We are passing glorious painted fans and other exotic decorations in the windows as we climb one of the famed hills in beautiful San Francisco. Dragons and silk shirts and menacing swords greet us from every store front, and delicious unfamiliar smells waft from endless inviting restaurants. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. Unfortunately, my moment of zen is short-lived.
“When are we going to GET there?” my six year old whines, displaying a recent and disturbing regression in behavior. I wince just as I did when he was two and the unhappy, grating voice was a little more appropriate — although no less annoying.
“Honey, we ARE there; we are in Chinatown! It’s a very fun part of San Francisco – look at all this cool stuff!”
“But if we are THERE, why are we still WALKING? I don’t want to look anymore . . I’ve seen it! I’m tired! I’m bored!! Why are we still WALKING?”
My husband and I exchange glances, and not for the first time on this Spring Break trip. Our boys, six and eight, have left a bit to be desired as we have trekked around one of OUR favorite cities. In their defense, the weather has been a challenge – quite a bit of rain and cold; and with the time change (both springing forward with daylight savings, and then the three- hour difference from our home in Charlotte, NC) their bodies cannot get right, springing out of bed at 4am and then collapsing with exhaustion by 6pm.
Even so, we both had high hopes that they could embrace a little of the SPIRIT of the thing: seeing a new place, travel, experiencing a different part of the world. As with everything in life, the setbacks are either deal- breakers or memory-makers. And that, my friend, is entirely up to you.
But try explaining that to jet-lagged kids who are waiting over half an hour to get on the cable car that their mom PROMISES them is super cool, almost like a roller coaster on these crazy San Fran hills! First they appear to be mercifully distracted by their new baseball caps and everyone around us in the long line smiles at their cute brotherly conversation. But my mommy radar senses that something is amiss, long before anyone else picks up on the impending violence.
They clutch each other’s hands and shriek, “One two three four I declare a THUMB WAR five six seven eight this will be a piece of cake nine ten I will WIN!” and a young man in front of us holding his young girlfriend’s hand says “Awww, cute!” I eye the intense physical proximity and respond wearily, “Trust me . . . this is going to end badly.” And predictably the thumb war comes to all out blows and a WWF throw-down on the ground (Someone CHEATED! He did! No, HE did! LIAR!), just in time for the skies to open up and pelt us all with blinding, bitterly cold rain.
So, ok, vacations aren’t always a bed of roses, I GET it, but really guys? Not at all impressed with Chrissy Field, with the Presidio, with the Ferry tour around Alcatraz and underneath the Golden Gate bridge . . . and Golden Gate Park is . . . (yawn) O . . . K . . . you guess?
Maybe our expectations are too high for these little guys. Maybe you have to be on the grown-up side of things to appreciate that you can (and should) have the time of your life, even in the most challenging circumstances, when given the GIFT of an excursion out of the humdrum of your everyday existence . . .
When my husband planned a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate my 40th birthday, it was amazing and awesome in every way. I love that man dearly, and am especially grateful that he cares enough to plan these adventures for us, with me always the constant beneficiary of his wanderlust personality.
But please notice that while I said everything was amazing and awesome, I did not say that EVERYTHING was EASY. A lot was easy – sleeping in at the Bellagio hotel, sipping drinks by the pool, eating sushi and be-bopping out to Jersey Boys. Our most special day, though, the day my husband designed from start to finish, our fabulous, one-of-a-kind birthday adventure—THAT day required a little tenacity and stamina and a place of YES, thank you Bethanny Frankel Hoppy, reality housewife/superstar.
For this adventure day, all details remained a mystery to me (a “surprise day”) –all I was told was that I needed to be ready outside of the Bellagio hotel at 8am for my ride. When asked if I needed to pack anything, my husband said “A bathing suit.” When pressed if I might need anything ELSE on our all-day excursion he paused and then said, “Yeah . . . maybe an extra bathing suit.”
Since this was my 40th birthday and not my 20th, this gave me a little pause. But I dutifully wore a suit and packed a suit, lathered on the sunscreen and waited for my chariot to arrive.
And arrive it did – a bright red Ferrari screeching into the circular drive in all its glory, the smile on my husband’s face visible from the strip before he ever even turned in. I squealed with laughter at his rental choice and climbed in, waving to all the intoxicated passersby who were blowing kisses and cheering us on, having just stumbled out of the casino after a night in front of the slots or the black jack tables.
So here’s what had been planned for my big day:
*Cool- ass car
*Trip to local grocery to stock up on food and drink
*Drive to marina at Lake Mead and pick up ski boat
*Day on the lake
*Road trip to famous Hoover Dam
*Return to Vegas in time for romantic dinner at quaint Italian restaurant.
Damn, he’s good, isn’t he?? Quite an amazing day, for SURE. On paper, it reads like a day at the spa . . .except better than any spa I have ever seen. But this is REAL LIFE; and in real life there is a little someone called Murphy and he has a Law and basically he will barge in, uninvited, at all the most inopportune times. If nothing else, he is dependable that way.
So this is how the day played out:
*Cool-ass car. Question: When is a bright red, gorgeous, convertible Ferrari not THE most desirable car on the planet? Answer: When you are experiencing a record-breaking heat wave and the air conditioning doesn’t work. Which you are told at the rental lot, but you don’t care because who the hell cares about air conditioning when you have a CONVERTIBLE, and a FERRARI, and the temps outside at 7:30 am when you are picking up the car are a blissful and brisk 55 degrees. Not the 125 degrees that will come later, along with a blistering, merciless, suffocating sun that will have you frantically pulling the convertible top closed in a desperate attempt to create some version of shade. One hundred and twenty-five degrees.
