Our Nation’s Capitol – The Finale
At a gas station outside of Gettysburg, PA, I got out my map to estimate the drive time to Stafford, VA where Grandpa had booked us a hotel. He got a new GPS for Christmas and had used it to find a town close to Washington DC, where we could catch the Metrorail subway system into the city. I know that everyone has a GPS now days and people love them; more accurate; so convenient; blah blah blah. I am well aware that this statement makes me a dinosaur and older than my father, but I like old-fashioned, paper maps. I like to pull over to the side of the road and unfold them across the dashboard, absorbing the grand scope of the U.S.A. I like to see all the cities along my route at once and not just a small screen showing the next ten miles down the highway. By using the space between the knuckles on my index finger, I like estimating my drive times. I even know how to fold up the maps after I use them. So, according to my knuckle test, there was no way on God’s green earth we were going to mobilize 9 people every morning in time to drive from Stafford, VA to the nearest Metro station, where we would then ride a train into Washington DC to arrive in time to take all the 9:00am tours that I had set up SIX MONTHS IN ADVANCE!! (notice the growing hysteria?).
Hyperventilating, I dug out my trusty AAA guidebook and started systematically calling every hotel in the Washington DC area. I got the same response “Sorry Ma’am, It’s Cherry Blossom Festival, we’re booked.” In desperation, I called the front desk at the Stafford, VA Comfort Inn & Suites to see if it was just my imagination that they were as far as I thought they were from Washington DC. I found out that not only were they that far, but with commute traffic, it was more like 2 hours to a Metro station that would eventually take us into the city. And that was when I lost it – I blubbered out my whole story to this guy; the drive; the grandparents; the kids; Gettysburg – poor guy, I think he was scared.
He said, ” Ma’am, can I put you on hold?”
“Sure, why not?” I responded.
My head pressed to the steering wheel, I listened to the numbing elevator music as the usual pandemonium clamored around me – kids sliding back and forth over the seats in the car; kids dodging around in the parking lot throwing things at each other; kids schmoozing Nana for candy money, etc. Grandpa felt bad and was trying to find a new town on his GPS.
Then, my therapist/front desk attendant got back on the line to say some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard. I still consider this a minor miracle. It would be perfectly appropriate to add heavenly choir music as a backdrop to:
“Ma’am, I’ve got something for you. There is a new Country Inn close to Washington DC and within walking distance of a Metro station. They just opened up yesterday and are completely empty – do you want me to transfer you to their front desk?”
So, our vacation was saved by God and a guy named Nick. We got three rooms in a brand new hotel, with easy access to the Metrorail system in Washington DC, during the National Cherry Blossom Festival! Our week was amazing. We did it all; the museums, the tours; the monuments. Grandpa proved to be a wizard at getting us on and off the Metro trains and we wrapped up the week with a drive to Charlottesville, VA to tour Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.
After lunch, we kissed Nana, Grandpa and cousin Megan goodbye and I again donned my long-haul trucker hat to begin what became a 25 hour trip home to Minnesota. Which brings us full circle to “Mom’s gonna kill you.” We all agreed that it would be great to make it home in time to celebrate Easter dinner with Dad. Unfortunately, because of weather, mountain roads and traffic, it took us 16 hours to make our goal of Louisville, KY on Saturday night. I don’t recommend driving 16 hours in one day, in fact, it’s not even legal for truckers. After dozing briefly at a hotel, we got up @ 4:00am, shared a classy sunrise Easter breakfast at a roadside Waffle House, and hit the highway.
Somewhere in Wisconsin, about 4 hours from home, I desperately needed a nap. The road was long and straight and I figured my spectacle-less son could handle an hour behind the wheel so I could get some sleep. I gassed up, switched over to the passenger side and closed my eyes. That’s when, in the back seat, my son Peter decided to conduct a science experiment with some diet coke and mentos candy in his mouth. For those of you who don’t know the outcome of this chemical reaction – try it…outside.
So the moral of my story? Road trips are worth it. They are grueling, grimy and sometimes embarrassing. But, your family will bond together in ways that you just can’t accomplish on a 3 hour plane flight. Our road trips are some of our best memories; my grown kids love recalling our many adventures. If you are parenting alone, or your spouse can’t go with you for whatever reason – be brave and go anyway. The trade-off for lost sleep, nation-wide embarrassment and hair-loss is a stronger character, life-long memories and a closer family.