As I have likely mentioned before, there are certain rules in life: Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to on cross examination, never agree with your wife when she suggests she looks fat, never get in between a mother of three and the juice box aisle when there is a sale on at the grocery store and never, ever ask a Southern Belle how old she is.
Well, you can add one more certainty to that list: Never go on a trip with my parents.
It’s not that my parents aren’t fun—I hear they’re great at parties. It’s just that...well...it’s just that they don’t have the greatest luck on vacations.
I don’t really know when it started. I guess it was the shipwreck. When I was in law school, Mom and Dad took a cruise with some friends of theirs. I think the cruise originated in England and went to Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. Who doesn’t want to take a cruise and freeze half to death?
I’m going to tell the story the way we found out: It was about 5:00 AM when the phone rang at the Smithfield residence of Mr. and Mrs. Scott Council. The phone was on Scott’s side of the bed, so he leaned over to pick it up and I heard him say, “Hey, Steve. Ok. Well...good. That’s good to know. Bye.”
“What in the blue hell was that all about?”
“Um...that was your dad. He wanted to let us know that they were okay.”
“Fabulous. Why the need to tell us at the crack of dawn?”
“Well...they’ve apparently been in a shipwreck and they wanted us to call your brother and your grandmother and let them know that everything is okay before the morning news comes on.”
Well, I called Grandma and Ethan and did as I was told and they were equally bewildered about the urgency of the message...and then I turned on the TV. Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and anyone else you can think of lead off with these pictures of a cruise ship with this big assed hole in it and many variations of the same dramatic line: DISASTER IN THE ENGLISH CHANNEL.
Things apparently went swimmingly (pun intended) until the return trip to England. The cruise itinerary had the ship sailing the last night in order to get to port in the English Channel first thing in the morning for disembarkation. My parents were nestled all snug in their microscopic little cabin bed when they got knocked out of that same little cabin bed with a stunning jolt accompanied by an almighty crashing noise.
Dad got up to take a peek out of the window to see what in the world was going on and he was greeted by the sight of another ocean liner scraping up the side of their ship literally a nose length away. Seriously—he could have reached out and touched it had he been so inclined.
A tanker transporting cyanide (yes, cyanide) caught fire and the entire crew was lending all of their attention to putting the fire out. One does not want a tanker full of cyanide to explode and/or sink right off of the English coast—or, I dare say, any coast for that matter. To make a long story short, no one was looking where they were going. Both ships were heading toward port and I don’t know if the cruise ship thought they had the right of way or whether they were engaging in a sporting game of high-risk chicken, but it didn’t end well.
My parents weren’t overly thrilled about their mega-ton wakeup call and all of the other passengers were ready to get off the damn boat and commence the process of putting their vacation behind them. The problem was those pesky little cyanide containers and whether or not they maintained their intergrity. Everyone was detained and British officials used their soothing Masterpiece Theater tones (I was in a bomb evacuation at Heathrow Airport once and it’s very hard to be freaked out when the serene announcer is practically offering you a cup of tea over the loudspeaker) to assure that everything was perfectly okay—they just needed to check a couple of things first. The problem was that the British officials were issuing their assurances while dressed in full HAZMAT gear.
After an interminable morning, folks were finally sent about their merry way with vouchers for free cruises. I suppose you might call that the “glass is half full” approach.
Every single trip my parents have tried to take to Africa has been called off at the last minute due to the need for emergency surgery to them or a member of the family. There was a nasty shower accident in Morocco made even more harrowing by the fact that a couple of goats and a chicken had been seen in the front yard of a hospital passed by earlier in the day. There was a bad flare-up of an eye condition on a trans-Atlantic cruise where the ship’s well-meaning and earnest doctor was forced to resort to the book The ABC’s of the Eye for reference—trust me when I tell you that it was too late to get out and start swimming, although I was sorely tempted.
I can report that my parents successfully visited Greece and Turkey. The Mediterranean cruise they took as part of the trip was lovely. Two weeks later, the boat they had been on sank to the bottom of the ocean.
Of course, sometimes my parents bring these disasters on themselves. Who in the hell plans a trip to Alaska when your daughter is 8 months’ pregnant? Bonnie and Steve! They had been gone a couple of days and were at the Westernmost point of the United State (Skagway, Alaska, if you’re curious) when my water broke.
What ensued as a Steve Martin/John Candy-esque escapade with a little World’s Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers thrown in for good measure. Mom thought that one of the bush pilots was being rude asking everyone’s weight, but he quite literally had to know every pound in the plane if folks were interested in staying airborne. Kinda makes fudging on your weight take on a whole new significance, n’est-ce pas?
Now, I know that some folks out there think that I might be exaggerating a touch and that’s fine. My parents had friends that went with them on each of the aforementioned trips, so you can verify if you so desire. There are also some adrenaline junkies out there whose interest is now peaked. Consider yourself warned and make sure your life insurance is paid up.