Young people of today, I hear you whining about having to take a long car trip this summer with your mom and dad, and how horrible and boring that will be, and I have to chuckle in an annoying, patronizing way.
Oh, I am not going to call you wimps or wusses or anything like that.
But I will say this without fear of contradiction: Your summer car trip will be a breeze compared with what kids of my generation went through.
Picture this: the hot, sticky back seat of a 1963 Ford Fairlane station wagon. Never mind, you have no idea what that car looked like, do you?
Let's see ... how to describe it? OK, picture a cream-colored oven with tiny tailfins rolling down the highway.
In the back are three little kids, me and my younger sister and brother. We are slumped in the secondary stages of heat exhaustion, due to the fact that a fireball sun is high in the sky and its rays are glinting off the snappy blue-and-beige vinyl upholstery and silver door and window handles, which, unless you put on oven mitts, would sear your hands if you touched them.
The car has no air conditioning. It has no seat belts. If there's an accident, we're all dead.
Which would be OK with all three of us kids, as long as death comes soon and relieves us of this suffering.
Did I mention that Dad is behind the wheel puffing on a Chesterfield?
And that Mom has fired up a Salem?
Young people, do you worry about second-hand smoke? Hah! You don't know what second-hand smoke is!
Every time we took a car trip back then, it was like spending a week downwind from a brushfire.
OK, but all of that, everything I've described thus far, wasn't the worst part.
You want to know what the worst part was?
Incredible, unrelenting boredom.
See, there were no rear-seat video screens or portable DVD players to stare at in a slack-jawed stupor as we rattled down the highway.
There were no iPods to listen to, no Game Boys to play with our fat little thumbs.
There were no cell phones, no text-messaging.
This was the Dark Ages of technology.
There was nothing to do except color in some coloring book, unless someone left the crayons on the back seat after we stopped to get something to eat, in which case we'd return to find a melted pile of waxy goo.
Yeah, that always improved the old man's mood.
Or we played these lame games Mom made up, like Count the Out-of-State License Plates.
Here we were, on a 13,000-mile trip from southern New York to Miami. Meaning that pretty much every car we passed had out-of-state license plates.
Who wanted to count 420,000 out-of-state license plates by the time we got to Key Biscayne?
So we'd get bored, and then one of us would smack the other one, just to liven things up a little.
That kid would start screaming, and then Mom and Dad would start yelling, and then Dad would turn around and try to swat you with one of his huge meaty paws.
In the meantime, since his eyes were off the road, the car would be veering into another lane and he'd be yelling something about how if he had to stop the car, we'd all be sorry.
Of course, as the oldest kid, I'd be the one who would be sorriest of all if he stopped the car.
I'd be a dead man.
It's all so different now for you young people, isn't it?.
A summer car trip means gliding down the road in a cool, spacious minivan or an SUV the size of a two-story apartment, each family member cocooned in plush bucket seats with his or her personal video-audio device.
Dad can't lay a glove on you if you act up -- someone will grab a cell and call the abuse hot-line.
And don't worry about any of the grown-ups smoking -- these days, Dad is munching on a granola bar as he drives and Mom is sipping a Diet Snapple as she listens to a Pilates lesson from her books-on-tape.
Nobody has to count the out-of-state license plates anymore.
You kids today, you don't know how good you have it.