*Trip to the local grocery store. Question: Where is the grocery store? Answer: It should be right here according to the map. Wait! There it is. No, that’s a Walmart. Shit, it was supposed to be two miles down on the right. Oh well, just turn around at that light again and let’s keep looking. Maybe it’s on the left. Anyway, when we get there, let’s put the top up. The sun is starting to burn my arms.
*Drive to marina to pick up ski boat. Question #1: What happens to a lake when there are massive wind gusts? Answer #1: Big-ass WAVES. On the lake. Hold on tight! We’re catching air! Holy shit, I think all my internal organs crashed together at that last landing. I am going to wrap my arms around you and hold on for dear life, which is kind of romantic, until we hit the next wake and my jaw crashes into your skull. I’m OK! I’m OK . . . the teeth are still intact; are you ok? Sorry if I hurt you! Wait . . . maybe we should slow down . . . .no, maybe faster is better . . .oh shit, that wave is coming overboard! . . . . Oh! OH! . . . Well, at least we’re a little cooler now. Question # 2: If you are going to spend the day on Lake Mead in a ski boat, and there are five foot waves in the central part of the lake and its 125 degrees, does it matter if you don’t have an anchor on your boat? Answer #2: You are pretty sure the answer is no, it does not matter, because otherwise the helpful and cheery folks at the marina where you rented it would have taken a little more time to discuss that situation with you, right? Instead of mentioning it almost as an afterthought, as you are pulling away from the dock, and they are waving and sending you off and at the last second happen to holler, “Oh, so you know, you don’t have an anchor . . . “ wave, wave, smile “Oh, OK!” you reply, not really contemplating what is going to happen when you want to stop. And stay in one spot. Like maybe go into one of the pristine coves with the gorgeous walled canyons to get out of the boat and take a swim, enjoy the cool shade of the massive rock structures. So maybe you really really really want to have a nice, working anchor on your boat. To anchor you. Otherwise, the boat will just float away. . . OR –and this is certainly the more adventurous option –you can just embrace your non- anchor status, flip all of the life jackets you can find around the outside of the boat, secure them in place somehow so the boat will have some kind of buffer against the magnificent rocks on which you will attempt to tie it . . . one of you shimmying up a likely candidate with the rope that’s hooked to the bow of the vessel in your grip – can you tie it tightly enough in place in just a few seconds’ time? – while one of you tries to keep the boat from moving with the current and turning and smashing your lover into the rocks and squishing him to death right before your very eyes? What a fun game! Really, I’m shocked they even mentioned it! Please, next time let’s request a boat with no anchor!
*Day on the lake. Nothing to say here, actually. Except this: When Murphy shows up, with his annoying little Law in tow, invite him aboard! Sit down, join us, have a drink! You may show up where you aren’t wanted, but you can’t RUIN the day. Unless we let you.
*Road trip to Hoover Dam. Question: When is the most popular time to visit The Hoover Dam? Answer: Today! The Saturday of Labor Day weekend! But we are just SO close to this historical and interesting spot, it seems silly not to make the trek over to the Dam – it’s just a few miles down the road! And even though it’s a little toasty today, if we go REALLY REALLY fast, we get a warm but surprisingly refreshing breeze for the ride. Uh oh, are those blue lights? Crap, it’s a cop! Why were you going so fast? How fast were you going? Do you think if we tell him it’s my birthday he’ll . . . oh, hello Officer, yes, just trying to get to The Hoover Dam. Because its my birthday and we are on this special birthday trip. Yep, rented the Ferrari as part of the birthday day. Oh, gosh, thanks, yes, we consider ourselves warned, we WILL certainly slow down. Yes sir! Goodbye warm yet surprisingly refreshing breeze, hello long as shit line. Seriously, how many people are going to see this thing? Uggggh, we are hardly moving, its one hundred and twenty five degrees! Wait, I see something. There! No, over there! Look through the construction barrels, see that gray strip of concrete . . . is that it? Hoover Dam Hoover Dam I think I am having a heat stroke, am I hallucinating here in the desert? Seriously, I think that’s it . . . pass me the camera (click) whoops, there it is! There it goes, here it comes (click) SERIOUSLY can you not see it? Through those orange cones over there Hoover Dam Hoover Dam! (click). I would seriously cut off my right arm for an icy Diet Coke right now.
*Return to Vegas in time for romantic dinner at quaint Italian restaurant. Question: What could possibly keep you from your dinner reservations at a cozy and romantic Italian restaurant in Las Vegas? Answer: Everyone else on US-93 trying to get to their dinner reservations, or Cirque de Soleil shows, or gambling gigs on the Vegas strip. This traffic is impressive! And we know impressive traffic situations; did we mention we just drove to the Hoover Dam with ten billion other American motorists? But don’t worry — room service is at your beck and call at the Bellagio. Along with a spa tub in the bathroom, air conditioning, white wine, and a very handsome adventurer who seems eager to slip out of his “extra suit” and into the plush, glowing white hotel robe . . . and then out of that as well.
So that’s how it went. And you know what? It was fun as hell (no, seriously, hell). No, I mean it, it was great, every part of it. I can think back on that glorious day and immediately my mouth starts to tug into a smile; I picture those deceptively blank faces at the marina waving us goodbye with the no-anchor news; the crashing waves; the cop. The blissful end back in our hotel room; surely we would never have appreciated that night as passionately had we not run the marathon of that day together, it was like crossing the finish line hand in hand.
So that is what I wish for my boys – on their Spring Break in San Francisco – to see the adventure instead of the inconvenience; to embrace the accidents of life as the great memory-makers they are destined to be. I am a story-teller, it’s in my blood; what can I say?
Except this: I think I see it! The Hoover Dam! There, right there, there it is . . . Just open your eyes . . . you can’t miss it.
A version of this post originally appeared on skirt.com on 4/6/2011