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Prine Was Right: Blow Up Your TV

4 Jan

by Roger White

 

“Blow up your TV, throw away your paper,

Go to the country, build you a home…”

—from “Spanish Pipedream,” by John Prine

 

I work for an education association, whose ebb and flow of timelines, lull seasons, and get-it-done-yesterday crunch times generally follows the public schools calendar. This does not mean I get the whole summer off or that I have to take some sort of final exams every semester. But it does mean I get a nice chunk of time off during the Christmas break. Or should I say Holiday Break, or Winter Break, to be properly PC. But if I say “Winter Break,” then I’m accused of waging war on Christmas—whatever that is—by the anti-war-on-Christmas people, whoever they are. Seems there are an inordinate number of highly sensitive, easily offended, extremely angry subgroups of people out there these days, and almost any topic—from eating a hamburger to wearing a headscarf to saying “bless you” when somebody sneezes—is now an emotional mine field of potential hurt feelings and mob-mentality retribution.

reallyFor example, overheard at a local Wal-Mart recently:

“Dammit, Zebulon, these friggin’ Moslems is takin’ over the place. Look over thar, in home improvement. Dang scarf-wearin’ terrurist jee-haddys…”

“Yeah, I here ya, Jebediah. Hey, Zeke! Lee Roy! We got us a … wait, that’s my mom in the scarf. She didn’t want nobody to see her curlers.”

“Oh. Well. That’s awright, I guess.”

But while we’re on the subject, wouldn’t the term “Winter Break” be considered offensive to those folks who deem autumn as their favorite season? We have Spring Break; we have Summer Break; and now with the newly christened “Winter Break” we are kicking poor, unloved autumn to the curb, aren’t we? We have no “Fall Break.” I’m pissed off! This is War on Fall! Anti-Autumn Armageddon! I’m organizing a protest! Where’s Fox News?

OK, wait. Once again, I digress. Anyway, yes, so this lovely fortnight of vacation I get every, uh, late December allows me the blessed opportunity to back away from the grind. To sit in the backyard with a fire in the fire pit, a warm drink in hand, and nothing on my mind but determining how to get the (insert your preferred holiday here) boxes down from the attic without upsetting the raccoon family that has taken up permanent residence up there.

I have found that during this heavenly lull I tend to watch less news on TV and scarcely come near the computer, which is where I usually receive my daily dose of terror, misery, innuendo, and fear-mongering via CNN and other websites.

And despite the season’s family dramas, gift-hunting mayhem, and traffic gridlock gnashing of teeth—not to mention the annual overdose of turkey, libations, and too much party silliness—I find that my anxiety level and blood pressure go way down. Two weeks without Trump, Cruz, Clinton, terrorist plots for world overthrow, Planned Parenthood bombings, Dow Jones doom and gloom, the affluenza teen, Bill Cosby revelations, and viral cat-in-the-microwave stories tend to hit me like a soft pillow in the face. The crap the media spews at us 24/7 isn’t our world.

And all you have to do is turn it off. You can blow it up, if you’ve a mind, but just hitting the “off” button will suffice. Aaah. That’s nice.

So why take only a (insert your preferred holiday here) break from the muck and the madness? I was never much on New Year’s resolutions, but I believe I have one for 2016: Less CNN, Trump, Hannity, msnbc, Fox, and all those “World’s Most Extreme Terrible Things” shows—and more backyard reflection. More walks, more friends, more board games. If you still have the old Aggravation board game gathering cobwebs in the closet, pull it out, dust it off, and get the kids around. It’s fun.

Don’t have Aggravation? OK, Monopoly then. Just try to ignore the fact that Monopoly is based on properties in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a town practically owned by…you know who. I’m tellin’ ya, if that candy-haired blowhard gets anywhere near the White House, I’m moving the family to…

Time out. Breathe. Forget Monopoly. Stick with Aggravation. Or the backyard fire pit. Aaah, there we go.

aggravation

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious offspring, a very obese but mannerful dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

 

My Wife’s Haunted Car and Other Things

9 Sep

by Roger White

 

Let me get this out of the way right here and now: For all the times I’ve been a smartass to any of you out there in reader-land, I convey my sincere apologies. I used to think that just about anything is fair game in the name of humor. I was not above smartassery if it garnered some hearty yuks. But lo, being on the receiving end of a smartass barb recently made me understand. Funny is in the eye of the bee holder. Or something. So there, I’m sorry. Long-winded explanation to follow.

