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My worst summer vacation: "America" through the rear window

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We all know the journey is often more fun than the destination when it comes to road trips. Of course, a hellish drive can also ruin the appeal of any roller coaster or national park at the end of the line.

Growing up, my little nuclear family always lived at least half of America away from our relatives, often further. Seeing our East Coast family meant loading our whole crew into an old Ford Falcon station wagon we dubbed the Millennium Falcon because, well, Star Wars, and the car seemed 1,000 years old.

In 1981, we took a long trip that is seared in my mind as the worst vacation ever. My parents rode up front, the only air-conditioned few feet cooled in the car. My two older sisters shared the bench seat behind my folks, while the family dog and I lounged in the rear cargo area, roasting like ants under a magnifying glass thanks to having windows on three sides and none of that sweet AC coming close to reaching us. At least the dog had a bowl of water. I had to wait for occasional rest stops across the Midwest before I got a drink. (This was an era before water bottles were common.)

The heat, though, isn't why I remember this hell ride so vividly. No, it was the soundtrack. Somehow my mother, who grew up loving Elvis and Buddy Holly, only brought two cassettes for the trip, and she was in control of the stereo from her shotgun seat.

One was the soundtrack for Neil Diamond's The Jazz Singer. And the other was the soundtrack for The Fiddler on the Roof.

We listened to them over and over again. If it wasn't "Love on the Rocks," it was "If I Were a Rich Man." If it wasn't "Hello Again," it was "Sunrise, Sunset." Four days of driving, a round trip totaling some 2,600 miles, nothing but Neil at his schmaltziest and songs of poor Jewish Russians.

It took years before I could hear Neil Diamond with anything but hatred in my heart. I still get the shakes at the thought of hearing Topol sing of "Tevye's Dream."

The original print version of this article was headlined "My Worst Summer Vacation"