When we set out on our annual mini vacation, I had no idea August is American Adventure Month, but an adventure it turned out to be.
It started on a beautiful August Wednesday. Everyone was packed and ready to go by the designated time of 6 a.m. (Yet somehow the same kids can't get up in time for school ...)
We stopped at a gas station to fuel up and get snacks for the six hour-plus ride to the Mall of America once again.
While I was paying, my husband came into the store and said "We have a problem."
I instantly felt the pain of the air traffic controllers in Houston.
The rear passenger tire had blown out.
We traveled at a low speed to Wal-Mart, hoping they would open soon, replace the tire and we would be on our way.
The supercenter didn't open until 8 a.m.
The crew there couldn't have been kinder, though. It turned out I have a rare tire size, of course, and they would have to order it. We were thinking our trip was ruined, but the manager offered to repair the tire enough that we could get to another service center — at no charge, nonetheless.
We made it to Big Boys in La Salle, where Mike had four of the tires I needed and by 9:30 a.m. we were "on the road again."
(Insert huge gratuitous plug for Wal-Mart and Big Boys here. We are massively grateful.)
By 5:15 p.m. we arrived at the hotel in Bloomington, Minn. As I checked in, the front desk manager told me she was moments away from canceling our reservation because the credit card I used to reserve it was declined. If you read my July column, you will remember my daughter lost my bank card SOMEWHERE in the house, and we haven't yet found it. I replaced it but didn't remember to update it on the hotel reservation.
Apparently the manager, Roberta, tried to call me but as I was knee-deep in tire nonsense and/or driving a gazillion miles, I missed the call.
Fortunately, for the safety of all involved, she didn't cancel the room. Two enormous companies were in town for conventions and all area hotels were booked. I don't even want to imagine the hell-fury my husband would have stirred up if we were left hotel-less after the chaotic day we already endured.
The hotel suite was spectacular; complete with an included snack tray — including chips, candy, soda, coffee and tea. I paid extra for it and surprised the kids. My decision to do so stemmed from a childhood memory.
When I was about 11 years old, we went to Hawaii. I was enamored by the snacks in the hotel room's mini-fridge and even though I was told we'd be charged, overcharged, for taking them, I felt an overwhelming need for the Hershey bar. I ate it, loved it and, after licking my lips, promptly re-folded the silver wrapper and tucked it neatly back into the Hershey's sleeve. It was quite an arduous process. I was meticulous. Or so I thought.
My efforts failed miserably and I was caught. The aftermath of my scam will forever remain a sad, sad memory.
To give you an idea how the rest of our "mini-vacay" went. The hotel was full of convention attendees, which was fine. They were many but very respectful and kind. The traveling baseball team from Canada, however, was not.
This one family in particular, showed up on the second day of our trip. We were first introduced when their sons — maybe 9 and 11, ran right in the path of our shuttle. My husband remarked, "Someone should tell that mom to watch her kids." I don't like to judge but I had to agree with him. Little did we know, the shuttle incident was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Those kids decided to have a hot game of hallway hockey throughout the open-floor-plan hotel. Their screams of joy resonated to the top of the 90-foot ceiling and at one point, the puck descended to the dining area on the main floor, at which point the already drunken dad flung it back up to them. We complained and Roberta, who already was aware of the situation — and impending doom this family would impale on her, was on it like a bee on a soda can.
Despite her efforts this went on for hours. It was shadowed only by their parents and two other couples they were with getting drunk as skunks in the massive dining area. These people were loud, obnoxious and constantly bringing in more liquor.
I'm all for "letting go" once in awhile but c'mon people, is your kids' baseball trip really the time to do that? And in an upscale hotel? Who was watching the kids? Several times, I witnessed the mom attempting to fling the room key card up to her husband two floors up — just the same as the husband did earlier with the hockey puck.
We laughed as the couples showed up too late for the massive breakfast spread. They were gone when we returned from another day at the nation's largest mall — which is another story.
Primarily, TAKE THE SHUTTLE when visiting the Mall of America.
Do not get caught in the newly-configured "parking loop." (We call it something else — with more curse words.) And that's all I will say about that, but sufficed to say, I really want to bill the mall or city for about four gallons of gas.
Because I tend to be wordy (much to my editors' dismay) I will simply offer 10 reasons to leave the kids with grandma next time you go on a trip. Here are my thoughts:
• No matter what, they will complain the entire drive and need to pee five minutes after you stop at a gas station.
• Once at the hotel, they will fight over who sleeps where and require extra pillows and blankets — even in the hot days of August.
• They will require more food and beverages than any human should have, all day long.
• Regardless of how organized the trip and itinerary are, they will complain.
• Regardless of the amazing activities planned, they will complain.
• Regardless of how much money is being spent, they will ask for more.
• At least one of them will take too long in the bathroom, hence throwing off the entire day's agenda.
• And, one of them might just get snotty and purposely wander off in the amusement park — throwing the mom into a mama bear frenzy who considers shutting the whole mall down until she finds her little booger of a kid.
• The husband might just have a meltdown because of aforementioned acts, thus requiring the wife to spend more of what she doesn't have for things she doesn't need.
• Kids are messy and you will feel really bad for housekeeping, even when you tip them and leave nice notes for them everyday.
Unknown to us at the time, as we were on the road back to Ottawa, someone bombed Minnesota's largest mosque. Finding out about it was a definite sad note on a tumultuous trip.
Despite that, and my grumpy take on things, it really was filled with lots of happy, good times too though. Like the date night me and my husband had at a really good steakhouse, the Fly Over America virtual flying experience (exclusive to the mall) and the smiles (in between grimaces) we saw on our children's faces. We will always remember the good stuff and eventually laugh about the bad stuff. That's kind of what life is all about.
I hope you will find your own adventure this month. There's plenty to do in Starved Rock Country, though. At this particular time, I don't recommend a road trip.
• ANGELA ACCOMANDO, a writer for The Times, has found herself wondering, "It's National What? Month (day, week ... etc.?") Follow her as she digs into some of the special designations and causes that fill the calendar. If you have a day, week or month observance you'd like to see addressed, call 815-433-2000 or email her at email@example.com.