Every parent that has taken an extended car trip with children has recognized a need for something to occupy them. Entertainment. Activities. Distraction.
Anything to prevent (or at least delay) the inevitable bloodbath in the back seat. Or, at the very least, to postpone (it can’t actually be stopped) the not-really-Greek-at-all chorus of “Are we there yet?”
Well, are we?
I don’t know this because I’ve travelled extensively with children. (I/we have no children. I’m not mature enough; doesn’t it show?) No, I know this because back in the day I was practically the poster child for “ill-behaved back seat denizen”. It’s a minor miracle that I wasn’t abandoned in a Gulf station in someplace like Wawa or St. Louis du Ha! Ha! or Conception Bay.
In our case this involved a frantic search for Activities by our long-suffering parents. Reading was tried and that worked to an extent but often had… side effects. One of these was the dreaded ‘car sickness’ — in my case characterized by bouts of nausea, complaining, barfing, cleaning and finger-pointing (not a lot of fun for anyone involved). The fix to this was a bottle of blue pills. Unfortunately for all concerned, the pills had an, um, ‘anti-placebo’ effect. Because of this, the threat of them was usually enough to make me stop complaining (for a while), if nothing else. Another issue was that after reading some types of material, there would follow a night of terrifying dreams with an associated… soundtrack. (I don’t remember this part but I was told about it. At great length. I don’t read that kind of thing any more.)
So reading as a car Activity had flaws, some rather messy.
I remember experiments with the nasal application of dessicated Vitis. While this did result in temporary peace and quiet and may have been an admirable preparation for a career in certain branches of science, the delay caused by a visit to the Emergency Room was considered a show-stopper.
So to speak.
What seemed to work with an acceptable level of negative side effects was (were?) games. The games had to be uncomplicated enough for simpletons like me to understand but at the same time not so simple as to cause a loss of interest. I remember a few: The country game (Name a country or place that starts with the last letter of the last country ‘played.’ I remember a basic strategy — one had to be careful of naming a place that ended with the letter ‘A’ — unless places taken from the drug-addled visions of guys named ‘Silas’ were deemed legal.). The car game (What colour will the Nth car be? What will its license number end with?). I spy (with my little eye). Twenty questions.
And the cow game.
There are, of course, many versions of the cow game but the variant we usually played went more or less as follows: One person or team would count cows on the left side of the car while the other would count cows on the right side of the car. A cemetery on ‘your’ side of the car would ‘kill’ your cows — your total would reset to zero. A white horse on ‘your’ side of the car would double your total. Simple enough rules but with enough latitude that one could argue minutiae for, well, hours. The cow game has stuck in my mind for, well, a long time. Heck, Ms. Rose and I play it, although we don’t take it particularly seriously. (Heresy! I can hear the twelve-year-old-me crying.) Everyone knows the cow game.
Not everyone, apparently. Things have changed: there are different car activities these days — up to and including in-car movies. (I was going to put
in a link but the web search for ‘car dvd player’ yielded over 97 million hits — that factoid by itself is better than any link.) We don’t have any fancy in-car entertainment (well, aside from a modest factory-installed radio). Despite this I recently found myself taking a young lady (last mentioned in ‘Confusing‘) and her family (plus dog) to a cottage by a nude beach (I only know that because there
was a sign that said “Nude Beach.” I didn’t try to verify it or anything — I’m
not a complete boor.). As entertainment, ‘the dad’ played iPod (Studlycaps! Curse them! We hates them!) scrabble with ‘the son’ while I explained to ‘the mom’ (the young lady) that, once upon a time, we played the cow game.
Their cottage is/was about an hour away; to get there you go north on the road-that-used-to-be-a-highway-until-the-meanest-government-in-history-gave-it-away-so-its-upkeep-would-be-on-someone-else’s-budget into the Frontenac Axis which in many ways is reminiscent (at least to me) of the geology in northern-ish Ontario and I’ve already said (‘Localizing‘ and ‘Driving‘) that I like northern Ontario. Plus along the way there’s a nice perennial store. So a country drive? On a nice summer day? Through nice country? With Veronica (but not Betty) and ridiculously-named Heuchera at the end of it? Past the scene of my first-ever blog posting? I’m totally there — even though (because of the ruggedness of the terrain) there weren’t a whole lot of cows to count (my final total was well under a hundred).
The path to the cottage started as a highway (a ‘King’s Highway‘ if I understand the definitions correctly) and despite the obligatory grumbling about quality those are usually pretty good. It’s deteriorated a bit since it was ‘downgraded’ to a county road, but it’s still a good road. (Just not a whole lot of cows.) After the first turn it was still paved, just not as well. Then it became that sort of weird ‘crushed-cornflakes’ surface. The next turn brought gravel. (That’s okay, though — all cottage roads turn into gravel at some point.) Then came the driveway — we were getting close. (When you turn onto something without a name you know you’re getting close.) Then…. the obstacle. Obstacles. Four-legged ones.
At least a dozen. Blocking the path.
The driveway belonged/belongs to a riding stable thingy. Riding stable thingies have horses. Horses spend time standing around. When it’s hot and sunny they stand around in the shade. Our dirt road passed under a large tree. You can sort of guess the rest.
We stopped. They looked at us indifferently. I inched forward. They looked even more uninterested and didn’t move. Ms. Fragaria got out of the car and attempted to use her authority (Genus Homo vs Genus Equus) to command them to move. I think one of them swatted her with its tail, thus demonstrating contempt for that particular hierarchy of authority. I honked the horn. Two of them licked the car. We pressed the dog (you forgot about the dog, didn’t you) into service. The horses were unmoved and the dog was intimidated. (No surprise — she was outweighed by several orders of magnitude.)
One of the horses was white. Well, maybe more than one, but one was ‘white enough.’ (I mentioned that the rules for the cow game are open for ‘discussion.’ One of the points of ‘discussion’ was often “how white does a horse have to be to count?” Obviously if it’s on your side of the car then the definition can be quite… relaxed. On the other side, though, nothing less than a Lipizzaner (or something pulling a chariot driven by a Large Ham) will do. Some, though, are white enough by any reasonable standard. One of the horses blocking the path was like that.
Eventually (it took a while) we made it through. I spent my time wondering how I could ensure the white one passed my side of the car.