Janet Sheridan: Overcoming road-trip woes
August 21, 2018
My last column described three mindsets that typically emerge on road trips. The appreciative tripper says, "Amazing! That was the largest ball of twine in the entire world, and we saw it!" The crank replies, "If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times, quit kicking the back of my seat;" and the freaked-out adds, "If grandma laughs like that one more time, I'm jumping out of the car."
Recently, poking around online, I discovered research supporting my theory that road-trippers have multiple personalities. Ford Motor Company asked 2,000 European children what made them the craziest on car trips. Their most common complaints involved parents who evidently shout at other drivers, sing, and pick their noses. Surely the last is a European thing.
A Wyndham survey discovered American adults also have road-trip issues. Forty-three percent of the women griped about the way their husbands controlled and mishandled the heating and air conditioning; and 28 percent of the husbands hated the way their wives expected them to stop all the time. A whopping 80 percent of road-trippers admitted to having words with a fellow traveler at least once a day — probably when the bathroom stop is along the edge of a field just off the interstate.
Fortunately, appreciative travelers, when clever and strong, can head off crankiness and meltdowns. My mother favored games and bribes: "How many miles do you think it is from here to the top of that next hill? Make your guess before I count to 50, and the winner gets a handful of jelly beans."
If we lost our enthusiasm for her contests or became grumpy when we lost, she'd say, "If no one complains or pinches before we reach Little America, I'll give everybody a bag of Fritos." This blatant bribe worked on three of my siblings, all teenagers, as well as on me, a college student, which tells you what the dear woman had to work with.
One summer, before the interstate system conquered the west, my sister Barbara and I accompanied Mom on a road trip to visit our oldest brother in Idaho. Barbara and I, at 10 and 14, tended to bicker when bored: "Barbara, quit breathing on my neck!" "I'm not; and if I am, why don't you just move your neck!"
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So as we pulled out of the driveway, Mom, aware of our weakness, proposed an alternative form of entertainment. "Girls, we're going to pull over and read every historical marker we see. Then we're going celebrate whatever it's commemorating with food. Sort of like a history party. Sound good?"
So we scanned for markers, read their information, looked obediently in the direction indicated, and commented, "Wow! This is where armed ranchers turned back settlers who planned to farm. I had no idea. Why did they do that?" Then we headed down the road enjoying root beer, peanuts and raisins, strawberries, crackers and cheese, celery sticks lined with peanut butter, licorice allsorts for Mom, and Sugar Babies for Barbara and me. That evening, three happy, educated, well-fed travelers parked in front of my brother's new split-level home.
My friend Mary has long traveled with her daughter, Chris, son-in-law, Perry, and a rule that enlivens their drives. For every day of travel, they each have one turn-back. The rule states if, at any time, someone shouts, "Turn Back!" the driver turns around and returns to whatever the turn-back user spotted, and everybody must get out and participate — without quibbling. Over decades of travel, patterns have emerged: Chris uses her turn-backs for thrift stores and scenic wonders; Mary chooses Frosty stands and cluttered junk shops; while Perry prefers mini breweries, food trucks and quirky roadside wonders.
"Usually, we have a good time and congratulate one another for a great turn-back," Mary told me, "But not always."
I suggested we adopt the turn-back rule to Joel. He just looked at me.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.