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-Next weeks blog: How to make life easier in 3 easy steps.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


   I just got back from the home of Rico, Sonny, and, cocaine.  While exploring the colony of Cuba known to some as Miami I had several epiphanies. The first being that if I am successful financially there are plenty of beautiful young ladies in Miami who are willing to sacrifice love in order to have a comfortable lifestyle. Seriously though it was amazing to watch couple after couple walk by us on Lincoln Ave- the man would easily be in his mid to high 40s and his escort was 30 at best. Yet another reason why I don't need to be in a rush to get married. Granted this also means that I need to be able to make it rain with Benjamins, but this is just a minor setback.
   The second revelation came while sitting down and breaking bread or more accurately stone crab with my friend Van. I told him how I really enjoyed my time in Miami, but I wasn't sure I could ever live in a place that had so many Jersey shore look-a-likes. He said he understood my concern because there were a plethora of douche bags roaming the streets, but he said "look on the bright side, since you aren't a D-bag you'll be a rare commodity. " And that's when it hit me that every aspect in life can be turned around to be either made good or be used for evil. I'll give you two examples of people my friends and I talked to- they are talking about the exact same thing, but with two completely different outcomes.
    Crocket: Miami is alright I guess, but it bothers me that it's always so hot and humid here, you never get to enjoy the seasons, even the ocean feels like bath water. But it's not the weather that really bothers me, it's the people, or should I say the foreigners. Can't anyone speak English here? Don't they know we are in America? You drive down the street and you'd think you were in Nicoragua with all the buildings painted in clown colors and all. I think what really gets me the most though is all the drugs and the clubbing here. All night long people are stumbling out of the clubs into traffic high on who knows what- I need to get out of this town!
    Tubbs: Miami is the best! Can you believe how wonderful the weather is here? It's warm all year around and I never have to wear a jacket, and unlike the beaches out west the water is warm and inviting. But it's not the weather that I love most it's the people. They come from all over to live in this city. It's truly a melting pot of culture and food. I don't even know what language half the people I meet are speaking, but I love hearing their foreign tongues. You can drive down most streets and be transported to another land and soak in all the brightly colored buildings. Ok, I changed my mind what I really love is the night life. This city never sleeps! Some clubs don't even open until 4 in the morning. I love this town... and drugs.

All this talk about recreation brings me back to the simpler time of my childhood and the ever memorable Van Orden Summer Vacation. The last two weeks of July every year the Caterpillar plant in Decatur, Illinois would shut down for maintenance and Louie Van Orden would pack all of kids in one vehicle and start the long trek to Zion (for those of you non-Mormon readers that is Salt Lake City, Utah). This wasn't so hard at first when the Van Orden clan consisted of mom, dad and a couple daughters, but soon enough they stopped having girls and started having six boys. Driving across the country with a family of 10 is no easy task, and my father new he needed a vehicle up to the task.

As many of you probably remember the luxury van was fairly popular back in the late 80s and early 90s. Before SUVs became the sheik way to get around- family's with 2 or even 3 kids would purchase an enormous van just in case their kids had the desire to do kart wheels in the back. I remember in middle school I was so happy that other kids I knew were getting a van just like mine, that is until I actually went inside one. I  couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that the windows all had velvet shades, in place of benches there were soft captains chairs, and they even had a sweet 6inch TV hooked up to their mobile VCR.
    Louie's chariot on the other hand was made for one purpose only- transporting bodies. That's not completely true, my dad knew that if he was going to drive for two days with a bus full of kids he needed a place for them to sleep, so putting his engineering degree to work he constructed a bed in the back where normally the forth bench would go. The bed consisted of a plywood board with a layer of foam all wrapped in maroon vinyl to match the interior. My dad elevated the bed a couple feet with 2x4s so that he could put all of our luggage underneath. My father used to always joke about how lucky he was to drive a BMW to work (Big Mormon Wagon). Of course this same cheesy humor continued as we drove across the country. Every year he would tell one of us "I saw you pee on the railroad tracks" - gross dad no I didn't! "Sure you did". he would exclaim as he pointed at a passing train. "See.. Union Pacific. I saw U, P on the railroad track". My father seemed to do lots of strange things while driving and I'm not sure if it was to keep us entertained or just to keep himself sane. Every time we passed Caterpillar trucks or cows he would honk his horn and wave- he never did tell me why he did that, but he sure seemed to love those dumb animals.
      As you can probably imagine 8 kids in one van equals a lot of bathroom breaks. Somehow my little brother Quince's lack of a entire heart also translated into having the smallest bladder known to man, and one year my dad got tired of stopping every 5 minutes on the side of the road for his kid to go potty, so once again he put his engineering skills to use and made us a portable potty. It consisted of a used plastic gallon ice cream bucket. I would love to say that something else was involved in this creation but that was it. Do your business and shut it back up, and yes the plastic was clear. Let's just say I will never look at generic ice cream the same way again.
      Feeding us all along the way was another hurdle, because taking us out to eat, even at McDonalds was out of the question. So the normal course of action consisted of stopping at a rest area and breaking out the cooler to make sandwiches and stretch the legs a bit. But when the cooler ran out of food we would have to stop in a town and resupply. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the trip because my mom would usually get those mini boxes of Frosted Flakes and Honey Nut Cheerios that you could lay sideways and use the inner wax paper bag as the bowl. Technology never ceases to amaze.
    Entertainment along the trip consisted of books on tape and yanking an imaginary chain up and down as hard as you could in order to get the truckers to honk their horns. We also tried seeing a license plate from every state, but we usually give up after the first 20 because we figured what would be the point of all our work if we never saw Hawaii and Alaska.
      We knew we were close to our destination when my dad would start singing the Skyline high school fight song. All of us kids would have our faces glued to the windows because the endless corn fields of Illinois had magically transformed into enormous mountains while we were asleep. Vacation for us consisted of visiting with relatives and working on our grandmother's orchard. This was always an on going joke that the Cutler side of the family really new how to let loose and work. My mother wasn't the only one in her family to have several mouths to feed, her mother had ten kids and each one of them had their own herd, so I was never lacking in companionship while I was there. It was strange at first because my cousins and I didn't really know each other, but after a while it just became the friends that you saw once a year.
       It wasn't until I was in high school that I discovered other families went to island beaches, Disney Land, or big cities on their vacations. My fellow classmates would brag about how they spent Christmas in Hawaii or spring break in New York City. I was so envious and couldn't stand the fact that my vacations were spent trapped in a box driving 60 mph down I-80. Well since those days I've been to plenty of beaches, Disney Land, and countless number of big cities, but nothing beats the adventurous Van Orden road trip.


  1. I remember making the trek back with you guys one year. What a great adventure.

  2. Anonymous12/5/10 12:12

    You have a great way with words. This is a great post! I was always thankful you all made the trip each year.

  3. Oh man this post sounds all too familiar. I am glad that my dad never thought of the ice cream gallon potty (because it definitely sounds like something he would do) but otherwise you could have been telling the story of a Wilkinson family trek to Zion although ours was the maroon station wagon with the fold up seats in the back. Good times;)

  4. so when are you writing up the screenplay? hahahaha. we never went on trips THAT long, but we made several jaunts to atlanta and florida (from new orleans) growing up and i recall being thrown baby's diapers to use on more than one occasion...

  5. Either you remember way more than I do about those times in the van or you are making up half of it. Ha Ha.