Friday, August 18, 2006

art imitating real life

To make an incredibly long story as short as possible, my family drove some 13,000 miles on a 'cross country vacation in 1973. Our Volkswagen bus was filled above the brim. Mom and Dad alternated driver's seat and shotgun. Eldest brother, Gerry, had the most space in the 2/3 middle seat. Brothers, Chris and Sean, shared the back seat. And my sister, Cathy, and I made a little fortress out of the "wayfarback." All of our clothes, food, and sleeping bags were packed in two massive, silver fiberglass cubes secured to the full-size roof rack. We must have been a sight to behold.

Despite the fact that I was only seven years old at the time, I remember a good deal of this trip. Some things stand out -- riding a cable car in San Francisco and better still driving the bus down Lombard Street, fog and chipmunks (but no giant stone presidents) at Mt. Rushmore, red mud flooding into our tent at the Badlands, the "four knuckle knocker" scaring the pants off Sean who was sleeping in the bus, waking up with the bus parked inches from a cliff at the Pacific Ocean in California, eating a very late dinner at a place I'd never seen before called "Taco Bell" and not understanding why I couldn't get a hot dog. I remember a lot of games played in the car. I remember every minute of a whole day at Disneyland.

One memory is partial but permanent. It goes like this. We were in the desert Southwest somewhere (give me a break, I was 7). We'd stopped at a gas station for refueling and a bathroom break, and then headed back out on the road.

This is the part I don't remember, so I have to retell it as my Mom tells it. We were about half an hour past the gas station when a little voice in the back (that would be me) said, "Where's Cathy?"

Oops. We'd left one behind.

This is the part I do remember. My father drove faster than I'd ever seen him drive to get back to the gas station. And when we arrived, Cathy was standing in front of the huge plate glass window -- her long, brown hair braided, her arms folded tightly across her chest, her face twisted in anger, and her foot tapping impatiently. She scolded us, hopped back on the bus, and off we went. Again. With all present and accounted for.

Now, I can't speak for Cathy. I can't imagine how she must have felt. We had a plan in case anyone got lost on the trip (everyone was to call my father's secretary, and she would coordinate a location to reunite). My sister had followed the rules and called Diane. But there hadn't been any phones in the half hour trip past the gas station for us to use, as well. Remember, 1973. So, my poor sister had to wait almost an hour for us to come back.

In hindsight and for me (the one who didn't have to go through this), it's kinda' humorous. You know, one of those stories she can tell her grandchildren. She doesn't need to tell her children, because our mother's been doing that for years.

So when I saw the trailer for the new movie, Little Miss Sunshine, I laughed more loudly than I have in a long time, and with such force that I cried. I immediately called Cathy. I hope the past 33 years have created enough of a buffer for her that she might be able to laugh at it, too.

I think Fox Searchlight should pay my sister a royalty.

Cool to catch a Sufjan Stevens song in there, too.


Karmyn R said...

That is sooo funny and sad at the same time!

My husband was 7 and left at a park in Montana. Both carloads of family took off without him. He said he looked up and chased after them, but they never looked back. An hour later when his older brother and sister returned, my husband was so upset, they gave him a beer to calm him down (this was in the early 70's)

My mother-in-law cries when she tells the story. She still feels guilty 35 years later!

Michelle said...

That is eerie... after reading your account of your vacation in '73, then watching the video clip, that is just... weird. You are correct... they should pay your family royalties! Wow.

kellycoxsemple said...

I can even connect this to my previous post about "Almost Famous." In one scene, as they're leaving a gas station in their tour bus (named Doris), the lead singer (who perpetually feels underappreciated) walks out of the rest room. Seeing the bus driving away, he hollers in frustration that they've left him behind, yelling "I'm only the f***ing lead singer!"

So the whole, you know, leaving someone behind deal is apparently fairly commonplace. Or at least it appears to be that way, in my little world!

Miss H said...

That's so funny... how did we ever survive without cell phones?

The movie's really good, but the thing that got me was all the stuff that goes wrong with the bus. If it were any other car it would seem over the top, but with the old Volks it's just par for the course. I used to have a 72 Beetle and I remember, among other things, having to push start in on a ferry boat with the help of the ferry workers. The fuse box was propped up in just the right place by a shoe that belonged to the previous owner. Every once in awhile all the electrical stuff would go out and I'd have to get out and adjust the shoe. On the other hand, many of the things that went wrong could be fixed with duct tape, twine or creative wiring--unlike other German cars I could mention.

Michelle said...

My boys and I just watched "Muppets From Space" last night, and there is a scene where Beaker and Bunson get left behind at the gas station, and I just cracked up... it made me think of you!