 

The preceding paragraph came about because my wife and I recently became thoroughly convinced that her car is haunted. True! It’s all true. The old Honda makes a strange humming noise—using ok not wifeys carDave Barry caps now—WHEN IT’S NOT EVEN ON! I thought wifey had been hitting the cooking vodka a bit when she unloaded this on me, especially after I pulled up a chair on two occasions and sat next to her car in the garage and heard: absolutely nothing. But the other night, as I was emptying the trash in the garage, it happened. The old rattletrap hummed at me. It was kind of a pleasant hum, nothing menacing. But it was a hum nonetheless—coming from a vehicle that had been sitting dormant for hours. What’s even weirder is that it doesn’t seem to emanate from the engine. It’s an overall, ethereal sort of tune, as if the entire car just decides to hum. Lasts a while, then stops. Somewhere near B flat, I think.

 

Unnerved, and after a dip into the cooking vodka, I called up our mechanic. I asked him, after catching my breath and pouring myself another helping of cooking sauce, what in the world would make a car, that hasn’t been driven in hours, mind you, hum? (If you know where this is going because you have a smartass mechanic, don’t ruin it for the others.)

 

And Mr. Mechanic said: “Maybe it doesn’t know the words.”

 

Rimshot. Applause, applause. Another helping of vooking vokda all around. After he stopped laughing, which was a good long while, he switched into mechanic gobbledygook mode: “Could be your ABS relay switch stuck in regenerate mode or perhaps your evaporator coils releasing pressure. Have you checked that?”

 

“Uh, yeah. No.”

 

“Or it could be haunted,” he concluded. Again with the laughing. “Bring it in, we’ll check it out.”

 

Funny guy. He has a point, though. It truly could be haunted. The wife and I used to scoff and pooh-pooh such notions, but through our long, strange trips together, we have both become convinced that there are — well, let’s just say there are things beyond our knowledge as mere humans trudging about on this little planet. Another schot of kooking sschvodka, please.

 

Two very peculiar examples come to mind: (1) a photo of Edgar Allan Poe’s grave and (2) a spooky stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico. So, pull up a log. Some years back, Sue and I were visiting Baltimore. EAs graveWe had one of those old cameras that actually used film, the kind you gave to the drugstore clerk for developing. Before the age of nude selfies and all that crap. We had taken all the usual tourist photos: the Inner Harbor, Maryland blue crabs, a downtown mugging, and a shot of the grave of E.A. Poe. Yes, the original Stephen King. When we got the photos back from the drugstore, all was pretty much normal—ya know, some fuzzy, some out of focus, some pretty decent shots. But the shot of Poe’s grave was truly bizarre. The picture appeared to have flames coming up the bottom and sides, as if surrounding the gravesite. Hand on heart here. We know we still have it somewhere, but we cannot find it. It’s the only photo of the rolls that was out of the ordinary. Way out of the ordinary. It looked like it was on fire.

 

No. 2 is even stranger. If you’ve ever stayed in Santa Fe, you’ve probably heard how it is purported to be one of the most haunted places in North America. Old Indian burial grounds, the site of extremely ancient civilizations, the works. In the dead of winter one year (no pun intended), our vacation stay there was extended because we were snowed in. Inches and inches of deep, beautiful snow. Our girls were tiny, and they loved it. Sue and I were perturbed at the cost of our unintended extension, and our dog, Ralph, hated every minute of it. Something about the room we were in, at the Las Palomas Inn, gave our fat daschund an extreme case of the willies. He would whine and mommyhesitate every time we entered the room. He would piddle nervously on the front step. Then Sue woke up in the wee hours one night convinced that one of the girls was calling her. She heard a distinctive little voice calling out, “Mommy.” But our girls were sound asleep. When Sue told me the story, as we sat on our hotel bed, I decided to call our ghost’s bluff. “OK,” I called out. “If there is something or someone here, give us a sign. Now.” At that precise moment, one of the two sconce lights on the wall surrounding the bed came on. Came on, mind you. If a light had gone off, I could explain that one away. Bulb went bad, that’s all. No. One of the lights came on. Wifey’s my witness. I still shiver about that one. We changed rooms, then hightailed it back home as soon as the snow cleared.

