The Slant


First Bird Leaves the Nest

By Roderick Reed
By Roderick Reed

To be truly exhausted one must experience a vacation.

My oldest son graduated from Laguna Beach High School a few months ago. He’s attending college in Belgium. I’m not big on traveling; it is wrought with things that go wrong. But, anxious to see Mason’s school and Belgium in general, my wife fashioned the trip into a big European family vacation.

I don’t like airplanes. The airport screening process has me packing and unpacking my bag and getting partly undressed alongside unattractive strangers. Kathy paid extra to get seats in the exit row sporting their additional leg room. Then I discovered that exit row seats do not recline. I spent the next hours sitting very upright, like an 8-year-old at grandma’s Christmas dinner table. This will be a long trip.

Outside our hotel window, there was a hole where a building used to be. One object could be seen in it: a rascal, one of those senior mobility carts. The persnickety deck clerk informed me that he would not change the room and that perhaps I was looking at our “view” and the rascal all wrong. He pitched that perhaps a miracle had taken place. The senior’s legs now worked and a celebratory hurling of the rascal into the hole ensued! Leaving speechless, we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant with a picture of Al Roker on the wall.

Waiting for our flight to London and feeling ornery, I went to the duty free store and inquired “what exactly is duty free?” I presented a bottle of gin priced at $28, which is usually $18 at Ralph’s. She looked confused. “It’s mussaaa lessa taxes!” Seeing a teachable moment, I explained that the expectation of the customer is that duty free implies a good price will be had. I told her that I don’t really care who keeps the money, I just want the lowest price. Surprisingly, she answered. “This isa da airport!”

Central Park is awesome. The visionaries who made this public space are real leaders. We can’t even make parklets happen. The subways are filthy and only some of the trains have air conditioning. It was crazy hot in the subway. Two rows up I saw the devil drinking lemonade. The Central Park Zoo was memorable.

Recently I’ve become concerned with getting “old man arms”. Older men always have black dots on their forearms. Is it cancer? Your whole life you lather up your ears and back, but not your arms. Tomorrow we will be in Belgium. We have rented a large boat to travel the canals for four days. I didn’t bring any long sleeve shirts. A must see is The Churchill War Rooms. Hidden underneath the streets of Whitehall, the Churchill War Rooms is a collection of underground bunkers where Winston Churchill directed the troops during World War II. The rooms here look exactly as they did on the day of the armistice.

We were starting to run out of Euros. Businesses have Visa stickers on the windows, but don’t tell you if they don’t take American credit cards. Our waitress told us this today. Shocked we had to recreate a food order that would cost less than the 50 euros we had. We all ended up sharing a couple of grilled cheese (croque madame) sandwiches. Forearms still burning from a day of boating. I ordered two waters for myself. To the dismay of the family, everyone sat on pins and needles worried my water threw us over budget. Water is the more expensive than beer, 600 euros for a 50 ml bottle compared to 270 for beer. I’ll order beer from now on.

More travel glitches. While riding a bike in Leuven, Kathy for no known reason crashed her face into a stranger’s parked minivan. I’m observing most towns in this part of Europe are built around a central square for people to relax. Even in major cities, people are more important than cars. Belgian chocolate is unpasteurized making it as good as it gets. Mason will live here. It has everything a young person could want, shopping, food and unforgettable atmosphere. I now appreciate this trip and see more positives of travel.

Bruges is as picturesque a city as exists. If Paris married Venice, Bruges would be the result. Legend has it that Maximilian obliged the population to keep “long necks,” or swans, on their lakes and canals for eternity. Unharmed by WW2, the medieval buildings and windy streets remain intact. This town is what fairy tales are made of. I ate a waffle by a canal for a real thrill.

Eventually we dropped  Mason off at school. It was the strangest combination off excitement and sadness we ever had. There are no words to describe the first baby bird flying out of your nest. He is a man of the world now. When he comes home at Christmas, he will be a different person. What a trip. Cynicism of travel was slain by unforgettable experiences. Saying goodbye we huddled together and took a last moment as an intact family on the cobblestones.

Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach.


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