For the last ten years I’ve driven out to New Jersey every summer and some winters to spend time visiting family and friends. Each year I try to improve my family’s entertainment options on the long journey. Our first long road trip involved strapping a heavy, by today’s standards, portable DVD player to the seats so the kids could watch movies without it ricocheting around the car and killing someone in the event of an accident. Later entertainment devices were DSes, PSPs, iPods, iPads, iPhones and live unhousebroken puppies (no joke). Before podcasts and Audible.com, I would go to the library and stock up on kid-themed books on tape in hopes that my brood would turn off their devices and tune in.
I’m not sure if they powered off their hand-helds but they did listen no matter the age content of the book. I remember sitting in the parking lot of one hotel finishing Cornelia Funke’s Dragonrider and my youngest was only four at the time. We loved A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy, all of the Lemony Snicket books and Andrew Clement’s Frindle. We listened to Louis Sacher’s Wayside School more than once. We laughed through The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowery and The Awful End series by Philip Ardagh. I loved Beloved Dearly by Doug Cooney. Because we now live in Chicagoland and have visited the Thorne Room’s at the Art Institute I felt that The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone was a no-brainer. We listened to The Secret by Rhonda Byrne twice. My kids are still pissed about that but I think it was a good thing. We really enjoyed Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Reed, all of the Amelia Bedelia books but we are not sure how we felt about The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. Masterpiece by Elise Broach was great and we cried over Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.
In later years, we enjoyed many NPR podcasts: Fresh Air, This American Life, The Moth and Ask Me Another. Last fall we listened to Serial during one thirteen-hour drive and it kept us riveted. This summer my son suggested we tackle Game of Thrones, which is a thirty-three hour book for a twenty-six hour drive. We got off to a rocky start between the pounding rain and the accent or the reader. My son unhappily read a synopsis on Wikipedia so I could keep the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens straight. I’m not sure how I’m going to finish the book once I get home. I’m tempted to just watch the series on the tube.
On all of these journeys, I noticed that the best parts of the trip were when we were interacting with each other. Playing Ask Me Another with Ophira Eisenberg, speculating on what was happening after each installment of Serial, or discussing what was what in Game of Thrones. We’ve had some fun laughing over the funny names of places we’d pass. We always see a sign for two towns in Ohio, Edon and Edgarton, which has become “Hello, my name is Edon, Edon Edgarton.” Each trip east we speculate if the town of Sandusky has ever considered changing its name and my kids dread seeing the signs for Elkhart, Indiana, which means a stop at the RV Museum and Hall of Fame.
We were on one leg of this trip, travelling up the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey when I looked out my window and saw an old buggy car, dark blue with whitewalls with red rims. On top of the car was a vintage flexible flyer and two other red items, also vintage. The driver had his window open with his elbow out, just the way my dad drove back in the day.
My good camera was in the way back of my car, so I had to take a picture with my iPhone. I didn’t want to miss it. Was this for real? Was he really transporting this stuff? I couldn’t believe that this wasn’t an artfully arranged picture. It was like a performance piece happening on a highway. I’d call it Vintage Road Trip. It got me thinking that it would be cool to do a trip in a vintage vehicle with vintage food, dressed in period clothes and playing vintage road trip games. So at my suggestion, we all started brainstorming and came up with some fun games. We sort of had the sense that what happens in the car, stays in the car. We created about thirty-five games with these being our favorites:
Confess To Things You Didn’t Do – This was actually confessing to things you did do but no one could be sure. “I didn’t poop in the basement that time, it was the dog.”
Xtreme Highway Sports – Create different games that could occur in a highway setting: Parasailing off the back of an eighteen-wheeler.
The Car Sibling Game – Spot cars that are the same make as yours and yell “Sibling!” If it’s the same color, “Twins!” and the exact same specs, “Identical Twins!”
Gross Things You Like To Do – Share your disgusting habits, “I don’t use nail clippers, I rip my toenails off with my teeth and then eat them.” The person whose description makes someone vomit, wins.
Scare The Driver: Probably safer to do hypotheticals than actuals.
Intervention -You have everyone captive in your car for a long period of time. Have an intervention with a troubled family member.
What Car Are You? I’m any vintage camper and my hubby is a sports car. You get the idea.
Create Your New Life In Five Sentences – This one is kind of serious. Create an intention for your life. I started with “I am giving up sugar.” I got a Twix bar at the next rest stop. Sigh.
The Stupidest Thing I Ever Did – I threw my $600 iPhone 6 at my brother on the street and thought it would be fine because it was in an Otterbox…(this was one of my kids).
Make Up Goofy Words For Inappropriate Things. Self-Explanatory.
What do you do to entertain your family on a road trip? I’d love to know!
Kathleen Thometz is an artist, freelance writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a mobile art program. She has one husband, four children and three doodle dogs, Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. She blogs at kathleenthometz.com and has contributed to the mid.