 

Who’s up for more cookling vkoda? Whew. Seriously, do you have a story like this? One that makes you think, hmmm, there is more going on here than we know. E-mail me at roger.white@tasb.org. I wanna hear them. I’ll post the truly creepy ones. It’s almost Halloween, ya know. Right now I gotta go, I think the wife’s car’s humming at me again.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

…Only to Find Gideons’ Flatscreen

23 Jul

by Roger White                                                                              

 

Well, I’m back, my fellow existential exam-takers. Just flew in from the far reaches of my psyche, and, boy, are my neural dendrites tired. Actually, I’ve been in Baltimore, but it’s about the same.

 

Although I was encamped in the city’s trendy Inner Harbor for bidness purposes, I did partake of some of the local tourist fare, which involved, in various proportions, many images of Fort Wipken WayMcHenry, the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, mounds of Maryland blue crabs (and all the accompanying crab hammers and pliers and crab-innard removers and bibs and things), and thousands upon thousands of orange-clad Orioles fans. Note: Every third street, boulevard, and/or quasi-large building in Baltimore proper is named for Cal Ripken, Jr. There’s Cal Ripken Road, Cal Ripken Way, Cal Ripken Hair Restoration Clinic, you name it.

 

For those of you non-baseballites, Ripken, nicknamed the “Iron Man,” played for the O’s for something like 173 years, and he holds the major league record for consecutive games played. He Call Calsuited up and took the field for—seriously, now—2,632 games without so much as a potty break, or something like that. Anyway, the folks of Baltimore worship the guy. There’s even an Our Lady of the Shortstop Catholic Church near Camden Yard, where parishioners bless themselves with the sign of the 8 and refer to themselves as Cal-tholics. OK, not really. I kid.

 

Anyhow, the city its own self wasn’t nearly as crime-infested as I had pictured it. For many years, Baltimore carried a not-so-savory reputation with regard to one’s personal safety. The pro basketball team wasn’t called the Baltimore Bullets for nothing. They were going to be called the Baltimore Brick Upside the Heads, but they couldn’t fit it all on the team jerseys. However, I must say that during my brief stay near the Chesapeake, I was accosted not once—unless you count the very large, very moist man with the Phil Spector hair and leopard-print thong singing Paul Anka’s “Having My Baby” at the top of his lungs. I wasn’t sure if he was panhandling, making some sort of pro-life statement, or on the run from the Cal Ripken Clinic for Mood Disorders, but I ponied up a fast fiver and got the hell out of there.

 

A bit off topic from Baltimore per se, but I have to report—the Spouseman not having lodged at the finer inns on my own dime for a good while—that I was thoroughly gobsmacked with regard to one particular aspect of my accommodations. Hotels, I have come to conclude, are absolutely convinced that their guests cannot go one fraction of a second without access to a television. Gads, man. There was a TV in the bathroom—built into the mirror, mind you—a TV in the elevator, a tiny telly on each treadmill in the fitness room, a TV on every wall of the lobby, several in the bar, TVs in the restaurant, etc., etc., etc. CNN, Fox News, and General Hospital were everywhere. Live with Kelly and Michael was practically ubiquitous. I didn’t really need that last sentence to make my point, but I enjoy using the word “ubiquitous” whenever possible. I can be obsequious, dare I say insouciant, like that sometimes.

gotta have

With the preponderance of boob tubes, I found it a tad ironic when I read the little sign in the john that instructed me to please reuse my towels. The hotel explained on its quaint recycled-paper missive that it was trying to help the planet and save money—which would, of course, keep their rates lower—by asking that visitors gently reuse their towels during their stay. I kinda figured they could save a bit more if they gently stopped cramming high-dollar television sets into every conceivable space they could find. I, for one, do not require a flatscreen, high-definition TV built into my toilet paper dispenser.

 

On the plane ride home, I actually considered writing to the hotel manager about my concerns, but the tiny little TV in the seatback in front of me was gently playing an Andy Griffith Show rerun. So I got sidetracked. It was a really good one, though. The one where Aunt Bee enters her kerosene-flavored pickles in the county fair…

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Galveston, Oh, Galveston…

14 Apr

by Roger White

 

It was high time recently for a mini-getaway. You know how it is. In the midst of those long weeks, dare I say months, between full-blown vacations, the work stress, kid stress, money stress, in-law stress, and no-football-on-TV stress pile up until your neck and shoulder muscles are clwhat theenched tighter than Joan Rivers’ cheeks. You develop a chronic eyelid twitch, and you suddenly find you have the posture of Marty Feldman’s grandfather. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed to a faint flicker, and that tunnel hangs low and dark and menacing over your head like the belly of an unmarried pregnant velociraptor. Just go with that one, okay?

