Destination: Unknown

T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

Like watching a bad comic, making plans for a vacation can be not very fun at all--torture, in fact--if your group contains at least two people who know what they want, and at least one who doesn't.

"I want to go to Israel," Dave said.

"I want to go to Tanzania," Tom said.

"I'll go wherever you decide," I said.

This conversation took place back in January. We three brothers-in-law had taken two previous trips together in two previous Marches, and had a loose understanding that we'd try to do it again last month.

Vacations are like cars in that once you've owned one, you want the next to be bigger, faster, bitchener. Two years ago, the big island of Hawaii had proved a wonderful place to go--good diving and weather, friendly natives (most of them California transplants) and exotic blue cocktails served in gallon-sized snifters with tropical fruit kabobs in them.

Last year, we upped the ante and, after some bickering, decided upon the Fijian island of Taveuni. This place turned out to be absolutely superb in every respect, one of those trips that you'll never duplicate and never forget. We dived, wallowed in paradise, ate good food, hiked endlessly, slid down waterfalls, made some friends, drank kava and had the bar and astonishing South Pacific sunsets pretty much to ourselves every night for 10 straight days. It was even cheap. The bats that cut the skies at dust were the size of crows.

"Next year, I want to go to Israel," Dave had said.

"OK," Tom had said.

"Sounds good to me," I had added.

So, for the next nine months we banked on Israel, until the time approached for making serious plans. Like most human beings, we put off decision-making for as long as possible, on the theory that nothing is real until it can't be avoided any longer.

"I still want to go to Israel," Dave said.

"I've been there," Tom said. "I want to go to Tanzania."

"Hmmm," I offered. "You guys decide."

We spent the entire month of January, and part of February, in three-way long-distance diplomacy that would qualify each of us for office in Washington, based on our skill at talking a lot and deciding nothing. The two brothers (Dave and Tom) were deadlocked, while I kept saying I'd do whatever they decided.

I felt confident in my position that we'd go to neither Israel nor Tanzania because both contestants are well-spoken, strong-willed and brim with resolve. Compromise seemed impossible. Besides, I suspected I was running out of money, so flying halfway around the world seemed brazen. I was secretly hoping for something closer and easier, like Cozumel or Belize, but these were compact destinations, and at this point we were clearly talking luxury sedan.

"I want to go to Israel," Dave said.

"OK, I'll go to Israel," Tom said.

"Israel it is," I agreed.

The impossible had happened; compromise had done its narcotic work, and as of early March we were to be bound for Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Cairo, and six days of world class scuba diving in the Red Sea.

Proud to have been so decisive, I immediately began gloating to friends and acquaintances that I'd be "diving the Sinai" in a few short weeks. I made the usual promises to bring back gifts for certain people, and some friends were kind enough to give me books about the area, advice, even numbers to call at the county to find out how many butt-mangling shots I'd need before we left. I reserved the airplane tickets.

I purchased three green cardboard Fuji throwaway cameras, though one would have been plenty because though I love snapping pictures, I have no interest whatsoever in seeing the developed film, and rarely return one for processing.

I got my passport renewed at the U.S. post office in Laguna Hills. It was an arduous process, but my new green passport did show up a few weeks later, as promised.

Then, late one Sunday night I called my Wells Fargo 24-hour customer-service number to make sure I had enough shekels left to finance this Middle Eastern extravaganza. I was a skosh short. More than a skosh, actually. To complete the picture, I also didn't have a job.

The next morning I called my agent.

"Can you hurry up and get me a book deal so I can take a vacation?" I asked.

"These things take time, Jefferson. It's more important to do it right than to do it quickly. By the way, I'll be on vacation the next two weeks, but my office will keep you posted."

Forlorn, I called Dave, then Tom.

"I can't go to Israel," I said.

"Oh, no," Dave said.

"I didn't want to go anyway," Tom said.

As this year's Judas, I then took over the job of suggesting alternative destinations. This was not easy because I knew that Dave and Tom didn't want to go anywhere other than where they said they wanted to go.

My suggestion of Mexico was met with a tomb-like silence.

My suggestion of Belize was met with the kind of enthusiasm one might have for a trip to the proctologist.

Desperate, I broke down, positing Key West, Denver, New York City, (even my house in Laguna Canyon!) as destinations we all might enjoy. I toyed with the idea of trading my house for Tom's in Mission Viejo for a week so we would feel as if we were on vacation, but that did nothing for Dave at all, stuck in New York and still dreaming of 100-foot visibility in the Red Sea.

"I want to go to Costa Rica," Tom said.

"You two decide," Dave said.

"Costa Rica sounds good to me." I said.

One week, 500 phone calls, six sleepless nights and three ulcers later, we pow-wowed long distance for the final verdict.

"Sure, I'll go to Costa Rica," Dave said.

"Great, let's go to Costa Rica," Tom said.

"Well, then, how about Costa Rica?" I asked.

This decided, the good news spread like a new religion and our party of three became a party of five, then of seven, then of eight. This wasn't just a vacation, it was an invasion. It sure sounded like fun.

I imagined all eight of us stuffed into a rented van of some kind, touring the Costa Rican countryside in glee, somewhat like R. P. McMurphy and the asylum patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." This trip, I saw, had all the right ingredients for a great one: chaotic planning, last-minute everything, an air of genuine desperation giving way to a genuine . . . need for a vacation!

Tom, in our weeks of trip-planning darkness, had said more than once that we were lucky to be having such problems. I couldn't agree more. Vacation-planning ordeals are for those fortunate enough to be taking a trip in the first place. We've been blessed this year, and I'm thankful for it. I will not bore you with pictures when I get back.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World