Stories: The Most Awkward Car Ride Too

NOTE: People seemed to love yesterday’s story which got me thinking of a specific ride that had much more of an impact on me as a child. I hope you read it with the humor it is intended to have, but I think you need to know my father to fully appreciate it.

It was the summer of 1990, Philadelphia was typically hot, sweaty, and a little smelly for mid-July. Since it was the middle of the summer, my old man decided we should go on vacation. My family was hit and miss with vacation; Sometimes my father would take a week off, sometimes it would be a few days, sometimes not at all. If we did go on vacation, we ALWAYS went to the Jersey Shore (Southern Shore – Wildwood). That summer, I was nine years old and my sister had just turned 11 – my father announced to us that we were going to the Catskill Mountains for a few days and my head started spinning.

I had never heard of the Catskills Mountains. This was a massive break from the routine and was outside my “comfort zone” of South Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. Reflecting on my youth, I developed a philosophy about the typical South Philadelphia upbringing: it is very insular – “the world outside South Philadelphia does not exist”. Once the shock of change wore off, I started seeking information about our summer destination. My first source was my mother; she was trying to hide her own lack of enthusiasm, but managed to inform me that at one point in it’s illustrious history, the Catskill Mountains was a hotbed for stand up comedy. This had me excited until someone told me that the good comedians don’t go there anymore and was now a place that old people go to – I was not pleased.

As we packed our things into my father’s 1983 Buick Regal, I wondered what this vacation would be like… I should have been wondering “how long is the car ride?”

To understand this situation, let us begin with a brief description of my father: He is a man of medium height and average weight. He works in the food industry (you may even catch him on TV sometimes) and doesn’t talk. Let me repeat – He doesn’t talk – unless you have managed to do something wrong. Over the years I have come to admire and appreciate his silent nature: most people can’t shut up, but you can’t get a word out of my old man. In addition to his own quiet nature, at the time, he enjoyed complete silence around him. This meant no radio (which he has since changed his mind about) and of course, no conversations in the car besides basic questions.

Having been around the man my entire life, I was used to his “modus operandi”; However, I was not prepared to be in a car in complete silence for 4 hours. Nobody told me this trip would take 4 hours as I would have most definitely stayed with a relative. Remember: This is before iPods and DVD players in the back seat of the car. You know what our back seat had? A big rotting hole in the car’s floor – it was like that for months – I lost countless toys to that hole. He placed a metal plate to the floor before the trip to prevent any potentially fatal slippage. I was not a complete moron – I did have a walkman (with tapes) but of course after 2 hours – the battery ran out and the extras were in the trunk. At one point we stopped for refreshments and gas. My old man got me a Snapple Iced Tea. I remember this because after I finished the iced tea I was mindlessly clicking the cap until my father asked if he could see the cap. Out the window it went.

People have their own way with dealing with silence – I tend to get lost in my head which I managed to do successfully for a few hours, but not everyone takes that approach. My sister kept it under control for a few hours but then she started to get bored. As children, my sister was very much the alpha personality and I was much more passive (that has probably flip-flopped at least outwardly). She also takes after my father a little bit in the fact that she can hold a grudge and she can be a world class ball-buster (I mean comic villain ball-buster, it’s pretty admirable when you aren’t on the receiving end). By the third hour my sister was ready to enact revenge for some past transgression. Make no bones, my sister was an expert at setting traps to get me in trouble. She knew exactly how to push my buttons to make me lose it. I don’t remember what she did exactly, but her move was to always ask a seemingly innocent question to my father which would highlight a recent screw-up on my part. I would immediately attempt to defend myself which of course would break the silent harmony that my father craved. She managed to replicate this trap and like an idiot I fell for it every time. Looking back I think my father knew exactly what was going on and was playing his part to entertain himself for 4 hours.

My sister’s traps ate up the remaining time and when we finally pulled into the parking lot of the “resort” I almost kissed the ground. That is until I noticed that this place had obviously seen better days. Rusting fence around the tennis courts, buildings in need of paint, and of course the rooms had a medicinal smell similar to a hospital (“Of Course!” I thought – “Old People”). My father was more silent than normal. He would usually be making some comment how he was going to spend his time. He was just walking around eye-balling the place. My parents friends met us in the lobby and it was then that I discovered where my father got this bright idea – his buddy. His friend reminded me of Jack Tripper’s neighbor Larry (from Three’s Company). While his friend went on about how great this place was with the tennis, the golf, and the streams, my father walked around with a disgusted look. That disgusted look remained during dinner (which was infested with the elderly). When we got back to the room, he made the announcement: “Pack up your things, we are getting the hell out of here tomorrow”. And that is exactly what we did. We hopped in the car the next morning and drove the 4+ hours in silence to… The Jersey Shore.

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