“Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.”
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Ten long months had passed since we had reserved a hotel room with a few excited clicks of a mouse. The formal opening of our Disneyland adventure was the morning of Friday, October 12, 2012, but as with almost all of our vacations, it had been long in anticipation. In this case, we began negotiating dates with our travel party the better part of a year before. October seemed a long ways off in the cold dark of January.
Dreary old Seneca thought that anticipating the future kept us from appreciating our present, but he never planned a trip to Disneyland – his travel opportunities included banishment to Corsica for sleeping with the emperor’s sister. In my experience, the gathering and staging phase can be every bit as engaging as the trip itself.
We are a family of planners and anticipators, and for our vacations I follow a regimen designed to drive myself into a frenzy of expectation. This includes: list-making, reminiscing sessions disguised as meetings with our traveling group, looking at maps, watching themed movies or television shows, listening to destination-appropriate music, pouring through old pictures from previous trips, and reading all of my favorite resources, whether books or websites*.
This all contributes to a great, overarching mental countdown that leaves us saying ridiculous things like: “Can you believe Disneyland is only 250 days away?” or “I wish we were sitting at Rancho del Zocalo RIGHT NOW.”
That may be what Seneca had in mind when he cautioned against living for the future rather than appreciating our present. But, he probably would have hated Disneyland, anyway, for its deliberate levity and spirit of entertainment. Nero, on the other hand, would have loved the Happiest Place on Earth, if he could have found time to visit with his busy schedule of burning family members and Christians, so make of that what you will.
We hoped to leave at 9:00 AM on the morning of Friday, October 12, and so, with car packed and us ready to leave, Amy dropped me off at work around 7:30 to finish a few things. She then drove off to do the same. The fact that we did not leave until close to 11:00 was not a promising start.
Our route was simple: southbound I-15 from Salt Lake City to the Greater Los Angeles Area, at which point we would have several options for arriving at our hotel near the resort. We zipped up the onramp and into the flow of traffic, and enjoyed the frisson of pleasure that accompanies the beginning of any long-anticipated vacation.
To save on gasoline we decided to take Amy’s far more economical Subaru Outback instead of my large, comfortable SUV. The Subaru felt small and cramped when compared to the virtual living room I was accustomed to driving, and I kept forgetting to shift down when climbing hills. At one point I complained that it was like being jammed in a Mercury mission space capsule, and was pointedly ignored for several freeway miles by Amy, with good justification.
Although our car was transporting just the two of us, the overall vacation would be shared by several groups of family and friends, who would be arriving at various times over the next few days. In all, 25 people in 6 different traveling parties would make up our loose coalition of Disneyland explorers.
It was raining when we got on the freeway in Salt Lake City, which continued with only brief pauses for the first 300 miles of the trip. It was not a pleasant autumn sprinkle, either, but curtains of rain that made us deaf to anything else as it pounded against the windshield.
Our first stop was in Beaver, Utah, where we drove down the main drag until we found the Cache Valley Cheese Factory, and went in the attached store to stretch our legs. Aside from blocks of cheese and racks of cheese curds in refrigerated cases, the Cache Valley Cheese Factory has bathrooms, ice cream, sodas, candy, chips, and an odd selection of souvenirs, in case anyone wanted to bring back a reminder of the great time they spent in Beaver. In previous visits, the store sold bumper stickers and t-shirts that read “I Love Beaver,” which almost certainly garnered more stares and laughs than purchases, but I could not find them anywhere.
Our next stop was not far down the freeway in the college town of Cedar City, where we decided to stop for a late lunch. In my original plan, we would arrive in Las Vegas for lunch and then press on to Victorville (our destination for that evening) for dinner. The fact that we started late and drove through hard rain meant we were 175 miles short of where I hoped to be. I started worrying about having to sleep in a rest stop for the night, which was premature as it was only 2:30 in the afternoon. I did not share my concern with Amy.
We cruised the business loop of Cedar City, taking us past several restaurants and long-established burger stands that may have served outstanding food, but we ended up at a reliable sandwich chain. The three college kids who tossed our sandwiches together were strangely eager to share stories of the bizarre, unhygienic behavior of a fourth employee, who was not present, and laughed madly as they told us. We could only return blank stares, and they seemed disappointed – not upset, just disappointed – that we were not engaged by their strange stories. It seemed clear that some sort of pharmacological experimentation had taken place not long before we arrived. We ate our sandwiches with haste, filled up at a nearby station, and got back on the road.
The freeway took us through the Virgin River Gorge, nipping off the very northwest corner of Arizona as we went. The gorge is carved from the same Colorado Plateau building blocks as Zion National Park, and Amy snapped dozens of pictures from the moving car as we cruised through. I did my best to operate the window and alert her to obscuring road signs as I drove, like a good photographer’s assistant, but most of her images still ended up blurry. This was unsurprising, considering they were taken at 65 miles per hour.
We passed through Las Vegas on the freeway as the sun was setting, and with rush hour traffic beginning to fill the lanes. One other traveling party in our large group was on the road that day, and although they were a couple of hours behind us, they were stopping for the evening in Las Vegas. I burned with jealousy for the people already happy in their hotel rooms while we pressed on, into the gathering dark, with many more miles to go. I pictured us arriving so late to our hotel in Victorville that they turned us away. No room at the inn. At least we were out of the rain.
Somehow I missed the moment we passed into California, although several large road signs marked it. I almost refused to believe we were making progress until we crossed through the fresh fruit check station near Yermo. We told them we didn’t have any, even though we had taken the padding out of the rear seats and stuffed them with oranges. (Not really.)
Many miles later we made it to Baker, California, the Gateway to Death Valley. It was also home to the world’s tallest thermometer, which can be seen from the freeway, although it was not operational as we passed by. We decided to stop for dinner in Baker, and I talked Amy into eating at the world famous Mad Greek, which I had seen on television and read about in travel guides. Amy was dubious, and leaning toward the more familiar burger or taco places on the town’s single drag, but I was driving the car and made the decision.
We both ordered gyro dinner meals with rice, and Amy chose the table while I waited for the food. I am being as kind as I can to say that I enjoyed the rice and the soda, and not much else. At the head of our table was a small reproduction of a statue of Achilles. It was unclear from the typed label on the statue whether it was a reproduction of a more famous (and presumably larger) version, but it was noteworthy for its prominent, eye-level male genitals, aimed right at me. The view did not detract from the dining experience, exactly, but I did harbor a suspicion that Amy had selected those seats as a way of expressing her opinion of my choice in restaurants.
We climbed back in the Subaru with infinite miles to go. We drove and drove, and then drove more. We were the people who would always drive, and never stop.
Then, all at once, we were there. One moment we were destined to never stop driving, and the next we were in Victorville, relaxing in a room of uncertain maintenance, on a bed of questionable provenance, ahead of the next day’s final leg to our destination. We took perverse pride in being the closest to the finish line. Aside from the traveling group spending the night in Las Vegas, other groups were still in Utah, waiting to fly out the next day. Others, also in Utah, would not be coming for days yet. We were winning the race. We set our alarms for early morning and had trouble falling asleep.