Bad Summer Vacations: At Least They’re Memorable

[Part 2 of a 3-part series on vacations. Part 1: 7/28/10]

My most memorable vacation—in a bad way—was a road trip to the Grand Teton National Park. Ah yes, I remember it well…

It was June 1966. That’s 6/66. You do the math. My family and I were going camping—at a campsite. The kind of place where you pitch a tent and sleep on the ground! We were not mountaineering people. Or even outdoorsy people. My Dad’s idea of the great outdoors was a round of golf. For me it was watering the lawn in suburbia. This could not be good…

Wyoming was 950 miles from our starting point in Buena Park, CA. My Dad borrowed a camper and a trailer from his good friend, Gumdrops the Clown. (Yes, he was a real live clown—the kind who entertained at kids’ birthday parties. (But not mine. Because I didn’t think he was funny.) Gumdrops was his stage name. His real name is Bill. One of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. I wished he hadn’t been so nice and loaned us his camping vehicles.

Back to the road trip. This was during the six weeks in summer visitation thing that children of divorce have to endure. Had it been a trip with just my Dad and siblings, I might have liked it a tiny bit. Or at least have tried to like it. But add in the evil Black-Haired Spaghetti and her evil Dopey Spawn and that’s a recipe for torture, disaster, and really crappy food.

My nose was out of joint (a phrase from back then) from start to finish. Sitting in the back of the crowded camper, going through the hot California desert through the hotter Nevada desert to the hellish Utah desert was the TORTURE part.

The only thing that saved me was Tiger Beat Magazine. TG I brought a few issues with me. I read them over and over, looking at pictures of the Beatles and Paul Revere and the Raiders (two of my favorite groups), drooling over Peter Noone (who at the time was known only as Herman’s Hermit—loved him!) and Cher—wishing I could be as cool. Or my hair was as long.

Back then (maybe it still does?) Tiger Beat printed the lyrics to popular songs. I memorized the words to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s song “Summer in the City.”

“Hot town, summer in the city,

Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty…”

 Little did I know how gritty things would get…

Don’t ask me why my Dad allowed the Black-Haired Spaghetti to drive the camper—because she couldn’t drive a regular car. (I recall many slam-on-the brake incidents.) But that just goes to show you he was under a spell the entire time he associated with that pasta dish. [Note: She also couldn’t fly an airplane, but that’s a whole other story.]

We barreled down the highway—mowing past cars, kicking up dust behind us. Somewhere in the middle of Nowhere, Utah, the camper started to sway side to side. The four of us kids got tossed around in our seats like a carnival ride. We thought it was fun!

Then the camper violently rocked side to side. Now more scary than fun. Out the back door of the camper we could see the trailer fishtailing out of control across the lanes.

Then as a car on the other side of the highway drove toward us, the trailer swung into its lane and BAM! There was a loud crunch and squealing sound. We stopped so fast we flew from the back end of the camper to the front.

Luckily no one was hurt. The Spawn started crying. My sister, brother and I looked at each other with the same thought, “What an idiot driver!”

I don’t remember what happened to the other car and passengers. But our borrowed trailer was bashed in and the trailer hitch on the bumper of the camper had been ripped off. We had to wait for the police and a tow truck to rescue us.

In the meantime, the inside of the trailer was a wreck. The windows had been left open and tons of desert dirt and sand covered the walls, counters, and seating areas. The worst part was that in the crash, the refrigerator door and cupboards had flown open and food containers had smashed all over.

There was mustard on the walls; peanut butter on the couch; jelly on the sink; yogurt on the floor. Milk had splattered everywhere. Same with the Cheerios. And everything was mixed with dirt and sand.

This was the DISASTER part.

And guess who had to clean it up? I was furious, as I didn’t cause the crash. But the even more awful part was that there was no water from the trailer faucets. I had to try to clean everything with dry paper towels. All I succeeded in doing was smearing around the food into a gooey gritty mess.

We were towed to a gas station repair shop. We were stuck there for what seemed like forever. Finally the hitch was fixed and we were back on the road—with a different driver.

By the time we made it to Wyoming, all I wanted to do was go home. The campground was one big dirt pit. There was nothing fun to do and I felt like a giant dirt clod the whole time. Herman’s Hermit would never like me in this condition!

The Black-Haired Spaghetti couldn’t cook in a regular kitchen with a stove and she cooked even worse at a campsite. I wondered how many days it took to starve to death.

On the way home we stopped in Jackson Hole. At a Western Store I made my Dad buy me a real cowboy’s rawhide bullwhip. My Dad didn’t even ask why I wanted it or how much it cost. (I think the guilt had set in.) I had to have something to remember the trip with.

I decided to fling the whip around and learn to cultivate a “don’t mess with me” personality—like Calamity Jane meets Wild Bill Hickok. I got pretty good at it. With whip in hand, no one came near me.

It may have been the worst summer vacation of my life. But I got a good story and a new attitude out of it.

For more stories about the Black-Haired Spaghetti, here’s a good one:

One Comment

  • Jill Davey said:

    My dad was/is Gumdrops. Bill Davey. Sorry he loaned out our vehicle. He’s a very generous man. We had many great camping trips. Sorry yours didn’t turn out so great.

    Saturday, December 22, 2012