I was in the middle of planning my 40th birthday trip to Hawaii when my brother called and suggested an alternative destination. His annual U.S. visit coincided with my birthday week and he was going to be in Florida.
Hawaii or Florida…hum. This would be my only opportunity to see my nephews and work on their vocabulary.
For two months, my trip was shrouded in secrecy. I bribed Sam, my six-year old nephew, to be my spy. The best information he could come up with was, “bring a bathing suit” and my cake would be chocolate with sprinkles. My brother cashed in his business miles and purchased my plane ticket. So now I knew I was flying into Tampa.
The rest would be revealed when I arrived.
I didn’t sleep on my red eye and was greeted in Tampa by my brother. His brother-in-law picked us up in the arrivals area in an F-something pickup with four doors. I sat up front while my brother slept in the back. I tried to sleep, but the country music was keeping me up, in between watching the brother-in-law deposit his Skoal drippings in a water bottle.
This was not a good sign.
Nearly two hours later, we were at the brother-in-law’s ranch: cows, horses, dogs, 4-wheelers and farm hands. I was deliriously tired at this point and too exhausted to appreciate the richness of this ranch. I needed a bed.
Instead, my birthday surprise was exposed – an Ultra Limited Edition 31-foot RV complete with a sign that read, “Cool Aunt Marna’s tour of the Deep South.”
I was fucked. I did not take six days of unpaid time off to tool around in the Sunshine State in an RV. I used to say roughing it was no cable, but with satellites, I’ve upgraded my mantra. Roughing it is no room service. My brother must of seen the horror on my face. “Don’t worry, you only have to sleep in it two nights,” he said. I wanted to turn around and go to TPA and reverse this bad decision fast.
After lunch, where I enjoyed gator fritters, we headed south. I could detail the destinations we went to, but it isn’t important. The nights I didn’t cry myself to sleep, I’d wake up and say “focus on your nephews, not the horror Marna.” I did a lot of sitting: sitting in cars, trucks and RVs. I got little sleep. I never felt clean. I wore my bathing suit one time. My back was killing me.
My birthday? Well, there were a few minor celebrations organized, but the most notable was a screening a photo montage video which included intro titling with my named spelled wrong. This was on Day 7, my patience zapped, so I blurted out, “Robert, you douche bag. You don’t even know how to spell my name?” The second part of the video google-earthed all the different places I lived. I felt like the butt of a week-long joke.
On Day 9, after a large bbq and activities familiar to the indigenous redneck population, the brother-in-law ordered a car for me. After sharing a 40th birthday chocolate cake with my nephews, I was wisked away back to civilization at the DoubleTree next to the Tampa airport. I had a bath. I slept in a real bed. I was finally relaxed.
On the flight home, I began reading “A heartbreaking work of staggering genius,” by Dave Eggers. I became envious of the relationship the two brothers had. They understood each other’s needs and knew how to have fun.
Maybe one day my brother will have the time to get to know and understand me. In the meantime, I’m another year older, and much wiser.
Hawaii here I come.