Road trip: destination Bennington, Vt. We're all psyched to escape from the ongoing everyday multitasking insanity for a weekend of serious R&R.
We put our hands together, sing a few verses of "Kumbaya," give a group hug and make a pact that no one checks their email or calls anyone but a family member on their cellphone.
I'm sure there are some hard-core family road trip veterans out there, laughing to themselves and thinking that's pretty optimistic of us, as a family vacation is always a potential petri dish for dysfunctional family behavior. Hey, one can always hope.
After a couple of false starts -- first, so Erin can make sure the cats have enough food and water and then so Kelly can grab sunscreen and one more outfit, which she stuffs into her already bursting-at-the-seams luggage -- we hit the road. My daughters subscribe to the road trip axiom that there is no such thing as packing too many outfits, especially if there are lots of hot guys around.
Five minutes later, I'm pulling out of the gas station when I notice a woman driving a Suburban, talking on her cellphone, suddenly swing wide into the station and head straight toward me. I'm honking like a maniac; she finally stops just before grill kisses grill and with an irritatingly insouciant look, shrugs her shoulders and mouths, "Oops, sorry!"
I'm on the verge of losing it, when my levelheaded wife nudges me and says, "Stay calm dear, it's not worth it. Just let it go and remember we're in no rush." She's right, but there's a part of me that would like to dunk the Suburbanite's cellphone in the coffee she grabbed when she finally came to a stop.
Soon I'm on I-95, wondering if my daughters might have Googled "Hot Guys in Vermont," when from the back seat comes the "Dad, can we stop at McDonald's for breakfast?" chorus.
After an hour, both Kelly and Erin ask their standard "how much longer?" question way too often and I of course continue to give my standard, "about 10 more minutes" response. Miraculously, my three self-proclaimed copilots and backseat drivers are reasonably well behaved as we wind up Route 8 and then Route 7 into Vermont; I even get to listen to some Neil Young.
After passing what could double for a haunted house on a Hollywood back lot, we pull into The Four Chimneys Inn. Our accommodation -- the two-level Ice House -- is perfect. Upon arrival we're each given a breakfast menu so we can make our selections for the next morning. Sanctuary!
Breakfast is delicious and we decide that it's a perfect day for a ride up to Manchester to check out the outlet stores. Let me rephrase that: It is a perfect day to go shopping by a vote of 3-1.
When we arrive in Manchester it is outlet madness. The tourists are do-si-do-ing from outlet to outlet, shopping bags dangling from hands and shoulders, posing a definite traffic hazard as they do. You can never tell where a tourist will move next in his search for the ultimate discount, maple syrup or snapshot. Boutiques and quaint little shops can put a tourist into a hypnotic trance in which he is overwhelmed with the need to consume.
Marveling at sights or possible shopping bargains, tourists have been known to madly gesticulate in an effort to get a companion's attention. A tourist flailing his arms like a windmill is a wondrous yet horrifying sight, like a wind-up toy gone berserk.
I believe we are all tourists at one time or another and if mankind has anything in common it might be just that. Columbus may have been an explorer, but first and foremost he was a tourist. Even the voyage of the Pilgrims might be considered a precursor to the modern-day cruise. I know that those UFOs people are always spotting are just curious intergalactic tourists and I wonder if Earth is part of a package tour.
Reasonably sane people turn into ravenous shutterbugs while on vacation. Every shot has the potential to be an award-winning Kodak moment. I've come back from vacations, and wondered what possessed me to shoot the seagulls dining on white bread, and who are these seven smiling ladies taking my picture as I take theirs and will I end up on the seven Smith sisters web site?
Tourists take the same pictures. We're constantly positioning members of our families in front of the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace, on occasion asking others of our ilk to snap the picture so we're all there for the historical record.
We all need a vacation from time to time and the timing couldn't have been better for our Vermont trip. As we head home with more stuff than when we left, Erin takes some more pictures for the road and my wife intones her, "Barry, remember, we're in no rush" mantra. I just smile and put on the "Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East" CD.
Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse healthcare agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in Darien. He's also the director of the countywide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. Check out his blog at http://blog.ctnews.com/halpin/ Email him at email@example.com.