How to Get There From Here – Vegas to the Grand Canyon pt 1

Google says 3hrs, 47 min, but does Google include pee stops, donut breaks, lunch and scenic pullouts?
Google says 3hrs, 47 min, but does Google include pee stops, donut breaks, lunch stops and scenic pullouts?

All we had to do was get from Vegas to our hotel in Flagstaff, AZ, south of the Grand Canyon. Maybe see the Hoover Dam if we had time. Maybe stop for lunch.

But that’s it. (Though, ‘it’ was a four-hour drive from Vegas to Flagstaff without stops!)

Oh, yeah. Also.

There may have been a birthday supper booked at the best Mexican restaurant in Flagstaff, (as featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri)  but I began to fear that would not quite work out. It would all depend on how fast we could get going and how important it was to rush. If we rushed too much, we could miss out on those magic moments, but if we didn’t, then the birthday dinner would be a bust.

Our chances of making the reservation in time dimmed right from the start. Somehow the tags came off my luggage and being me, and loving black, when I bought new luggage, I chose the black one… like a thousand other people.

Then The-Youngest, with his keen eyes, spotted it and raced over to lift it off the conveyor. Being 9, though, my luggage nearly pulled him onto the conveyor. It could have made a funny YouTube video (or at least a vine,) but instead of filming him, I ran over to rescue him, even though he did not want to be rescued in any way, shape or form.

Worse case for him, he got to ride my luggage like a pony around the conveyor belt. Worse case for us, he fell onto the conveyor, got his arm caught, then ripped off, and as he flailed around, screaming, he fell into the luggage loading hole and somehow found his way into a threshing machine.

So no video.

Our ride from the airport to the car rental lot. The-Oldest couldn't look more happy.
Our ride from the airport to the car rental lot. The-Oldest couldn’t look happier.

With our bags in hand, we went in search of the shuttle to our rent-a-car. Only two ways we could go and, yes, we chose the wrong way and had to march back again to the other end of the airport. But we had super light luggage so it really wasn’s so bad.

Stopping The-Youngest from using the wheeled luggage as a bowling ball to knock over lines of tourists, though, was more of a challenge.

Outside, nice weather. Hot. It’s a dry heat. Boyz not impressed. They said they’d felt hotter in our backyard. It was 96 outside and they were in the shade.

The shuttle took us on a long journey to the rental lots in a land far, far away. It is a bit odd, but whatever. Vegas is as Vegas does.

At the rental place, Aussies the size of small tanks got angry that they had to wait in line. I guess there are no lines in Australia. Or maybe the steroids made them angry all the time. Personally, I wouldn’t like to face down a 6’6” guy with a thick red neck and a throbbing vein in his forehead,  but a 5’1” guy did just that, mostly by saying “I understand, I get why you’re angry, we’ll get to you as fast as we can, ” until the Aussies wandered away to go lift Volkswagens or something.

Hyundai Sonata. A decent enough car. Certainly it was big enough for all of us.
Hyundai Sonata. A decent enough car. Certainly, it was big enough for all of us.

Car was a Hyundai sonata. Red. Comfy inside. Steered well.

I think the most dangerous part was getting out of the lot. People zooming in at the last moment, backing out to get on the road, wheeling luggage without looking around of just being German or deciding to chat in a large group and not move while people are trying to get in and out of parking lots.

Despite the need to make time, we had to stop for food. Denny’s. Remember the goal of keeping the boys fed? Well, no way we’d survive a 4-hour drive with 2 hangry boys. So, we stopped and by doing so, had a cool little encounter.

See, this is what you get when you don’t rush. I need to remind myself of this. And eating a lot of chocolate before bed keeps me awake.

A grab machine. I have no idea what it's really called. A claw machine? A clawinator?
A grab machine. I have no idea what it’s really called. A claw machine? A clawinator?

While waiting to be seated, a special needs person wanted to play the grab-a-toy-game and couldn’t figure it out. He was confused and was getting upset so I asked The-Youngest to come over. He’s an expert on these machines. More than the makers, I think.

