Heading out to Atlanta last Saturday, I didn't know what to expect. My brother (James) and I were flying down to meet up with my dad, his brother (Uncle Tom) and his family, who we haven't seen in six years, and a lot has changed in that short amount of time:
-My dad and uncle have both retired from the Army
-My cousin Andrew has gone from pipsqueak to star football player
-My parents have gotten divorced
-My dad has lived in Romania for four years
After being so separated from one another, all of a sudden going on a week- long vacation could prove to be very interesting.
That rang true the first night when, shortly after our arrival, I was brought up to speed on the complete Earnhart racing saga, especially the recent happenings of Dale Earnhart, Jr. ("Little E," as it turns out, has had a trying season--that first night was the Daytona Pepsi 400, in which he was routed by Tony Stewart. However, the tide was turned the past weekend at the Nextel Cup Series in Chicago. He drove it in to take the victory). I now know more about NASCAR than I ever thought I would want to.
After nursing a Coors Light ("the best beer," according Uncle T) hangover it was time to pack up the RV, two SUVs, a Ford F-150 (with FlowMaster exhaust) and a boat to head out to sunny and then-peaceful Destin, Florida. I decided to ride with the relatives in the aptly-named "Hurricane," a beautiful 40-foot house on wheels, complete with two TV's, a bathroom, kitchen, living room...yeah! I think I recall Uncle Tom saying it cost $125 to fill it up. I tried to abet my guilt by reminding myself that I recycle everything (including stories/jokes) and pride myself on the pedestrian lifestyle I lead. That being said, I'd rather ride shotgun in the Hurricane over the bomb-able BART any day!
Speaking of transportation, I have to admit that I had a slight fear that we were overdoing it. I mean, we (all six of us) were only going to be there for a week and we needed three gas-guzzling monster cars??
But once we pulled into Destin and I had myself a look around, I realized we fit right in with the rest of vacationing America.
Starving after a day on the road, we contemplated our first meal and decided on Hooters. Well, actually, this was my uncle's idea. Most decisions during the week were made by my uncle. All I have to say is the service was horrible?
After that we headed to Wal-Mart. You know, to stock up for the week. I couldn't believe how crowded Wal-Mart was at 11 pm on a Sunday! Perhaps its shiny lights and plastic junk are a welcome alternative to staring at your family while you're all on vacation.
On July Fourth, filled with the triumphant spirit of the USA, we took the boat out onto the sapphire-blue waters of the bay. There's something about motorboats that's quintessentially American. Maybe it's defying wind and water, maybe it's the obnoxious-turned-soothing whir of the motor, or maybe it's just the air in your salty hair. Whatever it is, it didn't matter because our boat shut down an hour into the trip. My dad was pissed because he drove it 1,000 miles and it broke on the first day out. Stuff like that happens to him all the time and sometimes I wonder if he's sort of a tragic character. Once we were back at the RV park, though, we mollified our maritime misery with some fresh-grilled amberjack, Silverbullet Smooth and, of course, Old Glory waving. Everything was fine again.
The rest of the week was a mixture of beach and American things like driving up and down the strip and eating bad foods that taste good. Thursday I headed to Big Kahuna's--a water slide park--with my cousin and his girlfriend. I had actually pledged not to attend a water park ever again in my life after my last experience a few years back, but Big Kahuna's was more about the slides than stagnant pools with baby poops. That and I had become bored with the beautiful waters of the Gulf Coast. I needed waterslides, goddammit! It was a fun day, people-who-shouldn't-be-wearing-bikinis and all.
Friday we were evacuated from the area because Hurricane Dennis was coming to destroy our lovely vacation destination and rape our women-folk. As we headed up through Alabama, watching the poor farms and trailer parks whiz by from our comfy motorhome chairs, I thought of the face-stuffing, fossil fuel-wasting time I had just had and shed a tear of mixed emotions: guilt, pleasure and a strong desire to buy golf clubs.
Even though the sun-bathing part of our vacation had been cut short by that sass-pot Mother Nature, we still had some time on our hands as our flight out of Atlanta wasn't for a few days. Those last few days in the Columbus, GA (right outside of Ft. Benning) suburbs were some of the best. Because of Dennis' stormy tentacles, we were trapped inside most of the time and forced to watch hours of The Weather Channel/NASCAR, and occasionally talk politics. You can probably guess which part I favored. I soon learned that my uncle, for all of his Army Ranger psychosis/love of guzzling gas/obsession with football, NASCAR, and suburbanly-expensive toys, is one of my favorite people.
And that's what this vacation was about to me. A rediscovery of family and, in the greater sense, country--parts of which I had been out of touch with for a very long time.
I leave you with some of Uncle Tom's sensibilities on the pressing issues of today's world:
(spoken with heavy southern accent):
-Gay marriage: "I don't care who loves who. If two people think they're meant to be, what the f*ck do I care? I say, 'good for you.' "
-The war in Iraq: "This is the stupidest piece of sh*t war I've ever seen. We need to get the hell out of there. Now."
-Gays in the military: "If they want to serve, they should be able to serve. Hell, only two congressmen at this point have ever done military time and it doesn't look like they're signing up their children for this crap anytime soon."
-Hunting: "I like fishing. Fishing takes skill. Coming into the wild with a 12-gauge doesn't."
-Boats: "Sailing? Hell no. I got my Bass Tracker."
-Sharks: "The way I see it, we're guests in their home. How would you like it if a shark came into your living room?"