Travel is something that sounds good when you talk about it, looks good in travel magazines and can be exciting to plan.
Rarely does travel turn out to be very pleasurable.
We drove from Syracuse, NY to Springfield, IL to have Thanksgiving with the relatives. Mapquest routed us across 90, through Chicago and down 55. We opted to forgo Chicago traffic on Thanksgiving Eve at rush hour. We just thought it would be better, somehow. So we turned left in Cleveland and went through Columbus and Indianapolis on our way west. This route is generally very low key (read: easy to drive), but on Thanksgiving Eve it was filled with heavy traffic. We had intended to let Shannon and DJ practice driving on this trip, but Shawn kept the wheel the whole way, dodging trucks, coordinating moves with impatient cars and improvising a detour through Indy to avoid a jam caused by an accident on 465.
After you drive for 14 hours straight, it takes awhile to get your land legs. You arrive at your destination, ears ringing, legs quivering, and try to make polite conversation with relations you haven't seen for maybe four years, but all you really want to do is rinse off your face and stretch out flat on a bed in a dark room.
Thanksgiving was a blessing. The turkey was presented quietly with no fuss, no hustle, no bustle, like a miracle, from somewhere unseen. Being Scandinavians, the relatives have a habit of standing in front of a meal, all laid out in pretty dishes, warm from wherever it was secretly and quietly whisked, and... waiting. They stand there while the food cools, and wait and look on, and then, very quietly, someone says, "Mom should go first," and Mom quietly remonstrates, "No, really I couldn't, I think Dad looks really hungry," and Dad says, "I thinks the kids should go first, " and they actually sort of try to quietly get in line, because they really are very hungry. But then one of their parents pulls them back, and the quiet resistance continues for about a half an hour until the food is very nicely cooled off and there is absolutely no danger of anyone getting burned on anything, and then people finally start to go through the line one at a time, nobody starting to fill his plate until the previous person is completely finished (and no wonder nobody wants to go first, because one feels quite awkward serving oneself while everybody else watches, silently, hungrily, patiently).
If you are not Scandinavian, marrying into a Scandinavian family can be an adjustment that takes a long time. Scandinavians are very quiet. It is rude to talk in a full voice. It is considered shouting. I have learned this. As a child, I was taught that it is impolite to whisper, but I have learned that the reverse is true at a Scandinavian family reunion.
Between meals, at a Scandinavian family reunion, you sleep a lot. I think perhaps you are supposed to be conversing on the pillowy furniture in the great room, but because the conversation is spoken in such very low tones, one has trouble hearing, and one tends to sink back into the cushiony softness (so much more comfortable that the van one arrived in), and drift off.
When it was time to drive home, we reluctantly got back into the van. Two days had not been quite enough time to recover from the original trauma. We wore our scrubbiest clothes--plaid pajama pants, hoodies (that didn't match), undone hair and make-up-less faces. Our legs ached with just the thought of being cooped up in that small space for another 14 hours, six of us, and most of us over 6 feet tall.
To save time, we grabbed a quick lunch at Wendy's, to go. But by 7 p.m., after about 9 hours of driving, Shawn needed a rest and he just wanted to sit down and eat without a steering wheel in his face. We stopped at a Bob Evans somewhere southeast of Cleveland. I looked around at the family and said, "Do we dare go into a sit down place looking like this?" They told me, "We're in the middle of Ohio. We will never see any of these people ever again."
So we went in and sat down. We ordered, used the bathrooms, ate. The people at the table across from us looked like very decent and upstanding citizens, neatly dressed, with nicely behaved children. As they stood up to leave the woman stopped over at our table and said to Shannon, "Do you go to SU? My son noticed your hoodie..." Shannon was wearing a SUNY-ESF hoodie. Nobody knows about SUNY-ESF, even people who actually go to Syracuse University, but this woman apparently had a sister who went to SUNY-ESF. Not only that, but they found out that we were from the Syracuse area, so they asked where and it turned out that they are also from Syracuse, from Fabius Pompey, and my husband is a great friend of the man who is chorus director at the Fabius-Pompey high school. So we had this common friend, and we exchanged names and said, "See you around," and I thought to myself, here is a lesson:
If you go into a restaurant, far from home, looking like a family of vagabonds sorely in need of a shower and a trip to the mall, expecting not to see anyone you know... do not wear a hoodie with an identifying logo on it. Just don't.