BALTIMORE — Our vacation at least sounded like a good idea. But it turned into a road trip from Hell and back again.
We decided to escape Baltimore’s early summer heat for a trip to Chicago and my mom’s Lake Michigan co-op waiting with a private beach and cooling breezes.
My kids and I packed our 12-year-old Honda Accord with a Nintendo DS, some books on tape and a cooler full of caffeinated beverages to get away from Charm City.
But as we headed up Charles Street to the Baltimore Beltway, the Accord’s tachometer needle dropped. The tape player hiccupped. It did this a dozen times before we hit the Beltway, so instead of heading onto Interstate 70, I made a snap decision to visit a mechanic in Towson, Md.
As temperatures hit 99 degrees outside, a friend picked us up so we could wait in his air conditioning while the mechanic diagnosed a faulty ignition switch. Our car repaired, we were westbound again from Baltimore.
But at the toll booth for the Ohio turnpike, the car shuddered. The check engine light came on, and the tachometer started dropping again. The rest of the evening’s drive was completed with the air conditioner off, the windows cracked and occasional pauses to splash myself with cool water while listening to the kids complain about how hot they were.
One garage stop in Elyria, one new car part and another $150 later, we finished the westbound drive and spent a blissful 10 days frolicking in the icy waters of Lake Michigan. When my relatives complained about the “heat” and “humidity,” I laughed.
But then it was time to return home to Baltimore and its 100-degree weather.
My mom, a Weather Channel addict, gave me an ominous forecast of 100-degree temperatures for our drive east. But July 5 passed uneventfully with the car’s air conditioner running for most of the drive.
On July 6, the first two hours were lovely: curving highways, breathtaking mountain vistas with patchy fog and sunbeams streaming through. But as we neared Baltimore, the mercury started soaring and the car started failing. I turned the A/C from high to medium to low. Uphill, the car shuddered angrily. The kids informed me they were “roasted.” I gulped a 48-ounce iced tea and then refilled my cup as we headed down the homestretch toward Baltimore, my newly acquired AAA membership ready at my right hand.
As we passed Frederick, a Baltimore radio station told us it was “102 at BWI, 100 at the Inner Harbor.” The kids gasped. I turned the A/C off and on, kept my speed at a slow 59 mph and nursed the car along. The sun’s heat was palpable, beating through the windshield as my vision occasionally blurred.
Please let us make it, I prayed. Baltimore Beltway! Charles Street! Home!
We unloaded the car. I announced, “Mommy is going to lie down for a bit. Then we are going to the pool.” I then stepped into the shower with my clothes on and turned the cold water on full.