Wish You Were Here: Cross-Country Road Trip

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World's Largest SUV

Day 1: To avoid the July Fourth rush, Haywood and I pick up our rental car, the largest SUV on the market, a day early. We arrive at the rental agency and promptly have a fight: I point out that Haywood has reserved a car whose backseat is no bigger than our own minivan's, and the whole point of renting is to give long-legged Sam more space. Haywood points out that, unlike our minivan, the rental has a DVD player and more luggage room. I question whether having the DVD player is worth $1,600 and 3,500 miles of lousy gas mileage. Haywood questions whether, in the absence of a movie option, we have the fortitude to play I Spy with My Little Eye for 3,500 miles. Haywood wins.

Day 2: Haywood and Papa head to Wal-Mart to buy an extra-large cooler; Grandmother and I stay behind to chop vegetables, wash fruit, and boil eggs for lunches. Papa returns and doubts that so much food will fit into one cooler; he suggests heading back to Wal-Mart -- a store that I hate and he loves -- to buy a second cooler. Haywood doubts that a second cooler will fit into even a monster SUV. Grandmother notes that I'm on the verge of saying something mean to both Haywood and Papa. Gently, she leads the men out of the kitchen.

Day 3: Planned time of departure: 6 a.m. Actual time of departure: 9:10 a.m. Time we discover that Henry has forgotten Ralph, the stuffed giraffe he can't sleep without: 9:40 a.m. Time of second departure: 10 a.m. First highway argument: 10:07 a.m. Subject: Haywood's driving. I think he's driving too fast; he thinks we've lost too much time. If we don't hurry, he says, we'll have to skip our very first stop, Cahokia Mounds, an ancient Native American settlement near Collinsville, Illinois, also home of the World's Largest Catsup Bottle. Papa is interested in Indian mounds; Sam, Henry, and Joe are interested in the world's largest catsup bottle; Grandmother and I are very interested in not dying on the highway. The World's Largest SUV is interested in flipping over every time Haywood peers down at the map Papa has spread across the dashboard.

Day 4: We explore St. Louis, "Gateway to the West." Sam, Henry, and Joe are indifferent to the many educational sites associated with westward expansion. "Please, Mom, can't we just go back to the hotel and watch the Cartoon Network?" Joe asks, handing back his copy of the educational brochure I've picked up in triplicate. "Yeah, Mom, it's not really a vacation if you have to learn something," Sam mutters. "Hey, it says here we can go to the top of the Gateway Arch!" Henry enthuses, breaking ranks and actually reading the pamphlet. "On a windy day you can feel the whole thing swaying!" Suddenly I'm thinking about heading back to the hotel to watch cartoons myself.

Continued on page 3:  The Aptly Named Badlands


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