Over the years, I have developed two ways of coping with family car trips.
The first is to slip out of them. The second is to muffle major annoyances, sometimes sticking them in the trunk. I tried both recently.
I wiggled out of traveling with my family by attending a "business meeting" in Salisbury, a town that was close -- but not too close -- to the Atlantic Ocean spot where we were going to spend a few days.
The business meeting meant I had to leave town early, a day before my howling family would hit the road. In our household, any "child-free" vehicle immediately becomes the "pack mule" carrying more gear than an expedition to the South Pole.
When you are the pack mule, you may be heavy, but you are blissfully alone. Baggage doesn't care where it sits or voice an opinion on what should be played on the car radio. Early in the morning when I wheeled my luggage-loaded car out of the driveway and toward my "business meeting," I felt as if I was escaping.
The trouble with the "business meeting" ploy is that other family members can use it. When, for example, it came time to transport the tribe back home from the ocean, it was my wife who announced that she had to hurry back to a meeting in Baltimore. She fled at first light.
I employed tactic No. 2, muffling trouble. I began by checking the tape players. Of all the technological marvels that the world has seen in the past century, my favorite is the portable tape player, with headphones.
This simple device has substantially muffled a major source of annoyance -- children in the back seat. Once my kids strap on their headphones, they go into a trancelike state, emitting only periodic moans that are purported to be lyrics of the songs they are listening to.
One of the phrases that sends a shiver down my spine is, "Dad, my tape player isn't working." So before hitting the road with my crew, I made sure the batteries for the tape players were juiced up.
Next, I dealt with another source of annoyance, the bikes. I am not a big fan of bike racks. It is my experience that bike racks tease drivers.
You think you have the thing tied down tighter than the Marquis de Sade could, when just as your car approaches some exciting cloverleaf, like the one connecting the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the Beltway, the bike rack slips.
It is not a major slip. Just enough to worry you. And so for the next 50 miles or so, you look out the rear-view mirror and wonder. Did the bike rack move again? Should I stop?
Rather than subject myself to the taunts of the bike rack, I tried to stash the two bikes in the trunk. I removed the front wheels from the bikes. That was easy. The hard part was trying to remain calm as the two bikes fought. There was room in the trunk for both of them, but only if the bikes cooperated.
I moved handle bars, tugged on pedals and tried to recall any tricks from high school geometry class about square spaces and round wheels. Time after time, the bikes would not let the trunk close. I remembered why geometry was not my favorite subject.
Eventually, I got lucky. The trunk closed. Quickly I loaded the kids and their 4,000 audio tapes in the car and set sail for Baltimore.
It was an OK trip. This meant there were no casualties or serious spills en route.
Several games were attempted. A version of "Name That Tune" failed when I was unable to identify any of the moaned melodies coming from the 11-year-old.
The 7-year-old won the Coke-drinking contest, a competition of his own creation. After downing a cup of soda that was the twice the size of the one drunk by his big brother, the 7-year-old announced that this feat proved he was "the biggest, the strongest and the toughest in the family."
When we got home, the kids shot out of the car. They had friends to call, pets to check on. I was left to unload the bikes.
Spending several hours in the dark trunk had changed the way the bikes related. Once they didn't want to get near each other. Now they were more fond of each other than Romeo and Juliet. Parts were intertwined. They didn't want to be disturbed.
I moved them anyway. They sought revenge. As one bike was extricated from the trunk, it reached up and raked against some wires that were inside the trunk.
I couldn't see any damage. But since then, my FM radio reception seems to be fading.