Sheletta Brundidge didn’t know how prescient her decision to travel via RV on a family vacation was until that video of a TSA agent patting down a special-needs boy went viral in March.
Three of Sheletta and Shawn Brundidge’s four kids are on the autism spectrum. In January, after adding up the cost of flying to Houston to visit her mother, they began exploring other travel options. Airfare ($400 a pop), luggage fees, renting a sport-utility vehicle, renting car seats, renting strollers and booking two hotel rooms (Sheletta’s mom’s house cannot handle the onslaught) were making this a very expensive trip.
“We don’t want our kids to be limited by their diagnosis. We want them to see the world without restrictions or fear. Traveling in an RV gives us and them the freedom to do that,” said Sheletta, a comedian and former local radio personality. “There is a book called ‘Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places.’ We plan to reread that book with our kids in mind. The author is Dudley Edmondson, who lives in Duluth. The first time we read it we were inspired to take Andrew all around the country, which is why he’s so smart and worldly. But he was a little man. He could sit on a plane and hold court, talk for hours intelligently about everything from politics to pie recipes. It won’t happen like that with the other kids. But their inability to sit still on a flight from Minnesota to Kentucky shouldn’t stop them from visiting the Ali Center in Louisville or anything else.”
I went along when Shawn went for training by Zinfinity RV co-owner Mollie Villella. Sheletta arrived with most of her brood, complaining: “Thanks for waiting on us. How do you think you’re going to do a story about the kids’ family vacation on an RV without the kids! Your story is also timely because April is Autism Awareness Month. Hopefully, one day we hit the Lotto so we can afford to buy our own RV.”
Q: You already knew that air travel is not the leisurely, elegant experience it once was for adults — and usually isn’t with children?
A: We’ve got to pack and we’ve got to stand in line. We would be so stressed out to get to the airport two hours early and [TSA] might pat my special-needs child down and he freaks out because somebody is touching him in a place that he hasn’t been touched before and if that happens, girl, I’m going to jail. When I saw that little boy,[Aaron Williamson, at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport] a special-needs kid, being patted down by TSA, I said, “This is confirmation that I’m making the right choice.” A lot of people don’t even know that this is available for families: RV rental. We didn’t.
Q: You are ahead of the curve?
A: Yeah, we decided we were going to do this when we started to look at the fares. And then they’ve got to sit on the plane and behave like adults and not wild out. I don’t want them to have to stop in Phoenix because we can’t make it to Houston, then land and then get off and get the luggage and the rental car.
Q: You’re ahead of the curve in another way. You’re Mollie’s first black rental customers!
A: Am I? And it [isn’t] even Black History Month! A lot of families look at the expense of trying to fly five or six people [on vacations] and say it just can’t be done.
Q: This RV will come back cleaner than it left because you run a tight ship.
A: Girl, let me tell you something. My husband said, “They clean it,” then he was like, “Never mind, I already know.” After we get this RV home the first hour and a half, two hours, I’m going to be in here, wiping and mopping and cleaning and spraying. I don’t play when it comes to cleaning. Somebody said, You’ve got four kids, Your house probably looks like a Bangladesh street corner. No, no. You should come to my house. Everything is put away, everything is clean. Andrew will tell you if he doesn’t put something away, where does it go? [Mom smiled at her oldest.]
“I’m still not over it,” said Andrew, who couldn’t bring himself to speak the words.
“In the trash,” said his mom, smiling.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show” and “The Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.