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~Author Jennifer Leigh~

My first Big Break
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Travel Horrors

I used to think I wanted to travel.  I studied Humanities in college, and thrilled to the architecture, art, and culture of other countries in the world.  France!  Italy! Germany!

            My life has become, in spurts and leaps, very home-based.  I work from home, we raise, train, and sell horses here at home.  We live here, work here, thrive here.  And I’ve realized, I don’t want to leave anymore.

            It isn’t just that I don’t like travel, though I don’t.  I don’t like the rush rushing that travel inspires.  You only have a certain amount of time in any one place, you fill each day up with incredible sights, smells, tastes.  But there’s always a little more you didn’t get to experience.  You’re loathe to leave because this might just be IT.  Your only chance to see Paris.  And do you go to the popular spots, or seek the Paris few tourists see?  Ah, so many decisions, and me, I’m just wishing I was home in my own bed.

            I don’t like the jet lag feeling you get when you travel, even if you never get on a jet.  And don’t even get me started on driving ‘vacations.’  Talk about an oxymoron there!  You spend 80% of your vacation in the car, and even in the most plush of circumstances, you are in a smaller space than in my smallest bathroom, and that brings me to the Important Subject regarding road trips.  Bathrooms along the road are scary.  I have walked out of more than one, turned to my husband and said, “If I end up with a social disease, this is where I picked it up.” 

Those bathrooms that they have in rest stops frighten me because I always imagine a psycho killer in the next stall over, crouched on the toilet, ready to pounce as soon as he/she hears me settle in and mutter, “I thought I wasn’t going to make it.  Boy, did I ever have to go.”  Oh—you don’t talk when you get on the john in a room you think is empty?  Well, you must be a better car traveler than I am. 

In summer, bathrooms of every sort are not only their usual disgusting, the heat adds more smell, more bugs, and a host of chatty folk who want to chum up with you, probably because they see the weariness in your eyes and feel a kinship.  Full bladders and stir craziness can be the bonding glue in many a bathroom chat as we feebly wash our hands, after the fact.  I’ve come out of gas station john feeling as if I’ve found my true best friend.  Of course, she was the one that passed the paper under the stall wall.  I had to go too bad to check to see if my stall had any.

One more thing about road trips.  Usually I’m going on these with other adults who say they’d like to help out with the driving.  My husband, my best friend, and my business partner have all shuttled me near and far, and each one of them have my fingernail marks in the cushy door handles on the passenger side.  Every single one of them drives as if we’re in a hurry, which ruins the trip for me because I’m worrying that this will be my last living day, and I’m spending my final hours peeing in gas station bathrooms.  (Oops, there’s another bathroom gripe.)  These fellow drivers push, push, push on the gas until they are not only half a car length behind the car in front of us, but they are reading over the shoulder of the driver, who’s so bored he’s reading as he drives.  Hey, the highway’s nice and wide, and one big straight line, right?  You look over to the driver to the left, and he is yakking away in his cell phone, and bringing his Big Gulp to his lips.  Um, what hand is on the wheel?  None? 

“Honey, slow down,” I scream, and am called a worry wart.  I’m teased or ignored as the driver to the left slowly makes his way to our lane, and only grabs his steering wheel when he hears my screaming through sound-proof windows.  Stressed, I need to make another bathroom stop, or ‘view break’ as we called them when we went hiking with the Girl Scouts.  When leaving town was a fun adventure.

My last big issue about traveling is the preparation and clean up required before and after the Big Trip.  I have seen my living room become a holding cell for more camping equipment than is sold in an Outdoor Super Store.  Piled on the once-clean carpet are tents (more than one), camp stove, butane for the camp stove, sleeping bags, more than one per person, since two out of the five smell like cat pee, but we’ll take them along anyway.  Every pot I own is dropped into a box, three of the four remaining teaspoons left in our silverware drawer are included, and isn’t it fun to dig worms with them and bend them up and scratch them?  Every time we eat our food with them, we’re reminded of the fun we had camping last summer.  Of course, only two of us can eat cereal at a time once home, since two of the spoons were lost in the lake and it’s was too gross and gooey on the lake bottom to retrieve them.

The three words I hate when packing for any kind of travel are: Just in case.  These words encourage the packing of items that never should be lumped together.  When we’re going camping, my husband has been known, just in case, to pack dress pants, a white shirt, and tie (but no dress shoes, which paints a lovely picture of ‘nice’ clothes and fish-smelling hiking boots). Even if he’d ever need this snappy outfit, they are disgusting since they’ve been sitting in the duffel bag on top of the car during the freak rain storm and stuffed into the tent along with 8 pounds of dirt, 27 types of bugs, and stale potato chips. 

But then, ‘Just in Case’ is my husband’s battle cry.  He’s been known to pack several pairs of underwear for a one-day trip, sort of like all those clothes the Gilligan’s Island castaways brought along for their three-hour tour.  The sad fact is, though, when camping, unless I insist, my husband never changes clothes, not even his underwear, for the entire trip.  But we still have to wash his entire wardrobe that has been smushed into the duffel because even if it has miraculously escaped the dirt and the greasy snacks, it still smells like campfire, which then becomes overwhelming when it’s dumped back onto the living room carpet once we’re back home.

It’s funny.  When I started writing this piece about travel, I had thought to make it a lovely, touching thank you to those in my life (namely my friend Patty and stepdaughter Katrina) who love to travel and share their experiences through their photos, gifts, and tales they bring back to me.  Now I think I’ll just send them a sympathy card, and at the end tell them they’re welcome to come stay anytime, because I’ll never be visiting them unless they move right next door!

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