Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vomit, Blood, and Winds of Fire: Our Weekend Getaway to the Desert

"You know where we're going?" I asked my wife.  It was Thursday evening.  She had just gotten off of work, and I had been preparing for the trip all day in fits and starts, between attending to the demands of the little tyrants. 

"Just head up the 15," she said, pecking at her iPhone.

I dropped it into drive and pulled out.

Six people in the minivan, and so much gear that even with the rooftop carrier fully loaded, there were tote bags, pool toys, and coolers crammed between the seats.  Three of the passengers were toddlers, and the rest of us were old enough to know better.

We drove on the freeway for an hour, and our friend, who asked that I call her Francesca since that's what she calls herself when she drinks a lot of cocktails and dances inappropriately with strangers (I mean, when she used to do that stuff before she became a mom and totally gave it all up), kept her daughter and our twins entertained with songs and stories from her seat in the very back of the van.

We got off at our exit and started winding up the San Bernardino Mountains.  The van did well considering its payload, and I pushed it pretty hard through the turns.  Francesca's husband, who would be joining us on Saturday, drives a BMW M5, usually too fast, and Francesca herself has a reputation for being a leadfoot.  I thought that she would be impressed by my driving skills and the power of the sweet Sienna.

As we hairpinned our way down the other side of the range into the Coachella Valley, I cranked the AC all the way up, but the van still felt like a can of baked beans over a campfire.  It was 9:30 pm by then, and all the passengers besides my wife were silent and, we assumed, asleep.

We cruised Palm Desert's well-lit, palm-lined main drag, looking at the opulent entrances to the massive resorts and imagining that we would enjoy similar accommodations when we arrived at our condo, which we had only seen on the timeshare website.

Then, for the next ten miles, we seemed to get stuck in a low-speed version of a Flintstones chase scene--you know, when Fred and Barney are running blurry-legged and the same background keeps flashing by them in a loop?  It was like that, but instead of of stone furniture and appliances made of live animals, it was Panera and Chipotle and Del Taco.

After that, the backdrop got less glamorous: Food 4 Less, Dollar Store, Checks Cashed Here.

Finally we were in Indio, our destination. And on the outskirts of that little desert outpost was our condo.

I took the sweeping turn into the condo's driveway, and as I did, I heard it:


The unmistakeable sound of vomit hitting carpet.

My first thought, of course, was that a kid had thrown up.  Then I heard the small voice of Francesca apologizing for unloading her Greek chicken salad onto the floor of the van.

Turns out Francesca suffers from motion sickness.  Or, as she put it, "I'm a puker."  Who knew?  Well, she assumed that we did, having been friends for several years.  We knew that she always preferred driving over being driven, but we hadn't realized that it was because riding with someone else at the wheel made her sick.  Had we known, we would have insisted that she ride in front (assuming her daughter would have allowed her to, which is doubtful).  Also, we probably would have looked more closely at the route options Google maps offered us, and realized that by selecting Option 1, through the vertiginous mountain roads, we had stood to shave a mere five minutes off the time Option 2, the freeway route, was calculated to take.

All that time we had thought Francesca was sleeping, she had really been struggling to not puke, while being held captive by her daughter who needed to snuggle with Mommy's arm as she slept, and afraid to open her mouth to speak, lest what came out was spew instead of words.  For an hour and a half she had suffered like that.  Once we got out of the mountains, she explained later, she had felt better; but that turn into the condo driveway brought it all back up.

One benefit of Francesca living with motion sickness for so long is that she has developed the foresight to puke strategically.  Since there were no empty bags or buckets handy, she had zeroed in on one of the loose strips of carpet on the floor of the van that's meant to be moved around depending on how the seating is configured.  It was easy to pull out, and, considering the prodigious amount of barf, there was very little collateral damage.

Careful not to wake the sleeping toddlers, I pulled the carpet strip out, and helped Francesca de-van.

We've made a terrible mistake, I thought, as I dragged the carpet across the recently sprinkled lawn in front of the condo lobby, shreds of the forsaken meal clinging to the damp Bermuda grass.  There were no other buildings in sight.  Just mountains of sand-colored boulders, pockmarked with shadows and more lonely than the moon that dimly illuminated them.  The wind rattled the dry palm fronds and intensified the heat like the convection function in an oven.

