The best thing about minivans is that you can fit a lot of junk in them. The worst part is that you can almost fit a lot more junk in them, and so, when you’re leaving town for a road trip, you somehow squeeze in an extra pillow and a boxed set of Percy Jackson books and a large, stuffed alligator.
I recently drove across the country with my wife and kids, and the attempt to keep the vehicle clean was a primary concern. In fact, I even requested and received a Dust Buster as a Father’s Day gift in preparation for this three-week, 4,800-mile jaunt to a few family reunions in Idaho and Utah and Colorado. I drove just about all of the 80-plus hours, and so most of the mess occurred behind me, pleasantly out of sight.
As I finished packing the van outside my in-laws’ house in Denver, gearing up for the home stretch, my wife, Hailey, came out with some terrible news: She had been given some old dolls and doll furniture from her childhood.
“Should I take them?” she asked, with a pained look on her face.
I looked at the doll. It had no eyeballs. Hmm.
“Well,” I said, “if this were the end of the world, and zombies were chasing you, and you could only pick up one thing, would this be it?”
Apparently the answer was yes, because it ended up in the minivan.
I tried to console myself by vacuuming up some crumbs in one of the kids’ seats, and instead, the Dust Buster started barfing out sand. I always thought it was supposed to suck things, instead of spitting them out, but oh well. I turned it off and packed it in the back.
In Red Vines veritas
But keeping the van clean is only one problem with a cross-country road trip. There is also the difficulty of staying awake when you’re surrounded by pretty much nothing except the glare of the sun off the dashboard.
My trick is tried and true: Eat Red Vines until you can’t stand it anymore. Then take a sip of water and a bite of beef jerky, and move on to Starbursts. Many Swedish Fish gave their lives to help us arrive safely home.
At one point, I had a nutrition-oriented thought. While shopping I asked Hailey, “What’s a snack that you can eat a lot of but without calories?”
She shrugged and said, “Rice cakes?”
That was the end of my nutrition-oriented thought. Twizzlers are better than rice cakes, really.
Give! Me! My! Glow stick!
Then there is the difficulty of keeping the children happy. Movies are good. Video games are good. Looking out the window doesn’t work as well today as it did in my day. And everything happens in a blind spot.
At one point, Ellie, my 5-year-old, yelled at her 8-year-old brother, Grant: “Give! Me! My! Glow stick!”
I was about to yell at Grant for being a troublemaker, but then he said, “Then stop hitting my head with it!”
Parenting is tough enough when you can see it all happen, but when it’s all in the dark, in the rear view mirror, it’s impossible to separate the criminals from the victims.
Purpose of life?
All that time in the car invites contemplation. It’s healthy. We don’t meditate enough these days.
But over time, my mind started playing tricks on me. I started talking to the digitized voice in the GPS. She would tell me to turn right, and I would say, “You got it.” She would tell me to turn left, and I’d say, “Way ahead of you. Turning left now.”
It got worse and worse, to the point that I started to ask questions. “Are we there yet?” And, “Are you sure about that?”
“What’s the purpose of life?” I asked.
I couldn’t tell if she was joking, but she said, “Continue on I-70.”