Driving Yourself Crazy

Diane McCarty, Retail Princess

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It’s that time of year when millions of people will load sleepy, already-bored, unruly kiddos and too-cool-for-a-familytrip teenagers into jam-packed vehicles and hit the highways for a journey to their favorite summer destinations. When those road-weary travelers stop in our stores for food, fuel and a few precious moments of uncaged space, I reminisce about the vacations I took as a kid.

My parents loved to travel and take seemingly endless car rides. In the ’70s, modern-day parental torture devices (such as like SpongeBob videos that kids watch over and over again) didn’t exist. Nor were there fancy-schmancy phones that played games adults can’t win and music far more worrisome than Meat Loaf’s “Bat out of Hell,” which my mom disliked. In those days, we spent hours playing the “I Spy” game together and quietly endured my parents singing along to Lynn Anderson and Harry Belafonte 8-tracks. With no Internet, we were stuck interacting with our family, like people did back in the good ol’ days. The youth of today have far too much input on what they want to do, eat, hear and see, with no regard for the character building that comes from forced family fun.

Highway to the Danger Zone

When my brother and I were really young, there weren’t hundreds of places for bio breaks when trekking 10 hours each day of our road trip. My dad was a determined driver, and we understood that if nature called at an inopportune time, the white plastic “mobowl” was our last resort. There’s no way that type of absurdity could occur in our uptight world today. If the picture of the makeshift pot posted on Facebook didn’t force parents to rethink their time-saving efforts, a kid’s call to CPS for the “mental anguish” caused by this compromising contraption would.

Travelers at our store are treated to Wi-Fi, six TVs, three restaurants, a pet potty area and a playground. When I was growing up, we would’ve driven hours and paid admission to see an entertaining place like that! Instead, my mom packed our lunches that were kept in the temperature “danger zone” far too long before we pretended to enjoy our warm sandwiches at a highway rest stop. Being the germ freak my dad has always been (and I’ve happily become), he would put a napkin on top of the rock or bench before sitting down to eat outdoors. Even at that age, I knew that wasn’t normal, but smart-aleck youths weren’t featured on every sitcom back then, and I recognized my budding sarcasm wouldn’t be appreciated. It seems that much of what I’ve retained from these trips is random stuff that others would find forgettable.

It’s About the Journey

My folks aren’t the only ones who wish I recollected more about the destinations and less of the peculiarities involved in getting there. Memories of the Grand Canyon are completely gone, but I can’t forget waking up with an eye infection while on our way there. The doctor we found said I’d be OK after he gave me a shot in the eye. It’s difficult to imagine a time when I didn’t understand humor, but this was one of those times. I still recall how I tried not to have a complete meltdown before he told me he was kidding. Years ago, on a flight with my husband, we flew over the Grand Canyon. I snickered to him that I thought I’d probably seen it in person, but I’d have to ask my parents for sure. It wasn’t that I was so young when we visited it, but just that my mind has a way of filing oddball memories in front of other more important ones.

We once took a three-week trip to the Eastern seaboard. Envision spending 21 days in a cramped car with ungrateful brats speaking Pig Latin and incessantly pleading to skip some cultural stops so they could arrive at their cousin’s house more quickly. And Callaway Gardens may be beautiful, but for me, it conjures up only thoughts of diarrhea so violent that I was given a suppository. Never one to suffer in silence, it’s hard to believe I wasn’t accidentally on purpose left at home alone once or twice.

Years ago, I witnessed a child barfing up her sandwich at our store. The parents apologetically explained she was carsick, as I swept up the pile and fought off my own sympathetic vomiting urges. Let’s just hope that girl looks back fondly at the fun journey they went on … instead of remembering only the intestinal indignity she experienced.  

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