When I realized unemployment was less of a phase than a state, I didn’t want to squander one of the beautiful gifts unemployment can provide. To wit, the gift of time. As an army brat, I’ve traveled over a lot of these United States. One glaring region I missed was the upper midwest. In order to right this oversight, one year into unemployment, I embarked on a family road trip.
My twins were seven and my oldest was nine years old. If you’re driving to more than three states, engage at least two drivers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this luxury. Thus, the children outnumbered me three to one. Another caveat: I ran the first trip old-school, which is to say sans electronics except ipods for music. My goal was modest: leave no one behind
IN THE FAMILY ROAD TRIP SYSTEM, THE PEOPLE ARE REPRESENTED BY TWO SEPARATE YET EQUALLY IMPORTANT GROUPS: THE CHILDREN, WHO INVESTIGATE THEIR ENVIRONMENTS, AND THE ADULT(S) WHO HERD THE OFFENDERS. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.
Day 1: Starting a FAMILY ROAD TRIP from St. Louis
Traversed entire state of Iowa in 1 day. Girls started complaining before leaving St. Louis City limits. Proud to let only one “goddammit” slip. Kids hate my Amy Sedaris book on tape. Awkward moment when Amy referenced “putting something small in your anus for lovemaking”. Resisted potential pitstop at “Firearms & Taxidermy”. Didn’t lose anyone at bathroom stops. Stuffed fleeting thought fewer kids equated to fewer stops. Kids finally asleep in cheap Albert Lea, MN hotel. I’m drinking scotch from a urine sample sized motel courtesy cup.
Day 2: ROAD TRIP via Minnesota
Minnesota was a blur. Lost count of all the wind farms. Was like movie scene about NASA. Unfathomably flat and long spans of non-civilization. Good practice for Montana. Stunning sunny 72 degree weather. 9YO Rowan traumatized by hoards (like 75, no joke) of tatted bent for leather types at emergency potty break at the Busted Nut bar & grille.
6YO Devlin, out of his daily autism routine. Exited with Dev thrown over my shoulder like sack of potatoes at touristy Wall drug store. All displays in tact & no child shoplifting so huge success. Dev channeling Jack Nicholson from As Good as it Gets yelling food order to seating hostess at Rapid City, South Dakota diner.
Day 3: FAMILY MIDWEST ROAD TRIP South Dakota
I have underestimated awesomeness of daily adult contact but having “good” time. Endless debate with son on spectrum over mount v. Mountain Rushmore but we got er done. Montana is expansive and beautiful. Billings was an industrial armpit so we drove straight through. Dev calling all horses unicorns which rocks. 9YO’s fear of bikers is intensifying. None of the biker fucknuts wear helmets. Does fear of Hell’s Angels have a special phobia name? Yodeler Inn in Red Lodge, Montana a welcome spot to lay our heads.
Day 4: ROAD TRIPping in Montana
Lyrics to Teenage Dream by Katy Perry forever burned into mind after listening 140 times in the car. I’d like to blame the children, but I was one who kept re-playing it. It’s July. We threw snowballs on scenic HW212 before it literally dead ended in Wyoming from impassable snow. Snow! In the middle of summer. This Oklahoma girl isn’t accustomed to summer snow, nor are her offspring. We took an alternate route to Yellowstone National Park. Girls thoroughly disgusted by old-fashioned hole in the dirt Park out houses. Note to self: teach offspring forest potty skills before next outing. The wrong slant can go drastically wrong. I’m not saying it did, but it totally did. If you pee on your underwear three hours from hotel, it’s a long ride. Still touring Montana. We keep peeking into WY but head to Idaho tomorrow. Weather doesn’t look promising.
Day 5: FAMILY ROAD TRIP Idaho
Drove thru falling snow in Yellowstone, then sleet in Wyoming, and rain in Idaho. We did, however, see a rainbow on my birthday! A good omen for the year to come. An obstinancy of buffalo and their babies walked alongside our car in the park. Old faithful was like Family Vacation w/ Chevy Chase. We stayed 30 seconds to say we did. Idaho not putting best weather foot forward. Idaho Falls, ID impressing more than Wichita Falls, but that’s hardly a contest. Red Lion Inn for the night. WY feels like a bad penny but we will finally start driving east tomorrow. It’s been six days. I feel like I’ve been stuck on a deserted island unable to escape. Only difference is the island has so many roads and a lot of people who won’t leave me alone.
