My father was many things. A marine. A drunk. An abusive husband and father. But don’t let it be said that he didn’t try.
His one thing was the road trip. It was his church, his faith. Our long drives across the West Texas desert, the blazing hot wind snarling our hair into permanent knots, as his supplications led him to random places in the countryside. Sometimes it took us to out of the way creeks, where we would drop a fishing line, in the hope of a free meal, earned through faith.
Sometimes the trips would take us to the weird side of Texas, where the ghosts of failed tourist traps lingered, unable to rest, offering us questionable pleasures of seeing rattlesnake farms, two headed armadillos, and collections of Indian antiquities, sold for obnoxious prices to people who didn’t care that they were being taken for a financial ride of their own.
This particular trip was hyped for weeks ahead of time. So the family was packed up, and we boarded The Woody, my father’s blue/green station wagon with wooden looking side panels.
A coleman cooler, packed to the gills with bologna sandwiches and off-brand soda, was the finishing touch, and we were off.
The sound of my father’s 8-track belting out slurred renditions of the Beatles, the Stones, and Croce set the tone as we drove on, through the diabolic heat of West Texas. These were the times when he smiled genuinely, without weed or crown royal providing the escape that these trips offered him.
On this special trip, we hit every Stuckey’s we came across, and enjoyed peanut logs and looking at the voluminous selections of kitsch that they carried. Every glittery bauble, or joke device carefully catalogued and put away for future contemplation. Flint arrowheads lay on cotton wadding in small plastic boxes, as if some senile lepidopterist had grabbed the wrong box at the last moment and never noticed.
In the final stretches of our pilgrimage, we stopped at White Sands, New Mexico, and visited the museum, learning of our horrific history with meddling with the atom.
Then, our goal was in sight. I had almost expected to see rows of monks waving censers back and forth, blessing us for our passage into the underworld (and indeed, the Carlsbad Caverns could be considered such.) We debarked our fine ship, and stretched in preparation of our descent. As we gathered our party and entered, the stench of guano grew, for bats have made these caverns home for millions of years.
At that point, Either triggered by the sun or the stench, I developed a migraine like none I had ever had before (or after. I had missed almost a year of school because of migraines.) and was scolded by my parents because they thought I was faking. So I was sent back to the car where I cried out in pain for the duration of the tour and most of the way home. (A station wagon is no place to get away from the sun, let me tell you!)
Our drive home was solemn and silent, save for my whimpering, punctuated by the glares from my mother who assumed I was trying to get attention.
And that was my best trip with my parents.