On Board Air Odyssey,
It’s the Journey That Matters
By Abby Finney
My children have black belts in road tripping.
Most lightweight road trippers probably only get to ask “Are we there yet?” once or twice before they actually have reached their destination. Not so for my squad, who log (conservatively) about 3,800 miles or over 75 hours in the family Honda Odyssey each summer.
As soon as the school bell rings, my road warriors know it’s almost time to hit the trail… or asphalt. Others might find traveling with their ex-husband, three kids, four dogs and a cat (oh wait, don’t forget the two hermit crabs) challenging. but for us that’s just part of summer. It is our own little traveling reality show.
I’m not saying it’s for the faint of heart. One has to accept the first few hours worth of pathetic yowling until our cat Marcel finally takes his happy pill. And so much fur flies through the car as the dogs play a 14-hour round of musical chairs that I sometimes wonder if our van looks like a giant snow globe on wheels. This whole rolling circus is accompanied by 15-year-old Virginia playing the ukulele or the whole team bellowing whatever had been designated our family song for that summer — they’ve ranged from “Crazy Train” to “Sweet Caroline.”
But all of these wiggling parts and the silly songs, and games of “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to take…,” “What would I do if I were trapped in Target overnight?” or, a fan favorite, “What would we do if we won the lottery?” add up to the absurd concoction that make the ride itself somehow fun. In the midst of all the layers of funk floating around the floor of my poor abused minivan, and the animal dander, and the ignored math packets, dutifully printed and then crumpled into seat pockets, and, yes, the dreaded screens, emerges an adventure as important as the final destination.
Some memories are not as cheerful as others. There was that one joyful 14-hour ride from Philly to Birmingham, Alabama, that was scheduled two days after my air conditioning kicked the bucket. Since the cost estimates to get it fixed were $1,200 here and $300 there, I thought it was a straight forward decision. My kids were a little less clear about my financial analysis as we reached about hour three. By hour six, armed with mini-portable fans and covered in damp paper towels, morale was a wee bit low. At the 10-hour mark there was weeping in the car, and the threat of all-out mutiny. I finally relented, and we stayed in a hotel in Knoxville and we turned the AC to Arctic mode and lay on the frigid sheets in the hotel like melted Popsicles until icicles hung from the curtains. I tried to explain to my kids that while this wasn’t a super fun experience it was a memory, AND, by the way, gave them a glimpse of my youth, when we had no AC and when we eventually did, it was only employed during special occasions. They were not impressed by that reasoning.
It’s not all games and Girl Scouts songs (although we do have our own family adaptation of my mom’s camp favorite, “The Peppiest Kids,” much time is spent rotting brains and staring at devices. One summer I bellowed out math facts like a drill sargeant, and I still try to mandate summer book reading times, but much time is spent drooling over small screens. It’s just like the rest of life, except they are not off in their rooms ignoring me, but rather an arm’s length away while I plead “look at that beautiful farm you are not seeing,” while they grunt unintelligibly. The flip side though is that being trapped with your mother in close proximity means that eventually there will be talking, sharing and laughing.
We do actually go places. We drive from Philly to Alabama (to drop off the family zoo). Then while our pets “summer in Alabama” we work our way towards the much cooler climate of Maine. Eventually we leave the rocky coast of Maine and head back south to Birmingham to collect the animal menagerie before we finally come home to Pennsylvania. We eat barbecue in Birmingham and lobsters in Maine. We swim in the 55 degree seaweedy waters off the Coast of Maine and the 75 degree murky lake waters of rural Alabama. We visit with Yankee relatives and southern kin. We get bitten by mosquitoes and burned by the sun in both places and then finally we pack up the van, call it a wrap, and put another summer of road tripping to bed.
My kids squawk about not flying places in lieu of Air Odyssey, (don’t ask me how they think the hermit crabs and their friends are getting on this magical plane), but I know that the fighting, bonding, singing and even some talking make us closer as the miles pass by. Maybe we will win the lottery some day and be able to fly everywhere, but if they were really honest (and didn’t think I could hear the answer), I think they would admit that half the fun is the road trip; flying fur and all!