Day 6: Destination ROAD TRIP Wyoming
WTF was I thinking? Kids didn’t appreciate Beastie Boys or Radiohead. As punishment, I made them listen to Honky Tonk Man on the one radio station available on the moon. Learned Hell’s Angels greet each other on the road by extending their arm down, then flipping each other the inverted peace sign. We played in Grand Teton park, Jackson Hole. We made the world’s tiniest snowman for bragging rights. The ill-named C’mon Inn in Casper, WY is actually okie dokie. Unfortunately, it’s located next to a Loaf-n-Jug which is next to a Kum-n-go. No lie. I can relate to cuming n going. However, I admit confusion regarding dropping a loaf and handling jugs. Short 5 hour jaunt to Denver tomorrow.
Day 7: Road tripping to Colorado
Were road trips fun for anyone in previous decades? I’m pulling out all the stops to make ours memorable. At least the kids aren’t listening to adults arguing with each other. I spared them from marital bickering about who the shittiest navigator is. They have no idea about my inability to read road signs or think ahead. In my meager defense, I’m not chain-smoking Virginia Slim Lights through a window slit. Moreover, I refrained from driving with a roadie beer sloshing onto my thighs.
Urban combat is more stressful than rural. Managing gaggle on downtown Denver streets is like leading deaf blind pedestrian midgets on an expressway. At night. Or perhaps it’s just day 7. I admit I have only myself to blame for the trip’s length and scope. Curtis Hotel has a cool vibe. Wait staff grimace when I show up w/ 3 kids but I tip well. I would pay a stranger $50 to watch my kids for an hour so I could work out. I’m dreading Kansas tomorrow.
Day 8: skip Kansas
What is the most boring topography in the entire United States? The answer is Kansas. In fairness, eastern Colorado is equally uninspired. Some might argue the most boring landscape is not Kansas, but they would be wrong. There are lovely places to see in Kansas, but we didn’t see any of them. So. Flat.
We drove thru western Kansas in one monotonous, dumbass day. There were no trees. Shrubbery was non-existent. Additionally, grade changes didn’t surface. Animal life was scant. At least in Wyoming actively avoiding pickups with hella side mirror extenders provided periodic entertainment. Driving through Kansas was post apocalypse with potty breaks and car picnics. At this point Everything has rotted in my cooler and my half drunk bottle of scotch tragically fell off a hotel cart in Idaho. Super 8 in Lawrence was a smoke saturated crap hole. Regardless, we are in the home stretch! The kids don’t understand why we aren’t home yet. In truth, I couldn’t drive one more mile for the day. Highway motel or not, I need to rest.
Day 9: Road trip full circle The final stats
Eight nights. Nine days. Seven hotels. Three-thousand, four-hundred fifty miles. Nine states. Twelve gas stops. One adult. Three children. No bleeding, emergency clinic visits or frantic Triple A calls. Not one call begging my husband to pick us up in Idaho. We didn’t succumb to eating McDonald’s the entire trip. Not once! Only one ten-minute unintended detour in MN. Moreover, I was never lost. I was simply not going where I intended. No lost or screwed up hotel reservations.
We avoided smoking hotel rooms. I never misplaced my keys or locked them in a running car. No one left behind personal items, blankets, sunglasses, shoes, siblings, cell phones, electronics or shake-weights. We had less than a half dozen emergency potty breaks. There was no jail time nor warrants put out for my arrest. Miraculously, I didn’t get any speeding or traffic tickets. No one got food poisoning or suffered an allergic reaction. In fact, I perfected “snap discipline” which eventually led to their silence. If you can believe it, everyone is still speaking to each other!
I’ll contemplate another road trip after the PTSD wears off, and Katy Perry songs aren’t tormenting my every waking moment.