I looked at the air temperature on my weather app.  Ninety-seven degrees.  At 10:00 pm.  A hundred-and-nine tomorrow.  It's a dry heat, though, people like to say about the scorching desert.  Yeah, I thought, like fire. 


It was a hundred degrees out when we woke up on Friday morning.  The kids played in the living room and ate their cereal, and then we slathered them in sunscreen, put on their bathing suits and loaded them into the baking, slightly vomit-scented van.  The buckles on the seatbelts were branding irons and the flat wooden beads on the seat covers (left over from when the van used to belong to my wife's parents) were tiny skillets.

But we were headed to the water park in Palm Springs!  What could be better on a hot day than water slides and wave pools?

It turns out that the water slides and wave pools are not much good if the children refuse to use them.  What we did for most of the morning was to huddle in tiny shaded areas and watch with envy as squealing tweens splashed around in the cold water.  By 1:30, the temperature had exceeded the forecast by two degrees.  

One of the worst things I have ever ingested

The original intent of this trip had been to spend some timeshare credits that were about to expire on a cheap and easy getaway to a place that was warm, close, and had a pool.  We invited our friends so that we could all spend more time together than the parameters of a normal playdate allowed.

Once we went back to that plan, and abandoned any notions of making excursions away from the condo, all was well.

The condo was much more basic than the website had suggested, but it was fine.  It had five pools in all, which, once Saturday rolled around, was barely enough to accommodate all the guests, especially after one of the larger pools had to be shut down because of a poop event.

The clientele was different than what I had come to expect at the properties we've been renting through our timeshare outfit for the last ten years.  Maybe it was just because they were mostly naked and I could see all their tattoos.  There was a Tinkerbell on one lady's back whose wand touched the buckle of her Raiders-logo-emblazoned bikini top and whose feet disappeared somewhere in the bottom half of the suit.  A whole family sported tribal bands around their arms and legs, and the huge patriarch wore eight-inch tall letters across his chest that spelled out "SAMOA".  A stocky Latina had an intricate band of leaves and thorns around her midsection, including two hearts containing the words "Flaco" and "Gordo."  One dad had a tattoo the size of a beer can on his bicep, featuring his child as a toddler in a gown, looking oddly aged, as tattoo babies tend to.  

The twins and some fat white guy
Some of the typical timeshare people had shown up to bask in the heat too.  They were all white, in their sixties, and, I suspect, from Iowa.  It was a diverse crowd, and very congenial.  Most adults were enjoying adult beverages out of cans and plastic cups.  There was no bar at the condo, but there was a little market that specialized in liquor ready to be consumed poolside without violating the no-glass rules.  From across the pool, I watched an old Chicano dude with a shaved head, epic mustache, and tats all over his back, arms, and torso talk to a white-haired guero in a golf shirt over Coors Lights for an hour.


After we had settled into the rhythm of chlorine-soaked "resort" life, the kids wore themselves and their parents out with constant swimming, condo-trashing, screeching, and fussing.  But we were determined the raucous fun would not be wasted solely on the kids. We had brought six bottles of wine and one of tequila, because, you know, we were totally going to party while the children slept.  Hazy recollections of college Beach Week swirled in our collective unconscious. 

We got through a quarter of the booze and were in bed by 11:00 every night.

On our last day, Sunday, we went to the pool as usual, and goofed around for the final hours.  My wife and I had planned to check out of the condo and then go back to the pool until the kids were exhausted.  We would squeeze every drop of vacation out of the weekend.  Francesca and her family decided to leave right after the morning pool session.

As checkout time approached, we gathered up our young'uns and their gear and started herding them back to the condo.  Francesca's little girl was tired and ready to go home.  Her parents wrapped her up in a towel and she shuffled around the pool deck in a daze.  She wandered over to the wading pool where I was collecting our detritus, then turned and headed back toward her mom.

The two-year-old didn't notice the errant flip-flop lying on the slick deck.  She stepped on it, lost her footing, and went down like a bag of sand, just out of reach of her mom.  Her arms were swaddled in her towel so she couldn't get her hands out front.  

