Last week, for the first time in years, we drove to grandma’s for Thanksgiving.  It was a welcome change. When we lived in California and flew home for holidays, we had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. or so, install the car seats in a taxi, spend nearly an hour just getting to LAX, haul the suitcases and car seats into the airport, check the suitcases, try to keep the girls amused for the next hour while waiting at the gate, then drag our carry-on luggage and the car seats onto the airplane.  Sometimes, depending on what flights were available, we’d have to change planes in Dallas or Denver, which meant lugging the carry-ons and car seats from the airplane, through the terminal, onto a shuttle, through another terminal, and onto another plane. 

This time it was just a matter of tossing a couple of suitcases into the van and driving away. Along the way, we played songs on the car stereo and the girls sang along.  Sara, the six-year-old, has memorized the lyrics to “Farmer Tan,” “No One Loves You Any Better Than Your M-O-M-M-Y” and “Girls,” to name just a few.  (She was a little disappointed to learn that the diner in Pump Boys and Dinettes is called the Double Cup and not the Buttercup, which is what she’d been singing.)

Two hours or so north of Nashville, as we rolled past the steep hills and forests and lakes that surround the interstate, with gray and white clouds drifting through the blue skies, it occurred to me just how much I missed the Midwestern scenery during my decade in the converted desert called Los Angeles.  These are the images that were imprinted into my brain during my youth and young adulthood.  This is home.  I even enjoyed the feeling of a cold wind tugging at my sleeves when we stopped for gas. 

The trip north to grandma’s took about seven hours.  The return trip on Sunday was a bit more adventurous.

As we left Illinois, the girls remembered they’d signed a deal to write a travel book titled Bathrooms of the Midwest and were seriously behind on their research.  Thinking quickly, they counter-synchronized their bladders and colons to ensure that I’d be exiting the highway at 40-minute intervals in search of a bathroom.

Bladder and colon are layman’s terms.  Alana, my four-year-old, reviewed some biology texts when I wasn’t looking and informed me that the proper term for that general area of the body is patoomba.  During the many side-trips when Sara went scampering off to a bathroom to take notes, I encouraged Alana to do the same, stupidly thinking this would enable me to cover perhaps 80 miles before stopping again.  “No, thank you,” she replied.  “There’s nothing in my patoomba.” 

Forty minutes later, the patoomba would be in full crisis mode, and I’d be looking for the next exit.  Thanks to the many stops, I passed the same Winnebago at least eight times between Illinois and Tennessee.  Eventually, the driver began flashing his lights as a greeting.

We also stopped for meals, of course.  At a Wendy’s in central Illinois, at least half the adults were noticeably obese.  When I asked for my double bacon cheeseburger without a bun, conversation around the room ceased.  Lowering my voice in the now-hushed room, I also requested an iced tea without sugar — the tea dispenser was clearly marked “Sweet Tea.”  The clerk disappeared into the back of the restaurant to fill the cup.  I’m guessing they keep a jar of instant tea back there. By contrast, when we stopped at a McDonald’s in Kentucky (after the girls literally began chanting “McDonald’s!  McDonald’s!” from the back seat), hardly anyone looked overweight.  Go figure.

Also in Kentucky, a mere 90 miles from home sweet home, we hit traffic that made me think I’d dreamt the entire move to Tennessee and was now waking up in Los Angeles.  As it turns out, someone in the Kentucky highway department decided Thanksgiving weekend would be a good time to block one lane on Interstate 24 for about a quarter of a mile. 

I’ve never understood why there aren’t any signs about 10 miles ahead of construction zones, warning drivers they’ll soon need to get into the right or left lane.  Traffic is flying along with plenty of room between vehicles, which means in theory we should all be able merge into one lane ahead of time without a panic.

Instead, traffic comes to a halt as everyone (well, almost everyone) takes turns squeezing into the one open lane at the last possible moment.  The backup ran for miles, and it took us nearly 90 minutes to get past it.  As we finally entered the construction zone, I saw exactly what was wrong with the short section of road the state deemed unusable:  there were orange cones on it.  As far as I could tell, that was it.

