Family vacations

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.