Anyway, he took the time to show the guy what to do. Push that. Move this that way. There you go. Let it drop down. See. You got something! Great!

The-Youngest can be the coolest kid sometimes!

The other guy was delighted in a way that only mentally handicapped people or Leaf fans can be. I was proud of The-Youngest.

It was an encounter, an adventure I couldn’t have predicted.

At Denny’s, I actually had a healthy meal. Well, Denny’s healthy anyway. Veggies and eggs on some potatoes. No free food though. On your birthday at Denny’s, you get a free meal, but only a Grand Slam and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World wanted an avocado chicken burger. They didn’t sing, but did bring her a burger (not on the menu), cuz, you know, it was her birthday.

We grabbed road supplies, forced The-Youngest to put back an American-large bag of chips, two bags of nibs, one box of bubble gum, and a super large bottle of pop. He still took a big bag of Cheetos, a bottle of water and some candies. Me, I bought M&Ms and got mocked for it since we’re going to the M&M store at some point.

On the road, the plan really began to fall apart. We were way behind schedule. The chance of making the birthday supper was now 20/80.

No time for the Hoover Dam.

We’d see it when we got back.

There was a point I would have to call off the birthday supper, but there was a part of me that wouldn’t do that until all hope had died.

Leaving Vegas
Leaving Vegas

With the sun behind us, slowly dipping in the sky, we buckled up and sped off, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World navigating, The-Oldest listening to classical music and conducting in the back seat, and The-Youngest starting to crunch away on his gigantic bag of candies.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego 2014 – Tips

10 Things to Make a Vacation With Kids Successful

1)      IMG_0087Have a place to call home. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if we had to pack up every morning and move to a new hotel, a new location. How many things would get left behind, valuable things, like stretchy frogs or a gorilla cup? And how much harder would it be to unload all the stuff, deal with an ice maker that’s making too much noise or a bed that has too many lumps in it?  So, yeah, being in one place for a while was the way to go.

2)      Good shoes. So important. It may be important for the kids, too, but for adults, it’s more critical than having a bottle of Xanex in a purse, or taking a thermos full of Jack Daniels.  Nothing will grind a great adventure to a IMG_3419halt like sore feet. Oh, the heat, the smell, the blisters, the bone aching agony of wearing a pair of cheap shoes. If you spend any money on vacation clothes, spend it on shoes. You’ll thank me.

3)      Always have a first aid kit. Now, I don’t mean stock it with plasma, a bone saw and a vial of morphine (though the latter may come in handy sometimes,) but having a bit of bug spray, a small can of that numbing stuff (like Bactine), a handful of wet wipes and a few spare bandages comes in handy. I mean, hey, let’s face it, especially with boys (old or young), there’s a good chance they’ll climb something they shouldn’t, stick their hand into something icky or prickly, trip over something, fall into something, scrape their knees on something, or burn their skin on something. It’s not that you can’t find supplies nearby (at least in San Diego), but it not only saves time running off to a pharmacy or first aid station, but keeps everyone from crying a lot.

4)      Do not over-plan. Not as easy as it sounds. But one thing that continues to amaze me is how long it can take for 2 boys to get ready and out the door. If you think you can do, ‘9:00-9:05 brush teeth, wash face, go to bathroom, 9:05-9:37 Drive to gun range. 9:38-10:57, shoot guns,’ you’re kidding yourself. It’s ok to have a rough plan. Like we’re going to see the aircraft carrier, today, maybe even in the morning, but the more flexibility you have, the less stress there will be (and this will save money on the minibar bill at the end of the trip.)

5)      Leave one day (at least) free for simple fun. With a 7 and 11 year old this should have been pool time. It sort of goes to #4, don’t overplan, but by having a flex day, there can be a day everyone can relax and bit and avoid burn out. I wish we’d done this. I think by the last day we were just going through the motions of touristing.

