My wife, daughter and I recently returned from an 8 day, 1941 mile road trip vacation. We roller-coastered at HersheyPark, Pennsylvania and explored Niagra Falls, Ontario from above, below, behind and beside. We ate over-priced sandwiches at the top of Toronto’s CN Tower. We snapped hundreds of photos and bought the tee-shirts, hoodies and other souvenirs necessary to commemorate our journey.
It was a terrific trip. We saw beautiful places, ate delicious food and had interesting adventures together.
My wife has noticed that I look my most relaxed, happy self in photos taken while traveling. She isn’t wrong. The change of scenery sharpens my senses and wakes me up.
This was my family’s first big road trip vacation. We usually go directly to a place (the beach) where being at the locale is the point. Our road trip vacation was different. More than usual, I enjoyed the surprise of the people I met along the way as much as I enjoyed being in the places where I met them.
The Apostolic church congregation in their Sunday white suits and dresses holding their annual conference in the HersheyPark hotel. The manager at the upstate New York gas station Subway who appreciated my twelve year old daughter’s affinity for hot tea. The Subway sandwich artiste who verified twice that when we ordered soda we actually wanted pop. The waitress at Niagra hotel who encouraged me to take my time eating breakfast because she was too tired to set another table after I left. The waitress at Dad’s Diner in Niagra who works all spring, summer and fall to save up enough money to winter in Cuba.
And our Toronto evening cab driver who was a resettled refugee from Afghanistan. He grew up under the Taliban, escaped to Germany and finally managed to resettle with his family in Canada. And he doesn’t want to get political but who can see how or when this endless war will end?
Every language of the world was spoken in the lobby of our Toronto hotel and every manner of dress represented. The night clerk was Japanese. The morning clerk Korean. The friendliest, most helpful concierege South African.
All along the trip everyone was please and thank you at the hotel elevators and have a nice night and take care.
There were some crazies, too. The cursing guy in the Toronto subway station who repeatedly kicked the passing train as it sped by. He was quickly hauled off by the police. The drunk outside the Chinatown gift shop who kept grabbing the crutches of his hobbled companion to start a fight and then, once the fight was well-started, wrapping this friend in a huge embrace as apology. Repeat this cycle five times.
Throughout the clean, friendly, well-ordered city, the destitute, the homeless, the friendless. My daughter wanting to cross every busy street and give money to every homeless man or woman who had a dog. Me explaining in my Father Knows Best voice that you can’t help everybody by giving them money and you certainly can’t put yourself at danger crossing busy streets and some of these people are definitely nice pet owners who need help but some just have the dog as a way to get your attention. And then myself, hypocritically crossing those same busy streets to admire a local musician play the guitar or flute or Chinese fiddle and dropping money into their open instrument case.
These people, all of them, made our family road trip special. And my heart is very full remembering the few minutes shared with each. They will not remember me. In a few weeks, I will not remember them well. And yet, they matter because my twelve year old daughter will remember something very important. As we were leaving Toronto for the 14 hour return drive home, she said, “You know. People are a lot nicer than I expected. And polite. And friendly.”
“In Canada?” I asked.
“Yeah, but actually everywhere.”
She isn’t wrong.