July 29th, 2012
Clearly the decision to rely solely on the GPS to navigate this trip has troubled my subconscious. I wake gasping for air from a Deliverence-type dream wherein the GPS takes revenge on me for spoofing the survey required by the licencing agreement. God! 5:30-am and I am soaked in sweat.
Despite the fact that I am sure I did not fall back asleep, the alarm at 6am slams me into wakefulness like a wrecking ball. Ahhh. Nothing says vacation like the smell of fear sweat and the pounding of your heart. We packed last night so after showers we can hit the road pretty easily. Unlike our standard trips where we discover that Tim Horton’s has screwed up our orders a block from the drive thru, today we don’t figure out that my wife’s tea is actually someone else’s coffee until around Jordan. How nice. We can share a single cup of tea for the next 250 km. At least it will cut down on bathroom breaks.
The first big departure is getting off Hwy 401 after London and onto Hwy 402 to Sarnia. It turns out that it’s just as boring going from London to Sarnia as it is to drive from London to Windsor. Yup. Corn field, corn field, soy beans. Repeat. Crossing the border at the Bluewater Bridge is the same tense nightmare of anticipation that I have every time I cross into the USA with the kids. I am always certain that one of them is going to start yelling “Help me. I don’t know these people. They’re stealing me!!” I swear to God I’m half certain they’d do it. So I always look like I have 10 kilos of heroin in my car when I start to chat with the border guards. Luckily, today we pass through without inspection, incident or cavity search.
3 1/2 hours into the 4 1/2 hour trip the pressure of being a passenger with iPods, music, pillows, blankets and food proves too much for the kids. They begin to fidget and fuck around teasing, poking and screaming at each other. Too far into the trip to effectively threaten to turn around, we resort to threats of physical violence and abandonment. Although they seem to ratchet my wife’s and my stress levels into the red, the kids seem amused by our threats and start to use them on each other.
The very nice lady at the tourism information booth has shown us on a map the route for the last hour of our trip but for some reason the GPS does not agree with her comforting paper map. It leads us away from I-75 and up Hwy 54 through Flint, Michigan. Hwy 54 is a highway to the same extent that I have a 38″ waist. Just barely. I’ve never seen a route so lined with windowless bars, wrecking yards and suspicious transmission shops. When my wife observes that she’d rather not shop at Joe’s Tranny Shop, I find that I must concur.
We begin to experience what I call my Theory of Anti-Relativity. As our speed is forced to decrease due tot the nature of secondary highways, our perception of time similarly or perhaps exponentially begins to slow. So while the first 2 hours at 120 km/h passed in the blink of an eye, the last ten miles at 80 km/h (sorry, Canadian speedometer) are akin to walking across the Sahara desert. We explode into Frankenmuth like the Israelites exiting the desert. Tired, bedraggled and somewhat amazed that those leading us here actually knew where the fuck they were going.
Main Street Frankenmuth is beautiful. Everything matches, flowers are everywhere and even parking is easy. It is soon apparent that this area was centrally planned by one person. The Zehnder’s name is on every other building and the one’s without it all have plaques saying how grateful they are to the Zehnder’s family for not having them run out of town. But still you must admit, that old man Zehnder had a good eye for planning.
We have lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery (est. 1862). The beer is good and the food is excellent. My wife has soup and salad, the kids have Mac & Cheese and I have the Frankenstein burger. It tastes amazing and so too is it amazing that 2 Angus beef patties (cooked medium rare), cheese, bacon on a bun doesn’t also come with a defibrillator.
Some devious bastard has hidden 68 individually named garden gnomes in the downtown shops. If you can find a mere 10 and record their names, the Chamber of Commerce will give you a free gift. “It will be fun for the kids.” My wife speaks words that have haunted my parenting experience since Milo was 6 days old. It should be noted that she would dance naked across hot coals for anything free. After 2 stores, the kids have lost all enthusiasm for the project, but since there is free stuff at the end we must persevere. You might think that finding a garden gnome in a cheese shop or a ladies wear store would be easy. You would be wrong. Very, very wrong. These fuckers are hidden so well, you might well assume that the prize is a gold bar. But more on the “prizes” later.