6)      IMG_3746 (600x800) (2)Food. Eat food. I know this should be a no-brainer, but it’s easy to skip on snacks, or push supper to later to go on that one last ride or yell at the lions to wake up one. Bring snacks if you have room in a backpack or simply set your fancy iphone to remind you or organize breaks at a certain point. Lack of food nearly ruined the Midway experience. Lack of food caused more than one melt down. And realize, as I often have to, that children have different eating/drinking needs than we, as adults, do. I know, another no-brainer, but the signs of hangry kids are not always there until it’s almost too late.

IMG_2224 (598x800)7)      Have distraction devices or ideas.  An iphone with Angry Birds can stop a meltdown. A DS3D can make a long drive tolerable. Even playing the ‘would-you-rather’ game can make a wait for your Denny’s pancakes go by faster. It’s something I’d had to learn. Distraction is your friend. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world is good at this. “Mommy! I want to go on the Deathspin ride!!!!!” “Oh, look over there, there’s a giant jug of milk! Don’t you just want to hug it?”

8)      Know that things will go wrong. Things you can’t plan for. Things that will cause you to be late or miss something or have to use #3. Short of arterial bleeding or a zombie invasion, most of the obstacles  are actually pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Even missing a plane can be dealt with. My way of coping is to remember that all the crap that happens makes for good stories. I mean, who wants to hear, “hey, the vacation was fine, we had fun and nothing bad happened”? Better, “OMG, you wouldn’t believe what happened when the youngest …”

9)      Ask for help. As a guy, this is one of the hardest things to remember. If you’re can’t find Bricksburg in Legoland, ask. If you need to find a good place to eat, ask. If you need a bathroom really, really badly, like now, like really now, ask. It helps to ask people who might know – The concierge at the hotel, a taxi driver, a theme park employee, google, a friend who lives there. If you doubt me, watch Amazing Race. The winners will ask for help all the time. It’s ok. Really.

10)IMG_2222 (598x800)   Remember the purpose is to have fun. Fun for everyone. I loved that on this trip, everyone had something they wanted to do. I think that’s important. That we talked to the boys and found out what was important for them to see, to do. I loved that both the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I both got to do some adult-like things. It’s not that everyone can’t enjoy what the others enjoy, but how much better will a trip be that meets everyone’s needs at some point or another. So, ask, what EXPERIENCE are you looking for? “I want to experience the thrill of a fast rollercoaster.” “I want to see my friend, again, and reconnect.” “I want cotton candy, cuz, I dunno, I want it, like, it tastes good and we don’t get it at home.” (that was me, by the way) “I want to find out how claustrophobic it is on the lower decks.”

I’m there are dozens and dozens of other ideas. What tips would you give to other parents traveling with kids?

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Supper Surprises


Breaking Bread

Ok, so the boys love Denny’s.

It’s safe comfort food.

Plus, they get to choose stuff. They love to choose stuff.

The funny thing is, though, they always choose the same thing with some very minor variations. Hamburger and fries. Chicken strips and fries. For the youngest, pizza, please. With fries.

God help them if they’re faced with Mexican food or Thai food or fruit.

Dinner at Red Lobster
Dinner at Red Lobster

Yet, this trip they’ve been brave enough to get out of their comfort zone a bit. Faced with no pizza or hamburger choices, they tried fish sticks, Mexican style. One ate a hamburger WITH cheese on it. The other ate fries WITHOUT ketchup. Both tried hash browns. One spit back a spoonful of applesauce like it was steaming poo, but hey, he did try it. The same one ate a corn dog until he found out it was not covered in cheese then suddenly found it uneatable.

But that’s all new stuff for them, and I have to say, it’s always entertaining for me. Like me trying tripe for the first time. (I think I spit it back, too.)

Being me, I want to talk over supper. But I’ve yet to get them talking much.

Not Denny's. We were discussing Terraria at this point.
Not Denny’s. We were discussing Terraria at this point.

