September 1, 2007
By Jessica Feuerstein, New City, NY

Spending quality time with my family is usually a fantastic experience, filled with fun times and lots of memorable moments. Spending twenty-two hours with a moody senior citizen, a cranky, whiney toddler, and two extremely exhausted, frustrated parents in an overstuffed suburban housewife vehicle made me feel like a sardine with no escape plan. Spending this nightmarish winter vacation together, is a result of my motherÕs strong desire to encourage a week full of family bonding. Instead of returning with souvenirs for my friends, and instead of returning with cherished together- time memories; Instead my family and I returned with a new set of front teeth, a couple of broken bones and a load of emotional baggage that I have still yet to unpack.

I was only a mere six years of age when my father announced our familyÕs unusual vacations plans but I remember it as if it were yesterday. Guys, this year we will be going to Florida for winter break.Ó My two year old brother jumped up and down uncontrollably, screaming plane, plane.Ó No Bennett, we are driving in our car.Ó BennettÕs uneven eyebrows conveyed his puzzled reaction to this statement and my grandmother initially seemed a bit reluctant and stated with a dollop of good old-fashioned sarcasm are you buying a porta-potty for the car? I heard Sharper Image has a cool one!Ó After five minutes of some careful deliberation, Grandma tossed the attitude and seemed genuinely interested in partaking in this family journey. Despite my fatherÕs initial reluctance to have his mother-in-law tag along, he still maintained his enthusiasm to pack up his family and drive down to the Sunshine State.

With enough luggage to survive six months in the wilderness, we loaded every nook and cranny of the van not being used for seating, and our adventure began. My dad drove straight through the night, and when the combination of chewed toothpicks and gulped caffeine failed to keep him awake he pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn. The trouble began as my father started to snooze and my brother and I awoke from our restful nightÕs sleep. It was at that moment that we all began to realize that exhausted and uncomfortable combined with excited and hungry is not the perfect recipe for a successful family vacation. Add in a large cup of are we there yet?Ó a dash of can we make a pit stop?Ó and lots of heaping teaspoons of Again?Ó and what has been cooked up is the just the beginnings of the worst vacation ever!Ó

The path down I-95, normally filled with tons of beautiful scenery to be appreciated by all, seemed to be filled with many a mishap for my family. My brother and I awoke, filled with enthusiasm, close to the Georgia border, and the road to Florida really began for us with a nasty breakfast complete with sour orange juice, soggy pancakes and rude waitresses. Even though she kept asking Can I help yÕ allÓ, we really knew she meant that we should, leave her alone, leave quickly and most importantly, leave her a big tip! We were on the road again, still hungry, but excited because Daddy said that we would be entering the State of Florida real soon.Ó We traveled that road for close to two hours, occupying ourselves with license plate Bingo, and indulging our appetite for potato chips and cereal bars. When we finally reached the Promised LandÓ, my brother and I were to busy complaining about the cramped living arrangements to notice the welcoming sign as we entered the Sunshine State. Lunch seemed quite appropriate as a follow-up to our gourmet breakfast. We dined at the Cracker Barrel, located in a Roach Motel in St. Augustine. Just about the time that we were finally over the fear of eating in this facility, my Daddy rushed us out, and we were back into our house on wheels for the final part of our journey. Three hours and what seemed like an eternity later, Mommy and Daddy stopped arguing with Grandma long enough to agree that we needed to spend the night somewhere, and since we were at ropeÕs end, this seemed like as good a place as any to stop. So we pulled off the highway, into a town called Cocoa Beach. My Mommy kept smiling at us, but she started to look pale and her once rosy cheeks turned the color of my Great GrandmotherÕs hair. IÕm still not clear exactly what happened, but I remember Mommy and Daddy shaking their heads and saying words like slum, hoodlums and theyÕre up to no good.Ó My parents seemed passionate about staying on the main road, so we drove for a few miles before we found a decent looking hotel. We were directed to drive to the back of the hotel and we were all quite surprised by our good fortune. The large number, which was dangling off the rusty nail it was attached to, did not fall to the ground yet so were able to quickly find our rooms. Just as we settled in for what we hoped would be a restful night, my brother chimed in with his usual IÕm ungry!Ó whine. So off we went, kicking and screaming in search of a suitable dining facility.

We looked for suitable, but we settled for what seemed adequate. We parked in the barely lit lot of some popular chain food restaurant and watched as my baby brother bolted out of the still moving vehicle. My grandmother, normally not known for a high level of patience, was especially groggy and miserable from the long trip, and was especially intolerant at this particular moment. As she darted out of the van screaming after Bennett, worrying only for his physical safety, she found herself ignoring her own safety and the large, cement, stop bump at her feet and went flying in the air, using her face and elbow to stop the fall. Ten minutes later, we were back at the seedy hotel, still hungry, but tending to her bloody wounds and smiling uncomfortably as we assured her that we really didnÕt notice that two of her front teeth were missing. Unfortunately, the evening didnÕt end on that high note, as my brother was still whining about his hunger and we needed to spend the next hour searching the Seven Eleven for anything edible.

We woke in the morning and headed toward the beach, not to engage in our favorite water sports, but to search for a local dentist to replace what my grandmother lost in the parking lot. We found the only local doctor, in a strip mall, open for business on a Sunday afternoon. The lady in the waiting room told us he was the best in the area. We were relieved, but only for a brief moment until she smiled to reveal her crooked, yellow teeth. Dr. Phil Ling seemed like a nice man, but unfortunately, his Asian accent made him a bit difficult to understand. What we were able to grasp from his diagnosis was that the best he could offer my grandmother was a temporary fix, a cap on her tooth that would be grey, not the usual pearly white. At tooth-hurty on a weekend afternoon, this is the best I can do for you.Ó Dr. Ling told my Grandma.

This was the final nail in the coffin for our family get-away. Grandma no longer wanted any part of the rest of our family bonding time, she wanted to part ways now in order to keep whatever body parts she had left, intact. Grandma was on the next flight home, back to her trusted dentist in cold wintry New York City, as we laid out on the beach in bright, sunny Florida, improving our tans, but also worrying if she would ever smile again.

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