 

You can always tell when it’s time to cram the family in the trusty sedan and drive away for a few days. At least I can tell when it’s time—when the wife says it’s time, that’s when it’s time. So the other weekend, just as the steam began to vent from wifey’s ears, we piled the tribe into the Honda and headed south. To Galveston, in particular.

 

Now, despite what many of you hoity toity California beach hipsters or Jersey shore traditionalists may think, you can have a terrific time in the Oleander City without suffering any tarballs, mosquito-borne diseases, or attempted muggings. Really. Galveston’s nicknamed the Oleander City, by the way, because of the proliferation of the humongous, color-splashed flowers all over the place. The oleanders are gorgeous, but if you eat them you’ll fall over stone dead, just sayin’. So don’t eat them.

 

Anyway, we had a blast. If you want quiet oceanfront time, which we did mostly, rent a condo on East Beach. This is far from all the public hollering and drinking and shenanigans at Stewart Beach and points west down toward the curio shops, nightlife spots, and all the leather-skinned street people who talk to their hair and smell oddly of vinegar and machinery.

 

If you want action, rent some bikes or drive down Seawall Boulevard toward the lights and CRAB!!the signs featuring gigantic crabs and shrimp made of plaster of paris. There’s some good eatin’ at Gaido’s and The Spot and several other Seawall greasy spoons. Now, if you haven’t been to Galveston in a while, you’re not hallucinating when you spy a kaleidoscopic gaggle of roller coasters and ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds where the old Flagship Hotel used to be. The Flagship’s not on the pier anymore. The old gal finally sank. Ah, remember the crusty Flagship? Your room options weren’t smoking or non-smoking. They were roaches or rats, take yer pick. Yes, those were the days.

 

Nope, the ol’ Flagship has been replaced by the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. The Landry’s folks bought the place and decided, after Hurricane Ike pretty much creamed it in 2008, that instead of trying to renovate the old fleabag, they’d start over with a small Pleasure Pier!amusement park. And by golly, they did it. As hard as it is to believe that you can stuff an entire amusement park onto that slender shaft jutting out over the water, the Pleasure Pier actually has more than a dozen rides—including a truly terrifying roller coaster—a gauntlet of carnival games, souvenir and sweet shops, and even a restaurant or two. Even our daughters, both of them thrill-ride veterans who can tell if an amusement park is the real deal or just a poseur, had grins plastered on them by the time they were done.

 

What’s even cooler about the Pleasure Pier is that they offer field trips/classes for schools, wherein the kids do coursework in between the rides. They have textbooks and everything, all tying in s141a. to your ritauch disciplines as physics and math to each ride. Here’s a sample question, I kid you not: “For safety purposes, the Carousel’s floor is coated with a nonstick surface that has a coefficient of friction with the average pair of sneakers equal to 0.7. With this coefficient of friction, how fast would the rider have to be moving while standing next to one of the outer-ring horses to be thrown off the ride?”

 

Judging from this and other questions I read, I’m thankful I went to school in the era of Dick and Jane.

 

Anyway, fun was had by all, and we even won a giant inflatable alien the girls nicknamed George Lopez. And the getaway seemed to work. My eyelid twitch is pretty much gone. Posture’s better. The Joan Rivers muscle tone has eased. Now if I can just get these jellyfish lookit the pretty AAAHH!barbs out of my feet. Watch yer step on those moonlight beach strolls, ’kay?

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Our Winter Trip–to the Tune of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’

7 Jan

by Roger White

 

Come andHere We Go listen to a story ’bout a man named Rog,

For their winter getaway got the car out the garage,

Packed the family up and drove to Santa Fe,

But here’s some weird stuff that happened on the way.

 

’Bout five in the morning just outside Fredericksburg,

With temperature readings like an Arctic iceberg,

Steering got squirrelly and a tire went POP,

Two hundred bucks later we leave the tire shop.

 

We Is NowhereOn I-10 past Sonora I decide to take a snooze,

Wifey’s at the wheel, what have I got to lose?

