Last weekend as I was sitting at home snuggled up on the couch with a blanket, I decided to check and see what people were up to on Facebook.
I was bombarded with photos of traffic and descriptions of how many extra hours it was adding to trips home from Thanksgiving. For the first time in many years, my family actually stayed home for the holiday. With the kids having a whole week off school, it is very tempting to hit the road. But this year, we got to have family come to us.
Sure, it meant I was hosting the big dinner and I didn’t get to have a relaxing “get-away,” but it also meant I got to avoid the weekend after Thanksgiving traffic! I had almost forgotten to revel in the joy of this until I saw what so many others were experiencing.
As I reflected on my many end-of-vacation traffic horror stories, I envisioned being stuck in the car with whining, hungry kids who need to go to the bathroom and are dying to get out of the car just as much as me. Suddenly, I enjoyed my cozy couch and blanket even more.
Have you ever driven back from Vegas the weekend after Thanksgiving? It’s something you’ll never want to repeat. I’ll share just one experience.
Our first year, we came home on a Sunday and hit the Vegas to LA stretch in the afternoon. It seemed everyone in the LA metro area was parked on that freeway at that moment. My husband and I were traveling with our three kids (one wasn’t born yet) and they were still little tykes. There were no exits, no cities, and no buildings -- nothing for miles except freeway, cars, and desert.
And we were all traveling at an average speed of 5 miles an hour, for many hours.
As we began calculating just how long this trip was going to take us at this speed, we realized other people had more urgent issues. At first we wondered why so many cars were pulled off to the side of the road. Then we saw it -- the desperate attempts to relieve themselves.
I’m sure we’ve all offered to pull over so our kid can use a bush in a desperate situation during a road trip. But in this case, there were a few problems with that solution:
1) There were no bushes, or trees, or even cacti along this stretch of the freeway.
2) The traffic was not zooming by; rather, it was stopped and there was nothing to look at except those people on the side of the road.
3) Many of those cars were filled with curious kids looking out the window.
We did our best to avert their attention, but inside I was just praying my kids could hold out a bit longer so we wouldn’t have to join them. When a rest area finally came and we navigated the traffic to exit, we were greeted with lines 100 people long!
Suddenly, those people on the side of the road didn’t seem so crazy.
Eventually, around Barstow, traffic started moving. By then it was well past dinner and we were all starving. We waited in a very long drive-through line only to find out that they were sold out of everything our kids wanted. We went to another place; same story. At that point, we were starting to feel like cattle going out to feed. We finally asked the person taking our order, “Well, what DO you have?” We took it and hit the road one last time. I was just glad the gas stations weren’t out of gas!
In the end, it took us almost nine hours to travel a stretch of road that normally takes four. After a while, the kids weren’t the only ones saying, “Are we there yet?”
Seeing family during the holidays IS part of what makes it so special. Because of that, we have braved that traffic many times (though each year we try some different strategy to avoid it). Still, I’m glad that the annual road trip is one tradition we got to skip out on, at least for this year.
Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.