Family Vacation: The Rest of the Way to Disneyland, Part Two

August 03, 2016

Posted By: Shaunescy

Note: The first leg of this family vacation from July of 2016 is detailed in an earlier post .  As I explained there, travel and traffic do nothing good to me.  The first truly long day of our drive took us from Cle Elum, Washington, to Seattle and then from Seattle to Medford, Oregon.  It was a long day.  And it was only Day Eight of the vacation.

Day Nine

I needed a haircut weeks ago, so when I wake up in Medford and stumble downstairs for my free hotel breakfast, I should put on a hat.  I don’t.  John and Sam sit with their cousins, so my wife, father-in-law, and mother-in-law are subjected to breakfast with a short, brown-haired, smelly version of Carrot Top, one even less fun to be around than the original.  But there is bacon, and bacon makes things better.  Bacon helps me forget that I have 400 miles to drive today.  400 miles through Sacramento and then San Francisco.  But San Jose is at the end of my trip today, with a visit to the Winchester Mystery House planned for tomorrow morning.  Jack Palance sold me on a visit to this place decades ago on a mostly-forgotten segment of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

I drive and admire my windshield.  On literally Day One of this trip, right by the Warm Springs exit on I-90, I got hit by a rock so large and destructive that for a split second I thought someone threw a brick at me.  It shattered the left side of the windshield in an enormous spider-web pattern, just below my line of sight.  My insurance company sent someone right to my parents’ house to fix it a couple days later, which was nice, and to remind me that such service costs me $100.  Deductibles always piss me off, even reasonable ones.  But it’s great to drive with a pit-free windshield.  Even Oregon looks better through such glass.  I begin to frame this sort of anti-Oregon joke and immediately abandon it.  Elizabeth is asleep, knowing she’ll need to drive once the traffic gets truly bad, and the twins are immersed in the books I bought them: The Long Walk for John, Forrest Gump for Sam.  (In a week or so, I’ll read Forrest Gump, agree with Sam that it’s awful, and never ask her to pick it up again.  The movie may be the only good thing to come out of that novel.  Don’t judge me—or Sam—until you’ve read it yourself.)

As we leave Oregon, California does not welcome us.  Not at all.  There is literally no sign to say that we’ve crossed into California, until we hit an “All Vehicles Must Stop for Inspection” checkpoint.  I assume that this is a vague attempt to stop fruit smuggling.  Or to identify dangerous looking kayakers.  Or whatever.  Regardless of what it’s supposed to be, what it actually is is pointless: We ease off of the interstate into a line that never stops moving, and a bored-looking blonde in an orange vest waves us—and everyone else—through without a second look.  I am transporting multiple kinds of fruit, enough liquor to make “personal consumption” seem unlikely, and several kinds of prescription painkillers.  Someone should probably stop me and ask questions.  No one does.  I turn Bruce Springsteen on again.

“Moneypenny,” I ask, “how far to San Francisco?”  She doesn’t even hesitate before answering: 262 miles.  I immediately pass a sign reading “San Francisco 323 miles.”  This is proof that Moneypenny hates me, and I turn her off.  I will, I decide, navigate by the sun and stars before asking her for directions again.

By the time we get to San Francisco, which is every bit as far away as Moneypenny said it wasn’t, Beth is driving.  We deviate from our route in order to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, which is pretty cool.  I’m told I’ll be getting a bill in the mail to cover the toll for this bridge crossing, however, so I reserve the right to downgrade how cool it was until I see how much it cost.  Then we spend more than two hours in almost-frozen traffic, which is powerfully uncool.  I sit in the shotgun seat and sweat, fidget, twitch.  At a four-way stop, a Cadillac from Florida slips in when it’s supposed to be our turn; then the driver stops to let people out of the backseat.  They get out slowly, not hurrying, thinking that the mostly-unmoving traffic they’re blocking is pretty much like being in a parking lot.

They’re wrong.

Another car slips in, this time navigating around them.  Then another car moves in behind that one.  We move up behind the Cadillac, which has now effectively created two lanes of traffic where there’s only room for one.  And young people are still slowly getting out of the backseat…

I snap.  Seatbelt off, I open my door and roar at the Florida folks to move their car.  I probably drop an F-bomb.  I am so furious that I’m having an out-of-body experience.  It’s my loudest teacher voice, the one I used to be able to use to silence a roomful of 35 ninth graders on my incredibly brief trip through teaching public school.  The Floridians actually jump, look at me, begin to move faster.  A little faster.  There is nothing visually intimidating about me, so I can only assume that I looked dangerously unhinged.  Which I may have been.  It was not a proud moment.  John and Sam will speak for weeks about the volume I managed, the anger I communicated, something they’ve never experienced before.

We are in San Francisco forever.  Part of me is still there, trapped behind a Cadillac with Florida plates.

