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The Road to Happiness

A woman finds that happiness is in the journey on a trip to the Grand Canyon.

The Road to Happiness

My husband, Joe, and I had been driving for an hour on I-40, our Honda CR-V packed to the max with our son, Chandler, audiobooks, video games, suitcases and snacks, when my back began to ache. I shifted uncomfortably. Thirteen hours to go.

“This is going to be our best vacation ever,” Joe said. Really?

When Joe had first proposed this trip to the Grand Canyon, I was excited. In all our married life, we’d never taken a family vacation far from our home. Oh, I’d been plenty of places with my sister and girlfriends—Rome, Paris, Cairo, Jerusalem. But Joe never came along.

“I don’t like traveling,” he always said.

His reason for taking this trip, I knew, was eight-year-old Chandler. When Joe was that age, his parents took him to the Grand Canyon, driving from Oklahoma and stopping at every historical marker along the way.

“It was the best time I ever had,” he said one night after we’d put our son to bed, “and I want it to be Chandler’s best time too.” I was with him 100 percent. Until Joe said we’d be driving.

To me, there are two parts to vacation: the hassle of getting there and the joys of your destination. I’d taken long-distance car trips as a child, and the memories they stirred were nothing like Joe’s. What I remembered were the predawn starts that left me feeling like a zombie, eating warm bologna sandwiches for lunch and being squished in the backseat between my siblings and the luggage.

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Even if this trip turned out to be better, Joe could afford only a week off from his western-wear store. “It’s a two-day drive to the Grand Canyon,” he said, seeming to relish the prospect. I did the math. Four days in the car and three days of vacation. Sounded like a bad ratio to me. Lord, I prayed, please change Joe’s mind.

“Maybe we should fly,” I said. “We’d have more time to see the sights.”

“Sit around for hours in an airport? Where’s the fun in that? Besides, the Grand Canyon is just the cherry on top.”

Our first hour on the road hadn’t been so bad. Chandler was in the backseat, headphones on, listening to an audiobook. Hank Williams, Jr., crooned on the radio while Joe and I chatted. But after a while we fell into silence, and all that was left was endless plains as far as the eye could see. That’s when I started to fidget.

“Wanna stop and stretch?” Joe asked.

“No, thanks,” I said. The fewer stops, the faster we got there.

We pushed on across Oklahoma. Around sunset we neared the Texas border, a palette of reds, pinks, indigos and oranges tinting the fields and lighting the horizon. We passed a farmhouse with a windmill; it rose like a church steeple, its blades turning in the prairie breeze.

“Look how pretty that is,” Joe said.

But my mind was elsewhere. I’m the organizer in the family. It was almost dinnertime. “We have to find somewhere to eat,” I said. “Any ideas?”

“Relax, we’ll find a place,” Joe said.

That was how the entire day had gone, Joe admiring the view, Chandler listening to an audiobook or playing a video game, occasionally joining in his dad’s oohs and aahs. “I never knew the country was so big!” he exclaimed.

Me? I kept fidgeting. Every minute, it seemed, I was checking my watch or a map so I could plan our next stop or recalculate the number of hours till we reached our destination.

We found a place for dinner near the motel where we (finally!) stopped for the night. I have to say the food tasted great.

Maybe it was because I realized I was making the three of us a little nuts that the next morning I suggested we play the alphabet game, where you point out letters on roadside billboards. Chandler was first to spot the letter Z. “Arizona!” he shouted, pointing to a sign. I gave him a high five. I couldn’t remember the last time the three of us had laughed so hard together. I checked my watch. Wow, time has flown. In a few hours, we’ll be there.

Mid-afternoon we reached Williams, Arizona, where we’d hop a train to the Canyon. Williams had a Main Street that was straight out of a Hollywood Western, complete with hitching posts, a general store and wood plank sidewalks. “Let’s go explore the town,” Joe said, excited. The guys started across the street. But I held back. I checked my watch. Forty-five minutes before the train was due. I didn’t want to miss it. “I’ll wait at the depot,” I said.

Just then two wranglers walked onto the dusty street. Words were exchanged. A crowd gathered—costumed townfolk. This was rehearsed! Joe hoisted Chandler on his shoulders so he could see.

The wrangler sporting leather chaps and a handlebar mustache fingered his gun. The other wriggled his fingers. Both drew and fired. The one in the chaps fell, sprawling in the dust. Right then the train to the Grand Canyon pulled in. Joe and Chandler jogged across the street and we boarded. On our way at last!

But my guys weren’t thinking about the Grand Canyon at all. “Mom,” Chandler said, “that shootout was so cool!”

That’s when it hit me. Joe was right. Our vacation wasn’t just starting. We’d been on holiday all along. Like he’d told me, “The Grand Canyon is just the cherry on top.” Lord, it’s the journey, not the destination, right? Is that the message?

I sat back in my seat. We were near the Canyon, but it no longer seemed so important. I smiled at Joe and Chandler. They couldn’t stop talking about the shootout. I joined in. The way I felt, it was the highlight of our vacation…so far.

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