Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The best vacations are the worst vacations, and the worst vacations are the best vacations


So, it's finally February.

If it was Halloween, January's costume would've been March or April. We'd all go outside and hang clothes on the line, prance and dance and whistle around the house while we did our spring cleaning, go online and get excited about this year's spring fashions. 

Then? The next day? – BAM! Snowstorm! Weather bomb! Below-zero temps cold enough to freeze your nose water into one long and very elegant snot icicle! Oh wait. It's not March or April. Spring isn't almost here, after all. It's still just January. Ha ha, January. You really did a number on us there! You are so funny (I fucking hate you, January).

So since this winter seems longer than the one on Game of Thrones, I'd sure love a vacation right about now.

What I wouldn't give now to be boarding a plane full of rowdy Newfoundlanders wearing flip-flops and straw hats, their tangerine “base tans” lighting the airport up like the Sprung Greenhouse, to head down to Cuba or the Dominican or Mexico. I don't even care if the Faculty of Business Administration's Class of 2014 is on there, all cozy in their jogging pants that say, “Juicy” on the arse, gettin' all riled up about their upcoming week of puking pink and blue tropical drinks all over the pool deck and giving themselves sun stroke.

Just. Get. Me. Outta here.

But, I can't afford a vacation right now, I've been too busy paying for diapers and booger wipes and baby formula.

I thought about doing what my friend did when we were in university, which was to blast the heat in her bedroom and open the window to “create summer”.

But the fact that I now have to pay my own electric bill has deterred me from that idea.

So instead, I just have to fondly recall vacations of yesteryear. 

The most memorable trips are totally the ones where something very uncomfortable and/or potentially life-threatening happened. So, I'm gonna daydream about my worst-best vacations of life, thus far.


Florida, 1988.

For five weeks and with four other families, our family retreated to Isla Key in St. Pete's Beach. We all stayed in the same condo complex, which I'm sure went over real well with the residents.

After all, what Floridian wouldn't love a hoard of Newfoundlanders who constantly took over the entire pool deck and hot tub and had loud BBQs late into the nights? Our home videos of that trip consists of a LOT of footage of the condo complex – a serene-looking tropical paradise – with the sounds of shrieking children coming from all angles. I really feel bad for anyone staying there who was not from Newfoundland.


My shorts pulled up past my belly button, my brother's Alf muscle shirt, and the leashes my parents made us wear the whole time we were at Disney World (I believe this shot is from Epcot Centre) make this shot simply wonderful.

One day, my friend Stephanie got stuck under the water, underneath a floaty pool chair that my brother was on, and almost drowned. She flailed around, beat on the bottom of the chair, yet somehow couldn't manage to reach that surface. For some reason it took us all a few minutes to hear her underwater screaming. I think we'd been playing some kind of game where we were trying to understand what each other were saying under the water. When she finally made it out, she leapt onto the pool deck and violently vomited her strawberry ice cream all over the shrubbery and a few of the deck chairs. Her mother was clearly humiliated, as the others who lounged around the pool with their books and Hawaiian Tropic glanced over in disgust and repulsion.


Pictured here are (L-R): Stephanie, looking like Sioux Chief Sitting Bull offering peace, and me, looking like Corky from Life Goes On.

Tijuana, 1989

When I was 10, our family and another family went to sunny California.

I was totally stoked. I had just gotten a sweet perm (after which Stephanie asked me, “Are you gonna be vain now?”), and must admit, was feeling pret-ty smug about my rockin' waves. 


Hell-o! What a difference a year and a perm makes, am I right guys?! 


In my mind, I looked just like Jesse Spano (but looking back, I looked more like Kimmy Gibler). Enamoured with the lustre and magic of Hollywood, I imagined myself running into Michael J. Fox on the street and having him fall in love with me.

We jumped on the plane - me with my new Canada shirt on because despite my fascination with Hollywood, I didn't want anyone mistaking me for an American. Due to my current obsession with pretty but cursed-with-poor-luck figure skater Josee Chouinard, I also decided to speak to the stewardesses with a French Canadian accent. My parents (and the flight attendants) must've thought I was a complete moron.

I loved the smell of the air when we stepped out of the plane. So hot you could smell the pavement and suntan lotion wafting through the atmosphere.

Our first stop was San Francisco, then onto L.A., finally finishing off the trip in San Diego. Since my parents hadn't booked our accommodations in advance (smooth move, guys), we were one night in San Diego without anywhere to stay. So because my parents were also hungry for some cheap leather, they decided to take us to beautiful Tijuana, Mexico.

Quite the learning experience, that was.

We left our rental car at the border and decided to cab it for the day and night we were there.

