The self-proclaimed Head of Household entered the kitchen where the rest of the family had been at their various activities: a declaration needed to be made.
Addressing each in turn, Head of Household stated: “Life Partner; Mother; 2.5 Children – ”
“Woof!” Child 0.5 replied.
“ – since none of you can agree upon the very important decision of where we should go on our summer vacation, I am pulling rank and telling you all where we are going to have the time of our lives this year.”
Child 1 whined, “But Mom, I really wanted – ”
“For the last time, we are not going to the North Pole! Now, considering the multiple factors of logistics, projected return on investment of entertainment value, and budgetary restraints due to the seven weddings we are obligated to attend this year, I have decided that it would be in all our best interest to use an old stand-by: we are going to The Shore.”
Everyone else, including Child 0.5, gasped.
“And not just any The Shore: The Jersey Shore.”
The same all screamed (or howled) in terror.
“What are you thinking?! Do you hate us?!” Life Partner stood to make his point. “Do you have any idea of the traffic that we’re going to hit going down there? And back?!”
Head of Household shifted her feet slightly. “I am well aware of all that; my calculations demonstrate that the final destination is more than worth it.”
“Oh really?” Life Partner countered. “And what are we going to do about Grammy, hm?”
Grammy chimed in: “What are you talking about? My father used to drive us in worse conditions every single weekend. Now those were vacations, let me tell you.”
Child 2 decided to throw his hat into the ring: “Why would we want to go to The Jersey Shore anyway – we’re in the middle of Canada!”
“And?” Head of Household rejoined. “You want to go to The Shore here?” Silence answered. “That’s what I thought. All right, start packing: we’re leaving in six months.”
SIX MONTHS LATER
Standing outside their caravan, Head of Household had reached the end of her 20-page checklist: “Last but nowhere in the least – does anyone need to use the bathroom before we leave?”
“You already had walkies. And we’re off!”
They made good time, then threw it out the window upon the last leg of the journey: that sluggish morass, that generator of curse words, that bottleneck-rubberneck-steaming neck of trapped souls, sunburned hopes, and dehydrated dreams that is the Garden State Parkway. [It really only is like that between Memorial and Labor Days – the rest of the year, outside of rush hours and holidays, it’s not that bad.]
The caravan was one of the thousands of ovens literally inching forward as all processed to the mythical Shore, that wonderful place that included the paradisiac lands of The Beach, The Boardwalk, and The Tiki Bar. Head of Household refused to allow Life Partner to take over the wheel, not when they were a mere 117 miles from their destination.
Grammy was buying some new songs for her player and decided to head off the so-called argument she was hearing up front: “You know, this still doesn’t beat the Traffic Jam of `65. Took two days to advance half a mile, and we had to refuel about four times.”
Child 1 was curious: “Was there a gas station close enough so you could pull over?”
“Heck no! And lose our place in line? Nope, me and your great-aunt and great-uncle took turns finding one. On the last go-round when I went, by the time I came back the car was gone: met them at the hotel the next day. Probably was scared to death at the time, but it makes for a good story of how tough and indifferent we all were way back when. Anyways, Dad started carrying extra fuel ever since.”
“That was on the checklist, Mother!” Head of Household was beginning to crack but could not lose face.
Child 2 got an idea. “Mom, want me to walk ahead and see how far this goes?”
“Why not?” Life Partner countered on principle. “He’ll probably get there before we do.”
Head of Household quickly calculated the risk and benefits of continuing what would ultimately be a losing argument and grabbed Child 0.5’s leash. “Here, go walk the dog to that hill and you can confirm for us that this continues all the way to Exit 0.”
“Yes!” Child 2 walked Child 0.5 across the six lanes of stationary traffic to the grassy side of the parkway. He and the dog breathed the fresh air and took their time getting back.
Head of Household released the brake for two seconds before settling in again for the next hour.
Life Partner was skimming the newspaper: “Huh. I guess if we lived here we would’ve remembered that this was 4th of July weekend.”
“I remembered,” Head of Household said in a strained voice. “It was the only weekend this summer I could get off from work.”
“Not another word, I’m begging you.”
Child 2 re-entered the caravan: “There’s a huge accident up ahead, looks like about 10 cars all crashed into each other and everyone’s being diverted to the shoulder.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Head of Household sighed. “Not for them, I mean – it clears up a little after all that, right?”
“Nope; piles right up again.”
“You know,” Grammy said while mixing a cocktail, “back in the Traffic Jam of `61, about 20 cars crashed one right into the other, all because somebody wanted to make a left turn where a left turn could not physically be made. Your Great-Aunt Peggy was born during the times of that Jam – our neighbor car was driven by a veteran Army medic, so that all worked out. I learned a lot that day.”
Head of Household started to slump on the steering wheel, then saw the brake lights of the car ahead go out; she quickly advanced the precious centimeter.
Child 1 felt compelled to ask: “Is it too late to turn around and do a staycation? It’ll be cooler.”
Head of Household responded with all her restraint: “We are staying the course to the wondrous, glorious, pristine, all-roads-lead-to-The Shore where all is bright and happy and nothing bad ever happens, ever!”
“What Shore are you talking about?” Grammy asked, then settled back to take a nap. This may become the Traffic Jam of `17, she thought, but she had lived through worse back in her day. This one was amateur.