There are few activities more American — and none more excruciating — than a good ol' family road trip across this giant boring country of ours. And the brilliant comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation," which is getting a newfangled 30-year anniversary Blu-ray release this week, sums up those carsick sensations of summer with pitch-perfect gags.
Based on an autobiographical short story in National Lampoon magazine, John Hughes' hilarious screenplay eloquently expresses the universal truth that nothing drives a family apart faster than a long drive together. So with this classic celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer, we're reviewing some life lessons learned by the Griswolds on the holiday road.
Lesson #1: Car Salesmen are Not Always Trustworthy
On rare occasion, an unsavory car dealer will attempt to sell you an automobile not ideal for your personal needs and finances. And all the attributes of that hypothetically ill-suited vehicle come standard in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
Lesson #2: Pimps Give Horrible Directions
This lesson should be too obvious to even bother mentioning: When driving your family through the 'hood of East St. Louis, don't stop the car to ask a pimp for directions. That's insane. Ask a hooker. They're the ones walking the streets and can give you the lay of the land.
Lesson #3: Father-Son Talks Are Best Left Unspoken
Whether introducing Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) to his "first" sip of beer (which Rusty expertly chugs) or ineptly lying about his infidelity (which Rusty sees right through), every time Clark (Chevy Chase) sits down with his son for an awkward chat, he further makes the case that a man-to-man talk between a dad and his boy are to be avoided at all costs.
Lesson #4: There's Nothing Like Country Living
Stopping in for a Hamburger Helper dinner (sans hamburger) with charmingly rural cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family of deformed/creepy children, the Griswolds are reminded why they don't live in the country.
Lesson #5: Get to Know Your Family
The Griswold children, Rusty and Audrey, find that, despite the cultural divide between them and their Kansas cousins, a shared interest in porn and marijuana brings them together.
Lesson #6: Murdering a Family Pet Has Its Downsides
A distracted mind and tying your great aunt's annoying dog Dinky to your back bumper at a rest stop is a recipe for tragedy, as Clark discovers a few minutes (and 55 miles per hour) too late. Not only does this dog-walk from hell get Clark pulled over by a K-9 loving cop, but it probably scars his family emotionally for life.
Lesson #7: Always Bring a Body Bag
On a long road trip, elderly travelers might complete their journey prematurely, as Aunt Edna does in the backseat of the Griswold's station wagon. And because the family was remiss in not bringing proper storage containers for corpses, the old bag rides to Phoenix strapped to the luggage rack.
Lesson #8: Don't Nap While Driving
Like most men, Clark believes himself to be an amazing driver. And lack of consciousness won't keep him from making good time, even if it impedes his ability to obey traffic lights and stay on the road.
Lesson #9: Park By the Exit
This brings us to the only lesson Clark teaches us that's not in the form of a cautionary tale: When you arrive at Walley World, park your car by the lot's exit so that, at the end of the day, you'll be the first to escape. It's actually a good idea! It also gives you ample room to run in slow motion towards the Wally World entrance.
Lesson #10: Invest in a Rooftop Carrier
Strapping luggage to the roof will most likely result in your luggage falling off the roof.
Lesson #11: Clothes Make the Man
If there's one important truth to be absorbed while watching "National Lampoon's Vacation," it's that a Members Only jacket and shiny white slip-on shoes will land you in a pool, skinny-dipping with Christie Brinkley (that's how Billy Joel did it).
Lesson #12: Wives Hate When You Skinny-Dip With Christie Brinkley
Based on the reaction by Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), it appears that wives are not in favor of swimming naked with models. No matter how innocent one's intent, one never knows what assumptions others will glean from such a situation.
Lesson #13: For God's Sake, Call Ahead
If you're going to drive 2,000-plus miles to a Moose-themed park with your family, costing you your life savings, your marriage and two lives, please simply call ahead to make sure the park won't be closed for repairs when you get there.
Lesson #14: When All Else Fails, Take Hostages
At the end of their interstate Odyssey, the Griswolds arrive at Walley World, only to learn the park is closed for two weeks. And Clark makes the right choice: he breaks in with his family, takes the security guard (John Candy) hostage at gunpoint and, as you'd expect, the result is laughter and good times!
Lesson #15: Just Take a Plane
Some facts to consider: Airplanes travel ten times the speed of a car, are far safer and each passenger is served a free half-can of soda. And if, like Clark Griswold, your response to that is "the trip to the destination is half the fun," perhaps you should reconsider your choice of destination. Hawaii, maybe?