I wake and we’re smack in the middle of nowhere,

Fifty miles from a town with no gas to spare.

 

Fort Stockton’s now roughly thirty miles away,

With the “Empty” light on we both begin to pray,

Then out of nowhere an Exxon comes in sight,

We laugh and we cry and soon forget our plight.

 

Up 285 into old New Mexico,

Night begins to fall and the wind begins to blow,

There in the darkened road with no time to stop,

We almost run over a New Mexico cop.

 Stop in the Lame of the Naw

Fuzz, that is. Black uniform. Gun and all.

 

Well, the next thing ya know we’re into Santa Fe,

Wife and I relax while the girls go out to play,

We realize we’re now about a thousand in the hole,

For Christmas, we figure, we’ll give the girls coal.

 

Anthracite, that is. Black fuel. Fossilized carbon.

 Everybody loves Coal

Heading back to Texas we drive all day and night,

With fast food in our bellies the car sure smells a might,

We all begin to wonder why this far we did roam,

Next year we figure it’s best to just stay home.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Of Parades and Fireworks and Your Second Cousin’s Missing Pinkie

2 Jul

by Roger White

 

As the blast-furnace breezes of July waft in, caressing our faces with all the warmth and subtlety of nuclear warhead testing, many of us harken back to the salad days of our youth and those old-time Independence Day celebrations—small-town parades, concerts in the bandstand, dazzling fireworks displays, and your second cousin showing off his missing pinkie finger as he regales you with his annual “cherry bomb accident” story. Why are the days of our youth called “salad days,” anyway? I never came near a salad when I was a kid. They should call them “Milk Dud days” or “Captain Crunch days” or something.

 

Nevertheless, as fond as I am of recreational explosives and intentionally putting oneself in harm’s way for a juicy whizz-bang, I must say that my earliest memory of Fourth of July festivities is not particularly joyous. In fact, it’s downright terrifying. I don’t recall exactly how itty bitty I was, but let’s just say the family mutt and I pretty much met face to face. And this was not a big dog. The family was in the back yard, my older sisters running around waving sparklers in the air. I was perfectly content to spectate; those white-hot sparklers scared the bejeezus out of me. Sure enough, my sister (which one shall remain nameless) placed in my itty bitty hand a sizzling, hissing sparkler, which I assumed would immediately set my entire arm ablaze—after which, knowing my sister, I would be waved aloft, an itty bitty human sparkler.

 

As fate would have it, my dad was bending down near me at that moment, lighting a smoke bomb or something on the ground. In blind terror, I dropped the sparkler—directly onto my dad’s back. Dad, clad in t-shirt and shorts, instantly began yelling and gyrating, doing every move from a Native American war dance to the electric slide. Dad’s t-shirt was a goner; Dad ended up with a permanent little line burned into his upper back, and I a permanent little scar burned into my psyche. To this day, I’ll light any firecracker, bottle rocket, roman candle or any other type of festive munition—but I cannot stand sparklers. Stupid sparklers.

 

While I’m on the memory train, however, I do have tucked away on the seldom-used tracks of my mind a much fonder pyrotechnic piece of the past. In this particular vinaigrette (OK, whatever), I’m about 12, hanging at Lake Benbrook with my middle sister’s boyfriend. He was probably 17 or 18, and he was a mad genius when it came to finding creative ways to blow things up. Bottle rockets were Brian’s medium of choice, and model cars and ships were his canvas. We spent much of that afternoon obliterating a great many unfortunate old hot rods of plastic and faux chrome.

 

Then came the piece de resistance. Or as the French say, the piece of resistance. Just as the sun was starting to set on the other side of the lake, Brian took from his car’s trunk five or six model ships. These were World War II vintage: battleships, aircraft carriers, and the like. Each model ship had a length of string tied to it, with a lead sinker attached to the other end. Brian had given this a lot of thought. He gave some of the ships to me, and we waded out into the lake. By 15 to 20 yards out, we were treading water. One by one, we gently released each ship’s line, and soon we had an armada of model ships anchored just off shore.

 

That’s when the fun began. With two coke bottles as cannons, we spent the good part of an hour firing bottle rockets at those brave battleships. As thrilling as it was to score a hit and watch our targets list and sink, the most exciting part to me was watching a smoking rocket dive just under the water and explode beneath the surface. This was like being on the set of The Longest Day. Of all the professional fireworks displays I’ve seen since, none match the “ooh” and “aah” factor of that special, simple day in my mind.

