Cathy Hamilton: Vacation chaos

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— I am careening down the road - on the wrong side of the street - riding shotgun with a maniac behind the wheel.

The wrong side of the street is actually the right side - that is, the correct side - which is, technically, the left side on this British-owned Caribbean isle.

The maniac behind the wheel is my travel-weary yet hyper-alert husband who, after a 10-hour, three-leg flight, is navigating his first steering-wheel-on-the-right British mini-car through Friday-night traffic in a country we've never seen in daylight, let alone after dark.

Did I mention we're driving on the wrong side of the street?

My daughter rides with the suitcases in the back seat of our Daihatsu Charade (Avis calls it a sub-compact, but it's more like a golf cart, with the tiniest tires I've ever seen.) She and I have been alternately squealing and giggling nervously ever since we pulled out of the rental car lot into the insanely counterintuitive, two-lane traffic.

Needless to say, this is not helping my husband's concentration.

As we approach a bustling roundabout with a familiar, triangular sign, my daughter and I yell "Give way!" (that's Brit for "yield") in atrocious Cockney accents. My husband shushes us, and hunches over the steering wheel, his head snapping back and forth like a spectator at an Olympic ping-pong game.

"I'm giving way, I'm giving way ..." he screams back.

"Whatever you do, stay left," I cry, actually fearing for my life for a split-second.

As we dart into the frantic clockwise rotation, I squeeze my eyes shut and mumble to myself, "This seemed like such a good idea at the time."

"The time" was months ago, back in the fall when our vacation was planned and paid for - before the holidays, before the economy took a nosedive and the U.S. dollar lost its mojo, before the flu and one of the most miserable winters I can recall. And long before the sudden, shocking death of my father.

"How can we go?" I asked myself and anyone who would listen. "Dad's gone less than two weeks, and I'm spring-breaking in paradise? It's not right.'"

My siblings assured me that Mom would be looked after. Friends and co-workers suggested it would be the best thing I could possibly do.

"It'll be good for you to get away," said one.

"You'll have time to reflect and decompress," said another.

A little decompression sounds good, I thought. But lying on a beach all day with nothing to do but reflect? No thanks. I need distractions, not idle time.

Ultimately, it was my mother who, in her eternal and knowing wisdom, convinced me with a measured dose of good old-fashioned maternal guilt:

"Your father would want you to go. And I'm going to be feel horrible if you don't go down there and have a wonderful time."

(Moms. Ya gotta love 'em.)

Suddenly, my husband veers onto the left shoulder, perilously close to a line of orange construction cones, and jolts me out of my reverie.

"You're running me off the road here!" I scream at the driver, who is now lurching back and forth rhythmically, a telltale sign he's under duress.

"I'm not getting any closer to that center line!" he retorts, as the oncoming traffic intensifies.

"That's our turn ahead. Go left! LEFT!!" I command.

"%&!*$#@!," he groans, as he activates the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal.

My daughter collapses into hysterics in the back of the Charade.

We wend our way through the night toward our destination. Radios blast from cars whizzing by on the right, their lights blinding us momentarily. Baritone swearing mixes with soprano shrieks of laughter.

As we come upon yet another dizzying roundabout, I realize that sometimes life throws you all the distractions you can handle just when you need them most. All you have to do is "Give Way" and go with the flow.

This vacation might be a good idea after all.

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