How to Vacation like a Griswold

Traditional family vacations weren’t really a thing for my family growing up. My dad worked in various jobs that involved second or third shifts and then, later on, he travelled a lot. Mom worked, too, as a bookkeeper. We didn’t have a lot of time or money for the elaborate, week-long affairs that some of my friends took every summer.

vacationThat meant a lot of the time I was out of school I spent at friend’s houses, or reading in a corner of my mom’s office. It also meant that our ‘vacations’ involved mom and I tagging along on one of dad’s business trips. So for us it was spring break in Menominee, Michigan, about an hour north of Green Bay, WI or a summer trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas, just east of the Mississippi River. Since we weren’t in traditional vacation spots and often my dad had to get to meetings or jump on conferences call or check in on clients or locations, my mom and I would try and find whatever sightseeing was to be had in these out of the way locations. I was obsessive about the color brochures in the wooden rack in the lobby of the Holiday Inn. Before the internet or Yelp! or Google those brochures were a Technicolor lifeline with directions to all of the local wonders.

We had a routine. When we arrived at the motel, Mom would get settled in the room. Dad and I would “check the place out.” Pool? Check. Ice Machine? Check.

“Did you get all of your literature?” my dad would ask, meaning the stack of brochures.

I would always have more brochures than our time allotted would allow. There would be ads for outlet malls, which were a new thing when I was a kid. There were state parks or, if we were lucky, national parks. There were museums of all shapes and sizes. Waterparks or small local amusement parks always had enticing pictures. We saw lots of World’s Largest (Fill in the Blanks) and long forgotten historical sites, like presidential birthplaces or family homes. One particular favorite was the courtroom of Isaac Parker, “The Hanging Judge,” in Fort Smith. He was the original purveyor of frontier justice when Oklahoma was the frontier.

The unspoken point was that it didn’t matter where we were on our vacation. We might not have been in Orlando or Gatlinburg or at the beach like other families, but we were together. We could swim in the motel pool. We could eat at Howard Johnsons or a local hamburger joint. I could use my dad’s change to buy things from those vending machines that had nail clippers and toothpaste and a magic ink notepad. We didn’t make it to most of the places in the brochures, but it never mattered.

When the original Vacation movie came out, it felt like it had been made just for my family. To this day, my dad and I will stop and watch anytime we find it on television. My mom, not known for her movie trivia, will never forget Aunt Edna being strapped to the top of the family truckster. The most encouraging thing you can say to someone in my family, before a job interview or a tough work challenge or just anytime you need a pick-me-up, is “Remember, you’re a Griswold!” For us, it is about remembering that you’re different, you’re strong, and don’t let anybody get you down, even if you show up at Wally World and the park is closed.

The new Vacation, with Ed Helms and Christy Applegate, may or may not be as good as the original (let’s be honest, probably not,) but I don’t really care. Just spending more time in the Griswold universe with Rusty and Clark is enough for me. As Helms’ Rusty says in the movie, “My trip to Wally World when I was a kid was the best trip I ever had.” My parents and I won’t get to see the movie together, but, in typical style, we won’t let that get in our way. We can have a conference call debrief after. Maybe for old time’s sake we could even do the call from the car in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn.


#girlcrushing with Taylor and Cindy

The conversation with my friend went something like this:

Me: Have you seen the Taylor Swift Bad Blood video?


Friend: (Disdainful sigh) No.

Me: OMG! Trust me on this. You have to see it. It’s amazing.

Friend: No. No, I don’t. Nope, you are wrong.


A few things to know about my friend: She is kind and generous and supportive of (almost) all of my craziness and pop culture obsessions. She also has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and bands from around the world. Every December she posts a list of her favorite songs from the prior year and I generally have only heard of (maybe) one of them and only know how to pronounce (maybe) half of the list. She is also strong, smart, and super kick-ass in almost everything she does.

This is all to say that she doesn’t shoot me down very often, especially when it comes to pop songs. She indulges my ridiculousness in the way that only a true friend will but which makes her Swift rejection all the more frustrating, even if it isn’t unique. I haven’t been able to get any of my friends to watch Bad Blood, much less let me explain to them why they should.

Two words: Cindy Crawford.

Crawford was a force of nature in the 1990s. Remember the first time you saw the George Michael Freedom 90! video? She and her fellow supermodels—who are all still around and still looking fierce—virtually stepped from that iconic Herb Ritts photo into MTV. Like Lauren Bacall, Lena Horne, and Sophia Loren before her, Crawford possessed, of course, a not-of-this-earth beauty, but it was grounded in wisdom and strength. Her origin story (all good super heroes have them) is one of legend: brainiac decides against career in chemical engineering to become the highest paid supermodel in a world that only just learned what the term supermodel even means.

For young women of the 90s, Crawford was also another kind of model. She was a role model to those of us struggling to find our identity and embrace our own uniqueness. Much was made of her mole (today it would have its own Twitter account), the imperfection that wasn’t. Compared to Christie Brinkley and Farrah Fawcett, she was so much more normal-seeming, even if that kind of normal really wasn’t at all. She seemed like a girl you could find working at the food court at the mall or sitting next to you in English class. She never bothered to play dumb or ever pretended that she wasn’t beautiful. She worked it all—her career, her fame—like the boss she was. Since then she has continued to demonstrate poise, grace, and independence, even when selling sofas or skin cream.

Her daughter Kaia has decided to step in front of the camera. Crawford told Yahoo! Celebrity it was important for her daughter to, “Be on time, be prepared, listen. For me, that’s so much of the reason I’ve had such a long career. People knew I was going to show up and give 100 percent. It’s not glamorous, but that quality, in a fickle industry, was essential.”

I was never going to look like Crawford, or Bacall or Horne or Loren, for that matter, but I could stand on my own two feet and own my life. I could show up, work hard, and be smart about it. I could get married and have kids and have a career or all of the above. Or I could do none of the above. In the post-ERA era after Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley-Brown, Crawford was an unlikely icon in the most unlikely of professions.


Next year Cindy Crawford will turn 50. Taylor Swift is 25. I love the fact that Swift cast Crawford as the “Headmistress” to her kick-ass all-girl gang in Bad Blood. It feels important, even if that ‘important’ is only with a lower-case ‘i.’ Women and girls could do worse than learn a thing or two from Crawford.

Now if I could just get someone to watch it with me.