 

And then there was the time I nearly burned the kitchen down trying to make Rice Krispie Treats in a skillet. Wait, that’s a Christmas story. Oh, well, be safe out there, kids. Remember your second cousin.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Where’ve I Been, You Ask? Don’t Ask

19 Jun

by Roger White

 

Ahoy, fellow earthbound mugwumps. Your friendly psychoneurospiritual travel agent is back. For those devoted few (OK, one) who follow Ye Olde Spouse week in and week out, please accept my hipdeep apologia for the extended absinthe. Absence. Whatever. For you occasional delvers into these parts, I’ve been gone, you see. Way. Far. Gone. And boy, are my arms tired (rimshot).

Spouseman took some time off, seeking clarity, hoping for a gander at the real me and maybe even some face time with That That Is. None of that happened, so I cleaned up the paraphernalia and hauled the family down to Galveston. Then we took one of those giant floating cities on a cruise down Meh-hee-co way. I am still processing the whole thing.

If you’ve never been on one of these behemoth boats, imagine cramming the whole population of, say, Alpine or Marble Falls into a 12-story, 900-foot-long gently swaying apartment building with bad plumbing. Also imagine that each resident occupies living quarters approximately the size of an extra-wide Kenmore refrigerator box.

But there is cable TV. And little mints on your pillows. And every night, you find on your bed all your bathroom towels magically morphed into bizarre sea creatures, cute animals, or whatever else your cabin steward feels like crafting on a whim. I think our guy got bored or perhaps a bit miffed that I kept mispronouncing his name after the first couple of days because by the third night, we found our towels formed into a bust of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Now, your first day on board you must practice your lifesaving drill. Your lifesaving drill involves finding your way past dozens of stairs, bars, and cocktails in coconut shells to your assigned muster station, where you stand like a sweating dork with several hundred other sweating dorks, apparently mustering. I kept trying in vain to listen to the Filipino man in the inflatable life vest while, standing right next to me, three heavy-tonnage drunks from Odessa sang “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” at the top of their lungs.

About all I was able to make out was the following: “…very important to remember that unless you … pour me somethin’ tall an’ strong! … must be inflated properly or … make it a hurricane before I go insane! … could mean death by drowning. Have a wonderful cruise.”

Although the pools aren’t very big, there are a lot of them. There’s a pool by the buffet, a pool by the giant-screen TV, a hot tub next to the casino, a pool on the Lido Deck, a water slide that ends in a pool on the Panorama Deck, etc. And next to each of these pools a heaving throng of scantily clad people jiggle endlessly to the Macarena. Yes, they’re still playing that song. And no, the words “scantily,” “clad,” and “jiggle” shouldn’t be misconstrued. The booties shaking here, wooh—let’s just say this is bounty best left buried. Under many layers of opaque clothing. (shudder of remembrance here)

Rather unfair of the cruise types, if you ask me, to have the buffet parked in such close proximity to the thundering, line-dancing herd. Renders the triple-cheese soup and skillet-seared steak and warm chocolate melting cake a bit unsavory.

Everything you hear about the food is true, though. Good and bad. There’s terrible fare, and there is some spectacular feasting to be had (chiefly at the sit-down dinners, mind you). And yes, you will get fat. Just count on it.

The ports of call in the Western Caribbean jaunt are pretty enough, but you have just enough time in port to be accosted by an army of souvenir hawkers (“because you my friend, only $45”), buy a genuine Cozumel shot glass made in China, eat a meal authentic enough to send the mighty Montezuma himself running, and then crowd back onto the ship like so many sun-scorched cattle. Moo.

It’s all about the money, you see. And your smiling cruise ship people want your hard-earned hash to be slung on board, not on land. So you get a few hours off ship, max. And speaking of the green stuff, unless you are astronomically lucky, are a professional poker player from Amarillo, or are some kind of Rain Man, set not one foot in the ship’s casino. Good God Almighty, you might as well just hand over a C note to the casino cashier and go to bed. I tried many games in there, and I’m here to tell you that cruise ship casino machines are tighter than Bruce Jenner’s face. You’ve been warned.

