I can say with pride my wife Lisa is a "professional vacationer." It's not enough the woman works long hours at her regular job, but say the word "vacation," and her fingers start flying all over the keyboard, checking out websites, looking for the best available deals at various destinations.
You see, the problem with using a travel agency is they basically suggest to you all the ways you can have leisurely fun. There are no guarantees that once you get there you'll actually participate in things like para-sailing, hang gliding or horseback riding. They look good in the pictures, but I like to come back home alive. It's why I take so much stock in the activities Lisa plans for a trip. A lot of places, she's already been. She knows the lay of the land. But, most importantly, she takes great pains to ensure we're going to take advantage of vacation pursuits both of us will enjoy.
This has not been the case in most of my life. Even the prospect of embarking on a vacation scared me so profoundly that when the National Lampoon's Vacation movies came out, I was the only one in the theater who never laughed. The scripted family chaos was too close to home to be funny. We were the black Griswalds! Taking a vacation conjured up visions of some "death march" to get there before hotel check-in time. My usually affable grandpa, rather than stopping at highway rest stops, sternly enforced the "urinate in a can" rule until we got to our location. His kind eyes would morph into those of a steely eyed Transformer as he and the steering wheel melded into one determined machine.
Even after arriving at a chosen vacation spot, we were never guaranteed we would find peace and serenity. I have only my brother Larry as personal witness to the family's annual two-week treks from Fulton, Missouri, to Las Vegas. The prospect of six people riding shoulder to shoulder in one car going across the desert never appealed to me, so I'd come up with some lame excuse not to go. Besides, everybody going knew there was one place in all of Vegas that couldn't be avoided. It was some off-the-Strip lounge where my mother, yearly mind you, wanted to see a comedian named "Cookie Jar." He was touted as a poor man's Redd Foxx. Larry says his jokes were so off-color and downright obscene people started heading for the exits within the first five minutes of his act. But apparently my mother would laugh so hard tears would come to her eyes. She also raved about him because after his shows he'd come to her table and remember her name. Wow! When you're playing to an audience of 10 people that's pretty amazing, alright.
As I became a parent, mapping out summer camp for the children was just as challenging as mulling over the family vacation. While living in Florida, we chose to send the boys off to a four-week Bible camp. It's not that we were all that religious, but we figured there'd be plenty of healthy physical activities to occupy their minds and bodies. Week one went really well. We visited them just to make sure all was good. They chattered about canoeing and hiking. We couldn't have been more pleased. But, just before the start of the final week, they came home for a brief respite. At dinner, they were strangely silent, until we started to chow down. Then, as if in some Children of the Corn cult-like trance, they rose to announce: "If you and mom don't change your ways, you will be part of the heathen savages that will be engulfed in the fiery pit of Hell, where Satan will eternally torture you until your heads fall off and they'll be eaten by rats!"
No, we didn't send them back for the final week of camp.
All of which brings me back to Lisa's marvelous plans for a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where we will be when you read this article. It's one of those all-expenses pre-paid trips where you eat and drink to your heart's content. There are blue skies and lovely Pacific Ocean beaches. However, just before we left, I caught my wife staring off into space. I asked what was wrong. She said, "Ah, nothing. It's just that I've got a lot of work to do to take you on vacation," and I said, "It'll be fine. I checked. Cookie Jar is still in Vegas."