West Coast, Ha!

I wrote a road trip book. You may never see it, because I hate it. But I wrote another road trip book, and that’s Omega Returned. In #20DaystoLA (if that is, in fact, its name), Braxton and Craig are driving to the west coast, but in Omega Returned, the three wolves head there on foot. That’s the way to go, if you ask me. But then I’m prejudiced.

I was born in the Seattle area, but my family moved to Connecticut when I was around seven. My parents were poor and had three (later four) children, so every summer when we went back to visit my grandparents, we drove. It took a week to get there, a week back, and I threw up both ways.

It was a different time back then, and I guess if your kid threw up whenever they spent more than half an hour in the car, then they just threw up. No one ever put me in the front seat or gave me a Dramamine or called the whole expedition off. There are two particular barfs I remember. One was an entire Coke from McDonald’s (a very rare treat in our lives). It was probably only a child’s size Coke, but it was plenty big enough when it all came back up at once. The other was strawberry pancakes with strawberry syrup from IHOP. Don’t ask what that one was like.

We camped (see poor). Later, as an adult, when I found out people camped for fun, I was mystified. This was my camping experience: drive all day, unpack the car, pitch the tent, eat in the dark, go to bed, wake up and brush your teeth using water from a pump (to this day, I have an aversion to brushing my teeth without running water), pack everything up, and get back in the car.

Eventually someone took me on the kind of camping trip where you stay in the same place for multiple days and do nothing except splash around in the water and roast marshmallows over a fire, so now I get it. When other people say they like camping, they mean a completely different thing than I do. That kind of camping is all right.

Still, I did see a lot of the US and a little of Canada. I almost drowned in a river in Yellowstone Park and got stung by nettles rolling down a hill somewhere in South Dakota. We were in a terrible storm on a ferry crossing the Great Lakes (and I didn’t throw up THEN). There was that IHOP in Montana where I ate the strawberry pancakes. Later, my mother briefly lived in the town where that happened, and it felt like a betrayal.

We fought over the window seats and played an exciting game called “wheat field” where the winner was whoever’s wheat field ended first. If it rained, my father would warn us not to touch the side of the tent because the spot where we touched it would leak, and we always had to try and see if that was true (it was). One time the weather was bad enough that we got to stay in a hotel. All six of us shared a single hotel room, but The Wizard of Oz was on television, so that was amazing. I have a lot of memories from those road trips. They’re just mostly not good.

Owen and Fortis and Keesh enjoy the best parts of a road trip—by which I mean marshmallows—without anyone throwing up or being stung by nettles, but they don’t make it all the way to the west coast. Braxton and Craig make it all the way across, but they have a worse time of it. Maybe that’s why I can’t bring myself to finish that book. It’s too real.

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