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The bags are packed, the snacks for the road distributed, and the last doses of Aspirin are swallowed as we begin our fourteen hour car drive to the great state of Michigan. Our family makes this trek every summer to go visit grandparents, and other members of the family, all of whom were clearly smarter than us due to the fact that they had never moved out of the state; thus never had to travel far for reunions. We, on the other hand, decided to live here in Virginia which makes the long trips up north pretty memorable. Lost luggage, stinky motels, and going the wrong way are just some of the wonderful mishaps that occur on these journeys along the open road.
The real problem that has seemed to plague my father all his life is the concept of time. I do not know whether or not he believes time exists or if clocks are just a suggestion. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad and it is because of him we reach our destination safely each time but leaving the house seemed to be a major hurdle that he could never quite jump over. My brother and sister and I would all huddle in the car under various pieces of heavy clothing and backpacks early in the morning. The car would be packed with the engine running almost as if the vehicle itself was saying, “Let’s get the heck out of here”. And yet my father would be nowhere to be found.
“I’m sure he’ll be out in a minute,” my dear mother would say as she thrust another handful of Aspirin into her mouth. So we would sit and wait in the dark, until either the car ran out of gas or one of us went to check on him. I distinctly remember a time when I went in to see what the holdup was and found him lying on the couch watching television.
“Dad,” I said, “Excuse my language but exactly what the hell are you doing? We’ve been waiting for three hours for you! Mom’s almost out of her magic pills!”
He would then look at me with a quizzical expression and glance down at his watch. The only problem was, as we kept reminding him, his watch had been broken for seven years and always showed the time to be somewhere around five o’clock.
“It’s only five son. We don’t leave until ten. Come on, even I know that!”
“Dad,” I would sigh, “It’s noon and if we keep going at this pace we should get there sometime around next month.” We would finally coax him into the car and hit the road, always a comfortable four hours behind schedule.
Keep in mind that when I was younger these were the days before IPods and everyone having a cell phone to play with. You had to bring along plenty of activities otherwise you would end up going clinically insane and attempt to find solace in throwing all of your most valuable possessions out the window onto the wonderful pavement of the New Jersey Turnpike.
A game that was frequently played among us children was pretending we had thrown my father’s precious road map out the window. One would wait until the perfect moment, possibly somewhere between Ohio and Pennsylvania to call out, “Whoops! Well there goes the map!” and release some unimportant piece of paper such as a report card or banking documents into the wind.
To this my father would jump in his seat and immediately begin swerving through traffic all the while screaming, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE GOES THE MAP!? DID YOU LET IT FLY OUT THE WINDOW?! WE’LL NEVER GET THERE WITHOUT IT!” My mother would attempt to calm him by trying to explain that this was just a joke and that we had done this exact maneuver a couple of hours ago to the same reaction. He would not rest until we gave him the map, he scrutinized each page, and then verified it was indeed the road map and not some fake that his convict children has constructed. A few hours later we would do this again with similar results
Eventually driving Dad crazy became monotonous and we had to find other forms of entertainment. We played all the usual games such as Sweet and Sour. For those who are unfamiliar, the game entails one to wave at a passing driver and if their reaction is to wave back or smile they are now labeled as “Sweet”. The polar opposite of course is if the driver’s reaction is the middle finger or a gun out the window as we encountered once in our brief stay in West Virginia when I was seven.
My sister and I always used to take this game a step further by holding up various signs in the window so that the passing driver could read them. Most of these signs included statements such as “Help! We have been kidnapped by Russian terrorists! Call 911!” or the even more amusing: “Is that your face? Or did Halloween come early this year?” My father would be incredulous as another vehicle passed with a driver gesturing angrily towards him.
“What the heck is wrong with people these days? A bunch of nuts on the road,” he would shake his head and we writhed with laughter in the back seat. One time we held up the kidnapped sign to a passerby and watched as the driver took out his phone and began dialing. I pressed my face against the window, shaking my head fervently, trying to mime to the man that we were not kidnapped but in fact in a perfectly healthy relationship with the people in the front seat of our vehicle.
After a few minutes we forgot about it and proceeded to think up another good sign idea when suddenly red and blue flashes appeared behind our car. “What the..?” My father exclaimed as he pulled over to the side of the road. A police officer rushed up to the side of our vehicle and peered inside at the three children that sat within.
“Sir we just received a tip that these children have been abducted. I’m going to need you to step out of the vehicle,” the officer stated as my father’s jaw dropped.
“Kidnapped?! These are my kids! What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“Sir, we got a phone call that stated these children had made a sign that displayed the fact that they were kidnapped. We don’t take these sort of threats lightly.”
After a brief talk with the officer and some reassuring nods from us he left and went on his way. Curiously my dad did not say a word to anyone for the next hour. We sat there in silence, terrified for our lives. The wrath of my father was eminent and for such a nice guy he could have a terrible temper over matters such as this.
As we began to draft copies of our wills in crayons my younger brother unbuckled himself from his car seat and crawled to the floor. He picked up a small notebook and held it up for us to see. My sister and I recognized it as the real road map and could only sit there and watch as in one swift movement dear little William cocked back his arm, gave one brief infantile chuckle, and threw the map out the nearest window. Whoops.