Murphy’s Law and Family Road Trips

Have you ever had the feeling that no matter how well you plan a family road trip, it’s inevitable that something is going to go wrong? Over the years, I’ve almost come to expect that Murphy is going to come along for the ride but I’ve also learned that being flexible and ‘rolling with the punches’ can turn many of these mishaps into some of our best family memories.
I like to get on the road early. Pack the vehicle the night before, no problem. Make sure the outlet works in the back of the van by plugging in the cooler, great idea. Turning the key on said van the next morning and hearing that sad little click that tells you the battery is dead – not good. You can see where I’m going with this. So, after unplugging the offending cooler that had sucked the lifeblood from our battery and getting hubby to boost the van, we were finally ready to hit the road. Lesson learned…or so you would think.

We’ve all heard the saying about too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the broth, well I can tell you that having too many girls in a mini-van can cause a dead battery! On our first stop in Helena, each girl thought the other had unplugged the cooler. Auto club call number one. In Denver, same thing, auto club call number two. Before call number three became a possibility we stopped at the next auto supply store and purchased one of those booster boxes you charge up and carry along with you. We’ve upgraded since then, our new one charges, boosts, pumps up tires and has an emergency light. We don’t leave home without it.

As you can see, having plans and remembering to follow these plans are two very different things. You would think that while traveling with a baby there are certain items that are standard to pack…like diapers. Fortunately, we decided to stop for a tea break near a Walmart when we realized the newly purchased box of Huggies hadn’t come along for the ride. As I said, having plans, and a packing list, are only as good as your ability to follow them.

That wasn’t the only time that a diaper bag got us in trouble on the road. After carefully laying out our route for the day to include enough time for a stop at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, we did a little shopping at the local drug store for a few baby items. Quick in, quick out, back on the road…”Mom, where’s the diaper bag?” Don’t panic! Get off of the interstate at next exit, turn around, drive for 45 minutes…find the bag safe and sound in the drug store, having been turned in by the woman who found it in a grocery cart in the parking lot! Thank goodness for honest people. We did make it to the arch that day but our visit reminded me of the Griswald’s quick stop there in the Vacation movie.

No Huggies on the windshield this time

I can’t say that traveling with a diaper bag is all bad though. I remember one particular night when it came in very handy. We were traveling to Atlanta, Georgia in August. We stopped at a roadside fruit stand where fuzzy round peaches were calling to called to us with their sweet deliciousness. Driving again, we were having a terrific time, singing along to our favorite tunes and enjoying the spoils of our fruit stand visit. Then the rains began. And the wind. On top of this, one of our wipers lost its blade and practically embedded itself in our windshield. It was the passenger side but we still had to deal with it. I can guarantee you that Huggies are super absorbent and can hold up through a tropical storm. I don’t remember who suggested it but our fix got us to the next Walmart where we picked up a new wiper blade. Disaster averted…or so we thought. As it turned out, the wiper was never the same again and wore a diaper for the remainder of our trip…regularly changed due to the rain of course. (Only a vehicle of four women and a baby would come up with something like this!)

On another rainy day, this time in California, we drove up into the Hollywood Hills. Driving around the curving streets, we came upon a house that was partially built but looked almost abandoned. I carefully steered around the mess of construction debris on the road out front of it as we made our way down the hill toward Roscoe’s for lunch (best chicken and waffles around.) Driving along Hollywood Boulevard, I thought I heard a clicking sound so I opened my window but with all the traffic and rain, thought I must have imagined it. Not so. Our nail impaled tire held up to somewhere near the Nevada State Line…hello auto club. Back on the road with our donut tire, we were excited to see a sign on the side of the highway boasting ‘Tires Repaired’. Just what we needed.

We thought we were in ‘Area-51’ when the lone clerk had to wake up the repairman who was already sound asleep in his trailer out back. Or maybe it was because of all the pictures of aliens hanging on the walls. But we were assured this was ‘Area-52’ by the slogans on the souvenir T-shirts and postcards (although these also depicted aliens…) No matter, the repair was completed and each of us left with an ice cold soda…in a slightly dusty bottle. It seems they didn’t get a lot of business.

There was another construction site that caused me travel stress. Remember when the Griswolds got to Wally World and it was closed? (No, Disneyland wasn’t closed when we got there. That would be unthinkable…although we did go to Yellowstone National Park once and it WAS closed but that’s another story.)

Arriving at Yellowstone to find it closed is not a lot of fun

It wasn’t the theme park that caused my near breakdown, it was the hotel that wasn’t there. After dropping two of the girls and our grandson off at the park, our eldest daughter and I went to check in at the new SpringHill Suites that I had booked. I know the area well and I drove right to where it should have been…but it wasn’t there…at least it wasn’t there in the form of a hotel with a front desk…and walls…and rooms…panic was setting in as I decided I must have had the address wrong in my mind. V looked up the reservation and read out the address…yep, this was the place. Tears were beginning to blur my vision as I insisted on driving just a little way up the road, the hotel couldn’t just not be there. Turning around the corner, we now saw the sign…”Coming soon SprinHill Suites by Marriott.” Tears running down my cheeks, I had no idea what to do. On a busy weekend in Anaheim, we were without a room.

Our hotel when we arrived

There is one thing I can count on about my eldest daughter, she is guaranteed to keep her head when her mother is losing hers. She calmly explained to her now sobbing mother that this was Marriott’s mistake, not mine and that they were going to fix it. She then calmly directed me to the Marriott just a couple of blocks away where she insisted our problem would be taken care of. I must have looked like a crazy woman, swiping at my cheeks with a soggy kleenex and trying to keep myself together as I approached the friendly looking clerk at the elite desk.

How I must have looked to the desk clerk

“How can I help you?”

“You can tell me that the construction site on the corner is NOT the hotel where I have a reservation for tonight.” Sniffle, sniffle. Hand him my platinum elite card.

“Not again,” hands fresh kleenex to the woman having a meltdown in front of his desk as he checks the system, “sorry to say, yes, that is where you have a reservation. You are the second person that’s happened to this week but I promise you we’ll take care of you.”

At that point, I didn’t care what else he had to say. I only heard his promise to take care of us. And they did. Even though the hotel was packed and they didn’t have any large rooms available, they managed to squeeze us into a smaller room by taking out some of the furniture and adding a rollaway. We weren’t complaining at that point, it was a room, it had beds and walls. The girls laugh about it now, remembering our ‘cozy’ stay.

Yes, I would have to say that the ‘missing hotel’ incident was the worst ‘punches’ I have experienced but, in a way, one of our best vacation memories.

(Note: Marriott did compensate us for our distress on a future stay.)

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