Thursday, June 08, 2006


Traveling: Making Memories, Hating Karen Carpenter

During my childhood my parents and I would often gather together ever so often and decide to travel to a locale several hours away. Our destination was often Michigan, the home of my maternal grandparents, as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins. We preferred making these trips in the summer, because in January it is possible to not only make a snowman, but also to share a cup of hot chocolate with him later when he confides that even he hates Michigan winters.

On other occasions, we would visit my older sister in Florida, preferably in winter, when we felt secure enough from alligator attacks to walk outside placing bets on names for next years hurricanes.

No matter the destination, these trips allowed my parents and I to leave behind the things that separated us, like their jobs and my school work, and spend time in close proximity for many days. Having spent 10-11 hours in a car together on the way to Michigan or Florida and then 10-11 hours together on the trip back, we would then be reminded of my we let work and school separate us in the first place.

My parents and I went to Michigan during Memorial Day weekend to see one of my cousins get married. Things typically go fine when they drive, and I’m allowed to sit in the backseat reading and seeing how many songs my iPod can play before its woefully inadequate battery expires. But inevitably they will ask for a break from the driving and duties will transfer to me. This is where the candid exchange of opinions begins. For example:

Parent’s candid opinion: Do you have to drive so close to those in front of you that a dirt bike couldn’t fit between their bumper and your hood?
My candid opinion: At least I can change channels on the radio without grazing the outside of the nearest ditch with the left set of tires.

I suppose that’s not entirely fair of me; I simply happened to be born at the right time. I am a member of the first generation to learn to drive after car CD players became popular. Our generation perfected a method by which we could eject a CD from the CD player, put the CD in a specific place in the CD carrying case containing enough CDs to fully stock your average Best Buy, select a different, but equally specific CD from the CD case, and then put the CD in the CD player all without taking our eyes off the road.

If only all of us would use this power for good.

By contrast, most members of my parents’ generation use the CD player far less, instead preferring to listen to radio stations which have used the same play lists (and sometimes the same song) since the Johnson administration. As such, when travel causes them to leave the range of their favorite stations, they face a task they’ve not had time to master, a task that steals attention away from the road. On the other hand, those my age find changing channels while driving easier than breathing, though not as easy as sarcasm.

However, though I can switch radio stations easily enough, finding one my parents and I can agree upon presents yet another challenge. I have a vast collection of CDs spanning multiple genres, but my parents categorize nearly all of it as “stuff that isn’t music.” I, however, can make distinctions in their collections, between “music I actually enjoy,*” “music I can tolerate**” and music that makes me want to stick my head out of the car window in the hopes that contact with a passing semi will forever silence the infernal voice of Karen Carpenter.***”

Our Memorial Day expedition was not unlike any other we’ve taken to Michigan. We arrived successfully, were greeted by my grandparents, who asked us how our trip was, to which we answered in unison, “Good” with heads nodding for added believability. From there, we spend time with various members of Mom’s family, beginning the corresponding conversations we always have: they ask Mom how my sisters are doing, my Dad about something related to machinery, and me…well, I’ve transcribed it for you:

Them: Do you have a girlfriend?
Me: Not at the moment (it never seems to be the moment when they ask).
Them: Why not?
Me: If I knew that I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have to ask.
Them: I wonder if I know someone…
Me: Where’s that %^#$ing iPod?

This continues for several days, and then we return home. It would be a bad idea if families spent that much time together every day, but the occasional vacation does help us to understand one another better. “You’re right,” my parents will say, “The other drivers are idiots.”

“Okay, Karen Carpenter could sing,” I will say. “Her lyrics were inane, insipid and the collie we had euthanized when I was fifteen**** could write a better set of words, but she had a decent voice.”
Every family should have vacations like these.

*Such as Johnny Cash
**Such as John Denver
***Such as The Carpenters
****Her name was Lassie

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