As we promenade down the main street, there are lots of opportunities for photos. Especially, photos of us sticking our heads through cut outs of crazy Bavarian themed scenes. It makes for some amusing shots but as I grow weary of the game, I start to maliciously redirect the kids so their heads are attached to characters of the wrong gender. Ahh, the joys of being petty.
The quality of shopping is very high. We find some great women’s wear at a store called Emillie B’s. Super quality and great prices. I buy 2 bottles of nice olive oil. I’m allowed to shop there alone and still the family wonders why I felt the need to try each and every product in the store. I am without kids or a chaperone, I wonder why? The walk back to the car takes us through a toy store, a smoothie shop, the visitor’s centre and eventually back to the brewery. I grab a 6 pack of IPA and 24 craft made bottles of rootbeer. The Visitor’s centre supplies the kids with the prizes from the Gnome hunt. Milo gets a pin with the city coat of arms but Maya gets a purple plastic toy that would shame a dollar store.
Around 4:30pm, we check into our hotel. It is quick and simple. The cafe is in the lobby and we can see into the water park. The hotel is filled with young families and few teens. The park is geared so that younger kids can enjoy every part which is great since Maya is a tentative swimmer. A short rest in our room and then we head down to the cafe for our pizza. My new eye glasses with progressive lenses prove a big barrier. By the time we reach the lobby, I feel totally sick and I’m staggering like a drunk. The learning curve on these things is going to kill me.
After pizza, we head into the water park. My wife bee-lines for the hot tub. My university degree and post-grad college diploma both fail to provide any insight into how to put a life jacket on Maya. 10 frustrating minutes later, Maya and I are floating down the lazy river. Soon though, she wants to go down one of the water slides. 300 steps up the tower carrying an inner tube helps get the cardio started but it’s really just the beginning. Maya climbs onto my lap and we launch into a pitch black worm hole, racing down the tube at Warp 7, wildly trying not to let Maya slip away and be crushed against the sides, we plummet endlessly subjected to turns that would destroy the average Formula 1 race car. Screams of terror echo down the tunnel. After endless hours of hurling through the darkness, a glow at the end of the tunnel is spotted. There is no time to determine if I will be answering to St. Peter or escaping a worm hole into another dimension. Given our incredible velocity and the mass of a small child added to my not-so small mass, my vague remembrance of high school physics says that we should have slammed through the concrete wall some 50 yards distant. Luckily, the co-efficient of friction provided by the water slows us to the point where we only partially smoosh a ten year old girl against the side of the pool 15 yards from our exit point. Maya is totally pumped. I ask her “So you liked that, eh. Do you want to go again?” My belief that Maya is without a shred of compassion in her heart is broken when she answers, “That was fun, daddy. But I’m ready for the hot tub.” God bless her.
Neither my wife nor Maya last much longer, but Milo and I hang on for another hour and a half. We shoot hoops, chillax in the hot tub, and battle in the lazy river. But the most challenging battle is posed by the floating lily pads. It can’t really be impossible to run across 6 floating lily pads from one side of the pool to the other. After all, the pads are 3 feet across, 12 inches thick and chained to the bottom of the pool. Milo skips across the pads with a one-two little skip step. My first crossing, I try a fast approach. The 3rd lily pad sinks to the bottom under my bulk and I crash. The 2nd attempt I go slow, holding on to the net above the lily pads. This proves foolish since the net is static and the pads are dynamic. I end up with my feet five feet ahead of my dangling body. Crash number two is like when an orca launches into the air and falls gut first back into the water. It takes some time to work up to try number three. I wait and watch other large folks make similar disastrous attempts. My final attempt is the one where lily pad #2 slams into my mouth and almost dislocates my left shoulder. We retire to our room soon thereafter. The usual challenges are faced getting everyone into bed and I am finally left writing this journal.