Travels With Dad
Shortly after posting this, I’m going to be loading up the minivan and driving the family off for a fun-filled week in Florida. We’re getting the TV/VCR combo ready along with a DVD player, just in case. Videos, DVDs, a Game Boy, a Magna Doodle, a couple of books, toys, multiple changes clothes, a case of Huggies Pull-Ups, gallons of juice and other snacks will all be loaded with textbook precision. Before we are five miles away from the house, it will all be all over the van. But when you’re traveling 14 hours with a 3 year old and a 6 ½ year old, you have to plan for anything. And that list doesn’t even include the books for me, Dr. Peppers, a laptop, magazines, brochures, my wife’s box-o’-bills and a calculator so she can spend the drive balancing our checkbook.
Admittedly, this may sound extreme, but you have to understand: In my family, ever since I was a baby, road tips have always been a very serious business.
It was often said when I was growing up that my family could not drive around the block without a cooler and a camera. There were times that was not far from the truth. You see, my dad, who was the primary driver, hated to stop. My mom and I on the other hand would stop for just about anything. My dad knew that in order to maximize the efficiency of his drive time, he had to employ a little strategy. A cooler full of sodas and (ahem) other beverages were always on hand, no matter how short the trip. But that wasn’t the only trick up his sleeve. Each of his ploys would rear its time-saving head during various vacations, but all of them may well have been employed on the infamous “Trip To Tulsa”
We most likely started out with The Midnight Ride. This was my dad’s favorite trick. We couldn’t ask him to stop if we weren’t awake so he drove while we slept. For the longest time, my dad worked a swing shift at the plant. This meant he would work one week of days, one week of second shift and a week of midnights. He would almost always schedule his vacations to begin the day after he ended a midnight shift. The following night between 10 pm and 2 am (depending on our final destination), we would depart. I was trying to sleep in the back seat, mom would be dozing up front and dad drove through the night. Many a trip started out with me listening to a pre-CNN Larry King doing his midnight to dawn radio AM talk radio show. We’d get where we were going, Dad would sleep, mom would read a book and they would send me out to play in the pool or arcade until dad rested enough to officially continue the vacation.
“The Supply Line” involved the aforementioned cooler and other food stores. One would have thought we were a rolling survivalist group with as much food as we stockpiled for our trips. A large green metal Coleman cooler which could have doubled as a bathtub in a pinch held a half gallon of milk, two or more six packs of soda for me (this particular trip was during my Pepsi Free kick, if I remember correctly) two or more six packs of beer for dad, a bottle of water, a few 7-Up’s and Tab’s for mom, a bag of ice, packs of bologna, American cheese, Kraft Miracle Whip, pimento cheese spread, pressurized cheese spread in a can, summer sausage, pepperoni, a block of Cheddar, and more. Also cleverly hidden away in the cooler was the inevitable fifth (or half gallon) of Jack Daniels. A separate box held Saltines, Ritz crackers, Nabisco Sociables crackers, bread, a butter knife, a sharp knife, cereal, bowls, spoons, plastic cups, plastic plates, napkins, a jigger for mixing the Jack Daniels and water (dad) or 7-up (mom), a carton of dad’s cigarettes so on.
All of this, of course, was to avoid the unnecessary stops for such minor inconveniences as breakfast and lunch. Just eat on the road! But wait, you say. Such eating and drinking must have invariably led to the requisite pit stops, right? Oh, but not for a keen mind such as my father’s. Introducing the “Yes, You CAN Take it With You” plan.
This would be a good time to tell you that we were making this expedition in a conversion van complete with rotating captain’s chairs for the driver and passenger, cruise control, two bench seats, windows around the complete circumference of the van and a large cargo area behind the back seat. A cargo area which just happened to be the perfect size for a leftover relic from our camping days: The Porta Potty.
Oh. Yes. He. Did!
Two and a half feet on all four sides and two feet high, this handy device resembled, for all intents and purposes, an airplane lavatory. Why stop for bathroom breaks every half hour and waste all that valuable time when you can climb over the back seat, moon every trucker on Interstate 64 and do as nature intended without ever leaving the air-conditioned luxury of your car. It was only during the occasional stops for gas that we had the luxury of privacy when partaking in our daily constitutionals between hotels. No more “Ya shoulda gone before we left!” arguments! I tell you, the man was a genius.
Finally, there was the “Ol’ Switcheroo.” As I noted earlier, the van was equipped with captain’s chairs in front. Both of these could swivel completely around to face the rear if need be. While probably not a benefit considered in the design of the chairs, the swiveling action did allow for the driver to set the van on cruise control while a passenger grasped the steering wheel firmly. The driver would then swivel, exit his or her seat and allow the person now holding the wheel to sit down and swivel back in place as the former drive held the wheel for them. I kid you not. Thus, even stopping to switch drivers became a needless waste of time.
I tell you, if my dad could have tapped regular unleaded off of passing gas trucks, we probably would have never stopped the whole way to Tulsa and back. Meanwhile, I sat in the back with my walkman, my weight in books and magazines and pretended not to think about the “Death on the Highway” movie I had watched in Drivers’ Ed class the previous spring.
But we made good time!