"The Not-So-Easy Rider" by Provost Bill Bussey
For most of us, travel begins with family trips. Trips to the beach gradually build up to longer, more complicated endeavors, often involving everyone cramming like sardines into a car with enough saltines and peanut butter to survive the apocalypse. Your car might have climbed Mount Washington but not before your brother pummeled you senseless from Pinkham’s Notch all the way to the top. You won’t find any bumper stickers that tell the real story: “My Parents Sang Petula Clark Songs While My Brother Turned My Face Into Silly Putty.” To paraphrase Tolstoy, “All happy family trips are all alike, all unhappy family trips are all alike, too.”
When I casually look back on the trips that my parents put together, there was one unifying thread that seems to have run through most of them: someone usually got sick in public. Somewhere there’s a family photo that my father took of us standing in a public park overlooking a thundering Niagara. I’m easy to spot. I’m three feet off to the left from my family, pale as a ghost and hunched at a forty-five degree angle. At the sound of the shutter’s click, my upper torso shot into a rose bush. I can still hear the cries of “Oh, my God” as newlyweds fled. In this regard, my list is endless. The lobby of the Hotel Astor. At the Plains of Abraham. Not always me but a blood relative. Sound familiar?
Whenever my family hit the road, we, like your family, usually got lost. Collectively we couldn’t navigate a drive-thru. In the summer of 1965, we all piled into our car and headed to the New York World’s Fair. Not surprisingly, my father was unfamiliar with Queens and failed to find the twelve-story globe on our first attempt. The impatience and frustration that often was our touring trademark quickly took over. Our map soon was in shreds. Parts of all five boroughs whirled around our heads when I lowered the window for some much-needed air. The Tommy Tucker platter that I had wolfed down earlier at Howard Johnson’s was not sitting well. The kicker came as darkness took over, and our worst fears were confirmed when we passed a sign that said “Montreal - 310 Miles.”
You can never be quite sure what is going to happen when you take to the sky or the road, but that’s the point. As mind-numbing as those family ventures could be, we end up treasuring even some of the ugliest moments. How many family gatherings depend on the endless re-telling of good plans gone bad? And once those times with our folks have passed for good, we all move on in our own way to do our best to recreate some version, perhaps an improved version, of what captured our interest and imagination early on. And eventually we do our best to re-create those treasured memories with others who play a strong role in our lives.
I was talking with a Class I student at dinner the other night, and all he could think about was his upcoming New York City trip with Dan Halperin. Tickets to see “Hamilton” purchased many, many months ago, a prescient move by Dan, were included. Tell me you aren’t envious. It’s a staggering fact that 25% of the student body had access to faculty-run trips, trips that I can guarantee you were far better organized and saner than any of my family roadshows and probably yours, too. But what really blows me away is the fact that more than 20 faculty members eagerly gave up a sizable portion of their spring vacation, and more than a few the entire break, to share what they love with your children. That gesture alone will influence your children’s future far more than viewing the Taj Mahal.