I heard the pumpkin-thud of her face hitting the concrete and cringed uselessly.  If I had had a hand free and my wits about me, I could have grabbed her before she went down.

This is a little girl who leads, literally and figuratively, with her chin.  So that's what hit the ground first.  Thankfully (I guess?) she is fearless and practically impervious to pain.  The crying was over quickly and replaced by whimpered "night-night"s.  My wife, the doctor, stepped in for an exam of the wound.  It opened up like a tiny second mouth. Recommendation: Get thee to an urgent care.  Sutures or glue were in the little cherub's future for sure.

As we helped our friends load up their car, our conversation went like this:

Them: Well, that's probably the last time you'll invite us to go anywhere with you.

Us: It's not like you're going to ever answer our phone calls anymore, so I guess we shouldn't bother.

Them: Sorry we got blood and puke all over your vacation.

Us: Sorry we lured you into a seething inferno and contributed to the disfigurement of your child.

Them: Wanna grab dinner sometime this week?

Us: Definitely.



I wrote a couple things about my kids' first day of school, one at DadCentric, and the other at Aiming Low.


  1. They should really come up with a different word for vacation when it involves traveling with kids. Because for the parents it rarely meets the traditional definition.

    How about kidsaster?

    1. Yeah, "vacation" just doesn't mean the same thing when kids are involved. It's not always a disaster, exactly, though. It's just a lot harder than staying at home. Maybe some variation of "working vacation."

  2. Sounds like damn good friends I say!

  3. Every trip I've ever been on with my son. Thanks for the flashbacks.

  4. I carried a bucket in our van for the longest period of time... My oldest would up-chuck until she was 12... the last one could do it as well until I noticed the bucket was not being used for sometime... btw, I was in PD last Fri.... and not there for fun....

    1. I think I'm gonna start keeping a bucket in the van from now on. Holy crap, was it hot that day or what?

  5. We have a grandchild who has upchucked in every car we've owned since he was born 22 years ago. He will set foot in our new car in August for the first time, and I'll have the bucket ready.

    1. Hahahaha...make him hold the bucket in his lap!

  6. I don't understand. That seems like a perfectly normal vacation. Are you trying to say that this doesn't happen to everyone?!?!?! :)

    1. No--I think it's pretty normal. Before we had kids, we had a lot of injuries and spilling of bodily fluids too.

  7. All in all, sounds like an absolutely perfect weekend:)

  8. Vacations with kids are some hard-ass work.

  9. Ha - our 3 yr old pukes b/c of motion sickness too. The 2 best times have been in a mini-van on back roads in puerto rico, which required a full body wipe down while running off feral dogs and upon reaching the gate to deplane which I'm sure required some sort of hazmat suit but I didn't stick around to find out. Vacations - fun times!!

  10. Whenever my wife says, "let's take a vacation," I perk up and I'm all "Sweet, when?" And she'll say, "well, I think Addison would really enjoy..." and my stomach curls up in a knot and I'm like "Oh, THAT kind of vacation." And then I'm like, "Why don't you just take a day off and visit a friend? I'll stay with Addison, and we'll just do the routine." I HATE vacations.

  11. At what point did you know this adventure would become a blog entry? Did Frannie know she'd be an online star?

    1. You know how I said I heard a "SPLAT" noise? I really heard "BLOG!"

      Honestly though, one of the first things she said after regaining composure was, "At least now you'll have something to blog about."

  12. That was outstanding. You guys were the 21st century Donner Party, albeit with slightly more chlorine and slightly less cannibalism.

  13. ...and I'm immediately canceling all vacation plans. Woof.

  14. I'm at my folks in New Jersey. Last year when we visited I dehydrated a kid (mine, otherwise I'd have faced criminal charges, I'm sure). This time we have face rashes on the twins, a la Fifth Disease, and one is also sporting a gnarly bug bite on her elbow.

    I'd invite another family to join the fun, but why would I share all of this!?

    Great writing, as usual, Andy.

  15. Betadude... didn't realize you were so close to the PSP, PD, etc., You like music? My sister and I take little holiday away from our respective kids each year and go to Coachella festival. It's our little mental health break. We've got room in the house in LQ next year if you're interested.


Don't hold back.


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