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My travels with Michele and Co.

Posted by on August 23, 2006

I spent some days a few weeks ago on the Oregon Coast with Michele’s family. It’s taken some time to write about it because there was a lot to process: like Michele, her family is not something you can just discard in a single paragraph.

The Route, The Marshes and The Nothing

We began our two-car caravan at an early hour on Monday. As we pulled out of the court and onto the greater road, Michele asked “So how do we get there?” It would not be the last time the question was asked, but it was by far the calmest.

Stop followed wrong turn followed cell phone consultation as we progressed in fits and starts across much of the east bay in our search for the elusive route north. Having absolutely no idea how to get anywhere, ever, I contented myself with making unhelpfully snide remarks from the backseat and getting peanut shells all over the floor. Carol began to think that our best chance of ever leaving our hometown was to drive across something she called “the marshes.”

“What is this, the Neverending Story?” I demanded. “Will we have to ask directions from a giant turtle halfway across?” Ignoring me, quite rightly, Carol got out to confer with the other car which had all the maps in it. “MAPS!” I hollered after her. “Atreyu didn’t need no map!” Michele turned around to give me the evil eye. “I think our horse is a goner,” I said, forgetting that the one thing you never joke about with Michele is the death of a cute animal.

Veni, Vidi, Voraciously Purchased Things

After our slightly false start we made good time and arrived at the vacation rental in the early evening. Mary and James were already there and James immediately showed us through the rooms. I am sure Atreyu wouldn’t have needed purple light-up grapes, pink mood lighting, giraffe statues or a sundeck any more than he would need a map, but we weren’t complaining.

After we examined every inch of the surpassingly weird and wonderful house, the kids got sent off to the supermarket to obtain dinner items and let the locals get a good look at our tattoos. We roamed the aisles and I watched as Michele, always excited by everything while traveling, accrued pineapple juices and exotic crackers like a ship collecting barnacles. I am used to her “see the experience, buy the experience, keep the experience forever” activities: it’s her way. It wasn’t until after we went through the checkout line that I realized Michele does not exist in a vacuum. She and her brother were both drawn to the vending machines and pumped in quarter after quarter, searching for just the right piece of colored plastic to satisfy their gimmicky lust.

If I sound critical here, and I certainly do because that’s pretty much how I always am, don’t mistake me: the utter enthusiasm that Michele and Clan of Michele show for these purchases is completely endearing. Why? Because almost everything they buy is for someone else. After every grocery shopping trip, every excursion to a fudge or book store, every stroll down a lane of shops, they all come running back to each other hollering “I got you a present!” With all the avarice gone from the buying process their consumption of light-up pens, bandaids that look like bacon, slap bracelets and animal pooh is disarmingly adorable.

Veni, Vidi, Vidi, Vidi

The purchasing, in fact, is just a symptom of the true Clan of Michele way to travel: the desire to see everything, everything a place has to offer.

Inside the house I watched as they carefully tried every light switch and plugged in every weird light-up moon or butterfly adhering to the walls. But we didn’t stay in the house much, because these cats do their research and they know what there is to see.

We took a mail boat up the Rogue River. We went to the beach by our house; to a different beach with hundreds of little tidepools; to another beach known for its sand dollars; to a beach where you could climb a giant rock; and to a beach we just happened to like the look of. We visited a lighthouse, a historic house, saw the outsides of several houses Michele’s uncle designed. We ate at a fancy fish place, a riverside place, a deluxe sandwich shop, a beachside restaurant and a fast food joint. We petted wild animals at a theme park. We shopped in two different coastal towns.

It was awesome to be with people who love to travel that much. It comes out in all kinds of ways. Those who have been to a restaurant with Michele will have seen it there: she likes to try not to get the same thing as anyone else, and long before the food arrives she’s making bargains. “Hey, I’ll give you two of my squid rolls if I can try some of your spam linguini.” She’s just interested in everything on offer. She will make a face when she reads this but honestly, if spam linguini were on a menu she would — after much inner struggle — be so curious that she just might have to order it. Now imagine that philosophy applied to everything. Roadside attractions and Clamato both exist because there are people like Michele.

A Word I Never Actually Use

Mostly I think I did ok as an honorary member of Michele’s Clan, though I probably could have helped make a lot more dinners. My only really big misstep was while playing Peanut one night with the kids. The four of us were sitting around the table while Carol read on the sofa nearby and things got kind of heated, as they do during Peanut. I turned up an ace during an especially exciting moment and as I slammed it down on the table I announced triumphantly “Ace, motherfucker!”

There was a longish pause while Carol carefully went on reading and everyone rustled their cards a little. Finally, Adam said, sounding kind of stunned, “Was that really necessary?”

Well, no. No, it wasn’t.


There are mighty few families I would really enjoy traveling with but Michele’s is one of them. And if this entry has made you jealous or, possibly, blind, I have only one thing to say to you:

Photos, motherfucker.

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