Our yearly sojourn to Florida launches in about two weeks. Mom and the girls are already mapping out new summer wardrobes with the fervor of gold-greedy conquistadors: new shoes, dresses, skirts, blouses, jeans, sandals and even the accursed swimsuits. The flotsam of many a shopping excursion litter their rooms, beds, and dressers like giant jigsaw pieces, waiting to be folded, twisted and rolled into a small leather case. After two weeks, they scamper through the halls, racing from room to room, to stuff the last tube of toothpaste, or hair gel, or razor, or shampoo. Once that’s finished, I’ll hear the screams and shouts for headphones, magazines, iPods, iPads, phones, computers, pillows, chargers, gum, water, snacks, and DVDs to ease the long drive, most of which will be spent sleeping. Somehow during this final stage, the men of the household are inevitably blamed for moving too slow, not helping, or not panicking enough for the girls’ taste. Yet for the boys, an hour before departure proves more than enough time to stuff underwear, socks, and the untouched dregs of the dresser drawers into a duffel, download plane tickets, and depart. Done.
If we’re bored, Maxim or Nat Geo is always sold at the airport.
Unfortunately, for me, Mom hates to fly. So we turn to the big blue family bus: 2001 Ford van, seats twelve. Dad — having endured several decades of caravan leader — relinquishes his reins to me before booking a ticket on Southwest for himself and a few of the boys.
“See ya down there!” he waves as we depart in the family bus, swollen like a fat azure tick with suitcases, coolers, pillows, blankets, cereals, tea, and several dozen other necessities. Baltimore-Washington traffic is the closest we’ll ever see of Hell this side of the equator, so the big blue bus drifts from from the driveway a little after 3 AM. Faint fingers of gold and rose emerging from the eastern sky nudges the darkness, as the bus meets the 95-interstate. After an hour, the girls drift to sleep, lulled by the darkness, the hum of the air conditioning, and the GA-JUNK GA-JUNK of the tires crossing sections of asphalt.
I am left alone to navigate the route, powered only by my iPod, a tub of wholesale pretzels, and a Venti coffee — low fat milk, sugar substitute. Oh and my books.
Now, if I am going to travel a few hundred miles, my library goes with me. Not a Nook or a Kindle, some ephemeral digital library with no weight or scent of ink and paper, but actual books with page-turning technology. You see, I’ve been packing too. I have already begun collecting books, dozens in fact, for the sixteen hour drive to Florida and the ten days wherein. Such precautions might not be necessary had Disney decided to construct a Barnes and Noble amid its famous Marketplace — Heaven knows, it could suffer one less Disney Store — and so I’m inclined to prepare accordingly. After all, a respectable man may live several days without changing clothes, but a mind can travel only so far without stimulation.
Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. — Groucho Marx
Here’s what I’ve collected so far:
Others will no doubt follow, but that’s my pile so far. I don’t plan to read more than three or four during the week, but my library is my security blanket, my refuge when the weather’s bleak or the family seem eager to tear one another to sheds. No matter what happens — short of nuclear holocaust or It’s a Small World — I feel fairly comfortable wherever I lay my head. And after all, that’s what vacation’s all about anyway, right?