Monday, November 16, 2009

On the road, off the rocker

“This is a really bad idea,” I said to my wife Kara as I switched on the ignition. The dog jumped onto the center console and licked Kara’s cheek. The baby’s feet kicked up and down in his car seat like he was trying to paddle the car into motion. After a moment, we were rolling out of the driveway in the Toyota Matrix that we used to call “the big car,” but which no longer seemed deserving of the title.

People can be forgiven for thinking of Pennsylvania as one of the smaller states in the Union, until they try to drive across it lengthwise, at which point it turns into Kansas. Early settlers headed west often just gave up and opened truck stops, where they were so delirious that they put things on their menus that didn’t even exist, things like fried okra and chicken fried chicken.

Kara and I were attempting to traverse the state to attend her cousin’s wedding in Pittsburgh, a place that would have much to recommend it even if its residents hadn’t discovered that the fastest way to improve any type of food is to stuff as many french fries into it as possible. All you have to do to prepare a salad or a sandwich “Pittsburgh style” is to add french fries, but they don’t call it that in Pittsburgh, just like how they don’t say “Belgian waffle” in Belgium or “parmesan cheese” in Parmesia.

Kara spent three days before our trip packing a suitcase for our son Evan. Everest expeditions have been launched with less preparation, and with less gear. There was a time when packing for the weekend meant throwing a toothbrush into a backpack. Now it means putting a cargo box on top of the car and filling it with enough supplies to cover us on the off chance that while we’re away from home, we accidentally have octuplets.

Since we were staying with Kara’s relatives, who had graciously extended an invitation for us to bring our entire family, including the dog, we decided to go ahead and invite the pooch as well. Once you’ve decided to take a child on a road trip, you could pretty much bring along a Kodiak bear without really changing the degree of difficulty.

A few minutes into the trip, Kara brought out her breast pump, complete with eight freshly charged AA batteries, and said, “How am I going to pump without flashing any truckers?”

“I doubt they’d mind,” I replied.

Just then, Evan started exercising his lungs from the back seat, wailing in the way that babies do when the world is ending, or they’re a little bit hungry.

“This is going to be a really long trip,” I said, pulling off at the next truck stop. After we’d gotten Evan squared away, Kara went into the general store and emerged carrying a knockoff Snuggie, the blanket with sleeves. You would have thought that the original Snuggie was also the poor man’s Snuggie, but that would be before you saw the truck stop Snuggie.

“This is perfect! Now I can pump without flashing the world. How do I look?” Kara asked, putting her arms through the gigantic crimson sleeves.

“Like you’re getting ready for a big Quidditch match,” I replied.

As soon as we got back on the highway, Evan started shrieking again.

“I can’t reach him. Can you get the binky in his mouth?” Kara asked. We’ve tried to avoid parental crutches as much as possible, but life without a pacifier quickly reaches unacceptable decibel levels. Besides, Evan seems to greatly appreciate it when we give him his binky, though he might take issue with referring to it as “putting a cork in the scream hole.”

In the end, he settled down, and even proved to be an excellent little traveler. Which worked out well, because for a moment there, I thought we were going to have to open a truck stop.

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  1. A road trip with a newborn and a both are incredibly brave. Mind you, the earlier you begin the better prepared you'll both be for the, "Are we there yet?" chorus.

    P.S. Sounds like everyone had a wonderful time.

  2. Sounds like a fun trip to the armPit. I've never been there but I've driven past many times. It is apposed to be nice with the river running through the city and what not. You should get some books on tape or on cd at the truck stop next time. Maybe some cowboy stories will calm down the kid.

  3. We drove from NY to IA, across 5 states in total, and PA took 1/3 the time. That doesn't even make sense.