The two dads asked the driver to take us to our hotel. The driver weaved through very shady-looking streets lined with scruffy, smelly, frowning Mexicans who glared at us as we crawled past in the cab, which was probably going about 20. Silent and terrified, we were all thinking the same thing – that we were about to die a bloody death in the streets of Tijuana. We were destined to be on The National – that is, IF anyone ever found our remains.

Finally, we ended up back at the border. Buddy was obviously trying to scam us for more money.

What ensued was a somewhat heated argument between the other dad and the cabbie, after which we stupidly climbed back in his car. Why we didn't just get a cab, I'm not sure.

Anyways. We finally arrived at the hotel, where the surly cab driver passed the concierge our bags and muttered with disgust, “Canadians,” as he spit some Mexican tobacco onto the ground.

Our room at The Radisson was coated in a fine film of grease. The furniture, the bedding, the electronics, the Mexican Holy Bible – they were all sticky. The little girl in the family we were traveling with was afraid to lay her Zeddy teddy bear down anywhere because he might get dirty.

We decided to escape the filth to enjoy a nice meal at a sidewalk cafe.

The beautiful vista of naked, dirty babies crawling around on the street and large, bloody cow carcasses hanging in the shop windows was really quite alluring.

As the waiter made his way around the table to take our orders, a small Mexican with a sly look on his face and a wilting, yellow carnation sidled up to me and stroked the flower against my cheek.

She's 10.” my mother barked as he backed up, still staring me with an alarming Tim Curry sneer on his face.

Pictured: The Tim Curry Sneer.

I imagined what my life would be like if my parents somehow crossed the border back to California without me. While I would initially likely end up this dirty little man's child bride, I hoped I would eventually develop the tenacity and grit of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

This is how I imagine I would've looked at 11-years-old if my parents had left me in Tijuana.

Years later, they'd come back looking for me, and they'd hardly recognize me. A single tear would drip down my mother's face.

She's 10,” she would whisper to herself before collapsing into my father's arms – a heap of heaving sobs.

Yup, visiting Tijuana as a 10-year-old was quite the learning experience.

But, we did end up with some sweet leather coin purses.

**Interestingly enough, no photos of Tijuana could be found. It's a true story though, I swear.**

Rome, 2005.

I was just wrapping up a “Mind-the-Gap Year” in London with my then-on-again-off-again-boyfriend. By the time I was ready to head home, he was most-definitely off-again. The reason why he was off-again was because he told me he was going on a trip to Germany with some work friends, but I instead found his backpack full of porn upon his return, which made him confess that he'd actually gone to Amsterdam.

In my dramatic 25-year-old mind, this was as bad as cheating on me with a transvestite hooker, or giving me AIDS. I flew into a horrified, tearful, melodramatic frenzy, and moved to the loving protection of two gay friends - Marc and Dan – who I am forever grateful for.

On the tail end of my time there, mom and dad and a couple of their friends – we'll call them The Ryalls - happened to be vacationing in Italy, so I booked my sad ass a Ryan Air flight to meet them for a few days. I was tragically depressed at my very dramatic break-up, so a brief escape from London was just what I needed.

Stress was kind to my body, I must say. My face broke out in a horrifying rash and I resembled a minor burn victim.

Shortly after my arrival at the flat my parents and the Ryalls were all sharing, I hurled myself onto my parents bed and started bawling. Mom came in and consoled me while dad and The Ryalls sat awkwardly at the kitchen table attempting to make normal conversation. It must've been tricky trying to pretend there wasn't a bawling, retching girl with a face like Freddy Kruger wiping snot all over the bedspread in the next room.

I think I'm gonna throw up!” I'd wail, as mom lovingly rubbed my back.

I'm sure this is just what the Ryalls had in mind for their Roman holiday.

One day, my parents and I visited the lost city of Pompeii. I loved getting lost in the stories from long ago...seeing the bodies still in the same position they were in when they were covered in ash and pumice from the eruption of Mount Vesuvios. Many of the buildings – the amphitheatre, the shops, the public bath houses and toilets – were still remarkably in tact. The ghosts of the citizens were still trotting down the streets in their sandals and man-dresses, ordering up pints and bathing with each other in the public toilets and bath houses. It was the most amazing distraction.


Me, in Pompeii. I didn't allow many close-ups during this vacation.

Our tour guide was a sleek, aging Italian woman who reminded us of Sofia Loren. She weaved the stories of the people and the cataclysmic volcano eruption together with such artistry – her romantic accent enhancing the tales and sending us back to 79 AD.

It was too bad about the fat American we were fortunate enough to have in the group. Often found perched up on a wall or stump, presumably because he was too lazy to stand up with the rest of us, he became known as Humpty Dumpty.

