Family Car Ride

Although the seven hour car ride to our vacation spot has remained largely unchanged over the past 40 years, the context has gone through several evolutions.  As kids, the absolute keyed up anticipation of summer vacation made the trip endless; with 5 kids there was endless fidgeting in the car, siblings crossing imaginary lines and getting punched as promised and endless “when are we going to get there’s.” These trips in the
60s were without benefit of CDs or even tapes.  Only AM was available, and the best hope was that there was a Cubs game to listen to, although generally in a losing cause, with the reception slowly evaporating along with the Cubs hopes, as we inched our way further north.  It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I realized the torture of the drive, endlessly trying to entertain or disentangle twitchy children, accepting the futility of an enforced seat belt policy, and in general just enduring and wondering whether “family
vacation” was really just an oxymoron like “butthead” or “military intelligence.”

The teenage years were probably the golden years – a newly minted driver’s license, minimal responsibilities, a car at your disposal, gas paid for, vacation paid for, it
was freedom.  You were a roll, screaming along the highway with the music cranked.
I was a new driver driving with Butch Turner and Bill Campbell when I passed my first car on a two lane road.  We were listening to a live concert of some sort on our 8 track, which coincidentally erupted in wild applause just as I completed this minor coming of age achievement.  Bill said, “for her next number Bobbie will pass a truck and a semi.”

Perhaps now I have also entered another golden phase, although the lack of responsibilities of the teenage years are long gone.  But the kids have gotten to the stage where they can read on their own in the car, and even help in the driving.  As we prepare for our trip up north this year, I realize that I am now passing the baton again, the fifth generation to do so.  Our son is now old enough to drive by himself and I see that he has got his iPod in order and is ready to roll.

Preparations for the trip would start a week before the target date as everyone began assembling items in the front hall.  This was the great beauty of a car ride; you really didn’t need to pack things, they could just be flung into the trunk.  What an odd assortment – various boots and shoes, a new doubling cube for the backgammon board, paper bags with bottles of booze, a carton of cigarettes for my father, a Sears catalogue, and inflatable raft and other odds and ends.  The entire car, probably a big boat of a station wagon with faux wood paneled siding, would be packed the night before we left.  Since there was no particular concern about seatbelts, in fact there may not have been any, we were free to
create little nooks for sleeping and reading, by stacking and moving the bags around.  I am sure there were endless discussions about who “dibs’ed what seat.  Then we were left to wait for morning and although we would have eagerly foregone the basic necessities of food and water to be on our way, we had to have breakfast, clean up breakfast and also clean up our rooms.  My mother obviously saw an easy way to apply leverage.

My mother hated to stop for the sole purpose of going to the bathroom.  As our family never shied away from a competition, my mother would announce a reward for the person who could go the longest without having to go to the bathroom.  I don’t think that
there was actually a prize, but there was a powerful incentive to avoid penetrating questions such as “how badly do you really have to go,” or “are you sure you can’t make it,” or “why didn’t you go when we stopped for lunch?”  While perhaps not healthy, this speeded up the trip immeasurably.  I guess that I am proud to say that I usually
won the contest and that this acquired skill has come in handy over the years.
Occasionally, some one would bring a friend along, who would be forced into the
contest.  I can’t imagine the consternation this poor child must have felt, who perhaps did not know the entire family well, and certainly not my parents.  What could the rest of the vacation be like?

Car games were the staple of entertainment, and my mother was in charge, generally creating variations on standard games like “20 Questions” and “Bingo”.  We had quickly grown tired of the stale car bingo cards we had, which had such pedestrian items as “bird on a wire,” or “tow truck.”  My mother quickly set about spicing up the game and created “Dingo Bingo.  She improved the “Bingoes” we had to find, and improved the scoring.
For example, “bird on a wire” and “tow truck” and “cow” were nixed and replaced by more interesting categories such as “religious lawn decoration,” “man with a hairy back” or “bra on a clothesline.”  Each had a point value based on the degree of difficulty.

Then she created a new category called “Dingoes.” These were easy to find items, like “American flag” or “dog,” but they were only scored if you could find them in combination with something else.  For example, if you could spot a dog standing next to religious lawn decoration, you added the dingo score to the bingo score.  There was also some sort of bonus if you could find two bingoes together.  You could also apply for a special award if you saw something unusual.  My brother recalls that he got extra points for spotting a man standing on his hands on a golf course, and a women in hair curlers juggling.  These innovations added a major element of strategy to the game.  For example, you wouldn’t just want to score the first man with a hairy back you saw, but you may want to hold out for a simian man standing next to an American flag.  Your strategy might be tempered by other conditions.  Certainly it would be easier to find a man with a hairy back in the summer, and religious lawn decorations around Christmas.  However, I recall one well known house – in Crivitz perhaps – (something memorable happened in Crivitz, but I am not sure if this is it), that kept its religious lawn decoration – some sort of Creche – up all year.

I have always believed that Dingo Bingo has immense commercial potential.  At one point my mother wanted to sell the concept to McDonald’s; the Dingo Bingos could be printed on their paper placemats, which then could be reused for the game, if not overly smeared with grease and catsup.  Like many other of my mother’s cottage industries, this one did not quite get off the ground, but it might be worth another try.  Aspiring entrepreneurs can
contact me by e-mail.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  One of the words will rhyme with the preceding or following line, giving you a big hint.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

Every summer vacation we pile into the car for the seven hour car ride,

Where the scenery consists of endless farmland passing slowly by *******.

The ****** journey is enlivened by my mother’s unique Dingo Bingo game,

Where entries such as nose picker or splattered road kill are her claim to fame.

But when the farmland **** *** and is replaced by forest just north of Green Bay,

We all shout and cheer because now we know we have gone more than half way.







answers:  outside, tedious, dies out


Answers:  outside, tedious, dies out

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