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"To distract my young son and daughter from the gloom of our rental, I took them for a walk down the street, where a large brown rodent ominously crossed our path," recalls columnist Danny Heitman of a long-ago vacation. "'Is that your rat?' a little boy down the sidewalk casually asked us."

When my daughter was invited to join her boyfriend’s Louisiana family on the final leg of their vacation this month, she quickly jumped at the chance. They’d be wrapping up their time together in New York City, a place my daughter has always wanted to visit.

She caught a plane to Charlotte, where her connecting flight was canceled. Her bags got lost, and she was stranded in a dingy hotel room with none of her things. She eventually ended up with her hosts in Manhattan, though her bags had still not arrived.

Frustrated and exhausted, she took comfort in the prospect of seeing Broadway in all its megawatted glory that evening.

But as my daughter and the rest of her party were headed to the musical, a blackout struck a large swath of Manhattan, canceling their plans.

The news reached us back in Louisiana as my wife and I were glancing out the window at the remnants of Hurricane Barry. We’d lost power only about 40 minutes. I was struck by the irony that we were sitting in the aftermath of a hurricane in brightly lit, air-conditioned comfort while our daughter, in the City That Never Sleeps, was without electricity.

She made it safely back to her hotel and took the trials of her travel experience in stride. Maybe growing up in our household had helped prepare her for a dream vacation that had taken a few unpleasant turns. We have, like many families, our share of stories about summer getaways gone wrong.

In the summer of 2008, worried by the recession, we decided to economize by renting a cheaper beach house down the road from our usual spot. We quickly discovered why it cost less. The décor evoked a ragged fishing camp, with riotous plaid furniture and a plastic bass on the wall. A hand-lettered sign in the bathroom warned, inexplicably, “Do not wash your dog in the bathtub!”

To distract my young son and daughter from the gloom of our rental, I took them for a walk down the street, where a large brown rodent ominously crossed our path. “Is that your rat?” a little boy down the sidewalk casually asked us. It occurred to me that we’d landed in a neighborhood where rat-herding was the fashion. Trying to remain upbeat, we continued to the beach, where, looming in front of us, was the carcass of a small animal we couldn’t quite identify.

“This place is creepy,” I sighed, concluding there was no use keeping up a brave face in front of the kids. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s someone’s poodle.”

We’ve had our share of great vacations, but the summer of the big rat and the dead poodle looms largest in the family lore. It’s not what you enjoy on the road that sticks with you, I guess. It’s what you manage, in the company of those you love, to overcome.

 


Email Danny Heitman at dheitman@theadvocate.com.