Our first night in Savannah, Ga., I got up to pee in the pitch-black hotel room. I didn’t want to turn on the light attached to the 747 jet engine in the bathroom and wake anyone up. But then I realized I had no idea where the toilet was. I put my hand out and felt around the dark bathroom.
Each week in my column I have shared a highlight from The Great American Field Trip. But truth is, the epiphanies and wow moments are not happening 24/7. The adventure behind the adventure is less glamorous. The infrastructure takes work. An awe-inspiring moment that will stay with us forever is usually preceded by hours of driving, finding a place to stay, agreeing on what to eat, washing clothes, packing, unpacking, and loading and unloading.
Every few days we must get our bearings – how things are done in this or that corner of the world. Figuring out the parking restrictions or metro system, locating our whereabouts on a map or in a dark hotel bathroom.
Much of my “free” time at night is spent on the computer – researching and planning. Although we have a general itinerary, I need to consult Mapquest for driving distances, and other websites with detailed information that affects the planning. For example, we were supposed to arrive in Montgomery, Ala., on a Sunday. The main attraction for us there – the Rosa Parks Museum. But I learned that Sundays the museum is closed so I changed our schedule a bit. To see Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay, I learned the ferry departs only three times a day. I had to plan our visit accordingly.
On Halloween we consulted locals to find out the best Savannah neighborhood for trick-or-treating. Earlier in the day, we did a dry run and drove the neighborhood so we would not waste valuable candy collecting minutes trying to figure out how to get there or where to park.
The trip has also been an exercise in organization. We have readjusted, resituated, and redistributed items. We have found more efficient ways to pack the car. This all matters when you need a tissue or a band-aid or a pencil.
We have shed nonessentials.
We’ve had a few setbacks too. The lowest point in the trip was when we discovered that Sally’s journal was missing. I realized there is nothing more valuable we are carrying with us, aside from the kids themselves. I called the hotel we stayed at two days before when she last wrote in it, and offered a cash reward to anyone on the staff that found the journal. It was never found. I was sick about it for days.
People often ask if the kids fight. What is the old question about the Pope being Catholic? They fight about whose turn it is to sit in the very back of the car. Whose turn it is to sleep next to mom. Changing the radio station when “you know I love that song!” Using a charger that wasn’t theirs and not putting it back. Taking the last piece of gum. Borrowing clothes and getting a stain. Singing too loud while wearing headphones in the car.
But the kids have also bonded in a way that may not have happened at home. They are the only friends they have right now and need each other in ways they never have before.
At home each day of the week has a certain feel. You settle into a routine. Certain days you have sports practices or theater rehearsals. But on the road there is nothing that separates a Monday from a Saturday or a Wednesday from a Friday. Each day is different. Nothing is scripted or built in.
Together, we create each day from scratch. And while there may be an eggshell in the batter here or there, the results are still sweet.
You can follow the Fales’ Great American Field Trip on Jill’s blog, www.thegreatamericanfieldtrip.blogspot.com.