Fighting road-trip boredom …

… Or: why Trevor is afraid of cemeteries

This unfortunate Iowa City teen was killed in a drunk-driving accident.
This unfortunate Iowa City teen was killed in a drunk-driving accident.

The biggest danger is boredom, even for those of us who love being on the road.

On the 401 between Montreal and Toronto or the long barren patches coming home from New York—road that was beautiful and exciting when the adventure started but snooze-worthy a few fun-filled days later—I often imagine the car eating the asphalt. It gobbles it out of existence with every rotation of tires like a Hungry Hungry Hippo freed from its board.

Singing helps, too. The car and kitchen are the places I let loose with my voice; my family lets their ears bleed for the greater good.

For Trevor, books and sketching have always been the thing. I don’t think a person can joyfully roadtrip without an imagination. If you’re stuck in a box for hours on end, your mind must have a place to escape. Bonus points if that place is Lovecraft’s R’lyeh.

Alternatively, a backlog of podcasts and audio books can be blasted through on a road trip, provided the baby isn’t yelling or one of the family isn’t sleeping.

* * *

license webMelani plays the license-plate game. She plays alone and follows very strict rules. The goal is to find all 50 states and 10 provinces—she begins when we leave our street and ends when we park in front of our house. Sad story if she finally sees Rhode Island ten minutes after we’ve unpacked. Finding a state when we’re in that state is invalid.

She must be the one to spot it. Clearing our throats, pointing or saying, “Uh, have you got Alabama yet?” exposes us to one long, terrifying Stare of Doom. Similarly, saying, “Have you got Texas yet?” when a) we are in Texas or 2) we know damn well every fifth car has been from Texas, will earn us rolled eyes and possibly the more serious pursed lips.

She keeps track on a slip of paper that lives in the glove box or the door pocket. Disaster: She lost the slip of paper in the Badlands and had to reconstruct the thing from memory. Disaster averted: In Montana she found both a cardboard game that listed the license plates and the slip of paper, which had fallen between the door and her seat.

* * *

The last boredom-buster is a game I tried in vain to ban from the car. It was introduced to us years ago by a friend who could not have known the madness she was inviting into our vehicle.

As we drive along, the first person to see a herd of cows, or sheep, or a couple of horses minding their own business, will say emphatically: “My cows! My sheep! My sad-looking farm dog who wishes he could chase the car!” As you can imagine, it quickly devolves into crazy, with someone yelling, “MY SILO WITH A RED HAT!” or somesuch.

Then the kicker: We pass a cemetery and the first person to say “All your cows are dead!” wins. Umn, wins. Got that? Except by the time we pass a cemetery, often the players have gathered so many species it’s just easier to yell, “All your everythings are dead!” and start over.

Not only is this a dreadful game that involves the untimely demise of farm animals (and the odd silo), it’s also a very loud game and the person who sits in the front (it is always the same person in the front seat) has the advantage of seeing cemeteries way before the sad boy in the back who nonetheless hopefully gathers herds, only to have them killed just as he dozes off or looks down at his novel.


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