What, did it die? Well, yeah, at least in my family. When I was a kid we drove from Washington, the state, to North Carolina and Kentucky every summer to see my grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins. Five days in the car or else in our full-size Dodge cargo van. We also sometimes drove to Wyoming to see yet more aunts and uncles. That van was the It Vehicle for us kids. There was one bench seat in the back with no seatbelts, and that was it. We could and did spread out blankets, lie down at full length in the floor, play cards, play games, read, sleep as long as we liked, awaken to see one of our parents getting a speeding ticket, usually somewhere in the Plains.
It’s not just the affordability of air travel that has killed this tradition before my son ever participated in it; it’s also the carseat laws and even the seatbelt laws. I know this doesn’t stop other families with children The Bean’s age (five), but I simply haven’t been able bring myself to coop him up in his rigid plastic carseat for several days on end. While I still greatly enjoy the concept of the long road trip, it’s just too depressing to think about him trapped in that seat, unable even to lie down in the back seat should he want to sleep (and as he gets bigger, the carseat is a less and less comfortable place to sleep). So the long trip remains a pipe dream. We’ve done a few two-day stints (about six hours per day) and one experimental trip of sixteen hours in one day, with multiple 30-minute breaks. He broke down only once, at about six in the evening, but at midnight, 10 minutes from our destination, he thoughtfully remarked, “I like airplanes the best.” I can’t say I blame him. If you’re a) not driving and b) can hardly move, a road trip is not the fun I remember from my own childhood.
He just graduated to a backless booster that uses the “adult seatbelt,” a fact of which he’s very proud. We’ll see if this plus the advent of the portable DVD player encourages me to get back out on the road.