Somewhere in the finite stretches of our lives, we crossed an invisible threshold and passed into the stage in which we travel with one of our pets. I realized this in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where I stood with our seven-pound chi-weenie on a leash, watching the drive-thru line snake slowly by,

The occasion: a quickly-planned weekend trip to Charleston, one that happened to coincide with Kel’s birthday, but one that was mostly made possible by the clearance of normal weekend events. Late Thursday evening I decided to cash out a small bevy of credit card points and book a hotel room. I hadn’t been to Charleston in years; it had been even longer for Kel and would be the kids’ first trip.

Rapidly-planned trips require an odd sort of coordination. We weren’t going to be there long–checking in Friday evening, taking advantage of everything we could Saturday and Sunday morning, then planning to get home in time to take care of chores and the other business readying for the week ahead. We ought to only plan to do three or four things, tops. We decided we owed it to the kids to book a hotel with an indoor pool. We planned to visit the USS Yorktown, a WWII-era aircraft carrier permanently parked on display. I figured we would do a very short tour of Charleston’s historic downtown (you know, show the kids a place where George Washington slept). We would, no doubt, end up on the beach for a walk.

I had the logistics roughed out in my mind–we could leave as soon as the kids got home from school Friday afternoon. But the short-notice nature of the trip left us without anyone to watch the indoor pooch. Which is how I ended up walking Otis around the McDonald’s parking lot, waiting in the dark for him to relieve himself while the kids made their own pit stop inside.

All of that aside, however, there is something decidedly luxurious about taking your miniature dog to a hotel with you. Walking into the lobby with him strapped into his cat-sized harness, his toenails clicking along the marble floor, he inspired audible gasps and cries of joy from nearly every single person we encountered.

He is, after all, a cute looking dog. A noteworthy portion of the impressed think he is but a wee puppy. The other chunk are simply enamored at his toy size. I would be remiss to not point out that Otis is a rescue of sorts–he was found dumpster diving behind our ramshackle mall, emaciated and plagued with horrible dental health. He has lost so many teeth from his gum disease that his tongue frequently lolls out from his mouth, poking through in a lazy, ha-ha sort of expression. He looks kind of stoned.

It was sort of absurd, then, to walk him into the elevator and troll him down the carpeted hallway to our room. But troll we did.

Otis was but one part of this journey, though.

Saturday morning we scavenged breakfast and set out to Patriot’s Point, where the Yorktown is berthed. My first visit here came when I was a Boy Scout–we camped in the crew quarters, leaving us free to roam about the ship after regular visiting hours were over. Based on my memories of the tight spaces, ladders up and down between decks, and the sheer magnitude of an air craft carrier, I banked that our kids would be enthralled.

This turned out to be true–they were overcome by it all and couldn’t wait to clamber through the metalworks, their hands quick to find all of the buttons and switches, levers and wheels and dials. A WWII-era anything is a tribute to the analog world, and our digital native kids were in wonderland. As we worked our way down to the depths of the engine room, I pointed out the main switch board, where the orders would come from the bridge to direct the ship’s power. Later, many decks above, we peered out from the bridge, and thought about how the commanding officer would give an order–all ahead, full!–which would be repeated again by the ship’s XO, and confirmed by the officer manning the ship’s power, and then repeated again by whomever was tasked with monitoring the gauges, and confirmed by the lackey throwing open the steam pipes.

We drove across the Cooper River Bridge. We walked out on the beach and trolled in the evening chill as the sun sank behind us. The kids rolled up their pants and got a good drenching of saltwater. Otis stared contemplatively into the metal-toned sea, as existential of a moment as a mixed breed dog might ever have.

We ate supper outside at a restaurant. We stayed up late, the television blue light dancing across the hotel room as the kids’ eyelids dipped, then drooped, and finally fluttered shut.

The next morning: breakfast in the room. Swimming. Packing. Driving. We were back home in less than four hours, all of us a bit dazed that we’d squeezed it all in. Throughout it all, Otis was a champ. The kids did a great job. It proved that we can fly down and fly back–we can, perhaps, reclaim a taste of the spontaneity we once had. And that felt good.