A Mostly Fractured Take On Current Events

High Gas Prices Cheating Families Of Summer Kid Torture Options

In Essays on December 23, 2011 at 10:22 pm

To me, the biggest casualty of high gas prices isn’t a lighter wallet. It’s that nobody goes on road trips anymore. When I mention “road trips,” I don’t mean short drives to St. Louis. I’m talking about long, multi-day treks across the country that prompt otherwise sweet family members to try to kill each other. In 1981 my parents drove me and my two sisters across the country to California. A trip like that required intense planning and patience.

That this trip was made in a car that lacked air conditioning required something completely different: Full-blown insanity. To be fair, my parents weren’t crazy. They were just lured by incredibly cheap gas. In those days, one could drive cross-country for something like 35 cents. While it’s true our car didn’t have a/c, it did have one of the most advanced features of its day: Seat belts. I don’t recall ever wearing one but it was nice to know it was there.

The only thing more impressive than the seat belts was the ample legroom. How much room did we have? Well, I prefer to imagine the population density of the 1969 concert at Woodstock. Next, I imagine if Woodstock had been held inside a phone booth. Things were a little tight.

You might think those cramped quarters would have encouraged sibling unity. You’d be wrong. After legroom, the most important requirement of a kid is elbow room. Our fights over elbow real estate made the Israeli/Palestine border dispute seem tame by comparison. My parents were well equipped to handle these arguments. But when we came to fisticuffs over accusations of cheating at license plate bingo, it must have been all they could do to resist drinking heavily.

Thankfully, the scenery was a good distraction to the allure of alcohol. In Colorado, I remember being surrounded by soaring mountain peaks and majestic waterfalls. These were some of nature’s most awesome sights. And it was all lost on me. At eight years old, I was far more impressed that our hotel had a swimming pool.

Driving through Colorado without air wasn’t a huge deal. However, driving through the Mojave Desert without air is now considered a form of torture by the United Nations. Before waterboarding, the CIA probably subjected terrorists to similar drives through the desert. Although our conditions were harsh, it did allow my dad a teachable moment: “You see kids, this place is actually hotter than the sun’s surface.”

There were other lessons learned. In Las Vegas, my dad let us pull a slot machine handle. It was the first time I had ever gambled. Some people think teaching kids about gambling is wrong but I disagree. Since my 401(k) is currently worthless, gambling may be the only chance I have to retire with something resembling cash. Also, this was the first time I ever saw a celebrity. Rather, I saw the home of a celebrity. In Hollywood, my mom purchased one of those “Homes of the Stars” books that tourists are powerless to resist.The term “Stars” was used very loosely. About the only thing I learned was that Erik Estrada didn’t live in a motor home like his character on “CHiPs.” Although he hasn’t acted in 26 years so he may be living in one right now.

Those who travel by plane miss the point. If you can survive a road trip with your family, you can survive anything. But with gas approaching $4.00 a gallon, I fear that families are being priced out of the experience. That’s a shame. Some of my favorite childhood traumas happened on road trips.

© 2011 Pat Hester

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