Sofia Loren was explaining the meaning behind the breathtaking mosaic murals on the walls in the shops and bars that still glistened behind the ash. Humpty rudely injected his own colour to the tale, by adding,

Ah guess they couldn't afford to go to Wal-Mart and buy some paintings so they just drew stuff on the walls!” he looked around at everyone, laughing like a pig, waiting for everyone else to join in. No one joined in. Sofia glared at him with utter disgust, and executed the perfect Masterpiece Eyeroll.

We went back to Rome after the wonderful escape to do a little window shopping, when I looked down to realize that my wallet had been stolen from my back-pack.

I lost 300 Euros, and my credit and debit cards.

My ignorant and naive 25-year-old self felt like I would never get past this life devastation. Clearly, I was destined for a life of poor luck. I mean, come on. I was 25-years-old, had no career, no boyfriend – loooooo-serrrr!

I got on my cheap flight back to London, which left at 3am or something ridiculous like that, and arrived in London at 4am. Terrified I would get raped or murdered walking back to Marc and Dan's flat alone at that hour, I was gutted to have to leave my parents. I couldn't wait to come home out of it.

Looking back, despite my sorry state of mind and unfortunate skin condition, I sure am thankful for parents who fed me heaps of pizza and pasta and Italian gelato for a few days.



Thanks, Mom and Dad.




The Eastern Seaboard, 2008.

Myself and whatever-he-is (here-on-in known as, Chris) had been seeing each other for about a year, and an opportunity to take a trip together came up.

I was going to New York City for a conference, so we decided to add Boston and Philadelphia to the roster. We had friends in both places, so figured it would be a fairly cost-efficient trip (yes, we are somewhat cheap).

You learn new things about a person when you travel with them. Patience, coolness, an ability to navigate new places, whether they can interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures – to name a few.

So in my mind, the first trip together was kind of a big deal.

We had a picnic and he rowed me around in a boat in Central Park, we toured NBC, rode the Staten Island Ferry over to the Statue of Liberty, walked to the Brooklyn Bridge, I bought a fake D&G bag from Chinatown – we did most of the things you're supposed to do when you visit NYC for the first time. It was great.

New York is not why I'm telling this story.

Next stop, Philly. We had decided to jump on the Amtrak to get to the next two destinations, and fly home from Boston. In Philly we ate a cheesesteak, strolled amongst the brownstones in the Historic District, got a pic by the Liberty Bell, jumped up and down on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just like Rocky Balboa. Grand old time.

Before I discovered pedicures.

Philadelphia is not why I'm telling this story.

Last stop? Chris' friend dropped us off at the architecturally spectacular and historic Broad Street Station to head to our final destination – Boston.

Boston is not the reason I'm telling this story.

What happened on the way to Boston is the reason I'm telling this story.

When we were about a half hour outside of Boston, the train stopped working. We were stopped dead on the tracks. Our seats were right outside of the bathroom, which also stopped working. The smell of raw sewage was enough to choke you. Our romantic train ride along the eastern seaboard was now tainted with the smell of poop and pee.

Since we were in the front row and there was leg room in front of us, we had decided to keep our bags just in front of us. Which was great. Except then a leak sprung right above them and water started drenching our luggage. We were forced to remove our shirts from over our noses and mouths (which we were using to avoid the rancid stink of the bathroom) to rescue our bags.

I nearly barfed from the sickening odour – that of a rotting carcass. Or Louie Anderson after eating a beans feast.

But never fear – just six hours later, we were up and running again.

When we finally pulled into Boston South Station, my friend (who is also Chris' cousin) was there to pick us up. We stunk, and we knew it, and we knew it even more when we saw the look on her face when she hugged us.

But thanks be to Louie Anderson, not an hour later we were back at her house, showered, enjoying a hot, fluffy stack of pancakes drenched in butter and warm maple syrup from Mike's City Diner.


Florida, 2011.

We started with Florida, why not end with Florida?

Overall, this was your typical trip to Florida. Plenty of driving around in a Morty Seinfeld-esque boat, sipping Corona on the beach, enjoying trips to Publix supermarket, a day-trip to Universal Studios.

Our old man rental car. She was a peach.

On our second last day there, we met a couple from Atlanta on the beach – Jennifer and Derrell (pronounced Deh-rell). Derrell was half black-half white. We somehow got to chatting, and they told us they were getting married and were on vacation and checking out a possible venue for their vows.

It was our last night (thank God; more on this later) and we were heading out for dinner. But Jennifer and Derrell insisted that when we got back we should pop up to their condo.

We got a whole bunch a shrimp, c'mon up,” Derrell seemed proud of his shrimp.

So when we finished up at Arigato's, we visited Jennifer and Derrell.

They were staying with Jennifer's parents, and when we arrived at the door, they were all very drunk.

C'mon in!” slurred Jennifer's father, in his southern accent, beer spilling out of the corner of his mouth.

Jennifer's mother was already passed out in the bedroom, and as we sat down at their table she scuffed out in her underwear, scratching her butt, and went into the bathroom.

