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Seat belts created the technology revolution


Editor’s Note: As most Greensheet readers are new to this column, here’s a travel-advice column from the archives.


Gas is cheap, cars are reliable, and it’s been too long since you and the family got out of the Great Concrete City to visit a region of the country that has actual seasons.

May I be presumptuous and offer some learnt advice?

First, never use the word “learnt” – it makes you sound like you’re from Alabama, which happens to be where my wife, 2-month-old, 3-year-old and I just spent one-third of a 3-week road trip.

Yes, you read that correctly. Our family just took a 3-week road trip that uniquely qualifies me to talk some sense into the rest of you.

Let me answer some general questions:

Q: Why would two sane adults who have two children under the combined age of four commit to driving a total of nearly 2,500 miles?

A: The socially acceptable answer is that our family is very close, we enjoy each other’s company, and we haven’t had much time together. The actual answer is that my wife is on maternity leave and if she had to spend one more day staring at the walls in our house while a precious 2-month-old couldn’t decide if he wanted to eat on the couch, sleep on the couch or poop on the couch, she was going to destroy that couch with a thousand razors. We also wanted to torture our 3-year-old spaz of a son, Hank, by strapping him into a car seat for a total of about 60 hours.

Q: Do you not have a job?

A: Yes, I am still employed by you, our readers, and I believe this was important research so that I could write this column to tell you what not to do.

Q: Where did you go?

A: Houston to Hot Springs to Memphis to Chattanooga to Knoxville to Ashville to Charlotte to Birmingham to Montgomery to Denham Springs to Houston.

Q: Why would you stop in Denham Springs?

A: No comment, because swearing about other people who drive 42 m.p.h. in the left-hand lane on a holiday weekend, and who deserve to have their tires forcefully removed, can get you serious jail time in some states.

Q: What did you learn on this trip?

A: That telling a lie as an adult is OK, if not even hallowed. There is absolutely no way parents could survive if they couldn’t lie to their 3-year-old sons. Here’s evidence: The first stop on our trip was in Hot Springs, Ark., which we heard had actual “hot springs.” So for the nine hours it took us to get there, we placated Hank by telling him we were taking him to swim in some hot springs and that he’d love it. Hank, after all, is a wonderful swimmer and there are few things he’d rather do than get an ear infection in a pool.

As most of you already know, these hot springs are, technically, hot. So hot, in fact, that they don’t allow children under the age of 14 to swim in them. Apparently, they make this thing called the internet, which would have saved Meghan and me from telling this lie. Live and learn.

If you have ever raised a semi-intelligent 3-year-old, you know that promising something for nine hours and not delivering on the promise is tantamount to treason. With all the brains that two consenting adults could muster, we sprang into quick action, found a hotel with an indoor pool and, yes, a hot tub, cancelled our current hotel reservations, packed up three weeks of formula and diapers and moved to a hotel that, we told our son, had a hot spring. Mission accomplished. The boy spent two hours jumping between the pool and the “hot spring.”

Q: What was the worst part of your trip?

A: Atlanta. If you ever find yourself cursing Houston traffic, pack up your things and drive through or around Atlanta at 4 p.m. on a Friday before Thanksgiving. You know those magical little apps on our smart phones that give us directions? Ours re-routed us three times, eventually taking us through Massachusetts as the quickest way to Alabama.

We could continue with the Q&A format, but here’s what young families need to know about road trips. First, never ever never confuse a vacation with a trip. Somewhere between Charlotte and Birmingham, Meghan grabbed her phone and planned a vacation. There will be no children attending.

Second, we all need to know that road trips are not what they once were, largely because of safety regulations that don’t allow our children to build forts between the suitcases like I did when I was a kid. These days, each child must be locked down to their seats in straps that choke the blood from their necks. Don’t get me wrong: This is a good thing from the standpoint of staying alive and all. But when your oldest child routinely burns 13,000 calories a day, car seats are the devil.

In fact, I am now convinced that the technological evolution of everything we own today was borne out of safety regulations that force us to keep our children imprisoned while driving. It’s the reason we now build 20-inch flat-screens into our SUVs, and it’s the only reason I listened to the sweet, sweet tunes of Alvin and his band of spastic Chipmunks for 23 hours of drive time.

Q: Would you ever take a trip like this again?

A: Absolutely. I’d leave tomorrow with my family.



Jonathan McElvy