst. The cost of fixing the car would be well over the value of it, and it would likely take weeks to even locate the parts that we’d need. My husband crawled under the car and did hours of his own online research into parts and repair and decided that the mechanic was honest—the car was a loss. The best we could do was sell it to the garage and let it become their problem. Our problem would be to find another way home.

I’ve been told that was an epic story of its own, but I truly don’t recall. The last thing I remember is the very pretty 18-year-old daughter of the garage owner piling us and all our worldly possessions into her daddy’s giant Ram truck and driving us around Gaylord to find the one and only hotel room that was available that night. I remember the kids ooing and ahhing over the giant hotel suite we finally found, dragging all our stuff into it, and from then on things get a bit murky. 

I spent the next hours/days sicker than a dog, hugging the porcelain font, shaking with fever, and sucking ice chips to stay hydrated. We were in that hotel for more than two days and I don’t remember any of them.

When the fever finally broke and I "came to," my son hugged me furiously and said he’d been pretty sure I was going to die. I discovered another man in our hotel suite, too. My husband’s best buddy had come up from Ohio to drive us all home--he's the nicest guy and truly a lifesaver. No matter where my husband looked, he had failed to find a single rental car, van, truck, or horse carriage anywhere in Michigan. It was the height of vacation season and they were all rented. Of course.

Long story short (too late!) we made it home, with all of our things. Somehow our friend managed to cram us all into his SUV and he drove us back to the Buckeye state. I have vague memories of sleeping in a strange vehicle, propped up with a pillow. Or maybe they put the pillow over my head to keep me from breathing on them for the long drive. Luckily, I was well beyond the puking stage; there was nothing for me to puke that hadn’t already been puked. It took several days before I could eat or drink anything after all that. Somehow, nobody else got the least bit sick, so I still don’t know what on earth kind of illness I had. Some freakish Michigan bacteria, maybe? On the plus side, I lost nearly ten pounds and we have a Vacation-From-Hell story to talk about for years to come.

After a couple weeks we found a new car for Joy and helped her purchase it. She opted for something cute but practical and named this one Oswald. It will never pass for a police chase car, but it’s economical on gas and she won’t have any trouble parking in the crowded lots on campus this year. I slowly recovered and got all the laundry caught up, and life got back to normal. I have a feeling that Michigan mechanic was eventually able to fix up Penelope and maybe his pretty young daughter had as much fun with her as Joy did. I’m okay with that.

This will always be a vacation that we remember, and I’m okay with that, too. The whole point of family vacations is to be with each other and make memories. We certainly accomplished that goal with this trip!