By Ed Harris
Seattle residents like to complain that they never know for sure when summer will finally start. I, however, have a sure-fire technique for picking the last cloudy, overcast, unseasonably cool day of the season: The precise moment we leave town for our annual family vacation.
For several years now, our travel itinerary has been dominated by our son Izzy’s dance schedule. The last two summers he trained for five weeks with the Chicago Ballet, staying in a college dorm downtown and, when not dancing, having a great time with other teens from around the country. The fact girls comprise about 95 percent of the participants in dance programs is probably a trivially insignificant detail I suspect he has failed to notice, focused athlete that he is.
I doubted Izzy was homesick while away. My wife, however, suggested we should go visit him, just in case he forgot he had parents, and thereby spend our precious vacation time and money in a concrete jungle in the sweltering Midwest. She tossed off this idea with the casual insouciance of one suggesting we turn the hot tub to the highest setting to see how long we might withstand the roiling waters until we faint.
Sure enough, Chicago in July — both visits — was straight out of Dante’s Inferno, except the humidity exceeded even the Italian poet’s imagination. At least we had the solace of seeing Izzy every day, for about five minutes, before he would tell us he had plans with his new friends that evening. That’s the problem with raising well-adjusted children: They drop you like a hot potato three days after the Bar Mitzvah. Ah, the injustice.
This year, Izzy decided to take a break from ballet and participate in two weeklong dance conventions, the first in Los Angeles, and the second in Las Vegas. We drove, figuring 50 hours spent confined in a space more cramped than the lunar landing module and surrounded by junk food would be a great family bonding experience.
Seattle had a rather damp, gloomy June. The first warm, sunny stretch of gorgeous weather began — you guessed it — the day we left on our trip. We spent our first night on the road in Ashland, Oregon, where we were welcomed by air baked to a toasty 104 degrees. I happened to notice on CNN the temperature hit a high of 114 that same day in Las Vegas. Of course, as those foolish enough to live year-round in the Southwest like to say, it’s a dry heat, which is about the same consolation as being told the safe that fell out of 10-story window and flattened your loved one was in fact a small one, as far as safes go.
The next day, while driving on I-5 (or as they say in California, “The Five”) the tire pressure indicator on our dashboard light went on. My wife, seated in the back, said the car felt like it was bobbing on the ocean. Nonsense, I replied: what she noticed was the high winds buffeting the vehicle. What does a woman know about cars, anyway? Five minutes later we could hear the sound of deflated rubber flapping against the pavement and I quickly pulled to the shoulder of an exit ramp, where I parked on a sloped surface composed of loose gravel. I decided that of all the possible ways to shuffle off this mortal coil, pinned underneath a Honda SUV was not high on my list, so I called AAA road service for a tire change.
Fortunately, the temperature had cooled all the way down to 98 degrees by then. To gain access to our spare tire, I unloaded the entire cargo compartment of our hatchback, the contents of which included a chair, a prop in one of Izzy’s dance acts that we were transporting to the convention. So on his chair sat I, 20 miles south of Sacramento, traffic whizzing by, surrounded by suitcases, waiting for a mechanic amidst a bleak, sweltering terrain. No one said being a parent would be easy.
I wonder what next year holds in store. I hear the Pacific Northwest Ballet puts on a great summer student ballet program. A man can dream, can’t he?
Ed Harris, the author of “Fifty Shades of Schwarz” and several other books, was born in the Bronx and lives in Bellevue with his family. His blog, Fizz-Ed, and additional information about his books are available at www.edharrisauthor.com.