Road trip: Hell on wheels

In the past month, we’ve taken two road trips of no less than nine hours each way. If you’ve ever traveled with three boys under six, I apologize for any PTSD symptoms I may be awakening within your psyche. But you probably get the shakes whenever you see a minivan careening down the highway, so I’m not completely to blame for your tremors.

out for a drive

Hang on. It’s going to be one wild ride.

We tried driving through the night. The darkness did coax the children to sleep sometime during the third go-round of the Peppa Pig DVD, and we were not brought to a complete standstill by the many thousand construction zones we navigated. But these benefits were dampened by the parents’ exhaustion at daybreak, making the first day more hangover than vacation.

Driving during the day brings a spiritual brand of exhaustion. This weariness stems from whining children and repeated episodes of Sponge Bob. It doesn’t matter that you maxed out your library card renting movies for the trip; they will only watch two, and you will consider the second one a blessing.

Some parents eschew the practice of placating children with movies or electronics. They say such devices are figurative opiates that drug the children rather than engage them. They may have a point, which I would help them prove if I could get away with feeding the boys literal opiates on the trip. But until that enlightened day, their high-minded theories will have to remain untested.

ready for the road

“Everyone take a nice big sip of ‘sleepy tonic’ back there. Daddy needs to concentrate on the road.” (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

There are many rest areas on the highways, conveniently located between the places where a kid needs to pee. I don’t mind him peeing into the woods alongside the road; it’s probably cleaner than the rest area bathroom, but that just means there will be different reason to pull off at the rest area.

Did I mention that long drives summon the Type A personality from the depths of my dark soul? I yearn to cut time off the trip. You don’t do that by stopping at, and in between, all the rest areas.

All the construction zones encountered on our highways would lead one to expect an improving quality of road. That is, until it becomes apparent that 10% of the zones have someone working in them. The other 90% are there to help us practice merging. We got lots of practice when our six lanes funneled down into a single lane. Standstill traffic has a magical effect on sleeping babies; it wakes them, in a wrong side of the bed kind of way. It makes older children ask questions that trapped parents can’t answer.

“Why are we stopping? What’s in front of the this long line of cars? Why is the road closed if nobody’s working on it?” And the ever ingratiating: “Why didn’t we take a different road if this one’s packed with cars?”

Being stuck in traffic with seven hours of road ahead of you is awesome and these questions just add to the fun.

So relax and enjoy the banter. You’ll get there . . . eventually.


Thankfulness run amok

Yes, I have a list of things that merit Thanksgiving. But rather than the commonplace “family and friends,” I’ve dug deep into my psyche to bring out these gems formed under the pressure of my heavy soul.

Caillou’s static age

It brings me some relief from his annoying cartoon that Caillou announces he is just four in the intro to his mind-numbing show. When my son was three, Caillou was an older kid, and it’s always cool to hang around the older kids. Fortunately, Caillou is a Dorian Gray. Now that my son is five and Caillou is still four, I’m hoping he’ll realize what a drag it is to associate with such a whiny baby. I hope this happens before the pent up rage that has been building in Caillou’s repressed family explodes into violence.


I like broccoli. But that’s no reason to put it on this list. I’m thankful for broccoli because my children don’t hate it. It’s the only vegetable they willingly eat, these children who balk at corn. We eat broccoli almost every day. It doesn’t have that horrible husk that confuses their little mouths like corn and peas do. And carrots are orange. The God of little boys didn’t intend food to be orange (popsicles excepted).

A little broccoli snack

You have to eat a lot of broccoli to make up for all those peas, carrots, and beans you won’t touch.

Frozen Pizza

I grew up where pizza joints were run by ethnic Italians. I remember an old Mom or Pop needing one of their kids to translate orders to them. Their pizza was their pride. I now live in a region where pizza places are owned by franchisees with names like Gary and Todd. The pizza is baked on a conveyor belt. The locals may be shocked by this, but I like some frozen pizza better than a lot of the pizza I could order. Plus, I don’t have to talk on the phone to get a frozen pizza, and that’s a huge advantage.

Moms’ groups

I once read about a study (no doubt conducted by male sociologists) concluding that when a group of women get together, chances are good they’ll start complaining about their men. I’m no scientist, but I have noticed that my wife loves me more when she comes home from a womenfolk powwow. She gives me a big hug and kiss and thanks me for not being like So-and-So’s husband. Whenever I’m feeling a little deprived, I inquire if she’s got a meeting coming up. Husbands lamer than me are the best part of my personality.

Lady's group finalists

Enjoy your ribbons, ladies. There’s a homemade stew of crusty dishes and dirty underwear waiting for you on the kitchen counter. (Image: Harris & Ewing)

Public transportation

We rarely use public transportation. When we do, it’s like a Holiday. My boys love riding the bus. After a trip around town on an articulated bus, you’d think we just got back from Disney World. This great adventure costs about two bucks. When one of my sons is the Super Bowl MVP and somebody shoves a microphone in his face to ask, “You’ve just won the Super Bowl; what are going to do next?” he’ll say, “I’m going across town, on the twister bus.”

We love the twister bus

We love articulated (“twister”) buses so much, we bought our own.

