A Weekly Column
PEACE IN THE BACK SEAT
It wasn’t like my sister Kathy and I didn’t have entertainment choices when we went on long trips in the back seat of Dad’s Impala back in the day.
We could listen to AM radio, which pretty much meant Montovani or static (sometimes it was difficult for my rock-n-roll-lovin’ ears to tell the difference). Or we could race drops of sweat down the naughahyde upholstery. Or we could play a game called “Beaver,” during which you searched oncoming lanes of traffic for Volkswagens, and the first person to see one coming shouted out “Beaver!”
You may ask: why did we shout out “Beaver!” instead of, say, “Beetle” – or even “Fahrfenugen”? I have no idea. Ask Kathy. It was her dumb game.
Or we could play “The Alphabet Game.” This game required that you know the letters
of the alphabet, and that you spot them – in their proper order – on signs and
billboards as you drove past. This game
had two variations. The first required
that the letter be the first letter of the word on the sign. The second allowed the letter to be anywhere
within the word. We usually started out
playing by the first set of rules, but always shifted to the second set of
rules about the time we got to the letter “Q.”
This game was usually won by whoever was close to the end of the
alphabet by the time we got to the exit for
It’s difficult to imagine more fun entertainment choices than those, isn’t it? Unless, of course, you throw in an occasional outbreak of hostilities when “Beaver” is shouted by two alarmingly similar adolescent voices simultaneously, followed by Dad’s threatened “Don’t make me turn this car around” and a quick retreat to our respective corners of the back seat.
Oh, yeah. We really knew how to travel back in the day.
yet, there we were last week, zipping across the American western desert with
nary a “Beaver” to be heard from the back seat.
Instead, our teenagers Beth and Jon sat in contented, air conditioned
silence, blissfully unaware of the sand and sagebrush as we rolled through
it. Beth was accessing the internet on
her laptop computer – don’t ask me how – while engaging in cell phone text
messaging with friends back home. Jon
was watching cartoons on a portable
Except me. I began to worry that we were missing something – that perhaps technology was eliminating some of the important bonding moments of family travel, turning a shared experience into an exercise in motorized narcissism.
“Hey, guys!” I sang out to my children in the back seat. “Let’s play Beaver!”
“I don’t think they can hear you,” Anita said. “They’re both wearing earphones.”
“But shouldn’t we . . . you know . . . interact or something?” I wondered.
“Oh, I think there’s plenty of interaction,” Anita said. “And we’ll be doing nothing but interacting when we get there. Meanwhile, they’re happy.”
I glanced at them in the rear-view mirror. It was true: they were both wired for sound – and smiling. There was peace in the back seat, and that had to be worth something, didn’t it?
So I’ll continue to treasure memories of family trips back in the day – the sweating, the alphabet, the Montovani. But that doesn’t mean I can’t also embrace a new and – OK, I’ll say it – improved way of doing things today. Like they say, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
Not to mention an old Beaver.
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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.