Oh spare me, Clark, I know your brand of family fun. Tomorrow you’ll probably kill the desk clerk, hold up a McDonalds, and drive us 1000 miles out of the way to see the world’s largest pile of mud! – Ellen Griswold, National Lampoon’s Vacation
So I know you’ve been waiting to hear about my road trip in that cool car from the Vacation movies. That’s right folks, the Wagon Queen herself, headlights and all. And you know what? It was a heck of a lot more fun than a pile of mud.
Of course that’s partly because HomeAway.com (proud owners of the car –and did ever a company own a more random thing? I’m not sure) didn’t stop with giving us a ride in the car. For three nights in June, they put me and Tommy up in several of the many vacation properties they rent online, the first of them in Sandbridge Beach, Virginia, south of the Virginia Beach boardwalk.
I wouldn’t say that Sandbridge was convenient to the Norfolk Airport, which we flew into (it took over an hour to get to our condo, although that was also because our driver got lost, one of several taxi fails on this trip) but I think there may be a reason for that. This was our view out the window of the condo:
Sadly we didn’t get to frolic on this lovely (and quiet) beach because it rained the one morning we were there. Despite the gloomy weather, Tommy did take a dip in one of the condominium’s gorgeous pools, which was surrounded by a huge patio full of large gas grills and comfortable chairs and tables. And when it really started raining we made the best of things (easy to do) hanging out in our condo and playing Uno on the balcony.
The distance from civilization is a clear asset here: I could see loading up a car with food (and if that car happened to be a huge 1983 station wagon, all the better), beer, and suitcases with bathing suits and little else in them and spending an entire vacation swimming, playing cards, and cooking meat outside. Or perhaps lounging around the living room.
But like the Griswold family, we couldn’t stay in one place – we had a mission to find family fun. Later that morning, after the clouds had burned off, John and Stephanie (known collectively as “The Truckies”) showed up with the car. Neither they or it disappointed. John’s first words to Tommy were “Dude! You’re a Phillies fan! I knew we’d get along,” thus cementing the kind of love and loyalty demonstrated only by 8-year-old boys and puppies. And Stephanie laughed at all of his jokes and was untiring in her willingness to do Mad Libs.
And the car. If you’re of a certain age, do you remember how wide cars used to be? I bet you don’t. Do you remember how springy the seats used to be? I bet you don’t. Do you remember that smell of oil and must and whatever happened to be rolling around under the seats and in the back? Close your eyes, and let me take you back to 1983. Even the radio seemed to channel the era, playing nothing but Journey and “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” (When it didn’t emit the most alarming high-pitched electronic scream I’ve ever had the, er, pleasure, of experiencing.)
The nice people at HomeAway had no particular agenda in Virginia Beach except to show Tommy a good time. I was too distracted by the fact that I was actually riding inside the Griswold Family Truckster to pay much attention as we rode down the main drag one block off the beach from the boardwalk, but that’s OK, because Tommy was keeping his eagle eyes open. When we parked the car and asked him what our agenda should be, his immediate and obvious response was “Eat sushi. Then play pirate mini-golf.”
And lo, perfectly serviceable sushi was to be found at Soya. Between the four of us we ate a more than healthy number of rolls including the Volcano – shaped as named. When we had depleted the city of Virginia Beach of a good portion of its tuna, salmon, and (I think) scallops – it was hard to tell in some of the rolls – we all turned to Tommy who knew exactly where a super pirate-y adventure was to be found.
So we said ahoy to this guy:
And I played a very hot and competitive 18 holes of mini golf with these scurvy dogs:
Come to think of it, I never did find out who won. John? You still have that scorecard?
And what comes after a long round of mini golf in the hot sun? Oh yeah, that’s right, ice cream with tons of rainbow sprinkles!
And a ride on the self-proclaimed “Biggest Inflatable Water Slide in the World.”
All of this was just about the most simple kind of slightly tacky and not-too-expensive family fun you can have at the beach of course. But the best part to me was actually free. It was spending the better part of the afternoon standing with Tommy in the waist-deep water facing down the biggest waves with grins on our faces, salt on our lips, and our hands clasped. Some day he will remember only that he got to ride in that crazy car. But I will remember the way his hand felt in mine as the water lifted our bodies. (And that I got to ride in the crazy car.)
The farmers market and concert we were supposed to attend that evening got rained out suddenly and ferociously, and the four of us ended up taking a very damp refuge in one of the many seafood restaurants along Virginia Beach’s main drag (honestly, it was not especially memorable and I didn’t bother to write the name down). I think we may have all smelled like the car a bit. Certainly we were already old friends: Tommy and John watched the Phillies play the Yankees and Stephanie and I chatted and then they took us home to our beautiful condo where I opened all the doors and windows and listened to the waves until I fell asleep.
And I hope you’ll read more about my trip in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in these posts:
Disclosure: Our entire trip, including giant slide rides and rainbow sprinkles on our ice cream, was paid for by HomeAway.