When I was a kid, my family would travel to Hartford, Conn., once a year to visit our grandparents. It was a grueling nightmare of a trip that under the best of circumstances was around 10 hours long. Consider this: six kids and two adults crammed into a four-door Frazier, traveling mostly on a two-lane highway with half the family throwing up and the rest screaming “How much longer; are we almost there?”
No seatbelts were there to contain the constant fighting in the back seat and I took to heart frequent warnings from my father. “Don’t make me come back there,” he would intone. So incensed was he that I worried he might not stop the car before carrying out this particular threat. Eventually my parents came to their senses and the annual operation was switched to trains.
When my children were young we had our own hair-raising adventures in travel. One summer evening we headed out for a vacation in Maine, and our over-the-hill Plymouth, after making a few popping noises, decided to go no farther. This was around 11 p.m. on a dark stretch of I-95 somewhere near Union, Conn.
Our youngest was three months old and the other three weren’t a heck of a lot older. They had just learned to chant, “How much longer, are we almost there?”
We walked along the edge of the highway in the pitch dark until we found a phone. We called some cousins in the area and asked them to come and get us. They did and I think the Plymouth is still there.
It’s different traveling with children these days.
On a recent trip down south, I marveled at the ease and comfort with which moms and dads loaded their cheerful tots onto planes. They arrived with comfy million-dollar strollers that looked as though they might have been designed by NASA. The little ones sucked on sippy cups of juice and munched handfuls of pretzels. (Eating constantly seems the way to soothe the youngsters these days.) I don’t remember consuming much more than squished tuna sandwiches on our epic trips.
The airline we flew on had, not only remarkably comfortable seats and ample leg room, (Thanks, Delta Song) but there was a TV screen at each seat. The little ones could be entertained by cartoons while mom and dad either watched Seinfeld reruns or dozed to Barbra Streisand.
But the best part was the trivia game. The individual screens offered a competition where one could answer multiple choice questions on everything from sports to pop music and, in doing so, compete with fellow passengers. You could tell who your opponents were because they were designated on the scores by seat number. Playing the game made the three-hour trip seem like it was 20 minutes long.
Even arrival at the airport is a piece of cake for traveling families these days. They haul out their hi-tech “kidmobiles” and head for the baggage claim via moving sidewalks. The luggage comes rolling out on a conveyor belt. And there’s grandma and grandpa ready to scoop everybody up and head for the beach, and it’s barely lunch time.