"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Thursday, March 7, 2013


There are certain subjects which, when talked about, naturally invoke strong and often discordant feelings and thus can invite trouble, especially amongst the inebriated.  Politics and religion, for example.  Trust me, I've seen it happen.  Gauge your situation as it is and decide: you wanna spill it or play your cards close to your chest?  All right.  I'll go ahead and admit it.  For all eyes to see right now: when I was a kid, when I was in a moving car, I was a carsick kid.

My father drove, and my mother sat in the front next to him, or my uncle drove, with my aunt in the front.  In either case my brother Bob and I were relegated to the back seat -- in my father's station wagon, on the way to visit my grandfather Blair and his second wife ("Pa and Nora") it was the WAY back for me, since this trip involved many miles of road and I ain't talking highway.  Most other little kids would have just watched other cars, dozed, and dreamed for the duration.  I, on the other hand, groaned and moaned and clenched my teeth, curled in abject suffering, while my brother happily chattered away with Ma and Dad per usual.  To make matters worse, my father ALWAYS had one of those green "pine tree" air fresheners hung from the rear view mirror.  I loved pine trees, but these horrid things were so chemically tinkered with that my head would be pounding on top of the stomach flips.

It was the 1960s -- you'd have thought people would have been more hip by then to motion sickness; put a carsick kid in the front seat, and you can avoid the problem pretty much altogether.  However, my lot in life then was a healthy dose of Pepto-Bismol and Dramamine, neither of which did anything to improve the situation.  In fact my mother said that upon our departure we often had to pull over while still on our street so I could get out and throw up.  Needless to say I despise Pepto-Bismol to this day and feel compelled to look away when a Pepto-Bismol commercial comes on the TV.  I'm surprised that the color pink has always been a favorite of mine, but it is.

Wikipedia defines carsickness this way: "A specific form of motion sickness, car sickness is quite common and often evidenced by the inability to read a map or book during travel. Car sickness results from the sensory conflict arising in the brain from differing sensory inputs. The eyes mostly see the interior of the car which is motionless while the vestibular system of the inner ear senses motion as the vehicle goes around corners or over hills and even small bumps. Therefore the effect is worst when looking down but may be lessened by looking outside of the vehicle."   Guess nobody knew any of this when I was, like, 6.  Test pilots, maybe.

Carnival rides made my cousin Cynthia sick, but not me.  I had traveled by train on short trips and that had never bothered me either.  As far as a school bus, well, I walked to school and only took one on an occasional field trip.  But another question loomed; if I got so sick riding in a car (imagine our summer vacations), would I get seasick and/or airsick, too?  In other words, would I ever get out of Dodge??  Well, when I was 10 years old, on one of our (typically, for me, drowsy and hellish) "Sunday drives," my father stopped at the little airport nearby so we could watch the planes take off and land.  His pal Everett happened to be there that day taking his little 4-seater up and invited us along (my brother was not with us, ha ha ha).  Never one to be left out of any sort of adventure, I all but pushed everybody else aside to get in.  It was thrilling and unforgettable, seeing my little town from this soaring perspective, lost in a geometry of green fields and grey roofs.

So no airsickness that day, nor have I ever been airsick since, and I have flown in everything from a helicopter to an 18-seat prop plane over the Everglades to a 747 over the Atlantic ocean, and encountered some mighty turbulence along the way.  Nor have I ever been sick in a boat -- a row boat, a sailboat, a motorboat, a cruise ship.  And I've pleasantly outgrown the carsickness almost 100%.  However.  There is a however to this part.  In the early 90s I persuaded my friend Gregg to accompany me to Prince Edward Island in Canada, a place I became enamored with after reading all of the books in the "Anne of Green Gables" series.  Part of this jaunt included driving from Connecticut to Maine, staying overnight, and then taking the famous "Bluenose" car ferry in the morning, a six-hour crossing to Nova Scotia.  When we boarded, part of the fare went for a generous breakfast buffet.  I had no reason not to indulge in it.  I figured.
The "Bluenose"

Up on deck we went, settling in for the duration.  The sun was bright, the water dark blue, the air clear and the wind fresh.  Occasionally we would see a spot of color in the distance, a trawler maybe.  Suddenly to my horror I realized I was feeling very, very ill and could very easily have puked thrown up over the railing in front of all the other people who were hanging out having a fine time.  Except I sat immobilized, afraid to move a muscle.   "Gregg," I said without preamble, "Will you please go below and get me a big glass of ginger ale?"  He must have read the danger signs.  He simply turned and ran.  He was back almost immediately.  I drank the soda and thank heavens it settled my stomach.  "Another?" I asked.  Wordlessly he accommodated me.  But I never thought "seasick."  I thought, too much to eat this morning; it had to be.  Seasick?  Why all of a sudden?

After driving to the northernmost point of Nova Scotia, we took another short ferry ride to Prince Edward Island and I was fine.  But I felt considerable trepidation knowing that our return, from Yarmouth to Portland, Maine, this time, would be on the "Scotia Prince" and was an 11-hour crossing.  Despite the fact that my jacket was no match for the wind and chill off the water, I stayed up top in a deck chair THE WHOLE TIME.  But I never felt a fleeting moment of nausea.  So I figured that Bluenose thing was a fluke.
The "Scotia Prince"

Several years after that I was visiting my good friend Elaine who lived not 20 minutes from Bar Harbor.  We decided to go to Nova Scotia for the day, this time on the "Cat," a high-speed ferry that bumped along the water at 55 mph and would get us there in a fraction of the time the Bluenose took.  Just in case, I made sure I had some ginger ale handy when we departed.  The trip was miserable.  It could not end soon enough.  Other people were drinking highballs and playing the slot machines while skillfully keeping their feet; I was so sick I found a corner of the upper deck where I'd hopefully get least waterlogged, and when we docked, I knew what the Pilgrims felt like.  On the way back, I thought, I'm medicating myself.  Sadly we had miscalculated our time and taken the wrong departure time -- we didn't have hours on land as we'd thought, we only had 40 minutes!!  My HEAD wasn't back on my NECK yet and here we were on that damned catamaran again.  Oh, death, I thought, come get me now.  What have I done to deserve such wretchedness?
The "Cat"

And then came the "AHA!" moment.  I realized the common denominator here.  It was the goddam BAY OF FUNDY that was making me sick.  My own personal Bermuda Triangle.  If not, wouldn't I have gotten sick on other bodies of water?  The Scotia Prince crossed the Gulf of Maine.  That's why I survived. And just coincidentally?  If you haven't already heard this?   The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world.  Don't know if this has anything to do with anything or not...just sayin'. 

Since then I have taken ferries to Port Jefferson, Long Island from Bridgeport, and to Orient Point from New London.  Roughish water on the second one, too.  And as I said I rarely get carsick any more.  Sometimes if I'm crunched in back and we're going hill-and-dale, up-and-down winding country roads (which is about all we have around here) it will revisit briefly and I'll just yell "Somebody let some fresh air in here, okay?" and somebody does, then I feel better.  I can even read in a car from time to time.  Even in the back seat. I guess my brain's sort of caught up with my ears, or vice versa.  But I take no chances.  If there is a pine tree air freshener hanging in the car somewhere I ask to put it in the glove compartment.  And even if they start ferry service again (the Bluenose and the Cat are scrap metal now) I think that should I take it in my head to go again to Canada I plan on staying the hell away from the Bay of Fundy.

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