I come at them again and again. Today I asked about the zoo. What animals did they like? Hate? Did you like the bus ride? Did you see when I caught on fire and ran around naked screaming?

I usually get a shrug or a single word answer.

We did get to talk a bit about the elephants, again. That was cool. We talked about if they were abused at the zoo or not, if the enclosure was big enough, if they were well treated. I was in the minority thinking that they were, but it was a good discussion.

However, every so often, just to make sure I’m not ever understanding what’s going on, something like this pops up out of nowhere.

The oldest looks up from his glass of milk after a very brief discussion on his turn as navigator.  “Mommy, is all of this training for being an adult?”

It’s a laser-like observation. I sit bolt up.

“Yes, it is,” she replies.

He nods. Gets a very serious look on his face.

Then returns to his milk.

I try to expand on the subject, but he’s moved on and I come to realize that I’m pretty much talking to myself.

I go back to my fries. But despite what I may think sometimes, they’re watching, learning, observing and, I hope growing (and not just taller.)

IMG_3551So neither the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world nor I are deterred. We’ll continue to get the boys to try new foods, have new adventures, venture their opinions and maybe, just maybe, talk about their feelings one day.

It’s all training for being an adult.

And not just for them. For me as well.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Navigation

The Ride of Death

san diego mapOk, it’s time.

Time for the oldest to take a crack at navigation.

He’s terrified.

He fears we’ll get lost, run out of gas, that I’ll get mad, that he’ll not be able to understand the map, that he’ll have to think fast and act fast.

See, the boys have been unholy terrors in the car. If I put live scorpions down their pants, they would have been less beserko-nutso. They can come back, complaining of being tired, unable to walk another step, wanting only to rest, and they get in the car and whammo, goofy-giggling-fighting silly-buggers.

It’s as amazing as it is annoying.

Especially when I’m trying to drive in heavy traffic and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world is trying to navigate in an unfamiliar city (with roads that sometimes aren’t signed and a gps that says we’re in the ocean every so often.)

I want to say that I’ve been all zen and understanding, but there have been times I’m a millimeter from pulling the car over, tossing them out, and driving away.

So we thought this would be a good exercise for the oldest.

He’d get an idea of what it was like to be the navigator.

Destination: Denny’s.

4 blocks away.

Pretty much a straight line.

One highway to go on.

One exit to take.

I’m ready.

I know we could get lost.

Badly, badly lost.

But it’s all good.

I don’t get angry at being lost on vacation. I only get stressed if we have to make it to a certain place at a certain time, but today, we don’t have that problem.

galantSo, we get in the car, he takes the phone. Tries to talk to his way out of it.

But no way, man.

No way.

I start down the driveway towards the road.

He’s not sure which way to turn.

I hear panic in his voice.

Then he figures it out. Right!

We go right.

The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world asks, “Now where does Joe turn?

What? I dunno. What? Turn?

There’s a road coming up. Does Joe turn?

Yes. No. Road?!?!

We’re nearly at the road. Does Joe take it?

I dunno! Ah! Ack! Urg.

We just passed the road. We’re heading for the highway.

Highway?!! Wait. Eeeek. We’re on a highway?!?!!?

Do you see the Denny’s?

I have to look for that too?

Me: We’re heading to LA now.

We don’t want to go there!!!!!!!!!!!

Me: No. No we don’t.

Then there’s a large popping noise and his head explodes. Brains and skull fragments everywhere.

We pull off at the next exit as we see the Denny’s sign.

We park and he staggers out of the car, ashen-faced and twitching.

“Welcome to navigation,” I say.

The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world adds, “And that was without anyone kicking your seat or screaming in your ear.”

He just blinks and stares off in the distance in horror.

The youngest one pipes up.

“Can I navigate next?”


Traveling With Kids – San Diego Seaworld – Showtime


IMG_3605“The Whales Fly”

Seeing Seaworld is as much about balancing off what you do between the shows as anything. Like a hyper intermission filled with madly running around and screaming and water and sharks. But there are set times that the dolphins or killer whales come out to play. Crowds gather. Good seats are taken. Snack vendors magically appear. So we had to get there on time.