Before that point, as traffic inched along, we had to pull off the road and onto the shoulder so Alana could step into the grass and empty her patoomba in front of several thousand witnesses.  It was dark by then, but countless spotlights attached to nearly-motionless vehicles ensured that no one behind us missed the show.  (If I understand the physiology correctly, a patoomba has two chambers; fortunately this was the liquid chamber.)

As usual when we travel, I was horrified to see the snacks people were buying whenever we stopped to fill the tank (or empty one of the girls’).  It’s amazing how many varieties of junk can be constructed from starch, hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.  It’s even more amazing to see how many people buy them.  My stomach was churning just from witnessing the purchases.

We learned our lesson on the drive from California when we moved here.  The girls are good travelers, but if they eat sugar and then have to sit still in a vehicle, there’s a fifty-fifty chance a meltdown will follow.  So during this trip, we were firm about it:  no junk.  I had one conversation that went like this:

“Daddy, can I buy this?”
“No.”
“This?”
“No.”
“Can I have this one?”
“Sara, what is that made from?”
“Probably … high fructose corn syrup?”
“Right.  Is that good for you?”
“No.  It’s bad for me.”
“So should you be eating it?”
“No.”
“That’s right.  You can pick out some nuts if you’re hungry.”

So she did.  And despite what turned into a drive lasting more than nine hours, she and Alana didn’t have any temper-tantrums … although I nearly did when we finally passed the orange cones.

Someone elses idea of road food.

Someone else's idea of road food.

Share
11 Responses to “Thanksgiving Road Trip”
  1. Angel says:

    The Midwest is God’s country, I don’t care what all those people everywhere else think. Well, actually, I do – I’m glad they don’t agree with me, because that keeps property values reasonable. They can just keep flying right on over.

    I’ve lived in Hawaii, California, Texas, and England – and none of the beautiful scenery in those places ever filled the “this place is home” part of my heart. I am so grateful and happy to be living in Illinois again. I’m reasonably certain I’ll never have to leave again, and I’m grateful for that too. I love the rolling hills, the fields, the woodlands, the “cricks” and the rivers, the deer and the ‘coons. And the people are wonderful. This is a gentle and generous land, and I am fortunate to live in it.

    However, I’m reasonably certain that I will never see a “Proud to be Illinoisan” t-shirt in my lifetime … I guess I can deal with that. :)

    I’m with you. Something about the land becomes embedded in your DNA, and then nowhere else will ever be home. And of course, when you can go fishing in a “crick,” you know you’re in the Midwest.

  2. nonegiven says:

    How well does the low carb go over at Grandma’s house?

    Grandma has seen the difference in my health and weight (lots of overweight people in my family) and keeps plenty of meats and eggs on hand when we visit. She’s been threatening to go low-carb herself, but hasn’t yet.

  3. Jeanie Campbell says:

    This is great, Tom. Wish I had been this savvy years ago when my kids were little and we were doing road trips!

    I’m sure my parents wish they’d known too. My brother and I used to fight over important issues such as “who’s closer.”

  4. tina says:

    Glad you had a good trip and that’s GREAT how you handled the girls and their snacks.

    Protecting our own sanity is how I think of it.

  5. April says:

    How nice to hear somebody defending the Midwest- sometimes I feel like the rest of the nation turns a blind eye to us. Or maybe I feel that way in particular because I live just outside Detroit.

    You know, that has always bugged me about construction. You go at like 10 mph for like an hour and then when you finally get to the construction site you just see orange cones! At least you weren’t travelling around Michigan, where we are infamous for our construction and pot holes. We joke that we have two seasons here: winter and construction.

    I did a fair number of comedy tours in Michigan back in the day. I’m familiar with those seasons. But it’s beautiful country up there. Love the area around Traverse City.

  6. SassaFrass88 says:

    HA ha ha! @ the “Someone else’s idea of road food”. That probably lasted them, oh, I dunno, maybe 2 hrs! Then it’s “I’m staaaaaarrrrving!!!”.

    :-D

    Yee-up. And they probably bought some sugar and starch to fill their tummies.

