Vacation, Final Day – Miracle at the Claw Machine

After Monticello, we hit the Cracker Barrel for dinner, then cruised on into Lexington for the night. Diamondqueen got sick on her chicken fried steak (she always gets sick on anything fried and greasy, but does that stop her?) and had to leave me and the Hooligans at the hotel’s indoor pool where we took a final swim. We had the pool to ourselves, which was lovely, although I had to watch the Hooligans like a manic hawk. J.Hooligan relaxed and swimmed the best he had all vacation, and S.Hooligan was all too confident in her floaty, clinging to the pool wall and inching herself around the perimeter of the pool, including the deep end. Even with that, it was relaxing and fun.

We skipped “eating out” next morning and partook of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, which was surprisingly good. Then came the long, long drive home.

One of our pit stops was in West Virginia about a half hour outside of Charleston. It was one of those “service areas” with a massive gas station and combined bathrooms/gift shop/fast food restaurant. While Diamondqueen filled up the van, I took the kids into the store area. S. and I waited outside while J. used the bathroom. There were some arcade “prize” games, and little did I know that S. was observing her surroundings and making some choices.

When Diamondqueen arrived, she took S. into the bathroom, then they joined J.Hooligan and me in the gift shop. I needed the bathroom myself, so as I entered the Women’s, Diamondqueen rationed out a few quarters so the Hooligans could play the arcade games.

When I returned, I was astonished to see S.Hooligan holding a stuffed animal. She’d gotten it from one of those claw machines that you just assume are rigged against you. Typically, rather than thrill S., this reinforced a notion that threatened to doom us: Since it had been so easy to get this animal, she reasoned, it would be just as easy to get the one she REALLY wanted, a pink stuffed cat in the back.

There was no telling her that this would be impossible. “Just get it,” S. kept insisting as we each took a try at grasping the kitty with the claw. Her voice was taking on an edge of hysteria that meant an ugly scene would soon erupt.

Meanwhile, J.Hooligan was disgruntled because S. had a toy and he didn’t. He had his eye on a machine full of rubbery, spiky ball-heads with goofy faces. Winning one similarly seemed impossible to any rational creature, but I shoved quarters into the machine and gave it a shot. When I failed and saw the disappointment on J.’s face, I drew from my stash of quarters left over from our aborted visit to the arcade on Saturday night and handed them over so he could give it a try himself.

At the claw machine, Diamondqueen was using the last of her quarters trying to win the pink kitten. She was drawing a couple of dollar bills out of her purse for the change machine when we both looked at J. He was holding up one of the garish spiky rubber heads in a fluorescent yellow-green the shade of toxic waste. “This was exactly the one I wanted!” J. said happily, his eyes sparkling with pride.

Diamondqueen and I just stared at him, murmuring “I don’t believe it,” until S.Hooligan brought us back with tearful impatience. I made a few miserable attempts with the claw (almost winning a different toy, which actually would have made everything worse), then turned the machine back over to Diamondqueen.

“Honey, it’s just about impossible to win that kitten!” I implored. We tried to explain why our attempts were failing, pointing out how the toys slipped out of the claw as it swung toward the chute. “Just pick it up and drop it in!” S.Hooligan cried. She’d done it once. There was no reason it wouldn’t happen again.

And it did. After a couple more tries, Diamondqueen pinched the pink cat by one ear and managed to plop it down the chute. S.Hooligan, her faith rewarded, cuddled her new treasure while Diamondqueen and I, weak-kneed and incredulous, herded the kids and their prizes out to the car. (Of course, we didn’t want to even attempt to calculate how much those sorry toys cost compared to what we could have purchased in a good discount store. Then again, how do you put a price on the look on the Hooligans’ faces?)

In Charleston we stopped for lunch at a Lone Star, then finished the last long leg home (it seemed so much longer than when we had set out). For the last two hours the kids asked continually when we would be home. When we arrived at last, pulling into the driveway, J.Hooligan said, “I almost cried when I saw our house.” I turned around; sure enough, his eyes were almost teary with the joy and relief of being home.

Earlier, though, I’d asked each Hooligan what he or she had enjoyed most about the trip.

“The indoor pool,” S.Hooligan replied immediately and confidently.

After some nervous hesitation, J. said, “I can’t pick one thing that was best.”

“Well, just tell me three things you really enjoyed,” I replied.

J. smiled. “One, swimming in the ocean. Two, swimming in the ocean. And three, swimming in the ocean.”

All things considered, I think it was a pretty good trip!

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