First up, the famous whale show. The Shamu Show. Apparently, that’s just the name of the show as none of the killer whales, (and there are 10 of them), are actually called Shamu. Sort of like the how Dread Pirate Roberts name just got transfered from pirate to pirate to handsome, farmer in love with a pretty girl.

Besides, who would go see a show named the Corky show? I would expect puppets and a guest appearance by Tom Hanks. So there’s a good reason they kept the name.

We decided to see the main show. There were other options. Shamu up and close. Dine with Shamu. Swim with Shamu and see if you can avoid getting eaten. All of these things seemed like a bad idea. They’re not called cuddle whales. So, yeah, main show.

We sat up high so as not to get splashed. They had the splash zones clearly marked, and not only marked, but the park guides told everyone coming in that the splash zones were, well, very splashy. Then, later, they made an announcement. Three in fact. If you’re in the splash zones, you’ll get wet.

For some reason, this came as a big surprise to some people. I think it’s the same idiots who put a hot cup of coffee in their lap and when it spills scalding hot liquid on their family jewels, sue everyone in sight.

IMG_0448 (800x600)Anyway, we were safe. Safer than safe. We were rows and rows away from the last splash zone set of seats. So high up that the air was thin and I think we could have touched the sky. I told the oldest we could and he gave me that look again. Like I’m having a stroke.

Now, let me ask you. Was the youngest more excited about the whales or the fact he could get cotton candy? You probably know the answer. However, the oldest was very concerned that the whales might not be treated properly as much as anything and wasn’t entirely convinced these animals should be in a tank giving performances.

One of these things I could solve. I got the youngest cotton candy. The other, well, harder to solve. He may be right. But these animals are treated well, they don’t have to worry about starving to death and the trainers really love them. I hoped to open up a bit of conversation about the whales, but it died as the show began.

The announcer asked the crowd to thank all the veterans in the crowd. For them to stand.

Being me and completely mishearing what was said, I stood.  Me and about 50 other men (and a few women).

This was odd, thought I.  Shouldn’t more be standing to salute the soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines?

The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world tugged on my shirt. “What’re you doing?”

“Applauding the servicemen and women.”

“You only stand if you’re one of them.”

Oh hell!

I don’t think I ever sat down so fast.

I felt so embarrassed.

Then the show started. The whales began by circling the tank, jumping in the air, then soaking everyone. I mean, SOAKING them. Like the teenagers at legoland had done. I feared they were out to soak me for pretending to be a serviceman.

IMG_0486 (800x600)Howevrer, more than a few people, somehow shocked that sitting so close to the tank would get them wet, ran for their lives like they were being sprayed with acid. Others, those that knew what to expect, laughed and giggled and shouted as water cascaded on top of them. Even a few adults.

Personally, I think the whales like this part. Personally I think they’re hoping the chubby, red-haired kid who threw a hot dog in the water will be splashed into the tank so they could take him for a long dive underwater.

Yes, some people are jerks, some kids in need of serious parental supervision, but by and large, we’re all well-behaved. We clap when we should clap. We go oooooh and awe when it’s appropriate. We eat lots of snacks that cost as much as a dinner at Denny’s.

I love seeing the whales, though. They are magnificent creatures. The youngest stops tearing at his cotton candy to watch them. The oldest seems to be looking at them to make sure they’re not being abused in any way. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world hugs them both while pointing out the best tricks.

IMG_3583 (800x450)When it’s over, I half expect the whale, at some point, to pull himself out of the water and shout, are you not entertained?

But no.

Nothing bad happens. No one is eaten. None of the whales are hurt or abused. No one drowns. One camera may be a write-off after being soaked, but we’re all good.

We are entertained.

And maybe, just maybe, we’re all more connected to another living creature. Maybe we’ll think about them when someone brings up drift nets or oil spills or harvesting them for whatever parts we think we may need.