I hoped to meet some exotic people from far-away lands on our adventure. And I did. Our cabin steward, who fashioned a striking Ted Bundy towel bust our last night on board, was from Thailand, I think. Or maybe it was Seattle. But every single cotton-pickin’ passenger I met was from Texas. It was like being in a Fort Worth bar every night, except with a pervasive septic aroma. OK, then, it was like being in a Lubbock bar every night. Period.

Oh, one more thing. Forget all that jazz about getting your sea legs. The rocking of the ship is not that bad; you get used to it. What’s tough is getting your land legs back. I found myself at work the Monday after I got back, gently swaying and zig-zagging down the hall.

It took an hour and a half to convince my boss I wasn’t off the wagon again.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

Whatever Happened to Dairy Queens & Snake Farms?

6 Apr

by Roger White

A quick gander at the calendar on the old wall shows that it’s April, which means it’s almost May, which means it’s almost summer, which means it’s vacation planning time again. Which means it’s time for Dad to take a second and third job. I figure that about eight weeks of mowing lawns and cold-calling potential investors for the Happy Shores Time-Share Villas in Enid, Oklahoma (in addition to my regular 40-hour editing gig), will put just enough in the family coffers for a week of, uh, “summer fun.”

Call me old, call me out of touch, call me cranky, but the family vacation just isn’t what it used to be. And I’m not just talking about the cost—although I’m mainly talking about the cost. Remember when your parents would gas up the station wagon, pile you and your siblings and the dog and just about anything else that would fit into the back, and aim the car at the nearest national park? And the trip always started at 4 a.m. No matter the destination, you were rousted from bed, still slobbering and sleepwalking, hustled into the car in the black of night, and whisked off like a fresh cult recruit. That was the vacation. No questions asked, no negotiations, no whining.

And you were grateful for any and all unscheduled pit stops along the way. For you readers who happened to be boys back then, you’ll recall that if your dad was far enough behind schedule en route to the Petrified Forest, your pit stop was a coke bottle. Nuff said. The wheels had to keep rolling.

Thing of it is, as much as we old-timers enjoy grousing about just how spartan and militarily executed the vacations of our youth were, we actually look back on them fondly. Sort of. You must admit, the rules of the road were different. If you could fit in the rear window deck, and who couldn’t back then, you had a vista view for the entire ride to Carlsbad Caverns. The back floorboard, with the massive transmission lump in the middle, served as a two-bedroom suite. You could always tell quite easily what other vehicles were in vacation mode on the highway by all the arms and legs and feet and various other body parts hanging out the windows.

Meals and entertainment consisted of Dairy Queens and Snake Farms. And to my 9-year-old sensibilities, visiting the roadside Snake Farm was on par with the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, or any other great wonder of man or Mother Nature. In fact, somebody should write a country song about old-time vacations—and call it “Dairy Queens & Snake Farms.” I’m not much of a country fan—I’m more of an old rock and roller—but I would buy this record. (It wouldn’t be available on iTunes, by the way, only on 45 rpm records. Nyah.)

And lodging was simple. Once we hit our destination, the nearest motor lodge that didn’t have a red “No” winking in front of the neon “Vacancy” sign became vacation central. The TV menu was whatever local stations the motel set’s rabbit ears could pick up, and in-room recreation involved either Nerf basketball with a small trash can or clandestine trampoline wars between beds while the parents were out of the room getting ice.

Today? Well, our kids have been on more airplanes than I ever saw as a youngster. Island resorts, all-inclusive fantasy-land amusement parks, and fancy fondue restaurants cater to every whim. The latest movies and 3-D videos are in the hotel room and on the iPod, which means constant state-of-the-art entertainment anytime all the time. “Hey, look out the window, kids! Get a load of that sunset!” “Yeah, sure, Dad, whatev.” Clickety clackety click click.

I have truly come to hate that texting sound.

It’s our own fault, really. There is peer pressure, of course, especially when you hear your kid’s friend casually mention how boring Italy was this year. But it is time to make a stand. Who’s with me? We have to draw a line in the sand—and I don’t mean the alabaster sand of the all-inclusive Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas. If we raise a crop of jaded, spoiled teens, you know what they’ll become? That’s right! Kardashians! Gads.

I mean it. This year, we’re piling everybody into the car, throwing the texting, beeping, streaming pod-things out the window, and heading nonstop to the great outdoors. Isn’t that right, hon? Hon?

Hmm.

“Hello, this is Roger with Happy Shores Time-Share Villas of Enid, Oklahoma. Have I got a deal for you. . .”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.