Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Family Vacations

Unless you count the few nights we spent in a local hotel when an ice storm knocked out our electricity in 1967, I never went on a family vacation as a child. The ice storm was fun and all, but what I remember most vivdly about that "adventure" was that there was a Stuckey's next door to the hotel where we stayed.

Santa's workshop annex, located in Petersburg, VA of all places!

Since we were cooped up with nothing to do, my parents pawned me off on the Stuckey's proprietor, where I spent hours fondling the "souvenirs" and ogling the stacked boxes of candy. I think someone eventually bought me a rubber-tipped spear to get me to shut up about wanting this or wanting that, but that Stuckey's to me had to have been Santa's Virginia-based overstock outlet. There was stuff everywhere, all designed to get the luckless traveler to part with his money (as if anyone really wanted a keepsake "souvenir" from a stop at the Stuckey's in Petersburg, VA.) 

Okay, I am exaggerating just a bit. I do remember one family vacation that we took when I was in second grade. For some reason, my mother and stepfather determined that it was important that we go to Atlanta with another family to celebrate Thanksgiving. I know my mom didn't like to cook, but this seemed like an overly complicated way to avoid making stuffing and basting a turkey. 

This was my first time ever on an airplane. I had never before considered the physics of flight, but when we were standing outside on the tarmac (which is what you did in those days–loading bridges hadn't been invented yet) looking at the Piedmont Airlines plane that was to be our conveyance, I had the epiphany that planes were made of metal, were heavier than air, and went waaaay up in the sky. And at that instant was born my fear of heights. I looked up at my Mom with tears in my eyes and told her that I hoped they all had a good time and that I would miss them but that there was no way I was getting on that plane and that I would be waiting for them when they got home.

Me? On that? No way.
That, of course, is not how it played out. Despite assurances from my mother that flying was just as safe as dueling with pistols or bullfighting, I had to be dragged by the family onto the plane, where I spent two terror-filled hours wetting my pants every time we hit turbulence.

Safely on the ground in Georgia, we checked into an Atlanta-area Marriott to begin this Thanksgiving vacation.  The stated purpose of the trip was to take all of us kids to Six Flags Over Georgia, but we also found time to visit the Cyclorama, Stone Mountain, the revolving restaurant atop the Regency Hotel, and Underground Atlanta, a several-block-long promenade of stores, bars, and restaurants that stood below modern day street level.  Underground Atlanta?  Even  the name was scary, conjuring up images of the mutant humans who lived below ground in the 1970 movie "Beneath the Planet of the Apes".

"Hello and welcome to Underground Atlanta."
As we entered the underground city I fully expected to meet Dr. Zaius or be captured by the gorilla army.  My guard was up and my senses were heightened but at some point I and my seven-year-old attention span got sidetracked and I got separated from everyone else.

Dang, I had been abandoned in the Forbidden Zone!

Perhaps I was in shock from the ties that had just been bought for my stepbrother Will and me, the sight of which today confirms that people did lots of drugs back then.

We had to go all the way to Atlanta to buy these ties.
Of course, I panicked (again) and started crying (again).  I didn't like being up in the air and now I didn't like being lost in the underground city surrounded by mutants and running from the gorilla hordes of America's apocalyptic future. Through my tears I thought I saw one of our group on the famous Underground Atlanta streetcar, so I ran there hoping to be reunited with the family that apparently wasn't aware–or more likely by this time was glad–that I was missing.  There was no family on the streetcar but I did find a policeman who helped me eventually locate my missing adults.

"Sure, that's what they all say."
My stepbrother and I ran wild at Six Flags.  We broke every rule in the park.  The sign that said "Please Do Not Bump Cars" to us meant that we should try our best to ram the race cars into each other. We ate a bunch of junk before getting on the centrifugal force ride, hoping that we would throw up on everybody.We ran when we were supposed to walk and walked when people wanted us to run. We hit each other when we were standing in lines for rides.  We overdosed on sugar. We were a parental nightmare.  It was awesome.  For us, at least.  We were the movie "Stepbrothers" before the movie "Stepbrothers" was a movie, except I never touched his drum set.

No wonder we never went on another family vacation.