From the forthcoming book, "Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need," by Dave Barry. To be published by Ballantine Books in October 1991. Copyright 1991 by Dave Barry. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission of Ballantine Books, A Division of Random House Inc. Excerpts distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.
Family travel has been an American tradition ever since the days when hardy pioneer families crossed the Great Plains in oxen-drawn covered wagons, braving harsh weather, hostile Native Americans, unforgiving terrain, scarce food, and -- worst of all -- the constant whining coming from the back seat:
"Are we there yet?"
"Hey! These plains aren't so great!"
"Mom, Ezra is making hostile gestures at those Native Americans!"
"Are we almost there?"
"Mom! Rebecca dumped some unforgiving terrain into my scarce food!"
"Please can we stop here and settle Kansas please please Please??"
"Yuck! We're eating bison again?"
"When are we going to be there?"
"Mom! Little Ben put oxen poop in his hair!"
Yes, it was brutally hard, but those brave pioneers kept going, day after day, month after month, never stopping, and do you know why? Because Dad was driving, that's why. When Dad is driving, he never stops for anything. This is part of the Guy Code of Conduct. A lot of those early pioneer dads, when they got to California, drove their wagons directly into the Pacific Ocean and would probably have continued to Japan if it weren't for shark damage to the oxen.
Another part of the Guy Code of Conduct still in effect is that only Dad can drive. If necessary, Dad will permanently bond his hands to the steering wheel with Crazy Glue to prevent Mom from driving, because he knows that if she had the wheel, she might suffer a lapse of judgment and decide to actually stop for something, such as food or sleep or medical care for little Jennifer whose appendix has apparently burst. No, Dad will not allow minor distractions such as these to interfere with his vacation schedule, which looks like this:
6:00-6:15 a.m: See Yellowstone National Park
6:15-6:25 a.m: See Grand Canyon
6:25-7:00 a.m: See Latin America
What Dad means by "see," of course, is "drive past at 67 miles per hour." Dad feels it is a foolish waste of valuable vacation time to get out of the car and actually go look at an attraction such as the White House, Niagara Falls, the Louvre, etc.
I myself have been guilty of this behavior. Once we were driving across the country, and we got to South Dakota, a dirt-intensive state so sparsely populated that merely by entering it you automatically become a member of the legislature. A major tourist attraction in South Dakota is something called "Wall Drug," which is basically a group of stores advertised by a string of billboards that begins somewhere outside of the solar system. My wife, Beth, wanted to stop. Her reasoning was that we had driven hundreds of miles that day with absolutely no activity to relieve our boredom except eating Stuckey's miniature pecan pies at the rate of approximately three pies per person per hour. And so as we drew closer to Wall Drug, passing billboard after billboard -- 157 miles to go, 153 miles to go, 146 miles to go, etc. -- her anticipation mounted, until finally we were there, and Beth's excitement reached a fever pitch because this was the only point of interest for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles, and of course I elected to whiz right past it, as though I had an important appointment elsewhere in South Dakota to pick up an urgent load of manure.
You know how certain incidents become permanent sore points in a marriage? Like for example a husband will never let his wife forget the time she left a $2,000 video camera where the baby could get hold of it and drop it into the toilet? That's the status that the Wall Drug Incident has achieved in our marriage. My wife feels that we're the only people in the history of interstate travel who failed to stop there, and, 15 years later, she is still bitter. If she ever files for a divorce, this is the first incident she'll mention to the lawyer.
And that's the wonderful thing about family travel: It provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind. Especially if you travel with children. We traveled extensively with our son, Robert, when he was very young, and I have many, many vivid memories of that period, all of which involve public restrooms.
As you parents know, a small child can go for weeks without going to the bathroom at home, but once you hit the road, it becomes pretty much a full-time occupation. During my son Robert's early years, he and I visited just about every men's room on the East Coast. And if it was a really disgusting men's room, a men's room that contained the skeletons of Board of Health workers who died trying to inspect it, Robert would inevitably announce that he had to do: Number Two.