  7. This is great, Tom. Wish I had been this savvy years ago when my kids were little and we were doing road trips!

    I’m glad I’m raising them now and not 20 years ago. I wouldn’t have known any better.

  8. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the biology lesson and the addition to my vocabulary! LOL! As a mother of four who used to travel from California to Detroit in under 2 days in a station wagon with the kiddies laying head-to-toe like sardines in the back (no seat belt rules then), I can relate. One trip was during an oil crisis (1979?) and gas along the Will Rogers Turnpike in Oklahoma was available in small quantities at every other station along the way. Snacks or beverages were $2 each, so that was out.

    I remember those family drives well. Seat belts? Never heard of them. Thank God we never crashed. I could’ve injured my patoomba.

  9. TonyNZ says:

    “I’ve never understood why there aren’t any signs about 10 miles ahead of construction zones, warning drivers they’ll soon need to get into the right or left lane. Traffic is flying along with plenty of room between vehicles, which means in theory we should all be able merge into one lane ahead of time without a panic.”

    I think you have WAY too much faith in general driving behavior. You know everyone would just try and squeeze every last inch of that extra lane they can. When driving in crawling traffic on a motorway (thankfully a situation I have rarely been in) a car came up the onramp. I made a gap and waved him in, he obviously saw. He then proceeded to accelerate along the rest of the onramp land until he could drive no further (about 200m ahead of me), waiting for someone to give him a gap. Everyone had seen his behaviour, so naturally, nobody let him in. As I drove past him I gave a nice big cheery wave.

    Somewhere along the line, “merge like a zip” morphed to “you have right of way over anyone that does more miles per gallon than you”.

    In short, those warnings would not make a modicum of difference.

    After driving in Los Angeles, I’m afraid you’re right.

  10. Wanda says:

    Thanks for the info! I do not yet have kids, so i will file your advice away for future reference– though i am certain it isn’t that far off. Especially since low-carbing tends to do away with the fertility problems so many folks seem to have today!

    I found a link to an article posted today, and it’s totally off topic, but is about “global warming” and how it’s completely made up! Thought you might be interested.

    Cheers!

    http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/12/02/lorne-gunter-why-the-climate-email-scandal-matters-big-time.aspx

    Yup, I’ve been following that story and having a good laugh about it. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine tried the “all the scientists agree!” line on me about man-made global warming. I told him that they don’t all agree (31,000 of them have signed a document stating as much), and even if they did, after researching Fat Head, I’m suspicious of any “consensus” in science. I told him once a theory gets legs, the research money follows, then scientists torture their data so they can produce papers supporting the theory and keep the grant money rolling in. He looked at me like I’d gone loony.

    This scandal confirms what I already knew. “Consensus” is the enemy of good science, not the driver of it.

  11. Holly says:

    It’s good that you put your foot down with your kids in regards to food on the trip. Being stuck in a car with a kid who’s sugar is crashing is enough to make any parent go insane. Besides, it’s probably best not to be stuck in a moving small enclosed space while you let people consume sugar around you.

    I thought I was the only person that missed the Midwest (or at least Michigan in my case). Virginia is similar enough – but there is never enough snow… or happy people, in my opinion. Home also has a nice smell – and you can’t get that with this many cars around (metro-DC smells different than Flint, MI).

    BTW – That’s funny that Wanda mentioned fertility problems and low-carbing. The Army told me I couldn’t get pregnant because I have endometriosis. I even went through menopause shots trying to avoid having surgery – again. Then I gained weight after going on a “low-fat diet” to lose that extra 10 lbs I thought I was carrying (what was I thinking?!). I gained about 40lbs. So I went on Atkins and lost 30 lbs in a month. Then I promptly got pregnant. (I call him a miracle baby.) Unfortunately all the books about endometriosis tell you to eat soy to regulate your hormones and to limit your meat and dairy intake (because of the hormones in the animals?! But soy is ok?! Never made sense to me.). I do the exact opposite (eat low carb, run away from soy and carbs… dropped the hormone “replacements”…) and I feel 100% better than I did. My acne even went away.

    I’ve heard a lot of stories about those miracle babies. We should call them “Atkins babies.”

  12.  
Leave a Reply