Family Vacations, Summer 1997
Are We There Yet?
I drive for a living. I'm a car writer--what some call an "automotive journalist." Touring and testing, hammer down and crankin'. . . driving as an end in itself. Then I started traveling with passengers. Neither my wife nor my small daughter was a car guy. At first, the kid was content if I occasionally "squeaked" the wheels--a six-year-old's description of using a V-8 to turn rubber into noise at a stoplight. But soon she demanded more in the way of amusement. And I learned that there's more to driving than rolling up the mileage and sampling the understeer.
The easiest thing that a roadmeister can do to make family touring fun flies in the face of the all-American "Me father, you slime" principle, which restricts kids to the backseat. To keep everybody happy, you have to play musical chairs every hour, even if this means Dad gets to warm the jump seat, Mom takes the conn, and the kids navigate. You also have to stop often. Remember that a diner with a jukebox selector in every booth can be a major diversion for a child, a snake farm a source of delightful nightmares for years to come, a Big Johnson T-shirt display the high point of an entire vacation.
And ultimately, remember that one reason you're in the car is the freedom it provides. Be flexible. Change plans. Remember that road-tripping is America's own unique form of unscheduled mass transit. If you're going to stick to a timetable, why not fly?