Family vacations: The stuff of nightmares
By LEIGH ANN WHIDDON
It was 6:30 a.m. My dad came into the hotel room and said, “Well, I just gave away all my cigarettes, all my change and got propositioned three times.”
We were in a room in a hotel in Washington, D.C., two blocks from the White House.
After years of begging, pleading, and filling my parents with stories about what an educational experience it would be, we finally made a family trip to Washington, D.C.
We were still living overseas at the time, so when school was out, my Mother loaded my brother and me on a plane and brought us to Victoria, Texas, to spend the summer with my grandparents. When my dad’s vacation came up, he was going to ﬂy to the U.S. and meet us in Washington.
I While we were in the states resting and relaxing, my Mother was in charge of last-minute arrangements. It was fairly obvious that we were going to need a place to stay. The experienced travel- ers that we were, Mother made her own arrangements. She picked up the phonebook, called the only hotel chain with an “800” number, and booked us for a week at the Ramada Inn.
The time for the big trip came. We ﬂew into Dulles Airport. We were there, my dad was there, and my aunt who drove in from Virginia was there.
Things went downhill from there. We got all of our luggage and piled into the car. It was a compact and not designed for three adults, two squirmy kids and their luggage. We looked like circus clowns.
Daddy drove. Right into a dead-end dirt road in the pouring rain. Muttering something about, “Touring the 13 original states just trying to ﬁnd the hotel,” Daddy eventually got the car out of the mud.
Between a map and divine inspiration, we ﬁnally found the hotel.
Daddy ran into to check us in and get the key. To park the car, we had to go around the building, into the alley and put a key into the locked garage. Right away, Mother was not impressed.
Mother was less impressed when she found out that our adjoining rooms were on opposite ends of the hall and that the key for one room opened the other room. Actually, the problem was that Daddy read the number wrong.
Right then and there it was decided that we would all stay in one room. Probably a good idea given the caliber of patrons in the lobby.
Trying to call the front desk, Daddy ﬂipped through the phone book to find the number. He squinted his eyes at the book and muttered something about the hotel not being able to afford to have its telephone number in bold print.
My brother and I just sat on the ﬂoor and tried not to laugh. We ﬁnally got settled down for the night. Daddy still had major jet-lag so about 5 a.m. he was wide awake and ready to go.
He decided to take a walk. That was probably a mistake. After the run-in with the cigarette and change peddlers and three hookers, he decided to move us to safer quarters.
After spending the entire morning on the telephone in another hotel lobby, we ﬁnally found a place to stay. t I assume it was a pretty safe place since I don’t remember it. ﬂ’
Time to be a tourist. We had planned to visit the White House, The Smithsonian museums, Arlington National Cemetery and any- thing else we could cram in.
Mother noticed it ﬁrst. We were walking down Pennsylvania Avenue and passed in front of a McDonald’s full of people. A fight had broken out involving a knife, or may- be it was a gun. Mother wasn’t sure. She also might have mentioned something about ﬂying furniture. We didn’t stop.
Some days I wonder why anyone would want to go to Washington, D.C. Then I think. It was worth Daddy losing all his cigarettes and half his money to see the ﬂag that inspired Frances Scott Key to write the “Star Spangled Banner.” (Mother missed it, she was tired of museums.)
It was worth cramming into a little bitty car to see the Declaration of Independence written by brave men who risked their own lives and freedoms, as well as that of their families‘.
It was worth sleeping on the ﬂoor that ﬁrst night to ﬁnd what it was like to be dwarfed by the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
It was worth spending all morning on the telephone to visit the White House and see Boy Scouts swarming around counting the number of pil- lars in the front hall. (We will be eternally grateful to the lady who spent all morning ﬁnding us a room at a hotel besides the one she worked at.)
It was worth getting lost in the rain in the middle of the night to visit the Vietnam Memorial and feel all the feelings that go along with name after name of all the men who died fighting in that country. And to look at the statue of President Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial and come to terms with the fact that he was truly one of the greatest men who ever lived.
Mother has not been allowed to book a hotel room since then.