Day Ten

I wake up with a stale vodka taste in my mouth and the Winchester Mystery House on my mind.  Worse, I have the 1974 Glen Campbell song “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy” stuck in my head.  It’s entirely possible I haven’t heard that song in 30+ years, and it won’t go away.  I download it on Spotify and wake my children by playing it at full volume, something I will do repeatedly for the rest of our trip.  It will become our theme, the anthem that represents this entire vacation.  Forcing this music on them is, I tell them, legally considered child abuse in several States—but not in California, so they’re stuck.  They frown at me and shake their heads.  I play the song again.

The tour at the Winchester place goes exactly as I feared it would.  “Look,” the tour guide doesn’t say again and again but may as well, “Isn’t this another crazy room, something different from but pretty similar to all of the other crazy rooms we’ve just walked through?”  People on the tour ask too many questions, questions the young guide just answered or is just about to explain.  A German woman suddenly brings us all to a stop so that she and her son can be escorted off the tour and to their rental car.  As our guide calls someone to help, German Mom begins to explain loudly that her son is in the country because he’s competing in…something.  I tune her out, a habit that’s getting worse as I round the bend and begin to slide towards 50: When it becomes obvious that what someone is saying (a) doesn’t impact me much and (b) isn’t important to me at all, I just mentally go away.

Leaving San Jose, now in a convoy of three vehicles, we instantly lose the rest of our party.  This is the sort of thing that stresses me out more than it should, particularly when my wife’s phone is giving us direct, clear, competent directions.  It is much nicer than Moneypenny.

We drive by orchards and a constant string of signs arguing that without water, there is no food.  I am no hydrologist, but it’s obvious that water is a problem in this place, something to be fought over.  This makes me feel more at home.  Montanans understand fighting over water rights.  Decades ago, one of my family members had to protect our water rights at gun point, when a local rancher just didn’t think we needed our full allotment.  Maybe, I think as I drive and listen to The Boss, California isn’t so bad, so alien after all.

I am wrong.

We pass endless orchards.  A sign early on tells me that I can stop ahead for free tasting of olive oil.  This does not interest me, but it does tell me that I’m probably driving by olive trees.  This seems like good information to have, but I’m too tired to use it responsibly.  So for hundreds of miles, I assume that every tree is an olive tree.  Only the fields of sunflowers are clearly identifiable…until we begin to drive by garlic fields, by shacks selling garlic and garlic ice cream.  Garlic is obvious.  There is no danger of confusing garlic and olives, not even in my exhausted state.

It’s only 360+ miles from San Jose to Anaheim, but the drive takes forever.  Traffic is slow, even on a Sunday, and my Jeep inexplicably begins to overheat with a hundred miles or so left.  When the light comes on, panic hits me like a lead finger—a game we used to play that I’ve been thinking about for a weirdly long part of the drive.  To play Lead Finger, it was necessary to pull all fingers but the second-to-last up against the palm, holding them with your thumb.  This left the next-to-pinky finger just hanging, and it could be rapidly flicked back and forth, loosening it up like a tiny whip…which would then be slapped against someone’s unsuspecting arm.  Lead Finger.

I ask Beth to check the Jeep’s manual, just to be sure that this is, in fact, the light that indicates that we’re overheating.  It is.  Big surprise.  We’re climbing a steep pass, and it’s 105 degrees outside.  I should stop, I’m sure, and add coolant (which I actually remembered to pack).  But I’m exhausted and need cold beer; the Jeep will have to fend for itself.

Which it does.  The panic-inducing, Lead-Finger-reminding light stays on almost until I take the exit to Disneyland.  Then it winks out.  I announce this disappearance loudly to a carload of people who are craning their necks, looking for signs of Walt’s creation…which we drive by, turning into our hotel less than two blocks later.

John and Sam practically throw the Jeep’s contents onto a luggage cart, unloading as fast as possible in order to get to the hotel’s pool.  I practically throw my keys at the valet, thinking only about how much cold beer I’m going to drink and how much driving I’m not going to do.  We’re spending four days at Disneyland, a day at Universal Studios, a day at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Six days of wall-to-wall fun.  Three days of nearly apocalyptic driving to get to those days, with that many to get home.

I take deep breaths all evening, watch the kids swim, drink more Coors than I should.  I travel badly.  I know this, have known it for decades, have written about it in various places, including my book Mistakes Were Made.  But this trip has been years in the making; my travel issue doesn’t matter nearly as much as the happiness of Beth and the kids.

I’ll keep telling myself this for days, particularly when the lines get long and the temperatures hit the upper 90s and my feet throb and I begin to fray around the edges.

As the kids towel off and get ready for bed, knowing that sleep is miles away because Disneyland is just down the block, I blast “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy” one more time.  They moan, cover their heads with pillows, throw stuffed animals at me.  I remind them that as their father, it is my duty to teach them about good music.

“When are you going to start?” Sam asks.


Shane Borrowman is a native of Anaconda, father of twins, and professor of English at The University of Montana Western.  He has published on a wide range of topics, including the development of boxing in Renaissance England, medieval Arabic philosophy, and American zombie films.  He is editor or co-editor of four writing textbooks and six collections of original scholarship. Visit, home of Shane's blog, Kairotic Palaver

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