On the Road Again

  • Barbarella

Voyage, travel, and change of place impart vigor.

-- Seneca

Four people in the past three days have asked me the same question: "How does one pack for that long?" As I prepare to be away from home for a month, I'm thinking more along the lines of, "How am I going to make sure my bills are paid on time?" and "What should I do with my hair?" Packing is easy, that's last-minute stuff -- throw everything in a bag and double check for passport, credit cards, and Treo.No matter how far in advance I plan, I never go anywhere without forgetting to pack something . This has taught me that there is nothing so important to my survival that I can't borrow it from someone else, buy it in another city, or do without it until I get home, by which time I will probably have grown accustomed to not having it and therefore feel compelled to throw it out.

David and I freaked out when we learned that three galleries would be showing his fine-art photography at the start of the summer season -- the first in Martha's Vineyard, the second in Zurich, and the third in New York, which meant traveling within a schedule packed tighter than a face full of Botox.

The frenetic pace for preparation was set a month ago when David, after reading an e-mail confirming the date of the last show, said, "I need to get the correct images printed, framed, and shipped to each gallery, like, now ." He's been quite busy with all that. Meanwhile, I've been meditating on other important issues, like how to time my pedicure and hip new hairdo to maximize the results of professional pampering and avoid potential scheduling conflicts with last-minute Oh-shit-I-forgot-to-do-this-or-that moments.

I acknowledge the fabulousness associated with jet-setting to glamorous locales, but in all honesty, these destinations do not thrill me half as much as the idea of getting away. We may not have the monotony of nine-to-fives, but, like anyone else, David and I slip into our own routines and, after a while, any routine becomes monotonous. Even so, it's not monotony that makes me itch to get out of town as much as that, wherever I go, I really enjoy the ride.

And I always associate "the ride" with Dad's orange 1973 Volkswagen camper. Even if we were only going to the commissary, each ride would begin with my family hopping in the bus and launching into a spirited performance of Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again."

Whether seated in a plane, train, or ferry, I can still imagine myself playing Uno with my sisters on the little fold-out card table while keeping one eye out the window for the next Volkswagen Beetle so I could be the one to scream "Punch Buggy BLUE!" or whatever color it was, so long as I was the one doing the punching and not the one getting punched.

The days spent traveling from Rhode Island to San Diego (our second family-of-six cross-country trip) were filled with games, purchased or made up. But when the sun went down, we crawled into our hammocks, stacked like bunk beds, two on either side of the van. And while their four daughters dozed in the back, lulled into deep sleep by the rhythm of the road, Mom and Dad kept our good ship on a true and steady course.

Dad always brought along a small handful of cassette tapes, the songs of which we'd memorized by the second day of our journey. When I'm fiddling with my iPod on the plane, I'll smile and think of John Denver's voice as it was heard through the haze of a post-Denny's breakfast trip. After gorging on a Grand Slam we would sing along, loud and sparky, to "Rocky Mountain High." By the time "Take Me Home, Country Roads" came on, we were in the full stupor of a food coma, able to do no more than mumble the lyrics incoherently.

On more days than not, with the renewed vigor that only sugar and caffeine can bring, we delighted in torturing our mother with the hour-long, repeating chant led by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. Dad would lead us, in sync with Gurumayi, by chanting, "Om Namo Bhagavate Muktanandaya," and we would answer his call, in sync with the followers on the tape (we would even try to harmonize), "Om Namo Bhagavate Muktanandaya!" Over and over, for an hour . Mom wasn't into it, and this hour was excruciating for her. But for her daughters, four young girls stuck in the back of a van on an endless road, it was meditative distraction at its best.

As the movie credits roll and the cocktail cart passes by, I will join my fellow travelers obsessively fixated upon the small red sign that reads, "OCCUPIED." Standing in the cramped aisle awaiting my turn, I will recall with fondness how my sisters and I would try to maintain our balance in the swaying vehicle as we peed into a small blue bucket.

Dad was always "making good time." So, when our little pee-bucket needed emptying, he could not bring himself to pull the juggernaut that was our camper to a complete stop. Instead, he would slow down and veer farther to the right side of the road so Mom could fling the bucket's contents out the window.

Dad only made good time because he drove at insanely high speed, which often resulted in the familiar sound of sirens. Despite his many chats with the local constabulary, he rarely got a ticket, since Mom had trained us to plaster our noses to the rear window and make sad puppy-dog faces. When the officer approached, we would cram our heads out the side window and greet him cheerily. If this didn't do the trick, Mom would indicate with a twitch of her face that we switch to plan B, wherein we would turn on the waterworks and pathetically plea, "Please don't take our Daddy to jail! Please, Mr. Officer, we're so sorry!" A tactic I used until 1999, when a not-so-gullible member of the L.A.P.D. told me to knock it off.

A week from now, when I am sitting in my first-class window seat and breaking apart a warm cookie with moist chocolate chips melting onto my fingertips, I will not be thinking about how gauche it is to wear the same ensemble to three different gallery openings; I will not be practicing how to say "Yes, he is quite talented, isn't he," in German, nor will I daydream of the fine dining and sightseeing to come. Instead, I will be glancing around the cabin to gauge the perfect moment to lead my fellow passengers in an energetic sing-along of " On the Road Again ."

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