Into every piece of luggage, rain will surely fall

SATURDAY'S HERO

June 05, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Having recently returned from a trek to the beach, I have a warning for anyone thinking about strapping luggage to the top of his car. Remember that the minute you place a suitcase on your car roof, rain clouds begin to form.

You may make it over to the ocean or to another vacation destination without getting wet. But eventually, a storm will strike you. The wind will howl. The heavens will open. Your suitcases will be soaked.

While I'm in the advice-giving mode, here is some for anyone considering a weekend drive to the Atlantic Ocean beaches: Leave right now! A traffic jam is already forming! Get in it before it gets bigger!

Last weekend when I drove my family to the ocean, I followed none of this advice. As a result, there was considerable soaking and suffering.

There were a few positive notes to the trip. The drenched luggage did not slide off the top of the car. And we participated in a historic event.

According to experts in Maryland highway congestion, the traffic jam we got stuck in Monday night was the worst in Memorial Day history.

It took us two hours to travel 36 miles. From Easton to Queenstown, westbound Route 50 was stop and go, mostly stop.

The passengers, our two kids and two of their buddies, were not impressed with the historic significance of the situation. As our station wagon inched along the highway, they repeatedly asked me questions that went something like this.

Passenger: "Are we close to the Bay Bridge yet?"

Driver: "No."

Passenger: "No?"

Driver: "No."

Passenger: "How long before we get there?"

Driver: "A long time."

Passenger: "I want a bologna sandwich."

A round of bologna sandwiches followed. The bologna was able to be dispensed because it was one of the few items of luggage that was not lashed to the roof. The elevation of the suitcases was part of my new car-packing strategy, designed to encourage the passengers to shut up and go to sleep.

Like most station wagons, ours has a third seat that folds down. This leaves a flat space at the back of the vehicle ideal for depositing either heavy luggage or stretched-out children.

My wife and I chose to put kids in the back, because we thought that by driving back to Baltimore at night the traffic would be thin and the kids would be sleepy. We were partially correct. The kids were tired, but only two of the four conked out. However, as the night wore on, the traffic got thicker, not thinner.

A veteran of family travel had warned me that putting naked suitcases on my car roof tempted fate. He told me I should shell out the $150 it took to buy a closed plastic luggage carrier. He said the carrier fit snugly on the station wagon's luggage rack and, in the likely event of rain, would keep the suitcases dry.

I didn't want to spend the money. Besides, the five-day weather forecast said there was no chance of rain. I didn't even consider covering the suitcases with a tarp. I knew the tarp would come loose and flap in the wind. My frazzled nerves and my sense of auto aesthetics wouldn't permit me to drive a "flapper." In addition, the suitcase had hard sides. It was the kind that, according to the advertisements, even a gorilla couldn't damage.

So even as our station wagon sat on Route 50, with the kids making machine-gun noises and the rain pouring down, I felt good about the luggage.

While stuck in traffic, my wife and I amused ourselves watching ** the car in front of us. A young couple was smooching. I thought about running up to that couple's car, pounding on the window and warning them that if they continued that kind of behavior, they too could end up driving a station wagon full of bologna-eaters. But the traffic lurched forward and I lost my nerve.

Finally, the congestion broke. And it stopped raining, but only for a few miles. When we hit the Baltimore Beltway around 11 p.m., down came the deluge. It was a rain that would have frightened Noah. The downpour seemed to quicken when I got out of the car to unload the bikes and suitcases.

The next day I reached into the suitcase for a T-shirt and ended up with a handful of wet cotton. Which leads me to offer one final bit of traveling wisdom: Gorillas may not be able to dent the sides of those hard suitcases, but rain soaks right through them.

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