When SI senior writer Jack McCallum Told friends that his latest assignment was to take his wife and kids on an eight-week, 8,500-mile drive across America for a series of stories on his family's summer vacation, he got a lot of amused looks. "They all had visions of either Charles Kuralt or the Griswolds from the movie National Lampoon's Vacation," says McCallum.
Like Kuralt, McCallum will be on the road, reporting weekly from various stops between Salt Lake City and Mays Landing, N.J.—on everything from minor league baseball to croquet. (The series is called An American Summer, and the first piece, about white-water rafting in Utah, begins on page 34.) And like the Griswolds, the McCallums—Jack, Donna and their two sons, Jamie, 11, and Chris, 9—are at first blush a fairly typical American family. "Still, I prefer to think of us as middle-class Jack Kerouacs," says McCallum. "I'll be doing what Jack would have done if he had had a van and a family instead of a beat-up jalopy and a drinking habit."
McCallum embarked on his busman's holiday just 16 days after surgery to remove a bone spur from a vertebra in his neck. The operation forced him to miss the NBA Finals for the first time in his four seasons covering the league. His NBA connections came in handy, though. McCallum rented his customized van (it comes equipped with a decidedly un-Kerouacian VCR) from another Finals no-show—Utah Jazz owner and Salt Lake City auto dealer Larry Miller. The van will take the McCallums through 17 states, 21 hotel and motel parking lots and three birthdays: Jamie's, on July 14 in Spearfish, S.Dak. (at least that's where they're scheduled to be on that day); Donna's, on July 28 in Hammondsport, N.Y.; and Jack's 40th, on Aug. 5 in Gloucester, Mass.
Jamie and Chris had some reservations about the journey, but "when they found out they'd get to buy a lot of things to take on the trip, they really got excited," says McCallum. "Jamie had his new fishing vest packed a month ago."
The boys were reluctant to forgo the final week of Little League, but that is part of the trip's purpose. "We always have nice summers, but we always tend to do the same things," says McCallum. "This will be completely different."