Yeah, I’m thankful for family and friends too. I guess.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A good zoo will have some animals to compliment its train

We’ve upgraded our zoo experience. We discovered a new zoo that is much more interesting than our little hometown zoo. Instead of merely watching freight trains pass by on the adjacent tracks, we can ride on a little train at the new zoo. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that my son judges zoos based upon the quality of trains they offer. My son judges all public attractions by the quality of trains they offer.

Zoo train

Our favorite zoo animal in our new favorite zoo.

We didn’t let any animals distract us on our way to the train depot. The engine sounded suspiciously like a tractor to me, but the boy did not take note of that incongruity. Our rail journey began at the petting zoo, where railroad gates kept the public off our track. From there, we went directly off into the woods, where the only animals we saw were the occasional squirrel and the free-range mosquitos.

The ride lasted about 15 minutes. Having gotten it out of the way, we surmised that the boy might be able to show some attention to the animals within the petting zoo. This miscalculation hadn’t accounted for the railroad gates.

If one is not actually riding on the train, the next best place to be is standing next to the railroad crossing as the train comes through. Consequently, as all the other children in the world were petting baby goats and miniature ponies, or getting spat upon by a temperamental lama, my son and I sat on a bench next to the railroad crossing, waiting for the sound of an approaching train.

Crossing signal

The best spot in the whole zoo, for those not riding the train.

The train must have gone out just before we got there, because it seemed as though we waited for a good while. Perhaps they were waylaid by a marauding band of chipmunks. Whatever the delay, my son used the time to closely examine the crossing signal. He is fascinated by crossing signals. He would have one in his bedroom if he could devise a way to get it there.

All around, children held themselves rapt in the antics of the animals. A little girl voiced her disgust that the pony seemed enamored of his own poop. Many little hands held out pellets for scrambling goats. Young people learned valuable lessons about the personal space needs of a lama. Meanwhile, one four-year-old considered the odds of being able to manually pull down the railroad gate and likely consequences of doing so.

Waving to the train

A bittersweet moment: near the train, yet not on the train.

These calculations were unnecessary, as we soon heard the train approaching. The boy stepped back and watched the gates fall of their own accord. As he stood outside the gate, the train passed by, making it a truly wonderful world. Having experienced the railroad from both sides of the crossing gate, the boy was satisfied at last.

Now, we could visit the giraffes, zebras, and other superfluous fluff that zoos sometimes install as extra frill around their trains.

Three solid hours of non-refundable simulated deafness

We were ready to watch our first Monster Trucks show. My son and his friend had their Monster Truck flags, which indicates that they had not succeeded in poking out any eyes with the flag sticks during the pit party. They had their industrial-grade earmuffs, and my wife and I had our ear plugs ready.

On the arena floor were two rows of junk cars just waiting to be crushed to bits. The Monster Trucks were scattered around the outside of the floor area. We anticipated a fun-packed circus of mechanization and noise.

kids looking at monster truck

This truck can totally crush a whole row of cars. It can do it all . . . night . . . long.

The announcer introduced the drivers. The names floated past us into oblivion. The drivers put on their helmets and got into the their trucks, assuming their true identities (e.g. the guy driving the black truck).

The boys put their ear protection into place, which instantly turned them talkative. You’ve never heard a more confused conversation than one between two preschoolers wearing earmuffs:

FRIEND: “The red truck is starting up.”

SON: “Huh?”

FRIEND: “The red truck is starting.”

SON: “Huh? Oh look, the red truck is going.”

FRIEND: “Huh?”

Seeing me put in my ear plugs inspired my son to attempt a conversation with me, an activity fraught with miscommunication under ideal acoustic conditions. Realizing that I couldn’t hear him, he helpfully lifted a muff from one of his ears every time he spoke.

I tried to preserve my son’s hearing by discouraging him from talking. I turned my attention to the spectacle below. This was when I realized that I’m not really a Monster Truck kind of guy. Yes, it was cool, the first time the trucks ran over the cars, but they just kept running over them again and again. I believe this is where the phrase beating a dead horse originated, back during the old Monster Stage Coach exhibitions.

two moster trucks crushing cars

Looks pretty cool, right? It was pretty cool, until about the 20th time over the cars. I didn’t take a picture of the 20th time, or any of the times thereafter.

Finally, after the cars were crushed flat, the announcer declared, “Well, the time has come . . .” I reached for my coat. “. . . for intermission.” Intermission? You mean we’ve got to wait half an hour until they decide to start driving over a road of flattened metal again? “That’s right, it’s intermission time!” the announcer replied to my thoughts.

The second half of the show was amazing, for those who can’t get enough repetitive truck driving. The boys were fidgety. They were losing interest, but they didn’t want to go, because at that age it’s easy to get trapped in that gray area between boredom and not wanting to miss anything. One of the trucks shot sparks, leaving the boys hoping for a full-blown fireball. It seems almost cruel that none of the trucks exploded.

The show finally ended when the grand champion’s truck started leaking some crucial fluid. It wasn’t exactly a heart-stopping finale, but all the smoke rising from the engine made it almost like the fire the boys had been awaiting.

My wife had the boys’ coats on, earmuffs put away, and was leading them out of the arena in about 15 seconds. Apparently, she’s not a Monster Truck kind of gal.