Once we were sitting down, one of the most mystifying conversations I've ever had unfolded.

The first thing Jennifer's dad spoke was an elaborate but very repetitive tale of how went to Italy with his work. He made and sold plastic containers to restaurants, apparently. How this warranted a trip to Italy, I'm not sure, but he was clearly enamoured with the history and art in Italy. Other conversations would start, and he'd still be talking about Italy with whoever would listen. Heck, sometimes no one had to be listening but himself. Although he repeated each line of the story approximately three times, his love for Italy was actually kind of sweet. He just luuuuved Italy!

Daaa-id,” wailed Jennifer. “Stop talkin 'bout Italy! All he talks about is Italy,” she said to me.

We heard about the time Derrell had the shit kicked out of him outside a bar by a group of thugs because he has white friends. We talked about the overall racism that still exists in Georgia. 

Oh, and we talked about the fact that Derrell didn't know how to read.

I just read this book about a girl...uhhh, she wuz stuck in this house...” Derrell couldn't remember the name of the book.

It's the Diary of Ann Frank, Derrell!” Jennifer barked impatiently. “He don't remember the name a anything,” she turned to me, taking a long, calming haul of her cigarette and rolling her eyes at the heavens.

She was obviously intelligent and quick compared to these other yokels. You could tell she was interested in literature, travel, and culture, and was yearning to break free of the small-mindedness and backwards ideology of Georgia. She seemed embarrassed by the things that came out of her father's and Derrell's mouths. And she was pretty – almost exotic-looking, with golden skin and bright blue eyes, like Milla Jovovich in Return to the Blue Lagoon.

Derrell spoke excitedly about his line of work.

Ah work in a plastic factory,” he explained. “We make just about any kind a plastic you can imagine...ketchup bottles, the tops to soda bottles, mustard bottles, plastic forks, plastic knives, plastic spoons...”

Derrell didn't sit down the entire time we were there. He paced back and forth, bouncing his skinny ass up and down on the balls of his feet, his gold chains clinking against his football jersey, which hung off him like a Helen Roper mumu.

Suddenly, a strange silence befell the room. 

Jennifer's father had stopped talking about Italy, and was staring into the abyss - clearly playing out some mystifying and fascinating scenario in his head.

Out of nowhere, like a southern coyote in the night, he yelled, “Chariots of Fah-yer!”

Daaa-id, yer not doin' Chariots of Fah-yer!” Jennifer was almost panicked.

Chris and I looked at each other with a mixture of intrigue and fear.

Whenever he's on a beach, he likes to strip down in his underwear and run up and down the beach singin' the Chariots of Fire song.” Jennifer reluctantly explained, obviously disgusted with this tradition.


Imagine this beautiful vista. Now, imagine a spindly, very white, southern man in his underwear running down it.

There was no way Jennifer's father was going to let us go without doing Chariots of Fire, that was quite obvious.

He shoved the camera into Jennifer's hands (she had to record this tradition each time it was enacted).

Chariots uv fah-yer! Chariuts uv fah-yer!” Derrell excitedly chimed in.

C'mon, we're goin' down to the beach!” proclaimed Jennifer's father.

Jennifer rolled her eyes and slammed her chair back. Snatched up her pack of smokes and stomped towards the door. Of course, we all followed.

Once we got onto the beach, Jennifer's father did what was promised. He stripped off all but his tighty-whities and ran off into the moonlight – the reflection of his gazelle-like strides glistening on the wet sand. Jennifer recorded it and didn't crack a smile. Darrell stood there drinking his cooler. It was a little awkward, to say the least.

When Jennifer's father returned, jubilant and refreshed from his freeing run down the beach, Chris and I made our exit.

We've got some packing to do, so thanks for everything,” he said, “It was great meeting you guys!”

It was great meetin' yew guys too,” Jennifer said, as Derrell lunged towards me and embraced me. His skeletal body wrapped its arms around my neck, and when he pulled away his pillow-y lips grazed my cheek and came dangerously close to my lips.

Oooooo! You tryin' ta make out with me!” he winked.

I laughed awkwardly and shot Chris a Let's get the hell out of here glance.

I often wonder what happened to Jennifer. She seemed like she was trapped in her situation but wanted to break free. I wonder if she ever managed to find something more than being a cashier at Sam's Club. I wonder if she and Derrell ever got married. I wonder if her dad ever got to go back to Italy. And if he did, I wonder if he did Chariots of Fire along the Spiaggia di San Vito lo Capo.

My personal favourite rendition of Vangelis.



3 comments:

Margaret Ryall said...

A good thing The Ryalls' were quite used to fits of the vapors! What would we have to talk about if holidays were picture perfect?

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Betty Cooper said...

The Florida trip was one of the best!!!!!!