Monday, August 07, 2006


Bad Trip, Good Vacation

It seemed like a good idea: pile the kids into the car, and head for the ocean. Spend some time on the beach, playing in the sand and frolicking in the water, with brief breaks for ice cream and/or pizza. What could possibly go wrong?


In brief: the hotel’s air conditioning was ineffective even when the electricity wasn’t cut off (!), the breeze came off the mainland towards the ocean (thereby destroying any cooling effect), the sand flies were thicker and more aggressive than I had ever seen, The Girl was attacked by a wasp/bee/dragonfly/big honkin’ insect that got itself caught in her hair, The Boy and The Girl were utterly spooked by the waves and refused to go near the water, the beach was hotter and muggier than any I’ve ever experienced, the shower stall in the hotel room was small enough that I thwacked my elbow on the sliding door, the room was hotter than the outdoors even with the a/c running, and the power went out.

We came home the same day we left. The original plan was to stay for several days.


We’ve stayed at cheap and cheesy beach motels before, so our aesthetic expectations were fairly low. But for it to be hotter inside than outside when it’s 100 degrees outside just ain’t right. (Celsius conversion – think body temperature, plus one.) We were worried that The Girl would get heatstroke if we stayed.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do heat, as a rule, and I consider central air one of the great scientific advances of human history. This is even more true now.

My new rule: ‘window units’ are not air conditioning. They are gestures toward air conditioning. They’re a way of saying “we agree, in concept, that air conditioning would be useful here.” We’ve decided that future vacations will be at hotels with national names and central air. If any independent types want to get my attention, they are free to install and advertise central air. Otherwise, I’m not havin’ it.

Once we got home, the rest of the vacation was better. A few vignettes from the last few days:

The Boy: Can you say ‘no’?

The Girl: No!

The Boy: Can you say ‘yes’?

The Girl: Uh-huh!

This weekend I took The Boy’s training wheels off his bike and we took him to the parking lot of the nearby elementary school. Verbalizing to a five-year-old how to stay balanced on a moving bike is harder than you’d think. This is especially true when the five-year-old in question is something of a selective listener. My lower back hasn’t quite recovered yet, but these are the things parents do.

We’ve also been working on reading. TB and I sat down on Sunday with Danny and the Dinosaur, and he read me the first thirty pages, working his phonetics just as hard as he could. He needed help with a few words (“night,” “knock”), and the speed was low, but hey. Bit by bit. And his satisfied cackle when he finished a page was totally worth it.

The Girl is becoming pickier at dinnertime, often refusing to eat unless dinner comes with a show. So I put some food on her spoon and hold it up to my ear, pretending to react as it tells me it wants to be in her belly. Then I do what we’ve called “the belly dance,” in which I do my distinctive vocalese rendering (in every sense of the word) of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” while dancing the spoon around until it reaches her mouth. (I base my version on Randy Weston’s, from his Portraits of Monk.) This usually works for about a half-dozen bites.

We had one meal free of the belly dance. Through the generous help of The Wife’s parents, she and I actually had a grownups-only night out. Words cannot convey the glory of sitting in a real restaurant with the most attractive woman in the place, eating something unpronounceable and not cutting anybody else’s food. We even went to a play, which was great fun and surprisingly good. It felt like we were regressing to our twenties, but in a good way.

Now it’s back to the salt mines. Here’s hoping the a/c works…

Your post reminded me of this classic response to poor hotel service:
Look at the bright side: such a holiday lets you appreciate your own house more.
I just returned from a (great) camping trip; ah! my own bed!
Reminds me of a trip (with no kids along) to St. Louis back in the 1980s, mostly to see the Cardinals play the Dodgers. No beach. The motel experienced a fire a couple of days before we arrived, killing the (central) air. St. Louis in August. During the hottest year in the 1980s (I know, I know, we'd think that cool now). No A/C. No fan (until we bought one). No discount on the room (until I threatened...).
Welcome back.

The dinner out, at least, sounded great!
I can't believe I'm the first saying this, but your description of your dinnertime ritual is hilarious. well-appreciated.
the bike thing -- okay, i'm no expert here, but recently went through this with an eight year old who was struggling with it. we finally had success when we put her on a bike that was small enough that her feet could easily reach the ground when she couldn't keep the bike 'up'. same for my five year old, who became determined when her older sister started riding without training wheels. took all of a day or two -- with very little help from me -- and they both had it down.
Oy, that sounds like a vacation from hell - but whatever doesn't kill you makes for good blog fodder, right?

Wow, I can't believe The Boy is reading that well already - most excellent!

And as for the night out - it's like salve on a burn, isn't it? Just those few hours of sanity. And what do you mean, like in our 20s but in a good way. Is there a bad way? And does my asking that question mean I'm aging poorly? ;)
Okay, I have to deal with this... The summer is, by definition "hot." In fact, I had this discussion recently, where we commented that while it has been a hot couple of weeks, we all felt "hey, it's AUGUST after all--it is supposed to be hot!" All one has to do is check the news stories from the 50s-70s about frying eggs on sidewalks. Summer has always been hot.

All that being said, Doc, you wrote "During the hottest year in the 1980s (I know, I know, we'd think that cool now)."

Actually, you had me doing some digging. Obviously we remember our most recent discomfort as "the worst" and long for the better days. That in some measure contributes to our always thinking that global warming is somehow palpable.

Here's the facts:

St Louis Highest MEAN Temp from the 80s:
95 29-Aug 1984
This was by no means "the record" either, it was the 7th highest mean. The dates for the first six? None from the 90s, or even THIS century (2000's)
1901 and 1901.

Now, let's deal with the "highest highs" on record for St Louis. Again, the 1954 temps lead the pack. Again followed by 1934, with an odd '36 thrown in there.

Don't just take my word for it though, go to:
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