As anticipated, and as previously discussed, I was unfortunately unable to correspond with you nice folks last week. If you recall, that’s why I wrote an extra long piece the prior week. The reason for my brief absence from the column is that I was partaking in a time honored American tradition known as the family road trip. This is a generations old ritual that started back with the early settlers, and pioneers. They would load their families and all of their worldly possessions into Conestoga wagons and head West seeking adventure and new lives.

There were probably quite a few in between, but then came the Griswold family. This family’s cross country pilgrimage to a place called Wally World became an instant classic piece of cinematic Americana. This movie brought many things to our lives that we now sometimes take for granted. It brought to light what can and sometimes does really happen while on family road trips. It brought into our lives a mediocre at best looking model with a lazy eye who kept popping up in her red Ferrari. Once a drunken ‘piano man’ became smitten by her, it would take us decades to get her back out of our lives. It brought us a tertiary role for Stacey Keach that hopefully provided him with enough funds to pay off his drug possession fines. And perhaps most importantly, it brought us three subsequent sequels for us to continue to fall in love with the Griswolds and their extended family. One of these would also become an instant classic and a must watch every Christmas season, while the other two should be thrown into a blender with everything Keanu Reeves ever did, mixed up, and fed to a dying walrus as his last meal.

Now let’s flash forward again to what we’ll call the Nichols family road trip. When I failed to provide you with an article last week, it’s not because the three Residence Inns in three different states didn’t provide me with a WiFi hook up. It was not because I failed to pack my laptop. And it most certainly was not because I had nothing to share with you. It was simply because my travel companions, temporary dwelling arrangements, and what proved to be a rather rigorous schedule never afforded me so much as a solo bathroom trip, let alone a few hours to write.

I originally had no intention at all of writing about my trip. I figured I’d just lumber through it, hope for the best, and come back to writing about poorly behaved idiots in the bar. But the comedy of errors and oddities that accompanied this 2400 mile sojourn was far too entertaining to pass on. At one point during our journey when I had reached my emotional nadir, my consummately upbeat bride looked at me and said; “well, the good news is your column is writing itself again this week.” She, having mastered the remote control that works my emotions, as always hit just the right button. I laughed, realized she was spot on, and decided at that very moment what I was going to bore you all with for at least the next week.

I now know that the term “road trip” in and of itself has a very different meaning at different stages of life. I’ll site some examples for you. If a group of 21 year olds tell you they just took a road trip, you will stop what you’re doing and cancel plans just to listen to their stories. If a 44 year old guy tells you he just finished a road trip, you put your forehead in your palms, pray for the smoke alarm to go off, and start reciting childhood nursery rhymes in your head. The 21-year-old road trip is all about adventure, excitement, and living on the edge. The 44-year-old road trip is all about survival, emotional fortitude, and hoping to come away from it with no new stress related ailments. The 21-year-old road trip has great stories about concerts, scenery, booze, maybe even some drugs and promiscuity, a little experimentation, and the forging of some lifelong bonds. The 44-year-old road trip is a story about people having meals at Cracker Barrel and crossing eight lanes of highway to have their picture taken with a very lifelike scarecrow. If the 21-year-old road trip involves a story about a bodily function, it’s because his buddy ate psychedelic mushrooms, rode a roller coaster 12 consecutive times, then vomited on a group of kids with a church group. If the 44-year-old has a story about a bodily function on a road trip, it’s about a 2-year-old who quietly had explosive diarrhea, then figured out how to remove her own diaper without removing any of her child restraint buckles, and is now finger painting the second row of a minivan going 65 with nowhere to get off for at least 50 miles. I think that’s enough hypothetical examples of the potential differences. You should get the point by now.

Now that the stage is partially set, let’s hit the road. I find it humorously ironic that my vehicle for this adventure is a Honda “Odyssey” because there were parts of this trip that seemed to take on a very Homerian tone. Like for example, the three muses in the back trying to force me to crash my vessel into the rocks. For you literature buffs, I am fully aware that they were in fact Sirens, not Muses. I simply chose the vernacular that required less of an explanation. I wanted to convey to you that I had three screaming little girls behind me, not law enforcement giving chase. I know some of you were secretly calling me out for that.

I want you to know and feel the full atmosphere of this road trip so I’ll be very graphic and specific. And please know in advance that I am seeking only laughs, not sympathy. I mentioned earlier that this trip on the whole ended up being over 2400 miles. I’ll now describe to you what the inside of the minivan consisted of starting all the way in the back, cargo area. Partially blocking the rear view of the driver (we took turns driving), was the upright standing tandem stroller in the futile hopes that if we went anywhere crowded we could perhaps coax the two little ones into it. There was also in this portion of the vehicle a week’s worth of luggage for five including hanging garments for the three formal events we had to attend. Row 3 consisted of a pair of large pillows, a stack of books, some snacks, a big blanket, and by far the most comfortable section in which to travel. It also harbored by my lovely, walking oxymoron of a daughter. On paper she’s 9-years-old, in many ways she’s still an innocent 5-year-old princess, but in most ways, she’ already a bitchy 15-year-old girl. I love her dearly, but there are times that I don’t like her at all.

Moving on to row 2 in which are seated a pair of genetically predisposed total smartass female toddlers. They are at different stages of potty training which makes for an adventure since they both also inherited Daddy’s colon in addition to the sarcasm gene. They would regale me with a rousing chorus of “ARE WE THERE YET” for the next week of my life.

And finally, in row 1 we have me seated in the driver’s seat. I’m about as ready as I’m ever going to be for this trip. Anticipating what a long and cumbersome journey I’m about to endure, I’m relatively heavily medicated both for my laundry list of gastro intestinal disorders and my anxiety. Relax, I can still operate heavy machinery, and the kids are perfectly safe. And of course, seated beside me as always in shotgun position is my beautiful wife. She’s my best friend, my partner, and my navigator not only for this trip literally, but metaphorically through the tumultuous waters of life. And since she doesn’t read my stuff, I’m going to mention that she was carrying with her a gargantuan uncharacteristic case of P.M.S. Should you ever find yourself in this very situation, don’t rule out drinking a quart of antifreeze as a viable option. Now take all of that in and realize that I haven’t even backed out of my driveway yet. We’ll pick this up next week. Thanks for playing along. Syd Nichols